Appearances are Everything | “A Walk in the Woods” @ Actors Co-Op

A Walk in the Woods (Actors Co-Op)How do we achieve actual progress towards solving problems that, if left unsolved, have the potential to destroy the world? That’s the question that is at the heart of Lee Blessing‘s A Walk in the Woods, which just opened at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood. The story, on the surface, revolves around two arms negotiators, Andrey Botvinnik and Joan Honeyman, meeting over perhaps two years (the time period isn’t 100% clear) in Switzerland. Their job: find an agreement whereby the two countries can make the world safer by reducing the number of arms each other has. But is this ever possible? Will either country let the other gain an advantage, or will they just agree to reduce one obsolete set of arms, while building new equally lethal technology not covered by agreements? Will the reductions be significant enough to ever reduce the situation to a non-lethal state? Or … perhaps .. is what is more important the appearance of negotiating on the issue, never actually accepting something?

This play was written during the Obama administration, and discusses a time period seemingly during the Reagan administration, when the nuclear arsenals of the US and the Soviet Union were of concern, and when our leaders knew how to be diplomats. One question I had was the relevance of this play today, when our nation’s leadership doesn’t seemingly care about the world stage. We have an isolationist, jingoist, and militarianist “America First” (yet another problematic slogan) we haven’t seen since the days before WWI. Does our country even care about reducing armaments today? Are there negotiations going on to do so? There are recent proposals by the President to increase and modernize our nuclear forces, to increase and continue the “mine is bigger and better than yours” mentality that makes the world less safe. So in the era of Trump, is this play just saying the negotiations are pointless anyway?

Yet there are other issues — domestic and international — where we keep talking, but not making progress. Immigration. Climate Change. We talk and talk, propose agreements, only to see them scuttled by one side or the other for seemingly meaningless reasons. Could it be that the talks are just a delay and distraction tactic, creating the appearance of progress when there was never an intent of actually finding a solution — for in finding a solution, one side must be the victor and the other the loser.

So perhaps there is a point to this play — in the Trump era — after all. It is to show us that the talking may be a form of progress. The talking may delay something worse. The talking may be keeping hope alive — hope that future administrations may finally move beyond the talk to an actual solution, and the perception and appearance of progress might be replaced by actual progress.

Under the direction of Ken Sawyer (FB), the production is kept simple. Two actors, talking, with a roughly representative set that is sufficiently evocative but not realistic, drawing the focus to the words and the action. The performances themselves were good, but still in evolution (this was the second performance of the show, and there were points where the actors had micro-momental line recall issues that were quickly recovered). Phil Crowley‘s Andrey was the friendly Russian uncle; Nan McNamara (FB)’s Joan was the no-nonsense negotiator trying to prove herself. Both performers seemed reasonably realistic, and there was a good unspoken chemistry between the two. Combined with the story, the two kept and held your attention, and the two hours (including short intermission) passed without seeming to drag.

Also seen on stage were the two assistant stage managers, Katie Chen and Carla Vigueras both dressed identically in all white. They gave the opening welcome to the show (in unison!), and also operated in unison to change the set between scenes. Although not part of the formal play, they provided a little extra levity in what was a very serious production.

In keeping with the focus on the words and the story, the other production elements were kept simple. I’ve already mentioned Ellen Lenbergs‘s simple set design of abstract winter trees, projected headlines, a dock, and a bench. This was augmented by Adam R. Macias (FB)’s sound design, which created the soundscape of the woods, and was eerily stereophonic during the rabbit discussion. Mood and season was established well by Nicholas Acciani (FB) and Matt Ritcher (FB)’s lighting design. Wendell C. Carmichael‘s costumes were sufficient — there’s not much one can say about business attire, other than the Russian’s seemed vaguely Russian. E. K. Dagenfield (FB) was the coach for the Russian dialogue. Other creative and production credits: Christian Eckels (FB) [Stage Manager];  Lauren Thompson (FB), [Producer]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manger].

