🎭 Cross-Dressing, Strange Attractions, and Love in Hollywood | “Twelfth Night” @ Actors Co-Op

Twelfth Night (or What You Will) (Actors Co-Op)What is summer without Shakespeare.  Shakespeare in the park. Shakespeare in the woods. Shakespeare as summer festivals. Last year, our Shakespeare fix came in the form of one of my favorite musicals, Two Gentlemen of Verona at FPAC (and as a PS, they’re about to do The Theory of Relativity, which we saw last year at CSHP, but you should definitely go see as it is a great song cycle), and a new musical that was Shakespeare-adjacent, Something Rotten. This year, our first Shakespeare production comes from Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, as part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.  Their selection: Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

I don’t recall seeing this particular play before, but I have seen two of the musical adaptations: The Sheldon Epps / Duke Ellington jukebox-er version, Play On!, at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) back in 1999, and the Joe DiPietro / Elvis jukebox-er All Shook Up! at the Morgan-Wixson in 2016. Going in, I was a bit unsure: The iambic-pentameter always takes me a while to get into, and sometimes I find myself missing much of the story because of it.

I’m pleased to say that this was a delightful adaptation of the show. Although I did find the iambic pentameter a bit unsettling at the start, I got into it relatively quickly and was caught up in the story. For as much as you might think Shakespeare was stodgy, this was playful, at times raunchy in Elizabethan language, and just fun to watch as the actors had great fun with their roles. This was one of Shakespeare’s comedies, which means that everyone falls in love by the end of the show (as opposed to being dead, a hallmark of his tragedies). I just had a great time.

For those unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, here’s a slightly edited summation of the story from Wikipedia:

As the play starts, Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria and she comes ashore with the help of a Captain. She has lost contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, who she believes to be drowned. With the aid of the Captain, she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. She refuses to see entertainments, be in the company of men, or accept love or marriage proposals from anyone, the Duke included, until seven years have passed. Duke Orsino then uses ‘Cesario’ as an intermediary to profess his passionate love before Olivia. Olivia, however, falls in love with ‘Cesario’, setting her at odds with her professed duty. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with the Duke Orsino, creating a love triangle among Duke Orsino, Olivia and Viola: Viola loves Duke Orsino, Duke Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Viola disguised as Cesario.

In the comic subplot, several characters conspire to make Olivia’s pompous steward, Malvolio, believe that Olivia has fallen for him. This involves Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch; a silly squire and would-be suitor named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; her servants Maria and Fabian; and her melancholy fool, Feste. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew engage themselves in drinking and revelry, thus disturbing the peace of Olivia’s household until late into the night, prompting Malvolio to chastise them. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria plan revenge on Malvolio. They convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a love letter, written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. It asks Malvolio to wear yellow stockings cross-gartered, to be rude to the rest of the servants, and to smile constantly in the presence of Olivia. Malvolio finds the letter and reacts in surprised delight. He starts acting out the contents of the letter to show Olivia his positive response. Olivia is shocked by the changes in Malvolio and agreeing that he seems mad, leaves him to be cared for by his tormentors. Pretending that Malvolio is insane, they lock him up in a dark chamber. Feste visits him to mock his insanity, both disguised as a priest and as himself.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin, Sebastian, has been rescued by Antonio, a sea captain who previously fought against Orsino, yet who accompanies Sebastian to Illyria, despite the danger, because of his affection for Sebastian. Taking Sebastian for ‘Cesario’, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly married in a church. Finally, when ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian appear in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino, the fact that they are twins creates more issues. At this point, Viola reveals her identity and is reunited with her twin brother. The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Duke Orsino and Viola, and it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Orsino sends Fabian to placate him.

Convoluted and contrived plot, but this is Shakespeare from the turn of the 17th century. You were expecting August Wilson or Tennessee Williams? Styles of plots have changed.

Under the direction of Jesse Corti (FB), and the production efforts of Avrielle Corti (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) (both in the cast), this was a  fun show. The actors handled the language well, and the direction made the characters seem as realistic as any Shakespearean characters might be.  More importantly, the actors didn’t let the language get in the way. They were clearly having fun with their characters; when actors do that, that fun is broadcast to the audience. The resulting feedback loop just amplifies the joy in the production.

In the lead position was Avrielle Corti (FB) as Viola/Cesario. She brought a cuteness and spunk and playfulness to the character that just made her a delight to watch; there was joy when she was on-stage. Her expressions and emotions, especially in the second act during the fight scenes with Sir Andrew and the final scenes, were just so fun.

Rounding out the love triangle was Jade Patteri (★FB, FB) as Olivia and Roman Guastaferro (FB) as Orsino. I truly enjoyed Patteri’s performance. Although she started out a little stiff, her delight when she was around Corti’s Cesario was just so expressive. Her squeals and joy in the second act with Sebastian were wonderful. We saw a bit less of Guastaferro’s Orsino, and as a Shakespearean male, he was a bit more restrained. Still, he conveyed well his obsession with Olivia.

Adding to the fog of humor around this was the comic subplot, primarily featuring Michael Beattie (FB) as Sir Toby Belch, Renato Biribin Jr as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Julietta Corti (FB) as Maria, Deborah Marlowe (FB) (filling in for Zachary Poole (FB)) as the fool Feste, David Crowley (FB) as Fabian, and Dan Hazel (FB) as Malvolio. Beattie was having the time of his life playing the drunk at Belch — and he did it well — and I particularly enjoyed his joy with the humor around Belch passing gass. Biribin was also having fun with his portrayal of Aguecheeck as the traditional whitefaced milquetoast (I’m not sure of the right word, but it was a character common in Shakespeare — I’m recalling Thurio in TGOV). Perhaps he overplayed him a little, but this was a Shakespeare comedy and that’s how those characters were done. Corti’s Maria was similarly playful and plotting, and seemed to be having great fun once the comic subplot hit full steam. Marlowe is someone we’ve seen many times at Co-op, most recently on the same set in A Man for All Seasons. She excels at roles like this — the fool commenting on society. Crowley’s Fabian was a bit more in the background. I don’t recall him in the first act at all; in the second, he was more of a playful co-conspirator than a distinctly unique character. Lastly, there was Hazel’s Malvolio. Again, he was having fun with his role — playing him intentionally overbearing at first, and loosening up as the love subplot came to the fore.

