🗯️ Antisemitism and the Eye of the Beholder … and what that says of the Beholder

Imagine (and it isn’t hard) that Donald Trump has tweeted something insensitive and stereotypical against black or brown people. A bunch of white folk respond, “He isn’t being racist, and here’s why…”. The black and brown folk, on the other hand, instantly go: “That’s a dogwhistle racist trope. That’s a racist tweet.” Who do you think has a better case for recognizing racism? What do you think about those white folk?

Imagine Trump tweets something making fun of Native Americans including a racist trope dogwhistle. Most Americans think he’s just making fun of a political opponent, but it is the Native Americans that pick up on the whistle, and call him out for it.

Now, think about the recent tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and look at the reaction to it. Look at the folks who are saying it wasn’t antisemitic, that it was just “criticism of Israel”. Now ask yourself (a) what do they have in common, and (b) are they Jewish. Now look at the reaction of the Jewish community, which picked up on the dogwhistle racist trope immediately. Now look at the reaction of the non-Jewish community to the reaction of the Jewish community, where they are calling them overly sensitive. As John Adams sang in 1776, “Do you see what I see?”

It really teaches you something about your friends.

For those that don’t “get” it, here’s a good explanation from an article in Tablet Magazine about why the tweet was an antisemitic dogwhistle racist trope:

… [the tweet] evoked the image of moneyed Jews paying off gentiles to subvert the national interest and control American politics for their own ends. Sometimes the villain in this delusion is George Soros, sometimes the Rothschilds, and other times “the Israel lobby.” In this particular case, Omar suggested that the reason America supports the Jewish state is because (((powerful interests))) have taken control of our democracy, seemingly against the will of its people. In reality, as decades of polling shows, American politicians are pro-Israel because American voters are pro-Israel and elect leaders who reflect their views. There is no conspiracy at work, only democracy. Policy on Israel is set by the 98 percent of Americans who are not Jewish, not the 2 percent who are, which is probably why that policy is more hawkish than many American Jews would like.

For those unfamiliar, there is an ages-old canard (look up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) about a Zionist World Order pulling the strings of every nation. It has been used as the excuse for Jewish slaughter for years. The notions in the original tweet — while criticizing the US policies towards Israel, yes — had the implication of this monied order behind it. It is that implication that was the antisemitic part.

And, to clear some things up, because they’ve come up in other discussions:

  • Disagreeing with the behavior of the government of Israel is not antisemitic. One can want the state of Israel to exist, and disagree with how her government and leaders behave. I want America to exist, and yet disagree with our current administration.)
  • I have no beef with Rep. Ilhan Omar: She’s entitled to her views, and more importantly, learned from this kerfuffle about the importance of perception of what you say being equally, if not more important, than the substance you intend. She has to answer to the people in her district for her behavior.
  • This has nothing to do with the religion of Rep. Omar: I’ve seen the same antisemitic attitude coming from white Christian Republicans. There is, however, one big difference: The Democratic party recognized it, condemned it, and the Rep. in question apologized. I haven’t seen equivalent reactions from Republican leadership when Republicans make antisemitic dogwhistle racist tropes.

That last point is an important one, given the President has been calling for Rep. Omar’s resignation over the tweets: Pot, meet Kettle. The President has been making similar tweets, not only antisemitic ones, but racist and misogynistic ones. So have other Republicans. So until they set the example by resigning over their own behavior, until they call out those in their own party for behaving this way, and until they demonstrably change their behavior (as Rep. Omar has indicated she will, although time will tell), then they have no standing to make such calls. The Republicans do not get to be sanctimonious and high minded when policing their opposition, while ignoring the misbehavior in their own party.

But back to the reason for this post:  We trust that people of color can recognize racism directed against them better than white folks who haven’t been subjected to racism can. We trust that women can recognize sexist behavior and “toxic masculinity” better than guys brought up in the male dominated culture. So why is it that non-Jews cannot take the word of the bulk of the Jewish community when we indicate that a statement is calling on traditional antisemitic tropes. What does it say about the person who doesn’t see it?

P.S.: A friend posted this, and it is apropos to this discussion:  How to Criticize Israel without being Antisemitic.

 

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🎭 Russian Meddling and Affairs Destroy Lives | “Anna Karenina” @ Actors Co-Op

Anna Karenina (Actors Co-Op)C’mon, do you really expect something involving Russians, affairs, and political leaders to have a happy ending? Has the 2016 election taught you nothing?

But seriously, last weekend was a weekend of theatrical whiplash, going from the positive uplifting message of the musical 1776 to the sturm und drang-ish drama of the play Anna Karenina, adapted from the Leo Tolstoy novel by Helen Edmundson in 1992 and currently on-stage at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 17, 2019.

Anna Karenina is a classic of Russian literature, and (at least according to Wikipedia), some consider it the greatest novel ever written. I think that’s Russian propaganda. You can read the full gory synopsis on the Wikipedia page; here’s a 50,000 ft. view of the novel (also from the Wikipedia page):

Anna Karenina is the tragic story of Countess Anna Karenina, a married noblewoman and socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother’s unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation, though she would experience less tolerance by others. A bachelor, Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she will agree to leave her husband Count Karenin, a senior government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, the moral laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, her own insecurities, and Karenin’s indecision. Although Vronsky and Anna go to Italy, where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. Back in Russia, she is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious, while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky’s reassurances, she grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fearing loss of control. A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Lëvin or Ljovin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Princess Kitty, sister to Princess Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna’s brother Prince Oblonsky. Konstantin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Konstantin’s difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and his struggle to accept the Christian faith, until the birth of his first child.

Edmundson’s adaptation (and director Heather Chesley (FB)’s staging and Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design) makes this all much more abstract. You start with Anna and Constantine “Kostya” on a bare stage with four chairs, as if in an afterlife, haunted by ghosts of some sort. They are constantly asking where they are now, which is seemingly an expositional technique to establish place and allow them to introduce their separate parts of the story. They don’t meet in “real life” until somewhere late in the second act. Around them we see the action unfold with the other characters, with actors often playing multiple roles in the different threads of the stories. Yes, it does end with the suicide in the train station (c’mon, it’s a classic novel and a classic trope, so it shouldn’t be a spoiler), but it is all done very abstractly.

For me — and I’ll emphasize that this is my opinion — the story just didn’t grab me. I really can’t get into a complex tale of infidelity, shifting affairs, Russian societal position, and a fair amount of depression and lack of self worth. It just wasn’t my thing, but I’ll emphasize that’s why we subscribe to theatres: it brings us to shows we might not normally seek out on our own. But that also brings the risk that we might not like everything we see.