A Walk in the Woods continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 18th. I found it an enjoyable drama. Tickets are available at the Actors Co-Op Website, Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Season Announcements: I’ve received some season announcements in the mail recently:

  • 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)] has announced their 2018-2019 season (renewals are going out to subscribers, like us, shortly). The season consists of Shrek – The MusicalMatilda, and West Side Story. We’ll probably renew. Although there have been a number of local productions of Shrek, we haven’t seen it since 2011 when it was at the Pantages. Someone should let George Chavez know :-). This should be the first regional production of Matilda (wouldn’t it be interesting if they got Cabrillo Alum Lesli Margherita to return for the show). West Side Story is a classic; always fun to see.
  • The Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose has an interesting season coming up: Another Roll of the Dice / Sep 14 – Oct 7, 2018; The Explorer’s Club / Oct 26 – Nov 18, 2018; Uptown Holiday Swing / Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2018; Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook (featuring songs from the Stephen Schwartz catalog)/ Jan 11 – Feb 3, 2019; Beau Jest / Feb 15 – Mar 10, 2019; and Queen of the Mist / Apr 5-28, 2019.  If they weren’t 300 miles away, we’d consider subscribing; still, we may drive up for Queen of the Mist. If you’re in the southern Bay Area, you should consider subscribing in our stead.
  • Hollywood Pantages (FB). The Hollywood Pantage just made their season announcement; I addressed it in detail in this post. In short, it looks good, and we’ve already renewed.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 middle of this week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to]. The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Organized Confusion | “Pirates of Penzance” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Pirates of Penzance (Pasadena Playhouse)I’ve enjoyed the music and the story of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s The Pirates of Penzance ever since I saw the Los Angeles production of the New York Shakespeare Festival version in 1981, with Pam Dawber, Andy Gibb, Barry Bostwick, and Jo Anne Worley in the roles made famous in New York by Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith, Kevin Kline, and Estelle Parsons. I’ve listened to the New York cast album of that show until it was etched in my brain. So when I learned that the The Pasadena Playhouse (FB) was presenting Pirates, my interest was peaked — peaked enough to overcome a slight bias I’ve had against going to the Playhouse since the bankruptcy in 2010 and the style of the Sheldon Epps era (note: this wasn’t against the few shows I’ve seen; more against just getting tickets and potentially subscribing). So I started exploring tickets…

… and I quickly discovered that, just as the NYSF version of Pirates was very much unlike your father’s D’Oyly Carte operetta ; this version of Pirates was going to be very much unlike my generation’s NYSF version. Oh, the basic story was the same, but the staging — it was staging for a non-traditional generation. This was made clear when booking tickets, and I learned that this wasn’t a proscenium show (and the Playhouse is a proscenium theatre). This show was being advertised as a beach party; all of the traditional seats in the theatre were not being used. The action would take place in the audience, and there would be seating in and around the stage, with bleachers around the action. What?!?!?!?‽‽‽ Totally unsure of where I might be sitting, we booked tickets in what was being called the Promenade. We even got tickets with a seat number and everything. You can see the warped seating chart a little lower down in this writeup. The top is the back of the actual stage; the bottom is the entrance to the auditorium.

We saw the show yesterday afternoon, and discovered what they had done to the theatre. They had erected a platform over most of the normal seating and the stage. There were bleachers on the side and on the stage, with a dock structure and a raised platform with a kiddie pool over what would be approximately rows L-N of the audience. There was a tiki bar serving drinks throughout the show, and a few benches surrounding ball pits filled with beach balls. The atmosphere was fun and frivolity, and … yes … this was a beach party. That “Promenade” seat? Those seats were around and on the stage — yes, you could sit anywhere that wasn’t a formal seat with a back.  On a bench. On the dock. On the floor. In a kiddie pool. You just had to be prepared for an actor to point and you and move you out of the way, and you could just go and sit anywhere else. It was organized mayhem, unlike anything I’ve ever seen at the Pasadena Playhouse (which is normally quite staid) — and almost unlike anything I’ve seen in any other theatre (we’ll we did sit on the stage in La Mirada’s Carrie, but that was very different). During the show, the actors were in and around you, standing directly in front of you, interacting with the audience, playing with the kids, making audience part of the actors at times. Before the show, they were wandering around, playing all sorts of songs (including TMBG), and throwing balls at the audience, and generally having a fun time.

Pirates Seating ChartSo as the show started we had no idea what to expect. We were sitting on a bench next to a ball pit near the dock (essentially, just to the right of the words “The Dock” on the image to your right, near the L of the dock). There are times we moved. There are times the performers were right next to us. It was non-traditional, and it was a hoot.

The performance itself stuck to the traditional Pirates narrative; which is summarized in a shorter form here; and which R&H licensing summarizes as “When the hero of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE was but a boy, his father instructed his nurse to have him apprenticed as a pilot. She thought he said ‘pirate’ and thus the zany troubles began.” Some songs were converted to recitative; and of course the songs added from other shows for the NYSF version weren’t there. The performance ran just about 80 minutes, with one one-minute (yes, one-minute) intermission. There were a few interpolations of modern songs that worked really, really well.

