🎭 A Joyous Break | “Head Over Heels” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Head Over Heels @ Pasadena PlayhouseBack in late 2018, I happened to listen to the Little Known Facts podcast episode with Bonnie Milligan. Bonnie, at the time, was starring in a new Broadway musical, Head Over HeelsHead Over Heels tells the story of … well, we’ll get to that later.  The podcast interview impressed me a number of ways; most particularly, it made me curious about a musical where one of the main leads was being played by a larger woman. The musical was built around the music of the LA band The Go-Gos,  so the music was fun and bouncy and it just sounded like it would be a great show. I got the cast album, and looked forward to it eventually going on tour.

Then it closed quickly on Broadway after 36 previews and 164 performances. This made a tour unlikely. This would be another musical like Big Fish, Tuck Everlasting or Bandstand that had great music, but no official tour. I resigned myself to probably not seeing it. But, like with Big Fish and Bandstand, I happened to luck out. In this case, the Pasadena Playhouse announced a regional reimagining and remounting as their first show, post-pandemic. Just like with Big Fish (Musical Theatre West, 2014) and Bandstand (Broadway in T.O., 2019), I’d get to see it. Tuck Everlasting, I’m still waiting for you.

Head Over Heels is primarily a jukebox musical, as noted above. The story they chose to pull the songs together Book 1 is The Arcadia, a prose pome by Sir Philip Sidney. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the original Book 1:

In Book I, the Duke of Arcadia, Basilius, journeys to the oracle at Delphos and receives a bleak prediction: his daughters will be stolen by undesirable suitors, he will be cuckolded by his wife, and his throne will be usurped by a foreign state. Hoping to preempt this fate, Basilius entrusts the Arcadian government to his loyal subject, Philanax, and retires to a pastoral lodge with his wife, Gynecia, their attractive daughters, Pamela and Philoclea, his boorish servant, Dametas, and the latter’s repulsive wife and daughter, Miso and Mopsa. In a nearby city, Pyrocles and Musidorus pass the night; they are cousins, princes, and best friends, and are famous throughout Greece for their heroic exploits. Pyrocles, upon seeing a picture of Philoclea at a gallery, is overwhelmed by a passionate desire to see her in person. To that end, Pyrocles disguises himself as Cleophila, an “[Amazonian lady] going about the world to practice feats of chivalry,” and heads for Basilius’s pastoral lodge, accompanied by the skeptical but loyal Musidorus. Deceived by Cleophila’s feminine disguise, Basilius falls in love with her, and invites her to stay with the family. While Musidorus covertly observes this meeting, he is overwhelmed by a passionate love for the elder daughter, Pamela, and decides to disguise himself as a shepherd, Dorus, in order to gain access to her. When everyone congregates in an arbor to hear the shepherds sing, a lion and bear attack the party. Cleophila kills the lion, saving Philoclea; Dorus kills the bear, saving Pamela. Cleophila’s manly puissance leads Gynecia to suspect her secret male sex, while Philoclea forms an intense “sisterly” affection for Cleophila.

As I said, that’s the original story. As transformed by Jeff Whitty‘s conception and original book, and then adapted by James Magruder, the story takes on a decidedly modern feel. This was made clear in the original casting by a number of ground-breaking and gender-bending selections beyond the casting of Milligan — most notably, the casting of a non-binary performer, Peppermint, as the oracle. You can find a synopsis of the Broadway production on the wikipedia page; but it is essentially the same story.

For the Pasadena Playhouse production, Jenny Koons and Sam Pinkleton Direction, Choreography, Updated Conception reimagined the show a bit more. They knew that, post-COVID, audiences wouldn’t want to sit for 3 hours in a small building. So they cut the story down to a single 80-minute act, mostly by cutting extraneous story bits. They knew the audiences wanted fun, so they moved the show from a standard proscenium presentation to an immersive presentation (similar to what was done for Pirates at the Playhouse in 2018). They covered the orchestra seats with a dance floor, making it level with the existing stage. They put bleacher seating on the stage, and organized the audience into three groups: one group standing and dancing on the dance floor, interacting with the actors; one group in the stage seating; and one group up in the balcony as an upper mezzanine. They encouraged the audiences to dress up and dance and have fun (although no open bar, as with Pirates); I think a lot of the fun of the show was watching the audience. This, of course, while making sure EVERYONE was vaccinated and had their masks on.

They then cast the show in the manner of the original production: gender bending all the way. What a shock that must be for the Pasadena Blue Hairs, but it was fabulous. The cast consisted of Alaska 5000 Gynecia, the Queen; Lea Delaria Basilus, the King; Yurel Echezarreta The Player; Freddie Pythio, the Oracle; Tiffany Mann Pamela, the elder daughter; Shanice Williams Philoclea, the younger daughter; George Salazar Musidorus, the sheperd; and Emily Skeggs Mopsa, the handmaiden. If you just look at the cast, you’ll see a number of drag performers; this element of cross-dressing continues into the show and — I’m pleased to say — isn’t being used to play up the laughs in a Bosom Buddies sense, but as an integral part of the characters and the stories. So in Head over Heels, it is appropriate and it works.

The performances themselves were strong. It is clear that the cast is having a hell of a good time and that sense of joy is clear in their performances and audience interactions. Every show will be a bit different because of the interactions — they dance with the audience, they pull them on stage. The singing is strong, and the performances are stellar. Personally, I was most impressed with Skeggs look and voice, Mann’s singing, the playfulness of both Williams and Salazar, the wow factor of Echezarreta, the voice of Freddie, and the … everything of Alaska 5000.

I think the most telling thing about the show was that the mood was infectious — and in a good way, not a COVID way. I went into the show feeling a bit down. My wife (who was supposed to go with me) fell last Saturday and broke her kneecap, tibia, and fibia, and has been in the hospital for the last week — and she’ll be there at least two weeks more for in-patient rehab. Finding someone to go with me made me realize how few friends I had (luckily, a friend from my synagogue’s mens club joined me). So I was down. But I left this show happy and feeling good. Especially right now, this is what theatre needs to do. We need shows that bring us joy, and Head Over Heels at the Pasadena Playhouse certainly does that.

