🎭 Understanding Your Rights | “What the Constitution Means to Me” @ Taper/CTG

What the Constitution Means to Me @ TaperAnd with a return to Jr. High Debating Club, our theatrical year starts off with a bang, and a reminder of why this year is so important. The fundamentals of our nation are at stake, and this play reminds us why we must get out there and march and vote to protect our hard fought rights.

But back to Jr. High first. When I was in 8th and 9th grade, I was in Mrs. WIlliams Debate Club, and I actually enjoyed debating. Researching the premise, establishing your position, defending your thoughts. It was wonderful mental exercise and training.

The production currently at the Mark Taper ForumWhat the Constitution Means to Me, is centered around the debate that is at the heart of America. It presents the real story of the play’s author, Heidi Schreck (FB), represented here by Maria Dizzia (FB). It essentially has three acts. In the first, Shreck goes back to her days as a 15 year-old doing American Legion debates for college funds, talking about what the constitution means to her. This includes digression into areas of interest to her, such as what the constitution says about womens rights and Native American rights. The second part brings us the story of the current Shreck, her family history of violence against women and abortion, and what the constitution says about that. In the third and last part, Shreck debates a 15-year old student about whether to keep or rewrite the constitution. The production was directed by Oliver Butler.

In trying to decide how to write this up, I read McNulty’s review in the LA Times. For the general opinion on the production, I agree with McNulty:

Let me preface this review of Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” with a strong plea to every man, woman and mature teenager in the Los Angeles area to see this play, which opened Friday at the Mark Taper Forum.

At a time when the Constitution is being assailed by those who have sworn an oath to defend it, this buoyant and often-stirring civics lesson is the theatrical curriculum Americans desperately need now.

As much a play as a performance piece, “What the Constitution Means to Me” reveals with courageous poignancy the way our nation’s founding legal document intersects with the choices, opportunities, relationships and destinies of those who have had to fight for their foothold in our imperfect democracy.

I agree with McNulty’s assessment of Shreck and the subject matter. Caution is required for those who have experienced sexual violence: there is reference to it in the play, and it could be triggery for some. But, alas, how our constitutions protects or fails to protect those subject to violence should be even more reason for people to vote.

You also get a present from this production: A pocket copy of the constitution courtesy of the ACLU. Read it. It’s scary at times. For example, it only refers to the President as “he”. Could this be used by originalists to argue that women can’t be President. This is why we so need the ERA to pass. It also shows that the President could shut down Congress with a declaration of an emergency. I wouldn’t put it past this President to do so if he couldn’t get his way — again, reason to vote.

This play demonstrates that the constitution is personal, and affects everyone one of us. It is why we must fight to defend it against those who would abuse it or make it a travesty.

As I said, I agree with McNulty’s assessment of the play, and of Dizzia’s performance. They did make a change in the play for the tour: about two-thirds into the play, the artifice of Dizzia’s playing Shreck is abandoned, and she is herself, sharing some of her story and what the constitution means to her. McNulty also covers well the fellow who plays the American Legion representative (and himself): Mike Iveson (TW). McNulty also covers the student debater who performs Wed, Fri, Sat matinee, and Sunday evening, Rosdely Ciprian.

However, Rosdely’s not the only student. Tues, Thurs, Sat evening, and Sunday matinee we get a local student, Jocelyn Shek (FB). That’s who we had, and we were impressed with the young woman and her debating style. For a stage-novice, she shows the poise and quick thinking that debate training gives one.

Understudies are Jessica Savage (FB) and Gabriel Marin.

The set design is a simple representation of the American Legion hall, designed by Rachel Hauck. The costume design of Michael Krass was similarly simple. There wasn’t that much for the lighting (Jen Schriever) and sound design (Sinan Refik Zafar) to do other than simply work, and that they did well. Other production credits: Sarah Lunnie Dramaturg; Tatiana Pandiani Assoc Director; Taylor Williams CSA Casting; Nicole Olson Production Stage Manager; Terri K. Kohler Stage Manager; Michael Camp Company Manager; Bethany Weinstein Stewert Production Management; MEP and 321 Theatrical Management General Management.

What the Constitution Means to Me continues at the Mark Taper Forum/Center Theatre Group through February 28. Tickets are available through the CTG box office; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or on TodayTix. This is a show every American — or anyone wanting to understand the Constitution — should see

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This evening brings our second show of the weekend: Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We then get busy. The last weekend of January brings Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Things heat up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend. The second weekend brings West Adams at Skylight Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 on Sunday. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

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🎭 But He Won’t Fit on the Shelf | “Elf” @ Canyon Theatre Guild

Elf (Canyon Theatre Guild)I’m not a big fan of Christmas media: movies, music, plays, musicals. On the surface, that’s not a big surprise as I’m Jewish and Christmas is not my holiday. From the day after Holloween nowadays, we’re saturated with the commercial and sentimental message of the holiday, with its underlying message of buy, buy, buy. Perhaps Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer had it right after all … but I digress.

Still, there are a few properties in each media category that I like. I’m enamored of Peter Paul and Mary’s Christmas Dinner, because I think that’s the message of the day. I love A Mulholland Christmas Carol and wish it would be done again. But much of what is out there is sentimental claptrap or remountings of classics (such as the recent production of Miracle on 34th Street at Actors Co-Op). Recently, two musicals have emerged as Christmas perennials. One we saw in 2017: A Christmas Story. The other is Elf: The Musical, with book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, Music by Matthew Sklar, and Lyrics by Chad Beguelin, based on the 2003 movie written by David Berenbaum. I could easily see Elf becoming one of those holiday musicals I actually like, as it is a whole lot of fun, has great music, and a wonderful non-religious and non-commercial message.

Elf basically tells the story of Buddy the Elf. As an infant, after his single mother died, he crawled into Santa’s bag and was taken by mistake to the North Pole. He was raised by the elves to be one of them, even after he grew to be six feet tall. One day, he learns he is human and journeys to New York City to meet his dad, who has no Christmas spirit. He does, and as they say, hijinks ensure. He gets a job as an elf at Macy*s, and falls in love with a cynical “elf” Jovie. He destroys his dad’s office. But this is all done with childish joy and innocence, as Buddy has never really grown up and is the embodiment of a child’s Christmas spirit and belief. When Santa gets stranded in NYC due to the lack of Christmas spirit, of course it is Buddy to the rescue. Cue the closures of the story lines and the happy ending that is required.

Although there are numerous productions of Elf in Southern California this time of year, we saw the production at Canyon Theatre Guild in Santa Clarita/Newhall. To understand CTG, you need to understand the tiers of theatres in So Cal. There are the big boys that have the tours and are typically all Equity (although the Pantages does some non-Equity tours). There are the mid-size houses that are all Equity. There are the intimate theatres, some of whom use Equity contracts and some Equity actors (as REP was, down the street from CTG, when it was in existance); there are others that eschew Equity’s BS and use only non-Equity actors (who are typically rising actors, or actors from film/TV (SAG/AFTRA)). Community theatre is a step below that: theatre performed by a mix of community members who just love to act, and in SoCal, actors from the cadre of non-Equity and film/TV actors who like to exercise their craft on stage. As a result, the quality of the performances at CTG can be mixed: you have some performers who are seasoned vets who bring their “A” game to the show, and you have the teacher, printer, or student that may flub a line, miss a step, or be focused too much on getting the moves right to inhabit or create a background character. But you know, going in, these folks are up on the stage because they love it, and they are giving all their heart.

With this mix, the directing team (in this case, Barry Agin (FB) and Timben Boydston (FB)) had their hands full. They had to come up with the overall design of the production. They had to work with the actors to bring out and shape the characters — and with community theatre actors that can be a bit more work. They had to ensure the evenness of the performances and ensure that the characters created were true to what was on the written page. Lastly, they had to do this while ensuring that everyone was having fun, because you’re not in community theatre to make the tens and tens of dollars that those big-time actors in LA’s intimate theatres make. I’m pleased to say that Barry and Timben achieved these goals: this was a fun production with easily overlooked imperfections, with actors that generally did a great job.