But just because I didn’t get into the story doesn’t mean I didn’t like the performances. Chesley brought out great performances in her acting team, and they were believable as their characters. This is especially true for the two leads: Eva Abramian (FB) as Anna Karenina and Joseph Barone (FB) as Constantine “Kostya” Levin. The two had good chemistry together and were fun to watch.

All of the other characters played both a “major” and a minor role, which makes it difficult to tier or group them. But I’ll try. We’ll start with Anna’s brother, Stiva, played by Michael Worden (FB) [also: Vassily the Bailiff, Petristsky, the Priest] and his wife, Dolly, played by  Lauren Thompson(FB) [also: Countess Vronsky]. Worden’s Stiva came across as a “bro” in modern speak: a man interested in womanizing and fun more than his family. In this, Worden portrayed him well. Thompson’s Dolly was more the dutiful wife, staying with a man she didn’t like for the sake of the marriage. Again, a strong portrayal.

Moving to Anna’s lovers, we have Bruce Ladd (FB) as Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, her husband, and Garrett Botts (FB) as Count Alexei Vronsky, her lover [also: Nikolai]. I liked Ladd’s performance, but I’ve liked him ever since seeing him in A Man for All Seasons last year. He’s a great actor, and fun to watch. Botts was believable as the Russian Captain who was obsessed with Anna, after being obsessed with Kitty, after …. It was an interesting love triangle.

This brings us to Kostya’s object of affection: Kitty, played by Ivy Beech (FB) [also: Seriozha]. As Kitty, she was strong and believable in her emotional arc. As Seriozha, she was less believable, but that was primarily an age problem.

Lastly, there was the exceptional character actor in the Co-Op stable: Deborah Marlowe (FB), this time as Princess Betsy / Agatha / Governess / Railway Widow. Marlowe specializes in these small character roles, and always does them well.

There is one understudy listed in the program: Micah Kobayashi [u/s for Princess Betsy / Agatha / Governess / Railway Widow].

As noted earlier, Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design was simple and abstract, supplemented by Lori Berg (FB)’s property design. This was supported by Vicki Conrad (FB)’s costume, hair, and makeup, which seemed, suitably, Russian and period. David B. Marling (FB)’s sound design provided good sound effects. Lisa D. Katz (FB)’s lighting established the place and mood well. Other production credits: Nora Feldman [Publicist]; Julie Hall (FB[Choreography]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Eric M. White (FB) [Stage Manager]; and Kay Bess (FB) [Producer].

Anna Karenina continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 17, 2019. It wasn’t my favorite story, but the performances are strong. If it is a story you’re into, then you’ll likely enjoy this production. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website. Discount tickets may be available on 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:

Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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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🎭 Perfect Union, Imperfect Men | “1776” @ The Saroya

1776 (The Saroya/VPAC)There are those that would have you believe that the founders of our nation were perfect and infallible, working with a God-given drive to create America. Those folks would make you believe that their decisions were right then, and are right for now.  Those folks … would be wrong.

We have (well, most of us have) celebrated the rise of a new musical over the last few years that tells the story of the founding of America. A musical that has been playing to sold out houses, returning to cities over the country again and again (it will be returning to Los Angeles in March 2020). This musical, while framing the story in the modern immigrant narrative, shows the ugly personal and political battles that the founders engaged in. There was petty jealousy, there were strong disputes about how the county should move forward and establish itself. It wasn’t pretty, and the founders were far from perfect men. Even those protesting the history contain in the show aren’t trying to show the perfect of the men in the story, but to show them as even less perfect than the musical holds them out to be.

But this show wasn’t the first to put the creation of the nation on the musical stage. Fifty years ago — back in 1969 — another musical premiered that told the story of the creation of America — a musical that shared Broadway with the rock musical of its day, Hair — and bested it at the Tony Awards. That musical was 1776, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, and book by Peter Stone, based on an original concept by Sherman Edwards.

1776 shares a moment in time with that other musical, Hamilton. focusing on a two to three month period in 1776. It shares only two characters with Hamilton: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But it makes the same point: this is a nation that is built on compromise with those you disagree with. It makes the same point: our nation was founded by imperfect, but passionate men. 1776 portrays our founders not as paragons of virtue, but as flawed men: gluttons, drunkards, womanizers, and much more. It shows how they were flying by the seats of their pants, and taking immense risks to create this nation.  It shows that many of the political battles of today existed at this nation’s founding: battles over taxes, battles over the treatment of minorities, the battles of Conservatives vs LIberals. When John Dickenson sings that people will follow the Conservatives because most people would rather protect the possibility of being rich than face the reality of being poor, that is something that one could sell in the poorest “red” precincts of this country. When Jefferson and Adams stand up for the rights of the Negro, this is a battle that is still being fought. And when Jefferson is forced to admit that he is a practitioner of that filthy practice of slavery, he is admitting complicity in the immoral practices of his time, just as the leadership of Virginia has been caught up today. It demonstrates that America was, and still is, a nation that is built upon imperfection and compromise.

So I think we have established that 1776 is an important musical to be seen — in the abstract. So why this production, and why now? First, because to see live theatre at the Saroya (nee VPAC) (FB) demonstrates that the San Fernando Valley wants first class musical theatre in the heart of the valley. Second, because in the political times we are facing today, it is important to remind ourselves of the need to compromise with those with whom we disagree, in furtherance of a larger and more important goal. Third, because the production team behind this production, McCoy – Rigby (FB), has a proven track record of doing strong theatre both at the southern edge of Los Angeles County, and now here in the valley. Lastly, because this production itself is very strong (I had only a few minor quibbles). Alas, however, the Saroya only bring in these shows for one weekend. We need to encourage them to do more theatre — both bringing in productions, as well as presenting on the Saroya stage, for the Saroya audience, more of the excellent work done by the Theatre department on campus.

This is not to say that 1776 doesn’t have its flaws. The roles for women in the production are both few and miniscule. They interact with the men more as wives; one is on for essentially two scenes and one song, and then disappears. Even some of the men have tiny roles: one song and gone. The production — mirroring those times — is excessively single hued, and does not hold up to broader casting well. There are extremely long stretches of dialogue with no music; at times this is more of a play with music than a musical. There is no latitude for creative staging: the show builds up to a single tableau at the end, and must do so for the story to work.  Lastly, as Wikipedia summarizes, there are numerous historical flaws and inaccuracies in the story. In the last case, yet again, this is just like that modern musical, Hamilton, which also adapts history for dramatic purpose.