This truly was organized, improvised, mayhem. But the best mayhem is well-planned, and so credit here goes to Sean Graney (FB), the director (and artistic director of The Hypocrites (FB), who developed this show); Andra Velis Simon (FB), the musical director; Katie Spelman (FB), the choreographer; Miranda Anderson (FB); the production stage manager; and Nikki Hyde (FB), the assistant stage manager. I include the latter two because they were on stage, dressed as life-guards, making sure the action went where it was supposed to go. This team kept the show on focus and moving forward, in and around the great distraction that an unpredictable audience could be.

As for the actors, they had an even harder job, for they were also the orchestra — using almost any instrument you can think of. Guitars, banjos, ukuleles (I don’t think a ukulele has been on stage at the Playhouse since Radio Gals in 1992), spoons, clarinets, flutes, mandolins, fiddles, saws, accordions …. you get the idea. There was also sharing of roles: the actress playing Mabel also played Ruth, and both the daughters and the pirates, at times, became the police officers. The cast consisted of Doug Pawlik (FB) [Freddy]; Shawn Pfatsch [Pirate King, Major GeneralUS]; Matt Kahler (FB) [Major General]; Dana Omar (FB) [Ruth / Mabel]; Leslie Ann Sheppard (★FBFB); [Daughter, Ruth/MabelUS]; Amanda Raquel Martinez [Daughter]; Tina Muñoz-Pandya (FB[Daughter]; Lauren Vogel (FB) [Pirate]; Mario Aivazian (FB) [Pirate, Pirate KingUS, FreddyUS]; and Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo (FB) [Pirate]. All of them were great and clearly having the time of their life (and loving the interaction with the audience). A few notes and thoughts: Pawlik gave Freddy just the right amount of youthful naivete and bravado to make things work; Pfatsch kept evoking Bostwick/Kline in my head, but he played with the role in a very different way that was a joy to see. Kahler handled Modern Major General well, and I loved the interstitial from the daughter. I liked Omar’s dual characterization and her switching back and forth; she had a lovely voice — plus, she played the banjo and the accordion — a skill that will earn her tens and tens of dollars (and she better keep her car locked). The daughters were cute (especially with the moustaches), and I wish I had known that Sheppard was a knitter (my wife had her knitting there). Of the pirates, my eye was drawn to Vogel both for her voice and musical skills, as well as how she was having fun playing with her role. But all of these actors were just great and a joy to watch.

I’ll also note that this is one of the few productions I’ve seen at the Playhouse that didn’t have a 100% Equity cast; I don’t know if they are getting Equity cards from this show. AEA is a bit controversial here in Los Angeles with what they did to the intimate theatre scene, and I’m hearing rumblings they are going after membership companies next (with plans to have local minimum wage laws take precedence over AEA agreements/codes). I’m glad I’m not an actor trying to decide what to do about my union.

Finally, turning to the technical and production side: Tom Burch‘s scenic design transformed the Playhouse, and was remarkably inventive with the docks, benches, pools, and everything else. I can’t think of a similar transformation of the venue in all the years we were there (going back to 1989). Incredible. This worked well with Maria DeFabo Akin (FB)’s properties design — not only all the beach balls and other set accouterments, but clever little tricks to signal characters, the cigarette holders, the rubber ducks, and such. Also supporting this was Alison Siple (FB)’s costume design; no credits were provided for the wig design that transformed Mabel. From down where we sat, Kevin O’Donnell (FB)’s sound design worked well; the LA Times indicated there might be a sound problem in the rafters of the bleachers. We didn’t see that. Heather Gilbert (FB)’s lighting design established the mood well. This version of Pirates was adapted by Sean Graney (FB), and co-adapted by Kevin O’Donnell (FB). Other credits: Joe Will [General Manager]; Chris Cook [Production Manager]; Brad Enlow (FB) [Technical Director]; and Davidson & Choy Publicity (FB) [Press Representative]Pirates of Penzance was presented/produced by The Pasadena Playhouse (FB) , Danny Feldman (Producing Artistic Director) in association with The Hypocrites (FB).

Pirates of Penzance has been extended at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB), now closing on February 25. Tickets are available through the Playhouse box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar, TodayTix, or LA Stage Tix. This show is a lot of fun and you’ll have a wonderful time — just don’t expect your father’s stuffy old theatre. Bring the kids and they’ll have a lot of fun as well — it is a great introduction to theatre in an environment where they don’t have to sit absolutely still.

