🎭 On Island Time | “Escape to Margaritaville” @ Dolby Theatre/Broadway in Hollywood

Escape to Margaritaville (Dolby/Broadway in Hollywood)As I mentioned in my writeup for The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Saturday was a crazy day. Due to my scheduing confusion, we ended up with two shows in Hollywood, moving from S&G at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) to the Dolby Theatre (FB) for Escape to Margaritaville, the first show for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby. Before I go into the details of the show, let’s talk about BinH at the Dolby.

The Dolby is a very different venue than the Pantages. Whereas the Pantages is old and ornate and rococo and filled with history, the Dolby is new and shiny and modern. For those familiar with the old-day in LA theatre, contrast the old Shubert Theatre in Century City with the style of the Dorothy Chandler. The Pantages staff working at the Dolby were warm and welcoming and friendly, guiding people unfamiliar with the facility to where the needed to go. As for the facility itself … good and bad. The bad is that there is no longer the same central lobby there was at the Pantages. One can enter either on the first or second floor; entering on the second bypasses much of audience services and the all important merchandise booth. Refreshments (not that I partake) are more expenses; at the Dolby they are a Wolfgang Puck enterprise, with prices to match. As for the theatre itself, the venue is narrower but taller. This means that what had been side orchestra seating has been relegated to the loge and first mezzanine, often off to the sides. In some ways, it is a better view, but it is also further from the stage. I don’t think they are using the topmost balcony. In any case, if you aren’t on the orchestra floor, bring your binoculars. Sound in the facility was good, and a bit clearer than in the Pantages.

Turning to the show itself: Escape to Margaritaville is a jukebox musical, built around the music of Jimmy Buffett and Buffett’s general theme of Island Rock, also characterized as “Gulf and Western”. This music plays up the notion of relaxing life on a tropical island. We seem to be in a jukebox musical period, where songs from a performer’s songbook are stitched together, given a few nips, tucks, and alterations, and crafted into a serviceable story of varying strength. Sometimes this story is autobiographical (think Beautiful or the upcoming Cher Show), sometimes is a somewhat fictionalized quasi-autobiography (think The Last Ship with its Sting surrogate), and sometimes the story has no connection with the artist at all, but it just works with the catalog (think Mamma Mia or Head Over Heels). Escape fits somewhere between the latter two types: it is quasi-autobiographical in that an Island-rock singer is discovered, but the rest of the story is fictional.

The story of Escape is relatively simple, and you can find the gory details on the Wikipedia page. The book was developed by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, building around the music of Jimmy Buffet (who evidently changed a few songs and lyrics a bit).  The basic notion is this: Margaritaville is a bar on an unnamed tropical island that has a dormant volcano (why do they always have volcanos, right, Spongebob?). The bar is owned by Marley; denizens of the bar include Tully (the singer), Brick (the bartender), J.D. (the crochety old tourguide who has supposedly hidden a treasure somewhere), Jamal, and Jesus (two of the staff). The life is easy: tourists come in for a week, get drunk, have island romances, and then go back to their dank winters in the northeastern US. Two such tourists are Rachel and Tammy, out on a last vacation before Tammy gets married to Chadd, who keeps wanting Tammy to lose weight. Tammy wants to have fun. Rachel is less interesting, but is going to the island to collect soil samples so she can work on her project: an energy-producing potato. Yes, I said potato. This is the opening exposition, and the rest of the first half of the story is building up the love interests: Tammy with Brick, who represents a guy who loves her for who she is, and Tully with Rachel, who gets Rachel to drop her guard and adopt the Island lifestyle. But all good things end, and Tammy and Rachel go back to Ohio and the cold. Then the Volcano blow. Cue: “Now I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m a gonna go, When the volcano blow”

The second half of the show is after. We get to see the island folks evacuating, Tully and Brick chasing J.D. who has gone off in search of his treasure — which he finds as they escape the island just in time. We see the island folks running off to Ohio to follow Tully’s love. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, the rehearsal dinner is proving a problem where Tammy wants to have a cheeseburger (cue the song), but her fiancee Chadd wants her to have vegan pasta, and Rachel is trying to find funding for her potato. In rushes the island folks and … well, this is a musical so you can probably predict the happy ending that ensures.

Before the show hit Broadway (it started out in La Jolla), reaction to it was positive. It did well in New Orleans and Houston and even Chicago. It hits New York and … gets a resounding thud from critics, as do many shows that play well outside the city (Bandstand is another example of that). What was our reaction?

This was in no sense a deep show with some sort of deeper meaning. It wears its ambitions on its sleeve: this is an island musical about slowing down and enjoying life, about not worrying about the drama. If you go in knowing that, you aren’t disappointed. But if you are cosmopolitan and want something with depth and meaning and social significance, this isn’t it. If I had to draw a parallel with respect to the depth of the story, I’d say to compare it with Mamma Mia. This isn’t a story of social import; it is just a fun time (as demonstrated by the beach balls and singing at the end).

But the presentation of this story does a number of things right in my book. First, it celebrates science. Yes, we’re talking about power from a potato, but the lead heroine is not a princess, but an environmental scientist who wants to do science. Inspire those women to do STEM! Second, the woman driving the other story (Tammy) is portrayed as not a stick-thin blond but a blond with a build of a typical American woman. That is: slightly larger than the media portrays it. Her intended, Chadd, wants the media portrayal, but the “one true love” is the one that doesn’t demand change: that sees the beauty in who she is and not what she ways. This body-positive message is echoed through the ensemble casting, which includes not only diversity in color but diversity in size: there are island cuties and tourists that are in the larger size group — and it is beautiful to see on stage. So the messages in this show are a winning combination.

So overall, I’d say this is an enjoyable story, if you aren’t looking for much depth. If Mamma Mia is your speed, and your looking for something light and laughable and fun, this is it. If you are looking for the deep messages of Hamilton or The Prom or even Dear Even Hansen … this isn’t the show for you. But for a light story, told well, with a strong cast of newcomers: this works.

