🗳 June 2019 Los Angeles Special Election Ballot Analysis

Well, it’s that time again. I’ve received a sample ballot, but it’s an odd year, meaning an odd election:

There’s was another special election mid-May to fill a vacant LAUSD board seat. What that wasn’t combined with the parcel tax election, I have no idea.

So we have a situation where Council District 12 has two issues on the ballot (for which we’ve gotten voluminous mail — I’ve never gotten this much for a city council election before), and the rest of the city just has the parcel tax. Talk about a recipe for low turnout (and due to business travel, I’ll be voting absentee ballot).

Still, a sample ballot is a ballot, and calls for a ballot analysis. This may be LA County’s last election using ink-a-vote, unless we have something in November. In 2020, LA County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will be open for 11 days, and voters will be able to vote at any center in LA County. How successful it will be is unknown, but hey, what can go wrong during the most critical Presidential election in this nation’s history.

On to the ballot analysis….

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🎶 App Review: iSyncr + Rocket Player

If you recall, I recently wrote about some problems I was having with my iPod Classics, both of which had been modified with the Tarkan iFlash adaptor to 512GB. Luckily, the fellow who installed the adapter for me was able to get them out of the Reboot loop, and I have restored them. That got me thinking again about non-iPod solutions. There were a variety of options available:

  • Dedicated music players such as the Fiio or Astell & Kern provide great sound quality, but are expensive, require additional SD cards for storage, do not support smart playlists, and cannot integrate with my large existing iTunes library. There are precious little details online about their interfaces, and especially about their interfaces on the PC side for managing the music libraries.
  • An iPod Touch does not work, because their storage is not expandable and currently maxes out at 128GB. An older iPhone has more storage, but is also much more expensive, and has been designed by Apple to have diminishing battery life — plus planned obsolescence.
  • Using my existing Android phone, which can support Micro-SD cards up to 2TB.

When I started exploring the Android ecosystem, the first option was a cloud subscription model. For a multitude of reasons, I do not like streaming music — you need larger data packages for your phone, and you may not always have service where you want it. But programs like Apple Music and Google Play Music (GPM) do allow you to, within limits (50,000 songs for GPM; 100,000 songs for AM), upload your music library to their cloud (where they may substitute existing tracks they have), and then download it into the SD card from your mobile device. Initially, I thought about that option, in particular with Apple Music, which would support Smart Playlists. Both work with iTunes, either natively or with a media manager. They also have other arbitrary limits, such as GPM limiting playlists to 1,000 songs. Both also require monthly payments to Apple or Google, companies that don’t need your money, avoid taxes, and are not longer out to do good, IMHO.

But then I stumbled upon the apps from a small family company, JRT Studio (FB). They have two apps: iSyncr and Rocket Player, that were of interest. The apps had free and pay version, and the pay version was a one time payment. They appeared to do what I wanted to do: iSyncr would read the iTunes database and move the music to an SD card; it would also sync back to iTunes play times, counts, and ratings. Rocket Player was a music player designed to play music from an Android’s internal storage, and provided a widget to add ratings. I use ratings to flag tracks I like, and tracks that need repair.

So, after stumbling on a sale on 512GB MicroSD cards (for $99 at Amazon, half-price!), I decided to go the iSyncr route. I ordered the card, installed it, and attempted to sync. The good news is that, after some stumbles, I was able to get the process working and copied all the music and playlists to my SD card. The Rocket Player works well, and even additionally supports its own form of smart playlists so that I could create ones that do live updates (existing smart playlists in iTunes transfer as a static copy that do not update). In general, the process was easy once I figured it out. Over time, I’m playing with tuning the process to make it more efficient.

I cannot, however, give the products a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ rating at this time. I have to dial it back to ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ because of some problems.

For iSyncr:

  • The interface is, at times, user unfriendly, or at least, non-intuitive. It took me a while to realize using the USB transfer that it was calculating the space as a preparation to sync, and that you had to initiate the sync separately. If you want to keep adding playlists slowly, it has to rescan iTunes for each playlist. Establishing the permissions for it to communicate is also a bit complicated, although that is in some ways due to Android and Windows. The Windows component also installs straight to the system tray, and the user interface is not explained well.
  • The product needs to be a bit more security aware: it may require too many firewall permissions (it is unclear if those can be dialed back, in particular, the public access option if you only want to sync on home networks), and I’m not 100% sure on the Android permissions. They also need to sign their Windows executable. I understand why they don’t sign it (privacy issues), but I believe those should be surmountable.
  • It would be nice if the product communicated over Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi and USB.
  • There seemed to be a bizarre interaction after resetting the Android Media Library that resulted in a large playlist (Music) being limited to 100 songs. It appears that everything in the playlist transfers, but that the project of the playlist itself is what is short. We thought it was a license issue, but it turned out to be a permissions problem. It was resolved by deleting that playlist in Rocket Player (which required re-granting permissions to the directory on the SD card), and then re-syncing that playlist via iSyncr on WiFi.

For Rocket Player:

  • Their live list capability is a bit more limited that iTunes. Here are a few things that I noted:
    • iTunes smart playlists provide full equation capability — that is: a & b & (c | d) & (f | g). Live lists give each predicate an option of mandatory or optional, where “optional” means connected to the other predicates with an “or” (and that only really comes into play if there is one required component — if all are optional, you get the entire library)
    • There are conditionals available on iTunes, such as “starts with”, that are not available for live lists. Of course, Apple needs full regex matching, but that’s probably a reach.
    • There are fields you can test for in iTunes, such as the length of the track, that are not available for Live Lists. This was particularly annoying for me, as I have Smart Lists that partition my podcasts based on length, and I couldn’t reconstruct them in Rocket Player
  • One of these apps (I suspect Rocket Player) may be a battery drain. I noticed since adding the apps that the battery drains faster, but I haven’t fully figured out the culprit. It appears it may be Rocket Player, when it is in the foreground or rescanning the SD card. It appears to be managable. What is unknown if other players would be equally draining if they were the ones in the foreground and doing the scanning.

