An Interesting Beast | “Shrek: The Musical” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Shrek - The Musical (5-Star)Musicals take interesting paths. Some are clear hits, running forever on Broadway, and taking their own sweet time on hitting the regional market (ex: Wicked). Some are perennials: classics on Broadway and on the regional market (ex: Fiddler). Some are Broadway hits, but never quite get the knack of the touring production, and never quite make it in the regional market (ex: Natasha, Pierre, …). Some are so-so on Broadway, and perhaps they do a tour, but then they fade away (ex: Catch Me If You Can). Some fade away as soon as they open on Broadway (ex: Tuck Everlasting).

But then there are shows that embrace the tour. They get reworked for the road, and that rework makes them much stronger than the original Broadway production. The reworked version works well, and quickly goes into the regional market and becomes a staple production, from the school level to the community theatre to the larger regional theatre.  These are shows like Legally BlondeThe Addams Family, and Shrek.

Here in Southern California, it seems to have been a season of Shrek. I recall quite a few productions: Simi Valley, one in Santa Clarita, loads of school  productions. But they weren’t there when 5 Star Theatricals (FB) announced their production at the beginning of the year. The season they announced was intriguing: Shrek (perhaps overdone at the school level), Matilda (first large regional production), and West Side Story (appropriate, for Lenny’s 100th). Two were new for 5-Star. This was also coming after some turmoil at the company: Will North, who had picked the prior season (JosephHunchback, and Beauty and the Beast) and had starred in Hunchback, quickly disappeared and Patrick Cassidy (FB) was there as Artistic Director. Quite likely, it was North that picked the current season, which Cassidy got to execute. We renewed — not only because the shows are interesting, but because 5-Star has a great mission in serving the Ventura County community that is deserving of support.

Back to Shrek (which we saw Saturday night at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) in Thousand Oaks): The stage production lasted a year on Broadway, and was mostly true to the movie. You could see the story points from the Dreamworks Movie and the original book by William Steig that the book author (and lyricist), David Lindsay-Abaire (FB), and the composer, Jeanine Tesori, wanted to preserve. But some elements kept changing and adapting on tour and in the West End, and these made it back into the show that was eventually licensed. [This highlights yet another difference between stage and screen. The screen stays the same, forever: story and performance. Stage adapts: what was on Broadway is different from the tour and regional, and performers constantly change, and every performance is unique.]

As with The Addams Family, the eventual licensed version became stronger than the original. There also seemed to be a bit more freedom — I noticed some very topical additional to the show, and references to shows that were produced after Shrek was on the Great White Way. This is good, and it reminded me that we shouldn’t assume we know a property from the Broadway production and the cast album, and that there is value in seeing a show you already know again.

The story of Shrek is essentially the movie on stage, with some slight modifications for the limitations of live action over animation. The Wikipedia page has a good summary of the original Broadway production. The licensing page from MTI (click on synopsis) provides a summary of the licensed version. I’ll wait while you read (plays with phone and taps feet).

Watching the show, a number of thoughts came to my mind. The first was something that happens more and more of late: there were resonances with current events. In this case, Farquaad’s notion of petty dictatorship, the hatred of the other Fairy Tale creatures and the desire to keep them out and walled away, and the subsequent reveal that he, too, was one of them, had far too many echoes of the current occupant of the White House, a leader for whom the size of his ego makes up for his other shortcomings. There were other echoes of politics as well, including songs about building a wall. At least I don’t recall any consent issues in the show (that has made a number of other shows much more creepy), although there was a great Cosby reference.

Second: This show was a love-letter to Broadway. Just as the original movie had loads of references to Disney and other children’s movies, this show had loads of references to other Broadway productions. There were lines from Gypsy, Fosse style dancing, references to Dreamgirls and Les Miserables and Wicked and Beauty and the Beast. There were puppets from the Lion King. There was even a reference to Kinky Boots. If you are Broadway-aware, see if you can catch all of them.

The message of the story — thanks to the current situation — transcended the original as well. Coming out of the original production, one would have been imbued with the message of the importance of being who you are, and that there is someone out there who will love you for who you are. But today, the message of “letting your freak flag fly” has a difference resonance — especially as we are in an election season where those whose voices have been trampled by the pandering to the Trump base can finally speak back up and assert our power. The ending of the show is a clear reminder of the importance of “letting your freak flag fly” at the polling place the first Tuesday in November.