But even in acknowledging the flaws in the work, the show is an important one to be seen for its message. Although this production has come to a close, if 1776 shows up again near you, go see it.

Luckily, the production team of Glenn Casale (FB) [Direction and Staging] and Jeff Rizzo (FB) [Musical Direction], were up to the task. They essentially used two scenic areas: the meeting room of the Continental Congress, and a space in front of a shuttered wall for all the other scenes. Within these limitations, they helped the story to unfold, with the help of the acting team.

In the lead performance position was Andy Umberger as John Adams (Mass.). Umberger captured the fire and the passion of the character well, and had a strong singing voice demonstrated in so many numbers. Working with Umberger was Peter Van Norden (FB) as Benjamin Franklin (Penn.). Van Norden’s was the one performance that didn’t set me on fire. It wasn’t bad, but he just didn’t seem to fit the character for some reason, which made the performance a little bit off. But that’s just my opinion. Rounding out the main trio was Caleb Shaw (FB)’s Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). He gave a strong and spirited performance, although his wig needed a touch more red in it to fit with the comment made by Adams about his being red-headed.

This brings us to the rest of the Continental Congress — or at least the subset thereof who are portrayed on stage. All get their moments; some even get songs :-).  The rest of the Congress consisted of:  Nick Santa Maria (FB) [John Hancock (Mass.)]; Jason Chacon (FB) [Dr. Josiah Bartlett (NH)]; Gordon Goodman (FB) [Stephen Hopkins (RI)]; Michael Dotson (FB) [Roger Sherman (Conn.)]; Jotapé Lockwood (FB) [Lewis Morris (NY)]; Victor E. Chan (FB) [Robert Livingston (NY)]; Mitchell McCollum (FB) [Rev. John Witherspoon (NJ)]; Michael Stone Forrest [John Dickinson (Penn.)]; Ted Barton (FB) [James Wilson (Penn.)]; Gary Lee Reed (FB) [Caesar Rodney (Del.)]; Matthew Kimbrough (FB) [Col. Thomas McKean (Del.)]; Brad Rupp (FB) [George Read (Del.)]; Peter Allen Vogt (FB) [Samuel Chase (Maryland)]; Michael Starr (FB) [Richard Henry Lee (Virginia)]; Joey Ruggiero (FB) [Joseph Hewes (N. Carolina)]; James Barbour (FB) [Edward Rutledge (S. Carolina)]; and Jordan Schneider (FB) [Dr. Lyman Hall (Georgia)]. Of these folks, most notable were Starr’s performance as Lee in “The Lees of Old Virginia”; Forrest’s strong performance as Dickinson in “Cool, Cool Considerate Men”, and Barbour’s Rutledge in “Molasses to Rum”. Non-musically, I liked Kimbrough’s McKean and Chan’s Livingston.

Supporting the Congress were Jordan Goodsell (FB) [Congressional Secretary, Charles Thomson]; Michael Rothhaar (FB) [Congressional Custodian, Andrew McNair]; Rodrigo Varandas (FB) [A Leather Apron /A Painter]; and Nick McKenna (FB) [A Courier]. Rothhaar was fund to watch throughout, but the standout performance was McKenna in “Mamma, Look Sharp”.

This brings us to the two women in the cast, who are relegated to ancillary characters: Teri Bibb (FB) as Abigail Adams and Ellie Wyman (FB) as Martha Jefferson. Wyman gave a standout performance both in voice and dance and playfulness during her one scene and one song (“He Played the Violin”). We see more of Bibb, but her character is more restrained. She does have a lovely singing voice.

Music was provided by 9-piece orchestra, conducted by Music Director Jeff Rizzo (FB). The Orchestra consisted of: Kathleen Robertson (FB[Concertmaster / Violin, and who coincidentally also played Violin for Hamilton when it was at the Pantages ];  Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; John Sawoski (FB) [Keyboard]; Jay Mason (FB) [Woodwinds]Adam Bhatia (FB) [Trumpet]; Dave Ryan [Trombone / Bass Trombone]; Mark Converse (FB) [Percussion]; and Tim Christensen [Bass / Contractor].

Turning to the production and creative team: I’ve already mentioned Stephen Gifford (FB)’s Scenic Design and how that worked well. It was supported by the Properties Design of Kevin Williams (FB). I should note that I missed the nice “rip” of the dates; but I understand the need for removable dates. The Costume Design of Shon Leblanc (FB) mostly worked well; however, the red heels on the black shoes of John Dickinson were a distraction. Other than that, both the costumes and the hair / wig / makeup design of Eb Bohks (FB) seemed reasonable period and were effective in conveying the characters. Again, this is an area where there is limited creativity, as the end result has to fit Trumbull’s tableau painting of the signing. The sound design of Philip G. Allen (FB) and Leon Rothenberg (FB) mostly worked well, although there were a few annoying sound drops that I’ll attribute to mistuning on the move from La Mirada to VPAC / Saroya. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting conveyed place and mood well. Rounding out the production credits: Julia Flores (FB) [Casting Director]; Justen Asher (FB) [Technical Director]; Patti McCoy Jacob (FB) [General Manager]; Ana Lara (FB) , Lindsay Brooks (FB), and David Nestor (FB) [Production Management]John W. Calder III (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Heidi Westrom (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; and David Elzer (FB) / Demand PR (FB) [Publicity]1776 was produced by McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB), originally for The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) .

1776 has closed at The Saroya, but a subsequent production from the same production team, Singing in the Rain, will be at The Saroya over the weekend of April 12. Tickets for Singing in the Rain are available through The Saroya online, and may be available on 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 day we saw 1776 was theatrical whiplash, as we ran out of the production to head over to Hollywood for Anna Karenina at Actors Co-op (FB).  Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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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🎭 How To Combat Depression | “Hello, Dolly!” @ Hollywood Pantages

Hello Dolly (Hollywood Pantages)If you’re like me, you always thought you had seen Hello, Dolly!. Sure, you listened to the cast album zillions of times. Sure, you’ve seen the movie … well, sometime in the past, and you thought Barbra Streisand was too young for the part, and why would she want Walter Matthau anyway? But you didn’t remember it that well. But when did you last see Hello, Dolly!, well done, on an actual stage?

If you’re like me, it was, well, I can’t remember if I have.