But there is one primary reason for the success of this show — and that reason is the same reason we chose this production out of all the productions of Elf in Southern California that we could see: George Chavez (FB). We’ve seen George in numerous productions throughout the years at REP, when it existed up the street; in Simi Valley; and at other theatres in LA. He brings a wonderful enthusiasm and manic energy to his roles; a tender craziness. George wasn’t just playing Buddy the Elf — George was Buddy the Elf. He brought a child’s wonder and sense of playfulness to the role, he brought the manic energy of an elf, as well as the innocence. He made you believe in the Christmas spirit through that energy. If you know George in real life, you know that he is also a teacher — and his performance here made it clear why his students must love love him, and why he finds joy in that other aspect of his life. This enthusiasm for whatever he does — whatever role or profession he is in — can’t be faked. He is successful as a teacher because he loves that. He is successful as an actor because he loves that. And, as this performance demonstrated, he was successful as Buddy the Elf because he brings the love for anything Christmas that is inside Buddy to the stage, beams it out to the audience, and literally becomes that character while on stage. His enthusiasm and joy was such that it raised up all the other actors, and smoothed over the rough edges that community theatre might have. I’m sure this joy was also broadcast backstage and set the tone for the entire company.

But George’s Buddy wasn’t the only impressive talent on the CTG stage. I was also impressed with Christina Afetian (FBJovie. Afetian brought some wonderful character to the role, had a winning smile, and most importantly: a winning voice. She did a spectacular job on “A Christmas Song”, and was just a joy to watch.

Buddy’s human family was also very strong, in particular Ally Loprete (FB) Emily Hobbs and Jack Anderson Michael Hobbs. Loprete brought a great personality and a very strong voice to her role; Anderson was strong as the brother and handled the character well. Jeff Vincent (FB) Walter Hobbs was strong performance-wise as the father, bringing just the right sense of Christmas indifference to the role. However, at our performance, his voice was a bit tired by the end of the evening — if I had to guess, he had an ill-timed cold. Happens to all of us, and I wish we could have seen him in stronger form.

In terms of the other characters, Anna Rast (FBDeb had a strong voice and brought a unique personality to the character. Also bringing a strong voice and some standout personality was Noemi Vaca (FB) Charlotte in her various ensemble roles.

Rounding out the cast were: Eduardo Arteaga (FBSanta Claus, Jackson Caruso (FBMatthews / Ensemble; Peyton Copley Ensemble; Erin Davis (FBSara / Ensemble; Kaitlyn Davis Ensemble; Molly Davis Ensemble; Greyson Foster (⭐FBCharlie / Ensemble; Ellen Guinn Ensemble; Calvin Hayward Ensemble; Doug Holiday (FBVinny the Policeman / Ensemble; Harmony Jefferson Ensemble; La’a Jefferson (FBEnsemble; Haileigh Johnson Ensemble; Kelly Johnson Mrs. Claus / Ensemble; Jefferson Lanz (FBSam / Ensemble; Hannah May LEPoidevin (FBEnsemble; Sam Kort (FBEnsemble; Jeff Lucas (FBBad Santa / Ensemble; John Morris (FBEnsemble; Grace Morrison Ensemble; Katrina Negrete (FBEnsemble; Christopher Passalacqua (FBChadwick / Ensemble; Cora Pengelly Ensemble; Eva Pengelly Ensemble; Christopher Robbin Mr. Greenway; Emma Shean Ensemble; Owen Shean Ensemble; Griffin Siroky (FBEnsemble; Katelyn Taylor Tiara / Ensemble; and Jeremiah True (FB) Manager.

The music, alas, was recorded.

Choreography was by Melanie Lee (FB), who did a great job considering the range of dance talent she had to work with.

Turning to the production and creative side: The set design by Doug Holiday (FB) and John Alexopoulos (FB) wasn’t fancy, but worked well for the CTG stage (especially considering the limited budget CTG has to work with). Long-time REP regular Steven “Nanook” Burkholder (FB) provided sound design and appropriate sound effects. Mike Davis (FB) and Michael T. Smith (FB)’s lighting design did a satisfactory job of establishing place and time. The costume design by Jean Paletz (FB) and Jill McGlynn (FB) was appropriately Christmas-y; the elf costumes were cute. Rounding out the credits: Margo Caruso (FBAsst. Director; Carla Bellefeuille (FBVocal Director; Michael T. Smith (FB) Props / Set Dresser; Keri Pierson (FBStage Manager; Nicole Arteaga (FBProps / Set Dresser. Timben Boydston (FB) is the Executive and Artistic Director of CTG.

Alas, Monday was the last performance of Elf at CTG. Perhaps George will do it at a future venue.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

We have no more live theatre scheduled in 2019. We will be seeing a movie on Christmas Day.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson); the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

 

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🎭 History and Parallels in Numbers | “Eight Nights” @ Antaeus

Eight Nights (Antaeus Theatre)One thing I’ve noticed about the congregation of which I’m a member (Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge) is that there is a love of live performance. At almost every theatre event I attend, or most concerts, I’ll run into a member of the congregation. I think, perhaps, it relates to the value of storytelling in our culture, the value of shared experiences, and the joy that comes from being in a room with other people. Theatre creates community, and so does our congregation.

I mention all of this because our congregation recently started a number of small aligned interest groups on various subjects — all ways to build community. I suggested a group centered around live theatre; as I get so many press releases and announcements of theatre, I offered to facilitate it. My goal is to build a group that will go to theatre with Jewish themes, to provide a forum for discussion, exploration, and education. The themes may not always be overtly Jewish, but they will relate to Jewish values, Jewish thought, Jewish questions, and the Jewish experience.

Our little group had its first outing last Sunday: to see the production of Eight Nights at the Antaeus Theatre Company (FB) in Glendale. The reason becomes clear when you read the press release I received from the publicist:

A German Jewish refugee is haunted by her past, but resiliently moves toward the future. Antaeus Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Eight Nights, a story developed in the Antaeus Playwrights Lab that honors the global refugee experience. Written by Jennifer Maisel (FB) and directed by Emily Chase (FB), Eight Nights opens at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale on Nov. 8, where performances continue through Dec. 16. Low-priced previews begin Oct. 31.

Set during eight different nights of Chanukah over the course of eight decades, Eight Nights tells the story of Holocaust survivor Rebecca Blum, who arrives in America at age 19 to forge a new life. As Rebecca moves through time, the play explores the lives that come and go in her New York apartment, where ghosts of the past both haunt and guide her. Maisel lyrically weaves together heart-aching moments with life-affirming humor to call out the trauma experienced not only by concentration camp survivors, but by African American descendants of slavery, by interned Japanese Americans, and by current victims of war in Africa and the Middle East.

“It was essential to me — seeing the parallels between the Syrian refugee crisis in 2017, when I started writing the play, and the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s — that this piece be an exploration of the universality of that experience and its overlap with other communities,” explains Maisel. “It’s about people finding a way to live after surviving loss and trauma, and witnessing how that brings joy to the future.”

This play seemed appropriate because it was more than your traditional Holocaust play. If I had wanted to do that (and I could fit it into my schedule), I would have taken the group to see The Diary of Anne Frank which was being produced up in Newhall. But this took a different approach: it didn’t look at the Holocaust; it looked at the impact of the Holocaust on the survivors. How it shaped their lives and attitudes afterwards. How their experience had parallels in the experiences of other cultures.  How today’s refugee situation often requires us to put out that hand that wasn’t often put out for the Jews back during WWII. It was a true echo of the line we say on Passover, remembering that we were slaves, we had that experience, and that memory shapes our ethics.

As noted in the press summary, the play focuses on Rebecca Blue, who comes over to the US in 1949 at age 19, to live with her father. He is the only surviving family member: Rebecca’s mother and two sisters perished in the camps, although they remain as ghosts to her. We then see her in scenes that progress approximately 10 years per jump, always to the next night of Chanukkah. We see how she gets married, how she starts a business with the wife of the man who saved her from the camps, how she has to face telling her daughter about her story, how her daughter comes home with a non-Jewish man — half Japanese, half-Irish — who is researching the parallels between the internment and the holocaust. How that relationship progresses into the generation of Rebecca’s granddaughter and her unconventional relationship. It closes with Rebecca in her 90s, as they invite a Syrian refugee family into their apartment.