This show has certainly made me rethink what I think about the Playhouse; I think we’ll be back more often. Certainly, with the dormancy of the Colony Theatre, we’ve been trying to find an affordable mid-size theatre. When we left the Playhouse, tickets were over $1000 per season, which was ridiculous. Their new options for membership certainly look more affordable; now they just need a reliable show mix.

Speaking of show mixes: The Ahmanson has added Ain’t Too Proud, a musical on the Temptations, to their 2018/2019 season, and they still have two shows to announce (see the end of the paragraph). It is looking even more likely that we’ll add that subscription, if we can get the cheap seats. As for the Pantages, they announce on Tuesday. As I wrote in my Aladdin writeup: We already know that Dear Even HansenCome From AwayFalsettos, and The Play That Goes Wrong will be going to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). What does that leave for the Pantages, as they don’t produce their own. Here are my guesses: BandstandAnastasia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are highly likely; so is the Miss Saigon revival. So would Groundhog Day, except they just cancelled their tour. If A Bronx Tale had announced a tour, it would also be likely. Ditto for Hello Dolly. Lesser possibilities are Amazing Grace, or A Night with Janis Joplin. In terms of potential retreads, I could see them bringing in the current Les Miz tour, and possibly the Fiddler on the Roof,  Lion King or Wicked tours, if they are still on the road. Also known to be going on tour/on tour, and thus possibilities for retreads, are Cats and Phantom, as they will draw in crowds and haven’t been in LA recently. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has announced a tour, but I think the Pantages is too large for them. I could see them doing the Ahmanson. As for the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), which has two slots to announce, I predict that one will be a show in development, and the other will either be Natasha, Pierre, … , or some form of dance or ballet, like the Matthew Bourne stuff that they’ve done recently.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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:

February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to]. The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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’s Your Damage? | “Heathers – The Musical” @ YA4Ever/Hillcrest

Heathers - The Musical (YA4Ever)When I say the words “High School Musical” to you, what comes to mind?

OK, now what comes to mind after you dismiss an insipid musical on the Disney Channel that had far too many sequels, was far too successful for its own good, and went on to inspire an similarly vapid stage musical done far too many times on actual high school and middle school campuses?

The answer, I hope, is the genre of high school musicals. There are loads and loads of musicals set in high schools, going beyond the Disney titular one (to which the high schoolers among us go “Heh, heh, he said t….”). High school, it seems, is a microcosm for society at large, and the variants of that society boil down to just a few:

  • The Love StoryHigh School Musical fits in this vein, but so do musicals like West Side StoryGrease and Bye Bye Birdie. Possibly Fame: The Musical as well, but more in a “What I DId for Love” sense.
  • The Coming Out Story. A same-sex variant of the love story, providing “a very special episode” along the way. Musicals in this vein include Fame (the movie), Bare: A Rock Opera, and Zanna Don’t.
  • Veiled Political Commentary. Take your political commentary, and move it to a high school setting. Zanna Don’t also fits here, as does Lysistrata Jones.
  • The Bullies. This looks at the impact of being bullied, and being the kid on the outs. Occasionally these are played for humor, but often these go into dark, dark places. Examples in this vein would include Be More ChillSpring AwakeningCarrie, Dear Evan Hansen, and Serial Killer Barbie.

Heathers The Musical, which I saw yesterday at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts (FB) in Thousand Oaks (produced by YA4Ever (FB)), clearly fits in that last vein. I was familiar with the show having heard the cast album (book, music, and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, based on the film by Daniel Waters); however, I had never seen the original movie. When I found out through the Thousand Oaks Acorn that it was being produced, I wanted to squeeze it into my schedule so I could put the story with the music. Sitting through it, I couldn’t help think about the parallels with Carrie and Serial Killer Barbie; however, Heathers left me with the feeling that it was even darker in its resonance, even though it ended up with a somewhat positive message (just like Serial Killer Barbie). Perhaps that’s because, unlike with Barbara and the Debbies, Veronica did not kill all the Heathers. But perhaps I’m ahead of myself.

Wikipedia has a detailed synopsis of the musical, which after reading the synopsis of the movie has some distinct changes therefrom. The elevator synopsis is that there’s this girl, Veronica Sawyer, who is feeling the pressures of high school and wanting to fit in. She’s someone who cares a lot about others (not good in high school), especially her friend Martha who is fubsy. She’s at the lower end of the high school pecking order, being picked on by the jocks (Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney), and especially by the trio of girls that run the school, Debbie, Debby, and Debbi, uh, make that Heather Chandler, Heather McNamera, and Heather Duke. When the Heathers discover Veronica can create realistic forgeries, they adopt her to use her against others for pain and profit. Into the picture comes Jason Dean (JD), a new kid to whom Heather is attracted. Suffice it to say that JD is damaged goods, and starts getting Veronica into situations where those who have worked against are offed, starting with Heather Chandler (which they make look like suicide), and the jocks (who they make look like a gay suicide pact). This starts up a conversation about suicide, leading to a point where they are about to bomb the high school, killing the students therein. [Cue up “Going to War” by Joe Iconis]  But Veronica comes to her senses, saves the day, and changes the conversation.

