🎭 An Accidental Activist, Take 2 | “Finks” @ Rogue Machine Theatre

Finks (Rogue Machine Theatre)The theme for this weekend appears to be accidental activism. Saturday’s show, from the Jewish Women’s Theatre (FB), was a collection of stories about people who became activists by having it thrust upon them. Last night’s show,  Finks, at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), had a very similar theme.

All Mickey Dobbs wanted to do was entertain and be funny. He might make the occasional political joke in his nightclub act at Cafe Society, but his only political party was a party of one: the Mickey Dobbs party. Self-interest at its finest. After all, this was early 1950s, when the House Un-American Activities Committee was active, and anyone remotely connected with Hollywood or entertainment was being called up to testify. Having a political stance was dangerous — it could get one listed in the blacklist that wasn’t a blacklist, and there went your career. So apolitical he was; no public interest in politics.

That was, however, until someone became interested in him. That someone was Natalie Meltzer, one of the co-founders of the Actors Faction within Actors Equity. She expressed her interest, however, by hiring him for Faction gigs, and as he got to know her — and other members of the faction such as Fred Lang and the homosexual co-founder, Bobby Gerard — he started to fall in love. He was never into the politics, but love makes strange bedfellows.

In parallel, however, the committee continued to investigate. There were those who refused to testify, who were held in contempt of congress and imprisoned. There were those who were combative, and who lost their careers. And there were those, focused on saving their careers, who named names. And named names, And named names. Each person named was added to the suspicion list, and called in turn — and coerced to give more names.

Eventually, the HUAC’s attention turned to the faction. Who would fight back? Who would name names? And when the spotlight hit Mickey, would he be that accidental activist, or would he save his career?

That, in essence, is the plotline of Finks, written by Joe Gilford, son of the actor Jack Gilford, one of the actors blacklisted during this period. If you read Jack Gilford’s story, it isn’t hard to see that Mickey Dobbs isn’t that far from Jack Gilford. Worked at Cafe Society. Married a woman he met at progressive political meetings and events during the late 1940s, and entertained at many of these events, some of them produced by his wife. She was married at the time and divorced her first husband soon after meeting Gilford.  In 1953 Gilford and his wife were called to testify before the HUAC regarding their alleged Communist sympathies, after being specifically named by choreographer Jerome Robbins (the character Bobby Gerard in the play) in his own testimony to the committee.

I should note that this play is running in repertory with Oppenheimer,  which tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer, too, had his run-ins with the HUAC hysteria for his tangential connection to the Communist party early in his career.

So why Finks? Why now? In fact, why is the notion of accidental activism so resonant these days? For the answer, you need to look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (and I don’t mean the failed musical) and the current occupant’s habit of using heresay and innuendo to attempt to ruin careers of people that he doesn’t like. You need to look no further at a society that used to be overly concerned about “the Red Menace” (Russia) taking over our society now turning a blind eye to Russia interfering in our elections. One wonders what the folks of the HUAC would make of Trump. The pendulum swings, but perhaps it has swung way too far. But more importantly, there is the accidental activism that has been the result, as demonstrated this November. We have candidates of color and gender that are toppling the entrenched white male leadership — activism that was catalyzed in response to the election of Trump.

Plays like Finks demonstrate the power of theatre to remind us of what is important. They show us that the best way to fight back against a government that has taken a wrong turn — in either direction — is to become that activist. They show us the power of standing up for what is right, even at a great personal costs. That’s true for the actors of the Hollywood Blacklist, most of whom were not Communists in the Russian sense, but working for peace and better conditions for workers in all industries. That’s equally true for the Democrats of today, who are working to make the country better for all. This play sends the message of the importance of standing up (or of kneeling, when appropriate) to authority that isn’t upholding the values of America.

Under the direction of Michael Pressman, this cast is supurb, lead by the real life husband and wife team of French Stewart and Vanessa Stewart.  These two are familiar with activism, both being very active in the I Love 99 movement here in Los Angeles, working for the rights of actors to volunteer their time in the intimate theatres of Los Angeles. Watching them on the RMF stage, one gets the feeling of this passion within them (and their real passion for each other, which comes through in the comfortable interaction of their characters). Both are strong, strong actors and just a delight to watch as they really become their characters.

In supporting roles on the Actors Faction side are Adam Lebowitz-Lockard as Bobby Gerard and Bruce Nozick as Fred Lang. Both have strong characterizations of their characters. I particularly liked Lebowitz-Lockard in the first scenes where we meet him and his later testimony; Nozick is really strong in his testimony and his prison scene. Lockshening away on the piano was Richard Levinson as Dickie Lewis, the Piano Man. Levinson is always a delight to hear on the piano.

On the HUAC side of the equation was Matt Gottlieb as Rep. Walter; Stephen Tyler Howell as the Sgt. at Arms (as well as the Bartender, Announcer, and Leading Man); Daniel Dorr as Victor Lynch, Stanley, and Elia Kazan; and Thomas Fiscella as Martin Berkeley, Carl Brody, Budd Schulberg, Lee J. Cobb, and Phil Larsen. All were strong. I particularly liked the exasperation of Gottlieb’s congresscritter, and the adaptability of Fiscella and Dorr’s characterizations.

The scenic design was by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, who had to make do with the basic set structure from Oppenheimer (which was presented in the same space just a few hours earlier). As such, the space was defined mostly by props and set pieces: a piano, bar tables, a couch, a hearing table with microphones. There were some cameras and radios hanging in the back that seemed to serve no purpose. Also establishing the sense of place was Nicholas E. Santiago‘s projections — especially for the scenes as Cafe Society. Halei Parker‘s costume design was excellent. Other than a few failing sleeve hems, the costumes were appropriately period (including the high waisted look and the maternity outfits) and the actors carried them off well. Christopher Moscatiello‘s sound design and Matt Richter‘s lighting design did what good designs of that ilk do: they faded into the background establishing time and environment without intruding. Rounding out the technical and production credits: Cecilia Fairchild [Asst. Director]; Ramón Valdez [Stage Manager]; Victoria Hoffman [Casting Director]; Amanda Bierbauer [Production Manager]; David Mauer [Technical Director]; Elina de Santos [Co-Artistic Director]; John Perrin Flynn [Producer, Artistic Director].

Finks continues at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) through December 30. Tickets are available online through the RMT website. It is a production well worth seeing in this day and age, reminding us of the value of standing up for what you believe in.

***

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:

Thanksgiving weekend brings Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). It will  also bring Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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And The Processing Continues … But #KramerNeverStops and #HilltopNeverStops

It has now been a week (but it seems much longer) since we learned that Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp were essentially destroyed in the Woolsey Fire (together with a number of other camps, including Camp JCA Shalom, Camp Bloomfield, the Salvation Army Camps, and I’m sure many others, including former BSA, GSA, and other camp facilities). At CHK, all that I know remains are one or two cabins that were cinder-block, the Arts and Crafts area, the new dining hall (although it sustained some damage), the conference center/infirmary/office complex, and of course, Inspiration Point. At Hilltop, all that remains are some cinder-block cabins, the Arts & Crafts center / Pool / Roth Room, and of course, the menorah at the top of the hill.

We know, of course, that camp will rebuild. The facilities were insured, the congregation has both means and motivation, and the alumni are an active group. The camping may be away from Malibu this summer while construction occurs; there is no formal announcement of the 2019 location yet, but camp will happen for the kids. My hope, for 2019, is that the kids can return to the Pioneer spirit: returning to the grounds to recover artifacts and material, and creating new art out of the old memories to ensure that what was camp is remembered in what camp becomes.

For those of us who are alumni of the camps — from the old-timers who were there in the very beginning going back to the Presbyterian Conference Ground days to the first days in Malibu, to the folks there when only CHK existed in the 1960s, to the pioneers and kids of the 1970s (my generation), to the generations since in the 1980s and beyond — for all of us this has been an interesting week. Memories that were in the background are resurfacing. Facebook groups are providing an avenue of reconnection within camp generations, and establishing new connections between the generations. We’re sharing pictures, stories, artifacts. Most importantly, there’s a sense that we’re here, camp lives within us, and we will be there with boots on (and walkers, as necessary 🙂 ) to rebuild however and whenever we can. Camp was a safe spot for many, a formative spot for all, and it made us who we are today. From a group that was created last Sunday morning, we are now over 1,500 strong. Unified and voice in spirit. We’re ready to take the values of Al Slosha D’varim and use them to bring camp back through Torah values, our hard work (avodah), and donating funds (g’melut chasadim).

For me, the destruction has reopened the good memories of the period from 1969 to 1979, the good people, the good times. It reminded me why I go to Malibu whenever I can afford to (either in terms of time or funds). Camp is where I had great joy, but it is also where I had sadness. It was at camp that I learned that my brother had died, cutting the session I went to in 1970 short (and I will always be grateful for the caring from my counselors — Sandy Strauss, Scott Shershow, and Joel Saltzman). But it was also at camp  that I acquired self confidence  and grew into who I am today. The place and the beauty will return; the scars will heal. Out of the ashes something stronger will form; there will be a new generation of pioneers rebuilding camp.

And it will be good. Very very good.

My first year at camp – 1969

P.S.: If you want to donate to the camps, visit here.

P.P.S.: If you want to see what happened, here are some good news reports from ABC 7 and NBC 4; an exploration right after the fire; an article from the LA Times; and an article from the Huffington Post.

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🎭 Speaking Up, Making Change | “The Accidental Activist” @ JWT/TAS

The Accidental Activist (Jewish Womens Theatre / TAS Sisterhood)It is interesting how the theatre we have scheduled dovetails. For the longest time, we had planned to see Finks, at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) in Venice: a story about artists having to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. But then my wife got involved with sisterhood at our congregation, and they scheduled a theatre night on top of Finks. So I arranged to move our Finks tickets Sunday night, and we arranged to go to the Sisterhood show. By now, I’m sure you’re asking: What show was it?

I’ll wait.

Funny that you should ask. The show was called The Accidental Activist, and it was a presentation of the Jewish Women’s Theatre (FB). The show, which was much like an evening at The Moth, was less a fully-staged theatrical production (with sets and costumes and the whole gevalt) and more a staged reading. The show consisted of 11 short stories — all true to my knowledge — built around the theme of being thrust into activism. These stories were:

I won’t attempt to summarize the stories here. I can say that all were interesting, many were very touching, and all fit with the theme. I did find quite a few of them inspiring — especially after a week of thinking about the impact of Jewish Summer camp on my life and seeing how it has instilled activism in people. They were certainly worth hearing.

I’m sure you’re curious about which ones are sticking with me the most. I think the ones that struck a nerve with me were My Blessed JourneyThe Chairs, and Worthy of Love. Why did they stick? That’s harder to say. What I think I can reliably say is that that at least one or two of the stories will resonate with you, and that this production (if it comes near you) is worth seeing.

The stories were performed by four actors: Arva RoseVicki Juditz (FB), Emma Berdie Donson, and Robert Keller. All were strong. I urge you to pay special attention to their faces during the performances, for they do a great job of becoming different characters, as opposed to just reading the story.

The production was adapted, curated, and produced by Ronda Spinak (FB), with additional production by Suzanna Kaplan. Susie Yure and Rose Ziff were Associate Producers. The production was directed by Susan Morgenstern. Barbara Koletsky was the Asst. Producer and Stage Manager. Daphna Shull was the Artistic Associate.

I don’t know when JWT will be doing this production again, but they do have a show, Not That Jewish, coming up in early December and three shows schedules so far for 2019. Information is available at the Jewish Women’s Theatre (FB) website.

***

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 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:

Sunday brings our second show of the weekend: Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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🎭 Where We Come From | “A Bronx Tale” @ Pantages

A Bronx Tale (Pantages)This has been a hard week, and the circumstances of why the week was so hard have contributed to why this write-up is so late. They also thematically dovetail nicely with the show that we saw last Saturday at the Hollywood Pantages (FB): A Bronx Tale (FB).

Why has the week been so hard? The camps that I grew up at as a child — Camp Hess Kramer and GIndling Hilltop Camp — were essentially destroyed by the Woolsey Fire. Camp will rebuild of course (and they were insured, although you can contribute and help as well), but it has been a week filled with memories of how my 10 years at camp — 1969 through 1978 — shaped me into what I became today. Events and places that occur in a child’s formative years can have profound impacts on what they become. This is especially true when what shapes that path is love.

The notion of how our past can shape our present is at the heart of A Bronx Tale. When he was 9 (the same age that I started camp), Calogero Lorenzo (“Chazz”) Palminteri witnessed a murder in front of his house in the Bronx, where he lived on Belmont Avenue with his parents Lorenzo and Rose. What happened next drew him into the orbit of the local mob, and shaped his life when he had to ultimately make the decision about whether he was going to live a life where he achieved his goals through fear, or he followed the path of love. He chose the latter, and after a number of struggles, wrote up his childhood experiences as a one man play. He premiered this play (where he played 31 roles) through one of Los Angeles’ intimate theatre companies, West Coast Ensemble (FB) [a company that, alas, has gone dark, although we saw their last production] at Theatre West (FB), and the play was a success. The play was polished, moved to an Off-Broadway house, and won a number of awards. Robert DeNiro saw it, and offered to buy the film rights. After some back and forth, that happened, with Palminteri both writing the story and having a part in the movie. The movie premiered and was a reasonable success. This led to Palminteri bringing back the one-man show, this time as a play on Broadway itself, which later went on a national tour. That then led to a musical adaptation, directed by Jerry Zaks (who directed the stage play) and Robert De Niro (who directed the movie), written by Palminteri, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB) [who was recently represented on the Pantages stage with both 👎 Love Never Dies and 👍 School of Rock). That opened on Broadway in December 2016, ran through August 2018, and then moved to a national tour.

Although the show is marketed as “Jersey Boys meets West Side Story”, that’s really just marketing. If it were me, I’d use the line: “Those who influence our youth influence their future.”. For just like my adulthood was not only influenced by my parents, but by what happened to me at camp, Palminteri’s adulthood was influenced by the dual values of what his parents taught him as well as the lessons he learned at the camp of hard knocks, under the mob leader Little Johnny (renamed in later versions of the story).

Perhaps now is the time to summarize the story (this was adapted from the Wikipedia summary of the movie, which has been the plot of all the different versions):

In 1960, Lorenzo lives in Belmont, an Italian-American neighborhood in The Bronx, with his wife Rosina and his 9-year-old son Calogero, who is fascinated by the local mobsters led by Sonny. One day, Calogero witnesses a murder committed by Sonny in defense of an assaulted friend in his neighborhood. When Calogero chooses to keep quiet when questioned by the NYPD, Sonny takes a liking to him. The two start working together, and Sonny gives him the nickname “C”. Calogero starts working at Sonny’s bar, throwing dice and getting paid. When his bus driver father finds out, he admonishes the boy and words him about the life.  Eight years later, Calogero has grown into a young man who has been visiting Sonny regularly without his father’s knowledge. Calogero is also part of a gang of local Italian-American boys At school, Calogero meets a black girl, Jane, and is smitten. Despite the high level of racial tension and dislike between Italian Americans and African Americans, Calogero arranges a date with Jane. He asks for advice from both his father and Sonny, with the latter lending Calogero his car so he can make a good impression. Before the date happens, however, the neighborhood gang beat up some blacks who cut through their neighborhood, including Jane’s brother. There is some confusion, an argument with Jane, and a fight with Sonny (who thinks Calogero put a bomb in Sonny’s car). The tensions continue to rise, and the Italian gang makes plans to bomb the blacks, but end up bombing themselves instead. Luckily, Calogero is alive because Sonny kept him from going with that gang (and thus, Sonny saved his life). Calogero rushes back to his neighborhood and makes his way through the crowded bar to thank Sonny and inform him of what happened, but an unnamed assailant shoots Sonny in the back of the head before Calogero can warn him. Calogero later learns that the assailant was the son of the man Sonny killed in front of Calogero’s house eight years earlier. At Sonny’s funeral, countless people come to pay their respects. When the crowd disperses, a lone man, Carmine, visits the funeral, claiming that Sonny once saved his life as well. Carmine tells Calogero that he will be taking care of the neighborhood for the time being, and promises Calogero help should he ever need anything. Carmine leaves just as Calogero’s father unexpectedly arrives to pay his respects to Sonny, thanking him for saving his son’s life and admitting that he had never hated Sonny, but merely resented him for making Calogero grow up so quickly.