Throughout the show, there are interesting parallels drawn to other cultures. The first are some of the parallels to the black experience in America, followed by the internment of the Japanese. There’s an undercurrent of resilience: of letting the past shape you but not define you. We see the stress these experiences bring, and how the survivors often didn’t want to talk about them until it was almost too late. Eventually, they came to learn that by sharing the experiences, others could grow.

There were a number of “gasp” moments: I vividly remember when Rebecca was telling her story to an interviewer — she brought back what the camps must have felt like for the survivors. There was the audience reaction when the granddaughter displayed a tattoo that she  thought would honor the experience, only to learn that it was more of an insult. There was the business partner sharing the story of having to have “the talk” with her son.

All in all it was a very touching piece. Our little group went out afterwards for coffee/tea, and the consensus was similar: a very moving and appropriate piece for our first outing.

Director Emily Chase (FB) did a wonderful job of creating the apartment that serves as the “home” for the story, and for working with the actors to bring it to life. She did a particularly good job of handling the multiple characters that each actor played: multiple actors portray Rebecca at various ages; the same actors play her daughter and granddaughter. Each brought a unique characterization to the character. The actors also silently portrayed ghosts of their characters who through movement and expression alone commented on the story Discussing the show with one of our group members after the show, he provided a great summary of what the director brings: the director builds the cup, and the actors help to fill it. As I understand that phrase, the means the director established the structure for the story, taking the words from the page of the author and creating the realization in the world while staying true to the story’s intent; it is the actors that then create the characters, with the director helping to fine tune the creation.

So let’s turn to those creations. Two actors create the main character, Rebecca Blum: Zoe Yale (FB) Younger Rebecca / Amy / Nina and Tessa Auberjonois (⭐FB) Anna / Older Rebecca. We meet Yale’s Rebecca first, with Auberjonois’ Anna as the ghost as she is a nervous 19 year-old meeting her father after he seemingly abandoned them, she had a harrowing travel on the MS St. Louis.,  returned to Germany to be separated from her mother and sister, and then be rescued by a US solder at Dachau. Yale also handles the scene where Rebecca is newly married with a child on the way, meeting that soldier and his wife. Yale handles these scenes very believably and with a nice tenderness. She then switches places with Auberjonois, who takes over as Rebecca whilst Yale becomes first Rebecca’s daughter Amy, and then her granddaughter, Nina. Yale does a great job of creating different personas and characterizations for the younger women. Auberjonois seamlessly handles the older Rebecca well, doing particularly well with her aging in the final scenes. I was particular impressed with what Auberjonois brought to the stage this weekend, having lost her father earlier in the week. It can’t be easy, and if she reads this by chance: condolences to her family on their loss.

The primary men in Rebecca’s life are played by Arye Gross (FB) Erich / Joram and Josh Zuckerman (FB) Aaron. We meet Gross’s Erich first: a seemingly genial fellow, who doesn’t seem to have been affected that much by Germany, or the loss of his wife and other daughters. Perhaps he had moved past that already. He is around for the first few scenes, and then hovers as a ghost for a while, reappearing in the end as the father of the immigrant family. Zukerman was stronger as Aaron, Rebecca’s husband. He provides an unspoken strength behind her and supporting her, and captures the character well.

The other two primary actors we meet are Christopher Watson Benjamin / Matt and Karen Malina White (⭐FB, FB) Arlene / Lacey. Watson captures the character well of the soldier (Benjamin) that rescued Rebecca, but has equal PTSD from what he has seen. He has a smaller role in a later scene where Rebecca is interviewed and recorded as the camera operator. I really likes White’s portrayal of Arlene, Benjamin’s wife and Rebecca’s future silent business partner. She brought a wonderful exuberance to the role; she brought a similar energy to Lacey, Nina’s partner.

Rounding out the cast was Devin Kawaoka (FB) Steve / Inge, as Amy’s Irish/Japanese husband. He had a nice playfulness and good chemistry with Yale’s Amy.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative side: Edward E. Haynes Jr.‘s Scenic Design created a believable apartment that adapted well over the subsequent decades; this was aided by Alex Jaeger (FB)’s Costume Design for the period appropriate costumes and David Saewart‘s Prop Design. Adam R. Macias‘ Projections told the audience the specific date and time. Jeff Gardner (FB)’s Sound Design provided appropriate sound effects, and Karyn D. Lawrence‘s lighting worked to establish the mood and draw attention where appropriate.  Other production credits: Lauren Lovett Dialect Coach; Paula Cizmar New Play Dramaturg; Bo Foxworth Fight Choreographer; Ryan Mcree Dramaturg; Heather Gonzalez (FB) Production Stage Manager; Connie Ayala Asst. Stage Manager; Adam Meyer Technical Director; Lucy Pollock Publicity; Bill Brochtrup Artistic Director; Kitty Swink Artistic Director and Ana Rose O’Halloran Executive Director.

Unfortunately for you, Eight Nights closed last night (Monday, 12/16). But perhaps another theatre will choose to mount it. For information on other Antaeus productions, visit https://antaeus.org/.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

Our last show in December, other than the movie on Christmas Day will be Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild on December 21.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson); the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

 

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🎭 A Band of Veterans | “Bandstand” @ ATG/Broadway in Thousand Oaks

Bandstand (American Theatre Guild/Broadway in Thousand Oaks)When you think about Broadway Tours coming to Los Angeles, where do they go first? If you said the Hollywood Pantages (FB) or the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), you would probably be right … and if the tour was a non-Equity tour, the Pantages / Dolby complex would pretty much be the only choice. Depending on the tour, it might hit the Segerstrom in Orange County first, but a non-Equity tour would end up at the Pantages.

Unless, of course, the Pantages’ schedule was full. And the Pantages’ schedule was full in 2019-2020, especially with longer sit-down engagements for Frozen and Hamilton at the Pantages, and having to fit programs around the Dolby’s concert schedule. What’s a touring show to do?

Go to Thousand Oaks.

And so, rarity of rarities, the premiere of the tour of the Broadway musical Bandstand in Southern California found itself part of the Broadway in Thousand Oaks/American Theatre Guild 2019-2020 schedule, together with secondary market tour visits of shows that had been at the Pantages in previous seasons: Finding Neverland, BeautifulJersey BoysAn American in Paris, and Riverdance. An extremely rare sighting. The American Theatre Guild rarely gets the first edition of a tour in the area.

Now, you might not have heard of Bandstand. It didn’t last long on Broadway: 24 previews, 166 performances. The authors and composing team (Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor) were new on Broadway, although they did score with a hot choreographer — Andy Blankenbuehler, known for Hamilton among other shows. The title of the show was misleading, evoking images of Dick Clark and the 1950s, as opposed to WWII and the Big Band era. In its execution, it touched on subjects of current relevance — the treatment of veterans, survivors guilt, PTSD. In fact, the show is 6 Certified, approved by an effort to show veterans in entertainment accurately. Still, the Broadway run was a failure, then why tour? The answer is the show is very good, and the producers obviously felt it would touch a nerve in America’s heartland with its message. I could see that easily in Thousand Oaks, for Ventura County is a strong pro-military county with the Naval Base nearby. There are no fancy projections or stage tricks in this show: it will do much better touring and in regional productions than in the jaded environment that is Broadway and New York. And that’s OK.

Of course, I’m writing this up because I saw the show last night. I learned about the show shortly after the cast album came out in 2017, and I fell in love with the music and the story. So when I learned the tour was coming to Thousand Oaks … after getting over my shock of the first appearance of the tour being in T.O. … I put the date on my calendar and a reminder to get tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Here’s the summary of the show as written up on the ATG website:

1945: As America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, each an astonishing musician. Together, they form a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

Essentially, the through line is this: Donny Novitski comes back from WWII wanting to pick up the life he had — playing piano and accordion. But he can’t find any jobs, and he’s advised to do something before the nightmares from the war starts. Hearing about the NBC contest, he decides to build up a band of veterans. He does, going on recommendations from his buddies. But each, like Donny, are damaged goods in their own way: shell-shocked from the war, dealing with stress through the bottle or retreating from people or … . Part of Donny’s stress comes from an obligation to his war buddy, Michael, to take care of his widow, Julia. The problem: Michael was killed by friendly-fire, and Donny has survivors guilt. But he recruits Julia to be the band’s singer, and the competition starts. What happens then is somewhat predicable: they win contests, there’s a spark between Donny and Julia, they eventually get to New York after some trials and tribulations. But with their gimmick, they get on the show … but Donny inadvertently signs away the rights to their big song (if they perform it). So instead, they change the song they are performing to one that tells the truth of what happens to vets when they return — how the “Welcome Home” isn’t quite what is expected. They lose the battle, but win the war.

I knew the outlines of the story going in from the cast album. But I was touched by how much the story moved me — and clearly, from the reaction, how much it moved the veterans and active duty service in the audience. It is the first accurate portrayal on stage, in a musical, of how war impacts the veterans. This isn’t a South Pacific. This shows war as doing ugly things to good people, and how a handshake and $25 doesn’t make up for it.

But I can also see why the Pantages might have hesitated on the show. This wasn’t a mediocre show built around the jukebox of a name star (SummerBodyguard) that has a built in audience of the fans of that music. It wasn’t a blockbuster that won major awards and is well known, and wasn’t built around a known property. It was a hard show to sell to those unfamiliar with it. It is also unclear how well it might play in the larger LA market, where the playing to active duty might be a lot harder. This show needs to build its word of mouth from the cities near bases first. But for the American Theatre Guild, it was a chance to get the premiere of a show in Southern California.

If you know veterans or active duty folks, or care about our military (even if you don’t necessarily agree with their actions), see this. It presents a great portrayal of how calling these men and women’s “heroes” is a gloss over what they’ve been through. I think the show accurately addresses how those who haven’t been through military service don’t understand the adjustment back to civilian life, and how veterans cope. I think it can spark a wonderful discussion to that affect. I also think its important to encourage new authors and new music and original books for Broadway. One can get tired of “screen-to-stage” musicals or the minimal-book jukebox shows.

As I noted before, this is a non-Equity tour. This means the performers are often much younger. They haven’t been on Broadway yet — this is often getting them the experience they need to make that leap. They may be long established in regional markets, or in other union efforts (e.g., theatrical, variety, or music). We found the cast of this show to be extremely talented.

This show was “based on” the original direction and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler. Tour direction was by Gina Rattan, with restaging and additional choreography by Marc Heitzman. The movement from the original direction and dance teams was likely due to the short Broadway run and the interval between closing and the set up of the tour. The team did a good job with their young actors, inspiring and leading a very professional production in its execution. The actors were clearly having fun with this show, were inhabiting and believing in their characters (even in the smallest ensemble roles), and did a great job in creating a believable story for the audience.

In the lead positions were Zack Zaromatidis (FBDonny Novitski and Jennifer Elizabeth Smith (⭐FB, FB) Julia Trojan. Zaromatidis did a great job capturing both the enthusiasm and sadness of Novitski, as well as playing mean piano. He had a strong chemistry with Smith’s Julia. Smith had a lovely singing voice and had such a glow about her showing a wonderful inner strength. The two were quite fun to watch. Smith also did a great job of capturing the damage on the other side of the war: how the loss of a loved one, and the lack of knowledge of how it happened, can create trauma as well.

Supporting Zaromatidis’s Novitski as the other members of the band were Rob Clove (⭐FB, FB) Jimmy Campbell – Saxophone; Benjamin Powell (FBDavy Zlatic – Upright Bass; Scott Bell (FBNick Radel – Trumpet; Louis Jannuzzi III (FB) Wayne Wright – Trombone; and Jonmichael Tarleton (FBJohnny Simpson – Drums. All were extremely strong musicians, and they made great music as a group. I particularly appreciated, on the music front, the creativity — such as Tarleton playing percussion off the bridge of Powell’s bass. But these young men were also strong actors, capturing well the nuances of the individual character’s isolations — be it Powell capturing Zlatic’s descent into the bottle; Tarleton capturing the damage from the Jeep rollover to Simpson; Bell capturing the pent up anger in Radel. All were just wonderful.

The last major supporting performer was Roxy York (FBMrs. June Adams. I found her character to be a bit much, but I think that’s how the character was written — and was yet another coping mechanism.

Rounding out the cast were the ensemble members and the swings (and as there was no board, we must assume there were no swings on-stage in our performance). It is important to note the extreme talent in this bunch of people, as all were understudying leads to some extent — meaning that all were capable of playing one or more musical instruments as well as their singing and dancing capabilities. The ensemble is also to be complemented for the characters they created. Particularly in the dance and band numbers, I was watching the ensemble in the background, and they were creating such wonderfully rounded characters and performances. You were seen! The ensemble and swings consisted of Shaunice Alexander (FB) Jean Ann Ryan, Ensemble; Beth Anderson (FBEnsemble; Milena J. Comeau (FBEnsemble; Ryan P. Cyr (FBEnsemble; Michael Hardenberg (FBEnsemble; Andre Malcolm (FBEnsemble; Kaitlyn Mayse (FBEnsemble; Matthew Mucha (⭐FB, FB) Andre, Ensemble; Mallory Nolting (FBEnsemble; Taylor Okey (FBOliver, Ensemble; and Cameron Turner (FBEnsemble. Swings were: Michael Bingham (FBSwing; Sarah Dearstyne (FBSwing; Katie Pohlman (⭐FB, FB) Swing, Dance Captain; and Oz Shoshan (FB) Swing, Dance Captain.

Supporting the on-stage actor/musicans in the pit, under the music direction of Miles Plant, were Miles Plant Keyboard; Brian Victor (FBAssistant Music Director / Keyboard 2 / Guitar / Ukulele; Michael Brinzer (⭐FB, FB) Reeds; Ross Kratter (⭐FB, FB) Bass; and Brian Ganch (FBDrums. Other music credits: Fred Lassen (FB) Music Supervisor; Christopher Gurr (FBAssoc Music Supervisor; Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Emily Grishman Music Preparation/Alden Terry Music Copying; Greg Anthony Rassen (FB) Music Arranger. The Tony-Award winning orchestrations were by Bill Elliott (🎷FB) & Greg Anthony Rassen (FB) Co-Orchestrators.

Turning to the production and creative side of things: The scenic design for the show was surprisingly simple, especially when compared to the projection-laden and special-effect laden extravaganzas that have shown up at the Pantages and Ahmanson of late. Credit to David Korins (🖼FB) for a simple nightclub set that, when combined with effective props, provided the locations needed, and was easily adaptable to radio studios. It is nice to see a scenic design that will be within the means of a regional or amateur production in the future … this ensures the life of the show. Paloma Young (FB)’s costume design seemed appropriately period, with only a little more stocking instruction needed of the ensemble. Similarly, J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova (FB)’s makeup, hair, and wig design seemed appropriately period. Jeff Croiter (FB)’s lighting design established mood well. Nevin Steinberg (FB)’s original sound design appeared to hold up in the Kavli, but that Kavli (unlike the Pantages) has good sound bones to begin with. Rounding out the production credits: Kate Lumpkin (🎭FB) Casting; David Kreppel Vocal Music Arranger; Alice Renier (⭐FBActing Coach; Elizabeth Allen (FBProduction Stage Manager; Emily Pathman (FBAssistant Stage Manager; Michael Coglan (FB) Company Manager; Mark Stuart (FB) Original Assoc. Choreographer; Jaime Verazin Original Asst. Choreographer; Work Light Productions Producers; Port City Technical Production Management; Allied Touring Tour Marketing & Press; The Road Company Tour Booking.

Unfortunately, one of the bad aspects of Broadway in Thousand Oaks is that it is there for only one weekend, unlike the longer runs at the Pantages. That means that by the time you read this, the final productions of Bandstand at the American Theatre Guild will be over. All I can suggest is that you visit the Bandstand website, and catch the show at its next stops in Colorado Springs on Dec 3-4 (hmmm, I’ll have to tell my COS colleagues) or in Phoenix AZ Dec 6-8. For those California folks, it looks like it will hit Modesto Mar 30-31, 2020 and Sacramento April 7-12, 2020.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  We will also be seeing Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild on December 21.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

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🎭 Crossed Actors in Love | “The Goodbye Girl” @ MTG

The Goodbye Girl (MTG)MTG UserpicWhen you look at Broadway today, it seems we are in an era of taking any movie and attempting to put it on the stage. Pretty WomenTootsie, and Beetlejuice are just recent examples of a trend that has been going on since at least the 1950s. One such attempt occurred in 1993, when there was an attempt to bring the 1977 Neil Simon comedy The Goodbye Girl to the stage. The resulting musical: The Goodbye GIrl, featured an updated book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by David Zippel, and starred Bernadette Peters and Martin Short. You would think that with this pedigree the musical would easily succeed. It didn’t — it only ran for 23 previews and 188 performances — proving that even with pedigrees, it can still be a dog.

But is it really a dog. That’s the question that the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) asks. They present shows with only 25 hours of rehearsal, minimal staging and scenery, in a staged reading format that allows reexamination. The second outing of their season was The Goodbye Girl, which we saw last night.

In the program, the supposition is made that the reason for the failure was the theatre: The Marquis Theatre. At the time of the show, there had been a string of failures there, and Broadway is a superstitious bunch. But subsequent to the show, there have been a few hits at the theatre. So was that the reason.

Before I give you my thoughts on the show, perhaps I should tell you what it was about. After all, 1977 was a long time ago — I was just graduating high school. The musical retained much of the original movie’s plot, making only a few changes. It is difficult to find a synopsis online that isn’t a scene by scene breakdown (such as the one in the Guide to Musical Theatre), so I’ll give it a try:

Paula and her daughter Lucy are looking forward to moving to California to be with her actor-boyfriend Tony. But they discover Tony has left them for a movie role in Spain; further, he has sublet their apartment without their knowledge to an actor friend from Chicago. Paula doesn’t want to share the apartment, but Elliott (the Chicago actor) points out that he owns the lease, so they work out a tenuous arrangement. He has a role in a version of Richard III where the director wants him to play it as a man playing a women playing a man (this was originally a homosexual queen portrayal in the movie). Unsurprisingly, that approach fails. As Elliott recovers from the drunken opening night pain, he sees the tender side of Paula, and no surprisingly, a spark is ignited. Insert the predictable march to the happy ending.

My reaction to the show was hard to characterize. On story and music alone, it was a pleasant evening — but it also wasn’t a spectacular “wow” along the lines of Come From Away or Hamilton. It struck me much more as a Pretty Women or the current show at the Marquis, Tootsie. In other words: yes, it was a fun show to watch, but it also didn’t seem to have the staying power that the powerhouse shows have. This should not be construed as saying it was bad. It was a very very funny show, with some really good performances. It just didn’t have that staying power. Similar to the Donna Summer musical I saw Saturday night, it was a piece of fluff that was tasty while you were eating it, but it left you craving something much more substantial.

So why did The Goodbye Girl fail so spectacularly in its first outing. After all, movie to musical properties often have a reasonable life, even if they aren’t long running hits. I think there are a number of reasons:

  • I’m not sure this was a movie that cried out to be musicalized. Were there emotions or arcs of the characters that could only be told by song? I’m not sure. Without that crying need for music, you end up with something that might be entertaining, but isn’t spectacular. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be profitable, but that profit will not be achieved on Broadway, but in long term licensing and performance.
  • I think the original casting was off. Martin Short was fine, but I think this wasn’t the right role for Bernadette Peters. This show came between Into the Woods and the Annie Get Your Gun revival. Trying to have Peters be believable as an unemployed, out of shape dancer just didn’t work.
  • Although David Zippel’s lyrics were strong, I’m not sure this was Marvin Hamlisch’s best score. Hamlisch had a problem finding scores for the theatre that had long term lasting power after A Chorus Line. None of the songs here had a long term lasting power, although “Elliott Garfield Grant” was an earworm.
  • The transition from the movie to the stage didn’t use the opportunity to fix the problems in the original screenplay. When you read reviews of the movie, Paula was often viewed as unsympathetic in the first half of the movie — someone you don’t particularly like. Audiences didn’t warm up to her until the latter part of the movie. Read reviews of the stage musical, and guess what — same thing. If you can’t get invested in the characters early, it is hard to get the audiences to care about the show.

But this is MTG — and one of the goals of MTG is to give a chance to see properties such as The Goodbye Girl for just this reason. It allows one to see if the underlying good in the material, and to determine what possibly went wrong the first time out. Luckily, the execution of this production was significantly better than Barnum a few months ago.  About the only production problems were one or two instances of feedback, and a few cases where the sound team was behind the actors, and the microphones weren’t enabled when they should be. As directed by Linda Kerns (FB), and with choreography by Michelle Elkin (⭐FB, FB), the production moved briskly and without problems, and the actors did a great job of inhabiting the characters. This was particularly remarkable when you consider the short time they were living with these characters — remember, just 25 hours of rehearsal.

In the lead positions were Wendy Rosoff (⭐FB, FB) Paula and Will Collyer (⭐FB, FB) Elliot. Rosoff captured the neurotic nature of Paula well and had a great chemistry with Collyer’s Elliot. Her songs came off as a little more shrill than perhaps were intended, but I think that’s something that would have been adjusted in a longer run. Collyer was great as Elliot — he had a warmth and charm that made one see how Martin Short could have been so strong in the role.

Also in a lead position was Maya Somers Lucy. This young lady just blew me away with her talent and voice. As she grows as an actress, I look forward to seeing her on the stages of Los Angeles.

Supporting the leads in named roles were Jenelle Lynn Randall (⭐FBMrs. Crosby, and as Lucy’s friends, Bella Stine (⭐FB) Cynthia and Olivia Zenetzis Melanie.  All were very strong. Randall brought some wonderfully sardonic humor and moves to Mrs. Crosby, and nailed her “2 Good 2 Be Bad Number”, and Stine and Zenetzis made a delightful trio with Somers.

Rounding out the cast were: Jennifer Knox (FB) Donna / Ensemble; Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) Jenna / Ensemble; Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) Billy / Ensemble; Anthony Gruppuso (⭐FB, FB) Mark / Ricky / Ensemble; Tal Fox (FB) Ensemble; Gabriel Navarro (FB) Ensemble; and Mark C. Reis (⭐FB) Ensemble.

Dennis Castellano (FB) served as Musical Director and Conductor of the onstage band, which consisted of Castellano (FB) Piano, John Reilly Woodwinds, and Alan Alesi Drums/Percussion.

As this was a minimally staged concert performance, there was no real scenic, lighting, or sound design.  A Jeffrey Schoenberg (FB) provided the costumes, and Todd Gajdusek was Production Coordinator. Stage managers were Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager / Production Coordinator, Stacey Cortez Asst Stage Manager; and Debra Miller Asst Stage Manager.

This was the only performance of The Goodbye Girl.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend is open due to Stiches SoCal, although I might still book a show. November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I also have a hold for December 21 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

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🎭 What Hath Maltby Wrought? | “Summer” @ Hollywood Pantages

Summer - The Donna Summer Musical (Hollywood Pantages)Back in 1978, Richard Maltby Jr. unleashed onto the world a little musical called Ain’t Misbehavin’. This was perhaps the first really successful biographical jukebox musical — a musical that used the catalog of a particular artist to tell the lifestory of that artist. Shortly after that musical hit there were similar shows, from Jelly’s Last Jam to Eubie to … you get the idea. In the modern era, the biographical jukebox has seen a resurgence with successful shows such as Jersey Boys. Almost every pop star out there is seeing their catalog mined for a potential show. Some end up as fictional stories with the pop catalog grafted on, such as the recent Head Over Heels which mined the catalog of the Go-Gos. But the biographical jukebox remains a steady contender. A number of been recently on Broadway, such as The Cher Show or the just opened Tina … and one of the more recent instances has ended up at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (until November 24) — Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Guess where we were last night?

If you are of my generation, you know Donna Summer well. Her music hit the airwaves in the US in 1975 — when I was in high school. I couldn’t go to a high school dance of that era (not that I went to many) where it didn’t close with “The Last Dance”. It was ubiquitous. So it was clear that mixing her music with a Broadway show would hit clearly at the heart of the current theatregoers: those adults aged 55 to 65. It was a no-brainer. Nostalgia is a strong pull at the box office, and judging by the audience we saw at the Pantages we saw last night it works. Older primarily white women in spandex glitter abounded.