Seeing Betty Buckley (FB) in Hello, Dolly! Sunday evening at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) was a revelation. It was a reminder of what theatre was in the golden age — the days of Gower Champion and David Merrick. It was also a reminder about how what you might remember as a fluff of a show — a star vehicle — has surprising relevance over 50 years after it first premiered.

For those who don’t remember the story, it is based on Thornton Wilder‘s 1938 comedy The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. In 1964, it was adapted into a musical by producer David Merrick, with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. It tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow whose business since her husband died is “meddling” — matchmaking, among numerous other businesses. She has recently arranged a match for Horace Vandergelder, a half-a-millionaire in Yonkers, but aims to get him to change his mind and marry her. She’s also helping Ambrose Kemper to marry Vandergelder’s niece, Ermengarde … but to do so she’s got to overcome Horace’s reluctance because the young man has no income. Vandergelder is planning to propose to Irene Molloy, a hatmaker in New York. In parallel, Vandergelder’s clerks also engineer a trip to New York for adventure. They run into Molloy’s shop, where they get involved with Molloy and her assistant, Minnie Fay. That gives you the basics: you can find a detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

The story itself — unsurprisingly — is silly and a bit dated. The behavior reflects the attitudes of the 1890s, not today. But there are some really important messages in the story that I never realized, and that are really, really important. First and foremost is Dolly’s message, best captured in “Before the Parade Passes By”. Dolly had been in a deep funk after her husband died, and that become clear as the musical progresses. But what is clear is that the incidents shown in the musical reflect a turning point for her: a decision to get out of her depression and jump back into life. That’s a very important message — perhaps one that wasn’t as strongly recognized in the 1960s. Far too many people are depressed, and the best way out of that depression is to go out and live. To return to life. To do it before the parade — and life — passes you by.

The second message comes out at the end, and seems even more relevant in the days of Donald Trump. The goal of money is not to hoard it; it is not to be like a dragon pinching every penny (even that one in your pocket). Money is like manure, as Dolly notes: it works best when you treat it like fertilizer and spread it around, enabling those around you to grow. This is such an important lesson — and one that our current administration could well learn.

The messages in Dolly are made stronger with the right casting. Having seen Dolly now, I can say that Streisand was clearly too young for the part. So was Channing in 1964. So were many of the other actresses playing the role then. Dolly needs to be an older woman who is clearly returning to life, not a younger women with her life before her. This is one reason why this revival has worked so well. The women playing the role on Broadway — Midler, Peters — were the right age. Betty Buckley is the right age — and is an example of how older women are coming into their own, as the LA Times noted.

So before we get into the nuances of the performances of this cast, let me say again: Go see this show. This isn’t your father’s or grandfather’s creaky musical. If you watch closely, you’ll see a message that is truly relevant today.

Under the direction of Jerry Zaks and the choreography of Warren Carlyle (with Stephen Edlund (FB) [Assoc. Director]; and Sara Edwards (FB[Assoc. Choreographer], and David Chase [Dance Arrangements]), the production scintillates, shines, and entertains tremendously. This team seemingly permitted the cast and ensemble to explicitly have fun, to play the characters as characters (i.e., not hyper-realistic), and to just go with it. I have no idea whether the original director and choreographer Gower Champion permitted this, but it made this staging just a real joy to watch. I was just smiling through the entire show — it was that much fun.

In the lead position was Betty Buckley (FB). Before I saw the show, I was unsure whether she would be able to make this show her own, but from the moment of her entry — she did. She played to and with the audience; she was clearly having fun and was bringing the audience along for the ride. Buckley’s Dolly seemed to have two sides: the side that was the acknowledged character in the story, and the side that was the character in the show, knowing it was the show. Other characters did this as well (at times), encouraging the audience to go along with the gag — a “we know this is silly, but let’s have fun together”. Buckley’s voice handled the music well — although truth be told, this isn’t a show that requires a spectacular singing voice for Dolly, just a loud one. After all, Channing’s voice during her (shall we say) extended run was never the greatest (her voice was better in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds), but the character made up for it. Buckley had the voice, and the character. Buckley also had the age, which gave her character the right gravitas and experience for the role to actually make sense. I don’t think this was the case in the 1960s original, when Channing or Streisand were in their 20s and 30s (Merman and some of the others did have the right age, at that point). But in this revival, the age worked to the advantage of the character.

Also super-strong was Lewis J. Stadlen (FB)’s Horance Vandergelder. I was never enamored of David Hyde Pierce in the role — he didn’t have the age, and the curmudgeon-ness was forced. Stadlen, on the other hand, brings that in spades. It’s like Pangloss was on stage (which he was). He has the comic timing, the playfulness, and the experience to do the role right. In many ways, he harkens back to the original Vandergelder, David Burns, who was an old man at the time. He also makes a believable couple with Buckley’s Dolly; not something you could say for all the various Dolly/Vandergelder actor pairings.

In the supporting male positions were Nic Rouleau (🌟FB, FB) [Corneilius Hackl] and Jess LeProtto (FB) [Barnaby Tucker]; the corresponding ladies were Analisa Leaming (FB) [Irene Molloy] and Kristen Hahn (FB) [Minnie Fay]. All had wonderful comic timing and expressions, and were strong singers and dancers. In particular, the comic playfulness of Rouleau was just a delight, and he seemed to take great joy in going above and beyond in the comedy department. Leaming found the right balance between being prim and proper and letting her hair down and letting the girl out. As for the other pairing of LeProtto and Hahn: LeProtto got the comedy and timidness of Barnaby well, and was an outstanding dancer in “Dancing”. Hahn caught my eye from the first moment she came on stage. She had the right aura of naive and nerd that made her pairing with LeProtto’s Barnaby work. All were strong.

The third tier of characters were Garett Hawe (FB) [Ambrose Kemper] and Morgan Kirner (FB) [Ermengarde]. This were almost literally one-note characters — certainly for Kirner, who seemed to only screech as a character. But they were strong in their dancing during the contest, and provided the necessary humor.

Rounding out the cast were the minor named characters (who were also part of the ensemble), as well as the unnamed ensemble members: Jessica Sheridan (FB) [Ernestina Money, Dolly Leviu/s]; Wally Dunn (FB) [Rudolph, Horace Vandergelderu/s]; Maddy Apple (FB) [Irene Molloyu/s]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [Court Clerk, Cornelius Hacklu/s]; Giovanni Bonaventura (FB) [Ambrose Kemperu/s]; Elizabeth Broadhurst (FB) [Irene Molloyu/s, Ernestinau/s]; Julian DeGuzman (FB) [Barnaby Tuckeru/s]; Alexandra Frohlinger (FB) [Ermengardeu/s, Minnie Fayu/s]; Dan Horn (FB); Corey Hummerston (FB) [Ambrose Kemperu/s]; Madison Johnson (FB) [Minnie Fayu/s]; Beth Kirkpatrick (FB) [Mrs. Rose, Dolly Leviu/s, Ernestinau/s]; Ben Lanham (FB); Kyle Samuel (FB); Scott Shedenhelm (FB) [Barnaby Tuckeru/s]; Timothy Shew  [Judge, Horace Vandergelderu/s]; Maria Cristina Slye (FB); Cassie Austin Taylor (FB); Davis Wayne (FB); Brandon L. Whitmore (🌟FB, FB); and Connor Wince (FB). Swings were: Brittany Bohn (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain, Ermengardeu/s]; Whitney Cooper (FB); Nathan Keen (FB); and Ian Liberto (FB) [Dance Captain, Cornelius Hacklu/s]. Of these, a few stand out: Jessica Sheridan, not only for her comic playfulness as Ernestina, but her joy as she moved in the ensemble; and Wally Dunn for the fun he had as Rudolph during the waiter’s gallop. Additionally, all of the ensemble should be commended for the fun they were having, and how that fun was conveyed to the audience.

Musically, Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics were supplemented by the orchestrations of Larry Hochman. Music was realized under the music direction of Robert Billig (FB). The remaining members of the orchestra were ( indicates local musicans): Tim Laciano (FB) [Keyboard2, Assoc. Conductor]; Max Mamon (FB) [Keyboard1]; Rich Rosenzweig (FB) [Percussionist]; Jeffrey Wilfore (FB) [Trumpet1]; Jen Choi Fischer (FB) [Violin, Concertmaster]; Grace Oh (FB), Ina Veli (FB) [Violin]; Ira Glansbeek [Cello]; Michael Valerio (FB) [Acoustic Bass]; Richard Mitchell [Clarinet / Flute / Piccolo / Alto Sax]; Jeff Driskill (FB) [Flute / Clarinet / Alto Sax]; Sean Franz (FB) [Clarinet / Flute / Bass Clarinet / Tenor Sax]; Chad Smith [Clarinet / Baritone Sax / Bassoon];  John Fumo (FB) [Trumpet2]; Aaron Smith (FB) [Trumpet3]; Charlie Morillas (FB) [Trombone]; Juliane Gralle (FB) [Bass Tombone]; and Mary Ekler (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other music credits:  Eric Heinly (FB) [Orchestra Contractor];  Seymour Red Press [Music Coordinator]; Kimberlee Wertz [Assoc. Music Coordinator]; Emily Grishman Music Preparation [Music Copying].

Santo Loquasto did the Scenic and Costume Design. The scenic design was heavily traditional scrims and flats — no abuse of technology and projections here — with larger sets for Feed and Grain Shop, the Hat Shop, and the Harmonium Gardens. More spectacular were the costumes, with a remarkable use of color and bustles to provide a scenic rainbow on stage. In general, the scenic use of color in this show as something special. This was all supported by the hair, wigs, and makeup design of Campbell Young Associates. The sound design of Scott Lehrer was unusually clear in the Pantages space; it will be interesting to see how show sound evolves as musicals move to the Dolby. Natasha Katz (FB)’s lighting established time and mood well. Rounding out the production and creative credits were: Don Pippin [Vocal Arrangements];  Telsey + Company [Casting]; William Joseph Barnes [Production Supervisor]; Brian J. L’ecuyer (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Karyn Meek (FB) [Stage Manager]; Amy Ramsdell (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Allied Touring [Tour Marketing and Press]; Aurora Productions [Production Manager]; Neurosport [Physical Therapy]; and far too many producers and executive producers.

If I haven’t made it clear by now, go see Hello Dolly! You’ll be glad to be back where you belong. Hello, Dolly! continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) theatre through February 17, 2019. Get your tickets through the Pantages online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. The Pantages has announced their 2019-2020 season, and it’s a good one. You can read my thoughts on the season here.

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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:

This coming weekend is busy, with 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and then running over to Hollywood for Anna Karenina at Actors Co-op (FB).  Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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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🎭 Thoughts on a Theatre Season – Pantages 2019-2020 Season / Ahmanson Prognostications

No, I haven’t forgotten my Hello Dolly writeup. It should be up in the next day or three — but it is a great show and you should go see it. But first … this morning the Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2019-2020 season, and I thought I should share some thoughts. Here’s the graphic and some thoughts:

  • The Nederlander Organization is expanding to programming two theatres this year: the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Dolby Theatre (FB) at Hollywood and Highland. It will be interesting to see how our seats translate to the Dolby; I’ve never been in that facility. They also seem to be returning to the “Broadway in Hollywood” moniker. People forget the history, but the original Pantages programming going back to the days of Joseph and the … back in 1982 merged with what was left of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera (which used to program musicals at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion — in fact, it was one of the original tenants) to create an organization called “Broadway LA“. That name (and the website) was dropped around ten years in favor of only the Pantages name, but it appears to be resurrected in a slightly different form. Here’s the press release.
  • The shows announced are as follows:
  • The split between the theatres is interesting. What this seems to be permitting — at least this year — is a long sit-down engagement for Hamilton starting in March while they can still satisfy the subscription base they have built with new shows at the Dolby. This may work — I’m sure the Dolby will have significantly better acoustics than the Pantages; I don’t know about sight lines from the side. But once the juggernauts are gone, what will happen then? The major long sit-down shows will be things like WickedHamiltonDear Evan Hansen, and such. What others will sustain a long run in this city?
  • This season, I’ve heard the music from all of the shows. Most of the shows in the season I’m excited to see: in particular, The Band’s VisitSpongebob, and Anastasia. I’ve heard Frozen has some good effects, but at least based on the cast album, the first act is a bit slow. It will be interesting to see on stage. I like the music to Mean Girls, but it comes across as a Heathers-ish show. I’ve heard really good things about the My Fair Lady revival, and supposedly they’ve addressed the tonal problems in the original, but I’m curious to see how. The music in Escape to Margaritaville is good, but it’s a jukebox musical with little substance (much like Buffett’s music). The least interesting of the bunch is Summer — another jukebox, but with disco. Yes, disco, the music of my college years.
  • This year, I’ll likely get the add on: Hamilton is one musical I won’t mind seeing a second time.

So what does this leave for the  Ahmanson Theatre (FB)? We know their first show in the 2019-2020 season will be Once on this Island, as that has been announced. What will join it? Perhaps the Bat Out of Hell tour will finally make it back on the road (supposedly it will in 2019), but I’m not holding my breath. Piecing together the announcements that I’ve seen, plus how the Ahmanson is programmed, here’s my best guess. Note that the Ahmanson differs from the Pantages in that is isn’t exclusively tours: they do produce new musicals, they present plays, and they do dance shows like the upcoming Cinderella. They don’t do many repeat or second-tier revivals, so tours like HairJC SuperstarCluePercy Jackson, and such are extremely unlikely to go to the Music Center. Here’s what I think will join Once on this Island:

I haven’t heard rumors of Angels in America going on tour, but I could see the Ahmanson adapting that and bringing it in as a one-off. They may also bring in some dance show; I think Harry Potter would suffice for the play. There could be a new musical in the mix; they tend to do that.

There are some other shows that I could see coming in, but they are too new to be highly likely: Pretty Woman, The Prom, or Be More Chill.

Look for my Hello Dolly review by the end of the week. This weekend: Theatrical whiplash, in the form of 1776 and Anna Karenina, both on the same day.

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🛣️ Headlines About California Highways – January 2019

It’s been a roller coaster month. Heavy rains and sunshine. Roads washing out and being repaired. But it is a new year, and hopefully once we get past the winter, a good one. Here are your headlines for the month:

  • Highway 101 in SLO County CA had big upgrades in 1960s. A quick way to start a heated conversation is to bring up the topic of highway improvements. Unlike water and sewer pipes, which are hidden underground, a highway represents public tax dollars and engineering on display right in front of the windshield. When highways work as planned, they are unmemorable. When we do remember them, it is often because of trouble — from inconvenient waiting in traffic to the tragic aftermath of collisions.
  • 2019 will be a busy year for big road construction projects in Orange County. It will be a busy 2019 for major freeways in Orange County. The 405 Freeway will continue to undergo a $1.9 billion expansion between State Route 73 and the 605 Freeway – adding regular and carpool lanes and widening or reconstructing more than 18 bridges.  Work will continue all year, with completion expected in 2023.  “It has been decades since there has been an expansion like this,” Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik said. “This is the largest (project) that OCTA has undertaken.” Nearly $600 million will be spent on two major projects that will start on the 5 Freeway in 2019: Adding a carpool lane between State Route 55 and State Route 57, and adding a regular traffic lane between Avery Parkway and Alicia Parkway.
  • Discovery: CA 33 actually multiplexed CA 166.. Had an interesting little map discovery today regarding CA 33. It turns out that CA 33 actually multiplexed CA 166 East out Taft starting in 1950 which lasted all the way up the 1964 Highway Renumbering when it was routed to Ventura. The CA 166/CA 33 can be seen on this 1950 State Highway Map:
  • Solano freeway improvements still STA priorities for 2019. The top priorities for the Solano Transportation Authority have a familiar feel. With one critical funding source secured by voters and another approved by voters, the Solano Transportation Authority will move forward on projects that include the Interstate 80/I-680/Highway 12 Interchange, the I-80 express lanes, the I-80 westbound truck scales and the Highway 37 and Solano County Fairgrounds interchange.
  • Paving prompts lane closures along Highway 14. Commuters returning to work for the first time in the new year can expect to face lane closures along Highway 14 beginning Wednesday as Caltrans pursues a long list of paving projects. A check of the Caltrans website devoted to news of the latest lane closures lists scores of paving projects scheduled to begin Wednesday and continue each day and night until Sunday. Road work in both the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway is scheduled to begin at one minute after 9 a.m., according to the schedule. Some of the lane closures will see work crews working overnight and into the early morning hours. On Friday night, for example, paving is expected to shut down two northbound lanes of Highway 14 between Shadow Pines Boulevard at Soledad Canyon Road and Agua Dulce Canyon Road from 11 p.m. until 8 a.m. Saturday. No Caltrans official could be reached New Years Day to confirm the schedule or provide insight into any possible changes made to it.

Read More …

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🎭 The Mortified Musical (in a good sense) | “Mamma Mia” @ Cupcake Studios

Mamma Mia (Cupcake Studios)I have a confession to make. Until yesterday, I had never seen Mamma Mia: The Musical. Really never seen: neither the stage production nor the ubiquitous movie version. Oh, I had heard the music and I roughly knew the plot from the cast album. But seeing the the story on stage — that’s a different story. So when a local theatre — Cupcake Studios (FB) — publicized that they were doing Mamma Mia, I thought, “What the hell? It’s time to break down and see the show, plus I’ve heard good things about Cupcake Studios and so I should see what they are like.” So I went on over to Goldstar, picked up a ticket, and made plans to see the show. My experience at the theatre was a bit different than most — and I’ll choose the ticket a bit differently the next time — but more on that after the main writeup. What about the show?

As I indicated above, I didn’t know much about the show going in. I knew that it was a jukebox musical built around the music of the group Abba (a group that became popular as I was doing my undergraduate degree). I knew the plot line was: girl about to get married invites her three possible dads to the wedding to figure out which one he is. I knew it was a “chick flick” on stage. That was about it.

As the show started, I began to think of it as being the Mortified Podcast, as a musical. For those unfamiliar with Mortified, it features real people reading from their journals, mining their fortunes and misfortunes for humor. In the broad sense, that’s what Mamma Mia is: No deep story or point to be made. A daughter reads her mom’s journal, and brings her embarrassing past to the present. But in the end it all works out, somehow, after some uncomfortable incidents.

The basics of the story (which was written by Catherine Johnson, and originally conceived by Judy Cramer) are as follows: A young woman, Sophie, lives on a Greek island with her mom, Donna, who runs a taverna. Sophie (20) is about to get married to a fellow, Sky. There’s one problem: She doesn’t know who her dad is. She finds her mom’s diary, and discovers three men who slept with her mom around the time she would have been conceived, and invites them to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mom. Also coming to the wedding are two of her mom’s best friends: Tanya and Rosie, who used to be in a singing group with her (mom): Donna and the Dynamos. As they then say, hijinks follow as the mom discovers the potential dads — Sam, Bill, and Harry; all three men come to believe they are the dad and offer to walk Sophie down the aisle; and past history is uncovered and revisited. All of this is built and engineered to fit in the music of Abba (music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with additional songs by Stig Anderson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch), meaning that some scenes are specifically contrived to make a song fit in, and ultimately do nothing to advance the plot or grow the character. That’s the nature of a jukebox musical: like the FDAs did with the studies regarding low-fat food (OK, I just discovered Adam Ruins Everything), the story is shaped to fit the music, as opposed to the proper approach of making the music serve the story.