Did I mention this was a dark and disturbed musical? So Joe Iconis.

You can easily understand why this has a caution warning. Here we have numerous killings, discussions of suicide, and ending with the bombing of a high school. What’s not to love? Umm, let’s try again: This doesn’t take you to a happy place, although the ending is more uplifting that Carrie.

So this is an interesting musical. I’m certainly glad that I saw it. I wonder, though, what this genre and the direction it has been moving says about society and our youth. We’ve gone from the optimism of the 50s and 60s — the Bye Bye Birdie and Grease era, to the disaffection and apathy and damage of Heathers and Serial Killer Barbie. This isn’t anything new — Spring Awakening is a story from the 1800s. But perhaps — just perhaps — there’s hope for optimism in the ending message of HeathersBarbie, and Evan Hansen: That we are individuals, and as individuals we have value, and that we must stand up to the bullies and be proud of who we are — and get help for when circumstances are too much. We can rejoice in someone like Veronica finding her inner strength, while recognizing the situations that created Kurt and Ram, the Heathers, and particularly JD — and wish that we could have found a way to get them help while we still could.

So let’s move to the stories and the performances. I was unfamiliar with YA4Ever before the show; evidently, they are an organization sponsored by a number of Conejo Valley (read: Thousand Oaks) organizations to provide theatre opportunies to teens, under the guidance of more seasoned professionals from the local theatre community. Translation: Theatre for teens, with talent of varying skills. Overall, I was impressed by the talent of this crew, under the direction of Timothy Reese. No, they weren’t perfect. But they were damn good in their performance, and most were strong in their singing, and they put on a very enjoyable show. They are a talented group, and I hope they continue their training and performance and grow, and that we see them move to larger regional and national stages.

One who I feel could certainly do that is their lead, Carly Jean Paul as Veronica Sawyer. She captured the character perfectly, had a wonderfully sardonic attitude and look, and just came across as, well, Veronica. And boy, could she sing. I truly enjoyed listening to her. I hope that she goes far in her career.

Alas, I can’t be quite as superlative about her compatriot, Jared Price as Jason Dean. Price had the performance part down pat. He nailed the character, the disaffection, and the anger perfectly. However, he was only about 90% there on the singing. That’s not a major fault — remember, this is a teen production and these folks are still early in their careers. I think he can get where he needs to be with some work — and with that work, I think he can do well. So I enjoyed watching his performance; there were just a few moments that needed some improvement. [ETA: I forgot to note that we also saw Price in the recent production Edges at CSUN, and he was strong there, so it might just have been an anomalous performance.]

This brings us to the Heathers: Karlee Squires as Heather Chandler (Red), Kate Freuhling as Heather McNamera (Yellow), and Shayde Bridges as Heather Duke (Green). Squires was spectacular as Heather Chandler. Strong singing, strong characterization, and fun to watch. I also enjoyed watching the characterizations of Bridges and Freuhling — especially in period after they were no longer just appendages to Heather Chandler, but I don’t recall their individual singing voices as strongly.

Martha Dunnstock was played by Francesca Barletta (FB), who we’ve seen many times on the stages at Cabrillo / 5-Star. She’s very talented, has a remarkable singing voice (shown here in “Kindergarten Boyfriend”), and does comedy well. We always enjoy seeing her.

The jocks — Jack Powell as Kurt Kelley and Tal Toker as Ram Sweeney — captured their roles perfectly. They were like every jock that I hated in high school. What a perfect characterization :-). They also sang well, especially in their big number “Blue” (a topic I’d never thought I would see on stage — evidently, there’s a “high school” version of this where they cut that song out — can’t imagine why).

Turning to the adults: Hannah Rachel Tamkin  as Mrs. Fleming / Veronica’s Mom, Ryan DeRemer as Ram’s Dad / Veronica’s Dad / Coach Ripper, and William Carmichael as Kurt’s Dad / Big Bud Dean / Principal Gowan. Tamkin was a hoot as Mrs. Fleming — we’ve all seen that type of teacher — capturing her character well. She did reasonably well with “Lifeboat”, but there were a few off points. Otherwise, her singing was strong — and I love her character and performance. The two guys were great, and were standout in their main joint song, “My Dead Gay Son” (which is a real fun song). But their various characters were all different and good.