In summary, this was a show that entertained the kiddies at one level, with the storytale antics and fart jokes of the original. But for the adults, it was something that transcended the original Broadway production. It brought a level of self-awareness of what it was, with an undercurrent of political meaning, that adults would pick up on. As such, it was very very enjoyable.

It didn’t hurt that, under the direction of Kirsten Chandler (FB), the performances were very strong. This was supplemented by the great choreography of Karl Warden (FB). Of course, this wasn’t quite at the pinnacle of the previous Beauty and the Beast with the original Broadway Belle, but it was very very good. I’ll note here the one big drawback with this show: For most of the characters, the heavy costumes and heavy makeup often obscure the actor as the physical presence. These costumes also tend to limit what is possible in terms of the choreography — it’s hard to dance in oversize shoes and donkey hoofs. That’s a problem not of this production, but endemic to this show and other similar animation adaptations.

In the lead position was Trent Mills (FB) as Shrek. Mills, who looks to be a newer performer in the area, did a spectacular job and held his own against his Equity colleagues. He had a very strong singing voice, and generally brought the right presence to Shrek, capturing the humor well.

Rounding out the lead triumvirate were Lawrence Cummingsæ (FB) as Donkey, and Alison Woodsæ (FB) as Princess Fiona. We have seen both recently on the 5-Star/Cabrillo stage in The Little Mermaid. Cummings projects a great attitude and is seemingly game for anything. He has a strong singing voice, and handles the comedy and movement of the character well. Woods, also, is strong and possessed of a lovely singing voice. For this character, she captures the feistyness of the Fiona quite well, and seems to be having quite a bit of fun in “I Think I Have You Beat”. Both are very fun to watch. The only weakness with Fiona was the transformational makeup, and I don’t believe that was an actor issue.

This brings us to  Marc Baron Ginsburgæ (FB) as Lord Farquaad. We’ve seen a lot of Marc of late, from his Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast and his remarkable Levi Strauss in Levi! (not to mention other Cabrillo/5-Star roles). He’s a remarkable character actor and singer, and the Southern California area is lucky to have him in so many shows, for the always guarantees a good show. That’s no different here: he brought a level of fun to Farquaad, capturing the innate absurdity and projecting it out well. [Odd thought: Ginsberg as Pseudolus in Funny Thing. Just saying. Or as Meyer Rothschild in The Rothschilds. Yes, he has that range.]

The remaining performers had multiple tracks and roles for the most part, also serving as part of the ensemble (the exception were the younger performers). This group consisted of the following folks — and there are a few whom I single out at the end: Kyle Frattini (FB) [Pinocchio, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Deanna Anthony (★FB, FB) [Mama Ogre, Mama Bear, Dragon, Ensemble]; Zachary Thomson [Young Shrek, Dwarf]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Young Fiona]; Kate Godfrey (★FB) [Teen Fiona]; Gabrielle Farrow (FB) [Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Ensemble]; Dominic Franco (FB) [Peter Pan, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble];  Sara Gilbert (IG, FB) [Ugly Duckling, Ensemble, Fionau/s]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [King Harold, Captain of the Guard, Pied Piper, Bishop, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Isaiah Griffith (FB) [Bricks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]; Augusto Guardado (FB) [Sticks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]Mitchell Johnson (FB) [Big Bad Wolf, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Drew Lake (FB) [Fairy Godmother, Dance Captain, Ensemble]; Colden Lamb (FB) [Straw – Pig, Ensemble, Dragon Puppeteer]; Julia Lester (FB[Sugar Plum Fairy, Gingy, Ensemble]; Natalie Miller (FB) [Shoemaker’s Elf, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]Kat Monzon (FB) [Little Bo Peep, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]; Matthew Christopher Thompson (★FB, FB) [Papa Ogre, Papa Bear, Thelonius, Knight, Ensemble, Shreku/s]; and Alexa Vellanoweth (FB) [Baby Bear, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]. Of this group, there are a few worth special notice. First, there is Deanna Anthony — who has a truly remarkable gospel and theatre voice, which she uses to great effect on “Forever”. Also notable was Julia Lester’s double duty, and her ability to switch quickly from Gingi to the Sugar Plum Fairy voice, all while belting out the lead in Freak Flag. The actors that did the puppetry of the dragon (Frattini, Franco, Gilmond, Johnson, and Lamb) did remarkable work on bringing the dragon to life. On the kid side, both Tanenbaum and Godfrey had very strong voices and captured their characters well (although it is interesting to see how Fiona got smaller moving from teen to adult — usually, its the other way around). The three blind mice — Miller, Monzon, and Vellanoweth — were hilarious during their number, making stumbling around into an art.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the direction (and conduction) of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB), and contracted by Darryl Tanikawa (FB). The musicians were: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Matt Germaine (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax]Melissa Hendrickson (FB[Horn]Bill Barrett (FB) [Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Ruth Bruegger (FB) [ViolinI, Concertmaster];  Sally Berman [ViolinII];  Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Steve Bethers [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Ukelele]; Gary Solt  [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin];  Chris Kimbler (FB) [KeyboardI]Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard SynthesizerII]Shane Harry (FB) [Electric Bass, Acoustic Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB[Percussion].

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. The sets, scenery, and props were provided wholly or in part by 3D Theatricals (FB). This included the first time I can recall seeing a turntable on the Kavli stage. Some elements were quite clever, some looked a bit shopworn (perhaps rented out a bit too much without refurbishment), and some seemed a bit more amateur (a scrim or two). I miss the days Cabrillo built their own, but these were serviceable and gave the “Broadway” level to which 5-Star strives, but couldn’t afford if it had to amortize the sets over two weekends of performance. Additional props were by Alex Choate (FB). The costumes (supplied by 3D) were coordinated by Kathryn Poppen (FB), with hair and wig design by Jim Belcher (FB), and makeup by Denice Paxton (FB). For the most part, these worked — although the heavy costumes in this show often hide the beautiful and expressive faces and movement of the performers (which isn’t a fault of the team, but inherent in the show). A few costumes could use a little work: Young Shrek needs to grow into his head, and the transformed Fiona (likely due to time) needed a bit more ogre and a bit more green to fully pull off the transformation. Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design mostly worked: the sound effects were spot on, including the synchronization for the dwarf at the end, but there were points where the performers voices were lost in the hall (especially up in the Mezzanine). Hopefully, that can be adjusted before the final weekend.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well, and there wasn’t overuse of the spotlight as we used to see in Cabrillo productions. Rounding out the production team:  Jack Allaway [Technical Director]; Talia Krispel (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tawni Eccles (FB) and Julian Olive (FB) [Asst. Stage Managers]David Elzer/Demand PR [Press]Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]; Fresh Interactive (FB) [Marketing Team]; Jason Moore [Original Direction]; Rob Ashford [Original Direction]; and Patrick Cassidy (FB) [Artistic Director].

Shrek: The Musical continues at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) for one more performance today, and for next weekend. It’s a fun show and a great diversion, with some very strong performances. Tickets are available through the 5-Star box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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:

October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB), Stitches So Cal. and if we can shift our She Loves Me tickets to Sunday, the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music.  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 Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Friday, and Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) 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).

January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and ends with 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), 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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🛣️ Changes to the California Highway Web Page: July-October 2018

Phase 2 of the site refresh is done — the second half of the “Mapping Project Phase”. In this phase, maps illustrating each route were added to the County Sign Route pages. This uncovered loads of errors in the database, and loads of errors in Google Maps. It also shows much more visually the rhyme and reason behind the county sign routes. It is a shame that the counties have not done a better job signing these routes or calling attention to them — many of them look quite useful and interesting to drive. It is also interesting that many counties do not choose to participate in the program, or do so only sparingly.

Next up: A normal update, processing headlines, legislative actions, and CTC minutes.

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🤣 It’s All How You Look At It (PS: The Banks are Closed Today)

[Today is Illegal Immigration Day — the day that we celebrate when the inhabitants of Miami Beach discovered an illegal boat person on their shore, and made the gigantic mistake of offering him and the others on his boat asylum… and look at what happened. In Los Angeles, of course, they just renamed the day Indigenous People Day. Back in the 1950s, however, the day was called Columbus Day, when we celebrated a city in Ohio for reason no one really knows, other than we needed to give bankers a 3-day weekend in October, because we all know they need the respite.]