Rounding out the cast were Shane Weikel (FB) as Sebastian, Kyle Morr (FB) as the Captain / First Officer, Andrew Nowak (FB) as Antonio, Mikie Beatty (FB) as Curio / 2nd Officer, Maurice McGraw as the Priest, and Christopher Gilstrap (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) as attendants and servants. All were strong. My only quibble here isn’t performance but casting: if Sebastian and Viola were supposed to be twins, it would have helped had they been a bit closer in facial features. There was a bit of suspension of disbelief required to make the twin argument work in this production.

Turning to the production side. Set design was credited to Karen Hodgin, athough she was building on Rich Rose‘s Scenic Design from A Man for All Seasons. What little additional design there was came from added props and such. Costume design was by Elisabeth Van Stralen (FB) and seemed suitable; Krys Fehervari (FB) did the hair and makeup. The Finale Jig choreography was by Julietta Corti (FB) and was fun to watch; Jesse David Corti (FB) composed the music for “Come Away Death” and the Finale Jig. Other production credits: Christopher Keene [Swords and Props]; Diane Venora [Text Coach]; Charles Gray [Special Effects]; Warren Davis [Sound Design]; Zachary Poole (FB) [Poster and Playbill]; Elizabeth Eichler [Stage Manager]. There was no credit for lighting design.

There is one more weekend for Twelfth Night. Reservations may be made through Actors Co-Op. This is essentially pay-what-you-can, as there is no charge for the performance, but donations may be made at the door.

***

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 brings Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB). The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

 

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🎭 A Harmonious Production | “Always Andrews” @ Actors Co-Op

Always Andrews (Actors Co-Op)Our second show of the weekend was a much simpler production (in fact, I was thinking it could have been mounted at the Fringe Festival — it was that simple): Always Andrews, part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series at  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members. In this case, company member Jorie Janeway (FB) brought in a production she had been developing with two friends, Carlyn Connolly (FB) and Katharine Quinn (FB) that was essentially a showcase of the music and history of The Andrews Sisters, a sibling group (Patty, Laverne, Maxine) that was popular during World War II. They were known for their tight harmonies, their humor, and there unique musical stylings and approaches to songs.

Janeway, Connolly, and Quinn had developed the notion for this show while working together on a different show in Virginia; they had been honing it over the years. Quinn was unavailable for this run, so Adrian Mustain (FB) jumped in with only a week or two of preparation.  The performers did two sets of Andrews Sisters songs:

 

Set 1 Set 2
Sing, Sing, Sing! Hold Tight
Well, All Right! European Medley
Gimme Some Skin Love Medley
In The Mood Straighten Up and Fly Right
Shoo-Shoo Baby Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four
Accentuaate the Positive Rhumboogie
I’ve Got a Guy in Kalamazoo Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar
Tropics Medley
Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

 

I thought the selection of songs was good, although they should look to included one of the Andrews Sisters’ “injected patter” songs — listen to something like their version of “Sonny Boy” for an example. I also thought a bit more history would be good: they didn’t mention the sisters by name. One person during the talkback noted they should indicated how they got their start. I think it would also be worth noting what happened after the war: they continued during the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sherman Brothers of Disney-fame developed a Broadway show around them.

Each performer did not assume the role of a particular sister, although Jorie did most of the humorous bits. I thought that both Jorie and Carlyn had strong singing voices. Adrian’s was a bit weaker, but she noted during the talkback that it was stronger the week before, so it could have just been a touch of strain. I thought they had the movement down well, and had a good interaction with each other.

If they are still in town when next June rolls around, I suggest that they do this at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. They could easily do it within the confines of the festival — 15 minutes in, 15 minutes out — as they have no particular set and no costume changes, and it could give them some very strong exposure.

Music was provided by Chadwick Harmon on Piano and Kyle Dombroski (FB) on Drums.

We caught the last performance of this show. Next week we catch the last Actors Co-Op Too! show, Twelfth Night.

***

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 brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is still open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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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🎭 Sugar, Butter, Flour … Sweet | “Waitress” @ Hollywood Pantages

Waitress (Pantages)Let’s get this out of the way: I hate cake (well, except cheesecake, which may not be a cake). Given my choice, at a birthday party, I’d much rather have pie. Fruit pie. Ice cream pie. Chocolate silk pie. Lemon Meringue. Just not coconut. But I’m a pie guy.

So, just perhaps, I was predisposed towards Waitress, a new musical by Jessie Nelson (book) and pop artist Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics), which we saw last night at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) theatre. But I seemed not only to be the only one. The audience was full — and (unlike many shows), it was full of younger adults. It seems that if you want to get younger, non-theatre folks into the theatre, you simply need to do shows by younger artists they know and like. Who knew?

In all seriousness, last night we saw Waitress, which was based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly. Now I’d never see that picture, which isn’t a surprise because I see very few motion pictures. So I wasn’t familiar with the story of Waitress at all, other than reading the liner notes to the cast album once. But the music? That I know. I have both the album by Sara Bareillies and the cast album, and I enjoy both of them quite a bit. So going it — on top of the pie theme — I was looking forward to seeing this show.

Sitting through the show — I’ll summarize the plot in a minute — I found myself smiling. This was a story that was funny and touching, realistic and empowering, and just likable. Then it hit me during the intermission: the best way to describe this show was sweet — just like the pies it discusses. There are a lot of different flavors touched upon in this show: from unwanted pregnancy to abusive relationships, to the questions of why we stay in relationships and why we don’t, to the power of friendships and the support of friends, to the power of love and accepting people for who they are, and it all just simmers and blends and comes together for a result that is … sweet.

So this is a musical that will leave you with a good taste in your mouth. I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

I’ve gotten this far without summarizing the story, and one advantage of online reviews is I can cut and paste. Here’s the synopsis from StageAgent:

Waitress, based on the 2007 movie of the same title, follows the story of Jenna, a woman who is pregnant without any desire to be, trapped in an abusive relationship in a small town with no hope for a future outside of fear and false positivity. She escapes from her trauma through the baking of pies, creations of her own that she names after their uniquely combined themed ingredients and the events that inspired them, and recipes of her mother’s that once instructed her own baking. She sells her goods at Joe’s Pie Diner, where she’s also a waitress, and this job and the friends she has there exist as her only world outside her husband. The two other waitresses at the diner, Becky and Dawn, are Jenna’s best friends and closest confidantes, women with their own nuances and quirks, but like Jenna, harboring fantasies of better love than they’ve seen and lives that aren’t so sheltered and full of drudgery. When Jenna meets her new male gynecologist and sparks of lust start to fly between them, she’s forced to face up to all the things inside her that are hurting, and take action to change them. What begins as a story of a romantic love that helps to free Jenna from all the things chaining her to a miserable life becomes a story of love in so many other contexts. Jenna finds her happiness by accepting the kinds of love she truly deserves, especially the love that will be there for her the longest, and rejecting those who compromise her potential to feel powerful in her own life.