Rounding out the cast were the rest of the students, name more for their character traits than anything else: Stephanie Rojo [Stoner Chick]; Wyatt Eaton  [Hipster Dork]; Michelle Johnson [Young Republicanette]; Jack Cleary [Beleaguered Geek]; Meagan Chew  [New Wave Girl]; and Noah Canada  [Preppy Jock]. These characters don’t get significant characterizations in the script, but the ensemble member did well with them. More importantly, they danced and sang well as a group, and were enjoyable to watch.

Speaking of movement: Sarah Fanella‘s choreography worked well and was enjoyable to watch.

Tyler Stouffer (FB), who we’ve seen before on the stages of Cabrillo, was behind the baton this time as Music Director and Conductor of an orchestra consisting of David Galvan [Keyboard 1], Zach Ragan [Keyboard 2], Gohan Ruiz [Guitar],  Marco Bohler [Bass], Matthew Case [Drums], Allegra Edelnant [Violin], and Andrew Shousha [Reeds]. The orchestra provided a good sound for the space.

Turning to the production team: Director Timothy Reese‘s scenic design was simple: a gymnasium floor, some lockers hiding other props, and some sliding walls in back. It worked well for the constraints of the Hillcrest stage. It was assisted by the clever props of Lauren Alexander. Jenna Friedman’s costumes worked well to establish their characters and provide the visual distinctions, together with Victoria Reese’s hair and Alexis Abrams ‘s makeup. I think this was most notable in the transformations of the adults. Tamarra Sylber’s sound design mostly worked — the balance was good, although some individual microphones were cutting in and out. Interesting fact from the search — Sylber had a project at the 2014 California State Science Fair (where I’m a judge, although she wasn’t in my category). Nick Sheppard’s lighting design worked well to establish the mood. Rounding out the production credits: Paul Cranmer [Production Photographer]; Scott Chew [Technical Director]; Mariah Tobin [Asst. Director]; Peyton Pugh [Stage Manager]; and Natalie DeSavia [Producer]. YA4Ever was founded by Nick Berke (FB) and Ruthy Froch (FB).

Unfortunately, I caught the last performance of Heathers – The Musical. However, this show has brought YA4Ever (FB) onto my RADAR, and I hope to catch more of their productions — especially if they continue to do edgy and less produced work like this.

[ETA: This post originally had my usual links to the FB pages of the artists. They were removed at the specific request of the director, who believed he was protecting his team’s privacy. As someone who professionally works in cybersecurity, my professional ethics require me to point out that “security through obscurity” provides no security. I find FB links to people — as well as professional pages — in two ways: Searching the name on Google, or checking the friends lists of the people I have found. If this brings up an artist FB page, I use that and mark it with ★.  If you want to protect your FB, that is your responsibility.  What I can do, others can do as well. Here are some useful links to help: Cnet, BT, Trusted Reviews, Facebook. Make your friends list visible only to friends, make your posts friends only, make it so people cannot tag you. You have no privacy when you make things public; potential employers will do the exact same thing that I do. Think about the image you project with what is publicly available. When I suggested to the director that he tell his team this, he blamed me for not getting permission to link beforehand (something that is not required when citing public information). Also, for future reference, I do have a priority order when linking to non-FB pages: 1st, the artists web site (if not marked as infected); 2nd, a posted resume; 3rd, a credit list on abouttheartists.com, 4th a credit list on ibdb.com or playbill.com or imdb.com; 5th, an article about the person and their skills; 6th, a linked-in or youtube page showcasing their skills; 7th, Instagram or Twitter. The reason for these links is to show credits and make it so potential employers can contact them about opportunities (I like what you do, I promote you). This is similar to the bio in the program. In short, the Internet is a tool: you control what you project and put up. If you don’t want people to see things, don’t post them. Lastly, I will always remove links on a specific request, or replace them if I have found the wrong link.]

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to]. The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Wishing for More | “Aladdin” @ Hollywood Pantages

Aladdin - A New Musical (Pantages)Ah, the new  Hollywood Pantages (FB) season. We are finally past the juggernaut that is and was Hamilton, and we’re back into a more conventional subscription season. First up: Aladdin v4.0, otherwise known as Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical. This is to distinguish it from Aladdin: The Animated Movie Musical, and from the Aladdin stage show that was once down the street at Disneyland, and from the licensed version of Aladdin that you’ll find on the small stages of regional intimate theatres and school stages.* In fact, it was just a year ago that we saw one of these other Aladdins: a great bi-lingual production at Casa 0101 in East LA. All these pre-4.0 (Broadway) versions hewed relatively close to the original animated version (1.0); the great bi-lingual production added the conceit that the folks in the village spoke English while the people in the palace spoke only Spanish, and only the animals (Raja, Iago) could translate between the two. You can read my writeup of that show here; it truly added something, but can’t fit well in what we saw last night.
(*: Although this does note that it is based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed and produced by John Musker and Ron Clements.)