However, the biggest problem for both apps was, well, dealing with bigness. The programs do not work efficiently with very large libraries such as mine: 45,600 songs, playlists that are 20,000 songs, and at least 256GB in music and podcasts. iSyncr originally took an hour or two to process the playlists to sync. By tinkering with which playlists I transfer (and recreating the smart playlists and live lists and not transferring them), I’ve gotten the time down to 15-30 minutes.  Rocket Player takes a long time to start up and recognize the music, and an even longer time to scan for new music. Some of this may be due to the Android media library, but I don’t think that’s the entire picture. I think they tested in on smaller libraries and it worked just fine; my library is an anomaly and very large.

Given that the products are (currently) a backup, and that I only plan to sync once a day when it is near my computer, the faults are not insurmountable. Still, they are annoying (and thus the 4½⭐ rating). I hope that they can improve the efficiency and user interface of these products in the future.

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🎭 Death on Stage, Done Right | “Les Misérables” @ Pantages

Les Misérables (Pantages)Yesterday, I wrote about Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre, and how the death at the end of that show closed the show on a down note, leaving with the audience impressed with the performances, but an ultimate “eh” for the overall feeling. Contrast that with the death that occurs at the end of Les Misérables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB): almost the entire company on stage, marching and singing and celebrating the life and glory. You walk out humming an uplifting anthem, with a completely different feeling. Now that’s how you do death!

Also as with Falsettos, this is the second time we’ve seen the show. The first was also in 2011 when it was at the Ahmanson. This was also the year we first saw Falsettos. Back then I wrote about the show:

Back in 1985, a musical juggernaut was created: Les Misérables, the musical version of the Victor Hugo novel. It hit Los Angeles in 1988, opening at a rejuivenated Shubert Theatre in Century City, where it ran for fourteen months. It returned to Los Angeles numerous times since then under Broadway/LA’s banner (2004, 2006). However, it wasn’t until the current 25th anniversary production at the Ahmanson Theatre that I finally saw the show. As my wife said as it ended last night, “Wow!”.

Les Misérables” (the musical) tells the story of Jean Valjean, also known as prisoner 24601, and his adopted daughter, Cosette. It is based on the Victor Hugo of the same name, but does cut a few elements of the story. The story, which covers 17 years, is so complicated that a synopsis needed to be published in the program (seemingly, a bad sign). Given that, I’m not going to attempt to repeat it here. You can read it yourself in the Wikipedia Page on the show. Suffice it to say that the show condenses the 1,200 page, five volume novel into two acts of 90 minutes and 65 minutes respectively. The first act covers Jean Valjean’s release from prison and the interaction with the Bishop at Digne, the mayoral years at Montreiil-Sur-Mer where Valjean meets Fantine and takes responsibility for Cosette, the visit to Montfermeil where Valjean obtains Cosette from the Thénardiers, and the years in Paris where the student revolt begins and Marius and Cosette fall in love… all of this while the police officer Javert is chasing Valjean. The second act is solely in Paris and covers the student revolt, its failure, the subsequent growth of the relationship between Marius and Cosette, the final confrontations of Valjean and Javert, and the final redemption of Valjean. That’s a lot of material to cover—trying to cover so much material and so much time is the reason many great novels, such as Gone With The Wind, never make it to the Broadway stage. It is a testament to the original authors Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Alain Boublil (a French-language libretto) that they were able to take the beast of a novel and turn it into something understandable (although, arguably, this is really a full opera presented in the guise of a “musical”—at times, the lines between the two blurs). It is also a testament to the English language adapters, Herbert Kretzmer who developed the English language libretto, and Cameron Mackintosh, the original producer, who discovered the French production in 1982 and has sheparded it ever since (I’ll note Mackintosh’s full bio in the program was: “Produces musicals.”). The production was adapted by Sir Trevor Nunn and John Caird.

The translation does have its weak parts, however, primarily in how manipulative it is for the audience. By this, I mean the show in engineered to be a pleaser, with music that builds and leaves the toes tapping; with moments designed to permit the actors to shine; and with act-ending finales designed to stir the soul. In that sense, it is truly operatic as opposed to dramatic. It it also, at times, emotionally overwrought—again, a hallmark of the more operatic side. To some that is a fatal flaw that reduces the worth of the show, but I do enjoy the general effect.

[Some story credits I missed including the first time: Claude-Michel Schönberg Music; Herbert Kretzmer English Lyrics; James Fenton Additional material]

It is now 8 years since I saw that production. What has changed, other than Cameron Mackintosh now having a full bio? Does the new touring production reach the same heights? After all, the story hasn’t changed at all.

Sad to say, the answer is decidedly mixed. The performances are soaring, and the direction and choreography makes the best use of what they have to work with. Voices are remarkable, and the audience is excited. But production decisions make the ultimate effort hard to embrace. At the Ahmanson, the tour was designed to use the entire stage, which is needed for the company to express the broadness and scope of the production. At the Pantages, the set artificially constrained the stage space, cutting the width of the Pantages stage by an estimated one-sixth on each side (that’s a one-third cut overall, for those math challenged). This limited movement, and obscured sight lines from the side. Further, the lighting was dark dark dark, and then smoke and fog effects were added. This made it hard to see. I recall that the Ahmanson staging was better lit and you could see the actors from a distance. The constrained stage and the lighting served to tone down the show. At least the sound was, for the most part, good (which can be a problem in the Pantages).

This is not to say that the production was bad or poorly executed: only that it could have been better. The performances themselves were stunning. The comic bits with the Thénardiers were hilarious (in particular, Mme. Thénardiers reprise to “Master of the House” with the bread), and there were some remarkable sustained high notes. The voices were phenominal, and the music for this show is just a delight. You can just float away on that alone. It just didn’t have the impact of the first time we saw the show.