In 1961, the humorist Stan Freberg issued Volume 1 of The United States of America, a musical telling of the founding of America through the Battle of Yorktown (Volume 2 goes through the end of World War I (“They’ll never be another war…”)). The first scene on Volume 1 relates the story of how the Indians discovered Columbus. Although many things have changed since 1961 when this was recorded — Columbus is no longer held in the same regard, the portrayal of the Native American would likely be very different — there are still points that ring true, especially the exchange:

Columbus: Alright. Hello there. Hello there. We white man. Other side of ocean. My name, Christopher Columbus.
Chief: Oh, you over here on a Fulbright?
Columbus: No, no. I’m over here on an Isabella, as a matter of fact. Which reminds me. I want to take a few of you guys back on the boat to prove I discovered you.
Chief: What you mean discover us? We discover you.
Columbus: You discovered us?
Chief: Certainly, we discover you on beach here. Is all how you look at it.

As today is Columbus Day, let us remember that unfortunate day that the Native Americans discovered a Italian sailor, and the world was never the same. Just look at all he brought us: “real food: starches, spaghetti, cholesterol, … all the better things. That’s called progress.”

I present a transcription of the scene, just as it happened:

Read More …

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🎭 Controlled Explosions, Under Pressure | “Oppenheimer” @ Rogue Machine

Oppenheimer (Rogue Machine)Most people who read these particular posts may think I’m a theatre reviewer. While it is true that I go to lots and lots of theatre, and I write up every show that I go to, that’s not my full time profession. Similarly, although I do the California Highways Web Page, I neither work for the Transportation Department, nor am I a historian. Rather, in my full-time life, I’m an Engineer, doing cybersecurity, working (shall we say) for the public good. This means that my heart is with science and mathematics (which is where my degrees are); my wife is similar attached to Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. This is all a long-winded way of saying that when I learn about a good hard science play, we want to go.

When I first heard about the play Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), I mistook it for a play produced many years ago by LA Theatre Works (FB) as part of The Relativity Series, a collection of science themed plays. I was confusing it in my head with Copenhagen, a play about Warner Heisenberg,  Moving Bodies, a play about Richard Feynmen, and The Real Dr. Strangelove, a play about Edward Teller. All dealt with the same events as Oppenheimer, all involved J. Robert Oppenheimer as a character, and all involved the development of the atomic bomb. But none of them were Oppenheimer. In any case, I coordinated some tickets for the show remembering that I liked it — then I realized it was a different show. But never mind — it was about science, and I was looking forward to going to it.

At this point, I’d like to emphasize how vitally important it is to have and to get people to see plays about science. Theatre excites, theatre raises questions, theatre starts discussions. Theatre gets people thinking. Further, theatre doesn’t have the distance of movies; you see these are people just like you. It can excite and encourage people to go into the sciences, to see the value of science, to not fear science, and to see the value of critical reasoning and thinking, and the pure joy that can come from it.

Last night was the opening night of Oppenheimer, as well as being the opening night for Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) at their new digs at the Electric Lodge (FB) in Venice, and it was that — electric. Although the show was long — 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission — the time just flew by. The story and the presentation were so engrossing it drew us in; we left thinking this was the best drama we have seen to date in 2018*. Just like our favorite show of 2017 (This Land at Company of Angels), it touched upon an area we love; it also got the facts right and made us think. It left us talking about the show and its ideas, and wanting to strongly encourage others to go see the show. It took a complex issue and made it understandable and entertaining. It showed the power of theatre.
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* The best comedy was Paradise, which we saw a few weeks ago at Ruskin Theatre Group.