Last night, we saw the “Broadway” version of Aladdin. This version expands Aladdin from the original 90 minute animated story to a 2½ hour version. It does this by bringing back original ideas of the development team that were dropped as the animated feature was developed: Aladdin’s backstory, Aladdin’s friend. It eliminates the cartoonish aspects of the story: gone are any talking animals (or any animals at all). In fact, the only thing cartoonish that remains is the characterization of the Evil Vazir, and his comic-relief assistant, Iago. The Genie? He’s no longer a cartoon, and he’s no longer Robin Williams. Instead, he’s a manic Cab Calloway, a manic Queer Eye host — he’s still down to earth, but with more sequels and less shape-shifting.

There’s also a change in attitude. First, there’s tons of self-referential stuff and commentary that gives a wink and an eye to the fact that these people on stage are in on the joke that this is a Broadway musical. But more significantly, the Disney Princess problem is addressed. As Disney moved from its original suite of animated classic into the era of The Little Mermaid, the heroines became longing for more independence. They were less the passive princess. In the Broadway version (I forget how much this was in the animated version), Jasmine is feisty. The audience cheers with a wink and a nod when the Sultan proclaims that perhaps now is the time that we had a women leader; there’s a point being made at the end when it is made clear that Aladdin and Jasmine will be ruling as partners, not the traditional woman subservient approach.

These are all great changes, and they make the expanded show flow well and the timing not seem to drag. But still, you wish for more. In particular, you wish that Howard Ashman had not passed during the development of this show. The strongest songs in this show — the songs with the most clever lyrics — are Ashman’s. “Friend Like Me” is clearly designed to be an earworm, and is the song that comes into my head when I think of this show. Together with his writing partner Alan Menken, the songs they developed are the heart and soul of this show. The lungs of the show — what lifts it up — are the additional songs that Menken went on to write with Tim Rice. This particularly includes the ballad “A Whole New World”, which is executed in an amazing fashion in the stage version. The remaining songs, which are less memorable, are from book writer Chad Beguelin. It is not that they are bad — Beguelin is a strong writer and I love his work on Wedding Singer and Elf; however, compared to Menkin and Rice there is a level of difference and experience.

And thus, the wish: that Howard Ashman hadn’t past, and that we continued to have his genius enriching stage and screen. But alas, the Genie can’t bring back the dead (it’s in the rulebook), and in any case, he’s far too busy helping Ken Davenport with his podcast.

By this point, you’re probably saying: But he hasn’t told us the story of what Aladdin is about. That’s true, but you’ve probably seen the animated movie and thus know the basics. Your principles are Aladdin, a street rat in a mythical Arabian city, together with his three friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Meanwhile, in the palace is the Sultan, Princess Jasmine, the Grand Vazir Jafar, and Jafar’s assistant/toady, Iago. Jafar wants to be Sultan, but Princess Jasmine is standing in his way. If she finds a Prince she likes and marries, that prince becomes Sultan. Luckily, she’s not the prince type; she prefers honest street rats. So Jafar cooks up a plan to win, by getting a magic lamp from a cave. However, a spooky voice tells us that this lamp can only be gotten by a “Diamond in the Rough”, who is, you guessed it, Aladdin (who incidentally, is the street rat that Jasmine prefers). From that setup, much of the rest is predictable, and one is ingenious is the execution, not the story. By the end of the story — what else? — Aladdin and Jasmine are together, Jafar is banished to a prison, and Aladdin’s friends are elevated to positions they deserve. The Genie? He’s packing his bags, presumably to find a job on the stage somewhere.

As one might imagine, there is a lot of frenetic activity on the stage, which is all coordinated through the direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw. Nicholaw had the same role on the last Ahmanson musical we saw, Something Rotten, and he has a talent for bringing out humor through movement, and having organization on stage that seems chaotic. He did a good job here with loads of enjoyable dancing and dance numbers, quick changes, and fun. He worked with his acting ensemble to bring out characters well, although I do think that Jafar and Iago were a bit overplayed, but that may be more of the fault of the writing and their basis in the animated movie (although Iago was changed into a stooge-like sidekick ala Lafou in Beauty and the Beast, he kept much of the bird-like writing and characterization). Nicholaw was assisted by Associate Director Scotty Taylor (FB), Associate Resident Director Casey Hushion, and Dance Supervisor Michael Mindlin (FB).