Some of the problems with this production — at least design wise — may be the results of decisions by the directoral team of Laurence Connor and James Powell. But they did do a great job with their performers about bringing out effective and strong performances that conveyed both the story and the emotions of the characters. They helped their acting team inhabit their characters and tracks, and generally made the performances the strongest part of this show.

In the lead position of this story was Nick Cartell (⭐FB, FB) at Jan Valjean. Cartell had soaring vocals in songs such as “Bring Him Home”, and captured the angst and torment of the character well, Opposing him throughout much of the story was Josh Davis (⭐FB, FB) as Javert. Davis also had soaring vocals in songs like “Stars” and his Soliloquy — a common trait in this cast — and provided solid opposition.

This brings us to the adult women in the cast: Mary Kate Moore (FB) as Fantine; Jillian Butler (FB) as the adult Cosette; and Paige Smallwood (FB) as the adult Éponine. All were beautiful and spectacular and sang like angels — Moore in “I Dreamed a Dream”, Butler in “A Hear Full of Love”, and Smallwood in “On My Own”. They made the same casting decision that was done in the 2011 production that required a bit of suspension of disbelief (little white girl turns into stunning black singer), but this is a stage fantasy, so who really cares.

Then there are the kids: Cate Elefante (FB) as Little Cosette (alternating with Aubin Bradley), Aubin Bradley as Young Éponine (alternating with Cate Elefante (FB)), and Parker Weathersbee as Petit Gervais / Gavroche (alternating with Parker Dzuba, who came in for Jonah Mussolino (⭐FB) in August 2018, when Jonah moved to Falsettos). Elefante was spectacular in her opening scene singing “Castle on a Cloud”, and Weathersbee was strong as Gavroche in the second act in all of his numbers. All were astonishingly cute.

Joshua Grosso (⭐FB) made a strong Marius, whom we see as Cosette’s love interesting and a leader of the students in the second act.  He has a touching rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and a lovely duet with Éponine in “A Little Fall of Rain”.

Lastly, in terms of the major characters in the story, there is the comic relief duo of J. Anthony Crane (⭐FB, FB) as Thénardier and Allison Guinn (⭐FB, FB) as Mme. Thénadier. We don’t meet the characters until the wonderful “Master of the House”, and then they keep reappearing in funny situations throughout the story. The actors play off each other well and are having fun with their roles, and that comes across to the audience well.

All of the other characters are in smaller roles, often not well named on stage, or in ensemble positions: John Ambrosino (FB) – Bamatabois, Claquesous; Felipe Barbosa Bombonato (FB) – Grantaire (at our performance), Farmer, Babet (normally); Olivia Dei Cicchi (FB) – Innkeeper’s Wife; Kelsey Denae (FB) – Wigmaker; Caitlin Finnie (FB) – Ensemble; Monté J. Howell (FB) – Innkeeper, Combeferre; Stavros Koumbaros (FB) – Joly; Andrew Love (FB) – Champmathieu, Brujon; Andrew Maughan (FB) – Bishop of Digne, Lesgles, Loud Hailer; Maggie Elizabeth May (FB) – Old Woman; Darrell Morris, Jr. (FB) – Constable, Montparnasse; Ashley Dawn Mortensen (FB) – Factory Girl; Bree Murphy (FB) – Ensemble; Domonique Paton (FB) – Ensemble; Talia Simone Robinson (FB) – Ensemble; Patrick Rooney (FB) – Constable, Fauchelevent, Jean Prouvaire; Mike Schwitter (FB) – Laborer, Feuilly; Matt Shingledecker (FB) – Enjolras; Brett Stoelker (FB) – Swinging in to Babet, Major Domo (at our performance); Addison Takefman  – Ensemble; and Christopher Viljoen (FB) – Factory Foreman, Courfeyrac. Matt HillNormally, Grantaire, Major Domo was out at our performance.

Swings were Julia Ellen Carter (FB); Jillian Gray; Tim Quartier (FB); Brett Stoelker (FB); and Kyle Timson (FB).  Understudy allocations are not shown.

This show isn’t a dance show per se, but there is lots of movement. The musical staging was by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt (FB). Kyle Timson (FB) was both the Dance Captain and the Fight Captain. Given the small stage space, the movement was very effective in utilizing that space and doing its best to create the illusion of a larger space. Still, this resulted in a lot of people going in a lot of circles.

The orchestra (under the Musical Direction of Brian Eads (FB)) was larger than the typical touring orchestra, and had that wonderful large orchestral sound that this show needs. No indication was provided as to who was local and who was not, but I recognize a number of names, so my educated guess as to locals is indicated with 🌴. The orchestra consisted of: Brian Eads (FB) – Conductor; Eric Ebbenga (FB) – Assoc. Conductor, Keyboards; Tim Lenihan (FB) – Asst. Conductor, Keyboards; Danielle Giulini (FB) – Violin, Concertmaster; Karen Elaine (FB) – Viola; 🌴 Ira GlansbeekCello; 🌴 Michael Valerio (FB) – Double Bass; 🌴 Amy Tatum (FB) – Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute, Recorder; 🌴 Richard MitchellB Flat Clarinet, E Flat Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Recorder; 🌴 Laura Brenes (FB) – French Horn 1; 🌴 Allen Fogle (FB) – French Horn 2; 🌴 John Fumo (FB) – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet; Phil Keen (FB) – Bass Trombone, Tuba; Jared Soldivero (FB) – Drums, Percussion, Mallets, Timpani; Mary Ekler (⭐FB) – Keyboard Sub; Stuart AndrewsKeyboard Programming; Jean BellefeuilleAsst. keyboard Programming. Other Orchestral credits: 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) – Orchestra Contractor; John CameronOriginal Orchestrations; Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker [UK] – New Orchestrations; Stephen Brooker [UK] and James Moore (FB)  [US] – Musical Supervision; and John MillerMusical Coordinator.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative aspects: I’ve already mentioned the constrained stage space and the problems with the darkness of Paule Constable (FB)’s lighting design. Setting that aside, the rest of the production worked well. Matt Kinley‘s set and image design used a balcony on one side and archways on the other to create a wide variety of spaces, using a combination of rolled on, flown in, and projected set pieces. Some were extraordinarily effective, such as the catacomb effect in the sewers in the second act. Credit also goes to 59 Productions for the projection design, which also used images inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. This was also augmented by the Costume Design of Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland, which seemed both appropriately poor and rich depending on the scene, and seemed to fit the characters and their stations well. The wig and hair design of Campbell Young Associates also worked well. Mick Potter‘s sound design generally worked well, although there were points that it was muddled in the cavernous space that is the Pantages. Other production credits: Laura HuntAssociate Costume Designer; Nic Gray – Associate Sound Designer; Richard Pacholski – Associate Lighting Designer; David Harris and Christine Peters – Associate Set Design; Corey Agnew – Assoc. Director; Richard Barth (FB) – Resident Director; Tara Rubin CSA (FB), Kaitlin Shaw, CSA – Casting; Ryan Parliment – Company Manager; Jack McLeod (FB) – Production Stage Manager; Jess Gouker (FB) – Stage Manager; Joseph Heaton (FB) – Asst. Stage Manager; Broadway Booking Office NYC – Tour Booking &c; NETworks Presentations – Production Management; Gentry & Associates – General Management. A Cameron Mackintosh and NETworks Presentation.

Les Misérables continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through June 2, 2019. If you haven’t seen the show before, it is worth seeing. If you have seen the show before and love the show, you’ll certainly enjoy this outing. If you have seen the show and are looking for a new take, this might be hit or miss with the darker lit staging. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office.  Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (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:

Tonight brings another tour: Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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 Place to Play and Grow

This morning, I read in the LA Times about actress Constance Wu’s tweet about the renewal of Fresh off the Boat, and the resulting kerfuffle, which was not actually about FOTB, but losing an artistic challenge as a result of the renewal. I have two words for Ms. Wu:

Intimate Theatre

In particular, Los Angeles’ vibrant 99-and-under seat theatre scene. I’m not an actor, but a long-time LA audience member. Something Actors Equity never learned about Los Angeles is that LA’s small theatres is where TV and film actors go to exercise their craft and find challenge. It is where they go to escape the doldrums of a character they know well, and explore roles — in short runs — that are vastly different than their TV roles. And I’m sure the small companies in LA would love to have Ms. Wu join them. The audiences in LA certainly would, because we need the diversity she would bring to the stage.

Don’t believe me? Ask folks like Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart, Dan Lauria, Dann Florek, and the many other “recognizable” TV actors I’ve seen on the 99-and-under stages here in Los Angeles.

Want that artistic challenge? You don’t need to leave your TV home. Just go to Santa Monica Blvd, Western, Electric Avenue, or the many other streets housing our great local theatres. Do you want to get a taste? The Hollywood Fringe Festival starts the 2nd week of June.

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🎭 A Time It Was, And What a Time It Was | “Falsettos” @ Ahmanson

Falsettos (Ahmanson Theatre)Normally, the progression of how I see major musicals is to see a regional tour first, then see the a major regional production, and then see the intimate theatre version or versions of the show. But 25 years ago I was seeing less theatre and preparing for the birth of my daughter, and so missed Falsettos when it was at the Ahmanson at the Doolittle. My first exposure to the show, instead, was back in 2011, when the YADA/Third Street Theatre mounted a production. About that show, I wrote:

Falsettos” is really two parts of a three part trilogy of one-act musicals with book by William Finn and James Lapine and Music and Lyrics by William Finn (it premiered on Broadway in 1992). The first part of the trilogy (which is not in “Falsettos“) is “In Trousers“, which introduces us to the main character, Marvin, and his discovery that he prefers men to women. The two parts of “Falsettos ” take place after this: Marvin has just divorced his wife, Trina, and has become involved with Whizzer. The first act, “March of the Falsettos“, addresses the desire of Marvin to have a tight-knit family of Marvin, his lover Whizzer, his ex-wife Trina, his son Jason (age 11), and their psychologist (and Trina’s eventual husband), Mendel. This act explores the impact of Marvin’s relationships on those around him, ending up with Trina in a somewhat happy relationship with Mendel, Jason reconciled with his dad, and Marvin and Whizzer split. The second act is the last part of the trilogy, “Falsettoland“. It deals with Jason’s Bar Mitzvah under the Marvin being reconciled with Whizzer, and the shadow of Whizzer coming down with AIDS and eventually dying.

Neither of these are the happiest of subjects, and William Finn’s sung-through music provides opportunity after opportunity to explore all the angst. Unlike “Spelling Bee” or “New Brain“, the music isn’t particularly memorable or uplifting. So overall, we walked out of the musical with an “eh” reaction to the book: it wasn’t quite as incomprehensible as “Adding Machine“, but it wasn’t particularly a wow either. That’s not to say there aren’t some good songs. I’ve always like the opening of both acts: “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”, which opens “March of the Falsettos” and “Welcome to Falsettoland” which opens “Falsettoland“. March (Act I) also contains the wonderful “I’m Breaking Down” (originally in In Trousers): this is a comic delight that Trina sings while making some god-awful baked contraption. The visual gags alone are a delight. Falsettoland” (Act II) has a few good numbers as well, in particular, “Watching Jason (Play Baseball)”, where the characters bemoan how Jewish boys can’t play baseball, and “Everyone Hates Their Parents” where Mendel and Jason sing about how teens always hate their parents as teenagers, but when they are older, they hate them less, and that when they have kids, their kids will hate them. As the father of a teen who is in this stage, all I can say is “how true!”. Lastly, Marvin’s haunting last number, “What Would I Do?”, is just wonderful: it poses the question of what Marvin’s life would be had Whizzer not been it in. It is a suitable capstone to the piece, showing the value of love and friendship.

It is now (looks at watch) 8 years later. Do I still think it is “eh”? If anything, this has become much more of a period piece: we now know how to manage AIDS/HIV, and we can essentially cure or render the disease non-detectable. That’s a good thing: we no longer have the epidemic of men and women dying of this disease. This piece, on the other hand, takes place at the start of the AIDS/HIV era, when we didn’t even know what the disease was — only that men were dying of it. Think of a continuum: this piece capturing the start, with pieces like Rent squarely capturing the middle (recall the “AZT break, referencing the cocktail that had just become common), and pieces like The Prom capturing the modern era where the disease isn’t a consideration. In that continuum, this piece has increased in importance to remind us where we were, and how a disease can rip apart families. It also reminds us that families are who we choose them to be.

But still, this is not a show where you walk out of the theatre cheering. As we drove home, we were listening to an episode of The Ensemblist with Shoshana Bean, and she talked about Hairspray,  and how it ended with all the cast on stage happy and singing. Sister Act, last week, ended similarly. But this show? Let’s just say it ends on the predictable downbeat, with the teeny tiny band. As a result, you still walk out of the theatre a bit “eh”. You enjoyed the show, there were great and wonderful performances, but it left you … solemn. It’s a downbeat book. Not Mack and Mabel downbeat, but still downbeat. But the performances were great.

Before I get into the individual performances, I would like to highlight some of the great moments in this show — because although overall it was down, there were some great ups along the way:

  • I love the opening songs in each act: “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” for Act I (March of the Falsettos), and “Welcome to Falsettoland” for Act II (Falsettoland).
  • “I’m Breaking Down” is still a comic masterpiece, and one of my favorite songs overall.
  • “Everyone Hates His Parents” is an absolute truism, and was wonderfully performed.
  • “The Baseball Game” is just so true, especially as I know Jewish Men that try to play baseball.

Under the direction of James Lapine, and with choreography by Spencer Liff, the production is incredibly creative. The first act has the characters using a large cube of oddly shaped pieces to create the various scene bases, and the dance is less the “step turn step step twist turn” cheorography of a big show with lots of dancers, and more of a choreography through life. Nowhere are both better demonstrated than in “I’m Breaking Down”, where the simple act of making a cake becomes both a dance and an exercise in mental collapse. That is the perfect mess of directors getting the best out of their actors, and cheoreographers making the movement seem natural yet integral to the storytelling.

The performances in this piece were strong. It is hard to tier the first act leads, as they all have relatively equal roles (two characters get added in the second act). But let’s start with the centers of the story: Marvin and his son Jason.

Marvin is in one sense the center of the triangle in the story: He was married to Trina and divorced her; he left her for Whizzer; and his psychiatrist was Mendel, who fell in love with Trina. Playing Marvin, Max Von Essen (⭐FB, FB) captures a man who doesn’t know what he wants in life exceptionally well. He has a lovely voice, which he shows in quite a few numbers, but especially in “What Would I Do?” or his very neurotic numbers like the opening “A Tight Knit Family”.

But Marvin isn’t the only center of the story: there’s also Jason, Marvin’s son. Two actors alternate playing Jason: Thatcher Jacobs and Jonah Mussolino (⭐FB). At our performance, we had Mussolino, who appears to have moved to this tour from the Les Miserables tour (which is across town at the Pantages, if he wants to see his friends). Mussolino was spectacular. His expressions, his playfulness, his singing and performance (for example, in “Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist”) in the first act were only surpassed in the second act with his Bar Mitzvah, in “Everyone Hates His Parents”, and “Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah”. Great great performance.

However, if I had to pick a first choice in the performances, it has to be the top of the triangle, Eden Espinosa (⭐FB) as Trina. Just watching her energy, her fact, her embodiment of her character is just a delight. I noted before her performance in “I’m Breaking Down” as a comic masterpiece; but she’s strong in every number she’s in.

Trina is one point of the triangle; another point is Nick Adams (⭐FB, FB)’s Whizzer, the gay man with whom Marvin, Trina’s ex, falls in love in. Adams gets the lucky honor of not surviving the story. I think his character changes the most between the two acts: a bit more aloof and unexplored in the first act; a lot more open and loving in the second act, and with a decidedly stronger relationship with Jason, Marvin’s son. Adams captures those changing characterizations well, and moves from his initial stereotype to a warm person the audience cares about. He sings wonderfully and moves well.

The final point in the triangle was Nick Blaemire (⭐FB, FB) as Mendel, the Psychiatrist. Blaemire, who also wrote the musical Glory Days (which we saw the same year we first saw Falsettos) captures the self-effacing humor of Mendel well, and creates a very relatable  down-to-earth character who does a wonderful job of creating a new family with Trina. He sings wonderfully, is very playful in his movement (look at “Everyone Hates His Parents” or his scenes with Jason), and is quite fun to watch.

In the second act, two additional characters were introduced — the lesbians next door: Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham (⭐FB, FB)) and Cordelia, the Kosher Caterer (Audrey Cardwell (FB)). First and foremost: Ms. Parham has a voice on her — she sings, and sings wonderfully. It was a delight to hear her on all her numbers, in particular, her characterization and expression in “Something Bad is Happening”. Cardwell’s Cordelia gets less of an established personality in the writing, but Cardwell does great with what she gets, pushing her food with style :-).

Standbys and understudies were: Josh Canfield (⭐FB, FB) [who was on Survivor, cool!], Melanie Evans (FB), Megan Loughran (FB), and Darick Pead (FB).

