Rolling the Dice on a Staged Reading | “Tabletop” @ Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse

Tabletop (Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse)Last night, we were supposed to be seeing Jane Eyre: The Musical at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). But, alas, Chromolume has become a  a dead parrot ⚰🐦, its artistic director seemingly disappeared, and after an email of a potential resurrection, … nothing. So we scheduled something else: the first staged reading of a new musical called Tabletop about Role-Playing Gaming, at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB) in Woodland Hills. The musical, which I believe is a first work from the authors, features music and book by Chad Sundman, and lyrics and book by Race Benaglio.

As a staged reading, there was no costumes or sets. Music was prerecorded, and sung by different performers. Actors had the scripts in their hands. There was a talkback session after the show to give the authors, and the director, Brittany Sundman, feedback on the show to help move it forward.

The story of a show, in a broad sense, was about a group of friends playing a tabletop RPG — essentially some version of Dungeons and Dragons. As the story progresses, some of the strengths they reveal in the game help them deal with their personal lives.

As this was a staged reading of a first performance, I’m going to not review or provide critiques here. We discussed the show last night with the authors. I will say that I found it a very promising work, and one whose story captured my attention and held it through the show. I’ve never been an RPGer, for the same reason I’m not up on the stage: I’m a professional audience. I’ve never had the ability to role-play in any capacity: be it at the gaming table or on the stage. That doesn’t mean I’m not an avid gamer; it is just in the realm of boardgames and strategy gaming. I’ve known many RPGer through the years — including some RPG authors. I recognized the characters; I liked the characters; I liked the growth. I hope this musical continues on and has a successful life; I’d be intrigued to see it at a future point in its life.

The performances were very strong. The cast consisted of Axel Knight (Luke), Brandon Kemmer (Brandon), Caitlyn Rose Massey (Emily, Ensemble), Canon Hamlin (Mayor, Doctor, Ensemble), David Mark Beraru (Korrow, Ensemble), Erin Goulet (Sarah), Justin Huff (Ken), Katie Lynn Mapel (Karen), Mackayla Hill (Lyla, Ensemble), Matt DeNoto (Eric), and Natalie Swanner (Valerie). I’d like to particularly call out a few of these folks.  Katie Lynn Mapel nailed it with her sardonic delivery as Karen. I truly enjoyed watching Natalie Swanner — she had a very expressive face, and was putting some lovely energy into her character that came across to the audience in the little movements and expressions. Erin Goulet was truly kick-ass with her fighting moves. Matt DeNoto’s Eric was quite strong, serving well both as the DM and exhibiting great growth in his story line. Also strong were Axel Knight’s Luke, especially in the 2nd act, and Justin Huff’s Ken in the stealth number.

On the whole, we’re glad we braved the heat to see this show. It has a lot of potential, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

***

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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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 weekend, brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and the OperaWorks (FB) production “Golden Lasso” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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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What America Looks and Sounds Like | “On Your Feet” @ Pantages

On Your Feet (Pantages)There’s a point during On Your Feet: The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musicalwhich we saw last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), where Emilio Estefan turns to a white record company executive, who has just dissed him for attempting to crossover with English lyrics saying that he’ll only appeal to a Latin market, and says (pointing to himself): “This is the face of America”.

If there is a significant moment in this show, that’s really it. Much as we’re seeing the last gasp of White European culture trying to retain its grip on power via the Trump administration, the future of America — and what America has always been — is the melting pot of immigrant culture. From Eastern European Jews to Africans, from Latins to Asians, from Indians — both Native and East Asian. We all bring aspects of our culture that cross over, are celebrated, and that get you — to put it bluntly — on your feet.

On Your Feet, with book by Alexander Dinelaris and featuring music produced and recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, is not a deep musical. You won’t find a deep fictional tale rich in symbolism; you won’t find a movie story on the stage; you won’t even find a force-fit of a lightweight story on the framework of a jukebox musical. On Your Feet is clearly a bio-pic on stage: it is the story of a Latin music crossover band, and how the audience reacts is the demonstration that the message about the face of America is right: it is the immigrant’s face — working harder and with more determination, determined to find the way to succeed when the culture in power keeps telling them “no.” It is a message that demands to be heard in this day and age. It is a message that resonates particularly well in Los Angeles (say that with the Spanish accent, thankyouverymuch), given our history and culture.

As an audience member, you come out of On Your Feet thoroughly entertained. The rhythm moves you, the dance (choreography by Sergio Trujillo (FB)) moves you, the presentation and story (direction by Jerry Mitchell (FB)) moves you. You just leave happy. Is there really more you need right now, given what we’re seeing on the news?

The performances in this show are top-notch.  In the lead positions are Christie Prades (FB) and Mauricio Martinez (FB) as Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The two sing strongly, dance strongly, and have a great chemistry together. Not being an expert on Estefan’s music, I can’t speak to how well they sound like the originals. But they sounded pretty good to me.

Supporting them, as Gloria’s family, were Nancy Ticotin (FB) as her mother, Gloria Fajardo; Debra Cardona (FB) as her abuela, Consuelo; Jason Martinez as her father, Jose Farjardo; and Claudia Yanez (FB) as her sister, Rebecca [also, Ensemble, Gloriau/s]. All gave strong performances, had chances to give outstanding vocal performances, and moved well. Ticotin had a particularly strong voice, as did Martinez.

Giving standout performances as the child versions of the leaders were Carmen Sanchez as Little Gloria and Jordan Vergara (FB) as Young Emilio and Nayib. Super strong voices, super strong movement — they were just astounding. Ana-Sofia Rodriguez and Carlos Carreras cover these roles at selected performances.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles as noted, as well as providing the strong dance team, were the ensemble: Anthony Alfaro (FB) [Swing]; Michelle Alves (FB); Jonathan AranaDanny Burgos (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Sarita Colon (FB); Shadia Fairuz [Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Adriel Flete (FB); Devon Goffman (FB) [Phil]; Claudia Mulet (FB[Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Eddie Noel (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Marina Pires (FB) [Swing, Gloriau/s]; Jeremey Adam Rey (FB); Gabriel Reyes (FB); Joseph Rivera (FB); Maria Rodriguez; and Shani Talmor (FB). Explicit Swings were: Skizzo Arnedillo (FB) [Dance Captain]; and Ilda Mason (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain].