Turning to the actors who are implementing Nicholaw’s direction: In the lead position — at least in the eyes of the audience — is Michael James Scott (★FB, FB) as the Genie. For those who remember the performance of the originator of the role at the Tony Awards — this guy is as good. He is having loads and loads of fun with this role, and that playfulness comes out in the performance — which is vital to this track. He’s a hoot to watch in his main number, “Friend Like Me” (which is one of my favorite numbers in the show), but he’s equally strong in the opening number as well as in “Prince Ali”. He fits in well with the glitz, glitter, and sequins. Oh, so many sequins.

The titular leads of the show are the happy couple, ostensibly Adam Jacobs (★FB), FB) as Aladdin and Courtney Reed (★FB, FB) as Jasmine. I say ostensibly because at our performance, Jacobs was out and replaced by his understudy, Clinton Greenspan (FB). Greenspan did admirably in the role with no obvious gaffes (although his voice could be a little stronger in “A Whole New World”. He executed the dances well, sang the songs reasonably well, handled the humor well, and had great chemistry with both the actress playing Jasmine, the Genie, and his trio of friends. Likely, this is because he has been the understudy since the start of the tour, and has presumably played the role before. Speaking of Jasmine, I enjoyed her performance. I saw a few writeups that commented on her voice, but I had no such problem with it (other than the two folks behind us who insisted in talking loudly in Russian during her main duet, “A Whole New World”). Reed danced well, sang well, and had a lovely charm and feisty-ness about her. Reed was new to the tour, having moved from the Broadway production to the tour for Los Angeles (I don’t know about beyond LA; Isabelle McCalla (FB) was Jasmine before Los Angeles) [ETA: Reed is Jasmine for 6 weeks — Per Broadway World: ” Courtney Reed will play the role of Jasmine from Saturday, January 13, through Sunday, February 18, 2018. Isabelle McCalla, original Jasmine in the ALADDIN North American tour company, will play performances in Los Angeles from Wednesday, January 10, through Friday, January 12, and then will return Tuesday, February 20, to Saturday, March 31, 2018.”]

In comic opposition to Aladdin and Jasmine were Jonathan Weir (FB) as Jafar and Reggie de Leon (FB) as Iago. Both were very comically drawn in their performances — and by that I mean that they took on the behavior of animated film villains as opposed to just realistic evil. Luckily, they were a bit self-aware of that (shall we do the evil laugh now?), which helped to offset the overdrawn. Still, they were clearly  having loads of fun with their roles, and they executed them well. I wasn’t that enamored of their makeup, however; Jafar’s tended to look like it was a mask, although the binoculars made clear that it was not.

Aladdin’s friends were Babkak (Zach Bencal (FB)), Omar (Philippe Arroyo (FB)), and Kassim (Mike Longo (FB)). Less than 24 hours later, it is hard to remember which character was which characterization — so guys, you get lumped together. All were strong and comic in their characterizations, and I particularly enjoyed their choreography in the “High Adventure” number with the well-timed sword-clashes and clinks and the comic moments. They were also strong in their titular number “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim”, as well as in “Prince Ali”. They all exhibited great comic timing and movement, and were fun to watch.

The last major named role was JC Montgomery (FB)’s Sultan. His role gets the least character development (not a surprise for Disney and their attitude towards fathers — it is about the same level of characterization as Ariel’s father or Belle’s father): a father who comically cares about his daughter, blind to what is around him, growing a form of a spine at the end to proclaim true love. Still, Montgomery carries the role well.

Rounding out the production was the ensemble and the swings. We had two swings onstage during our show (indicated with §), but I do not know which ensemble members they subbed for, other than the aforementioned Clinton Greenspan (FB). The ensemble and supporting players consisted of (u/s and featured positions noted): Mary Antonini (FB) [Attendant]; Michael Bullard§ (FB) [Swing, Omaru/s, Iagou/s]; Michael Callahan (FB) [Swing, Dance Captain, Iagou/s]; Cornelius Davis (FB); Bobby Daye (FB) [Razoul, Jafaru/s, Sultanu/s]; Lissa DeGuzman (FB) [Swing, Jasmineu/s]; Mathew DeGuzman§ (FB) [Swing]; Olivia Donalson (FB) [Attendant, Fortune Teller]; