Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Getting to be a Habit | “Sister Act” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 23, 2017 @ 9:08 pm PDT

Sister Act (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicTen and a half years ago we were subscribers at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) when they presented the premier  of a troubled new musical, Sister Act. At the time, we could pinpoint a few suggestions, but overall, we enjoyed the musical, stating, “Wow! Call out the choir and sing it to the rafters, because this show has success written all over it.” (this was, of course, before I had realized that “Wow!” was trademarked by another professional audience member in Southern California). We had no problems with either the book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), nor with the music by Glenn Slater (FB), nor with the lyrics of Alan Menken (FB). In fact, we looked forward to the cast recording. Since that November day, this little musical went off to Atlanta and then to London, where it had cast member changes, and saw extensive reworking of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. It got a cast recording, and then went off to Broadway — with some more book changes and song changes. It opened on Broadway, got some Tony nominations, but didn’t get a new cast recording. It went on tour, and came to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) … where we didn’t see it, because we had seen it in Pasadena. A few years after that, it was released for regional productions, and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) picked it up for this season. This is a long way of saying that last night saw us in Thousand Oaks, revisiting the delightful musical Sister Act, and still wishing for a cast recording that had all the songs in the show in it.

Since we saw the show in Pasadena, some character names have been changed. A few songs have been added, and some have been dropped.  But the basics of the plot, which go back to the 1992 movie, have remained the same: black jive lounge singer witnesses a murder and turns police informant, and needs to go in hiding from her crime gang boyfriend. The police decide to hide her in a fading Catholic Church, amidst a superfluity (gee, and I thought the term was gaggle) of nuns. Mostly white nuns. Yeah, she won’t stand out at all. In any case, the Mother Superior objects and the two clash like oil and water. But this of course is the movies (and later, the theatre), so they must learn to love and appreciate each other. In this case, it happens by our nun-in-hiding taking over as choir director, and teaching the other nuns to repurpose 1950s and 1960s pop songs as Catholic anthems (and which, since that can’t be done in the theatre, to develop new songs that sound like 1950s and 1960s pop anthems but are not). These new songs bring new people into the church and save the church from being sold and the nuns dispursed. They also bring the spotlight to the church, leading the gangster boyfriend and his, umm, gang to figure out where the nun-in-hiding is hiding. A chase then ensues, which in the movie takes place in Las Vegas, but since the Las Vegas set was stolen by the gang from Honeymoon in Vegas, the theatre chase takes place in the nunnery itself. But in the end, everything comes together: the convent is saved, the Mother Superior and the nun-in-hiding grow to appreciate each other, the nun-in-hiding falls in love with the cop-who-hid-her (who had a crush on her in high school — fancy that!), and the gangsters, as in any show, turn into song-and-dance-men.

So what rewriting was necessary? Think of the plot as a skeleton. A certain series of adaptations were made to put the plot on the big screen. Not all of those work when one translates to the more limited stage, and so that movie plot was reworked for the first stage version. But there were rough spots still. Some songs didn’t work. Some points that may have been clear before — in particular, whether the conversion of the nun-in-hiding, Doris Collins → Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence, was a religious one or just an appreciation. Some character names were changed to — well, I don’t know why, perhaps to make them more stereotypical. The humor was punched up to a form that works better on the stage. The general consensus is that the changes worked — they made a better show. I do know they removed one song I liked from the London cast album, pretty much for logical consistency: the nuns sounded too good singing it, and it was before they were supposed to start singing well.

This is where the compare and contrast comes in. There probably aren’t many audience members that saw it in both 2006 and 2017. We did. We liked it then, and we liked it now. I think that, in general, they improved the story, tightened the songs, and created a production that worked. Further, Cabrillo executed that new production well, under the direction of Misti B. Wills. Wills created the cohesive whole of the cast, bringing them together to create a family that shows to the audience: these nuns really care about what they are doing and each other. That’s a key aspect to this story. She also helped them play for the humor. In fact, the show was so funny we had some folks behind us constantly saying, loudly, “Gee, that’s funny!” But I digress (they were also crushing their water bottles, whistling in my ear during the curtain call, and screaming that everyone should stand up, they were so good). Theatre newbie audiences. Sheesh.

Sister Act - Cabrillo - CastOne of the strengths of this production is the cast. Let’s start at the top, with our nun-in-hiding, Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence. I enjoyed the original, Dawnn Lewis, and I can imagine how strong Patina Miller (FB) must have been on Broadway (but, alas, she’s now been shuffled off to a desk job in the State Department), but Daebreon Poiema (FB) was spectacular. She had the comic chops, the dance moves, the personality, the look, and most importantly, the killer voice to take and own this role. I could name some numbers, but she is great in all of them.

Our group of thugs was led by Dedrick Bonner (FB) as Curtis, supported by David Kirk Grant (FB) (Joey), Kenneth Mosley (FB) (TJ), and John Paul Batista (FB) (Pablo). Their roles, alas, are written very shallow and stereotypical, but the script is what it is. They do their best with it, shining in numbers such as “When I Find My Baby” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress”.

The savior of Deloris — no, not that savior, the other savior (Officer Eddie Souther) — is portrayed by Wilkie Ferguson III (FB). Ferguson expressed a very pleasant, and affable personality that interplayed well with Deloris; he also did a very nice job with “I Can Be That Guy”.

The named members of our murder of nuns — wait, murders are for crows, who also dress in black — our superfluity of nuns were Cabrillo regular David Gilchrist (FB) as Monsignor O’Hara, Debbie Prutsman as Mother Superior, Francesca Barletta (FB) as Sister Mary Patrick, Karla J. Franko (FB) as Sister Mary Lazarus, Hallie Mayer (FB) as Sister Mary Martin of Tours, and Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) as Sister (Novitiate) Mary Robert. Gilchrist, as usual, played the comedy well — we’ve seen him in quite a few roles now, and he is just a great character actor. Prutsman made a strong Mother Superior and played off Poiema quite well, especially in the opening scene of Act II and the reprise of “Sister Act”. Barletta, who again, we’ve seen many times, brought great humor and the requisite sillyness to Sister Mary Patrick (the original Kathy Najimy role). Franko’s Mary Lazarus has the requisite crustiness and handled the rap chops quite well. Lastly, Chelsea Stock, who astounded as Sister Mary Robert. Who knew such a big voice could be in such a small package? To quote Steve Stanley, “Wow!”.