Music for the show was provided by an on-stage all female band: Laura Hall Assoc Music Director/Keyboards; Nikki Stevens Guitar 1 (Electric / Steel-String Acoustic / Mandolin / Ukulele); Hisako Ozawa Guitar 2 (Electric / Nylon & Steel-String Acoustic / Banjo); B. B. Kates Bass; and Nicole Marcus Drums / Percussion. Eric Heinly was the contractor that assembled the band. Kris Kukul was the music director. Simply put, the band rocked!

Turning to the production side of the equation: David Meyer Scenic Design warped the playhouse. He transformed the physical space into a dance club, with an upper mezzanine, lower bleachers, and a dance floor with risers (including the names of the Go-Gos painted here and there), with a metal structure surrounding the sides and in front of the balcony for the actors. It was remarkable, and must give the actors quite a workout. But it made for a fun show. This was augmented by the work of Hahnji Jang Costume Design, who had this odd modern mix of costumes: classic 50s style for the Queen, suit and cigars for the King, playful sweatpants and dresses for the daughters, and just real imaginative stuff for the rest. The costumes were supported well by the work of Christopher Enlow Hair and Wig Design , some of which were classic (like Alaska 5000), some were playful (such as the Players or the daughters), and some were so unique to the character (like the King’s). About the only weak point was Stacey Derosier Lighting Design design that at points left the actors in a deep shade, making them hard to see. This may have been an artifact of the warping of the space screwing up the possible lighting lines. Danny Erdberg and Ursula Kwong-Brown‘s Sound Design sound was generally clear, although on the lower bleachers a bit of the volume was lost.  Other production credits: Jenny Slattery Assoc Producer; Brad Enlow Technical Director / Production Supervisor; Sara Sahin Stage Manager; Lydia Runge Assist. Stage Manager; Davidson & Choy Publicity Press Representative; The Telsey Office, Ryan Bernard Tymensky Casting. The program does not give a credit for a COVID safety officer; that’s too bad, as that role deserves acknowledgement right now. However, the production team does deserve credit for strong back-stage diversity that mirrors the diversity on-stage. Danny Feldman is the Producing Artistic Director.

Note: You don’t get the program for the show until you are leaving, and — starting what is sure to be a trend — there are a limited number of printed programs. They encourage you to visit an online interactive program instead via a QR code. This, in my eyes, is poor. Twenty-five years from now, will this online site be available? I still have programs from when I started at the Playhouse back in 1988 (Down an Alley Filled With Cats … I’m looking at you). Yes, it saves paper, but they could just as well print on recycled paper without as much color or clay.

Head Over Heels continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until December 12. Tickets are available through the Playhouse; 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 (modulo the COVID break). 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), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. December brings The Bands Visit at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); lastly, March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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Where is Barney?

My wife is in the hospital, after falling and breaking her knee, and this is leading me to a stark realization: I’m friendless. That’s not saying I don’t have friends — I do. But I don’t have a Barney, and its troubling. Let me explain.

My wife (who is my best friend) is going to be stuck in the hospital for at least the next week. We have tickets to the Pasadena Playhouse for Saturday night (Head over Heels, The Go-Gos Musical). She will not be able to make it. So I’m trying to figure out who to go with. My daughter is going the next day, so she’s out. That leaves… I don’t know. In discussing this with my daughter, she “arranged” a possible person: the father of her best friend. That just seemed off to me, I don’t know the guy and have no idea if we have anything in common. However, one thing he said got to me: “Saturdays are for the guys”.

If I were Fred Flintstone, I’d have a Barney. A best bud. A pal. A guy who has been a friend most of my life, who has a number of shared interests. If I were Fred Flintstone, I’d call Barney. But I don’t have a Barney. Racking my brain, I can’t think of a single close male friendship. I had some as a kid, but post-college … not really. I tended to form strong friendships with women; but even at that, the truly close female friends I’ve had are either dead or have moved away from the area. This is familiar, I think: I tried to think who filled this role for my dad, and I can’t think of anyone after my Uncle Ray passed: they were usually friends of my mom whom my dad grafted on to. I’d say that my dad’s best friend, beyond his spouses, was his brother.

As I lay in bed this morning, I was raking my brain thinking who I might ask. The basic parameters would be:

  • Shared experiences: Someone I’ve known a reasonable amount of time
  • Shared interests: Someone with some congruity with my interests (roadgeeking, theatre, boardgaming)

There are perhaps one or two, but most of the potential candidates no longer live in the area. I’ve drifted away — either in distance or social circles — from many of my childhood, high school, or college friends. It’s making me realize I have no “best buddy”. Friendship is a partial ordering, and I’m realizing I don’t have a least upper bound. My best friend is my wife, and beyond that … I’m not sure anyone achieves that closeness. That’s worrisome. My wife has some friends who do. Do women form relationships like that better? I don’t think so — at least not if I read the literature.  I think it is just introverts like me.

But this still leave me wondering: What do I do Saturday night? I can think of a few possibilities, but no one nearby. That’s troubling.

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🛣 Changes to the California Highway Website covering September-October 2021

Time for the penultimate update to the highway pages for 2021. Before I paste in the change log, I should insert enough text so that folks don’t get bothered by the masterpiece of an introduction that I’ve written. So suffice it to say that these changes include updates from my usual review of headlines, AARoads posts, and material sent to me, as well as bills and resolutions approved by the legislature and actions of the California Transportation Commission. Read it, enjoy it, and you’ll find it a real “shot in the arm”, if you get my drift. Oh, and “Ready, Set, Discuss”.

Here’s the change log:

Welcome to the penultimate update of 2021, capturing happenings in September and October. Whenever I write up these things of late, I’m always including a reminder for people to get (noun), I also advise people to (action). I’ve made comments about (event in the past), and even have expressed my opinion about (political figure). Invariably, when I share this on AAroads, some (noun) makes a comment about how I’m injecting politics into the forum. I want to make one thing absolutely clear: My highway pages are about the truth, without opinion, and discussion about the pages and these updates should be focused on the highways.  But (noun) is real, and measures must be taken to reduce its spread and get us out on the roads again — and those roads must be safe and not filled with (plural noun) waiving their (plural nouns) and driving their (plural nouns). Oops. Did I say that with my public voice?

I thought about making the paragraph above in the form of a Mad Libs, but it was harder to format. Those who know me should know how to fill in the words. Those who are offended by the above, well, it is your mind that is filling in the blanks, and I think you should (anatomically impossible action).

As for the real introduction: September and October were interesting months. Newsom survived the recall attempt, and it will be interesting to see the impact of his survival on the roadbuilding and road rehabilitation programs of the state, as well as the future of High Speed Rail. There have been massive wildfires in the Northern and Eastern parts of the state that have impacted roads. I normally don’t note fire damage here because it will be repaired, but these fires have resulted in major closures on roads such as US 50, Route 88, Route 299 and much more. Let’s hope for their speedy and complete repair. As road lovers, we are all too aware of the impact of (noun) on highways, be it flooding on Route 37, fires on the roads in the Sierra Nevada or other forests, or damage from flash flooding out in the desert. This is one reason why emphasis of transportation programs is changing from building more roads and getting more vehicles from place to place faster to increasing capacity and improving the movement of people.

For those reading this on AAroads: Go over to the 2021 Changes page ((web page link)), and you can read the incredibly clever and witty introduction that I wrote, but decided not to post here because I didn’t want to deal with (username)‘s reaction this time. Trust me, it was really good.

On to the updates:

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers in September and October 2021 (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum (Ꜳ). This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(ℱ), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail or ꜲRoads) from PDERocco(2), Tom Fearer(3)HeyNow415(4), Rick Kelly(5), Michael McThrow(6): Route 1(ℱ), Route 2(ℱ), I-5(ℱ), LRN 5(5), I-10(ℱ), Route 11(ℱ,2), Route 24(ℱ), Route 26(ℱ), Route 49(ℱ), US 50(ℱ), Route 73(ℱ,3), US 97(3), Route 99(ℱ,3), US 101(ℱ), Route 107(ℱ), Route 108(ℱ), Route 113(ℱ), Route 133(ℱ), Route 139(3), Route 148(ℱ), Route 154(ℱ), Route 161(3), Route 190(3), Route 213(ℱ), LRN 232(ℱ), Route 238(4), Route 239(6), Route 241(ℱ), Route 299(3),  I-580(ℱ,5), Route 710(ℱ), Route 905(ℱ), County Sign Route J4(6).
(Source: private email, Highway headline posts through October 2021 as indicated, AARoads through 11/13/2021)

Thanks to a question, I learned that there is an online version of “2020 Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California“. Did an audit against my names list. Discovered that Caltrans has errors in their document :-).

Reviewed the Pending Legislation page, based on the California Legislature site. As usual, I recommend to every Californian that they visit the legislative website regularly and see what their legis-critters are doing. As many people are unfamiliar with how the legislature operates (and why there are so many “non-substantive changes” and “gut and amend” bills), I’ve added the legislative calendar to the end of the Pending Legislation page. Noted the passage of the following:

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – October 2021

Boo!

Did I scare you? Perhaps this will: We’re now a year and a half into this pandemic. Although we’ve got safe and effective vaccines, a large portion of the nation still believes what they have been told by particular political sector, and are avoiding the vaccines. They cite bad politics and bad science to justify their positions, and to avoid protecting others.  Public health shouldn’t be political. Public health should be something you do to help others in society as well as yourself. The fact that it has become political and partisan, instead of science based, should scare you greatly. The fact that there are people who are proud of their ignorance should scare you greatly.

But this is a highway post, you say. What does public health have to do with the highways? Plenty. One of the major highway initiatives is something called “Towards Zero Deaths”. Each death on the highway means a state or local law enforcement has to inform someone their loved one has died. Each death from COVID means that someone’s loved one has died. Each person who catches COVID without the vaccine has the risk of “long COVID”: injuries to body subsystems that do not recover, and leave them permanently impared. Each case means a doctor had to tell a loved one that a person they care about won’t ever taste or smell again, will have permanent damage to their lungs or circulation, or will have brain injuries.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has an approach to achieving zero deaths on the highway: The Four “E”s (and more). The Four “E”s apply not just to transportation: they apply to cybersecurity (my specialty), and to public health. The Four Es are:

  1. Education. Changing behavior is the focus of education efforts. It is not enough for people to understand the “rules of the road.” People must be motivated to change their habits.
  2. Emergency Response Services. The goal of the program is to reduce not just deaths, but total injuries and fatalities. That means that when a problem does occur, fast, efficient, and coordinated emergency response is critical.
  3. Enforcement. Ensuring compliance with laws and state and local mandates is a major component in driver behavior and reducing unsafe practices.
  4. Engineering. Modifying or reconstructing systems can be challenging and time consuming. Careful evaluation of characteristics is the key to a solid investment in public safety.

I made some slight changes to not mention driving, so you can see how these apply to public health. We can’t just get rid of the pandemic by designing better air flow in buildings and providing vaccines and treatments. We need to keep educating people about safe behavior, about how the medicines are safe, and how to avoid infection. We need to put safety policies in place to keep people safe and enforce them. We need to make sure our hospitals and emergency responders are not overloaded so they are there to treat people and save people when needed. This isn’t just for highways; it is for everyone. It is why — every month — I repeat these reminders. I’m not the only one reminding you of this: Caltrans is reminding you as well.

Yes, the pandemic is scary. Our recovery is scary with the impacts on supply chains and the transitory inflation. But I can at least give you a treat. Here are your headlines about California Highways in October. As with September, there seem to be fewer: I think more and more news sites are putting up paywalls and there is less and less new stuff of interest. But, as always: Ready, Set, Discuss, and get your vaccine or booster.