Our reactions to the show? I thought it was a good show. Not great, not game changing, but good. It was clearly in the mold of existing musicals. The music was quite enjoyable, and a number of the songs easily stuck in your head. The individual performances were strong. But overall, as a piece, it was … good. Part of that the interracial plot line, which could have been good had it gone somewhere (for a while, I was thinking of the musical Memphis), but it just fizzed away. In terms of long term impact, I felt that Friday night’s show, Dear Evan Hansen, had much more staying power and a much stronger overall message. I liked the message of A Bronx Tale, especially the tag line of “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.” But I think in terms of today’s generation, the former message of “No one deserves to be forgotten, no one deserves to fade away.” has more resonance.  So, in my eyes, A Bronx Tale (The Musical) was good and enjoyable, but didn’t rise to the level of great.

On the other hand, my wife enjoyed A Bronx Tale immensely. She liked the music, she liked the story, she liked the performances. She had been troubled by the fact that Dear Evan Hansen, ultimately, was built around a lie, and when those walls came crashing down, a lot of people were hurt by the lie. She found that A Bronx Tale had a better message for her: a message about making the right choices, about choosing to do the right thing and growing and benefiting from it.

Thinking about it, both shows on the main stages of LA have to do with choices: Evan makes a choice out of anxiety, and chooses to lie, making up a story to get people to like him. In doing so, he hurts a lot of people, but imparts a good message along the way. “C” also makes a choice: after seeing the damage that can occur by building a life of making people fear someone, he chooses instead to build a life around love: doing what he loves, living life in a way that make people love him. He matures, but with his integrity intact.

Who made the better choice? Evan or “C”?

My wife might have it right after all. I should always listen to her (at least in terms of the messages of the show).

So why did Dear Evan Hansen get all the fame and glory? There are a few reasons, I think. First, I think, was the fact that DEH was a new story for the stage, whereas ABT was first a play, than a movie, than a musical — and the stage of late has been littered with movies-to-musicals. Second was the music: DEH was in the modern sound idiom, and appeals to youth; ABT was more a traditional older-rock sound. Third was the performances: Whereas some of the performances in ABT were strong, all of the performances in DEH were outstanding, particularly Evan and Heidi. Fourth was technology: ABT was a conventional story with conventional staging; DEH utilized technology in a new way in its staging. Last was message: ABT was more of an old fashioned mob story with a good message, but DEH touched upon topical issues: people feeling alienated because they are forgotten, the mental illness of teens, and the broader impact of anxiety and teen suicide.

Both, however, are worth seeing and worth contrasting.

Writing this up almost a week after seeing the show, there are a few performances that still stick in my head. First and foremost are the Calogeros — both the young and the old. The “young” was either Frankie Leoni (FB) or Shane Pry (at some performances); I think we had Frankie, but I’m not sure, The “old” was Joey Barreiro (FB). Frankie/Shane (whomever it was on Sat night) gave a remarkable performance: strong singing, strong dancing, strong voice, strong characterization. He was also a lot of fun to watch. Barreiro’s older Caolgero was also strong — good movement, good singing, good performance.

Brianna-Marie Bell (FB)’s Jane demonstrated a knockout voice and a strong characterization in a character, alas, that is only a catalyst and does not bring the meaningful relationship her character should bring.

Joe Barbara (FB)’s Sonny had the right old Sicilian feel about him, and had good mobster moves and a nice voice, although his stage fighting could use a bit more work to come across as realistic.

In the last of the named memorable roles, Richard H. Blake (FB)’s Lorenzo had a nice mix of paternalism and strength, with a good singing voice.

The remaining performances, alas, faded together into the cloud of memory: good dancing, good singing, but no particularly standout characterizations. I think this is more the fault of the script and the story than that actors themselves. The remaining performance team was: Michelle Aravena (FB) [Rosina]; Antonio Beverly (FB) [Tyrone]; Mike Backes [Ensemble, Eddie Mush]; Michael Barra (FB) [Ensemble, Joseph the Whale]; Sean Bell (FB) [Ensemble, Sally Slick]; Joshua Michael Burrage (FB) [Ensemble]; Joey Calveri (FB) [Ensemble, Carmine]; Giovanni DiGabriele (FB) [Ensemble, Handsome Nick]; John Gardiner (FB) [Ensemble, Rudy the Voice]; Haley Hannah (FB) [Ensemble, Asst. Dance Captain]; Kirk Lydell (FB) [Ensemble]; Ashley McManus (FB) [Ensemble, Dancer]; Robert Pieranunzi (FB) [Ensemble, Frankie Coffeecake]; Brandi Porter (FB) [Ensemble, Frieda]; Kyli Rae (FB) [Ensemble]; Paul Salvatoriello (FB) [Ensemble, Tony Ten-to-Two]; Joseph Sammour [Ensemble, Crazy Mario]; and Jason Williams (FB) [Ensemble, Jesse]. Swings were: Peter Gregus (FB), Christopher Messina (FB) [Dance Captain]; and Brittany Williams. I’m not noting who was understudying whom.