The remaning roles in the production were handled by the expert ensemble that consisted of Terri K. Woodall (FB) [Michelle, Ensemble], Fay James/FB [Tina, Ensemble], Ron de la Peña MD (FB) [Ernie, Pope, Ensemble], Bernadette Bentley (FB) [Ensemble], Jacob Byrd/FB [Ensemble], Gwen Carole (FB) [Ensemble], Amanda Carr/FB [Ensemble, Dance Captain], Zy’heem “Z” Downey/FB [Ensemble, u/s Pablo], Jenna Elise (FB) [Ensemble], Catriona Fray (FB) [Ensemble], Erin Grandelli [Ensemble], Lakeisha Renee Houston (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Deloris], Alyssa Noto (FB) [Ensemble], Katie Porter (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Patrick], Rile Reavis (FB) [Ensemble], Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Michelle], Dana Shaw (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mother Superior], Marie Spieldenner (FB) [Ensemble], Tyler Stouffer (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Joey], Natalia Vivino (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Robert], Kendyl Yokoyama (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Tina], and John Gaston [Pit Singer]. Of all of these, just a few notes, as they were all great — but also hard to distinguish. We always enjoy seeing Vivino on stage ever since first seeing her in Addams Family. She will make a great Mary Robert if she gets the chance. A shout-out to Ms. Bentley, who is a friend of a friend of ours on FB and a wonderfully creative cosplayer. Also notable is Jenna Elise for her dancing and movement skills; she caught my eye in the one number where she was out of the habit.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the direction of Kyle C. Norris (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Matt Germaine/FB [Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Flugelhorn]; Chris Maurer/FB [Trumpet II, Flugelhorn]; Mike McCully [Trombone]; Gary Solt [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard I]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Dancing and movement was choreographed by Michelle Elkin (FB), and was mostly 1950s and 1960s group dance movement, as opposed to the more intricate ballet we saw recently in An American in Paris.  What is more note-worthy is that Elkin was also the choreographer back in 2006 for the Pasadena Playhouse production.

Turning to the production aspects: Sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), which was newly released for production this year. Costumes were provided by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts (FB) in Utah; additional costumes and designs were by Helen Butler. Daniel Robles designed the hair and wigs, and Trina White designed the makeup. Cabrillo regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB) did the lighting and sound design, respectively. Alex Choate (FB) designed additional props. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Art Brickman (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Sister Act: The Musical plays for one more weekend at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Tickets are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.  It is a very enjoyable show.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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And So It Goes | “The Sirens of Titan” @ Sacred Fools

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 09, 2017 @ 6:23 pm PDT

The Sirens of Titan (Sacred Fools)There are many things I can blame for my science fiction addiction, but one of the first culprits was a camp counselor who decided to read to us short stories from Kurt Vonnegut‘s excellent short story collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House“. From that point, Vonnegut rapidly became one of my favorite authors, and I devoured everything he wrote. One such book was his novel “The Sirens of Titan”, which my notes from those days say I first read in September 1976, when I would have been starting my senior year of high school. Vonnegut’s novels were unlike any other novel — at times oddly non-linear, referencing odd concepts and painting a very sardonic and cynical view of society and where mankind had been taking itself.

I haven’t picked up “The Sirens of Titan” since 1976 (when I paid $1.95 for the paperback, new). That’s a shame, for it would have been nice to have the story fresher in my mind for last night, when we saw The Sirens of Titan in an excellent production at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB) in Hollywood. Looking back at the book when I got home, the production hewed true to both the story and the tone of the book, and made me want to revisit my Vonnegut addiction after all these years. That’s a good thing, and if you don’t  think so, you’re a ✴️ (and if you don’t know what that symbolizes, well, you need to read your Vonnegut).

The production of The Sirens of Titan originated with Chicago’s Organic Theatre (FB) in 1977, if I have my math right. At that time, Vonnegut himself was involved in the adaptation, and encouraged the adaptation team to not be slavishly faithful to the book, but to make the story right for a play. Skimming the novel’s text afterwards, I believe they achieved the right level. I can see places where Vonnegut’s dialogue and notions were lifted straight off the page. I can also see a few things cut out. They made good choices. If you like Vonnegut, you’ll enjoy this show. It is clear that the director, Ben Rock (FB), is a Vonnegut fan.

So what is the plot of the story? That may not be the right question, not only because it is a little hard to describe. A spaceman, Winston Niles Rumfoord, and his dog Kazak, take a spaceship to Mars but get caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which to put it simply, means they stretch out over time, see everything, but reappear on Earth every 57 years. On one of these anniversaries, Rumfoord summons one of the richest and luckiest men in the world, Malachi Constant, to tell him his future. Basically, he’ll go to to Mars, fall in love with Rumfoord’s wife Beatrice, have a son, Chronos, then go to Mercury, then back to Earth, and then to Titan, where he will fall in love. The rest of the play is watching that all played out from the eyes of our confused protagonist Malachi Constant. We meet his friends on Mars, such as Boaz, as well as the alien Salo that lives on Titan. You can find the summary of the book’s plot on Wikipedia.

Perhaps a better question is: What is the point of the story? In some ways, it is a commentary on religion — after all, the story posits the creation of a church of God the Indifferent, and the play opens with a commentary about fake religious leaders. I tend to think there is a deeper meaning about the purpose of life overall, and Vonnegut’s cynical take on it. This is captured in a line from the book spoken by a character near the end: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody.” Vonnegut is very big on character relationships, both meaningful and meaningless. To Vonnegut, a meaningless interaction — an interaction devoid of deeper purpose — is still better than to be ignored.  The same saying was captured many years later in the musical Rent, when it noted that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference.

One of the hallmarks of Sacred Fools is its inventiveness, which we saw a few years ago in their old space with the delightful Astro Boy. Ben Rock (FB) has continued that inventiveness with a creative and playful staging. He has worked with his actors to bring out that playfulness and creativity as well, making the production a joy to watch even as you puzzle over the deeper meaning and significance.

In the lead positions are Eric Curtis Johnson (FB) as Winston Niles Rumfoord, Pete Caslavka (FB) as Malachi Constant, and Jaime Andrews (FB) as Beatrice Rumfoord. Johnson’s portrayal of Rumfoord is a mixture of bemusement and resignation to his fate, which comes across quite well. He seemed to be having a great time with the role, and that (as always) came across well. He performance was also a consistent characterization across the entire story. That’s less so for the other main characters, who start out with one personality, and end up with a completely different persona. Martian brainwashing and all that. Caslavka’s portrayal of Malachi captures this well, starting out as an overly self-important prick (think Elon Musk, and add it a little Steve Jobs), and then transforming into more of the everyman that life is dragging from place to place, often not telling us why. Similarly, Andrews’ performance of Beatrice captures that character’s transformation well: this time from a stuck-up society wife seemingly indifferent, to more of an adaptable badass, to again someone who has been swept along, accepting her fate. A minor distracting note for Caslavka’s portrayal: there are times where the costuming reveals perhaps something that isn’t appropriate to reveal (or at least an unnecessary distriction), especially in the yellow jumpsuit. Luckily, that’s easily correctable.