What this synopsis fails to mention are the interesting relationships formed by the other waitresses in the diner (which is somewhere near Richmond IN — if you look at the background, there’s a US 27 sign, and a “To I-70” sign. The only place the two meet is near Richmond IN — and now you know I’m a roadgeek as well). It fails to mention the curmudgeonly owner of the diner, Joe. As I said, this is a fun show.

Under the direction of Diane Paulus and the choreography of Lorin Latarro, this show seems easy as pie. By that, I mean that the characters seem believable, and the movement is remarkable. There aren’t really large dance numbers, but there is a fluid motion and transitions that make things appear out of nowhere, and make things just be right where they need to be when they need to be there. If that’s not choreography, then what is? In other words, the direction and choreography is so well integrated it just disappears into the story and doesn’t call attention to itself, and that is a good thing.

Desi Oakley (★FB, FB) plays the lead position as Jenna, the pie-baking waitress who finds herself pregnant. She brings a wonderfully strong pop voice to the role, and embodies the role with a gentle humor that is fun to watch. She is onstage for much of the show, and give a remarkable performance.

Supporting Jenna at the diner are Lenne Klingaman (★FB, FB) as Dawn and Charity Angél Dawson (FB) as Becky. Each are unique in their own way. Klingaman’s Dawn is lovely neurotic and looking for love, while being scared about finding it. She captures this well, but also has a remarkable singing voice. Her numbers with Ogie are remakable. Dawson’s Becky is the wisecracking waitress that one finds in every diner. She brings a lot of the humor and the sass to the role, and is just a hoot to watch. Lastly, playing off of them in more of a straight-man role (which makes his humorous moments even funnier) is Ryan G. Dunkin (FB) as Cal, the manager of the diner. Also in the diner is Larry Marshall as Joe, who is just marvelous as a cantankerous old man, with quite the erotic history, who just seems to enjoy making trouble … and eating Jenna’s pie.

Moving out of the diner, there are the men who intersect with the women in the diner. There’s Nick Bailey (FB) as Earl, Jenna’s husband and father of her baby, who now forms the abusive center of Jenna’s life. There’s Bryan Fenkart (★FB, FB) as Dr. Pomatter, the new Ob/Gyn in touch who rapidly falls in lust with Jenna’s pie (and yes, the double entendre there is intentional). Lastly, there’s Jeremy Morse (FB) as Ogie, who meets Dawn online and rapidly become her love interest — their numbers together are just hilarous.

Most of the remaining cast members serve as the ensemble in the background in the diner, as well as portraying other named characters in the show, as indicated: Grace Stockdale (FB[Mother, ◊], Jim Hogan (FB[Father, ♥, ♦, ⊗], Majesha McQueen (★FB, FB[Nurse Norma, ♠]; Kyra Kennedy (FB[Francine, ◊, ♣], Mark Christine (★FB[⊗, Θ], Max Kumangai [Dance Captain, ⊕], and Gerianne Pérez (FB[♣]. Swings were Chante Carmel (★FB, FB[♠], David Hughey [⊕, Θ], Emily Koch (★FB, FB[◊, ♣], and Brad Standley (FB[♥, ♦]. For understudies: ◊ Jenna; ♠ Becky; ♣ Dawn; ♥ Dr. Pomatter; ♦ Earl; ⊕ Joe; ⊗ Ogie; Θ Cal.

The remaining two cast members were Elizabeth and Catherine Last, who play Jenna’s daughter, Lulu, in the last scene. They alternate the role; we had Elizabeth at our performance. Their main job is to come on stage and be cute, and that they do.

Continuing the theme of women-power was the on-stage band, led by Lilli Wosk (★FB, FB[Conductor, Piano]. Working with her were Ryan Cantwell (FB[Music Director, Keyboard]; Elena Bonomo (FB[Drums]; Lexi Bodick (FB[Bass]; Nick Anton (FB[Cello/Guitar]; and Ed Hamilton (FB[Guitar]. Other music team members were: John Miller (FB[Music Coordinator]Alby Potts (FB[Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miler [Local Contractor]; Nadia DiGiallonardo [Music Supervision and Arrangements]; and Sara Bareilles and the Watress Band [Orchestrations].

Next, turning to the production and creative credits, we start with the most important, which were buried in the back: Prop Pies by KSM Creations; and perishable pies (misspelled in the program as “perichables”) by Whole Foods. Sara Lee® is the official pie partner for pies used on stage in the production.

Moving past the pies — if one can — we have the rest of the production and creative credits: Scott Pask did the scenic design, which worked quite well with the diner set, the projection of the road in the back, and the wonderful integration of the metro baking racks and movements. It also integrated well with Ken Billington‘s Lighting Design. I’m also pleased to say that Jonathan Deans‘ Sound Design was very clear for the Pantages (a remarkable feat), modulo the couple two rows behind us that used a hearing aid with an assisted listening device, which as Barbara Beckley often pointed out, means that you’re loudly broadcasting to everyone around you without you realizing it. For shame! Suttirat Anne Larlarb‘s costumes, and Richard Mawbey‘s hair and makeup design worked well to give that diner look everyone expects. Other production credits: Thomas Schall [Movement Coordinator]; Jason Juenker [Production Management]; Nicole Olson [Production Stage Manager]; Sarah Garrett [Stage Manager]; Raynelle Wright (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]; Telsey + Company [Casting]; B. J. Holt [General Manager]; Nancy Harrington [Assoc. Director]; Susanna Wolk [Asst. Director]; and Abbey O’Brien [Assoc. Choreographer]. As usual these days, there were loads of producers and executive producers.

Waitress continues at the Hollywood Pantage through August 26, 2018. I truly enjoyed it and found it well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Pantages; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. 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:

Today we had the the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters at Actors Co-op (FB); writeup sometime during the week. Next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is still open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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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🎭 Perhaps Tinder Might Have Better Odds | “The Golden Lasso” @ Operaworks

Golden Lasso (Operaworks)One of the more interesting shows we go to every year is the culmination of the Advanced Artists summer session at OperaWorks (FB). We saw this year’s show last Sunday; the writeup has been delayed due to my preoccupation with the “map project” for my highway pages (this is where I’m adding maps for each highway to that highway’s pages; I’m up to Route 228, as of the time of posting).

Back to Operaworks. Operaworks is a program for up and coming opera singers. They all know how to sing, but being a successful performer in the world of Opera involves much more. Operaworks teaches them that “much more”. It teaches them the business of opera; it also teach them how to perform and interact as a character on the stage. The program that we see is the culmination of that teaching. The class works together to pick a theme for the show. They then create their characters, determine their interactions, and select arias that convey the message of that interaction. These arias are rarely from the same show or the same composer. The result is a new 3-act opera crafted from a mish-mash of arias, with a plot that is often some pastiche of current culture. The performers seem to be having great fun with this creation; it is far from your normal staid opera.

I am certain that the theme for this year’s show was crafted around the class makeup: 24 girls, 1 guy. What better to parody than “The Bachelor”. In this case, it was a web series called “Cow Country Bachelor”, where a single guy, Vinnie Mahal, was the target for a lot of wannabees. The three acts all related to the show: The first act was at the regional auditions for the show; the second act was at a training facility for drag queens being used by the show; the third act was at Vinnie’s mansion where he was making the final selections. As for the title? Instead of a rose, he gives a “golden lasso”.

The characters reflected the creativity of the artists. Here’s a typical character bio to give you an idea:

Gwendolyn Gray is a thirty year old woman in mid-life crisis. She is klutzy, chatty, and unobservant. Her occupation as a chicken sexer is quite demanding, yet she finds time to attend every speed dating event in town. Her biggest fear is matching her clothing day to day.

This year’s show was quite entertaining.

In the first act, we are introduced to a number of different characters who want to be on the show, as well as the producer and wrangler, and a videographer. Memorable characters were Lou Ann, a character who entered the competition drunk; Kathy “Honey” Fayette, who keeps trying to get on the show; and Chastity Bliss White, who had the most unique look of the various characters. Memorable performers, a week out, were Alexandra Logue, Julia Gmeiner, and Suzanne Ramo. Best bios were Harvey Wendell and Angelina Bacciagalupe. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follows (in performance order); the pianist was Douglas Sumi (FB) (Harvey Wendell):

In the second act, we are at a boot camp for another set of contestants. Memorable characters were Myra Francis Walker, who kept needing higher and higher shoes until she was on stilts; Gwendolyn Gray, who has a hilarious sequence involving waxing; and Dorie Galford, who keeps going after the shoes. Memorable performers were: Gemma Balinbin, Olivia Hacker, and Nina Polachek. Best bios were Linda and Myra Francis Walker. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follow (in performance order); the pianist was Michelle Alexander (FB) (Sergeant Senta):

In the third and final act, we get to meet the bachelor. We also meet a bunch of injured and bruised contestants, as well as the one woman that our bachelor was hoping would show up. Memorable characters were Clara Belle, who had anger management problems; Nina Mae, the woman of Vinnie’s desire; and Charlotte Ann Weathersby, who had the freedom to speak up. Memorable performers were Vinell Mahal, and Nicole Anderson. Best bios were Charlotte Ann Weathersby and Clara Belle. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follows; the pianist was again Michelle Alexander (FB) (Sergeant Senta):

Overall, these summer Operaworks shows are entertaining, and you get to see singers learning the business of being characters. It is remarkable to watch. It is also a great way to get a taste of Opera without paying the big bucks for a 3 hour show. I look foward to next year.

Production credits: Eli Vinnaneuva (FB, ★FB[Director / Co-creator];  Ann Baltz (FB), Laura Parker (FB[Co-Creators]; Michelle Alexander (FB), Kevin Bylsma (FB), and Douglas Sumi (FB[Music Directors].  Ann Baltz (FB) is the founder and artistic director of Operaworks.

***

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 last weekend of July is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, but the weekend itself is open. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth is currently open. Looks like I need to book some dates in September! October is equally open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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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🎭 Belle, Matured | “Beauty and the Beast” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Beauty and the Beast (5-Star Theatricals)Last night, I interrupted the marathon addition of maps to my highway pages (I’m in the 170s) to go see Beauty and the Beast at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). When the production was announced last summer, I wasn’t all that excited about it. After all, these days, productions of Beauty and the Beast are everywhere. We all know Alan Menken‘s music, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice‘s lyrics, and Linda Woolverton‘s book. We all know the original Disney animated movie. Why see it again? But 5-Star figured out a way to elevate it above the ordinary. First, they cast the original Belle on Broadway, Susan Egan (FB), to reprise her role for the first time in 22 years. I happen to love Egan’s voice and vocal characterizations, so that truly made it unique. Although back in the days of the LA Civic Light Opera we might get the original stars, that doesn’t happen much these days. Then they announced the supporting cast — true local luminaries like Adam Hollick (FB), David Gilchrist (FB), Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB), and Gregory North (FB). All are excellent performers. Combine this with 5-Stars excellent orchestra, and the significantly better acoustics than the Pantages, and this production was truly “Broadway in your Backyard”.

I don’t think I need to provide a synopsis of Beauty and the Beast. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1980s, you know the story. But I would like to share a few observations about the impact of the story at this performance.

First, Susan Egan. Lovely voice, lovely performance, and clearly she was having the time of her life. Limited run, with a strong cast, she had the freedom to have fun with the role, and it showed — and was broadcast to the audience. But the real critical question is whether the show would work with her now. After all, presume she first did the role when she was very young — perhaps 20. That would make her in her mid-40s now. Could she pull off the character?

The answer is an emphatic YES. In fact, arguably, Belle works stronger as someone in her mid-20s or early 30s vs the sweet young thing she is in the movie (other than an odd taste for fairy tales). It emphasizes her difference from the rest of the town; it makes their assertion that she’s a strange and special girl much stronger. She’s someone who never married to take care of her father, and retreated into the world of her books. Most of us know folks like that. So the mature Belle works a lot better. It also makes the one “new” song (as in, “it’s not on the cast album” — turns out it was added in 1998 for Toni Braxton), “A Change in Me”, even more significant.

The second change in view arises from the impact of the “#MeToo” generation. Twenty-two years ago (even longer for the movie) when this first came out, the behavior of Gaston and the Beast (in the beginning) seemed cartoonish, but something we had all seen and could laugh at. Today? Gaston is downright creepy and a bully, mentally and physically abusing those around him. He makes fun of people, abuses underlings, demands adoration, treats women like trash, and is not above inciting mob violence against an imagined enemy to get what he wants. He is, in another word, Donald Trump.

Beauty and the Beast PhotostripI’ll give you a second to let that sink in. The analogy hit me in the second act like a ton of bricks. This makes Belle’s behavior even more reflective of the modern woman: standing her ground, not giving in to intimidation, not giving into harassment. Not only is Belle reflective of the smart woman, she’s reflective of today’s woman who no longer puts up with sexual harassment.

Beast’s behavior, on the other hand, is indeed beastly in the beginning. But that’s the point of the story. But more so, it is demonstrative of the modern man who can move past the learned abusive behavior and attitude towards women and others to a more enlightened worldview. All it takes is an enchantment — be that fairytale magic, or the thing that actually did it in this story: the enchantment of a modern women. For in this story, it wasn’t enough for the Beast to want to be rid of the enchantment and to love Belle, but to learn how to share her interests, truly care about her and others as people, and to learn how to treat her with respect and with consent.

Now add the fact that Belle is an older women, and the new mature view of Beauty and the Beast comes into play. I don’t know if this was on the mind of director Yvette Lawrence (FB) , but it sure came across clearly to me. Lawrence is also to be applauded for not insisting on a tight rein, and letting these talented actors have a little fun a points. This came across clearly with both Egan and Ginsberg, and a lesser extent North and Hollick. They were having fun, and that makes this show fresh.

I’ve already written about how much I love Susan Egan (FB) — her voice, her vocal characterizations, her performance, her movement. I think both her performance and voice have gotten stronger since Broadway days; she’s matured and gotten more comfortable with her craft and what she can do with it. She made clear the value a Broadway performer can bring.

The Beast, Jason Chacon (FB) we last saw in the Kelrik production of Violet, and we liked him then. He gave a strong performance with lovely singing, although the pre-recorded roar was a bit odd. He also had a good chemistry with Belle.

The comic foils, Adam Hollick (FB) as Gaston and Justin Charles Cowden (FB) as Lefou worked quite well. Hollick understood the nature of Gaston as a self-absorbed fool, and played that up well. He had the strong voice and the physique for it. Cowden handled the comedy well, but was hampered at our performance by amplification that failed, making it hard to hear him during his standout number, “Gaston”. Still, his comic timing and movement was spot on.

David Gilchrist (FB) as Belle’s father, Maurice, was a type of character that Gilchrist plays exceptionally well. He did again, but brought in a number of very touching moments with Egan’s Belle.

The lead enchanted objects,  Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB) as Lumiere and Gregory North (FB) as Cogsworth, were perfect. We’ve seen Ginsberg before and always enjoyed his engaging performance and voice — his Levi Strauss is still stuck in my memory, and I love his voice on the cast album. North was a complete 180° from his character in the recent Hunchback. Both were having fun out there — playing, laughing at jokes, and bringing strong characters to what were inanimate objects. That’s a good way to put it — they were animated.

The very slightly lesser enchanted object — lesser in terms of stage time, although she still gets the main song from the show — was  Sarah Marie (FB) as Mrs. Potts. Although the understudy, she was a delight to see. I’ve loved her when I’ve seen her before on the Cabrillo/5-Star stage, and this was no exception. She was a bit more limited in her vibrancy in the role, but she embodied the character well, interacted well with the other objects, and seemed to be having a great time. She did a great job on “Beauty and the Beast”. The role is normally performed by Tracy Ray Reynolds.

The other somewhat major lesser enchanted objects — Luke Pryor as Chip, Nandani Sinha (FB) as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and  Devon Davidson (FB) as Babette, were all joys to watch. Pryor was exceptionally cute; Sinha brought the operatic aspect to the role, and as for Davidson, she brought the playful French maid aspect to the role. I’d say “oooh-la-lah”, but that’s no longer correct these days :-). All were great and having fun.

The remaining cast members served as members of the ensemble and in various named smaller roles. All were strong performers and great acrobats and dancers. These folks were: William Carmichael (FB) [Monsieur D’Arque]; Melia Bacon (FB[Enchanted Objects, Belleu/s];  Claudia Baffo (FB) [Enchanted Objects]Daniel Berlin (FB) [Enchanted Objects, Madame de la Grande Boucheu/s]; Daisy Bishop (FB[Silly Girl]; Lulu Bishop (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Young Prince, Wolf, Pepper, Enchanted Objects, Lefouu/s]; Amanda Carr (FB[Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Josh Christoff (FB[Bookseller, Enchanted Objects, Mauriceu/s]; Gil de St Jeor (FB[Kids Ensemble]; Courtni Gidish (FB[Wolf, Salt, Enchanted Objects]Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Enchantress, Enchanted Objects, Dance Captain]; Marcus Henson [Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Grant Hodges (FB[Cheesegrater, Enchanted Objects]; Keenon Hooks (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Danielle Jensen (FB[Ensemble Swing]; Ashley Knaak (FB[Ensemble Swing, who swung in at our performance]; Liana Leininger (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Marissa Margolis [Kids Ensemble]; Sean McCarthy [Enchanted Objects]; Madison North [Kids Ensemble]; Luca de la Peña [Kids Ensemble]; Ron de la Peña MD [Enchanted Objects]; Drew Rosen [Kids Ensemble]; Jade Rosenberg (FB[Silly Girl]; Pablo Rossil (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Katie Self (FB[Enchanted Objects];  Jessie Sherman (FB) [Silly Girl]; Olly Sholotan (FB[Wolf, Doormat, Enchanted Objects]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Kids Ensemble]; and Jater Webb (FB) [Enchanted Objects]. Particularly notable were Sholtans, Gidish, and Camitses’s dance performances.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the musical direction and conduction of  Dan Redfeld (FB★, FB). Orchestra members were: Rhondda Dayton [Flute, Piccolo]Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute]Bill Barrett (FB[Trumpet1, Piccolo, Trumpet]Chris Maurer (FB) [Trumpet2]; Nathan Stearns [Trombone, Bass Tombone, Tuba, Horn3]Sharon Cooper (FB) [Violin1, Concertmaster]Sally Berman [Violin2]; Rachel Coosaia [Cello]; Chris Kimbler [Keyboard1]Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard2]Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard3]; Elaine Litster [Harp]Shane Harry (FB) [Double String Bass]Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB) [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the orchestra contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Dance and movement was choreographed by Cheryl Baxter (FB). The dance and movement worked well, especially during the large numbers like “Gaston” and “Be My Guest”.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side; Scenery was provided by Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, with costumes and props from 3D Theatricals, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, Costume Designer. Additional costumes were from Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, Youth costumes were by Frank LaGuardia, with additional scenic elements by Escape Theatre.  Beth Glasner (FB) was the costumer, Daniel Robles did the hair and wig design, and Denice Paxton did the Makeup Design. Additional prop design by Alex Choate (FB). ZFX Inc. did the flying effects. Jonathan Burke (FB), did the sound design, which was plagued by microphones that weren’t working and comic sound effects that were just odd.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design had similar niggling problems, such as performers occasionally being in the dark. The lighting and sound were the only two minor flaws in the production. Remaining production credits:  Jack Allaway [Technical Director];  Talia Krispel(FB) [Production Stage Manager];  David Elzer/Demand PR [Los Angeles Press Representative]Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]Mustang Marketing (FB) [Ventura County Press Representative, Marketing Team]. Patrick Cassidy is the new Artistic Director for 5-Star Theatricals.

Beauty and the Beast continues at 5-Star for one more weekend, until July 29. If you can work your way to see this production, do so. It truly is “Broadway in Your Backyard”. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Box Office; they may be available on Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. 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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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:

Today brings the OperaWorks (FB) production “Golden Lasso” at CSUN. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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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🎭 Rolling the Dice on a Staged Reading | “Tabletop” @ Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse

Tabletop (Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse)Last night, we were supposed to be seeing Jane Eyre: The Musical at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). But, alas, Chromolume has become a  a dead parrot ⚰🐦, its artistic director seemingly disappeared, and after an email of a potential resurrection, … nothing. So we scheduled something else: the first staged reading of a new musical called Tabletop about Role-Playing Gaming, at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB) in Woodland Hills. The musical, which I believe is a first work from the authors, features music and book by Chad Sundman, and lyrics and book by Race Benaglio.

As a staged reading, there was no costumes or sets. Music was prerecorded, and sung by different performers. Actors had the scripts in their hands. There was a talkback session after the show to give the authors, and the director, Brittany Sundman, feedback on the show to help move it forward.

The story of a show, in a broad sense, was about a group of friends playing a tabletop RPG — essentially some version of Dungeons and Dragons. As the story progresses, some of the strengths they reveal in the game help them deal with their personal lives.

As this was a staged reading of a first performance, I’m going to not review or provide critiques here. We discussed the show last night with the authors. I will say that I found it a very promising work, and one whose story captured my attention and held it through the show. I’ve never been an RPGer, for the same reason I’m not up on the stage: I’m a professional audience. I’ve never had the ability to role-play in any capacity: be it at the gaming table or on the stage. That doesn’t mean I’m not an avid gamer; it is just in the realm of boardgames and strategy gaming. I’ve known many RPGer through the years — including some RPG authors. I recognized the characters; I liked the characters; I liked the growth. I hope this musical continues on and has a successful life; I’d be intrigued to see it at a future point in its life.

The performances were very strong. The cast consisted of Axel Knight (Luke), Brandon Kemmer (Brandon), Caitlyn Rose Massey (Emily, Ensemble), Canon Hamlin (Mayor, Doctor, Ensemble), David Mark Beraru (Korrow, Ensemble), Erin Goulet (Sarah), Justin Huff (Ken), Katie Lynn Mapel (Karen), Mackayla Hill (Lyla, Ensemble), Matt DeNoto (Eric), and Natalie Swanner (Valerie). I’d like to particularly call out a few of these folks.  Katie Lynn Mapel nailed it with her sardonic delivery as Karen. I truly enjoyed watching Natalie Swanner — she had a very expressive face, and was putting some lovely energy into her character that came across to the audience in the little movements and expressions. Erin Goulet was truly kick-ass with her fighting moves. Matt DeNoto’s Eric was quite strong, serving well both as the DM and exhibiting great growth in his story line. Also strong were Axel Knight’s Luke, especially in the 2nd act, and Justin Huff’s Ken in the stealth number.

On the whole, we’re glad we braved the heat to see this show. It has a lot of potential, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

***

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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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, brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and the OperaWorks (FB) production “Golden Lasso” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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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🎭 What America Looks and Sounds Like | “On Your Feet” @ Pantages

On Your Feet (Pantages)There’s a point during On Your Feet: The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musicalwhich we saw last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), where Emilio Estefan turns to a white record company executive, who has just dissed him for attempting to crossover with English lyrics saying that he’ll only appeal to a Latin market, and says (pointing to himself): “This is the face of America”.

If there is a significant moment in this show, that’s really it. Much as we’re seeing the last gasp of White European culture trying to retain its grip on power via the Trump administration, the future of America — and what America has always been — is the melting pot of immigrant culture. From Eastern European Jews to Africans, from Latins to Asians, from Indians — both Native and East Asian. We all bring aspects of our culture that cross over, are celebrated, and that get you — to put it bluntly — on your feet.

On Your Feet, with book by Alexander Dinelaris and featuring music produced and recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, is not a deep musical. You won’t find a deep fictional tale rich in symbolism; you won’t find a movie story on the stage; you won’t even find a force-fit of a lightweight story on the framework of a jukebox musical. On Your Feet is clearly a bio-pic on stage: it is the story of a Latin music crossover band, and how the audience reacts is the demonstration that the message about the face of America is right: it is the immigrant’s face — working harder and with more determination, determined to find the way to succeed when the culture in power keeps telling them “no.” It is a message that demands to be heard in this day and age. It is a message that resonates particularly well in Los Angeles (say that with the Spanish accent, thankyouverymuch), given our history and culture.

As an audience member, you come out of On Your Feet thoroughly entertained. The rhythm moves you, the dance (choreography by Sergio Trujillo (FB)) moves you, the presentation and story (direction by Jerry Mitchell (FB)) moves you. You just leave happy. Is there really more you need right now, given what we’re seeing on the news?

The performances in this show are top-notch.  In the lead positions are Christie Prades (FB) and Mauricio Martinez (FB) as Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The two sing strongly, dance strongly, and have a great chemistry together. Not being an expert on Estefan’s music, I can’t speak to how well they sound like the originals. But they sounded pretty good to me.

Supporting them, as Gloria’s family, were Nancy Ticotin (FB) as her mother, Gloria Fajardo; Debra Cardona (FB) as her abuela, Consuelo; Jason Martinez as her father, Jose Farjardo; and Claudia Yanez (FB) as her sister, Rebecca [also, Ensemble, Gloriau/s]. All gave strong performances, had chances to give outstanding vocal performances, and moved well. Ticotin had a particularly strong voice, as did Martinez.

Giving standout performances as the child versions of the leaders were Carmen Sanchez as Little Gloria and Jordan Vergara (FB) as Young Emilio and Nayib. Super strong voices, super strong movement — they were just astounding. Ana-Sofia Rodriguez and Carlos Carreras cover these roles at selected performances.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles as noted, as well as providing the strong dance team, were the ensemble: Anthony Alfaro (FB) [Swing]; Michelle Alves (FB); Jonathan AranaDanny Burgos (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Sarita Colon (FB); Shadia Fairuz [Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Adriel Flete (FB); Devon Goffman (FB) [Phil]; Claudia Mulet (FB[Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Eddie Noel (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Marina Pires (FB) [Swing, Gloriau/s]; Jeremey Adam Rey (FB); Gabriel Reyes (FB); Joseph Rivera (FB); Maria Rodriguez; and Shani Talmor (FB). Explicit Swings were: Skizzo Arnedillo (FB) [Dance Captain]; and Ilda Mason (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain].

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra, which included a number of members of the Miami Sound Machine (indicated with *). The orchestra consisted of: Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Music Director, Keyboard1]; Emmanuel Schvartzman (FB[Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard2]; Jose Ruiz (FB[Trumpet]; Teddy Mulet* (FB[Trombone]; Mike Scaglione* (FB) [Reeds]; Stephen Flakus (FB) [Guitar]; Jorge Casas* (FB) [Bass]; Edwin Bonilla* (FB) [Percussion1]; Jean-Christophe Leroy (FB) [Percussion2]; Colin Taylor (FB) [Drums]; Serafin C. Aguilar (FB[Sub Trumpetlocal]; Denis Jiron (FB) [Sub Trombonelocal]; Sean Franz (FB) [Sub Reedlocal]; Patrick Vaccariello (FB) [Music Coordinator];  Eric Heinly (FB) [Local Contractor]. Other music-related credits: Jorge Casas* (FB) [Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Asst. Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programming]; Jeremy King and Taylor Williams [Assoc Keyboard Programmers]. Clay Ostwald* (FB) and Jorge Casas* (FB) provided additional orchestrations. Lon Hoyt (FB) did the arrangements.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative credits. David Rockwell‘s set design was simple, using a number of floating panels and various props. It also heavily used the video and projection design of Darrel Maloney. It also worked well with Kenneth Posner‘s lighting design, which used a large number of moving lights around the frame of the stage to create a concert feel for the show. SCK Sound Design [Steve Canyon Kennedy] was reasonably clear for the Pantages.  Costumes were by Emilio Sosa (FB), with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe (FB). Oscar Hernandez did the dance arrangements and orchestrations. Other production credits: Andy Señor Jr. (FB[Assoc Director]; Maria Torres [Assoc Choreographer]; Natalie Caruncho (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Prop Supervisor]; Eric Insko [Production Stage Manager]; Anthony Cefala (FB) [Stage Manager]; Saori Yokoo (FB) [Asst Stage Manager]Telsey + Company (FB[Casting]; Karen Berry [General Manager]; Susan C. Guszynski [Company Manager], Troika Entertainment [Tour Manager].

On Your Feet continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through July 29. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. This isn’t a deep show, but you’ll have a great time.

***

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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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 Eternal Optimist | “Sweet Charity” @ Reprise 2.0

Sweet Charity (Reprise 2.0)My slate of Fringe shows might have been over, but I still had one more show on Sunday night. I’ve written before about how I’m on a quest to see musicals I’ve only heard, but never seen. One of these is Cy Coleman’s Sweet Charity. Back in 2013,  DOMA Theatre Company (FB)  looked like they were going to do Sweet Charity, but then they postponed it and did Nine instead… and DOMA has been dark since 2015. So when I heard that Reprise 2.0 was doing Sweet Charity, and that I could get tickets to see it after my last Fringe show…. I had to squeeze in one more show.

Now Reprise itself is an interesting company. Originally chartered to do rarely performed musicals from the golden era, they lost their way under Jason Alexander’s helm. We were last at a Reprise show back in 2005 for Pippin. But after dying, Reprise was brought back to life by its original artistic director, Marcia Seligson (FB), with its original vision. Hence, Reprise 2.0 (FB).

Back to Sweet Charity: As with the musical Nine (funny coincidence there), it was based on a Federico Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria (screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano). Whereas that film focused on a prostitute, Charity focused on a dancer-for-hire. What’s that you ask? At one point, men who liked to dance would go to dance halls, and pay women to dance with them. Now they just ply them with alcohol. In any case, the focus was more that the lead character, Charity Hope Valentine, had terrible taste in men. She was always looking for love, and constantly believed that she would find it in the next guy. The guys, however, tended to just use her for what little money she has. The musical starts by her planning to get an apartment with a married man, only to have him dump her in the lake and steal her money. She then meets an Italian romantic film actor, who promptly shoves her in the closet while he makes up — and makes love — to his girlfriend. In essence, her character is captured in her name — Charity, as she is always giving; Hope, as she is always hopeful, and Valentine, as she is looking for love. Wanting to have a normal life, she goes to the 92nd St Y in New York to take a class — and gets stuck in the elevator with a neurotic accountant. They slowly fall in love, with the accountant believing she works in a bank. This one looks to be it, but in the end, it is not to be: he can’t get over her past profession at the dance hall, and all the men she has been with. And so, the musical ends where it begin, with Charity eternally hopeful.

Throughout all of this, there is commentary by the other dance hall hostesses — on the nature of men, on how they want to do more with their lives, and how the life with a husband and kids is probably something they’ll never see, but something they want desperately none-the-less. There are also numerous scenes that play up the humor, which isn’t a surprise as the adaption of the screenplay was done by Neil Simon.

The music in the show is upbeat and energetic. Cy Coleman, who did the music, is well known for his jazzier scores and this fits the bill quite well. He also seems to have a lot of scores (and been involved in a lot of projects) that looked — perhaps with an askew eye — at women in sex. There were some notions of this in his earlier Little Me, and it certainly reappeared in the later I Love My Wife, Welcome to the Club, and The Life. Lyrics were by Dorothy Fields. I’ll note one musical thing that caught my ears: in the scoring to Charity, there is reference to a song called the “Coney Island Waltz”. It is a wordless melody heard at two places in the show. I recognized it immediately; Coleman recycled that melody for a song in his later musical Barnum: it became the song, “Love Makes Such Fools Of Us All“. That’s actually quite an appropriate message for Charity. Music and dance-wise, this musical is probably better known for its original choreographer and star, the team of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The show has had a few revivals, notably with Debbie Allen (FB) and Christina Applegate (FB) in the lead roles.

In reading some of the other reviews on this show, reviewers seem to feel it was dated. They appeared to base this on the notion of dance hall girls and hired dancers, the notion of wanting a wife that was pure, and the general attitude towards women in this profession. But I disagree with that notion — I think Sweet Charity is actually quite relevant to these times. One needs to view Charity not as a reflection of actual life, but as a fairy-tale that focuses on the notion of hope in the face of adversity. Hope is Charity’s defining characteristic: in the face of men who beat her down, in the face of life that beats her down, in the face of situations that would cause anyone else to doubt themselves and despair, she remains ever hopeful. In today’s world, where the news every day is more and more depressing, when we’re face with the relentless beat of people that are pushing us down, hope like Charity’s is what we need to make it through. So I don’t see Charity as dated; I see it as a reminder of the power of hope.

It is also a reminder of the power of dance. Reprise 2.0’s version of Sweet Charity was directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, a multiple-Tony winner for her direction and dance work. This production doesn’t let that reputation down. Dance and movement is strong throughout, from numbers like “Hey Big Spender” to the “Rich Mans Frug” to “Rhythm of Life”. These were strong ensemble numbers, showing the talent and movement and music. But, to me, some of the best moments were the introspective smaller ones, such as “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” or “Baby Dream Your Dream”.

Marshall and her casting team assembled a strong cast for this show. In the lead position, dancing and singing her tuchis off, was Laura Bell Bundy (FB) as Charity Hope Valentine. Again, I saw critics complaining about her overtaxing her voice in the second act. I didn’t notice that — Charity is a character you don’t expect to be a strong singer, and the original Charity, Gwen Verdon, certainly wasn’t. Bundy’s voice fit the character well; more importantly her personality fit the character well and shone through in her performance. She had that a strong enthusiasm that radiated all the way to the back of the theatre (where I was, in the row between K and M). She was a strong dancer, suitably kooky, and someone who was, well, lovable. My only problem was her wig, which just seemed to, well, wig-like.

Playing off her as her main love interest was Barrett Foa (FB) as Oscar. Foa captured the character well — the slightly nebbish, timid character. He had a nice singing voice and a good chemistry with Bundy.

The other main characters that we see throughout were the denizens of the Ballroom: Jon Jon Briones (FB) as the manager, Herman; and the two dancers who were closest to Charity: Krystal Joy Brown (FB) as Helene and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (FB) as Nicky. Brown and Gonzalez-Nacer were particularly strong in the aforementioned numbers I liked: “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “Baby Dream Your Dream”.

The other major named characters come in for a scene or two, and then are not scene (excused me, seen) again. These include Robert Mammana (FB) and Ashley Loren (FB) as Vittorio Vidal and Ursula March, respectively. They prompt the whole “If They Could See Me Now” number, without having to do any actual singing. There is also Terron Brooks (FB)’s Big Daddy, who does get to sing and bluster for one number before disappearing. All were enjoyable to watch, although mostly throwaway aspects in terms of the story.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble, all of whom were strong singers and dancers (additional named roles noted): Ari Aaron (FB), Justin Badding (FB), Claudia Baffo (FB), Gillian Bozajian (FB), VIctor E. Chan (FB), Catriona Fray (FB) [Rosie], Bella Hicks (FB), Lucia Joyce (FB), Jeffrey Landman (FB) [Manfred], Amber Liekhus (FB), Ashley Matthews (FB), Grayson McGuire (FB), Angeline Mirenda (FB), Chuck Saculla (FB), Evan Strand (FB) [Charlie], and Louis Williams Jr. (FB).

The on-stage orchestra was under the musical direction of the Reprise Resident Conductor, Gerald Sternbach (FB) [Piano]. Working with him was: Jack Lipson (FB) [Asst. Music Director, Keyboards]; Brian Scanlon (FB) [Reed 1: Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Don Shelton (FB[Reed 2: Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Phil Feather (FB) [Reed 3: Oboe, Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bob Carr [Reed 4: Flute, Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Jeff Bunnell [Trumpet 1]; Ron Barrows [Trumpet 2]; Robert Payne (FB) [Trombone 1]; Ken Kugler [Trombone 2]; Ira Glansbeek [Cello 1]; Jim Fox (FB) [Guitar]; Harvey Newmark [Bass]; and Albie Berk (FB) [Drums and Music Coordinator].

Turning to the production aspects: One of the hallmarks of Reprise is minimization of sets and such. For Sweet Charity, the set pieces were generic — chairs, beds, tables, a coat rack. The main aspects of establishing place were achieved through projections. These set and projections were designed by Stephen Gifford (FB). The costumes by Angela Balogh Calin (FB) seemed appropriate to the characters. Brian Monahan‘s lighting design established time and mood well, and I noticed no problems with Jonathan A. Burke (FB)’s sound design. Judi Lewin (FB) did the hair, wigs, and makeup; my only complaint was Laura Bell Bundy’s wig, which seemed to scream “I’m a wig.” Remaining production credits: Ryan Marsh (FB) [Assoc. Projection Design]; Rhonda Kohl (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Shon LeBlanc (FB) [Asst. Costume Design]; Jessie Vacchiano (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Michael Donovan Casting, CSA [Casting Director / Co-Artistic Director]; Davidson & Choy Publicity [Press Representative]; Patty Onagan Consulting [Marketing and Sales]; Kevin Bailey [Exec. Producer]; Matthew Herrmann (FB) [General Manager]. Marcia Seligson (FB) is the Producing Artistic Director of Reprise 2.0 (FB).

Reprise 2.0 (FB)’s production of Sweet Charity has one more weekend at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA. Tickets are available through Reprise 2.0; 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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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:

Fringe is over, but there’s one more weekend of June, which will either bring a Muse/ique (FB) show or “Big Daddy” at Boulevard Music — I haven’t decided yet.

July will be a tad less busy than June. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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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