🎭 The Third Time You Die | “Remembering Boyle Heights” @ Casa 0101

Remembering Boyle Heights (Casa 0101)Whenever I have a two-show weekend, the shows seem to synchronize and theme. When we saw the Austin Lounge Lizards and She Loves Me, the theme was synchronicity, for the last time we saw the Lizards is when we saw She Loves Me. When we saw Dear Evan Hansen and A Bronx Tale, the theme was “the choices that we make”. For The Accidental Activist and Finks, the theme was “accidental activism”. Last weekend, when we saw Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB), the theme was “fighting death”.

During Remembering Boyle Heights, they said something quite profound: The first time you die is, well, when you physically die. The second time you die is when you are buried, and your physical body is gone. The third time you die is when you are forgotten. Steambath was about someone fighting the first time you die. Remembering Boyle Heights was about fighting the third time you die: it was a play dedicated to the mission of remembering what the community of Boyle Heights was, fighting the changes that are working to destroy the community, and starting the project of preserving Boyle Heights and its unique history.

For those unfamilar with the community, Boyle Heights is a community just E of downtown Los Angeles, on the east side of the LA River, between downtown and City Terrace and East LA (which is actually county land). To the north is Lincoln Heights; to the south is the city of Vernon. It’s intersected by the 101, 5, 10, and 60 freeways. First the home of the indiginous Tongva, and then the Spanish and Mexicans, it eventually became home to Andrew Boyle. After that, it became the working class community that everyone who couldn’t live elsewhere due to red-lining or restrictive covenants lived: the Jews, the Japanese, the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Russians …. . It was a working class, a bit socialistic. It is where the bagel machine was invented, where Cantors Deli got its start, and where the first hispanic city councilman got his start. It was home to the Breed Street Shul,  one of the first major synagogues in Los Angeles.

For me, when my dad first moved to California, he moved to City Terrace. For the longest time he kept ties with the community, keeping bookkeeping clients on the “eastside” (I’d even help him pick up and sort the paid bills). I remember visiting the Villanueva’s at Mi Tienda, and the folks at the La Victoria Candy Company (both appear to be gone now). I can’t remember the others.

Boyle Heights is also a community fighting gentrification. Art studios are moving in due to the low rents, and landlords are following, raising rents and kicking out the working class families, and changing the multicultural nature of the community. That, in fact, is how this immersive theatre production starts. The theme is set with some opening numbers: the songs “Mal Hombre” and “Mi Tierra”, a monologue about artists being kicked out due to gentrification, and another monologue about Mariachi Plaza and how the gentrification is hurting that community,

Then the show begins. It is organized as a tour with seven stops. The first is a Gentrification Town meeting (that invites audience participation), wherein the actors portray all the sides in an argument about the benefits and detriments of gentrification. The second stop introduces us to what Boyle Heights is and a bit of its history. The third stop explores the various foods, culture, and music of Boyle Heights, with ample attention to the Jewish, Japanese, and Hispanic nature of the community and how they blended and worked together. The fourth top looked at the social, faith, and political aspects of the community, including all the political and labor actions. The fifth stop explored Roosevelt High School and the culture of the school in the 1920s and 1930s. Then came WWII; the sixth stop explored the impact of the Japanese removal on the community. The last stop explored (briefly) post-WWII and the rise to power of Edward Roybal to the LA City Council. After the show we had a panel discussion on the food and fashion of the community and the show, with special panelists Shmuel Gonzales (FB) and someone who does fashion whose name I can’t remember.

As you can see from the above, this wasn’t your typical show with a plot, characters, and a through story line. It was more of a history and culture lesson about the community. In fact, it is planned as the first of many such shows; they want to continue the story as the community evolved from the 1950s — the exodus of the Jewish families to West LA and the Valley, the interplay of the Hispanic and black communities; the growth of other Central American cultures, and the gentrification and preservation battles.

In many ways, this show evoked memories of This Land, which we saw at Company of Angels at the end of 2017. That show told the story of a plot of land in Watts, a community in South LA, and how it had been passed from the Togva to the Mexicans to the Whites to the Blacks to the Hispanics … and was being gentrified again. It demonstrated how our cultures could learn from one another and cooperate. The history of Boyle Heights is the same: different people from different backgrounds finding the common ground and becoming friends, not dividing apart and segregating.

So while, when viewed as purely theatre, there were some minor structural and performance problems, those faded into insignificance when compared to the message and the story that was being told. Los Angeles does have a racist history that must not be forgotten, but it also has a rich and diverse multicultural story to tell — a story of different cultures coming together in communities like Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Watts, Inglewood, Pacoima, Arleta — working class communities where it was hard work that mattered. As an (amateur) LA historian, this show was a pure delight. As someone with a connection to Boyle Heights, … well, it was even better.

The performance side was truly an ensemble piece, with everyone working together. The cast consisted of: Michael Berckart (FB), Joe Luis Cedillo (FB), Jose Alejandro Hernandez Jr. (FB), Yvette Karla Herrera (FB), Ángel Michel Juárez (FB), Megumi Kabe (FB), Marcel Licera (FB), Jackie Marriott (FB), Roberta H. Martínez (FB), Allyson Taylor (FB), and Raymond Watanga (FB). All were great. I particularly liked the per-tour performances of Juárez, Herrera, and Cedillo; the general tourguide and Jewish father of Berckart (who we saw in Paradise); … oh, they all were great, come to think about it. Each had their own special moments.

Turning to the production side: the set design by César Retana-Holguín (FB) was simple — benches and chairs and some artwork on the side, augmented by the projection design of Masha Tatarintseva (FB) as well as live video shot throughout the show. Establishing place and time even more were the costumes of Abel Alvarado (FB) — they were reasonably period and culturally appropriate (Ashley Montoya (FB) was the wardrobe supervisor). The sound design of Xavi Casanova (FB) and Vincent Sanchez (FB) provided the appropriate sound effects and music, and Kevin Eduardo Vasquez (FB)’s lighting design established the mood.

The production was written by Corky Dominguez (FB) and Josefina López (FB), and directed by CD. Andrew Ortega (FB) was the Asst. to the Director. Our friend Shmuel Gonzales (FB), the “Barrio Boychik” who gives tours of Boyle Heights, was the Production Consultant. Xavi Casanova (FB) was the Production Stage Manager, and Georgina “Gina” Rios Escobar (FB) was the Asst. Stage Manager. Josefina López (FB) is the Founding Artistic Director of Casa 0101; Emmanuel Deleage (FB) is the Executive Director of Casa 0101.

Remembering Boyle Heights continues at Casa 0101 (FB) until December 16th.  Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website; discount tickets (in combination with dinner) may be available on Goldstar. If you are a lover of Los Angeles, and especially if you love Los Angeles history, this is the show for you.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). It will  also bring Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

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

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

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🎭 The First Time You Die | “Steambath” @ Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Steambath (Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)Back when I was 13, there was a production on TV that I remember to this day (although I can’t remember if I saw the original airing or a repeat): the play Steambath, written by Bruce Jay Friedman, was broadcast on our local PBS station (it might even have still been NET) station, KCET. Why was this broadcast notable?  Well, it could have been the subject: death and limbo and God as a Puerto-Rican steambath attendant. It could have been the talent: Bill Bixby, Valerie Perrine, Herb Edelman, Jose Perez, Stephen Elliott, Kenneth Mars. But for most 13 year old boys, it was the fact that KCET showed it uncensored, and you got to see Valerie Perrine’s tits (and, yes, that’s how they are referred to in the play — she doesn’t like the term “knockers”).  It is available on DVD, but I did find one scene on YouTube — and that scene demonstrates how stereotypical it was, and how reflective it was of its times. There are jokes that today would be insensitive — it is in many ways a period piece.

I mention all of this because Saturday night, we saw Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). Yes, it had its dated aspects. But it was also laugh out loud funny.

Steambath is a comedy, but it is also a philosophical, perhaps even theological piece. When the play opens, we’re in a steambath. An older man, Tandy, has just arrived. He starts talking (as one does in a steambath) with the oldtimer there, who is constantly complaining about a man sitting on an upper bench in the steambath, being … well, gross. Spitting, clipping his toenails, etc. We also meet the other men in the bath: two gay men (or, as they are referenced in the play, the “fags”, as the term “gay” wasn’t common then), and a stockbroker. A woman comes in, takes off her towel, showers, and leaves. This gets the discussion going. Eventually, the woman returns; her name is Merideth. There’s lots of discussion back and forth while we get to know the characters, and for some, we start to get the notion this isn’t what it seems. Eventually, they figure that out as well. Specifically, they come to realize that they are dead. Tandy asks who is in charge, and he is pointed to the Puerto Rican steambath attendant. The attandant comes in, goes to a console, and starts doing god-like stuff: directing cars to crash, people to get shot, etc. Eventually, Tandy confronts him and gets him to prove that he is God. This proof takes up the remainder of the first act, and is very very funny. Pick a card type funny.

The second act gets a bit more serious, as our characters tell their stories, and one by one leave the steambath to go…. on. Tandy refuses to do so — he doesn’t accept his death. He’s trying to argue to God that he has turned his life around, and he deserves to go on. But God eventually shows him that he hasn’t changed as much as he thought, and he, too, eventually goes through the door.

At the play we saw the next night, they said something very profound: The first time you die is, well, when you physically die. The second time you die is when you are buried, and your physical body is gone. The third time you die is when you are forgotten. This play was about the first time you die.

Even with the what are now politically incorrect jokes, the play was very very funny. Under the direction of Ron Sossi (FB) and the choreography of Dagney Kerr (FB), the characters came to life and action was well paced. It didn’t help that God was extremely talented and funny, which is no surprise given that God was portrayed by Paul Rodriguez (FB) (who alternates in the role with Peter Pasco). Rodriguez inserted his own brand of funny, including adding some jokes that he admitted were from the future, and the characters probably wouldn’t understand. There was one particularly crude one about Monica Lewinsky, for example.

In the other lead positions were Jeff Lebeau (FB) as Tandy and Shelby Lauren Barry (FB) as Meredith (who had a well-secured towel). Both were excellent. Lebeau brought a nice warmth to Tandy creating a likable character who you didn’t want to see leave — he really did give the sense of a man who had turned his life around. Barry was also likable as the young woman into clothes, shopping, and the 1970s lifestyle; she proved a good sounding board for Lebeau’s Tandy.

In the next tier were John Moskal (FB) as the Oldtimer, and Robert Lesser (FB) as Bieberman, the other old man whose habits irritated the Oldtimer so.  Both captured their characters well. Moskal was great as the man who had been everywhere and seen everything, and thought that he knew everything. Lesser’s Bieberman captured the annoying quite well in the first act, and had an interesting story in the second.

Rounding out the steambath “residents” were Brian Graves (FB) as the Broker, and DJ Kemp (FB) and Devan Scheolen (FB) as the “Young Men” (i.e., “fags”).  Graves main role is to be athletic and concerned about business and he pulls that off quite well. Kemp and Scheolen get to have a more musical turn (you’ll get an idea if you watched the YouTube clip from the TV version). They portray the characters well and as written, but that characterization is a very early 70s view of homosexuals played for the humor. Just understand that’s what you’ll be getting, and you’ll enjoy their performance.

Rounding out the cast were Yusuf Yildiz (FB) as Gottlieb, the attendant for God; Anthony Rutowicz (FB) as the Longshoreman / Detective, and Shay Denison (FB) as the Young Girl. The latter two are smaller roles in the second act; Yildiz’s role is larger and is primarily a straight-man to Rodriguez’s comic God. He does that well.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative side: Gary Guidinger (FB)’s scenic design is simple and, well, a steambath — with copious “steam”. It is supported by Josh La Cour (FB)’s props — which are particularly good, especially the ice cream sodas. Mylette Nora‘s costumes are primarily towels, but they are very well secured. Christopher Moscatiello (FB) sound design provides great sound effects, and Chu-Hsuan Chang‘s lighting design effectively creates the mood. Other production credits: Margaret Starbuck (FB) and Alex Weber (FB) were assistant directors; Izaura Avitia was the stage manager.

Steambath continues at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) through December 16. Tickets are available through the Odyssey Website, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although the show is dated and politically incorrect, it is also very very funny and well worth seeing.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend brought Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, which I’ll write up tomorrow. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). It will  also bring Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both, however, are worth seeing and worth contrasting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The upcoming weekend brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

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

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

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

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