The remaining performers constitute the ensemble, while also playing named characters. There are four I would like to single out. First, Jax Ball (TW) as Young Chrono is irresistibly cute, and reminded me of the lead from Astro Boy even though she wasn’t with SFT at the time. She was just having fun with the role, and it was great to see. It is always fun to see Jesse Merlin (FB) on stage — going back to the days many many years ago when we saw him in The Beastly Bombing and he was still regularly on LiveJournal. Here, his take on the alien Salo is playful and inventive and just a joy to watch (Merlin also gave me the most astonishment on this writeup, as I can’t figure out how we have the FB friends we have in common in common).  Tim Kopacz (FB) was notable for a role in which he isn’t seen: inside the wonderful Kazak the dog, who is incredibly dog-like in his movement and behavior it is remarkable. Oh, he makes a great Stony Stevenson as well.  Lastly, K. J. Middlebrooks (FB) as Boaz, Malachi (then called “Unk”)’s friend. I was unsure about him on his Mars scenes, but he came into his own on Mercury, especially in the scene that opened Act II. Tifanie McQueen (FB) was billed as Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble, but I didn’t recognize the character until I saw her FB photo: she was great explaining the Harmonium. Rounding out the ensemble were Dennis Neal (FB) as Redwine + Ensemble, Keith Szarabajka (FB) as the voice, and Emily Kosloski (FB) as the voice of the sirens.

Understudies were: Curt Bonnem (FB) (u/s Malachi Constant); Libby Baker (FB) (u/s Beatrice Rumfoord); Paul Plunkett (FB) (u/s Winston Niles Rumfoord); Adriana Colón (FB) (u/s Young Chrono + Ensemble); Gabriel Croom (FB) (u/s Boaz / Kazak / Stony Stevenson / Ensemble); Corey Klemow (FB) (u/s Salo + Ensemble); Brendan Broms (FB) (u/s Redwine); and Missy Mannila (FB) (u/s Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble).

As I said upfront, the creative team behind this production was remarkable. From the extremely clever set design to the remarkable sound effects to the great projections to the wonderful lighting effects to the costumes and makeup — all came together to create a wonderfully creative and cohesive whole. The team consisted of: Krystyna Łoboda (FB) (Scenic Designer); Matt Richter (FB) and Adam Earle (FB) (Lighting Designers); Jennifer Christina DeRosa (FB) (Costume Designer); Hat & Suitcase (Projection Design); Jaime Robledo (FB) (Sound Design); Lisa Anne Nicolai (FB) (Prop Designer); Russ Walko (FB) (Puppet/Creature Designer); Angela Santori Merritt (FB) (Hair and Makeup). Rounding out the production credits were:  Scott Golden (FB) – Assistant Director; Maggie Marx (FB) – Stage Manager; Alicia Conway Rock/FB – Dramaturge; Hillary Bauman – Key Scenic; Ruth Silveria/FB – Assistant Costume Designer; Michael Teoli (FB) – Score Composer; Cj Merriman – Choreography; Chairman Barnes (FB) – Military Advisor. The Sirens of Titan was produced by Shaela Cook (FB); Bo Powell (FB) was the Associate Producer.

The Sirens of Titans continues at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB) in Hollywood until May 6, 2017. This clever and inventive production of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Sacred Fools Online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next week brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Game That Could Be Played Today | Cat’s Paw @ Actors Co-Op

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 02, 2017 @ 8:07 am PDT

Cats Paw (Actors Co-Op)Yesterday, as part of my Aprils Fools “real or fake news” post, I linked to a real news article about planned cuts at the EPA: “The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new, more detailed plan for laying off 25 percent of its employees and scrapping 56 programs including pesticide safety, water runoff control, and environmental cooperation with Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.” In response, you could easily see an Eco-Terrorist taking someone hostage to protest these cuts and the damage done under them, especially when you consider that with a more limited budget, the EPA will be forced to make more questionable decisions about the communities in which they spend the little budget they do have. Decisions made by bureaucrats, with lives measured by actuaries and accounts.

Back in 1984, William Mastrosimone wrote a play — Cat’s Paw — about an unusual terrorist, one who is brilliant, articulate and who believes he is right. He updated this play in 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks. It is running until April 30, 2017 at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, and it is surprisingly relevant today (especially in light of the Trump administration EPA actions). The play tells the story of  an eco-terrorist (Victor) who blamed the EPA for an incident in which the water supply of a town was poisoned. He kidnapped an EPA official (David Darling), and masterminded a suicide bomb attack at the White House in which 12 senators were killed. This terrorist — excuse me, eco-warrior — has a television news reporter (Jessica Lyons) led to his lair by his follower, Cathy, so she can tell the world why he has done what he has done. Victor’s obsession is the destruction of the world’s water supply and, with it, the final destruction of the human race by pollution. When the reporter asks if he feels any guilt about the death of the innocent people, he replies that hundreds of innocent people die every hour because of what mankind is doing to its water supply and do the people responsible feel guilt for this? The cat and mouse game between the young woman reporter and Victor gets more and more tense, leading to a shocking and violent conclusion.

In a very interesting piece about the play in the acting script (reprinted in one theatre’s blog), the author writes:

Information is what enables us to make good decisions in a democracy – right? but the truth is that most of information is repetitive or useless; turn is most of us have a morbid curiosity that needs to be satisfied. By giving in to our need to see mayhem, we give more power to the terrorists. We are all part of the deadly triangulation between the acts of terror, the media coverage, and the viewing.

During her tenure as P.M., Margaret Thatcher advanced a thought that we have not heeded: “Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

Until we figure out how to stay free and still report the news, terrorist acts will involve two explosions. The primary explosion kills innocent people in the street. The secondary explosion occurs in the viewer’s mind, over and over again, as a neural pathway is created. Ring bell. Bring food. Dog salivate. News is not just reported anymore; it is designed for effect. The story is edited, parts subtracted, associations established with editing in other stories and/or expert opinions or carefully chosen public reaction. The fear we felt when we first saw the event on television can be conjured again and again, at will, in video replay, as news and entertainment slowly merge. Fear is reinforced. Fear makes us malleable, and caught between the act of terror and media coverage, we exist for a time in a state of impaired judgement.

Cat’s Paw connects to a number of ongoing discussions in the world today: What is our responsibility to ensure clean air, clean water, and a safe world to live in? When there are other economic priorities, is it reasonable to cut back on environmental protections (and endanger other innocent lives) out of a need for that money for other economic purposes? Who should make those decisions, and what should be their basis: science, economics, or actuarial science? What is the role of the media in all this — are they dispassionate observers reporting news in a neutral fashion, or are they manipulating what we see to make us feel and believe things? Are they playing up our fears — whether that is a fear of our leaders, or those who oppose them? All relevant questions — all great discussions.

Actors Co-op (FB) production of Cat’s Paw is an intense and gripping presentation of these questions and issues (if not a little heavy handed). It places you in that bunker with David Darling; it allows you to see the sausage-making that is Terrorism, and its manipulation of the story for particular purposes. Is it relevant today? Yes. Does it present a clear answer? No. One would hope that this excellent production raises the questions above for you, and sends you home to discuss and explore the issue further. This is what theatre can do: start a discussion.

Cats Paw (Cast)The Actors Co-op (FB) presentation of Cat’s Paw, tensely directed by Stephen Rothman (FB), stars Sean McHugh (FB) as the eco-warrior Victor and Deborah Marlowe (FB) as the reporter Jessica Lyons, supported by Ivy Beech (FB) as Cathy (one of Victor’s minions) and Vito Viscuso (FB) as David Darling (the hostage). All are strongly believable as their characters: their fears and pains and intent come across strongly. Staged in the small Crossley theatre with audience members on three sides, there are often small moments off on the side that speak to the powerful immersion of these actors in their characters. Just great performances.

Lauren Thompson (FB) was the understudy for Cathy, and was ever-reliable behind the scenes in the box office.

Director Rothman’s vision, realized by the Scenic Design of David Potts, places the audience in the bunker with the Earth Now activists. There are rough tables and chairs, graffiti, and shelves of realistic supplies and realistic weapons (all the work of Property Designer Lori Berg (FB)). The feelings of the bunker are amplified through the lighting design of James Moody (FB) and sound design of Adam R. Macias (FB). All this makes the audience part of the story, and amplifies its impact.  E.B. Brooks (FB)’s costume design also contributed to the feeling that these were real terrorists talking to a real reporter. Other creative and production credits: Collin Bressie (FB) [Fight Director]; Greyson Chadwick (FB) [Producer]; Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman); Christian Eckels (FB) [Stage Manager]; David Elzer/Demand PR (FB) [Marketing/Publicity]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manger].

Cat’s Paw continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through April 30, 2017. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. An intense play, very timely, and well-performed.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The evening continued with a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). Today brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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The Art of the Dance | “An American in Paris” @ Hollywood Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 26, 2017 @ 10:51 am PDT

An American in Paris (Pantages)At least Bob Fosse was honest about it.

At the beginning of Bob Fosse’s show Dancin’ many years ago, an actor came out on stage and said sometthing like: “If you are looking for any plot in this show, don’t bother. This show is about dance.” And it was. Spectacular dance.

Last night, we went to go see the tour of An American in Paris (FB) at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We went expected to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. By this I mean that your traditional musical tells the story through the music and lyrics, with a bit of connecting dialogue. An American in Paris tells its story — spectacularly — through dance, with a bit of connecting dialogue (that was written by Craig Lucas). The actual timeless music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin? The lyrics really don’t matter to the story; the mood and the music and the rhythm — oh, that rhythm — propels the dance that gives life to the story. Paris is a city of light, of beauty, of style, of art. Substance? Have another baguette, let’s sit at the corner patisserie shop, and watch the people.

But this isn’t a bad thing.

If you’ve ever seen the 1951 MGM musical, you know the purpose of the film was not to tell a significant story, but to listen to glorious Gershwin music and watch Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance. Why should the stage show be any different? The stage adaptation of the movie plot adds a hint more of darkness, but the characters and the songs remain the same: three buddies, two Americans (Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg) and one French (Henri Baurel); one beautiful dancer (Lise Dassin); a wealthy art patron (Milo Davenport); and, well, who cares who else. The story is the scaffold on which the dance is built.

It should be no surprise, then, that the director and the choreographer of this show, Christopher Wheeldon (FB), are one and the same, and that Wheeldon is primarily a ballet artist. It should be no surprise that, reading the credits of the performers, that there is a very large emphasis on ballet skills. About the only surprise is that the program does not provide any credit to the tour medical and physical therapy team, who must be on their toes to keep these athletic dancers in tip-top shape. This is just a very physically demanding show,  8 times a week, on tour. The astounding physical skill to pull it off and not suffer stress injuries is remarkable, and the unnamed medical team who keep these professionals together behind the scenes deserves a lot of credit. [Luckily, my Google-Fu is strong, and it appears that the folks keeping these dancers together is NeuroSport (FB)]

All of the performers are strong singers and have great voices. All can emote well, and all inhabit and are having fun  with their lightly drawn characters. Remember — this isn’t a deep character drama. You have socialites, dancers, artists, and performers. Not a rocket scientist in the bunch. (Well, at least on stage. At our performance, there was at least one rocket scientist in the audience.)

In the lead positions at our show were Garen Scribner (FB) and Sara Esty (FB), as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, respectively (they alternate with Ryan Steele (FB) and Sara Esty’s twin sister, Leigh-Ann Esty (FB) (who is also a great photographer), who move from the ensemble to the leads at select Sunday performances). Both were spectacular dancers — their final ballet sequence in “An American in Paris” was truly spectacular.

Supporting our leads on the male side were Etai Benson (FB) as Adam Hochberg and Nick Spangler (FB) as Henri Baurel. Benson’s role involved a fair amount of dance, especially in “Stairway to Paradise” — but his role was more as narrator and as one of the vocal leads, which he handled quite well.  Spangler — who evidently won the Amazing Race in 2008 — who knew, but I follow Survivor — was also a strong singer and jazzy dancer, as demonstrated in the aforementioned “Stairway to Paradise” as well as the opening “I Got Rhythm”.

The secondary love interest, Milo Davenport, was played by Emily Ferranti (FB). Ferranti brought a lovely style and grace to the piece, and danced wonderfully in “Shall We Dance?”

There were a few other named characters, but they all dropped back into the ensemble at points (with the exception of Gayton Scott [Madame Baurel]) and were very lightly drawn. As usual, it is hard to single out the ensemble members, but I do want to note their wonderful athleticism and fluid movement was on display throughout, and that this is one show in particular that depends on the dancing ensemble: it is their talent, in group numbers like “An American In Paris”, that make this show the spectacular dance show that it is. This splendid dancing team consisted of the aforementioned Ryan Steele (FB) and Leigh-Ann Esty (FB); as well as Karolina Blonski (FB); Brittany Bohn (FB); Stephen Brower (FB); Randy Castillo (FB); Jessica Cohen (FB); Barton Cowperthwaite (FB) [also Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner]; Alexa De Barr (FB); Caitlin Meighan (FB) [also Returning Soldier’s Wife]; Alida Michal (FB); Don Noble (FB) [also Monsieur Baurel, Store Manager]; Alexandra Pernice (FB); David Prottas (FB); Lucas Segovia; Kyle Vaughn (FB) [also Mr. Z]; Laurie Wells (FB) [also Olga]; Dana Winkle (FB); Erica Wong (FB); and Blake Zelesnikar (FB). Swings were Jace Coronado (FB); Ashlee Dupre (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Erika Hebron (FB); Christopher M. Howard (FB) [Dance Captain]; Colby Q. Lindeman (FB); Nathalie Marrable (FB); Tom Mattingly (FB); Sayiga Eugene Peabody (FB); and Danielle Santos (FB). There were far too many understudy allocations to list them all here. The one thing that comes from hunting down the links of all these actors/dancers is the immense amount of dance and ballet talent in this group. This is why these dancers are so good — they have been working hard at it.

The orchestra was under the direction of music director and conductor David Andrews Rogers (FB). The other members were Brad Gardner (FB) (Assoc. Music Director, Keys); Ray Wong (FB) (Key 1, Piano); Henry Palkes (FB) (Keys 2); Katherine Fink (FB) (Reed 1); Tansie Mayer (FB) (Reed 2); Tom Colclough (FB) (Reed 3); Sam Oatts (FB) (Trumpet 1); Anthony DiMauro/FB (Trumpet 2); Dave Grott (FB) (Trombone); Susan French (FB) (Violin 1); Adrian Walker (FB) (Violin 2); Nick Donatelle (FB) (Cello); and Paul Hannah (Drums/Percussion). These were augmented by local performers Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin, Concertmaster); Adriana Zoppo (FB) (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach (FB) (Cello); Steve Kujala (FB) (Flute, Piccolo); Dick Mitchell (Flute, Clarinet); John Yoakum (FB) (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet); Marissa Benedict (FB) (Trumpet 2, Flugelhorn); Andy Martin (FB) (Trombone); Wade Culbreath (Percussion); David Witham (FB) (Keyboard Sub). Other music credits: Emily Grishman (Copying / Preparation); Seymour Red Press (Music Coordinator); Brian Miller (Orchestra Contractor). Orchestrations were by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott. Dance arrangements were by Sam Davis. Todd Ellison was the music supervisor. The Musical Score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rod Fisher.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative team. I’m going to combine the set and costume design of Bob Crowley and the Projection Design of 59 Productions together because they truly worked as a singular whole (hmmm, both are UK based, as is the director — odd for an AMERICAN in Paris 🙂 ). Anyway, this was another show that depended quite heavily on projections — the main scenic design elements, other than props and such, were various flats and mirrored surfaces upon which the projections were placed. These were animated and changing and extremely creative and .. well, in many ways, they were vital set elements of the overall design. This went to the costumes as well, especially as in the block-patterned American in Paris dance sequences, where the Mondrian-style color scheme of the set was repeated in the block primary color scheme of the ensemble’s costumes. This was all augmented by the lighting design of Natasha Katz (FB), which used scaffolds around the stage behind the proscenium, combined with two movers one on each side of the balcony (in other words, there wasn’t the universal array of Lekos and movers midway above the orchestra, and the follow-spot was by programming). The sound design of Jon Weston (FB) was unnoticeable, as a good sound design should be.  Rounding out the production credits were: Kenneth J. Davis (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Rick Steiger (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Troika Entertainment / Laura Dieli (FB) [Production Manager]; Telsey + Company (FB) / Rachel Hoffman C.S.A. [Casting]; Dontee Kiehn (FB) [Associate Director / Choreographer]; Sean Maurice Kelly (FB) [Associate Choreographer / Resident Manager]; Donvan Dolan (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Lori Byars [Asst. Stage Manager]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Props Supervisor]; Unkledave’s Fight House (FB) [Fight Direction]. The Executive Producer was 101 Productions Ltd. The list of producers and associate producers is far too long.

An American in Paris (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through April 9. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online or by calling (323) 468-1770. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

 

 

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A Bluegrass Fable, Upon a Natchez Trace | Robber Bridegroom @ LAVC

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 25, 2017 @ 10:50 am PDT

The Robber Bridegroom (LAVC)My musical taste is wide and varied (if you hadn’t figured that out by now), but one of my favorite styles is folk, which then connects to bluegrass, some elements of country, and celtic. My Uncle Tom had similar tastes, and many years ago he introduced me to a favorite musical of his, The Robber Bridegroom (book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, music by Robert Waldman, adapted from the novella by Eudora Welty, based on an even older folktale). Especially for when it was first produced in 1975, it was a rarity among Broadway musicals, for it had a country and bluegrass score, with the musicians on the stage. I can count the musicals that have done this on one or two hands, the latest being last season’s Bright Star with a score by bluegrass artist and comedian Steve Martin.

We first saw The Robber Bridegroom in 2011 at ICT Long Beach (FB); it tends to be rarely done. Last week I learned that LA Valley College (FB)’s Department of Theatre Arts was doing a student production of the show (FB). We decided to give it a try, and squeezed it into the weekend. As I wrote back in 2011:

[The Robber Bridegroom] tells the fable of the Robber Bridegroom in 1795 in Rodney’s Landing, Mississippi. It is a fable about, as the song says, “A gent and a robber all in one, A girl who made the moon burn like the sun. A greedy witch, A man that rich. A brain that big, A filthy pig. A talkin’ head. … Once upon a Natchez Trace!” So let’s meet the characters. The “gent and robber all in one” is Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman robber who is also the Bandit of the Woods. He charms to get in, and takes what he wants. The girl who made the moon burn like the sun is Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of the “man that rich”, Clemment Musgrove, a wealthy planter, and the step-daughter of the “greedy witch”, Salome, current wife of the planter. Rosamond wants love, and finds it with the Bandit of the Woods, but doesn’t want to get married to the gentleman her father prefers, Jamie Lockhart, who wants to marry Rosamond not for love, but for the plantation. The “brain that big” refers to the brain the size of a pea belonging to “Goat” the simpleton hired by Salome to kill Rosamond to gain the reward of a suckling pig. The “filthy pig” refers to Little Harp, a thief and robber who travels the country with the talkin’ head of his brother, Big Harp, and who plans to steal both the gold and the girl of the planter. “Once upon a Natchez Trace”, of course, refers to the historic forest trail that connects landings like Rodney MS with the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans LA. As you can imagine from this cast of characters, we have a backwoods story of greed, love, lust, and desire. Quite a fun tale.

This production, as I noted earlier, was a student production under the direction of Cathy Susan Pyles (FB), with musical direction by Evan J. Marshall (FB). The fact that this was a student production means the range of talent and experience is wide and varied. We had some performers for whom this was their first time on stage … ever. We had some who had been in a fair to large number of amateur and other unspecified shows. In other words, this was a cast with a range of raw talent in both performing and singing. The latter is significant, for LAVC does not have a formal musical theatre program, and so there was not a formal effort to improve and strengthen vocal quality with this show (at least noted in the program, as there was no credit for vocal coaching, and no vocal coaches on the LAVC faculty). Again, raw talent up and coming, gems that required various levels of polishing. One doesn’t go into a show like this expecting virtuoso Broadway-caliber performance; one expects to be able to note strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, the performers expect this as well, taking any weaknesses as areas to work on for the future. And thus, the caveat is ended.

In the lead positions were Jacob Reynolds/FB as Jamie Lockhart and Tiffany Fuller/FB as Rosamund. Both were good (at least to my untrained eye) on the performance side — believable as their characters, having fun with their roles. I was particularly smitten by Fuller’s performance (and not just due to her smile and other charms) — writing this up I discovered she was from Kentucky, and that clearly showed in the accent and country mannerisms she brought to the role. Both had good singing voices that were pleasant to listen to, but that could use a tad more strength and volume.

Rosamund’s family was portrayed by Nicholas Goodreau/FB as Clemment Musgrove (Rosamund’s father) and Victoria Pizarro/FB as Salome (Rosamund’s stepmother). I quite enjoyed Goodreau’s performance — he had the right bearing and style for the role. For the most part his singing was good, especially in some harmonies, although there were just a few time he was a little off. This was Pizarro’s first time on stage, according to her credits. Especially in consideration of that, her acting performance was strong and it was clear she was having fun. Where the inexperience showed was vocally, although it was unclear the extent to which that was part of her character. Her voice was a bit weaker and all over the map at times. An area to work on.

The other major characters were R. J. Godinez/FB (Little Harp), Robert Butler/FB (Big Harp), Tristan Samson/FB (Goat), and Cameron Caddell (FB) (The Raven). As his character, Butler’s performance was more limited (he was a talking head in a box, after all); but the others were all strong as their characters. I was particularly taking with Godinez and Samson’s performances and characterizations; both also had good singing voices was reasonable strength. I did really like Caddell’s voice as the Raven — it was quite lovely — and her peformance was remarkably athletic in all the climbing and jumping and movement she had to do.

Most of the cast also played members of the ensemble. Other ensemble members and minor characters were: Serena El-Farra (FB) (Ensemble, Goat’s Mother); Carlos A. Gomez Jr./FB (Ensemble, The Caller); Ann Kriss/FB (Ensemble); Chase Mac Leay/FB (Ensemble, Landlord); Mariam Petrosyan/FB (Ensemble, Goat’s Sister); Zihan (Layla) Zhao/FB (Ensemble). There was quite a skill mix here, but all were clearly having fun and doing their best to be characters at the given place and time. Singing-wise, there was a wide range of performances, from strong singers to weak. There was also a good variety of shapes and looks. A few specific notes: Although she didn’t have a large singing role, the few times I could single out El-Farra’s voice, I was quite impressed with it. On the other end of the spectrum, Zhao needs to work a bit on her voice. Not singing (as I don’t recall being able to single out her singing voice), but more moving past her native accent to get the words out a little bit clearer and stronger.  I also recall that I enjoyed Petrosyan’s voice the one or two times I could pick it out, and thinking Kriss could have made an interesting Salome.

On-stage music was provided by a four-piece bluegrass group led by Evan J. Marshall (FB) on Mandolin. Rounding out the group were Mike Ley (FB) on Bass Fiddle, Alex Finazzo (FB) on Guitar, and Hiro Goto (FB) on Fiddle. Jean Sudbury (FB) does the fiddle on March 25 (tonight). I was very impressed by the music during the show, and will actually look for albums from the Mandolin and Guitar artists.

There was no specific choreography credit.

Robber Bridegroom Cast and Musicians (LAVC)Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic and lighting design by Jennifer L. Read (FB) was quite strong. I still recall the scenic design of the ICT production, with a large metal scaffoding in a U-shape with a large center portion. Read’s design was very different: very wooden and muscular, with a wood floor, sawhorses and planks, and a wooden structure along the back of the stage with ladders and ropes and such. She much of had fun shopping at Home Depot or Lowes :-). It worked quite well and was used in many creative ways by the cast to create all sorts of objects. The lighting design was equally strong, combining use of Lekos and what appeared to be some LED lights and spots to establish mood and focus attention. Mary Reilly‘s costume design seemed appropriately rural and rustic, as befits Rodney MS at the end of the 18th century. The costumes also served to distinguish the characters well and were quite fun to watch. To the right is a picture of the cast and musicians, which also shows the wonderful set and costumes (picture snarfed from the director’s FB page — and shows L-R, (back row) A. Kriss, C. Caddell, C. Mac Ley; (back +1) T. Fuller, J. Reynolds; (back + 2) M. Ley, H. Goto, R. Butler, Z. Zhao, V. Pizarro, N. Goodreau, M. Petrosyan, S. El-Farra, E. Marshall, A. Finazzo; (front -1) C. Gomez,  R. J. Godinez; (front) T. Samson).

Rounding out the production credits were: Victor Gonzalez/FB – Production Stage Manager; Mark Svastics (FB) – Technical Director; Jade Hill/FB and Ryan Schmitt/FB – Assistant Stage Managers.

The Robber Bridegroom (FB) continues at LA Valley College (FB) throughout this weekend, with matinees today and Sunday, and an evening performance tonight and Sunday night. Tickets are available at the door or via BrownPaperTickets.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This evening our gears shift to Gershwin, with the touring company of An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Legacy of Movement | “Martha” @ Whitefire Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 20, 2017 @ 9:34 pm PDT

Martha (Whitefire Theatre)If you’ve actually been reading these theatre writeups to the end, you’ll know we have tickets for the Martha Graham Dance Troupe (performance information) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) in late May. So when one of the publicists that thinks highly enough of me to view me as a critic emailed me information on a one-woman show on the life of Martha GrahamMartha, currently running at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16 — my virtual ears perked up. Here, I thought, was a great way for a dance novice like me to get familiar with a troupe I’ll be seeing; for with all the theatre I’ve attended, I’m dreadfully deficient in the dance arena. I may know theatre choreography, but the world of dance is often very different — theatrical dance as practiced today is very different than modern dance that tells a story solely through movement and expression, not music and lyrics. Martha, for me, provided the backstory and background of the woman who, according to many, was to the dance world what Picasso was to the art world or Frank Lloyd Wright was to the architecture world.

As a result, going into the show, I had no idea what to expect. I know this was a one woman story about the life of Martha Graham, portrayed excellently by Christina Carlisi (FB). But what approach had playwright Ellen Melaver taken to tell the story? Would it be focused on facts and dates, the chronology of life, a sequential portrayal of events? Would it be focused on the person behind the story, providing less of a factual focus and more of a focus on the drive and the persona — what made Martha Graham the unique force she has remained to this day?

The answer is that the author chose the latter, framing the story around the time Graham was in her early 70s, when she was doing a remounting of Clytemnestra with her dancing the lead. Some catastrophic incident occurred during the performance, prompting her board to send her a request to please transition from performing to choreography — a request that would require her to acknowledge her age and her mortality. This she viewed as a death sentence, for dance was her life — and so she started willing her body parts to her critics, friends, and family. In doing so, she also recounted what drove her to the dance, what kept her in the dance, what she contributed to modern dance, and what she gave up to do so. In the end of course, she grudgingly comes to the realization that she will have to start transferring her dances to her proteges, fitting her belief that dance only lives on if it is performed as originally danced.

[In reality, this likely corresponds to the late 1960s, as Graham last danced Clytemnestra in 1967. She died in 1991 at age 96, making her around 71 in 1967. This was a period of time when rheumatoid arthritis was hurting her greatly, she was increasingly turning to alcohol, leading to her doing her last dance in 1970. She regained control of her life around 1973, and Graham continued to do choreography until her death in 1991.]

One expression of Martha Graham captured in the show was that she saw dance like a beautiful shell on the beach. But if when uncovered it was half there and worn down, the beauty was gone. The entire body had to be there to be beautiful, the entire spirit is what made the performance. The audience could easily tell when the performance was just a facade. I’m pleased to say that Carlisi, working with director Stewart J. Zully (FB), didn’t have that problem. Carlisi, interpreting the script, captured not only the drive of Graham but the ego. It was clear that Graham considered herself above the nominal dance world: she was a goddess of dance, immortal, ageless, timeless. She sacrificed the fullness of her life  for the dance; she expected the dancers who worked for her to do the same. This was captured and expressed quite well by Carlisi. She also changed the language of dance, moving dance from the improvisational combinations that depended on the interpretation that day of the dancer, or the mechanical dancing that resulted from counted combination of steps, to a style focused on what the body said, on repetition, on “contraction and release”.

There were snippets throughout the performance of various Graham dances (choreography for the show was by Camille Loftin (FB)); alas, I’m not familiar enough with the Graham repertoire to know if they were represented correctly. There was a fair amount of emphasis on her interpretation of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Springs (a piece we know and love), especially as the vehicle for her brief marriage to Erick Hawkins. There were also numerous references to a Louis who was presumably her accompanist and someone close to her, but who was never otherwise explained. I learned, after the show when doing research for this writeup, that Louis referred to Louis Horst, a composer from Denishawn (the school where she first learned dance), who was her oldest friend and musical collaborator. Horst died in 1964, making the death still fresh in the context of the 1967 timeframe of the show. Given the nature of the show as an exploration of Graham’s ego and personality, but not a hard and fast recitation of history, the show could be improved by including in the program a brief chronology of Graham’s life and key events/performances, as well as some of the key people referenced in the show.

No where is this lack of context better illustrated than in her continual requests to have Louis play the Maple Leaf Rag, which you do not hear until the end. It turns out that the Maple Leaf Rag was the last dance she choreographed completely, finishing it in 1990. It is unclear when she started work on the piece.

So, in short, performance-wise, the production was illuminating and excellent preparation for our VPAC show in May. The program that accompanied the show could be improved with a little more context on dates and names. That is likely something that would occur in a larger mounting of the show were it to occur at a mid-size or larger venue; the framing context was missed in the intimate setting.

Production-wise, the staging was simple. The scenic design, for which there is no credit, was two boxes on the stage and a rack of costumes and costume pieces. The staging was augmented, at times, through the use of selected projections (there is no specific credit for projection design — this is likely covered by David Svengalis (FB)’s overall technical design and direction). The costumes themselves were simple and generally flowing, and were designed by Candice Cain (FB). Lighting design was by Derrick McDaniel (FB), and continued the overall transition into multicolor LED lighting from the single color Lekos and gels of the past (although a few Lekos were used). The Artistic Director of the Whitefire Theatre is Bryan Rasmussen (FB). The show was produced by Windy Productions.

The West Coast Premiere of Martha continues at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16, 2017. Tickets are $25 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next week brings brings a student production of The Robber Bridegroom at LA Valley College (FB) on Friday and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” | Fun Home @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 12, 2017 @ 6:31 pm PDT

Fun Home (Ahmanson)There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.

Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.

It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before.  Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.

Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.

As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).

As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.

Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.

The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.

Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.

Fun Home continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until April 1. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking here.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next week brings  Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The end of the month brings An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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Finding the Child Within | “Finding Neverland” @ Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 26, 2017 @ 2:05 pm PDT

Finding Neverland (Hollywood Pantages)From where does inspiration arise? What gives the author the impetus to write a story, particularly an imaginative story? These are the questions that underlie the musical Finding Neverland (FB), currently at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. The original production opened on Broadway in March 2015, closing in August 2016 after 565 performances — a respectable run. I discovered the production through the cast album, which I found enjoyable. The musical, with book by James Graham, and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (FB) and Eliot Kennedy,  was based on the 2004 Miramax movie of the same name by David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.

It is clear that the story of this boy that would never grow up, and his creation by J. M. Barrie, has fascinated people for generations (especially as the original story has gone in and out of copyright protection). It has spawned both prequel (Pan (2015)) and sequel (Hook (1991)) movies, as well as various reinterpretations and origin stories for the stage (Peter and the Starcatcher, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers), the latter being based on Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy.

The version of the story on the stage at the Pantages, as in the movie, is a fictionalized version of the real story. There are a number of elements in common, but there is rearrangement of both the relationships and the timeline. One wonders if the fascination with the story is because society inherently distrusts any relationship of an adult man with boys not his own. I’d hazard a guess that this is a preoccupation of the modern era; it may have been more common and innocent in the past. In any case, that intimation of creepy relationships that I raised in some biographical descriptions of Barrie are not present in this musical; rather, it expands on the notion of Neverland coming from a rediscovery of the author’s imagination.

Before I go further into giving my thoughts on the piece, perhaps a plot summary is in order. Here’s the summary from Musical Heaven:

After a less than successful opening of his latest play Little Mary, J. M. Barrie meets widowed Sylvia and her sons in Kensington Gardens and they all soon develop a strong bond. J. M. Barrie proves to be a great friend and father figure to the boys, and his antics with the children quickly begin to inspire him to write a play about boys who never wish to grow up, with youngest son Peter provides particular inspiration. Soon, people begin to question his relationship with Sylvia, although it remains fiercely platonic. His wife Mary divorces him and Sylvia’s mother starts to object at the amount of time Barrie spends with the family. Sylvia becomes increasingly weak after an illness, but Barrie continues to play with the boys, taking the adventures they experience and turning them into Peter Pan. Presenting his idea to Producer Charles Frohman, Frohman reluctantly agrees to put on the play, despite believing that it will not appeal to his upper-class theatregoers. Barrie takes it on himself to disperse children from a local orphanage throughout the audience, which causes the surrounding adults to delight in the play. Proving a huge success, Peter Llewelyn Davies arrives to watch the show and realizes that it is about him and his brothers; George, Michael and Jack. Too ill to attend the theatre, Barrie puts on a production for Sylvia in her home, gathering the actors, props and musicians in her house. At the end, Peter Pan points to the doors to signify that she should go to Neverland. She takes the hand of her boys and walks into Neverland, implying her death. At Sylvia’s funeral, Barrie discovers that her will reads that he should take care of the Llewelyn Davies boys, which he is overjoyed at. Barrie and Peter form a bond unlike any other.