P.S.: Here’s a status update on the next round of updates for the California Highways pages: September headlines are incorporated, the legislative actions have been reviewed, and the CTC minutes have been included. All that remains is incorporating these headlines, doing a last pass through email, and reviewing posts on AARoads.  It will hopefully be up by Thanksgiving.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • California park with racist past gets new Indigenous name (Los Angeles Times). Skip Lowry learned the Indigenous dances of the Yurok people as a child by watching the elders gather in the summertime at a re-created village along the Humboldt County coast in Northern California. The village, completed in 1990, was always a place of healing for Lowry, a Yurok descendant — but there was a lingering hurt there too. It’s in a state park that was named after a man accused of killing a Native American boy and committing other atrocities against Indigenous people in the 1800s. “It’s always been a slap in my face and a punch in my stomach,” Lowry said. But that changed Thursday when the California State Park and Recreation Commission took the unprecedented step of renaming the 625-acre park. The change, effective immediately, stripped the Patrick’s Point State Park moniker and restored its Indigenous Yurok name: Sue-meg.
  • More safety improvements on tap for Hwy 154, including another roundabout, officials say (Santa Maria Times). Two new safety improvements are coming to Highway 154 on the heels of other crash-reduction efforts recently made by Caltrans, according to reports delivered to a traffic safety committee last week. The total number of traffic collisions and arrests for driving under the influence have fallen each year for the past three years, but the number of citations issued has already exceeded the total from 2019 after a lull in 2020, according to statistics from the California Highway Patrol.
  • New Signs Aim to Steer Safety in a New Direction Along Highway 154 Corridor (SB Noozhawk). New signs, including a first of its kind, have been installed in the ongoing effort to improve safety at one Highway 154 intersecton, although statistics show that drivers still deserve the blame for crashes. The update occurred during the Highway 154 Safety Committee’s virtual meeting on Wednesday night with a panel discussion on the reasons for crashes and the status of efforts to improve safety. Caltrans has installed signs informing truck drivers that Highway 101, not Highway 154, is the recommended route for those traveling through the area, according to Peter Hendrix, branch chief for the traffic safety system at Caltrans.
  • Update on US 101 Richardson Grove Project (District 1/Facebook). Update on the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project: In 2017, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) completed an Addendum to the Final Environmental Impact Report (Addendum) for the project. This document, along with the 2010 Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), studies, and other background material, is available at http://dot.ca.gov/…/d1-richardson-grove-improvement…. Between 2010 and 2017, Caltrans reduced the project footprint slightly and refined the design.
  • Highway 101 wildlife crossing: Caltrans eyes early 2022 groundbreaking (VC Star). Caltrans plans to break ground early next year for a wildlife crossing that experts say could help save an isolated population of mountain lions from extinction. The first of its kind crossing in Agoura Hills would bridge a busy 8-lane stretch of Highway 101, a dangerous barrier for species from mountain lions to mule deer in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The $87 million project led by a group of public and private agencies would connect the Santa Monica Mountains on the south to other areas to the north.
  • Virtual Public Meeting on October 12, 2021 to Discuss the State Route 227 Corridor Traffic Study (County of San Luis Obispo). The County of San Luis Obispo Department of Public Works (County), San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are working together to develop solutions to the growing congestion on State Route 227 and the local roads between San Luis Obispo’s city limits and Price Canyon Road. As an alternative to U.S. Highway 101, the future role and functionality of State Route 227 has been a key policy issue for all three partners. Please see map for location .
  • Route 905 Last USA Exit Traffic Shift (District 11/Facebook). 📆 On Thursday, October 7, Caltrans and @SANDAGregion will permanently move the Siempre Viva Road off-ramp (the last U.S. exit) to its ultimate configuration. Drivers not intending to go to Mexico will notice signage directing them to the new exit location. 🛣 To accommodate this work, a full closure along eastbound SR 905 between La Media and Siempre Viva Roads will be in effect beginning on 10/6 at 8 p.m. and continuing through until 10/7 at 4 a.m. Drivers will be detoured via the La Media Road off-ramp.

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🎭 Here We Go Again | “Mamma Mia” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Mamma Mia @ 5-Star TheatricalsAnd now two outings to post-pandemic theatre are done. This could get to be a habit.

This time, the outing was to Mamma Mia at 5-Star Theatricals (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre) in Thousand Oaks. This was to be the second show in the 2019-2020 season, premiering in March 2020. We all know what happened in March 2020, and this cast, and the sets, and the preparations all sat waiting… until things came back to the stage this month. But as they say, Mamma Mia, boy the landscape is crowded now. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of the show, and theatres left and right are doing it.  Canyon Theatre Guild in Santa Clarita just extended their production; and La Mirada is kicking it off next weekend. Perhaps it is the upbeat show we need right now. Perhaps it is good that these other theatres are doing it, because we saw the last performance of the show at 5-Star this afternoon, so you’ll need to find someplace else to see it.* But I do hope this description piques your interest in 5-Star’s production, because the remainder of their season looks excellent: Something Rotten; The Addams Family; and Newsies.
(*: So why did we see the last show, when normally we see the first Saturday night? Because when it had its original dates, it stomped on our tickets to Spongebob Squarepants, and it was easier to move 5-Star — and due to confusion, we ended up at the Sunday matinee, and those dates carried over to the reschedule)

This was our second time seeing Mamma Mia; the first was back in January 2019 at Cupcake Theatre. I’m going to adapt my synopsis from what I wrote for that production:

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: 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 time as I watched the show, the scenes with the age difference didn’t strike me quite as uncomfortable: perhaps it was the fact we were further away from the action; perhaps it was the staging. They went a bit more for the humor this time. Instead, I had two different observations this time. The first was some ponderings on why this is such a successful show. I think part of it is that it isn’t just beautiful young men and women dancing. This musical shows middle-aged people as sexy: both Donna and her friends, and the three potential dads are all portrayed as sexy even thought they are older, and that strikes a positive note in the older audiences that attend theatre. The second pondering I had was a re-examination of the show in light of today’s understanding of past cultural problems. And you know what? This show fares pretty well. There isn’t a lot of major sexual stereotyping going on; Donna certainly doesn’t reflect traditional values. The point of the musical isn’t the marriage at the it. It fits very well into today’s cultural zeitgeist. The musical also doesn’t depend on particular casting: a completely color blind casting would work just as good. That’s nice to see.

Mamma Mia @ 5-Star Theatricals (Cast)One of the things that makes this production stand out is its production values and staging. One of the things I like about Cabrillo/5-Star is that it truly lives up to its former slogan “Broadway in your Backyard”. They present Broadway-caliber shows, with Broadway production values, at the regional level. They draw upon top national talent for the leads (and top local talent), and have a great knack of identifying up-and-coming talent from the Southern California talent pool. This production, under the direction of well-known Southern California musical director Richard Israel, was no exception. Israel knows how to bring out the best in his acting team: these folks were enjoying being back on stage, and they did a great job of having fun with their characters and broadcasting that fun to the audience. We always enjoy shows he directs, whether here, at Actors Co-Op, at the late Colony Theatre, or at other small theatres throughout Los Angeles.
(Image source: 5-Star Theatricals Facebook Page)

Let’s turn to the casting. In the lead positions of the story were Kim Huber Donna Sheridan and Nicolette Norgaard Sophie Sheridan. We’ve seen Huber many times before, and she was excellent in this production: strong singing, strong dancing, and she brought a certain gravitas to the role.  I read an article on Huber from VC On Stage: she evidently didn’t perform or do streaming during the quarantine; this was her first post-COVID performance. She came back strong, and you could tell she was just having fun being back in her element.  As for Norgaard, this was our first time seeing her on stage, and we were very impressed. She has a very strong voice, and brought quite a bit of fun to the role. We were watching her face and movement closely during the show, and this was much more than just song and dance. She really became the young bride, and it was fun.

Donna’s cohert consisted of Sandy Bainum Tanya and Lisa Dyson Rosie.  Neither role goes very deep on character development: Tanya is the blonde who is into money and many marriages; Rosie is the opposite–middle ages, always single, and a bit of that militant feminist. Both were strong performers and captured the comic sensibilities well (I’ll note Dyson was actually an alternate for the Cupcake Theatre version we saw). I particularly like Dyson’s character and how she blossomed and had fun with the role.

The dads were portrayed by Eric Martsolf Sam Carmichael Brayden Hade Harry Bright ; and Christopher Robert Smith Bill Austin. We’d seen Hade before in the role; he played Harry in the Cupcake version, and brought that comfort with the role to 5-Star. Then, as now, he was fun to watch. Martsolf brought a nice paternalism to Sam and a strong singing voice. Smith’s Bill didn’t leave as much as a character impression, but I think that has to do more with the writing than any performance issues. I truly enjoyed the performances of all three.

Closing out the group of main characters was Max DeLoach Sky. His character isn’t built up well, but when we saw him there was just a comfort and a gentleness about him that made him likeable. He had a nice singing voice in his duets with Norgaard.

The next tier of characters blended together as the story doesn’t give them strong personalities, and you don’t see them as identified individuals often enough to distinguish them apart: Alexa Vellanoweth Ali ; Kat Monzon Lisa ; Christopher Jewell Valentin Pepper ; and Anthony Broccoli Eddie.  I’ll note that Valentin did the same role in the Cupcake Theatre production, and both Vellanoweth and Monzon are 5-Star regulars. All were strong singers and dancers.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble (additional named roles noted), the pit singers, and the alternates. The Ensemble consisted of Julian Xavier Father Alexandrios ; Parker Blakely (FB); James Everts; Kristi Hawkesworth; A J Morales; Taleen Shrikian; Stephanie Urko; and Rachael Yeomans. The off-stage singers were Ananya Badami, Thomas Hollow, Tyler Luff, Nathaniel Mark, Kaitlin Maxwell, and Emilie Mirvis. Chelle Denton was the alternate for Donna/Tanya/Rosie.  The ensemble was strong in both singing and dancing, but it was hard to match the standouts to the names. The off-stage singers were fun to watch via binoculars from the Mezzanine. Some were really getting into the acting for the show; others were doing the occasional cell-phone check during the quiet times. But they brought that nice extra layer to the Abba sound that made it extra special.

Speaking of sound: 5-Star / Cabrillo is well known for the quality orchestra they bring to the table at every performance — generally due to the efforts of Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Orchestra Contractor.  Under the direction of Anthony Lucca Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard, the orchestra consisted of Lucca and Lloyd Cooper (FB) Keyboard 2 ; Chris Kimbler (FB) Keyboard 3 ; Tom Griffin (FB) Keyboard 4 ; Steve Bethers Acoustic & Electric Guitars ; Eric Rautenberg Electric & 12 String Acoustic Guitars ; Shane Harry (FB) Electric Bass ; Steve Pemberton Set Drums ; and Tyler Smith (FB) Percussion.

Lastly, we turn to the production aspects of the show. Adding to Israel’s direction was the dance, choreographed by Stephanie Landwehr Choreographer. The dance in this show is very much the 80s style of Abba, and Landwehr captured that very well. Jean-Yves Tessier Lighting Design and 5-Star regular Jonathan Burke (FB) Sound Design did a great job of establishing mood and place. Sets were from 3-D Theatricals. Supporting these design elements were Cindy Peltola Costume Design; Luis Ramirez Hair and Wig Design and  Alex Choate (FB) Prop Design. Others in the production team included Talia Krispel Production Stage Manager; Lewis Wilkenfeld Producer; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing;  David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity. 5-Star no longer seems to have an artistic director; Richard Storrs is Chair of the board; Cindy Murray is Executive Director; and Tal Fox is Assoc. Producer and Casting Director. As always, I acknowledge the COVID Compliance Officer, Erik Monak, who ensures the performers and audience are safe.

Alas, we saw the last performance of Mamma Mia from 5-Star of this run. See the 5-Star Theatricals page for information on their upcoming season.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. November brings Hamilton at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and Head over Heels at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). December brings The Bands Visit at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); lastly, March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, On Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🤣 It’s Stan Freberg Day, and the Banks are Closed

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 Native Americans 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 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.