In any case, going back to the uncomfortable incidents: Uncomfortable is a good word for this, for there are points where the storyline veers into the uncomfortable. Think about the scene around “Gimme Gimme Gimme” (at least I think that’s the scene) where Sophie and her friends are dancing with (and seemingly seducing) the dads. He’s old enough to be your father — literally. Here we have a bunch of 20-something girls seducing 45+ men. A bit off to me. Similarly, there’s a scene in Act II — built to make a specific song work — about a 20-something guy chasing a 45+ woman. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with older men or women — I’m an older man, myself — but within the story it created this strange vibe. But perhaps that was just my perceptions — I’m not sure anyone else picked up on it.

But other than that, the story was slight. This is not a deep show. It is a romantic comedy on stage; a true “chick flick” romance. The audience ate it up: the loved the music, they loved the dance, they loved the romance. They loved the happy ending, and the sheer joy that Abba’s music brings to the stage (their music has always been a sheer delight). As my wife noted, in the end the story here doesn’t matter much. Does it ever in a jukebox musical? You’re just going to have a good time. Don’t overthink it; go with the flow and have fun. There are a bunch of talented actors on stage, with wonderful voices. There’s great dancing. There’s music you know and love. Everyone ends up happy. What more can you want?

This brings me to one of the things I really liked about Cupcake Studios: the execution. Under the direction of producer / director Michael Pettenato (FB), this was a cast that was having fun with the show (which is always a good thing as that fun broadcasts to the audience), gave great performances, and brought life and joy to the material even with the limited budget, space, and facilities. I had been hearing good things about Cupcake productions, and this confirmed the most important thing about any theatre: high quality performance.

Before I go into the performances themselves, note the Cupcake double-casts certain roles. This isn’t a problem in-and-of-itself, but they don’t indicate at any given performance who is playing which role (or they don’t indicate that an actor is an understudy in the program). That is a problem. I’ve attempted to guess based on the pictures in the program, but if I made a mistake, excuse me.

In the lead positions (at our performance) were Paige Stewart (FB) as Sophie and Erin Eichberg (FB, IG) as Donna. I was particularly taken with Stewart’s performance. Not only was she a strong singer (with a great rock voice that came out at times), but she had strong movement, and particularly strong acting. I just loved watching her face when she was in the background of scenes — she brought a lot of character to her role. Eichberg was also strong, but in a more casual way. Again, strong voice, strong movement, and great playfulness.  Renee Wylder (FB, TW, IG) alternates as Sophie, and Laura Hartley (FB) is the u/s for Donna.

Playing the potential dads were Brayden Haden (★FB, FB, IG, TW) as Harry, Luis Marquez (FB, IG) as Sam, and Ben Perez (FB) as Bill. All three brought a strong personality to their roles. They were also exceptionally strong singers — in particular, Marquez in “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and Perez in “Take a Chance on Me”, and Haden in “Our Last Summer”.

Both of the actresses playing Donna’s friends were spectacular: Deanna Anthony (★FB, FB, IG) as Tanya and Stephanie Lesh-Farrell (FB, IG) as Rosie. They were great in their numbers with Donna, especially numbers like “Chiquitita”. But where they really shone was in the second act: Anthony on “Does Your Mother Know” and Lesh-Farrell on “Take a Chance on Me”. In those numbers they were able to combine strong singing and vocals with wonderfully comic performances. Alternating in the roles are Pamela Welky Paul (FB) as Tanya and Lisa Dyson (FB) as Rosie.

Turning to the folks surrounding the bride-to-be Sophie: Mickey Layson (FB, IG) as Sky, Jackee Frome (★FB, FB, TW) as Ali, Lexi Eiserman (★FB, FB, IG) as Lisa. Melvin Biteng (FB) as Eddie, and Christopher Jewell Valentin (★FB, FB) as Pepper. A few performances here are worth highlighting. I loved – loved – loved Frome’s performance. She brought a spirit, energy, and joy to the role that just shone to the back row, and that joy was infectious. Layson brought a nice personality and some good comic moves to what is a smaller role. Alternating as Sky was Matt Karic (FB, IG).

Rounding out the ensemble were  Nikk Alcaraz (FB), Brianne Campbell (FB), Savannah Ludwig (★FB, FB, IG), Asia Ring (FB), and Steven Duncan Sass (FB, IG). The standout here was Campbell: for whatever reason, she caught my eye when she was on stage. Sass was also Dance Captain and Eddie/Pepper u/s.

Music was provided by an (above) stage band consisting of Lauralie Pow Ghahremani as Music Director and presumably on the keyboard, Soichiro Tanabe on Drums, Ethan Chiampas on Bass, and Alec De Kervor (FB) on Guitar.

Choreography and movement was by Tor Campbell, assisted by Jackee Frome (★FB, FB, TW). In general, the dance made good use of the space, and seemed reasonably period.

Turning to the remaining production and creative credits: The set design was by Rich Kirchhoff III (FB), who developed a basic taverna set that worked well given the limited space in the black box. This set was complimented by the costumes of Page Ridgeway (FB) which mostly worked — I was unsure about whether some of the 1990s looks were correct, and I know the disco outfits needed much higher heels. But budgets are budgets, and with the budget they had, they did a very good job. James G. Smith III (FB)’s lighting design was good — there has been such a revolution in the theatre with the introduction of LED mover lights — no more having to deal with the heat of the Lekos, or the number and power required. The execution of Huck Walton (FB)’s sound design was a bit more problematic: from significant feedback problems to a tendancy to have the sound appear to be more from the speakers than from the actors. This could be a space issue, but hopefully it is something correctable. Rounding out the production team were: Reyhan Rivera (FB) [Asst. Director]Jackee Frome (★FB, FB, TW) [Stage Manager]Steven Duncan Sass (FB, IG) [Asst. Stage Manager]; ThurZday Lyons (FB) [Production Coordinator]; Michael Ojugo (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager].