Music was provided by a mix of travelling and local musicians, conducted by Brian P. Kennedy (FB), who was also on the keyboards. Working with him were: Noah Landis (FB) [Assoc. Conductor, Keyboards]; Lisa LeMay (FB) [Asst. Conductor, Keyboards]; Theodore Hogarth (FB) and Jordan Standlee (FB) [Woodwinds]; Jeff Ostroski (FB) [Trumpet / Flugel]; Craig Watson (FB) [Trombone]; Brian LaFontaine (FB) [Guitar]; Paul Davis (FB) [Drums]; Frank Canino (FB) [Acoustic and Electric Bass]; Richard Mitchell [Flute, Alto Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax]; John Fumo (FB) [Trumpet / Flugel]; Charlie Morillas (FB) [Trombone]; Alby Potts (FB) [Keyboard 3]; Jennifer Oikawa [Keyboard 2 Sub]; Eric Heinly [Orchestra Contractor]. Other music credits: Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programmer];  John Miller (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Doug Besterman [Orchestrations]; Johnny Gale [Period Music Consultant]; Ron Melrose [Music Supervision and Arrangements].

Choreography was by Sergio Trujillo (FB), Marc Kimelman (FB) was the Assoc. Choreographer. The movement seemed sufficiently period, but none of the dance sequences stick in my head a week afterward.

Lastly, we turn to the production credits. Beowulf Boritt (FB)’s Scenic Design was relatively traditional, with a nice Bronx backdrop that served for most of the story. It integrated well with the other scenic aspects: William Ivey Long‘s costume design, Paul Huntley‘s hair and wigs, and Anne Ford-Coates‘s makeup. Howell Binkley‘s lighting and Gareth Owen‘s sound sufficed. Other production credits: Robert Westley [Fight Coordinator]; Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision]; Stephen Edlund [Assoc. Director]; Jeff Mensch [Company Manager — bet he gets a lot of jokes]; Kelsey Tippins [Production Stage Manager]; Networks Presentations / Walker White [Production Manager]; Tara Rubin Casting / Merri Sugarman CSA [Casting].

A Bronx Tale continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until November 25, 2018. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

Note: As always, we seem to hit at least one Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS performance every year. Saturday was our night with the actors and their red buckets. So, we’ll hit you up as well. Donate to BC/EFA here.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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 upcoming weekend brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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🎭 When The House Collapses | “Dear Evan Hansen” @ Ahmanson

Dear Evan Hansen (Ahmanson)My brother died when I was 10 (he was 18). My parents told me one story of why he died, but I’m not sure I ever processed or believed it. A few years ago, I learned that his life was much more complicated than I imagined, that there were undercurrents and understories that gave a completely different spin on what he was going through. My parents (to my knowledge) never knew that stuff — they gravitated to the story that gave them comfort — something that fit their image and that their brains could accept.

From what I’ve later learned, my brother may have been dealing with some form of depression — which we didn’t know as much about in 1970. Depression, and other forms of mental illness, have a significant impact on society (as we have seen far too often in today’s society). But it is something we’ve hesitated to talk about.

Occasionally, a musical comes along that does attempt to open the dialogue. Quite a few years ago, the musical Next to Normal burst upon the scene, exploring the impact of bi-polar mental illness not only on the individual but on the family surrounding the individual. It was raw, real, and won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for its efforts.

A couple of years ago, another musical dealing with mental illness hit the boards of Broadway: Dear Evan Hansen. The North American Tour of the musical just hit the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in Los Angeles, and last night we saw it — on the heals of the Thousand Oaks Shooting, and the deadly and destructive Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires.

Dear Evan Hansen (book by Steven Levenson; music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) tells the story of (duh) Evan Hansen, a high school student with severe social anxiety, with a single mom who is working so hard to support her family that she has little time for her son. Evan’s therapist has assigned him the task of writing letters to himself to help deal with that anxiety. After a day when incidents at the first day of school make Evan feel transparent and unseen, he writes a letter to himself detailing his feelings. Connor Murphey, another loner student — who has also been dealing with depression and drugs —  finds the letter on the printer. As it mentions Connor’s sister, Zoe, who Evan has a crush on, he teases Evan about the letter and takes it with him. When Connor commits suicide a few days later, his parents find the letter and believe it to be his suicide note. Grasping at straws, they believe Evan was the friend they never knew their son had, and draw him into their circle to learn more. With Evan’s anxiety, he can’t bring himself to correct them. With the help of his family friend, Jared, Evan builds a backstory of his friendship with Connor. This draws Evan even further into the sphere of the Murphy family, and ever closer to Zoe. A similarly unseen girl at school, Alana, similarly latches onto her “close acquaintance” with Connor, and soon there is a blog and a project dedicated to his memory, an effort to ensure that no one will be forgotten.