Over 15 years ago, I started posting this particular scene from The United States of America every year on Indigenous People Day (nee Columbus Day). I do it as a celebration of Stan Freberg, who died in 2015 at age 88, one of the best satirists America has seen. Although it is clearly dated, every time I hear it I find new references and insights. It is always Stan Freberg day for me.  It is a day when we celebrate the story of how 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.” It is a day when we celebrate how 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. It’s a day that highlights the arrogance of Columbus and his party, just taking land and pushing aside the Native Americans. Or, just perhaps, it is a day that celebrates 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 any case, the banks are still closed.

I present a transcription of the scene, just as it happened. If you would like to listen to it, here’s the YouTube of the track:

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🎭 Please Don’t Explain – Show Me | “My Fair Lady” @ Broadway In Hollywood/Dolby

My Fair Lady Poster - Broadway in Hollywood👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼 (tap) (tap) (tap). Is this thing on? I’m so out of practice. I mean, I haven’t written a theatre review since March 8, 2020, when I saw Passion at Boston Court. We haven’t been to a Broadway in Hollywood show since Escape to Margaritaville at the end of February 2020. I mean it seems like forever since I’ve been, to quote a favorite show, “in a large building in a central part of town in a dark room as part of a play with a lot of people listening, who have all paid a great deal to get it in”.

If you haven’t figured it out, last night I was in such a dark room. With a mask on. Having shown proof of vaccination to get in. Feeling somewhat safe. Could it have been better? Sure. They needed a pre-show announcement reminding people to turn off their cell phones and keep off any device that generates light or noise (as people are out of practice). They needed an announcement to remind people to keep their masks on at all times unless actively eating or drinking (which you shouldn’t do during a show anyway). But still. 🎉 WE WERE AT LIVE THEATRE AGAIN.

Yes, we’re taking it slow. For now, it is pretty much our existing subscriptions and our prior subscriptions when they come back to life. Perhaps more as we get deeper into 2022 and the number of cases continues to drop. But we were at our first show in a long time, and it felt good. As the first notes of the overture drifted over us, the anxiety floated away.

But I ramble. On to the write up.

Last night we saw the Lincoln Center revival of the musical My Fair Lady at Broadway in Hollywood (BIH)/The Dolby Theatre (Program). This was the first BIH show at the Dolby post-COVID, and their second show overall post-COVID (Hamilton started at the Pantages Theatre back in August). As noted above, they have a number of protocols to make patrons feel safer; there’s also comfort in the fact that there have been no reported breakthrough incidents throughout the Hamilton run so far, meaning they are doing something right.

My Fair Lady is, in many ways, a creaky musical that is showing its age. It premiered in March 1956 (meaning it is older than I am), and ran for 2,717 performance. It is well known (especially due to the movie’s success) and for a long time was a staple for regional theatre. Loads of people know the bones of the story, but few have likely seen it on stage recently. Prior to the LCT revival, it was last revived on Broadway in 1994 (1977 and 1981 before that) — a 24 year span. LACLO last did it in 1969; the last big production in Los Angeles was the Downey CLO in 2009. It’s been a while, and truth be told, I don’t think I’d ever seen it on stage.

For those not familiar with the story, the basic premise is a man who studies dialect and English (Henry Higgins), and who thinks the only way to succeed is to speak the Queen’s English, runs into a lower-class flower seller (Eliza Doolittle). He makes a bet that in 6 months he can teach her proper English and pass her off as a member of upper class society. He succeeds at his bet, but at what price?

With these bones, you’ll think it doesn’t fit well in the society of today. Here you have a white man, using the power of his class, to try to take advantage of and rehabilitate a woman from a poorer class. Boy, are those class issues, with a touch of “we’re smarter, we know better”, problematic. Then their is the side of the woman, who is essentially a pawn to the men in her life (at least that’s how it was presented in the 1950s). How does that fit with today’s woman who has agency?

But that’s what memory tells one about the show. Watching the show, those themes aren’t quite there in such a start way. But there are some that are both worse and more familiar.  So let me frame the story in a different way.

Let me tell you the story of a man. This man is so full of himself he thinks he knows everything, and can solve the problems of the world. He certainly thinks he can change people into being what he thinks they should be. How does he plan to do this? By bullying them and torturing them. Further, when these people succeed, he’s there to take all the credit and claim he was the only reason things work out well. When the person who changed wants some acknowledgement of their role in the transformation, they are ignored and told they are ridiculous. They are in essence, no more than a trained monkey. A monkey that is useful to keep around, because they make him laugh and bring him his slippers. This man never acknowledges his own flaws; in fact, he projects his flaws upon others absolving himself of any part of a failure.

Now, does that man sound familiar? Have we run into anyone like that recently? But I’m not talking about a recent politician. I’m talking about one of the two main characters in this show: Professor Henry Higgins. The word we use to describe the recent politician fits Higgins to a T: “Narcissist”. Higgins in a narcissist. He believes the world revolves around him, that he can do no wrong, and those in lower positions are there to serve him. He treats anyone below him like crap, and is proud of the fact. So, point in fact, today’s eyes show us that My Fair Lady is, at its heart, a show about a narcissist.

The object of Higgins’ obsession is the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. Throughout much of the show, she shows precious little character but does stand up for herself a few times. She’s generally bullied and broken down by Higgins — in fact, much of the first act is devoted to breaking her down like a Marine drill sergeant. In the second half, after Eliza finally comes to see the narcissism in Prof. Higgins she attempts to get away but is drawn back. The ending of the show is ambiguous as to whether she succeeds in doing so, but it clear that her attempt to make Higgins see his problematic behavior fails on deaf ears.

The conscience of the show — or at least what passes for one — comes in the form of Colonel Pickering, a colleague of Prof Higgins and one of the lone voices reminding him to keep Eliza’s feelings in mind during the process. But he is, in general, a background character and generally ignored.