Reviews of the show that I read before seeing it criticized this plot, arguing that it had no antagonist. One gets the feeling that they were looking for a conventional theatrical structure: protagonists, antagonists, charm songs, 11 o’clock numbers, “I want” songs, and so forth. That’s not here. If there was any antagonist, it might have been Barrie against itself; however, more than anything, I think this was just an attempt to tell a story. Stories do not always have good guys and bad guys — sometimes they just are. This is especially true in an origin story about something well known. One knows the ending in advance — the question is how they got there.

Where I believe the critics did have a valid complaint is the music. The reviews I read called it pedestrian. I wouldn’t go that far. This is the first score from a team that had previously done pop music. The pop music can successfully develop musicals given the right coaching, guidance, and skill. Good examples of this Sir Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and Sara Bareilles. But they can also go bad, as demonstrated by Paul Simon and Sting, both of whom had musicals that underwhelmed. The problem with much of the score in this show is that is sounded like pop music; they moved the story along but something was missing. This didn’t make them bad, mind you. They were more…. calculated for the pop ear, if I had to say anything. I think this is best exemplified by the fact that there is a companion album to the cast album that presents pop music stars performing these songs. There is one exception, however: the song “Play”, which is one of the ones very theatrical in its nature.

Irrespective of any story issues, the execution and presentation of the story were great (not surprising for a Broadway Equity tour). As directed by Diane Paulus, with choreography by Mia Michaels (FB), the characters come to life — in particular, the leads — with playfulness and movement as befits the story.

In the lead positions were Billy Harrigan Tighe (FB) as J. M. Barrie and Christine Dwyer (FB) as Sylvia Llewelyn Davis. Both gave great performances, with displays of the impishness and childishness needed for the characters. They also had very pleasant and strong singing voices — in particular, Dwyer at times reminded me of Allison Fraser with the touch of a really interesting vocal nuance to her voice. Tighe did a beautiful job on numbers such as “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground”, with Dwyer excelling in numbers like “What You Mean to Me”.

As Charles Frohman, Barrie’s producer, Tom Hewitt was strong and very funny. He came into his own, however, when portraying Barrie’s alter-ego, Captain Hook. Playful and maniacal, he was just a joy to watch. In terms of singing, I found him very strong in songs such as “Circus of Your Mind”, “Hook”, and in particular, “Play”.

The Llewelyn Davies children are portrayed by multiple actors; the actors we saw at this performance are italicized: George – Finn Faulconer, Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler; Peter – Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; Jack: Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; and Michael – Jordan Cole, Tyler Patrick Hennessy. All were cute and fun to watch and sang well. I was particularly impressed with them in the second act where one plays ukulele (and considering they rotate, this means that most play uke).

Although there was no formal bio in the program, stealing the hearts of the audience as Porthos was Sammy, in what appears to be his debut performance. Seriously, this dog was very cute and very well behaved — especially notable for his reaction to the other “dog” in the second act. Surprisingly, Sammy has an understudy, Bailey. Note: There is no connection to the other famous dog named Porthos.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Karen Murphy [Mrs. du Maurier]; Christina Belinsky (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan u/s]; Cameron Bond (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Turpin, Acting Troupe Captain Hook, u/s J. M. Barre]; Sarah Marie Charles (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Sylvia, u/s Mary]; Adrianne Chu (FB) [Ensemble, Acting Troupe Wendy]; Calvin L. Cooper (FB) [Ensemble]; Dwelvan David (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Henshaw]; Nathan Duszny (FB) [Ensemble]; Victoria Huston-Elem (FB) [Ensemble; Miss Bassett, u/s Mrs. du Maurier]; Crystal Kellogg (FB) [Mary Barrie, u/s Sylvia]; Thomas Miller (FB) [Ensemble, Elliot]; Noah Plomgren (FB) [Ensemble, Lord Cannan, u/s J. M. Barrie]; Corey Rives (FB) [Ensemble, Albert]; Dee Tomasetta (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan]; Lael Van Keuren (FB) [Ensemble, Miss Jones, Emily, u/s Mrs. du Maurier, u/s Mary]; and Matt Wolpe (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Cromer, u/s Frohman/Hook]. I particularly enjoyed Dwelvan David’s ensemble performance — very expressive. Somebody cast this guy as the Genie in Aladdin — he has the right look and fun. Swings were Melissa Hunter McCann (FB) [Swing]; Connor McRory (FB) [Swing]; and Matthew Quinn (FB) [Swing, u/s Frohman/Hook].

The music was under the direction of Ryan Cantwell (FB), with music supervision by Fred Lassen (FB) and Orchestrations by Simon Hale (FB). The orchestra consisted of Ryan Cantwell (FB) (Conductor / Keyboard), Valerie Gebert (FB) (Associate Conductor / Keyboard), Greg Germann (FB) (Drums), Laraine Kaizer (FB) (Violin), Ryan Claus/FB (Reeds), Sean Murphy (FB) (Bass), Nicholas Difabbio (FB) (Guitar), David Manning (FB) (Synth / Acoustic Guitar / Mandolin), Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin), Ken Wild (Bass / Electric Bass), John Yoakum (FB) (Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / F# Wood Flute). The keyboard sub was David Witham (FB), and the orchestra contractor was Brian Miller. The orchestra had a good sound to it, but beware there is loads of bass at the end of Act I. The original music supervisor and dance and incidental music arranger was David Chase.

Lastly, the production creative team: The scenic design by Scott Pask was relatively simple with a framing scrim (that blocked the view from the side, but narrowed the stage to a standard size for the tour 😞 ). The bulk of the scenic aspects were provided by the projection design of Jon Driscoll. This worked with the lighting design of Kenneth Posner to create most of the magic. I was particularly taken by a scene in the second act that made wonderful use of shadow effects of the actors on stage created by a single white light projecting on the actors from upstage. Speaking of magic, the real magic in this show came from the illusions of Paul Kieve, the air sculpture of Daniel Wurtzel, and the flying effects of Production Resource Group.  The effects these folks created near the finale are spectacular. The sound design by Jonathan Deans was reasonably good, but shows need to remember when booking the Pantages that all the lovely art deco flourishes in the auditorium, while great to look at, bounce the sound everywhere (and require special tuning). The costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb and the hair and makeup by Richard Mawbey looked good and worked well. Rounding out the production credits are: AnnMarie Milazzo – Vocal Designer; William Berloni – Animal Trainer; Stewart/Whitley – Casting; The Booking Group – Tour Booking; Mia Walker – Associate Director; Gregory Vander Ploeg – General Manager; Jose Solivan – Company Manager; Seth F. Barker – Production Stage Manager.

Finding Neverland continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. Tickets are available through the Pantages website/box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although this isn’t a perfect show, I found it quite enjoyable.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was this week, and here’s what I thought of it.

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