Oppenheimer, written by Tom Morton-Smith in its American Premiere, tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is generally known as the father of the Atomic Bomb. It starts in his early days when he was splitting time between Caltech and UC Berkeley, and dabbling in leftist ideas and leftist politics — as were many scientists and philosophers in the days after the Great Depression, when socialist ideas were in vogue and helping the nation recover under FDR. The scenes alternate between establishing Oppenheimer’s social character and social circle, and establishing his scientific credentials and his scientific circle, which often overlapped. We get to meet some of the key scientists in Oppenheimer’s circles — his brother, Frank; Bob Serber, Joe Weinberg, Hans Bethel, and later, Edward Teller. We get to see the extent to which they were involved in leftist and Communist causes, we get to see Oppenheimer’s lover Jean Tatlock, his colleague’s wives Charlotte (Serber) and Jackie (Oppenheimer), his future wife Kitty, who he stole from another professor, Richard Harrison. We see the fervor and the passion — both for their causes, and even more so, for the atomic science that is developing as they hear and read reports from folks like Heisenberg and Bohr in Germany.

Oppenheimer - Cast Photo StripWe also get to see this academic exercise make the transition to a military exercise, and how the families and relationships deal with the strain of that transition — and the moral impact of what they are actually developing. As this is occurring, we also see the impact of the past coming back to haunt them (just like so many Livejournal, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts of today). We get to see the strengths and the weaknesses of Oppenheimer’s character — his devotion to the science, but the weakness with the women. We see how politics and ambition created difference between Oppenheimer and his brother Frank, how it may have led his lover to suicide, and how his handling of incidents came back to haunt his life.

From what I know of Oppenheimer and the other characters at the time, they got the story right — although a bit simplified for a theatre audience. This comes not only from the plays I’ve seen, but the research I’ve done and reading of Feynman’s books. They got the science right. They got the way the military behaved right. In fact, it brought to mind the notion of Program Protection — the concept of protecting CPI (Critical Program Information) to prevent your adversary from being able to duplicate your technology and field it before you. Those are terms from today’s DOD (DODI 5200.39, 5200.44), but those notions are clear in this play with Oppenheimer’s strong desire to protect the information they are developing. According to my wife, they even got the projected equations correct.

In other words, in the story aspect of this show — they got it right. They made it exciting. They got the right balance of technical, people, and story to make it interesting, but not insulting to those who understand the technology and the history. You’ll walk out of this show both enlightened, informed, and entertained. A great combination.

A few additional notes:

  • I appreciated the opening number of Act II, “We’ll Meet Again”. I have no idea whether the younglings attending the theatre will recognize that as the closing song in Dr. Strangelove. I did.
  • The “Little Boy” monologue reminded me of the similar scene in the musical Allegiance about the dropping of the bomb, and the reaction from the other side. It is interesting to think about the two productions in juxtaposition, and the overall message of what it says about the war effort, and what Americans are willing to do when they believe they are at war with an intractable enemy.
  • There were some interesting comments in the story about the importance of science and scientific thinking, and how it can combat the ability to believe anything you hear. There were specific references in there to vaccinations, and it was eerily foreshadowing the current administration (this was written in 2014) with its anti-science attitudes towards climate change, research, and so forth.

Under the direction of John Perrin Flynn (FB), the actors were believably their characters, and clearly seemed to be enjoying their parts. Flynn had to corral a very large cast (much larger than you usually see in LA’s intimate theatre), and he pulled it off with a precision and storytelling flair that made me think this should be on the larger stage — the Mark Taper, the Ahmanson, or dare I say it (dare, dare): New York. The story, direction, and performance is of that caliber.

In the lead position was James Liebman (FB) as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Liebman captured the look and personality well, tall and gangly, quick to respond, projecting the right aura of confidence in his knowledge and rightness, but a bit less sure in the social situations. He clearly seemed to enjoy this role, and that joy was projected to the audience.

Moving to the next tier, let’s turn to the scientists whose characters stuck in my mind: Ryan Brophy (FB) [Frank Oppenheimer], Mark Jacobson (FB) [Bob Serber]; Michael Redfield (FB) [Hans Bethel, Piano Player, Musical Director]; Dan Via (FB) [Edward Teller]. This was primarily because their characters appeared throughout the entire storyline or were particularly memorable. Brophy captured the younger brother well, both with the competition aspect with his older brother, as well as the stronger fervor for the leftist causes. Jacobson was very strong as Serber, one of the key secondary scientists and the only one — other than the Oppenheimers — who was presented as having a family. He radiated the scientific excitement well, and served as a great sounding board for the lead. He was fun to watch. Redfield’s Bethel was a European representative, again capturing the science well. Lastly, Via’s Teller was more the elder scientist, presenting a man much more interested in the science than the weapon.