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra, which included a number of members of the Miami Sound Machine (indicated with *). The orchestra consisted of: Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Music Director, Keyboard1]; Emmanuel Schvartzman (FB[Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard2]; Jose Ruiz (FB[Trumpet]; Teddy Mulet* (FB[Trombone]; Mike Scaglione* (FB) [Reeds]; Stephen Flakus (FB) [Guitar]; Jorge Casas* (FB) [Bass]; Edwin Bonilla* (FB) [Percussion1]; Jean-Christophe Leroy (FB) [Percussion2]; Colin Taylor (FB) [Drums]; Serafin C. Aguilar (FB[Sub Trumpetlocal]; Denis Jiron (FB) [Sub Trombonelocal]; Sean Franz (FB) [Sub Reedlocal]; Patrick Vaccariello (FB) [Music Coordinator];  Eric Heinly (FB) [Local Contractor]. Other music-related credits: Jorge Casas* (FB) [Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Asst. Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programming]; Jeremy King and Taylor Williams [Assoc Keyboard Programmers]. Clay Ostwald* (FB) and Jorge Casas* (FB) provided additional orchestrations. Lon Hoyt (FB) did the arrangements.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative credits. David Rockwell‘s set design was simple, using a number of floating panels and various props. It also heavily used the video and projection design of Darrel Maloney. It also worked well with Kenneth Posner‘s lighting design, which used a large number of moving lights around the frame of the stage to create a concert feel for the show. SCK Sound Design [Steve Canyon Kennedy] was reasonably clear for the Pantages.  Costumes were by Emilio Sosa (FB), with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe (FB). Oscar Hernandez did the dance arrangements and orchestrations. Other production credits: Andy Señor Jr. (FB[Assoc Director]; Maria Torres [Assoc Choreographer]; Natalie Caruncho (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Prop Supervisor]; Eric Insko [Production Stage Manager]; Anthony Cefala (FB) [Stage Manager]; Saori Yokoo (FB) [Asst Stage Manager]Telsey + Company (FB[Casting]; Karen Berry [General Manager]; Susan C. Guszynski [Company Manager], Troika Entertainment [Tour Manager].

On Your Feet continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through July 29. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. This isn’t a deep show, but you’ll have a great time.

***

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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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 weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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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I’m Tired

I’m tired. So tired. Here’s what I’m tired of:

  • I’m tired of Trump. I’m tired of dealing with his hate and intolerance, especially of anyone who holds a different view, or didn’t vote for him..
  • I’m tired of the Trump followers — and the Trump haters — who feel that screaming at each other or that making fun of each other will accomplish anything. It might make you feel better in the moment, but it won’t change any minds. It could even do harm, cementing the view of intolerance of the one doing the screaming. Just shut up, and use your energy to actually change the situation. Yes, this goes for both sides.
  • I’m tired of memes. Taking an arbitrary quote, pasting it on top of a picture from a completely different time, and spreading it around the world is meaningless. The picture is out of context and often intentionally misleading. The quote is often out of context. It is, to use an overused term, fake. I want real news, with real context.
  • I’m tired of Whataboutism. If an action is wrong, it is wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum is doing it. Just because “the other side did it” doesn’t make it right. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t make it right. Going along with that, however, is understanding the context of the action. Just because sound bites or memes make something seem similar that doesn’t mean the context is the same, or that they are actually similar.
  • I’m tired of oversimplification. The political world is intensely complicated. Things that seem the same may be completely different, depending on context. Social media pushes us to oversimplify for sound bites, tweets, or memes. Resist the urge to do so, and actually study and understand the differences.
  • I’m tired of people seeing other people as a single, one word label. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Rarely can a person’s views be summed up in one word. Note, however, that if you insist on seeing me as a single label; the same may be true.
  • I’m tired of people calling each other names, like we were children in a schoolyard making fun of someone’s big ears. Grow up. How someone looks or dresses or even how they speak makes not one whit of a difference. It is their actions and behavior — what they do and what they say — that matter.
  • I’m tried of Trump: what he does, what he says, how he views as acceptable behavior that was unacceptable before the election (and vice-verse), how he oversimplifies, how he views people as labels, and his calling people names.

I’m also getting fearful:

  • I’m fearful of the hatred that this President has encouraged to come to the surface. Hatred based on origin. Hatred based on skin color. Hatred based on orientation. Hatred based on religion. Hatred based on political orientation. Enough already. This country has had enough hatred over its history. It was shameful then, and it is shameful now. It is time to accept others, in the spirit of freedom that this nation was built upon.
  • I’m fearful of the hatred that hasn’t come to the surface, and what it will do.
  • I’m fearful of the growing anger in this nation.
  • I’m fearful of the fear of the immigrant. I’m not, however, fearful of the immigrant, because almost all are good hardworking people, looking for a better life for their family, safety and security, and to be a part of this great nation. The percentage that are not is quite small, and is likely smaller than the percentage of citizens that wish others harm.
  • I’m fearful that the exhaustion that is setting in from this President will lead people to give up, and not fight to bring this nation back to its ideals of fairness and justice and equality for all. It is easier, after all, to give into the mob and not fight for what is right.

Most of all, I fear that society is getting a collective case of PTSD, although I don’t know how much “Post-” there is. There is certainly a traumatic stress disorder that is growing with every day of the continued partisanship and hatred, and the continued attack on our senses and sensibilities. Recovery for society — once we eventually move past the mishegos — will be slow and painful.

——————
When you get the urge to lash out and scream, to share a meme, or to do any of this, ask yourself the simple question: Am I just doing it to make me feel better? Will it change any minds to help my position? If you are only doing it for yourself, and it won’t advance your cause, don’t do it. Take that energy and redirect it into something that would actually make a difference: fundraising, getting out the vote, and so on. Just imagine how much more good work the non-profits you support could do if you donated the price of a cup of coffee each time you got angry reading something, or wanted to lash out.

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🎭 An Eternal Optimist | “Sweet Charity” @ Reprise 2.0

Sweet Charity (Reprise 2.0)My slate of Fringe shows might have been over, but I still had one more show on Sunday night. I’ve written before about how I’m on a quest to see musicals I’ve only heard, but never seen. One of these is Cy Coleman’s Sweet Charity. Back in 2013,  DOMA Theatre Company (FB)  looked like they were going to do Sweet Charity, but then they postponed it and did Nine instead… and DOMA has been dark since 2015. So when I heard that Reprise 2.0 was doing Sweet Charity, and that I could get tickets to see it after my last Fringe show…. I had to squeeze in one more show.

Now Reprise itself is an interesting company. Originally chartered to do rarely performed musicals from the golden era, they lost their way under Jason Alexander’s helm. We were last at a Reprise show back in 2005 for Pippin. But after dying, Reprise was brought back to life by its original artistic director, Marcia Seligson (FB), with its original vision. Hence, Reprise 2.0 (FB).

Back to Sweet Charity: As with the musical Nine (funny coincidence there), it was based on a Federico Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria (screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano). Whereas that film focused on a prostitute, Charity focused on a dancer-for-hire. What’s that you ask? At one point, men who liked to dance would go to dance halls, and pay women to dance with them. Now they just ply them with alcohol. In any case, the focus was more that the lead character, Charity Hope Valentine, had terrible taste in men. She was always looking for love, and constantly believed that she would find it in the next guy. The guys, however, tended to just use her for what little money she has. The musical starts by her planning to get an apartment with a married man, only to have him dump her in the lake and steal her money. She then meets an Italian romantic film actor, who promptly shoves her in the closet while he makes up — and makes love — to his girlfriend. In essence, her character is captured in her name — Charity, as she is always giving; Hope, as she is always hopeful, and Valentine, as she is looking for love. Wanting to have a normal life, she goes to the 92nd St Y in New York to take a class — and gets stuck in the elevator with a neurotic accountant. They slowly fall in love, with the accountant believing she works in a bank. This one looks to be it, but in the end, it is not to be: he can’t get over her past profession at the dance hall, and all the men she has been with. And so, the musical ends where it begin, with Charity eternally hopeful.

Throughout all of this, there is commentary by the other dance hall hostesses — on the nature of men, on how they want to do more with their lives, and how the life with a husband and kids is probably something they’ll never see, but something they want desperately none-the-less. There are also numerous scenes that play up the humor, which isn’t a surprise as the adaption of the screenplay was done by Neil Simon.

The music in the show is upbeat and energetic. Cy Coleman, who did the music, is well known for his jazzier scores and this fits the bill quite well. He also seems to have a lot of scores (and been involved in a lot of projects) that looked — perhaps with an askew eye — at women in sex. There were some notions of this in his earlier Little Me, and it certainly reappeared in the later I Love My Wife, Welcome to the Club, and The Life. Lyrics were by Dorothy Fields. I’ll note one musical thing that caught my ears: in the scoring to Charity, there is reference to a song called the “Coney Island Waltz”. It is a wordless melody heard at two places in the show. I recognized it immediately; Coleman recycled that melody for a song in his later musical Barnum: it became the song, “Love Makes Such Fools Of Us All“. That’s actually quite an appropriate message for Charity. Music and dance-wise, this musical is probably better known for its original choreographer and star, the team of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The show has had a few revivals, notably with Debbie Allen (FB) and Christina Applegate (FB) in the lead roles.

In reading some of the other reviews on this show, reviewers seem to feel it was dated. They appeared to base this on the notion of dance hall girls and hired dancers, the notion of wanting a wife that was pure, and the general attitude towards women in this profession. But I disagree with that notion — I think Sweet Charity is actually quite relevant to these times. One needs to view Charity not as a reflection of actual life, but as a fairy-tale that focuses on the notion of hope in the face of adversity. Hope is Charity’s defining characteristic: in the face of men who beat her down, in the face of life that beats her down, in the face of situations that would cause anyone else to doubt themselves and despair, she remains ever hopeful. In today’s world, where the news every day is more and more depressing, when we’re face with the relentless beat of people that are pushing us down, hope like Charity’s is what we need to make it through. So I don’t see Charity as dated; I see it as a reminder of the power of hope.

It is also a reminder of the power of dance. Reprise 2.0’s version of Sweet Charity was directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, a multiple-Tony winner for her direction and dance work. This production doesn’t let that reputation down. Dance and movement is strong throughout, from numbers like “Hey Big Spender” to the “Rich Mans Frug” to “Rhythm of Life”. These were strong ensemble numbers, showing the talent and movement and music. But, to me, some of the best moments were the introspective smaller ones, such as “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” or “Baby Dream Your Dream”.

Marshall and her casting team assembled a strong cast for this show. In the lead position, dancing and singing her tuchis off, was Laura Bell Bundy (FB) as Charity Hope Valentine. Again, I saw critics complaining about her overtaxing her voice in the second act. I didn’t notice that — Charity is a character you don’t expect to be a strong singer, and the original Charity, Gwen Verdon, certainly wasn’t. Bundy’s voice fit the character well; more importantly her personality fit the character well and shone through in her performance. She had that a strong enthusiasm that radiated all the way to the back of the theatre (where I was, in the row between K and M). She was a strong dancer, suitably kooky, and someone who was, well, lovable. My only problem was her wig, which just seemed to, well, wig-like.

Playing off her as her main love interest was Barrett Foa (FB) as Oscar. Foa captured the character well — the slightly nebbish, timid character. He had a nice singing voice and a good chemistry with Bundy.

The other main characters that we see throughout were the denizens of the Ballroom: Jon Jon Briones (FB) as the manager, Herman; and the two dancers who were closest to Charity: Krystal Joy Brown (FB) as Helene and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (FB) as Nicky. Brown and Gonzalez-Nacer were particularly strong in the aforementioned numbers I liked: “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “Baby Dream Your Dream”.

The other major named characters come in for a scene or two, and then are not scene (excused me, seen) again. These include Robert Mammana (FB) and Ashley Loren (FB) as Vittorio Vidal and Ursula March, respectively. They prompt the whole “If They Could See Me Now” number, without having to do any actual singing. There is also Terron Brooks (FB)’s Big Daddy, who does get to sing and bluster for one number before disappearing. All were enjoyable to watch, although mostly throwaway aspects in terms of the story.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble, all of whom were strong singers and dancers (additional named roles noted): Ari Aaron (FB), Justin Badding (FB), Claudia Baffo (FB), Gillian Bozajian (FB), VIctor E. Chan (FB), Catriona Fray (FB) [Rosie], Bella Hicks (FB), Lucia Joyce (FB), Jeffrey Landman (FB) [Manfred], Amber Liekhus (FB), Ashley Matthews (FB), Grayson McGuire (FB), Angeline Mirenda (FB), Chuck Saculla (FB), Evan Strand (FB) [Charlie], and Louis Williams Jr. (FB).

The on-stage orchestra was under the musical direction of the Reprise Resident Conductor, Gerald Sternbach (FB) [Piano]. Working with him was: Jack Lipson (FB) [Asst. Music Director, Keyboards]; Brian Scanlon (FB) [Reed 1: Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Don Shelton (FB[Reed 2: Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Phil Feather (FB) [Reed 3: Oboe, Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bob Carr [Reed 4: Flute, Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Jeff Bunnell [Trumpet 1]; Ron Barrows [Trumpet 2]; Robert Payne (FB) [Trombone 1]; Ken Kugler [Trombone 2]; Ira Glansbeek [Cello 1]; Jim Fox (FB) [Guitar]; Harvey Newmark [Bass]; and Albie Berk (FB) [Drums and Music Coordinator].