And the mention of no-brainers brings us back to the biographic jukebox, and their greatest problem: the underlying book. For while the music may be popular and the show wonderful when viewed as a nostalgic dance concert, the real question is whether it stands up a musical theatre. That success depends on the book writers — in this case, Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff. In this case: it really doesn’t stands up as theatre. It is a mile wide and an inch deep: it doesn’t really give you any deep insight into its main characters, and the other characters in the life of Donna Summer that shaped who she is are only superficially drawn and brought to life.

Part of the problem here is the conceit used to tell the story. As is often done, the main subject is divided into three individual: child, young adult, and adult — or as they are called here, Duckling Donna, DIsco Donna, and Diva Donna. A similar approach, from what I understand, was taken in The Cher Show. The problem is: the adjectives here capture the superficial nature of the division: instead of looking at the whole character, they have amplified aspects of her life for the sake of storytelling. In doing this, and in making the story centered in that way, any character growth that might fuel the story is either lost, or boiled to the top where it is just skimmed away.

“Story” is a key word here. Musicals succeed where there is a story that demands the music in its retelling. The music, which is a key factor in telling the story, bursts out with story. It isn’t incidental or superficially related. But, for the most part, the music used in Summer is only lightly connected with the story on the stage. It rarely comes from the time; it rarely moves the story forward by itself. If you could delete all the jukebox songs (leaving just the spoken book) and the show still makes sense, that music isn’t integral. In this case, the music is rarely integral. In fact, I think the only integral song in the show is “She Works Hard for the Money”.

Ultimately, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, while entertaining, is (in the parlance of [title of show]), very “donuts for dinner” — entertaining in the moment, but the fulfillment is not very long lasting. There’s lots of fluffy sweet carbohydrates, but very little meat.

That doesn’t mean the author’s don’t try to provide that meat. There is a strong emphasis, especially in the middle of the show, on the notion of empowerment of women — in particular the fact that women artists should be paid the same as male artists. There’s also a sharp commentary on the #metoo aspects of Donna Summer’s story: sexual abuse or harassment both at the hands of her childhood pastor and by executives at Casablanca records. But it, like the supporting characters, is superficial. It is mentioned once briefly, and how it shaped Donna Summer into the artist that she was is never explored.

Ruminating on the superficiality a bit more: The show presents Donna Summer’s life as being much like the music that made her famous: a catchy dance tune that was fun in the moment, but doesn’t have long lasting significance. It is popular and light and frothy, but is ultimately cotton candy.

The show is notable in one other aspect: it’s ensemble. More than any other show that I’ve seen, this show has made the effort to emphasize the women. Most of the tertiary male roles (there are no primary male roles) are played by ensemble members, and for the most part, those members are women. I’ve commented before on the problems I have with men dressing as women to play women’s roles for the broad laugh. Here, the women stepped into play the men’s roles, but not for laughs but in an androgynous sense. As a man watching this, this spoke to female empowerment and as the central notion of the story, as well as the fact that for much of her career, Summer’s music spoke to that audience (and the incident that broke that connection is specifically — and rightly — addressed). I’m curious how women watching the show perceived that ensemble emphasis. It was certainly different.

Two additional performance notes: (1) There are points at times where the ensemble is supposedly playing music, and even (at one point) Diva Donna is playing. For the most part, it is clear they are not: they are holding the violins wrong, there is no key movement on the piano although finger gestures appear right, there is no movement on the guitar necks and no connection of electric guitars to the speakers, there is no finger movement on the valves of the saxes. Prop instruments on stage are annoying. It did appear, however, that at point they did have the real keyboardist on stage, as well as the drummer and perhaps the guitar. That was good to see. (2) There is one point where Neil Bogart’s funeral occurs, supposedly at Hillside. They were carrying calla lilies, which is a flower that is not used at Jewish cemeteries due to its Christian symbolism; they also portrayed mourners in white with no cria ribbons. Again, not something one would see at a Jewish cemetery. Given that the writers weren’t Jewish, one can understand the mistake; surely someone on the production or design team would have caught that.

Des McAnuff‘s direction kept the show moving at a brisk pace — one might say with a disco beat. The show moved from incident to incident with little space to catch your breath in between. His direction of the scenic was similar, with view traditional set pieces or props, and heavy use of screens and projections (although in a very different sense than in Anastasia — here they were much more abstracted, as befits the 1970s). He worked with the acting team to bring out strong concert style performance; but with a superficial book, there was very little depth to bring out in the story. The movement, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, was similarly brisk and had a strong disco feel. As to its accuracy as real disco moves I cannot say. There are some things about my youth that I either never learned or have blocked out. But it was entertaining.

In the lead performance positions were the Donnas: Dan’yelle Williamson (⭐FB, FB) Diva Donna / Mary Gaines, Alex Hairston (FB) Disco Donna; and Olivia Elease Hardy (FB) Duckling Donna / Mimi. All give strong performance and sing beautifully. Perhaps the most notable is Hardy, given her lack of experience. She’s a rising senior at U Michigan, and I couldn’t really find any local or other credits for her. For such a young and new performer to be giving such a strong performance is quite noteworthy.  As for the others, Hairston gets the bulk of the disco moves and handles those well, although her visual resemblance to the other Donnas is slight. Williamson is very strong of voice and dance.

The male roles in this cast are primarily secondary and tertiary. At the secondary level are: John Gardiner (FB) Neil Bogart / Sommelier / Gunther; Erick Pinnick (FB) Andrew Gaines / Doctor; and Steven Grant Douglas (⭐FB, FB) Bruce Sudano. The tertiary men (because they are also in the ensemble) are: Jay Garcia (FB) Brian / Helmuth Sommer / Ensemble and Sir Brock Warren (FB) Pastor / Ensemble. None of these characters are drawn that deeply; unsurprisingly, none of them also have featured vocal tracks.  Thinking back, the ones that left the greatest impressions were Warren due to his unique look and bearing, and Douglas for the way he was able to project some tenderness in what was a lightly written role.

This brings us to the remainder of the ensemble — or should I say female ensemble — as they were all women: Jennifer Byrne (FB) Pete Bellotte / Don Engel / Ensemble, Tamrin Goldberg (FB) Norman Brokaw / Ensemble, Cameron Anika Hill (FB) Young Dara / Amanda / Ensemble, Brooke Lacy (FB) Detective / David Geffen / Bob / Ensemble, Trish Lindström (FB) Joyce Bogart / Ensemble, Dequina Moore (⭐FB, FB) Adult Mary Ellen / Ensemble, Kyli Rae (FB) out at our performance – normally Giorgio Moroder / Ensemble, Crystal Sha’nae (FB) Adult Dara / Ensemble, De’ja Simone (FB) Young Mary Ellen / Brooklyn / Ensemble, Candace J. Washington (FB) Michael / Ensemble, Brittany Nicole Williams Maid / “To Turn the Stone” Soloist / Ensemble. In general, the ensemble provided strong dancing in the background. The actors portraying Donna’s sisters and children were fun to watch and clearly enjoying their roles. I particularly liked Moore and Simone (at least I think that’s who they were — the one in the yellow sweater).

Swings were Mara Lucas (FB), Jo’nathan Michael (FB), and Jennifer Wolfe (FB) Giorgio Moroder, at our performance / Dance Captain.

The large music for this show was provided by a small band — again, mostly female. Leading the band was Amanda Morton Music Director / Conductor / Keyboards. Assisting her were Lisa Le May (FB) Assoc. Conductor / Keyboard; Makeena Lee Brick (FB) Keyboard; Larry Esparza (FB) Guitar; and Jesse-Ray Leich (FB) Drums. Other music credits were: Randy Cohen (FB) Synthesizer Programmer; Anixter Rice Music Services (FB) Music Preparation; John Miller (FBMusic Coordinator; Bill Brendle and Ron Melrose Orchestrations; and Ron Melrose Music Supervision and Arrangements. Songs in the show were written by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara, and the following folks detailed in the back of the program: Joseph Esposito, Edward Hokenson, Bruce Sudano, Pete Bellotte, Keith Diamond, Anthony Smith, Vanessa Robbie Smith, Greg Mathieson, Jim Webb, Bruce Roberts, Harold Faltermeyer, Gregory Allen Kurstin, Danielle A. Brisebois, Evan Kidd Bogart, Jonathan Rotem, Michael Omartian, and from the musical Hair, Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni. I am sure that some of the musicians were on stage in a few scenes — in particular, Morton and possibly LeMay or Brick, as well as Leich. I was pleased to see them show pictures of the musicians at the end.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. The scenic design of Robert Brill (FB) depended heavily on the Projection Design of Sean Nieuwenhuis, as there were lots of moving screens and projections, and very little in the way of traditional scenery. Perhaps greater scenic aspects were provided by Paul Tazewell (FB)’s costume design and Charles G. LaPointe (FB)’s hair and wig design. There was only real one costuming flaw, which only someone growing up in that era would catch: back in the 1970s, bra straps and undergarments were not intentionally visible — according to my wife, one would go without first. Howell Binkley (FB)’s lighting generally was good, but I felt there was an overuse of strobe lights — be forewarned if you are strobe sensitive. Gareth Owen (FB)’s sound wasn’t overpowering — a fear that I had; however, there were two or three songs where the bass beat shook the cough out of me. Other production credits: Steve Rankin Fight Director; Charley Layton Dialect Coach; David S. Cohen Stage Manager / Fight Captain; Jenifer A. Shenker Asst Stage Manager; Michael Bello Assoc Director; Jennifer Laroche Assoc. Choreographer; Bruce Sudano Story Consultant; NETworks Presentations Production Management; Michael Sanfilippo Company Manager; Ralph Stan Lee (FB) Production Stage Management; Dodger Management Group General Management; Tara Rubin CastingFelicia Rudolph CSA Casting.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until November 24. If you are nostalgic for the disco era, and want a fun musical that will help you relive those times, this is the musical for you. If you can’t stand disco, or want a story with a stronger book, consider skipping this one. Go see Miracle on 34th Street up the street instead.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  Next weekend is open due to Stiches SoCal, although I might still book a show. November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I also have a hold for December 21 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. 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!

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🎭 A Matter of Faith | “Miracle on 34th Street” @ Actors Co-Op

Miracle on 34th Street - A Live Musical Radio Play (Actors Co-Op)Sigh. It’s that time of year again.

It is time for the Christmas-themed shows to be trotted out, so that there are times for decent production runs before the date is past and the material become stale. It is especially hard this time of year if you are not Christian, for the predominance of Christmas this and Christmas that just serves to remind you that you are a minority in a predominantly Christian culture, and a minority in a nation that while enshrining religious freedom and the non-establishment clause, comes as close as possible to crossing that line of establishing. It also doesn’t help when your favorite Christmas song (“Christmas Dinner” by Peter, Paul and Mary) (which really expresses the spirit of the day, as I understand it), rarely gets airplay; and your favorite Christmas musical A Mulholland Christmas Carol is rarely produced.

But I digress. But I note the digression comes from the fact that I saw my first Christmas theatre of the season last night, Miracle on 34th Street — A Live Musical Radio Play at Actors Co-op (FB) last night. Almost everyone should know the movie version of Miracle, which was released in 1947. That same year, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast an adaptation for radio; that version was then adapted by Lance Arthur Smith (FB) to provide an updated stage version for licensing. That version also interpolated some traditional Christmas songs, as well as original songs and arrangements by Jon Lorenz (FB).

If you’re not familiar with the story, have you been living under a rock? Uhh, strike that. The basic story concerns a skeptical single mother/divorcee (Doris Walker) who hires a man who calls himself Kris Kringle and insists he is the real Santa to be the Macys Santa, her single next door neighbor (Fred Gailey) who believes his story, and her daughter (Susan Walker) who must be taught to have faith. When Kringle brings together R.H. Macy and the owner of his bitter rival, Gimbels, others begin to believe as well. But when Kringle assaults the store doctor who doesn’t believe he is Santa, Kringle is put on trial prove his claim. You can guess who wins. If you want more details, you can read the movie’s plot synopsis. The radio play makes some minor changes: It is the single mom (Doris Walker) who calls out the drunk Santa who is fired, the gender of the doctor at the old-age home is changed; it is Kringle’s cane, not the doctor’s umbrella, that is used for the assault; and it is Doris that recognizes the solution for the trail, not a post office employee. But these are minor changes.

As I said, I normally do not like most Christmas shows, especially if they get too religious. But this one, well, was a lot of fun. The story is a clever one, with the right amounts of sentimentality and humor. It was well performed, with engaging performers who were clearly having fun with their roles. It makes a religious point, but one that isn’t too offensive if you aren’t Christian. As Christmas plays go, this was really quite enjoyable.

I’ve written before about this company, and their mission statement: Christian actors, being an outreach of Christ’s hope. They always have about one show each year that subtly, or not so subtly, emphasizes that message. This had the feeling of that show, and the message it sent — one of the importance of having faith in something, and how that can shape your life — is clearly within that mission. The show also is a commentary on the commercialism that Christmas has become, and is really a celebration of what is at the heart of Christmas: the start of a deeper faith in something that can’t be proven. We can’t prove that Santa — or at least the spirit of Santa — does not exist. It’s the same way that a Christmas Carol still resonates: ghost may not be real, but the power of the story to transform your life into something for good does exist.

Miracle on 34th Street, at its heart, is a story about faith and the power of believing. Even if you are not Christian and do not believe in Santa, there is still a lot that you take on faith — and you need to be reminded the importance of faith in your life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a few quibbles, and most of them are anachronistically related. The opening advertisement of the show sells Tupperware, and make a reference to Felix the Cat (the wonderful wonderful cat). This performance was taking place in 1947 according to the program. Tupperware wasn’t invented until 1946; it is unclear if there would be ads on a radio show in 1947 or 1948 (home parties didn’t start until the 1950s). Felix the Cat, while popular in the 1920s, had disappeared from the screens in the late 1940s — so it is unclear if the references would be there; more importantly, the “wonderful wonderful cat” theme wouldn’t be there as it started with the TV animation in the late 1950s. It is unclear whether RCA would be advertising their defense products on radio; they would be more likely to advertise their consumer radios. Lastly, much is made of the US Postal Service delivering the letters to Santa in the 2nd Act — there’s even a big song and dance number. But the USPS didn’t come into existence until 1971; before then, it was the US Post Office Department.  Then there’s the opening number in the 2nd act about hardware and software — nothing you would have even heard mentioned on radio then. The show also sent me down the Wikipediahole about Macys and Gimbels, and how the Gimbels chain disappeared. As I’ve been having fun exploring the department story history of the Northridge Fashion Center, this was a fun diversion.

Miracle on 34th Street (Production Photos)The larger quibble is one of broader story. As opposed to just presenting the story of Miracle, this is presented as a radio play. The actors are given distinct names. But aside from the roles they play in the radio production, we learn nothing about them. For that, you could have just had actors playing multiple roles, as they do in the sibling production of Irma Vep. What the book of this show needs to do is establish who these actors are in real life, and have the faith portrayal in the story have a broader impact in the actor’s lives. Without that, the “radio play” aspects of this show adds little, except for the ability to not need a lot of scenery.

But those are nits from someone obsessed with the minutiae of history. This is just a fun Christmas show. Under the direction of Joseph Leo Bwarie (⭐FB), and with choreography by Anna Aimee White, the production is well paced, with movement that works well (even if it is not believable for an actual radio production, which wouldn’t have had the actors doing the sound effects).

In center of things — not necessarily the lead position — is Sal Sabella (FBKristopher Van Lisberg as Kris Kringle and Judge Harper. When portraying Kringle, Sabella brought the right timber to the voice, and the proper level of warmth to the character. His voice as the judge was sufficiently different.

The main characters of interest are played by  Lauren Thompson (FB) Cordelia Ragsdale as Doris Walker and others; Matt Solomon (FB) Grady Williams as Fred Gailey, Alfred, Mr. Sawyer, and others; and Callie Chae Pyken Gracie De Marco as Susan Walker. We’ve seen Thompson many times on the Co-Op stage, and she is uniformly strong. She sings and moves well, and projected a great personality throughout the show as her primary character. Solomon had a good chemistry with her when playing Gailey, and provided sufficient vocal differentiation as Alfred and Mr. Sawyer. Pyken brought a great youthful cuteness and a wonderful voice to her character.

Rounding out the cast in smaller character and support roles were Kristen Cook (FB) Olivia Glatt as Dr. Pierce, Mrs. Mara, Miss Prong, and others; Phil Crowley Alex Mialdo as Mr. Macy, Charley, Pianist, and the Announcer; and Jack Tavcar (FB) Wallace Ainsley as Mr. Shellhammer, Mr. Mara, Tommy, and others. All were strong and brought great humor, characterization, and voices to their roles.

Also onstage (but uncredited as such), doing sound cues and such from behind the window on stage, was the stage manager, Joanna Reyes.

Turning to the production and creative side: The radio studio scenic design was created by Tanya Orellana (FB), with Lori Berg (FB) creating the additional properties used on stage. The set seemed close enough to realistic for those who only know images of radio studios; I can’t speak to its actual realism. The most important thing is that it conveyed the image and worked well. Martha Carter (FB)’s lighting design worked well to establish mood, although that was less critical in a radio production; more critically, it served to appropriately focus attention. My only quibble is that the back row of lights tended to shine into the eyes of Row A. Robert Arturo Ramirez‘s sound design provided appropriate sound effects. Jessica Champagne Hansen (FB)’s costumes and Jessica Mills (FB)’s hair design seemed appropriately late 1940s. Rounding out the production team were: Anthony Lucca (FBMusic Director; Heather Chesley (FB) Artistic Chairwoman;  Selah Victor (FB) Production Manager; Nora Feldman Publicity; and Kyle Montgomery Producer.

Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Play continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through December 15, 2019. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Web Site, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. If you like Christmas stories, you’ll really enjoy this: it is well performed and a touching story. Even if you can only tolerate Christmas stories, I think you’ll find this enjoyable just for the good performances and the legal hijinks. If you can’t stand any mention of Christmas… this is going to be a hard two months, but it too shall pass.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings our second show of the weekend: Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica. Tickets were still available the last time I looked. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I also have a hold for December 21 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild.

Looking to January: most of the month is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March is a bit more open, with only Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) and Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) currently on the calendar. Currently.

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. 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. 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!

 

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🎭 Confused Boys Become Confused Men | “In Trousers” @ Lounge Theatre

In Trousers (Knot Free @ Lounge)Back in 1979, the world met Marvin for the first time.

Who is Marvin, you might ask? Perhaps you’ve heard of the musical Falsettos, by William Finn. It was recently at the AhmansonFalsettos told the story of Marvin, a man whose marriage came apart when he told his wife, Trina, that he was homosexual. The two act musical chronicles the aftermath of the breakup, how they raise their child, and Marvin’s new relationship with Whizzer Brown. The musical was constructed out two one act musicals that Finn had written: Falsettoland and March of the Falsettos.

But those musicals were not where we first meet Marvin. Marvin first showed up in the 1979 musical In Trousers, which captured when Marvin realized he was gay. It was produced a few times in 1979, and reworked in the mid-1980s, which is when it was last done in Los Angeles. I got the cast album for In Trousers way back in 2011, and so it was on my list of “shows I had heard, but never seen”.

When I learned from the show’s publicist that it was being done this fall in Hollywood, I made the effort to get some tickets. So guess where we were Sunday afternoon? At the Lounge Theatre (FB) in Hollywood seeing In Trousers.

First and foremost: A tip for those going to the Lounge: Do not sit in the front row. The air conditioning will blow straight onto you, and you will freeze your tuchas off. We found out the hard way, and now I’m like the Old Lady in Candide, because one buttock was frozen off.

In Trousers tells the story of the women in Marvin’s life: his high school sweetheart, his teacher, and his wife. It is essentially him recalling how those relationships started and ended, and how he decided he prefers men. Allmusicals.com summarizes the plot as follows:

The plot is concentrated on Marvin’s thoughts. He keeps thinking about his true orientation. He cannot decide, whether he is a homo or a bi. To find this out, Marvin recollects all the past events starting from his childhood. He keeps immerge into his memories step by step. First of all, the main character remembers his previous relationships. They were various. Among them, there is one school love. He was also deeply attached to his English teacher, called Miss Goldberg. He recollects, how she once has proposed him to play Christopher Columbus in one of the plays staged at school. Then these memories go away. The main hero is upset. It is really hard for him to decide. On the one hand, he wants to be happy, but on the other hand, he does not want to disappoint and ruin his family and life. His feelings and worries are the key features of the plot. Finally, Marvin makes the most important choice in his life. He admits that he wants to be only with men. The main character leaves his wife and son in order to spend his life with the dear and delightful “Whizzer” Brown.

In many ways, however, that summary is simplistic. Watching the show, I didn’t get the impression that Marvin cared all that much about the feelings for his wife or the other women. He really only cared about himself (in fact, it isn’t until the Falsetto-era one acts that we see Marvin maturing out of the man-child he was). Marvin wants to rape his teacher (she rebuffs him), and I don’t think he knew what he wanted with his wife.

As such, the story in the play is a bit jumbled. You get the impression of who Marvin is, and why he is what he is by the later shows, but you can also clearly see why this particular show wasn’t incorporated into the larger story of Falsettos.

I’ve seen some writeups that talk about this show is about the journey of finding oneself. I didn’t see that. I saw it more about the collateral damage that happens as someone tries to face the truth about themselves. I’ve seen some summaries of the show that characterize the women as shrews. I didn’t see that either: I saw women standing up for what they wanted in a relationship. To some men, women standing up for what they want is perceived as shrew-ish, but is it in reality? This in someway is the central problem with the story: Marvin is a child who is fighting growing up into himself: children have trouble knowing what is right for them, and often don’t care about the damage that happens around them.

With respect to the title: My wife points out that children wear short pants; adults wear trousers. At the beginning of the play, Marvin wants to wear the trousers, but can only pretend. By the end, he has grown into the trousers.

When I saw Falsettos for the first time, my reaction was eh. When I saw it over the summer, my reaction was interesting period piece, but eh. As for In Trousers: it was consistent: this explains Marvin, but … eh.

I am pleased to say that, under the direction of Ryan O’Connor (FB), the performances were generally strong.

As the wife, Tal Fox (FB) was strong. We’ve seen Fox before at the dear departed Chromolume Theatre. She is a strong performer and a strong singer, and brought great characterization to “I’m Breaking Down” (which was originally part of In Trousers and later shifted to Falsettos). I enjoyed her performance, although my wife commented that at times she overpowered the music, and at time it overpowered her, but I didn’t hear that.

For the high school sweetheart, the normal actress (Lea Madda (FB)) was out, and we had the female cover, Brooke Van Grinsven (FB). We’ve seen Van Grinsven before as well, in both Drowsy Chaperone and That Lovin’ Feeling. She had a really strong voice, and captured all the confusion of the character well (and was fun to watch for her expressions).

Lastly, his teacher, Miss Goldberg was played by Michelle Lane (FB), who was new to us. She performed well, and did a great job on “Set Those Sails”.

Lastly, there was Braxton Molinaro (⭐FB) as Marvin.  I found Malinaro’s Marvin to be a bit detached: I got the confusion, but not the passion. He had a good singing voice, but didn’t leave the same impression on me as did Fax and Van Grinsven.

The on-stage musicians were under the direction of Jake Anthony (FBMusic Director, Conductor, Piano.  Accompanying him were Joe Martone (FB) Percussion and Ethan Chiampas (FB) Bass.

Turning to the production and creative side: The minimalist set was designed by Corey Lynn Howe (FB), with costumes by Michael Mullen (FB). Lighting was by Gregory Crafts (FB). My only quibble with the lighting is at times it was flashing between colors too much, which proved distracting. Calliope Weisman (FB), who we knew back in the days when she stage managed at REP East, was the stage manager. In Trousers was produced by Knot Free Productions.

In Trousers continues at the Lounge Theatre through November 3. Tickets are available through BrownPaperTickets; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. There are some strong performance, and the story provides the missing piece for the Falsettos trilogy, but it is also a bit confusing.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The first weekend (before ACSAC) may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for mid-January for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date. January will also bring Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB). I’m already booking well into 2020.

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. 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. 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!

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