As we turn to the performance, I should note that this is a non-Equity cast. This does not imply any lack of talent from the cast, only that they have not yet made their Broadway debuts. For many, this is their first tour; for a few, this is their professional debut. Director Amy Anders Corcoran (FB), building upon the original Broadway direction of Christopher Ashley (FB), does a great job of realizing the story in a tour environment (which has to fit in a truck or two), as well as molding the younger cast into a wonderfully performing whole. Movement was under the direction of Kelly Devine (FB) Choreographer, assisted by Andrew Turteltaub (FB) Assoc. Choreographer. So let’s look at those performances, couple by couple.

First up: Sarah Hinrichsen (FB) Rachel and Chris Clark (FB) Tully. Hinrichsen did a wonderful job of bringing a nice spunk and playfulness to her character, and she had strong chemistry with Clark. This was demonstrated well in the “falling in love” sequences in the first act, especially in numbers like “Three Chords” or “Son of a Son of a Sailor”. I can’t judge the “hunk” quality of Clark, but he also had a strong chemistry with Hinrichsen. Both sang and moved well.

The next couple was Shelly Lynn Walsh (FB) Tammy and Peter Michael Jordan (FB) Brick. These two were also strong, especially Walsh’s portrayal of Tammy. She brought a wonderful joy to that character, together with a great singing voice in songs such as “Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Jordan’s role was a bit more secondary, but he still brought a great performance to the role.

The third couple, so to speak, was Rachel Lyn Fobbs (FB) Marley and Patrick Cogan (FB) J. D.. Fobbs is strong from the opening number where she welcomes people to Margaritaville, bringing loads of fun. Cogan’s J.D. is more one spice in the first act (“Salt, Salt”), but comes into his own with a lot of humor in the second act.

Rounding out the performance team in featured and ensemble roles are: Matthew James Sherrod (FB) Jamal; Sophie Braud (FB) Ensemble; Noah Bridgestock (FB) Chadd, Ensemble; DeVon Buchanan (FB) Ted, Ensemble; Anthony Cataldo (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Chantelle Cognevich (FB) Ensemble; Katie Davis (FB) Ensemble; Nico DiPrimio (FB) Ensemble; Fabian-Joubert Gallmeister (FB) Ensemble; Diego Alejandro Gonzalez (FB) Jesus, Ensemble; Bobby Hogan (FB) Ensemble; Aimee Lane (FB) Ensemble, Dance Captain; Michael Matthew Sakelos (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Trent Soyster (FB) Ensemble; Emma Stricker (FB) Ensemble; Jade Turner (FB) Ensemble; and Morgan Unger (FB) Ensemble. Swings were Victoria Price (FB) and Tyler Whitaker (FB).

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra under the music direction of Andrew David Sotomayor (FB), supplemented by the actor that played Tully. The orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Andrew David Sotomayor (FB) Keyboard; Claudio Raino (FB) Guitar; Jakob Smith (★FB, FB) Guitar; Joela Oliver (FB) Bass; Russ Henry (FB) Steel Drums; Taurus Lovely (★FB) Drums; Jake Boldman (FB) Trumpet; Emma Reinhart (FB) Trumpet; 🌴 Sean Franz (FB) Tenor Sax / Bari Sax / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Flute / Recorder; 🌴 Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Recorder; 🌴 Brian LaFontaine (FB) Guitar 1 (Electric / Acoustic / Ukulele / Banjo / Lap Steel), Harmonica; 🌴 Jack Majdecki (★FB) Guitar 2 (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin / 12 String / Ukulele); 🌴 Lynn Keller (FB) Bass; 🌴 Rayford Griffin (★FB) Drums / Percussion; 🌴 Jared Stein (FB) Keyboards. Other music related credits: Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Talitha Fehr (FB) Music Coordinator; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Michael Utley Orchestrations; Gary Adler Dance Music Arrangements; Mac McAnally (★FB) Music Consultant; Christopher Jahnke Music Supervision & Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. Walt Spangler‘s scenic design consisted of a space for the band that could be covered by a curtain or scrim at the back of the stage, and then scenic elements at the front that primarily represented Margaritaville, with an occasional additional prop for the volcano or Ohio. Some of the scenic elements were outstanding and super-creative, such as the snorkeling scenes or the volcano climbing scenes. This scenic design was supported by Paul Tazewell‘s costumes and Leah J. Loukas (FB)’s wigs, hair, and makeup. Howell Binkley (FB) & Amanda Zieve‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Brian Ronan & Craig Cassidy‘s sound design worked reasonably well in the Dolby space. Other production credits: Binder Casting (FB) Casting; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Emma Iacometta (FB) Assistant Stage Manager; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; The Booking Group Exclusive Tour Direction; Bond Theatrical Group Marketing and Publicity Direction; Marathon Digital Social Media; Heather Chockley Production Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Angela Rowles Executive Producer.

Escape to Margaritaville continues at the Dolby Theatre (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) through March 8. Should you go see it? If you go in with eyes wide open regarding what it is: a jukebox musical with a story at the level of Mamma Mia, with lots of great Jimmy Buffett music and wonderful body positivity messages, than yes. If you’re looking for something deep, well, perhaps there are some Mormon missionaries coming to your door. Tickets are available through the BiH box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Last Sunday afternoon brought Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great. I’m unsure if I’m writing it up, but I may.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭🎸 “Feeling Groovy” | The Simon & Garfunkel Story @ Pantages/Bwy in Hollywood

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood)Sunday was our crazy day of theatre in Hollywood, due to my forgetting to enter my 2019-2020 season tickets on my Google Calendar when I renewed my  Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) subscription. Lesson learned for 2020-2021 — they are already on my calendar. In any case, when the Pantages mailed out an announcement regarding the availability of the bonus show The Simon & Garfunkel Story, I quickly grabbed Saturday matinee tickets. It was only when I went to put the on my calendar that I realized I hadn’t entered my series tickets. So I did … and discovered we had season tickets for Escape to Margaritaville that evening. Boy, was I glad I had done a matinee for S&G! So yesterday was a double Broadway in Hollywood day: S&G at the Pantages, followed by Margaritaville at the Dolby. Whew!