As a digression, regarding the “stuck in my mind”: This was a large cast show, and it was difficult at times to tell characters apart and remember their names. The program would be helped with a few pages of Dramatis Personæ, identifying the major characters and their roles, and perhaps a little historic background.

Continuing the second tier, let’s look at the lead women: Rachel Avery (FB) [Kitty Harrison]; Kirsten Kollender (FB) [Jean Tatlock]; Jennifer Pollono (FB) [Charlotte Serber]; and Miranda Wynne (★FB, FB) [Jackie Oppenheimer]. Let’s start with Kollender — she’s one of the first we see, as Jean, Oppenheimer’s lover. Her performance exudes vivaciousness and sex, but even more so, her suicide scene in the second act is extremely touching and emotional, and was just a great performance. Turning to Robert Oppenheimer’s other woman — Kitty. She gives off a different vibe — one more of lush aloofness, with an emphasis on the lush. She makes you wonder what her relationship was with the man — was he a way to get away from one husband, or was there true depth of feelings here. The actress captured that aloofness well. Pollono and Wynne had more supporting roles to their husbands, although Wynne captures the energy of her character well, and Pollono gets a wonderful moment during the second act when she stands up as a department head. All were really fun to watch.

In the third tier were the scientists who either had smaller roles (such as those brought into Los Alamos for the bomb work), or those who disappeared before Los Alamos primarily due to their leftist affiliations: Rick Garrison [Klaus Fuchs]; Zachary Grant (FB) [Robert Wilson]; Daniel Shawn Miller (FB) [Luis Alvarez, Doctor]; Brewster Parsons (FB) [Joe Weinberg]; Brady Richards (FB) [Richard Feynman]; and Kenney Selvey (FB) [Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz]. All captured the scientific curiosity and energy well, and came across believably as scientists who knew what they were doing and the gravity of it.

Also in this tier was Ron Bottitta (FB) [General Leslie Groves, Albert Einstein]. In my professional life I have worked with numerous colonels, lt. colonels, and even the occasional general in Space Division. Bottitta captured the senior officer quite well — the authority, the intelligence, and the calibrated bullshit tolerance level. He was fun to watch.

In the last tier are the smaller roles and the ensemble members: Marwa Bernstein (★FB, FB) [Ruth Tolman, Choreographer], Daniel Jordan Booth (FB) [Soldier, Ensemble]; Jason Chiumento [Soldier, Policeman]; Brendan Farrell (FB) [Kenneth Nichols, Richard Harrison]; Rori Flynn (FB) [Waitress, Ensemble]; Scott Victor Nelson (★FB. FB) [Haakon Chevalier, Colonel Paul Tibetts]; Delilah Bank [Little Boy]; Landon Tavernier (FB) [Peer de Silva]; and Rachel Sorsa (★FB) [Singer]. A few performances are worth highlighting here. Bank was spectacular in the Little Boy monologue that I mentioned earlier. Nelson was strong as Tibetts in his one scene, capturing the Army Air Corps pilot quite well (remember, the USAF was not created as a service until 1947, after the war).