Mamma Mia continues at Cupcake Studios/Cupcake Theatre (FB) through March 3rd. You can buy tickets through Cupcake directly; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. Before you buy your tickets, you should read the next paragraph…

This was our first time at Cupcake Studios. For regular theatregoers like us, they are a bit unconventional. Think Southwest Airlines :-). When you check in at Will Call, you get a Southwest style boarding pass, indicating your seating group: VIP, Early Seating, General Admission, and Special General Admission. Your pass has a number based on the time you check in — this is a theatre where it is important to get there early. They call boarding group (yes, I’m not kidding about this, but they don’t call them “boarding groups”) in that order, in groups of 15. It is very much airport-like. You then go in and pick your seat (except for the VIPs, who have marked seats). We made the mistake of getting Special General Admission, thinking it was like normal comp tickets on Goldstar, and that got us in one of the last boarding groups. I’ll know for next time, but my pain can be your gain.

They also made people empty the theatre seating space for intermission while they reset the stage, which I haven’t had happen before. On the plus side, they have good restroom space :-).  Their space also has some structural poles that can block views, so be careful as you sit.

The theatre could also use a bit better of a graphic design for their shows: It would be nice to have a poster-like image that includes the theatre logo and show information. This makes sharing the graphic for the show much easier on social media. [ETA: They also need to register their shows over on Better Lemons: this allows the reviews to collect, audiences to make reviews, and most importantly, for them to shine in the Southern California theatre community. The folks over at BL consider me a reviewer for some strange reason, just because I see so much theatre and writeup every show that I see here (blame this on Colin: It goes back to the Bitter Lemons days). When I tried to add my “Sweet” review for this show — it wasn’t there for me.]

One other observation on Cupcake — a really good one. In additional to having really strong talent on stage, there were an extraordinary number of children in the audience. Reasonably well behaved children. Children that are getting a taste of musical theatre. Children that are learning the joy of live performance. This is a really really good thing.

So, the real question: Will we go back to Cupcake, given the odd loading procedure? I think so, as long as they are doing shows we are interested in seeing and haven’t been done to death. They are getting great local talent, and seem to be executing their shows well. Now that we know how they load the theatre, we’ll plan accordingly. We’ll be back, and they are a great addition to the NoHo Arts Scene.

One last note: The name. It turns out that Cupcake Studios was started by Michael Pettenato (FB), who at one time was on the series Cupcake Wars, and ran Cloud 9 Cupcakes in Atlanta GA. After getting out of the cupcake biz, he moved to Hollywood and pursued his love of theatre, starting a cupcake-sized theatre on Hollywood Blvd, which then moved to the larger space in North Hollywood. Hence, the name. No, there weren’t any cupcakes that I noticed on the concession stand :-).

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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:

Ah, a new theatrical year — one that is starting to fill out. Tonight brings a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea.  February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), and Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The second weekend of February is also busy, with 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and then running over to Hollywood for Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  Presidents Day weekend is open, but I’m exploring The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB, followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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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🗯️ Tearing Down the Wall

userpic=divided-nationThere seems to be two worlds out there. In one world — let’s call it the red world — the only thing standing between us and death and destruction would be a physical wall on the Southern border. In the other world — let’s call it the blue world — the fear leading to the call for the wall isn’t there, and there is the belief that other mechanisms will suffice. The red world believes that the blue world want “open borders”, when that isn’t what they are saying. Neither side is listening to the other, and the government is (partially) shutdown. I’m a believer in risk management and risk reduction, and so I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject:

  • What is the threat? If the concern is true outside terrorists (as opposed to the homegrown ones who have been doing the mass shootings), they haven’t been sneaking through the unfenced areas of the Southern border. They have been coming through the airports, coming through normal border checkpoints, and overstaying visas. They are best addressed not through a wall, but through increased CBP mechanisms and personnel, technological observations, enforcement of visas. A wall does nothing to reduce this risk.
  • If the concern is “bad hombres” — i.e., gang members — again, there is no evidence that they are sneaking through the unfenced portions of the border. There is also scant evidence that the threat is there. Yes, there have been a single handful of police officers shot by undocumented immigrants. But what is the overall threat to the population at large? That’s negligible. We must deal with acceptable risk, not complete risk avoidance — and there is a level of risk in law enforcement. We are not seeing crimes throughout the country by this particular group, nor is the percentage of crimes by this group demonstrably rising. In short, there is no evidence that a physical wall would provide any reduction in anything related to “bad hombres”. It is fear and uncertainty, animated by racial hatred and a particular segment of the media who are using the issue to divide when there is no significant risk.
  • If the concern is the immigrant caravans on the border: they are not at unfenced areas of the border, nor is there any evidence that they are attempting to cross at those points. They are refugees, and the best way to address those individuals is to provide more personnel to process their requests fairly and expeditiously.
  • A physical wall is a band-aid on a wound: it addresses the symptom of the problem, not why the problem is happening in the first place. Although the red world is loath to consider spending money outside the US, the funds proposed for a wall would be better spent making the home nations of the immigrants better places. If conditions are better at home, there is no need to come to America for opportunity. Further, the cost of making those countries a better place is much less than building a physical wall, and has much less environmental impact or impact on the lands and properties of Americans living at the border.
  • Security must be looked at as a comprehensive picture. While we argue and shut down the government over a physical wall, we have furloughed significant work on improving and strengthening the Cybersecurity of our nation. NIST’s cybersecurity work is on hold. NSF’s cybersecurity research is furloughed. Increasing our cybersecurity is vital to our national security, and sacrificing that to the wall is idiotic. Our enemies have and will use our technology to subvert our systems and use them for their own aims — and they have done so in recent elections. They are perfectly happy to sit in their home countries and do it electronically, while laughing at our debate over a wall on a border they would never cross. The shutdown has also reduced the border security workforce at the airports (TSA) — again, weakening our security infrastructure.

Border security is important, and ensuring entry to the US is vetted and legal is significant. However, a physical wall is not the right way to do this, and it provides insignificant risk reduction. Fear has been created over a risk that just isn’t there, and the actual numbers don’t back up the claims. If there must be funding for a wall, let’s start the right way: determine the most impactful 100 miles that need new wall, and fund that now to provide risk reduction in conjunction with other security mechanisms, because the risk reduction of all wall segments is not equal, and not all require immediate funding. Most importantly, don’t let the focus on the wall battle distract from other border security, including securing our electronic borders.

P.S.: The answer to securing our electronic borders is NOT to declare a national emergency and shut off all electronic communications. Just imagine the impact of that on American business and commerce!

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