Turning to the production aspects: One of the hallmarks of Reprise is minimization of sets and such. For Sweet Charity, the set pieces were generic — chairs, beds, tables, a coat rack. The main aspects of establishing place were achieved through projections. These set and projections were designed by Stephen Gifford (FB). The costumes by Angela Balogh Calin (FB) seemed appropriate to the characters. Brian Monahan‘s lighting design established time and mood well, and I noticed no problems with Jonathan A. Burke (FB)’s sound design. Judi Lewin (FB) did the hair, wigs, and makeup; my only complaint was Laura Bell Bundy’s wig, which seemed to scream “I’m a wig.” Remaining production credits: Ryan Marsh (FB) [Assoc. Projection Design]; Rhonda Kohl (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Shon LeBlanc (FB) [Asst. Costume Design]; Jessie Vacchiano (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Michael Donovan Casting, CSA [Casting Director / Co-Artistic Director]; Davidson & Choy Publicity [Press Representative]; Patty Onagan Consulting [Marketing and Sales]; Kevin Bailey [Exec. Producer]; Matthew Herrmann (FB) [General Manager]. Marcia Seligson (FB) is the Producing Artistic Director of Reprise 2.0 (FB).

Reprise 2.0 (FB)’s production of Sweet Charity has one more weekend at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA. Tickets are available through Reprise 2.0; 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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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:

Fringe is over, but there’s one more weekend of June, which will either bring a Muse/ique (FB) show or “Big Daddy” at Boulevard Music — I haven’t decided yet.

July will be a tad less busy than June. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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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🎭 Finishing the Fringe – Tubas and Beatniks at HFF18

userpic=fringeWhew. For me, the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) for 2018 is over. Sunday I saw my last two shows, and as with Saturday’s shows, they were prime examples of what Fringe is: a well-done solo biographical piece, an a workshop of a very good new musical that hopefully is on its way for a longer life. But first, for one last time, my explanation of what Fringe is:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to Sunday’s shows. By the way, don’t worry if you missed some Fringe shows. Some of the best of the best of the Fringe will be extended into July; check the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) website for extension information.


A Reasonable Fear of Tubas (HFF18)I’ve noted before that a common characteristic of almost any Fringe festival is the solo show. Sometimes, this is a show where a single actor portrays a single character, as I saw in the excellent Ingersoll Speaks Again! early in the Festival. Often, however, the solo show is biographical, where the performer wants to impart a particular message or lesson based on their experience to the audience. Over the years, we’ve seen a wide variety of show shows; I recall one last year my wife just loved. This year, we’ve seen a broad range. In one, the performer came across as unprepared, and her message was muddled as a result (luckily, I’ve heard that although she was upset at my review, she’s taken my comments to heart and is improving her show — which makes me happy). The second solo show of this type was a bit muddled and needed some tightening, but did get its message across. The third was simply spectacular, although was a bit less autobiographical. I’m pleased to say that the last show of this type I saw, A Reasonable Fear of Tubas, hit that sweet spot: a well-done autobiographical show that got its message across well but didn’t overstay its welcome.

In A Reasonable Fear of Tubasauthor and performer Stacy Patterson (FB) tells us the story of her life, presenting numerous entertaining incidents that provide the basis for her assertion that she was reasonably fearless. She tells stories of situations where friends would have flinched, of not being afraid of heights, not being afraid of this and that. All these stories provide the basis for her exposure of her crippling fear, that came across in 1975 when she saw (insert music cue), the movie Jaws. That awakened her fear of sharks, and that fear began to cripple her near any body of water — first at the coast, then inland, and then even on TV, because — well, you know — cartoon sharks. But she then turns to the facts on sharks, and how so many of them are just killed for their fins, and then tossed to die and suffocate in the water. She doesn’t indicate whether she can now accept sharks, but she does note that she is no longer crippled by them. She then goes on to explain the title: what made sharks extra scary in the movie was not the shark itself, but the music — intentionally played by tubas out of key to amplify the fear.

Throughout the production, she is presenting slides from her childhood, which come up when she expects them to come up. More over, she’s not using the slides to tell the story (as I would with a Powerpoint); rather, the slides just illustrate the incident she has just told (for example, her at the top of a tall tall tree). She’s entertaining, energetic, and most importantly, knows her story and tells it without reference to anything else. It was just an entertaining show.

About the only drawback to the show was the lack of any program. The “program” such as it was, was the show’s advertising postcard. That tells me nothing about the experience of Ms. Patterson; I only know what I learned from the show (and what I have learned subsequently writing up this post).

The show was directed by Christian Davis. There were no other credits provided; in particular, no stage manager or technical support credits were provided.

Sunday was the last performance of Tubas; I have no idea if it is being extended by the venue.


Beatniks (HFF18)My last Fringe show for the 2018 Fringe Festival was a new musical, Beatniks. The musical, with book, lyrics, and music by Davia Schendel (FB, IG), was ostensibly about the “beat generation“, which Wikipedia describes as: “a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-World War II era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s. Central elements of Beat culture are rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quest, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.” It was also, at least based on the title, about “beakniks” themselves, which Wikipedia describes as “a media stereotype prevalent throughout the 1950s to mid-1960s that displayed the more superficial aspects of the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s. Elements of the beatnik trope included pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people along with the spiritual quest of Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical fiction.”

I’m not sure how all of those particular aspects of beat culture came across in the musical itself; certainly, most of the stereotypical aspects of beatniks and beak culture weren’t there (i.e., dressing in all black, turtlenecks, etc.), except for the heavy smoking. In the musical, the beat generation came across as one obsessed more with poetry and writing (back when you could earn as much as a folk singer by being a poet), and with the exploration of life and feelings.

At this point, I would normally attempt a synopsis of the story. That’s difficult, as there was a bit of convolution to it; further, the program itself provides little after-the-fact memory jogs such as a song or scene list. That could be intentional, as the story still still in development. The story appears to start off with two friends, Audre and Diane, who are heavily into the poetry scene, discussing life in college as they are about to head off to different college. Each has different literary aspirations. Once the story moves to college, the story centers around two main groups of characters attempting to find their way in the beat generation, make a living, get published, and pay the bills. One revolves around friends Joyce and Elise, which Joyce being the main point of interest. Joyce becomes friends with publishers LeRoi and Hettie; they introduce her to Jack. Jack swiftly hooks up with Joyce, before going off on the road for a long distance romance. Meanwhile, Elise has started to hook up with another beat poet, Allen. Allen has been serving as muse to Diane, encouraging her career while’s hooking up with a fellow beat poet, Peter. Diane becomes pregnant, has the baby, but attempt to keep writing poetry while balance motherhood along the way, still getting published and keeping in touch with Audre. They all come back together at the end.