The on-stage “teeny, tiny, band” was conducted by P. Jason Yarcho (FB), and consisted of: P. Jason Yarcho (FB) Conductor, Piano; Max Grossman (FBAssoc. Conductor, Keyboard; Philip Varricchio (FBReeds; Jeremy Lowe (FBDrums/Percussion. Other music credits: Michael Keller (FB) Music Coordinator; Taylor Williams (FB) / Randy Cohen Keyboards Keyboard Programmer; Vadim Feichtner (FBMusic Supervisor; Michael Starobin (FB) Orchestrations.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative credits: David Rockwell (FB)’s set was extremely clever. Starting out as a cube on stage with a backdrop of New York (presumably), the cube came apart to form walls, houses, chairs, desks, and you name it. This was extremely clever, but we replaced by more realistic elements, such as hospital beds and walls, in the second act. Still, the set was an extremely clever conception to execute. It was augmented by Jeff Croiter (FB)’s lighting which mostly worked well, but which also left some characters in the dark or at the edges thereof when they were still the focus of attention. Jennifer Caprio‘s costumes seemed appropriately period, as did Tom Watson‘s hair and wigs. Dan Moses Schreier‘s sound was clear. Rounding out the production credits: Eric Santagata Assoc. Director; Ellenore Scott (⭐FBAssoc. Choreographer; Tara Rubin CSA (FB), Eric Woodall, CSA, and Kaitlin Shaw, CSA Casting; Broadway Booking Office NYC Tour Booking &c; Gregory R. Covert (FBProduction Stage Manager; Amber Dickerson (FB) Stage Manager; Hollace Jeffords (FB) Asst. Stage Manager; Joel T. Herbst Company Manager; Gentry & Associates General Manager.

Falsettos continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 19, 2019. Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

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The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) has announced their 2019-2020 season, and coming off of their 2018-2019 season, my reaction is much like my reaction to Falsettos: eh. There are only two shows I’m interested in seeing out of the seven: Once on This Island and The Last Ship. Further, the Ahmanson does not understand care and feeding of season patrons (especially the feeding, as we saw at the Pantages subscriber backstage events at the Pantages and Dolby, where local restaurants brought their wares). When I recently had to exchange tickets, I was forced into a higher priced tier because of the paucity of seats available on any date — even weekdays — at my price point. The website was unclear and I needed to call customer service to confirm whether the price was before or after the exchange. Add to that the fact that, when we subscribed originally, they forced us to subscribe on a weeknight (as there were no tickets in the lowest price tier available for subscribers on weekends), and didn’t let us pick the week. Basically, they don’t make me want to go out of the way to be a subscriber even if there is a show or two I don’t like. Good treatment of subscribers is something I’ve seen the Pantages demonstrate. So I think for 2019-2020, it is single tickets. Similarly, there’s only one show in the Taper season of interest: What the Constitution Means to Me. Again, single-tickets. I am, however, considering the Musical Theatre Guide (MTG) season, if it isn’t too expensive: BarnumThe Goodbye GirlIt Shoulda’ Been You, and Kismet.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (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:

Tonight brings another tour: Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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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🗯️ Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

userpic=trumpIn the era of Nixon and Watergate, I was a kid. We watched the news as 12, 13, and 14 year olds, but didn’t think all that much about it. We did, of course, read Doonesbury, and hence, the title of this post (and the flashbacks). Today, as an adult, I’m beginning to understand how adults felt in that era, with a President that had clearly committed crimes, stonewalling the investigation, with partisan supporters clearly asserting his innocence, while Congress endeavored to do their oversight job. The only difference between now and then is the magnitude of the crimes (simply burglary and theft for political campaigns seems so naive now) and the fact that we had a President then who understood the politics of the job, cared somewhat about the nation, and had the good sense to resign for the good of the nation. Today, on the other hand…

Stonewalling didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The truth will eventually come out, the supporters will be proven wrong, and the criminals at minimum will slink away into obscurity, with reputations damaged and destroyed. The only question is: How long will it take for the Nation to recover?

So, some simple questions:

  • If the President is innocent and the report completely exonerates him, why is he hiding under claims of Executive Privilege and telling his aides not to testify? Before you answer: Remember that the Republicans asked the same questions regarding the Clintons, and they did testify.
  • Congress has an oversight role, as the Republicans so doggedly emphasized whenever there was a Democrat in power. The role does not go away or get diminished because the Republicans are in power. As the Republicans said with Hillary: investigate, and if there is innocence, let the truth come out in the investigation.
  • Regarding the tax return information uncovered by the New York Times: the American people have a right to know if the returns were legitimate, or if there was tax fraud taking place. Remember: Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion. Were those losses legitimate, or faked to evade taxes? If legitimate, what does that say about Trump and his business and economic acumen over the long term — and whom does he owe for bailing him out? If faked, what does that say about his respect of the rule of law?
  • In general, if Trump is innocent as he claims, let the facts prove it — the tax returns, sworn testimony, law enforcement investigations. If, as the Right claims, the facts are false, they should be able to prove that as well and present counter-evidence. But that won’t be known until the facts come out in the first place.

As I wrote before, I’m rapidly swinging to the impeachment camp. Yes, I understand it will solidify his base — but they are solid and unthinking and wouldn’t change their minds anyway. Yes, I understand the Senate will not remove him. But having the investigations in the House once charges are brought will provide a strong means of compelling testimony, and having a trial in the Senate will assuredly bring out the facts and compel testimony. Starting the process may be the only way to get to the bottom of the story.

Without that, and with all this stonewalling, President Trump looks quite a lot like President Nixon: as Mark Slackmeyer said, “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.”

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🎭 HFF19 Scheduling

userpic=fringeThis is my Fringe scheduling post. It will be updated as my Fringe schedule changes, unlike the schedule at the bottom of my theatre writeups, which are a snapshot at the time they were written.

The following are the Fringe shows that I currently have scheduled and ticketed. Note that due to my work schedule and where we live, we can only see shows on the weekend, and cannot do the shows that end super late (i.e., we can’t make start times after 10pm, in general). I also need to allow for meals, and time to get between theatres. Oh why, oh why, can’t someone do a good Fringe scheduler as a Science Fair project:

The following are the shows that we were interested in, and had blocked out on the schedule, but ended up making everything too expensive and so were later cut. We may ticket these later, especially if comps or discounts come our way.  (OBAS) indicates they were on our schedule, but now have been Overtaken By Another Show, meaning a producer or publicist convinced me to see a show, which has stomped over the time slot I had originally planned. I’m still interested in those shows, if I could figure somewhere else to shoe-horn them in.

The following are the shows that we thought about scheduling, but just couldn’t fit in, given our constraints. Typically that means there were no weekend slots, they were too close to the end or beginning of another show, or there wasn’t adequate transportation time between the theatres:

To give you an idea of most Fringe locations, here’s a handy-dandy map:

HFF19 Theatre Map

 

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🎭 Heavenly Glitz for a Community Institution | “Sister Act” @ Casa 0101

Sister Act (Casa 0101)In the song “It’s a Business” in the musical Curtains there is the following exchange:

Actor: “… to me the theatre is a temple.”
Producer: “What? So it should only be filled on Shabbat?”

I was thinking about that exchange as I mused about last night’s production of Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB). I’ll circle back to why this exchange resonates so in a moment, so just keep it in mind….

Last Saturday, I wrote about my seeing In The Heights at LAPC. I noted that one reason for seeing a show multiple times is to see how the show has changed over time, and to particularly see it in a different sized venue. I also noted that the LAPC performace was the third time I saw seeing Heights. This weekend is very similar. This is my third time seeing Sister Act: back in 2006, I saw the original, pre-Broadway production at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB); just over two years ago (in 2017) I saw the regional premiere of the show at Cabrillo Music Theatre, now 5 Star Theatricals (FB). Both of those were large theatres. The Casa 0101 production was our third time, and here’s why: (1) this was a chance to see the show in a significantly smaller, intimate theatre setting; (2) we love the theatrical work of Casa 0101, going back to the first show we saw there, a bilingual version of Aladdin; (3) we love what Casa 0101 is doing with its local community (actually on a par with what 5-Star does with its community). In many ways, this perhaps was the best of the three.

For those unfamiliar with Sister Act (music by Alan Menken (FB); lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB); and book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane (based on the Touchstone Picture “Sister Act” written by Paul Rudnick under the pseudonym Joseph Howard)), here’s the synopsis I wrote in 2017:

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 disbursed. 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 that brings us back to how I started this: Theatre being a temple, and how (so to speak) to get its worshippers to fill the pews so the doors don’t close. Casa 0101 is a community theatre; a vital beating homegrown heart in the community of Boyle Heights (so much so that, at our performance, we had the monsignor and a few nuns from the local Catholic church seeing the show). It went through hard times quite recently, and almost closed its doors. What kept it alive were donors that believed its mission and purpose, as well as musicals like this. Just like Deloris Van Cartier’s music brought the people into Queen of Angels church and saved it, musicals like this, cast to reflect the diversity of the Boyle Heights community, had this theatre packed to the rafters. From what I understand, it was similar for 0101’s recent Beauty and the Beast, and we certainly saw it in the recent Remembering Boyle Heights. No, there are no actors hiding in the theatre from the police across the street (that we know of), but wonderful music is drawing them in and saving a temple to the arts.

Casa 0101’s production of this was distinctly different that other productions I’ve seen. The Pasadena Playhouse had the funding to do a production with elaborate sets. Cabrillo/5-Star had less funds, but prides itself on doing Broadway caliber regional productions. This production was much more shoestring and worn (at least in terms of sets), just like one imagines Queen of Angels to be: A basic quasi-gothic church set, heavy use of projections to adapt that set as locations change, and basic theatrical props (boxes, tables, benches) do the rest. The glitz in this production comes not from the set, but from the costumes (with heavy use of sequins and glitter) and the performances (which were stunning). The intimate theatre setting of Casa 0101 (under 99 seats) means that you are upclose with the actors, permitting you to watch their faces and performances closely, and to observe not just the lead characters but to see the performances of the nuns in the background. What you’ll see is not just strong leads, but a strong overall cast who have become one with their characters (credit here goes not just to the actors, but to the director Rigo Tejeda (FB)).

The closeness that comes with intimate theatre also changes the emphasis. When you sit back at a significant distance: as you typically do at the Playhouse or the Kavli (5-Star’s home) or at the Pantages (if you saw the touring production), you focus on the big picture — and this makes the flaws in the story stand out. At the intimate level, the actors and performances take center stage (so to speak), and there is so much additional humor in the facial expressions and movements of the actors that the distances of the big theatres filter out. Affording yourself the opportunity to see a big production in a small venue is a treat, and something to remember.

Another thing that struck us about this production was the quality of performance. This is something we’ve seen again and again at this theatre, and it is one of the reasons we’re really growing to like Casa 0101 as a venue. They are doing shows about the community, as well as musicals we like (I’d like to have more musicals I haven’t seen, but that’s getting harder). For the last two seasons we had subscribed at Chromolume Theatre in the West Adams district — another historically underserved area. Chromolume closed their doors for good back in May (their final production was The Story of My Life for HFF18), and we have been debating where we might subscribe instead. Casa 0101 is on the short list of candidates (esp. as the mission of our other small theatre subscription is increasingly uncomfortable, even though they do good work). Theatre should inspire, and it is important to have venues that do that for the community, as well as for the actors in the company.

Lastly, despite the stereotypes and tropes in the plot (which is not the most intellectual), this is a very very funny story. This was my third time seeing it — and I’ve seen the movie even more — and I was still laughing at how this cast executed the well-known story. They brought out additional levels of humor from the story — yet again a reason to see this production in an intimate theatre setting.

Under the direction of Rigo Tejeda (FB), with choreography by Tania Possick (FB), the production scintillates. This team has helped each actor inhabit their characters and become playful with the character in ways that fit the character. That means one sister is extra giggly, the other perhaps more demure. The movement was reasonably complex and appeared to fit the time period (although, admittedly, I wasn’t out dancing back then … or even now).

In the lead position was Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield (FB) as Deloris Van Cartier / Sister Mary Clarence. Schofield was clearly having fun with the role, and handled all aspects — performance, movement and singing — well. She captured well both the outsized personality that was Deloris before, as well as the changes that convent life brought to her. She was also able to capture both the outsize and tender aspects of the songs as well.

Playing against her, as Mother Superior, was Beverly Crain (FB). Crain gets less of the outsized numbers, but does have some tender songs. What was fun to watch with Crain was her face and reactions when Mary Clarence was doing some of her more outrageous activities. They were hilarous, and made clear that she was doing more than just reading lines — she was living the role.

Deloris’ non-spiritual savior (and eventual love interest) was Caleb Green (FB) as Det. Eddie Souther. Green captured the timidity of the character well and had some good comic — as well as some good touching — moments. However, he was plagued with a microphone that kept changing amplification levels, and this translated to some problems with his songs and vocals.

The bad guys (who were more comic relief than truly threatening) were portrayed by Marco Infante (⭐FB, FB) Curtis Jackson; Matthew Noah (FBT. J.; Jason Biyo (⭐FB, FB) Joey; and Gil Garcia (FBPablo. All were great with the humor, and Infante was strong in “When I Find My Girl”. My wife pointed out that Infante had a costuming problem: back in the 1970s, one would have worn either a tie or chains with an open shirt, but not both a tie and chains. I particularly enjoyed the comic interplay between Noah, Biyo, and Garcia (although the fight sequence could have used a bit more fight choreography during the chase). Noah, in particular, was really funny as T.J.

This brings us to the main contingent of nuns, who it is sometimes hard to tell apart. The extremely bubbly nun was Sister Mary Patrick, played by Briana Bonilla (⭐FB, FB). The older sardonic nun was Sister Mary Lazarus, played by Dorrie Braun (FB). The oldest nun was Sister Mary Theresa, played by Megan Frances (⭐FB, FB). The younger nun, lost in her own world, was Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, played by Sarah J. Garcia (FB). Lastly, of the named nuns, the novitiate was Sister Mary Robert, played by Samantha M. Lawrence (⭐FB, FB). All of the nuns were strong singers and performers, and did an excellent job of embodying their characters. Particularly strong was Bonilla’s bubbly Mary Patrick, the exceptional singing voice of Lawrence, and the humorous deadpan of Braun’s Mary Lazarus. Of course, Frances’s rap wasn’t bad either. They were all very strong.

Omar Mata (FB) captured the authority of Monsignor O’Hara quite well, although he needs to work on his Irish 😁.

Rounding out the cast, in multiple smaller ensemble roles, were Chrissi Erickson (FB) Tina, Nun, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Laura Altenor (⭐FB; FB) Michelle, Nun, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Michael Gallardo (FBErnie, Drag Queen, Ensemble, Homeless, Cab Driver, Fantasy Dancer; Alejandro Lechuga (FBCop, Reporter, Ensemble, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Shanelle Garcia (FB) Nun, Hooker; Daniela Santi (FB) Nun, Hooker, Homeless, Bar Waitress, Fantasy Dancer; and Leilah Telon (FBNun, Bar Patron, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer. Of these folks, I’d like to highlight a few. Altenor’s facial expressions were wonderful in reaction, especially when there were lines commenting on Delores’ ethnicity. She also sang and moved well. Santi was another ensemble standout: there was just something about her look, her face, and the fun she was having that was great to watch. Lastly, Gallardo and Lechuga were hilarious as the clearly gay choir boys — yes, a bit stereotypical, but funny none-the-less.

Music direction was by Gabrielle Maldonado (FB), although the remainder of the orchestra was not credited in the program. Tsk, tsk.

Lastly, we turn to the production and creative side of the equation. The set designs and projections were by Effy Yang (FB). The sets worked well for an intimate theatre: doors and stairs designed for projections. The problem was with the focus of the projections, which ended up with double and blurry images. Focused, they would have been great. Angel Estrada (FB)’s properties supported the design well, and were creative within the limited budget of intimate theatre. Marielena Covarrubias (FB)’s costumes were, from a distance, good. For those who knew the details, they were a bit more problematic: my wife noted that Curtis Jackson would not have worn both a tie and chains; she also noted (and this is coming from a Jewish girl, who grew up in Tucson) that the wimples needed to be folded correctly, and the nuns other than the novitiate needed wedding rings (they are figuratively married to Christ). The lighting by Kevyn Vasquez (FB) captured the time and mood well, and Joshua Cardenas (FB)’s sound, modulo the one microphone problem, worked well. Other production credits: Jerry Blackburn (FBProduction Stage Manager; Andrew Ortega (FBStage Manager; Genesis Miramontes (FBProd. Asst / Asst Stage Manager; JP (John Paul) Torres (FB) Asst Stage Manager; Michael Gallardo (FB) Dance Captain; Hiram Lopez (FBSound Mixer; Jorge Villanueva (FBRelief Board Operator; Sujey Gonzalez (FB) Wardrobe Supervisor; Dazhane Demus (FBStagehand; Ed Krieger (FBProduction Photos; Steve Moyer Public Relations Publicity; Conrado Terrazas (FBExecutive Producer.

Sister Act: The Musical continues at Casa 0101 (FB) for two more weekends, until May 19, 2019. The show is a lot of fun with a really talented cast. Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website; 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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (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:

The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open (Fringe previews start the next week), and the end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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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