End of Act I, and a good place to pause to explore the story to this point. When I discussed it with my wife at intermission, she was very bothered by the story, because it was all built on a lie — the fake premise that Evan actually was friends with Connor, and all the pain that could come from it when the house of cards collapsed. That bothered me as well, but I saw a lot more. First, as noted above, I saw the parallels to Next to Normal: the study of how someone’s mental illness impacted the family around him. In this case, it was how Connor’s depression and suicide drove the narrative of Connor’s family, destroying relationships. I saw how the desire to believe that their son was normal led that family to grab anything and ignore other facts. I also saw the message that likely resonated the most with the audience — the message drummed into the audience’s head as Act I reached its crescendo: NO ONE DESERVES TO BE FORGOTTEN, NO ONE DESERVES TO FADE AWAY. That fear of not being seen, of being invisible, of not making a difference is a powerful one. It is something that the audience ate up, permitting them to set aside the recognition of the lies that led to the message.

But the problem with a house of cards is that the slightest windstorm will topple it. That windstorm occurs in Act II, as it must inevitably. By the end of the act, the message of not being forgotten that was beaten into your head in the first act has been replaced by something — in my opinion — that is more important from a mental health perspective: honesty. The key scene here is near the end of the act, when Evan is alone with his mother, admitting for the first time the truth about what had happened. His mom, similarly, shares the truth of what is happening with her. In doing so, we see the power of telling the truth about what is going on in our lives to those we love, and the importance of listening and being there through the hard times. Connor’s suicide was the result of his not being able to communicate his depression to those around him. Evan’s house of cards  came from Evan not being able to admit to himself the truth. Healing came when the truth was admitted and heard.

The first step on not being forgotten, on not facing away, is to be seen. The next step is to be heard. The third step is to be listened to.

My wife left the show lukewarm to the story — the whole notion of lying and the construction of the house of cards really bothered her. It nagged at me, but I found the overall messages of the show to be quite powerful: the importance of not forgetting people, the importance of seeing people, the importance of listening to people, the importance of telling the truth of what is going on in your lives to those around you. I saw the message this show imparted about the damage that can be done to not only you, but to your friends and family, if you construct that house of cards to protect you. I saw the power of the love of a family to heal.

The show gave me some insight on what my parents must have gone through when my brother died. It is quite likely they knew the true situation, but it was too painful for them, and so they constructed the house of cards of belief to get themselves true. Then, as we’ve seen from what is happening in Washington DC, if you tell a lie long enough it becomes the reality you remember and create, and it became the story that they told.

I prefer the likely truth. But I’m an engineer.

Under the direction of Michael Greif (who also directed Next to Normal and Rent), the show has powerful and raw performances. This isn’t your typical musical with large song and dance numbers (although there is choreography by Danny Mefford (FB)). Rather, it is mostly family situations, teen interactions, and exposure of raw nerves and emotions, especially in the second act.

Leading the performance team is Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony does the role on Wed, Thu, and Sat matinees, and Sun eve.). I found Ross’s performance powerful, capturing the social anxiety well. His collapse in the 2nd act is spectacular. He has a strong singing voice, and handles his numbers well.

As his mother, Heidi Hansen, Jessica Phillips (FB) is somewhat lightly used in the first act, with a perfunctory single-mom role. But where she shines is in the 2nd act, particularly in the penultimate number “So Big/So Small” where every parent will recognize her raw emotion and feeling for her son.

The Murphy family is represented by the catalyst for the story, Marrick Smith (FB) as Connor Murphy; Aaron Lazar (FB) and Christiane Noll (FB) as his parents Larry and Cynthia Murphy; and Maggie McKenna as his sister, Zoe. Smith’s role is small: you see him at the beginning as himself; later appearances are as a figment of Evan’s imagination. Still, in those numbers, Smith is still quite fun to watch. Lazar and Noll are strong as the Murphy parents. Lazar, in particular, was very strong in the “To Break In a Glove” number, and Noll was just great throughout. McKenna brought an interesting look to Zoe, and a delightful smile in her “Only Us” number in the 2nd act. McKenna had a great singing voice. All shone in the “Requiem” number.

Rounding out the cast were Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman, and Phoebe Koyabe as Alana Beck. Both were very strong, particularly in the “good for You” and the “Disappear” numbers.

The “Community Voices”, who are heard in the “Disappear” number, are: Becca Ayers, Mary Bacon, Gerard Canonico, Jenn Colella, Adam Halpin, Mykal Kilgore, Stephen Kunken, Tamika Lawrence, Carrie Manolakos, Ken Marks, Asa Somers, Jason Tam, Brenda Wehle, Natalie Weiss, Tim Young, and Remy Zaken. Understudies were Stephen Christopher Anthony and Noah Kieserman (FB) for Evan, Jared, and Connor; Jane Pfitsch (FB) and Coleen Sexton (FB) for Cynthia and Heidi; Ciara Alyse Harris (FB) and Maria Wirries (FB) for Alana and Zoe, and John Hemphill for Larry. Jane Pfitsch (FB) was Dance Captain.

Music was provided by an on-stage band under the direction of, and conducted by, Austin Cook [Keyboards]. Garrett Healey was the Associate Conductor. Other band members were: Matt Sangiovanni and Matt Brown [Guitar]; Ryan McCausland [Drums]; Matt Rubano [Bass]; Jen Choi Fischer [Concertmaster]; Linnea Powell [Viola]; David Mergan [Cello]. Rounding out the music credits: Robert Payne [Local Contractor]; Randy Cohen [Keyboard Programmer]; Jeremy King [Assoc. Keyboard Programmer]; Enrico de Trizio and Scott Wasserman [Abelton Programmers]; Emily Grishman Music Preparation [Music Copying]; Alex Lacamoire [Music Supervision, Orchestrations, and Additional Arrangements]; Ben Cohn [Assoc. Music Supervisor]; Michael Keller and Michael Aarons [Music Coordinators]; Justin Paul [Vocal Arrangements and Additional Arrangements].

Finally, turning to the production and creative team: The combination of David Korins‘ Scenic Design and Peter Nigrini‘s Projection Design worked together to create a modernist set that  primarily consisted of moving scrims with projections from internet social media as well as scenes (although the piercing blue of the end scene was remarkable), and little in the way of traditional place-establishing scenery, although there were numerous place establishing props. These worked well Nevin Steinberg‘s sound and Japhy Weideman‘s lighting designs. Emily Rebholz‘s costumes and David Brian Brown‘s hair seemed, well, everyday — which means they did what they were supposed to do, making the characters appear as relatable teens and parents. Other production credits: Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Judith Schoenfeld [Production Supervisor]; David Lober [Production Stage Manager]; Michael Krug [Stage Manager]; Sarah Testerman [Asst. Stage Manager]; Juniper Street Productions [Production Supervisor]; Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Sash Bischoff, and Adam Quinn [Assoc. Directors]; Danny Sharron [Asst. Director]; Jonathan Warren and Mark Myars [Assoc Choreographer]; Liz Caplan Vocal Studios LLC [Vocal Consultant]; and Buist Bickley [Production Properties Supervisor].

Dear Evan Hansen continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through November 25, 2018. Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group website. They do not appear to be available on Goldstar.

Note: As always, we seem to hit at least one Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS performance every year. Last night was no exception; the actors were out with their red buckets. We expect to get hit up again tonight at A Bronx Tale. So, we’ll hit you up as well. Donate to BC/EFA here.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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 continues the theatre with A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); Monday we have A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB) (although that is starting to look less likely).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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🗯️ Band-Aids vs. Solutions

I woke up this morning to the news of the horrible gunman attack in Thousand Oaks, about 40 minutes away from my house (40 minutes is a nothing drive here in Southern California).

Shit.

If you think this is going to be a post calling for more gun control, think again. If you think it is a post calling for more guns to solve the problem, again, think again. Much as I would love more gun control as an overall risk reduction approach, it won’t solve this problem.

I’m an engineer at heart. Limit weapons is only attacking the symptom of this problem. It won’t stop the attacks, it might just make them a little less deadly. Then again, if they shift to bombs, it makes it worse. No, we need to ask ourselves: Why is this happening? What is causing so many disaffected white men — and don’t kid yourself, attacks like these are predominately by white men (not women, not minorities, not ISIS) — to turn to mass destruction as the solution to their problems? Is it violence on TV, violent video games, violent rhetoric, perceived loss of privilege, or something else that is driving them to do it? Why is it happening more and more frequently? Most importantly: What can we change is society to address the root cause?

Thinking about gun control instead of the underlying problem is characteristic of society today. We think about the band-aids, not what is causing the abcess. We worry about immigrants and building walls, without thinking about why they are leaving their countries, and what we might do to address the need to leave. It might actually be less expensive to improve lives in those countries than to build a wall or to send troops to the border. We worry about trade imbalances and what it is doing to businesses in our country, and attempt to impose tariffs as a solution — when we could address the underlying problems and make American products better and more competitive so that other countries want them, even after the advantages the countries give to their own products. That is ultimately a better solution. We rage on about health care and what the government involvement should be, while forgetting about the people and what keeping them healthy can do for society overall.

We spend so much time, effort, and money addressing symptoms of problems, and so little time actually trying to make the problems actually go away. We’re popping pills to hide the pains and control the condition, never taking the time to actually get better.

Let’s resolve to try to actually fix the problem this time.

/end rant

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🎭 Lizards and Lovers | “She Loves Me” @ Actors Co-Op

She Loves Me (Actors Co-Op)What is the odd connection between the Austin Lounge Lizards and the musical She Loves Me? The last time we saw She Loves Me, back in 2014 at the Chance Theatre, we saw an afternoon matinee, and then rushed to Culver City to see the Lizards at Boulevard Music. Last weekend, we actually moved our tickets for She Loves Me  at Actors Co-op (FB) to Sunday so we could see the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music on Saturday night. We still rushed on Sunday: this time from Stitches So Cal in Pasadena to Hollywood for She Loves Me.

Oh well, at least it allows me to repeat my description of the show itself.

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

So how did Actors Co-Op do, when compared to Chance? Under the direction and choreography of Cate Caplin (FB), the actors were clearly having fun with the piece, and that fun was projected to the audience. The overall company was quite fun to watch, and there was lots of joy in the production.

In the lead positions were Claire Adams as Amalia Balash and  Kevin Shewey (FB) as Georg Nowack. We had seen both before in the Actors Co-Op production of Violet back in May: they were strong then, and they gave strong performances now. They have great singing voices, wonderful personalities that come through in their performances, and a nice chemistry between the two of them (demonstrated exceptionally well in the second act).

In the second tier, we had the other clerks at Maraczek’s: Darren Bluestone as Steven Kodaly, Beau Brians (FB) as Arpad Laszlo, Avrielle Corti (FB) as Ilona Ritter, and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Ladislav Sipos. I was really taken by the performances of Corti and Hodin. Both had these wonderful twinkles and characterizations that made them a delight to watch; both also sang well.  Brians brought a great boyish charm to Arpad, and was strong in his numbers. I was a bit less taken by Bluestone: he had fun with the Gaston-ish primping, but otherwise, I got no real sense of his character or what he was bringing to the role.

In a slightly smaller role was Greg Martin (FB)’s Mr. Maraczek. He brought the right amount of gruffness and tenderness to the role, and was fun to watch.

Rounding out the cast in small named roles and ensemble positions were Carolyn Carothers (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; Cy Creamer (FB) [Keller]; Phil Crowley [Headwaiter]; Tyler Joseph Ellis (FB) [Busboy, Arpadu/s]; Rachel Geis [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; and Carly Lopez (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]. All were fun to watch, especially the mix in the 12 Days to Christmas sequence. The customers, in particular, brought some interesting and different characterizations to their tracks each time they appeared.

Understudies were Lea Madda (FB) [Ilona Ritteru/s]; and Susanna Vaughan (FB) [Amalia Balashu/s].

The biggest difference from the Chance production was the orchestra. Whereas Chance had a single piano and gypsy violin, Actors Co-Op had 6 pieces: Keyboards (Anthony Lucca, who also served as conductor); Violin (Miyuki Miyagi); Cello (Cyrus Elia); Reeds (Austin Chanu); Trumpet (Nathan Serot); and Percussion (Ian Hubbell). The orchestra had good sound, although a few notes sounded a bit off.

Turning to the technical and production: Stephen Gifford (FB)’s set design was, as usual, elegant and worked well within the confines of the Schall Theatre space. It was supported by Lori Berg (FB)’s property design. Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design also worked well in conjunction with Klint Flowers wig, hair, and makeup. Sound design was by Adam R. Macias, with lighting by Luke Moyer (FB).  Derek R. Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by  James Ledesma (FB). Other credits:  Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman];  Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicity].

She Loves Me continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through December 16, 2018. It’s a cute show; you’ll enjoy it. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op 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. 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:

Next weekend is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB) (although that is starting to look less likely).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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🎶 My One Band is the One True Band | “Austin Lounge Lizards” @ Boulevard Music

Austin Lounge Lizards (Boulevard Music)My dear departed friend Stuart Schaeffer did two outstanding things for me, musically: he introduced me to the music of Big Daddy, and he introduced me to the Austin Lounge Lizards. The Lizards are a satirical bluegrass band out of Texas, and their music is just great. Although described as “bluegrass”, they run the range from acapella choral singing to rock and roll, from the aforementioned bluegrass to country, and pretty much everything in between. Their lyrics skewer people and topics, and are cleverly written. Whenever we learn they are coming to town, we do our best to see them (but, alas, they often conflict with prescheduled theatre).

Luckily, although there was a conflict, it was with a subscription show, and we were able to change our tickets to Sunday. So last night we got together with some friends and went down to Boulevard Music in Culver City to see the current incarnation of the Lizards do their show. The Lizards are down to two of the three founding members (Tom Pittmann having retired, but Hank Card and Conrad Diesler are  still there), and have been joined by two original Lizards, Kirk WIlliams and Tim Wilson. For two songs, Corey Simone, who was also a former Lizard and now has a band in the area, joined the group.

To make my life easy, I copied their set list before the show. This show was a little different in that there were a number of non-Lizard rock numbers worked in between the traditional Lizards fare. Here is the set  list, with a few comments. I’ve done my best to get the full names of songs (non-Lizard songs in italics):

  1. Highway Cafe of the Damned
  2. Ashokan Farewell / War Between the States / War
  3. We’ve Been Through Some Crappy Times Before
  4. That God Forsaken Hell-Hole I Call Home
  5. Grunge Song
  6. The Dogs, They Really Miss You / Walking the DogIggy
  7. Boudreaux Was a Nutcase
  8. Black Helicopters
  9. Buenos Dios, Budweiser
  10. Gospel Medley: One True God / Three Sinners / Zen Gospel Singing
  11. (Intermission)
  12. Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs
  13. Carazon de Goma (new song)
  14. Creep / Shallow End of the Gene Pool / People are Strange
  15. Another Stupid Texas Song
  16. Strange Noises in the Dark
  17. Have You Ever Seen the RainIrma / Acid Rain Keeps Falling / Beatle
  18. Jesus Loves Me (But He Doesn’t Like You)
  19. The Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden
  20. The Zombie Song Monster’s Holiday
  21. Hillbillies in an Haunted House
  22. (curtain call)
  23. Old Blevens
  24. Stop in the Name of Love Can’t Do / Cornhusker Refugee / My Boyfriend’s Back

I still  think they need to combine “Stupid Texas Song” with “I’m Leaving Texas” from Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public.

Alas, they didn’t do a number of my favorites, but that’s the nature of any show. What’d I miss? Saguaro, The Drugs I Need, Rasputin’s HMO, Go Ahead and Die (a great medley trio there), Industrial Strength Tranquilizers, Bust the High School Students, Big Rio Grande River, Half a Man, and Big Tex’s Girl… for a start.

But still, it was a great show, and you can never get all the songs you want.

***

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 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:

Today brings She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) a visit to Stitches So Cal.  The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB) (although that is starting to look less likely).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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