If you notice, in that description, I left last names out of it. That’s because all of the people in the show are actually named after real-life people. Diane, the main character, is Diane di Prima, who actually did attend Swarthmore (one of the schools at which the musical takes place), and whose first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, was published in 1958 by Hettie and LeRoi Jones‘ Totem Press. Yes, the Hettie and LeRoi mentioned in the synopsis. Hettie Jones and LeRoi Jones were friends with many of the major beat poets, such as Allen Ginsberg (yes, the Allen in the story) and Jack Kerouac (yes, the Jack in the story); they actually hired di Prima as an editor.  Audre referred to Audre Lorde, although Lorde’s involvement with any of the other beat characters is unclear.  Elise Cowen was another beat generation poet who became friends with Joyce Johnson (then Joyce Glassman — yes, the Joyce in the story). At the same time, Cowen was introduced to Ginsberg by a psychology professor. A romantic involvement followed in the spring and summer of 1953, but Ginsberg soon met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky (yes, the Peter in the story). In parallel, Joyce Glassman became involved with Jack Kerouac; in fact, Ginsberg arranged for Glassman and Kerouac to meet on a blind date while she was working on her first novel, Come and Join the Dance. Floating in and out of this was Neal Cassady, who is also in the musical, who appeared both in Ginsberg’s poems and Kerouac’s writings,

So here’s the problem; The musical focuses on all these real characters. It pays a lot of attention to real relationships that developed between subsets of the characters in real life, and it is clear all — or most — of the characters knew each other at some point. So is this a real story, based on research? Is it a version of Million Dollar Quartet, where it is an imagined interaction between the characters? To what extent is this fictional; and if it is, where are the fictional characters? Further, being built around real characters makes it much harder to have a protagonist who has a quest or a want for something, and goes on that journey to achieve it, finding something else along the way. None of that is made clear.

However, it doesn’t need to be … yet. This is a Fringe musical, in its second mounting (the first was in the UCLA Botanical Gardens). It still has a substantial gestation period and dramaturgy to go through prior to a major mounting. For what it is, the maturity was remarkable. The music itself was pretty strong, although a few songs sounded similar. I particularly liked the “Land of Cardigans” song about Barnard, and the number sung by Kerouac on the ukulele about the blues. For the most part, the songs seemed not to be novelty numbers; they did what songs in a musical should do — move the story along. I’ll note that the group developing this musical is all out of the UCLA Musical Theatre program; as a UCLA grad myself (BS ’82, MS ’85, School of Engineering), I can confidently say the high quality must be in part from the excellent education they received there 🙂 ).

Another thing that was strong were the performance. In what I would characterize as the lead female positions were Rachel Berman (FB) as Diane di Prima, and Roxy Seven (FB) as Joyce Glassman. Both were remarkable — strong voices, strong performances, strong characterizations. I was particularly taken with the emotion that came through Seven’s voice, and with her facial expressions. Both were delightful to watch.

On the male side in leading positions were Matt Curtin (FB) as Allen Ginsberg and Brady Richards (FB) as Jack Kerouac. Curtin captured the neuroticism of Ginsberg well and gave a strong performance. SImilarly with Richards; I was also impressed with his singing and ukulele playing, which worked very well.

Supporting the female leads were Nola Faye Dodd (FB; IG) as Elise Cowen and Autumn Sylve (FB) as Audre Lorde. Both inhabited their characters well and had strong vocal performances. Rounding out the somewhat larger performances were Scottie Nevil (FB) as Hettie Jones, and Dennis Woullard (FB) as LeRoi Jones. Both gave strong performances and had good voices, although Nevil could use a bit more strength behind hers.

Rounding out the ensemble in smaller roles were Kyle Frattini (FB) as Neal Cassady, and Charles Platt (FB) as Professor Williams / Peter Orlovsky.

Music direction was by Mina Bloom (FB), who also played piano and helped workshop this production in 2017 with her Dually Noted Theatre (FB). Rounding out the band were Austin Chanu (FB) [Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute]; Kyle Lesh (FB) [Guitar]; Marion Meyerson (FB) [Bass]; and JJ Ross (FB) [Drums].

There was no choreography credit; presumably, the dances and movement were developed by the director,  Davia Schendel (FB, IG), as yet another hat.  As this was a Fringe production, the scenic aspects were limited by time and budget (although the Beatniks team can always use your donations).  Costumes were by Jared Davis (FB), and were surprisingly not black or bereted (i.e., stereotypical beatnik). Phoebe Balson (FB) was the stage manager.

This was the last performance of Beatniks at Fringe, unless they get an extension. This is a show that I expect will continue, as it shows quite a bit of promise. I’m sure they can use any donations to help them on the way.

***

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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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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🛣 Updates to California Highways – June 2018

OK, OK. I said I wouldn’t let too much time elapse between updates. Life got away from me. Deal.

[Let me note that below the cut is information on all the things your gas tax is paying for: the STIP, the SHOPP, and all the SB1 programs. I urge you to go through those documents, and support the good work, jobs, and safer highways it is creating.]

I’m starting to get the urge to do some remodeling around here. I’ve already gotten the site moved to HTTPS: all the time, both on the blog side and on the highways side. Next up will be moving to a responsive design, together with some basic graphic changes of the headers and menus. I have no plans to change the content or my method of content generation. Rather, the use of icons as a menu with no text is very out of date; I’d rather go to a more accessible and understandable approach with some drop-down menus, and perhaps a nice graphic header. I did explore using a different CMS for the highway side and integrating my generation approach, but I’ve come to realize that is quite likely overkill. The problems I’ve got are (a) finding a good WSYWYG HTML editor that I like (both of the ones I use, HoTMetaL Pro and Amaya are abandonware). Second is learning how responsive design works and having the time to do it (this site was started in the earliest days of the web). So comment if you have suggestions (or wish to volunteer to help with the top level design), and be prepared for a new look at some point in the future. You can see my thoughts on what I would like from the redesign here; it also explains how the site is generated.

Moving on to the updates: Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Michael Ballard(2), bing101/AARoads(3), DTComposer(4), Tom Fearer​/​Max Rockatansky/AARoads(5), Andy Fields(6), Ray Mullins(7), Alex Nitzman(8), Sparker/AARoads(9), Miosh_Tino/AARoads(10), Don Williams(11), Joel Windmiller(12): Route 1(1,8), Route 4(1), I-5(1,2,8,3,9), US 6(5), I-8(8), Route 9(5), I-10(1), Route 11(8), Route 12(1), Route 14(1), I-15(1), Route 16(8), Route 17(1,5), Route 18(1), LRN 21(5), Route 24(5,8), Route 25(8), Route 28(5), Route 32(1,5), Route 33(5,7,11), Route 34(1), Route 35(1,5), Route 36(1,5), Route 37(8), I-40(1), US 40(5), Route 41(1,5), Route 46(1,5), Route 49(5), US 50(1,5,3), Route 51(1), Route 52(8), Route 57(1) Route 58(1), Route 59(5), Route 60(1), Route 62(1,5), Route 65(3,9), Route 66(1,5), Route 67(1), Route 68(1), Route 70(1,5,9), Route 71(1), Route 75(1), Route 76(1), Route 77(8), I-80(1,3,9), US 80(5), Route 82(8), Route 84(1,9), Route 85(1,5,10), Route 88(12), Route 89(1), Route 91(1), Route 93(8), US 95(1,5), US 97(8), Route 99(1,9), US 101(1,3,6), Route 109(5), I-110(1,8), Route 113(1), Route 114(5,9), Route 119(5), Route 120(5), Route 121(1), Route 123(8), Route 124(5), Route 127(1,5), LRN 127(1,5), Route 130(5,9,8), Route 132(9), Route 135(5,9), Route 136(1,5,9), Route 138(1), Route 138/HDC(1), Route 140(5), Route 146(5), Route 147(1), Route 149(9), Route 152(1), Route 153(5), Route 155(5), Route 156(1), Route 158(5), Route 163(1), Route 165(5,9), Route 166(1,5,8), Route 167(5), Route 172(5), Route 176(5,9), Route 178(5), Route 180(5), Route 184(5), Route 187(1), Route 191(1), Route 192(1), Route 195(5,9), Route 197(8), US 199(8), Route 203(5), I-205(8), Route 207(5), Route 209(5), I-210(1), Route 218(1), Route 219(5), Route 222(9), Route 223(5), Route 227(5), Route 237(5), Route 241(1), Route 246(1), Route 265(8), Route 268(1), Route 270(5), Route 273(8), I-280(1), Route 281(8), Route 283(8), Route 284(8), Route 299(8), Route 330(8), Route 371(1,8), US 395(8), US 399(5), I-405(1), US 466(5), I-580(1), I-605(1,4), I-680(1), I-710(1), I-780(3), I-805(1,8), Route 905(8), CR A15(5), County Route A22(5), County Route A23(5), County Route G13(5), CR G14(5), County Route J18(5), County Route J59(5).

Added some extensive history to Route 710 for the period before 2006, as a result of some of my materials being used in an exhibition on the history and controversy over the Route 710 Gap Completion. Thanks also to Julia Tcharfas and Tim Ivison, the exhibition organizers, for the scans of the proposed Route 710 gap routings from the 1980s, which was in their extensive set of clippings on the subject. This also led me to write a blog post on the subject.

Added a question to the FAQ about roadside memorials.

Processed some link corrections from David CrispRosanna Kull, and Will Tottle.

I’ve begun the slow process of adding postmile references to ensure I present highway information in order. Notable routes where this has been done includes Route 1, I-5, Route 99, and US 101. The process of doing so uncovered a few errors in the site, which have been corrected. For those who love to debate, this uncovered that there is a Route 101U, just as there was a Route 14U. There’s also a Route 210U.

Read More …

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🎭 The Power of Theatre – Cheese, Monday Morning, and Goat Testicles @ HFF18

userpic=fringeJust as my first two shows on Saturday at  the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) showed the range of the Fringe Festival; my second two Saturday shows showed the power of the Fringe Festival to showcase new work that is an essential commentary of our times. Fringe is interesting in that way. At the 2017 festival, the emotion from Trump’s election was exposed and raw, and there were numerous shows about the President that were equally raw, and came from a place of fear, which far too unfortunately has proven to be well justified. This year, the predominant theme came from the #MeToo movement, and there were numerous shows on that subject. I didn’t go to see many in that vein, but today’s shows touched on other raw issues: the issue of race and the legacy of hate in the South, and the dangerous power of demagogues and charlatans who give the people what they want, even if it isn’t in their interest. But first, however, the obligatory description of the Fringe, and an upfront PS:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

P.S.: For those that didn’t see this post, I — a stalwart audience member, who have never been on the other side — has been inspired by Fringe, and am thinking about how theatre could explore cybersecurity. If you’re interested in helping, contact me. If not, at least read The High Assurance Brake Job linked in that post.

Now, on to the remaining Saturday shows:


Cheese & Things / Monday Morning (HFF18)Monday Morning / Cheese & Things was actually two shows in one: a ten-minute opening show (which was a comedy), and a fifty minute full-on drama.

Cheese & Things, the opening show written and directedy by L. P. Dohi (FB), was set at a baby shower with two friends waiting for the reveal of the baby’s sex. It starts with one woman, Sydney, talking about about how she masturbates, and has no use for men. This shocks the other woman, Frances, and the discussion continues on in a sexual vein. There are discussions about how women only reach orgasm during sex about half the time; about how women faking it ruins men who then think they know how to bring women off. One woman reveals she’s afraid to go out with men because 9 out of 10 women killed were killed by a man. This leads to one of the best retorts of the show: “That you know of.” There are also discussions about women’s periods, the use of tampons vs. diva cups, and so forth.

I’m not sure that this opener delves into any particular deep areas, although I’m sure for the ladies in the audience it was quite cathartic, and expressed some of what they felt. As a guy in the audience, however, I’m unsure how I was supposed to react (especially as one whom I’m discovering is less than typical, for I listen to and respect my wife, and follow the adage of when she’s happy, I’m happy). In many ways, my reaction as a man was similar to my reaction to They’ll Be Some Changes Made, in that it tended to present a one-sided, somewhat stereotypical, view of men. But then again, I’m an outlier in that area, and media tends not to show the atypical.

Setting that aside, I still found the play quite funny and enjoyable.

The two women, Bessie Jo Hill (FB) as Sydney and Natalie Davis (FB) as Frances had good comic timing and a great chemistry together. They were very believable as their characters. The author of their sibling from another mother play, Nathan Trumbull (FB), played the partner of the target of the baby shower, and popped in his head occasionally.

After the whine and cheese appetizer (should I duck and run?), we came to the meat of this Fringe show, the play Monday Morning by the aforementioned Nathan Trumbull (FB). This play was simply spectacular, and held my interest and focus throughout.

Monday Morning tells the story of two co-defensive coordinators for the Old Miss Rebels, Charles (who is black) and Mack (who is white). On the Monday morning after a game against Florida State, Charles walks in to discover that Mack is asleep on the office couch; he has a hangover, and indicates that his wife threw him out the night before because of something he had done. After some back and forth character establishing conversation that demonstrates the depth of friendship between these two, Charles turns on the news and we learn that the night before there had been a rally against tearing down a Civil War statue on campus that had turned violent. For some reason, Mack keeps turning off the radio. They eventually start plotting their avenue of attack for the game against LSU the next weekend. Mack has a number of players he thinks are key to winning the game, when Charles informs him that they may not be able to field those players. Mack can’t understand why, and then Charles brings up why he wanted to hear about the rally the previous night. It seems that a number of players had been at the rally the previous night, and a few of the black ones had been arrested and released, after one of white players — who wasn’t arrested — joined in with the white supremacist fraternity in singing a racist and hateful song, and waving a flag with the Dixie banner. Mack then goes to his locker and pulls out what appears to be the Confederate Battle Flag, but that he then reveals to be the Mississippi state flag. Charles notes that that flag is banned on campus, and its display could be viewed as a hate crime. This leads to a discussion on how the police treated the black players, should they be suspended for a game — all of which Mack supports. But then, when the discussion turns to the white player, things turn even uglier. Charles wants to pull his scholarship for his involvement in hate crimes — something against the student handbook. Mack protests, and in the discussion of that protest, the real reason Mack was hired in the first place is revealed, and Mack’s ugliest side reveals himself.

This is a topic in this news, and one vital to the day — especially as our leaders are working to divide this nation based on race and skin color, and as we see white supremacy raising its ugly ugly head (and I see many white conservative friends defending the police behavior of white officers against blacks, and defending the legacy of the Civil War). I think this play is a must see for the story it tells and the message it imparts. It exposes the undercurrent of hate far too visible today.

Under the direction of Wolfgang Bodison (FB), the performances were spectacular and riveting. As Charles, C. W. Smith (FB) provides the voice of reason, with a clearly visible seething under the surface that you can see him controlling. Mack, as played by Grayson Low (FB), is more clearly the good-ole-boy Southerner who is laid back about what happened — but who too has a violent side that — unlike Charles — does appear to surface, in a quite ugly way, at times.

The program provides no production credits for things like costume or the set/prop design. There is also no specific credit for producer, and the stage manager isn’t credited either.

I think this combination of appetizer and main dish is well worth seeing. Cheese & Things is quite funny, and Monday Morning is quite spectacular and topical. They represent — in a more traditional one-act play sense — the best of what Fringe could be.

This was supposedly the final performance of Monday Morning” and “Cheese & Things”. But check their Fringe website, for I hope that someone sees clear to give them an extension.


The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B (HFF18)As you probably know, attending theatre and writing up shows isn’t my day job. I work full time in El Segundo, and commute daily from Northridge. When I drive the vanpool, I play podcasts. Sometime in February or March I played a recent episode of the wonderful Reply All podcast from Gimlet Media (FB) about a charlatan doctor in Kansas, Dr. John R. Brinkley.  That podcast was about what happened when new technology (in this case, radio) fell into the wrong hands, and how people were convinced — thanks to the power of the media — to do things that were clearly not in their best interest, even though they were thoroughly and completely convinced that they were.

In The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B, , conceived and directed by Ben Landmesser (FB), and created by The Puckwit Gang (FB), the story of Dr. John R. Brinkley is presented as an allegory for a different demagogue, who is currently in vogue and — alas — in leadership, who has convinced a large number of people through the power of personality that he, too, is their savior. As a result, these people support him although clearly what he is doing is not in their self interest either.

To understand the allegory, you need to know who Brinkley was. One website captures it succinctly:

From 1917 through the 1930s, physician John Brinkley made millions of dollars by implanting goat testicles in men to restore their virility.

You are not misreading that. Goat testicles. Brinkley, who never finished medical school, was a “doctor” whose claim to fame was supposedly restoring virility by convincing men that they could have the sexual prowess of goats if they implanted goat testicles in their body. He later got a radio station, and his clinic shot to fame through well produced radio shows, broadcast across the country, where his snake oil was sold (even as the nascent AMA fought him). After he was exposed, he turned to politics. He ran for Governor of Kansas, but ultimately lost after voter tampering and fraud was uncovered.

The Puckwit Gang takes that story — which they also learned about from Reply All — uses it to drawn an unspoke analogy to Donald Trump. They use it as a lesson about how a snake oil salesman, who knows how to use a new medium to his advantage, and who knows how to twist the truth, can convince people who are desperate to believe in him, and to support things that clearly will destroy them (blinding them all the while to the actual dangers). They show how the power of persuasion and belief, in the right hands, can dupe even well educated professionals to the point that it endangers their lives.

See what I mean about dark, deep, and timely resonate messages.

The show itself is structured as a radio show, where we get to meet Brinkley’s wife, Minnie who is acting as Brinkley’s proxy in promoting his work. The show also includes two folk performers, a couple down from Minnesota who have come for Brinkley’s services, and two AMA doctors who are there to expose him. There is also Dr. B  himself, who is silent and has his back to the audience for much of the show. We learn that the Minnesota couple are there because they wife is unable to have a child because of her husband’s virility problem. After promising to mortgage their family farm, Brinkley agrees to help them. After a hilarious scene where he picks his goat, and the goat gets a snip-snip, the balls are implanted and the man is seemingly restored. We also see the travels of the folk performers, where one is an ardent supporter of Dr. B and the other is an abuser of Dr. B’s tonics and tinctures. Lastly, we learn more about the AMA doctors. One is completely convinced that Dr. B. is a fraud and is attempting to convince the world of it. The other believes in Dr. B, thinks he is misunderstood, and travels to Kansas to undergo the procedure — to disastrous results. The show ends with Dr. B on trial, and when Dr. B takes the stand, we learn that what is in his head is… radio static.

As Dr. B’s wife, Daniela Whipple (FB) has a chilling portrayal of someone who is taking advantage of the cult of personality around Dr. B for her family’s gain. She is a willing accomplice, smiling and subtly moving things along, ignoring the questions.

The folk singers are portrayed by the wonderful Garrett Crough (FB) and Jess Weaver (FB). They open the show, and throughout the show interject humor and music. Now, I happen to like folk and bluegrass, and this duo is excellent. I would have enjoyed an entire show of just them giving a concert and playing off of each other. Two great performers.

The couple from Kansas is portrayed by Christian Gnecco Quintero (FB) and Mari Assad (FB). Quintero does a wonderful job of capturing the two different sides of the man, John. One — pre-surgery — is pessimistic and dour. The other — post-surgery — is hopped up and bouncing, and believes whatever Dr. B is selling. Assad captures the hopeful wife well. First, she is hoping to have children. Later, after becoming pregnant, she represents someone who still has her doubts, but is willing to swallow all of the potions that Dr. B’s clinic dispenses if it will help her have her child. It is notable that she is the first to give up on Dr. B when he is exposed. Both were great performances.

The two AMA doctors were portrayed by Pablo Castelblanco (FB) and Samantha West (FB). Castelblanco is strong as the real doctor who is willing to believe in Dr. B. His performance during his surgery and immediately afterwards is great. West is one of those actors who has a look that just draws my eye. She was wonderful as the AMA doctor that is fighting the quackery and the cult surrounding Dr. B. Her portrayal captured someone who knows a fraud when she sees it, and who gets frustrated when people knowingly believe the fraudster.