The other major fleshed out character is that of Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. He generally shows up to provide boisterous barroom dance numbers to balance the ballads that are fun to watch but don’t advance the plot all that much. But Mr. Doolittle is the source of additional show problems: He essentially offers to sell his daughter, disparages the middle class. When he is dragged into the middle class and has a well-known second act number “I’m Getting Married In The Morning”, he also introduces what I felt to be an unnecessary problem: characters dressed as the opposite sex just for the joke of it all. We have a woman dressed as groom, and men dressed at the bride and bar dancers, all in bustiers. Perhaps in the last millennium men dressed as women were funny. Nowadays it just seems wrong, and there was no context set up that a bar in London in 1912 would have such dancers or a wedding. It was a poor directorial choice for 2018.

As the above makes clear, story-wise, this adaptation of the 1913 play Pygmalion may have worked well in 1956, but feels dated and creaky in 2021. It somehow needs a bit more tweaks to fit with modern sensibilities, or at least more contextualization in the program to put it in the context of its time. But that doesn’t mean the show is bad. The show is grand, glorious, and glittering, under the direction of Bartlett Sher. What saves it are the well-known tunes by Alan Jay Lerner (Book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe, as well as the wonderful performances by the touring troupe.

Everyone knows the music from this show. From the opening “Why Can’t The English?” to the ear-worm “I Could Have Danced All Night”; from the dance numbers of “With a Little Bit Of Luck” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”; from touching songs like “I’ve Gown Accustomed to Her Face” or “On The Street Where You Live” — essentially every song is at the top of the form. About the only problem is you listen to some of them, such as “Show Me”, and think it was from their later show Camelot… but it wasn’t

The performances were also quite strong. Shereen Ahmed Eliza Doolittle had a lovely spirit and look, and had a remarkably beautiful voice. Ahmed is also noticeable for the diversity she brings to the cast, being Arab-American (as well as having a BS in Criminal Justice, so I sense a career for the restart of Law and Order in her future). Playing opposite her was Laird Mackintosh Prof. Henry Higgins. He bio makes clear that he has the chops to sing well (having been involved with an opera company); alas, he’s in a role that was designed for the sing-speaking Rex Harrison. He makes the best of it, and does bring a good fire to the role.

In the supporting positions are Adam Grupper Alfred P. Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau Col. Hugh Pickering, and to a lesser extent, Leslie Alexander Mrs. Higgins. I’ve noted earlier that Grupper’s role is more one of comic relief. He handles that quite well and is very playful in his numbers and his scenes.  Pariseau’s Pickering is also present in the traditional side-kick and reaction role, which he does well. Alexander blends in during the first act, but shines in the second act where she stands up to her son’s narcissism and takes Eliza’s side. There she is wonderful.

In the Tertiary supporting character category were Sam Simahk Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Gayton Scott (at our performance, Sarah Quinn Taylor was substituting) Mrs. Pearce.  Simahk captured the character as written well — a man with the personality of an infatuated puppy. Taylor’s Pearce had a bit more meat. Although she didn’t have many lines, she was able to capture through her actions and her face her disapproval of how Higgins was treating Eliza.

Rounding out the cast in various small and ensemble roles were: Lee Zarrett Professor Zoltan Karpathy / Selsey Man; Rajeer Alford Ensemble; Colin Anderson The “Loverly” Quartet, Higgin’s Butler, Ensemble; Mark Banik Frank the Bartender, Ensemble; Michael Biren Steward, Constable, Ensemble, Asst. Dance Captain; Mary Callanan Mrs. Hopkins, Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Elena Camp Queen of Transylvania, Ensemble; Christopher Faison The “Loverly” Quartet, Higgins’ Butler, Lord Boxington, Footman, Ensemble; Nicole Ferguson Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Juliane Godfrey (FB) Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Colleen Grate Flower Girl, Higgins’ Maid, EnsemblePatrick Kerr Harry, EnsembleBrandon Leffler Charles, Mrs. Higgins’ Servant, Ensemble; Nathalie Marrable EnsembleWilliam Michals Hoxton Man, The “Loverly” Quartet, Jamie, Footman, Ensemble; Aisha Mitchell (FB) Ms. Clara Eynsford-Hill, Ensemble; Rommel Pierre O’Choa Mrs Higgins’ Servant, Ensemble; Kevin Quillon Ensemble; JoAnna Rhinehart Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Ensemble; Samantha Sturm Lady Boxington, Hostess, Ensemble; Gerard M. Williams The “Loverly” Quartet, Steward, Constable, Ensemble; and Minami Yusui Ensemble, Dance Captain, Fight Captain. Swings were Kaitlyn Frank, George Psomas, Sarah Quinn Taylor, and Richard Riaz Yoder.

Music was provided by the My Fair Lady Orchestra (🌴 designates local orchestra): John Bell Music Director, Conductor; Luke Flood Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard; Dmitriy Melkumov Violin, Concertmaster; Mark O’Kain Percussion; 🌴 Elizabeth Johnson Violin 2; 🌴 Erik Rynearson Viola; 🌴 Ginger Murphy Cello; 🌴 Ian Walker Bass; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet; 🌴 Michele Forrest Oboe, English Horn; 🌴 Jeff Driskill Clarinet; 🌴 William May Bassoon; 🌴 John Fumo Trumpet 1; 🌴 Aaron Smith Trumpet 2; 🌴 Katie Faraudo French Horn 1; 🌴 Lizzie Upton French Horn 2; 🌴 Denis Jiron Trombone; 🌴 Amy Wilkins Harp; and 🌴 Mary Ekler Keyboard Sub.  Music support and development was provided by Robert Russell Bennett Orchestrations 1894-1981; Philip J. Lang Orchestrations 1911-1986; Trude Rittmann Dance & Incidental Music Arrangements, 1908-2005Ted Sperling Additional Arrangements; Talitha Fehr and David Lai Music Coordination; Josh Clayton Tour Orchestrations, Music Copying; and 🌴 Eric Heinly Orchestra Contractor. Orchestras in Los Angeles are always superb due to the talent in the city. Notable about this orchestra is that I didn’t recognize a lot of the names. In the past, there was a revolving group of artist that showed up in the local component of theatre orchestras. This time, there were a bunch of new faces. That’s always great to see.