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is, essentially, a Simon and Garfunkel concerts. There’s little pretense of it being much more. There’s no book writer, no fake story constructed from the songs (such as Margaritaville or All Shook Up). There isn’t acting of a bio story (along the lines of Beautiful or Summer). There isn’t even a director in the traditional theatrical sense. There are actors portraying Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, a backing band, and a snippets of biographical information and story background along the way.

Musically, the show is excellent. The actors (George Clements (★FB) Paul Simon and Andrew Wade (★FB, FB) Art Garfunkel) are great performers, and capture the harmonies well. Individually (and when not singing) they don’t quite have the same voice and personality of the originals, but the personality that does shine through it good. Clements didn’t have quite the same nasal quality as Simon (he was about 90% there), and Wade didn’t have quite the pure tenor of Garfunkel but had the power when he needed it (he was about 90% there). They were close enough that one could enjoy the music, and mostly hear the same thing as the albums (there were a few slight differences). So on the music side, you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll note that the program credits two additional actors for Simon and Garfunkel (Taylor Bloom and Ben Cooley, respectively), although it is unclear when they are actually performing the roles. A “boo” to the Pantages for not having a signboard in the lobby indicating the actors that were in each role.

On the story side, however, there could have been so much more. It is here that the lack of participation by the real Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were apparent. The audience was left wanting for more details on the backstory, for more details on the backstory of each of the songs. The projections would have been so much better with real pictures of the duo from those days, including pictures that had never been seen before. But although there were some bits of information there that might not have been well known, there just could have been so so much more.

The projections had another problem: inaccuracy and incorrectness. From the use of modern images to respresent the past (e.g., that livery for British Airways wasn’t used back then — it might even have been BOAC, or that the postcards during “America” were too modern, or that images were from the wrong era of the story), to the disconnection of the image from the song (e.g., the postcards should have corresponded to the story points in “America”, the voices of old people from Bookends had images of children, and — for whatever reason — the images in Scarborough Faire were anti-war. Folks, if you want to do an anti-war song from that era of S&G, do Silent Night/6 O’Clock News. It is far more moving.

Perhaps those are nits. Certainly, if you were going for the nostalgia and the music, this fit the bill. From a few obscure songs from the Tom and Jerry era, to some (but not all) of the most popular songs, the concert aspect was great. The two leads were aided in this by their backing band: Alec Hamilton (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals; Bob Sale (FB) Drums and Background Vocals; Marc Encabo (FB) Bass Guitar and Background Vocals; Josh Vasquez (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; Josh Turner (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; and Adam Saxe (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals. Note that neither the program nor the theatre makes clear which guitarist and keyboardist are at a given performance. I know we had Hamilton at our performance, and I think we had Vasquez. The major weak point of the backing music was the lack of some horns. Electronic horns on a keyboard are a weak substitute. Simon and Garfunkel were known — in their later work and at the Concert in Central Park — for their strong horn sections backing the songs. That was missed. On the other hand, the musicians they had were great — in particular, Encabo and Vasquez, who were clearly having great fun up their on stage, rocking away and enjoying the music they were playing. The solos from Sale and Hamilton were also quite strong.

Finally, turning to the production side: There’s not much to talk about here. I’ve already noted the problems with Z Frame‘s projection design in terms of getting the period right, and timing the projections to the subjects in the songs. As for the lighting design of Mike Berger Design, it was mostly innocuous, although at times the light bar in front of the backup band was confusing. Other production credits: Dean Elliott (FB) Show Director, Musical Supervisor; Ralph Schmidtke (FB) General Manager; Brian Richard (FB) Company Manager; Adam Saxe (FB)/Alec Hamilton (FB) Music Director; Steve Beatty (FB) Sound Engineer; Steve Comer Lighting Operator, Lighting Programmer; John Tellem/Andy CoscarelliTellem Grody PR Press; Eric “Kacz” Kaczmarczyk Stage Manager.

The last performance of The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) starts in little over an hour. You might be able to get tickets at the box office. The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is on tour, however, so if you’re in Spokane WA or Canada, it’s coming your way.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Saturday afternoon brought Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), which is next to be written, and we just got back from Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great, but I’m probably not writing it up.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Be World Class in Everything, Center Theatre Group

With the announcement of the Ahmanson Theatre season at the Center Theatre Group (FB) this week, we made the decision to resubscribe at the Ahmanson again. Doing so reminded me yet again of the differences between how the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) does the care and feeding of subscribers, vs how CTG does it (especially as we also just resubscribed at the Pantages for their 2020-2021 season). So I thought I would start the morning by writing up this summary — primarily so I could tweet it to @CTGLA and challenge them to match their world-class theatre with a world-class subscriber experience.

I’ve been attending theatre since I was 12 and attended The Rothschilds at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion as part of the LACLO season. My parents were long time LACLO season ticket holders. We’ve subscribed at numerous theatres large and small, from the Pasadena Playhouse for almost 20 years (until their bankruptcy), the Colony, small venues like REP East and Chromolume (both now gone). Currently we subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB).

Most theatres make it easy for subscribers: call and change your tickets easily, get the best prices (modulo the Goldstar last-minute tickets), often the ability to pick your seats and your nights well in advance. Some of the venues have their quirks: the Thousand Oaks Plaza (home of 5-Star) insists on a change fee, for example, when rescheduling. But the comparison of the two largest theatres in town: the Pantages and the Ahmanson, is telling. Both book Broadway tours and compete for the same audiences, although the former is for-profit and the latter non-profit. Here’s a comparison:

Characteristic Pantages Ahmanson
When you subscribe, can you pick the day you attend? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you pick the date you attend (i.e., which week of the run)? Yes, online, and you can compare seats across the nights Only over the phone, and there’s no ability to compare the different seats across the nights
When you subscribe, can you pick your seat? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you set up a payment plan? Multiple payment plans are possible, up to 10 payments, all can be set up online, no additional fee You can pay online in a single payment, or set up a 2 or 4 payment plan, but only over the phone, for an additional fee.
When do you learn of your subscription dates and seats, so you can block your calendar? At the time of subscription. Months later when they resolve the seats for subscribers, unless you did a phone subscription and picked the week.
Can you improve your seats after the renewal deadline, when non-renewing subscribers have dropped off? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Do you get reminders before each show of the opportunity to purchase additional tickets (or exchange your seats) before anything opens to the public or special pre-sales? Yes, online Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Are exchanges easy? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat. Somewhat. They are online, but the system is confusing with respect to the full price vs. the exchange price. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat, especially at the lower price points.
Are there special subscriber events? Numerous evenings to see the theatre and backstage, for free, often with tastings set up from local restaurants. The occasional speaker or educational events.
Any other thank yous? We’ve occasionally gotten thank you bags … and even chocolate. Not much that I can recall.

Now I understand that goodie bags are probably a perk of being a for-profit theatre, and that might also limit the ability to do the tastings (although that’s marketing for the local restaurants, so it is in their interest). But the online ticketing and subscription system of Center Theatre Group is so antiquated and limited in its abilities. It really calls out for improvement. The Pantages is using an instance of the Ticketmaster system (also used by 5-Star, TO Civic Arts Plaza, and the Soraya), which likely means the increased fees are added silently to the ticket prices. But CTG really needs to look into getting some of these capabilities integrated into their system if they are going to successfully compete in the subscriber market. They’ve improved quite a bit from 10 years ago, when it was actually more expensive to subscribe thanks to per-ticket fees than to buy HotTix for each show. But I challenge them to improve again.

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🎭 A Warped Interfaith Shakespearean Comedy | “It Shoulda Been You” @ MTG

It Shoulda Been You (MTG)MTG UserpicTrust me, you’ll understand the title by the time I’m done explaining things. Just as with Saturday’s show, A Body of Water, there was confusion in the show we saw Sunday night: It Shoulda Been You at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). But this confusion was a good confusion, and the story progressed in a clear manner from Point A to Point B. But the path along the way was, shall we say, a bit warped. Point A starts with an Interfaith Wedding. Point B is the ending every Shakespearean comedy has. Ah, but the journey… the journey…

Warning: This writeup does contain spoilers. Given the age of the show, the availability of the cast album, and the fact that this was a single night performance, I’m not worried. But you’ve been forewarned.

It Shoulda Been You is a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi. It opened on Broadway in August 2015, and ran for 31 previews and 135 performances. I still remember the humor in the number they did at the Tony Awards. But it didn’t last, and it never went on tour. Luckily,  the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) brought it back for a one-night, staged reading performance. This means: 25 hours of rehearsals, minimal costumes and scenery, actors have their scripts in their hands per AEA rules, and a focus on the score and the story.

So what’s the story. It starts with an interfaith wedding, being told from the point of view of the oldest daughter, Jenny Steinberg. She’s a little bit zaftig, and her mother, Judy, has been pressuring her with the wedding planning, and guilting her for not being married or even having a relationship — as only a Jewish mother can do. Criticizing everything, butting in everywhere. Luckily, there is an all-knowing, all-seeing wedding planner to save the day. So what about the bride and groom. The bride, Rebecca, is having cold feet about the wedding, but the best man (Greg Madison) and maid of honor (Annie Sheperd) are holding that together. The groom, Brian Howard, is the reason for the culture clash. Coming from a nice WASP upper-class family, his parents, Georgette and George Howard, don’t want this marriage — for obvious WASPish reasons, if you get my drift. This whole mix is complicated when Jenny accidentally calls Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty, who rushes over to stop the wedding.

As I said, crazy comedy, but it gets worse. Insert all the expected Jewish and WASPish jokes. Insert all the jokes about drinking. Insert all the typical self-worth issues any wedding brings out. Insert last minute prenuptial contracts to protect the trust fund, and all that stress.

But, eventually, things get worked out and the wedding happens. But then Jenny walks into the room with the Bride and Groom after the wedding… to find the Bride busily kissing the Maid of Honor, and the Groom kissing the Best Man. You see, it turns out that her sister and her fiancee are both gay. The wedding was a scheme to split the trust fund, so they could be with their real loves. Oh, and the sister is pregnant by her gay groom, thanks to one night with too much drinking. Now comes the next part: how to tell the parents, and will they be cool with it?

Let’s add one more complication: the ex-boyfriend of the bride, Rebecca? He wanted to stop the wedding not because he was in love with Rebecca, but because he knew she was gay. He’s been in love with Jenny since school days, but never told her. Insert proposal.

As I said: A Shakespearean comedy, as everyone ends up married and in love at the end. One might easily draw some parallels to Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night.

As for what I thought of the show: I had heard the music before (I have the album), so I knew what was going on going in. In fact, we even used this as an event for the live theatre group at our synagogue. But the show was much much funnier than the cast album made it out to be. Just like with $5 Shakespeare (last Sunday’s show), this one was laugh out loud funny. Many of the jokes were extra funny if you knew the stereotypes or tropes behind them. So I really, really enjoyed this show.

I also liked quite a few of the songs, but they were much more contextual — not songs you would walk out the theatre humming or as an earworm. Nope, this is not a The Last Ship. But some songs, such as “A Little Bit Less Then” or “Jenny’s Blues” are just beautiful, and convey touching messages. Many of the other songs are just extremely funny, going from the opening number to the “That’s Family” number at the end.

So why did this show fail? I think, in some ways, it didn’t find its audience. The liberal Jewish audience would have no problem with a gay wedding, and the more conservative Orthodox audience wouldn’t have the interfaith aspects occurring. Some of the jokes may have fallen flat. But, I think, just as with the recent The Prom, much as we think audiences are ready to look at the humor in a particular subject, sometimes they just surprise us by not being ready. So why does something like The Book of Mormon work? One could say it was the message at the heart of it, but this is a Shakespearean comedy at its heart and that is timeless. Perhaps people were ready to laugh at Mormons? Perhaps this just needs to be rediscovered. I still think this should have toured.

Those who were able to make it out to the Alex Sunday night were treated to a wonderful show with wonderful performances, and only a few sound problems. Unlike Encores in NYC, these shows don’t have the possibility of extending. But if you see a production of It Shoulda Been You pop up near you, give it a try. I think you’ll find it a very fun evening.

One of the things that made this production so good was the performances. As I noted earlier: the cast gets a total of 25 hours to pull this together. They have scripts in hand. They haven’t had the time to polish and shine their musical numbers. So when performances are outstanding, that indicates a particular level of skill.

At the top of the performance chart was Julie Garnyé (★FB, FB) Jenny. She just hit it out of the ballpark with humor and character and fun. Her performances in both “Beautiful” and “Jenny’s Blues” were outstanding. Also strong was the actor playing her younger sister, Ashley Fox Linton (FB) Rebecca.  She also brought a load of humor to the role, and gave a touching performance in her main number, “A Little Bit Less Then”.

This brings us to the actors playing the Steinberg parents: Eileen Barnett (FBJudy and Anthony Gruppuso (FBMurry. Barnett, as in any Jewish family, had the larger role. She got to play some wonderfully humorous numbers, such as “Nice”, but also got the touching number “What They Never Tell You”.  Gruppuso got a smaller role in terms of songs, but handled the humor well as he always does.

Turning to the groom’s side of the equation, there was Zachary Ford (FBBrian Howard.  Ford is quite adept at playing comical characters, and he handled this quite well. His soft shoe with his father, “Back in the Day”, was spectacular.

Playing a larger role were the groom’s parents: Barbara Carlton Heart (FBGeorgette and Bryan Chesters (FBGeorge. Heart did a great job of the humor in Georgette, especially in numbers like “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the closing “That’s Family”. As noted above, Chesters did a great job with Ford in “Back in the Day”.

But if you want the real humor in the story, that credit goes to one of my favorite performers, Jason Graae (★FBAlbert, the wedding planner. He upped the humor an order of magnitude with the performance he brought to the role, and made every scene he was in. Graae is just a delight to watch.

The remaining members of the wedding party were Travis Leland (FBMarty Kaufman, the ex-boyfriend; Helen Jane Planchet (FBAnnie Shepard, the maid of honor; and Adam Lendermon (FBGreg Madison, the best man.  Leland did a spectacular job, especially in numbers like “Whatever”. He also had a delightful chemistry with Garnye’s Jenny. Planchet and Lendermon had more comic supporting roles, but they did wonderfully with them.

Rounding out the cast were Thomas W. Ashworth (FBWalt/Uncle Morty and Pamela Hamill (FBAunt Sheila/Mimsy.

Music was provided by a small on-stage band consisting of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB) Music Director / Piano; Steve Dress (FBBass; and Albie Berk (FBPercussion.  Although small, they had a wonderful sound.

The production was pulled together in the famous 25 hours by Josh Grisetti (FBDirector and Mackenzie Perpich (FB) Choreographer. Adding to the stress for this duo is that they just got married… to each other… less than 2 weeks ago and cut their honeymoon short to do this show. No pressure there, but it certainly meant that they understood the stress that is involved with planning a wedding and having things go wrong. That experience was demonstrated on the stage as they perfectly choreographed both the humor and the movement, and worked with the talented acting team to bring off the production with few hitches.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side: Set Design … none. Well, a few tables, a few boxes. Lighting design … minimal, with no credit. Sound design … minimal, which is a bad thing because microphone problems invariably happen in these productions. The one thing they did have were costumes, including two beautiful wedding dresses, that were coordinated by  A Jeffrey Schoenberg / AJS Costumes (FB). Other production credits: Paul Wong (★FBFB) Production Coordinator;  Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager, Production Manager; Stacey Cortez and Debra Miller (FB) Assistant Stage Managers.

This was a one-time only performance. The next Musical Theatre Guild (FB) performance is May 3, 2020 for the musical Kismet, which actually started here in Los Angeles at the LA Civic Light Opera. Tickets are available through the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) website. MTG announced much of their next season, which includes Mack and Mabel, The Wedding Singer, and Brigadoon, together with a show to be announced.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Thoughts on a Theatre Season – Ahmanson Theatre 2020-2021

CTG/Ahmanson 2020-2021 SeasonWell, the Ahmanson has announced their 2020-2021 season and… well, it’s better than their 2019-2020 season. That season had a lot of problems, with two one-person shows and a number of shows I had no interest in seeing. For the upcoming season, at least there aren’t any one-person shows. But there are so many encores that I’m still not sure it is worth subscribing, especially with the quality of the Mezzanine seats and the availability of the AmEx Presale (as well as how poorly the Ahmanson treated their subscribers vs. the Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood)*. Here’s the season and my thoughts (🎶 indicates musical; 🎭 indicates a play; and 🔁 indicates “encore performance”):

  • Open Slot. To Be Announced. According to the formal announcement it will be announced this Spring.
  • 🎭 The Lehman Trilogy, Oct. 20–Nov. 28, 2020. Written by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power, directed by Sam Mendes.
  • 🔁 🎶 Dear Evan Hansen. Dec. 1, 2020–Jan. 23, 2021.  Book by Steven Levenson, score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed by Michael Greif
  • (🔁) 🎶 Les Misérables. Jan. 26–Feb. 28, 2021. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell. Note: Les Miz was at the Pantages in May 2019.
  • 🎶 Hadestown. March 2–April 4, 2021. Book, music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin
  • 🎭 Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. April 29–June 6, 2021. Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bartlett Sher
  • 🔁 🎶 Come From Away. June 9–July 4, 2021. Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley
  • 🎶 The Prom. July 6–Aug. 8, 2021. Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
  • 🔁 🎶 Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations. Aug. 11–Sept. 5, 2021. Book by Dominique Morisseau, music and lyrics from the Motown catalog, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, directed by Des McAnuff

Of these, the ones that I want to see are HadestownMockingbird, and The Prom. Although we saw it the last time we were at the Ahmanson, we’ll want to see Come From Away again, simply because my wife likes that musical so much. But as for the others: We weren’t that impressed with Dear Evan Hansen, despite all the buzz. We saw Les Miz when it was at the Pantages in May. Lastly, we saw Ain’t Too Proud when it had its pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson, and I don’t have the strong urge (based on that) to see the post-Broadway changes in a jukebox musical.

That leaves The Lehman Trilogy, which is a maybe and depends on scheduling. I’ll note that it is during a period when both the Ahmanson and Dolby are dark.

*: The last time we subscribed to the Ahmanson, for the lowest priced tier, they shuffled us off to a Friday night claiming no subscriptions were available for Saturday nights. Friday nights were a pain to get to. I seem to recall they didn’t have the clearest system for changing seats. For 2020-2021, we’re interested in 4-5 of the 8 announced shows. If they have good prices and dates for the season, and we can get a decent side mezzanine price, subscription is a possibility, although they seem to save those seats for open sales. At that point, we might just as well wait for the Amex Pre-Sale and get the seats when they first go on sale. Their subscription plan, according to their site, is for the six season shows (Lehman, TBA, Les Miz, Hadestown, Mockingbird, and Prom) plus one encore show. That’s a possibility, although I have no desire to see Les Miz again.

ETA: Subscribing is a clear example of how the Pantages knows how to treat subscribers, and the Ahmanson does not. When you subscribe at the Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood, you can pick which week of the run you want and which night, pick your seats, and set it up with a 10 payment plan all from the web. With the Ahmanson, you can only pick the day of the week — no choice on which week of the run. You can’t pick your seat — only the seating area, and there is no seat map made available. And if you want to do something other than pay it all in one lump sum, you have to call Customer Service. Which I will do tomorrow.

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🎭 What Was That? | “A Body of Water” @ Actors Co-Op

A Body of Water (Actors Co-Op)Irritating.

That’s the one-word description of Lee Blessing*’s play “A Body of Water“, currently at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, that I’ve seen most often in other write-ups of the show. That’s certainly how we felt as we left the performance, scratching our heads along with other audience members, as we tried to figure out exactly what it was that we just saw transpire over 90 minutes (no intermission).
(*: And a note to Mr. Blessing: Your personal website, leeblessing (dot) com, which comes up on a Google search, is infected with drive-by loading malware that my malware scanner caught. You need to fix that ASAP. Non-technical folks: Check your websites regularly.)

Here’s the teaser that Actors Co-Op uses to describe the show:

What if you awoke to find yourself married to someone you didn’t know? With a daughter you’ve never met? And what if you spent each day re-learning things about your past that only proved you never really knew what your life was like?

Going through a number of other reviews and combining things, here’s a bit better of a synopsis:

An attractive fifty-ish couple, after waking up in the same bed, are having coffee in the living room facing spectacular views of hills and a lake. The trouble is, that neither the man or the woman know who they are and how they got here. They don’t know their names, whether or not they’re married or whose house this is. The mystery about who’s who and what it all might mean mean unravels or, to be more precise, deepens, with the arrival of a third character — a young woman named Wren who could be their daughter, the lawyer defending them against accusations that they’ve murdered their daughter, or their long time caretaker. Telling them she’s been conducting this grilling and drilling for weeks and years, she hands him a wallet and her a handbag, as well as couple of possible answers as to who they are. One is that she is, as they suspected, their daughter; the other is that she is a defense lawyer trying to get to the bottom of a young girl’s murder and Avis and Moss (as we learn are the names of the man and the women, perhaps) are the girl’s parents and also the prime suspects. Wren has a couple other questionable revelations up her sleeve that leave Avis and Moss even more befuddled  Over the course of what could be multiple days, Wren presents various scenarios for why Avis and Moss are trapped in their state of living without memory. But we never seem to learn the definite answer as to what the truth is and why they are there.

The play itself is fascinating to watch as an audience member, as you’re constantly with the characters in trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The problem is that, again, just like the characters, you never do. You walk out of the play as puzzled as you were when is started. Did they kill their daughter? Were there auto accidents? Was it just dementia? Was this purgatory? Were they political prisoners (after all, they were outside the village)? Who is Number Six? You are Number One. Oh, right.

I can certainly see why Actors Co-Op wanted to do this piece. Under the direction of Nan McNamara (FB), this is an actor’s and director’s dream. You get to imagine what you want and create a memory piece. You have character with lots of emotion, and a wonderful acting exercise. You just don’t have a story that goes anywhere, or that leaves you in a different place from where you started. But performance-wise, it’s wonderful.

So, focusing solely on the story aspect of this piece, my response is… eh. I hope that Blessing doesn’t subject the new writers over in the Skylight program to this. This has a supposed new ending, but that makes me only question the original ending, which must have been equally worse. This is not a play I can particularly recommend for the story. But it is also a clear demonstration of why I do subscribe to theatres: to see the plays that I might not normally pick for myself. Often, you get a winner you might never have discovered. Sometimes, you get one that is a klunker for you, but perhaps others like it. At least we got to see some excellent performances.

As our befuddled couple, Treva Tegtmeier (FB) Avis and Bruce Ladd (FBMoss are believably a couple, and portray the sense of confusion well. They capture well the range of emotions one would expect in such a situation: anger, confusion, loneliness, fear, and so forth. They believably fall into the various situations proposed or set up by the (supposed) (daughter or lawyer) Wren. As for Wren, Ivy Beech (FB) also does a good job of capturing the range of emotions one would expect in that character from anger to exasperation to care and concern. Absent the totally confusing story, the characters are played well.

Rich Rose (FB), assisted by Mateo Rudich,  has created an elegant scenic design that adds plausibility to the background story of Avis and Moss in terms of their social and economic position in society. It is a beautiful household setting with lovely modern furniture. This design is supported by the properties design of Lori Berg (FB).  Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s projection design seemed primarily to be a rippling water effect that didn’t add much to the design; more annoyingly, the light from the projector shone right into our eyes. A similar problem existed with  Andrew Schmedake (⭐FB)’s lighting design: the leikos across the stage from the seats behind the box office had a tendancy to shine into the eyes of the audience. So although the lights established the mood well, they made it hard to watch the action. Warren Davis (FB) ‘s sound design established the woods and exterior items well, although some of the insect sounds were a bit towards the audio feedback level.  Paula Higgins (FB)’s costumes were appropriate for the character’s station. Other production credits: Francesca Patrón (FBDirector’s Apprentice; Richard Soto (FB) Fight Direction; Nora Feldman Publicist; Kay Bess (⭐FB) Production Manager; Shawna Voragen (FB) Stage Manager; Katie Lee Merritt Asst. Stage Manager; Crystal Jackson (FB) Producer; and Heather Chesley (FB) Artistic Chairwomen.

A Body of Water continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 15. TIckets are available through the Actor Co-Op website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. We’re Actors Co-Op subscribers, and normally I would recommend their shows. This show has great acting — and is worth seeing if you want to see some quality actors from the Actors Co-Op acting company. But the story itself is irritating and confusing, and you’ll walk out a bit befuddled. If you enjoy the thought questions that go with something like that, you’ll enjoy this. But if you are looking for something that goes from Point A to Point B in some form of logical progress — in particular, if you want that Point B to be different than your starting Point A, then this likely isn’t the show for you. Get tickets to Man of No Importance, which Actors Co-Op is doing later in the season, instead. That should be a great show.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Why I Do Not Accept Comp Tickets (excepting Fringe)

As you know, I do lots of theatre writeups, which some folks view as reviews. Because of this, there are many people out there who view me as a critic. I always respond that, no, I’m just an audience member who loves to share my views on theatre with my friends and the broader world, with the hope of enticing more people to discover live performance. But they still think I’m a critic. This includes publicists, who then offer me comp tickets to their shows. I generally decline (with one exception), citing the ethics policy of my real-life employer. Although I generally do not state who I work for other than that I work in the field of cybersecurity (although one can find that information if one looks), I do note that we have ethics rules that prohibit us from receiving gifts from suppliers above a nominal value (around $10). The logic being that if you get such a gift, and then make a decision of judgement regarding such a supplier, it could appear to be biased due to such a gift.

I have always felt that this applies in the arena of theatre reviewing. Why should you accept a gift from a theatre, and then write a review of that theatre? After all, Consumers Reports doesn’t accept products from suppliers and then review them — they go out and buy the product on the open market. That is why I always pay for tickets, with the exception of the Fringe Festival (which is often of nominal value). I will accept discounts, but that’s because I would normally pay for half-price tickets through Goldstar. So I’m paying the theatre what I would pay through Goldstar.

I will never forget a discussion with one local critic regarding this, where his response was that he would not review a show unless he received free tickets and free parking. I think that is just wrong. I will note that, however, that this does highlight one key difference (in my eye) between “reviewers” and “audience members that write up shows”. Reviewers have editors that assign them shows to provide coverage in a market. Audience members pick the shows they want to see because they think the show will be interesting, and then write up what they see. Both can be critics, and both can apply critical thinking and constructive criticism to what they write up.

I bring this up because of a recent crackdown by the FTC on “influencers”. Here’s a quote from that article:

Commissioner Rohit Chopra called for tougher penalties on companies that disguise advertising on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok as authentic reviews in a statement sent out Wednesday. The statement came after the FTC voted 5-0 to approve a Federal Register notice that would seek public comment on whether Endorsement Guides for advertising (which haven’t been updated since 2009) need to be reviewed, according to TechCrunch.

For years, the Federal Trade Commission has required influencers to disclose sponsored posts, but the guidelines seem to have had little effect. In one recent case mentioned in the letter, a Lord & Taylor campaign paid 50 social media influencers to post about a dress on Instagram, but didn’t require them to disclose that the posts were sponsored. The FTC charged Lord & Taylor with deceiving the public, settling the case by prohibiting the company from “misrepresenting that paid ads are from an independent source,” but didn’t levy a monetary fine.

Influencers and online personalities are often given products for free by companies hoping to get some exposure. While some reviewers will disclose that detail, it’s often hard to tell when an endorsement is genuine, or if a review is coming from an undisclosed partnership. Now the FTC is cracking down, but the focus is on holding advertisers and companies accountable, not small influencers.

Note the sentence I have highlighted. If a critic receives a free ticket to a show, how is that any different than being given the product for free by a company hoping to get some exposure? Yes, it is traditional — but as we’ve seen with #MeToo, tradition doesn’t makes something ethically or morally right. At minimum, critics must disclose whether they were given free tickets by the theatre directly or by a publicist for the theatre.

This emphasizes why my ticket policy remains. I do not accept free tickets for non-Fringe shows. For the Fringe festival, where tickets are of a nominal value, I will accept free tickets if I can fit the show into my Fringe schedule, but I will always disclose when a producer has given me free tickets. I encourage — indeed, I challenge — other critics to adopt this policy.

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🎭 Is There A Reason Behind The Intimate Insanity? | The $5 Shakespeare Company @ 6th Act/Theatre 68

The $5 Shakespeare Company (6th Act @ Theatre 68)Often, when I have two theatre shows in a weekend, there’s some common theme between them — some sort of connecting through line that I can ruminate on. In this case, that through line is Los Angeles, and some of the unique things that we find in the city. One is the West Adams district, which was the subject of our play on Saturday night. West Adams was also the home of an intimate theatre that, alas, is no more, Chromolume, that used to do remarkable productions held together with love, talent, and I think lots of duct tape. Chromolume made miracles out of a little, and the people kept doing what they were doing for some unknown reason, until their landlord figured they could make more money with a tenant that could pay more.

The play we saw Sunday afternoon, The $5 Shakespeare Company, explores intimate theatre in Los Angeles, This World Premiere from The 6th Act at Theatre 68 in NoHo, written by Matthew Leavitt, tells the story of one of the shoestring companies, The $5 Shakespeare Company, whose mission is to present Shakespeare plays on no budget for $5 in a storefront theatre (implied to be on Theatre Row on Santa Monica Blvd). You’ve all been in these theatres during Fringe: a black box stage and perhaps 50 seats. The action, which reminded me a bit of Noises Off without the full-on farcical elements, alternated between the back-stage story of the company and the on-stage presentation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream (in February). This allowed you to meet all the characters, learn their stories, see both how they were invested in the company and why they were there, as well as seeing the quality of the performance. The Noises Off comparison is apt, as just as in Noises Off, there is deterioration of the relationships backstage as well as the performances to the audience.

I’ll do my best to describe the characters in the story, although alas I was dealing with a slight headache that gave me microbursts of drowsiness beyond my control. The head of the company was Jacob (Adam J. Smith (FB)), an actor who was fired from a sitcom for pushing a camera into a wall in an outburst, now serving as the Artistic Director of the company trying to hold it together and move it forward. Lillian (Liza Seneca (FB)) is another long-time company member, who had aspirations to run the company until Jacob was selected by the membership. She remains because it allows her to play roles that she would never get to normally play. Working closely with Lillian is Elena (Carolina Espiro (⭐FB)), who has been in the business a long time, and is introduced to the audience requiring liquid fortification to go on with the show. She’s also having an affair with Randall (Kenajuan Bentley (FB)), an actor who enjoys his Shakespeare … but also enjoys torturing the understudy in the show, Louis (Luke McClure (FB)). Louis, a recent graduate of RADA … in Riverside CA … thinks he knows everything about theatre professionalism.

Also in the $5 Shakespeare Company is Everett (Emerson Collins (⭐FB)), the stereotypical gay character who longs to play Tatiana. He’s tortured Noel (Jamie Zwick (⭐FB, FB)), the type of actor so proud of his body he takes off his shirt and oils up at the slightest opportunity. The elder actor in the community is Chester (Andy Robinson (FB)), who has basically done it all and seen it all, and is cynical about it all, and wants to play King Lear before he is too old to remember the lines. The two youngest members of the company are Camille (Cindy Nguyen (FB)), whose doesn’t have the greatest amount of talent but whose father is bankrolling the company, and Spencer (Sami Kolko Zwick (FB) at our performance, normally Natalie Lander (⭐FB)) a young actress who is expecting her big break any moment (and who thus must have her cell phone with her at all times … all times).

As you can see, this company captures most of the archetypes of actors in Los Angeles, from the experienced to the not, from the stage professionals to the TV actors. The script is loaded with references that LA natives, and LA folk that love theatre will get. I think there were also quite a few inside references that I didn’t get (being a cybersecurity guy) that others in the audience (who were clearly in the industry) got. But that’s good — that makes this a play that works at all levels.

The play, under the direction of Joel Zwick (FB), moves briskly (90 minutes, no intermission), and the actor capture and are clearly having fun with their character types. I can’t necessarily say they are realistic portrayals, because I think the characters were written to exaggerate the behaviors. Stylistically, they capture well what I expect the backstage of an bare-bones theatre would be like — one shared dressing room for all, with threadbare decor and no privacy for changing except standing behind something. But I think Zwick also does a great job of turning what could be a bunch of stereotypes into a believable family that cares about each other — foibles and all.

Overall, I found the play entertaining and quite funny — and one that even made me laugh out loud (which is rare). The performances were strong, and the story was in essence a love letter to the people that do intimate theatre for rewards that are certainly not monetary, but are more spiritual. I think it is well worth seeing, especially if you (like me) are an audience member that loves the creativity that only small theatres can bring. My wife (who brought the show to my attention) found it rolling-on-the-floor funny. It really was a great show.

I’ve cited the performers before. I’d like to highlight a few that particularly caught my eye. The first was our understudy put-in, Sami Kolko Zwick (FB), who was a delight to watch as Spencer. Also fun to watch was the other young actress, Cindy Nguyen (FB). I really liked Adam J. Smith (FB)’s Jacob — you could just sense the exasperation. I thought Andy Robinson (FB)’s name was familiar, but I never even recognized Gareck in Chester, his portrayal of Chester was that strong. I also enjoyed the easy familiarity of Kenajuan Bentley (FB)’s Randall. But all of the actors were great.

Chris Winfield (FB)’s scenice design was suitably dilapidated for a company doing thing on the cheap, as were Ashphord Jacoway‘s costumes. Nick Neidorf (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Chu-hsuan Chang‘s lighting design blended into the background, quietly establishing the mood. Other production credits: Nick Neidorf (FBComposer; David Elzer, DEMAND PR Publicity; Michelle Hanzelova (FB) Graphic Design; MacKenzie Smith Stage Manager; Sami Kolko Zwick (FB) Assistant Director; Megan Donahue (FB) Assistant Stage Manager.

The $5 Shakespeare Company continues at Theatre 68 in NoHo through March 8. Tickets are available through Eventbrite. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar (which even gets a mention of the show, about the importance of getting a good review on Goldstar).

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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