Ben Landmesser (FB) silently and smiling-ly portrays Dr. B himself.

The show featured arrangements of “May The Circle Be Unbroken” and “Blackwater Side”, as well as original compositions, by Garrett Crough (FB) and Jess Weaver (FB). Artwork was by Dwight Chesbro (FB). Meagan Truxal (FB) was the stage manager.

The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B is an example of the other type of Fringe show: a show that uses humor to get across a very serious point. In this case, the humor serves to deflate the power of the cult of personality. Dr. B serves as a metaphor for President Trump, and the dangerous cult that surrounds both, oblivious to the fact they are working against their own interests. This is a show that must be seen, although, alas, in Los Angeles it is so much preaching to the choir.

I was at the last performance of The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B, although there is always the possibility of a Fringe extension. Watch their Fringe page for more information.

***

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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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 Mouth that Doesn’t Speak, and a Cowboy Mouth That Does @ HFF18

userpic=fringeWe’re coming down to the home stretch of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) — the last weekend. SaturdayI had four shows; Sunday I have two Fringe shows and one traditional musical. The first two Fringe shows — after I got to the theatre after being stuck in the traffic nightmare created by the 7th Annual Hollywood Cultural Festival that completely closed Hollywood Blvd between Highland and points E of US 101 for an hour — truly demonstrated the breadth of the beast that is Fringe. The first was a mime show — yes, a mime show; the second was a traditional short play written by two well known artists. But first, as is traditional, my description of the Fringe Festival:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

Now, on to the first show. I should note that, for most of today’s shows, they were shows that I did not pick on my own. I originally left today open, and producers (thinking I was a critic) got in touch with me. If I could work a show into today’s schedule, I did.


Mime Time: Get Out of Your Head (HFF18)As a result of how today was programmed, the first show was a mime show, Mime Time with James Direct Presents: Get Out of Your Head. I’ll start with the good news: it wasn’t the worst show that I saw at Fringe. I’ve written about that before; I understand the artist for some reason is still complaining.

Going into the show, I was in the mood for some humor after the aforementioned traffic jam that was Hollywood Blvd. There were a few good moments in the show, but as the artist, James Direct (FB), noted: (a) this was his return to mime after a while; (b) this was designed as a children’s show; and (c) it was a definite work in progress.

That said, at least he didn’t play the banjo or the accordion :-).

Seriously (and yes, for the record I like banjo music), mime shows can run the gamut. You can have the traditional overdone mime tropes: the mime in the box, the mime pushing the object that doesn’t move, the mime pulling the rope, the mime walking into the wind. You can also have great mime and physical comedy, as the artist Moonie does at the Ren Faire. I think for a mime show to succeed — at any age — they need to play up the sense of the absurd and the childlike nature of things, and move beyond the tried and the true.

Direct’s show was a mix of that. The  tropes were there, and served more to demonstrate his skill as a mime than to be particularly entertaining. But there were wonderfully absurd sketches that worked quite well. The Wedding sequence with the bells was wonderful, as was the Fish Matador sequence. Bringing in the absurdity, the unexpected, the reactions worked well. Potentially, adding some more improvisation could work too. Having the audience write situations that he then had to improvise in mime could lead to the unexpected. His show was certainly entertaining, and he was prepared and knew his material and how to get his point across without words.

I do think that Direct has talent, and with some additional work, I think he could bring this mime show to the next level. The current show is a start on that path. Some sequences (such as the “How To…” bits) can use some trimming, but others show an inventiveness that is nice to see. I look forward to seeing how he matures the work.

As this was the last weekend of Fringe, alas, this was the last performance of this show.


Cowboy Mouth (HFF18)The second Fringe show of the day was at the other end of the spectrum: a traditional play — Cowboy Mouth, written by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith — being mounted as a showcase by some very talented performers.

As playwright Sam Shepard writes on his website, “Cowboy Mouth is a surreal, poetic piece dreamt up by Shepard and Smith in a war of words that lasted for two nights. Every reference in the play is infused with the true character of these two icons and the dynamic of their volatile love affair.” The producers characterized the origin of the play thusly in the program, “In the early 70’s, Sam Shepard and Patti Smith had an ongoing love affair. Cowboy Mouth was birth during a particular two-day tryst, where the two of them spent the days passing drugs, love tequila and a typewriter back and forth in the comfort of the Chelsea Hotel.”

It definitely was poetry, because I’m not quite sure that I understood it.

Summarizing the play is difficult, and so I turn again to Wikipedia:

The play is about Slim and Cavale, two aspiring rock stars living in sin together. Cavale kidnapped Slim at gunpoint and held him captive in her motel room for an unspecified amount of time; the two have fallen in love, in spite of the fact that he has a wife and child in Brooklyn. Unable to move, yet at complete unrest, Slim swings from blaming Cavale for the disaster that is his life to begging her to tell him stories about French poets. Cavale is a former mental patient of some kind. She remembers electric shocks and having to wear metal plates around her club foot when she was younger. She also muses about playing the ugly duckling as a child, being forced into the role without even the satisfaction of emerging as a beautiful swan at the end. The two call on an imaginary Lobster Man for sustenance and entertainment.

I’m not quite sure I picked up on that watching the play, although I do think I got the gist of it. The bigger question, in my mind, was the point that was trying to be made. There was a lot of discussion and a lot of back and forth; there was a lot of drug use and drinking. There were desires discussed, and a few acted upon. And there was a lobster man (who had a fantastic costume). But what sticks with me most is the end of the play, when Slim is allowed to leave and the Lobster Man returns to reality. I think that was the key point of the play — the need to return to normality that was required for Cavale to finally be able to take charge of her long-held dream.

Perhaps. I’m still not sure.

Even if the story was confusing, the performances were strong, under the direction of Sarah-Jean Kruchowski (FB). The leads — Joey Bothwell (FB) as Cavale and Eddie Mills (FB) as Slim — were just spectacular. Strong, emotional, raw, at times dangerous and unhinged. They reflected well the strong personalities and emotions of their characters. Additionally, Bothwell’s singing was beautiful during her one song.

As The Lobster Man, Cameron Barnes (FB), had a smaller and stranger role that was harder to assess. I guess he did it well; his costume, created by Justin Gunn (FB), was remarkable.

Cowboy Mouth was produced by Neely Shamam (FB); Emma Harris was the Associate Producer. There was no credit for the stage manager. The Cowboy Mouth artwork was by Roland LeFox (FB).

This was the last performance of Cowboy Mouth as part of Fringe. I seem to recall the front desk at The Actors Company mentioning an extension (although that could have been a different show), so check the show’s Fringe page for any extension information. I do think it is worth seeing; I was probably not deep enough into that particular rock world to catch all the references.

***

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 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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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