Turning to the production side: The production was directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, assisted by Sari Ketter Assoc. Director and Mark Myars Assoc. Choreographer.  Generally the direction was good and helped the actors bring the characters to life. There were some questionable choices, such as the aforementioned drag actors during “Get Me To The Church on Time”. The choreography was also generally good, but one really got the sense of the confines of the stage: endless circling back and forth that, when combined with the set design, left one a little dizzy. But My Fair Lady is not a strong dance show except in the ancillary Alfred P. Doolittle numbers and the formality of the Ascot Gavotte. Again, this probably goes back to Rex Harrison.

Michael Yeargan Sets provided a scenic design that both worked and was confining. The principle piece was Higgins’ study / front room / door and was set on a turntable. When it was rotating it tended to be a bit dizzying and disconcerting, especially if you were watching the actors close through binoculars. I understand the confines of a tour, but wondered if more traditional pieces might have worked better. At least there were no projections. Catherine Zuber Costumes were, to put it simply, sumptuous. From the dowdy looks of the lower class, to the beautiful gowns for Eliza, they were lovely. The atmosphere was set well by Donald Holder‘s lighting design and Marc Salzberg‘s sound. There were also no obvious microphone or amplification problems — often the curse of a touring company. Rounding out the production team were The Telsey Office Casting; Tom Watson Hair and Wigs; Elizabeth Smith Dialect Consultant; Donavan Dolan Production Stage Manager; Aaron Heeter Stage Manager; James Ogden II Asst Stage Manager; Jeff Mensch Company Manager; Kiara Bryant Asst. Company Manager; Karen Berry General Manager; and Troika Entertainment Tour Management. Notable absent from the program was any credit (either at the tour level or the BIH level) for a COVID Safety Officer. Nowadays, that’s a vital role and deserves acknowledgement and applause. Luckily, I found it on the travel page of the company website: Kudos to Jody Bogner Covid Safety Manager Workplace Compliance and Amy Katz COVID-19 Communications Director, Policies/Venue Relations/Testing for keeping the My Fair Lady company safe and healthy, and in turn, keeping the audience healthy.

One last thing, if the Broadway in Hollywood (FB) staff read this: The show needs a pre-show announcement about keeping your masks on during the show, and keeping any light emitting and sound emitting devices off. Audiences have been out of the live theatres for so long they have clearly forgotten the protocols, and mask reminders keep everyone safe.

The Broadway in Hollywood engagement of My Fair Lady continues until October 31, 2021. Tickets are available through Broadway in Hollywood (Ticketmaster). Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar (Los Angeles, MFL Tour in General) or other ticketing agencies.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Wow. I haven’t done this in a while. (rummages through the calendar)

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Later in October we will have Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). November brings Hamilton at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and Head over Heels at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). December brings The Bands Visit at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); lastly, March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, On Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – September 2021

Happy new year! What do you mean, I just wished you happy new year? This is a different new year. Happy US government fiscal new year! Welcome to FY22. May it bring us a new budget, a raised debt ceiling, and infrastructure bill, and lots of highway upgrades and improvements at the Federal and State levels.

That said: The September bunch of headlines seems a bit lighter. Part of this is because road construction and planning was a bit on hold as budgets were being worked out, and due to the immense fires in the state. There also wasn’t a CTC meeting in September, so there wasn’t quite as much news. I also think more and more papers are going behind paywalls, making it harder to find information. As always, if you see a highway related headline, please send it my way.

Next week will bring something to these pages that hasn’t been seen since March 2020: a live theatre review. Our theatregoing, in a post-COVID environment, starts next week with My Fair Lady at the Dolby/Broadway In Hollywood. A return to normalcy? A dangerous event? We shall see, but my other hobby is returning. We’re taking it slow at first, but as they say, “Wouldn’t it be loverly?” to be back to normal. You know what you have to do: 💉, and here’s how to do it.

And with that, here are the headlines for September. My plan is to get the highway page update out sometime in mid-November, with a final update for 2021 right at the start of 2022.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • 101 Freeway In Encino To Be Named After Astronaut Sally Ride (KABC-AM). Part of the 101-Freeway in the San Fernando Valley will be named after late astronaut Sally Ride. Last week, the state legislature passed a resolution, naming the 101 in Encino the Dr. Sally Ride Memorial Highway. It honors the first American woman to go to space. Encino is Ride’s hometown. She died of cancer in 2012, at the age of 61.
  • East Bay scores big in state funding (The Bay Link Blog). The California Transportation Commission allocated more than $1.4 billion for projects to repair and improve transportation infrastructure throughout the state. Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, accounted for more than half of the investment – $884 million. In the Bay Area, Alameda County and Contra Costa received millions from the August allocation:
  • State Route 192 Resurfacing Project Through Montecito Begins Tuesday September 7 (The Santa Barbara Independent). A project to resurface State Route 192 in both directions from Cold Springs Rd. to 0.9 miles west of Nidever Rd. will begin on Tuesday September 7. Travelers will encounter one-way reversing traffic control Monday through Thursday from 8 am to 5 pm and Fridays from 8 am to 2 pm.
  • Pedestrian Safety Project Nearing Completion in Bishop (Eastern Sierra News). The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 9 Pedestrian Safety Project will soon wrap up construction in Inyo County. The project, which began construction earlier this year, is upgrading four high-traffic crosswalks in three communities with new safety instruments. To date, crews have installed an Accessible Pedestrian System in Lone Pine at the intersection of Whitney Portal Road and U.S. 395 and a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon at the intersection of W. Crocker Avenue and U.S. 395 in Big Pine.
  • Diverging Diamond Interchange to Open at Enrico Fermi Drive and SR 11, September 9 (SANDAG). On Thursday, September 9, SANDAG and Caltrans crews will open the new diverging diamond interchange, located at the intersection of Enrico Fermi Drive and State Route 11 (SR 11), fully to the public. The diverging diamond interchange is the first of its kind in the San Diego region and the first in California to cater to freight. The interchange allows travelers turning left onto westbound SR 11 to continue without stopping at a signal light. This helps reduce congestion and improves overall traffic flow, particularly for freight transporting goods along this corridor.

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