Understudies were: Daniel Jordan Booth (FB), Jason Chiumento, Rori Flynn (FB), Daniel Shawn Miller (FB), and Jennifer Sorenson (FB). Sophie Pollono was listed in the program as “Little Boy”; it is unknown whether she alternates in the role with Bank, or Bank was a replacement.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side of the team. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (FB)’s set was both sparse and spectactular, showing the power of theatre to not need the realism of film. Simple walls with hooks and squares, a few benches, some chalk, and a few wood hanging pieces, and your mind created the necessary barracks and parties and rooms and such. Realism is highly overrated. This design combined with the projection design of Nicholas E. Santiago to create a holistic fusion providing not only the place but the setting. Projections provided the titles for each scene, and they provided selected additional scenic elements. These aspects were supported by Matt Richter’s (FB)’s lighting design and Christopher Moscatiello‘s sound design. Richter’s lighting utilizing moving LEDs and moving mirror lights, in addition to both LED and lekos to highlight portions of the stage and particular characters, they also provided an effective flash during the bomb sequences. The sound design also worked well during the bomb sequences, providing the deep notes of the explosion quite well. The final key piece of the design picture was Dianne K. Graebner‘s costume design. Although we had a few minor quibbles with the military costumes (unsurprising, as we both work with, and have worked with, the military extensively) that we let her know about during the opening reception (and which will likely be corrected), the costumes overall fit the period well and provided the final piece in establishing the time, place, and setting. Rounding out the production team were: Barbara Kallir (FB) [Asst. Director]; Sam Kofford (FB) [Asst. Director]; Steve Vance [Scientific Advisor]; Susan Wilder [Research]Marwa Bernstein (★FB, FB) [Choreography]Michael Redfield (FB[Music Director]; David A. Mauer [Technical Director, Bomb Design]; Amanda Bierbauer [Production Manager, Prop. Design]; Victoria Hoffman [Casting]; Tor Brown [Lighting Co-Designer]; Michelle Hanzelova [Projection Co-Designer, Key Art Design]; Jacquelyn Gutierrez [Asst. Scenic Design]; Judith Borne [Publicity]; and Corryn Cummins [Social Media]. There was no explicit credit for stage manager (tsk, tsk); presumably, that was Amanda Bierbauer.

Oppenheimer continues at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) until December 30th. Go see it, it is one (if not the) best dramas we have seen in 2018. Tickets are available through the Rogue Machine box office. They do not appear to have a listing 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. 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:

October continues next weekend with Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and 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 Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). 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). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (IV): Summary

My sample ballot has been received, indicating that (a) it is indeed Fall; (b) my TV will soon be inundated with political advertising; and (c) it is time for the General Election Ballot analysis. This election, it is being divided into three parts and a summary:

  1. Non-Judicial Offices: State, Federal, and Local
  2. Judicial Offices
  3. Propositions and Measures
  4. Summary

This is the summary:

🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (I): Introduction and Non-Judicial Offices

🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (II): Here Come ‘De Judges

  • California Supreme Court: Yes for all the judges.
  • Court of Appeals: Yes for all the judges.
  • Superior Court

🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (III): Measure for Measure

 

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🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (III): Measure for Measure

My sample ballot has been received, indicating that (a) it is indeed Fall; (b) my TV will soon be inundated with political advertising; and (c) it is time for the General Election Ballot analysis. This election, it is being divided into three parts and a summary:

  1. Non-Judicial Offices: State, Federal, and Local
  2. Judicial Offices
  3. Propositions and Measures
  4. Summary

This is Part III: the state and local measures. It covers the following measures:

The last part in this series will be the summary post.

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🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (II): Here Come ‘De Judges

My sample ballot has been received, indicating that (a) it is indeed Fall; (b) my TV will soon be inundated with political advertising; and (c) it is time for the General Election Ballot analysis. This election, it is being divided into three parts and a summary:

  1. Non-Judicial Offices: State, Federal, and Local
  2. Judicial Offices
  3. Propositions and Measures
  4. Summary

This is Part II: the judicial choices. It covers the following races. Note that, for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, you only either confirm or reject the person appointed to the position:

For reference, here is the post that covered the Superior Court Justices in the Primary. The third post of the series, Measure for Measure, will explore the state and local measures on the ballot.

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🗳️ Nov. 2018 California General Election Analysis (I): Introduction and Non-Judicial Offices

My sample ballot has been received, indicating that (a) it is indeed Fall; (b) my TV will soon be inundated with political advertising; and (c) it is time for the General Election Ballot analysis. This election, it is being divided into three parts and a summary:

  1. Non-Judicial Offices: State, Federal, and Local
  2. Judicial Offices
  3. Propositions and Measures
  4. Summary

This is Part I: the analysis of all elected offices except the judges. It covers the following races:

For reference, here are the posts that covered these offices in the primary: Governor ☙ Other State Offices ☙ District Based Offices ☙ US Senate and House ☙ County Offices. If much of this looks familiar, it was because this particular grouping allowed me to simply revisit my primary analysis, and update as appropriate.

In the next part, to quote an old TV show, “Here come ‘de Judge”.

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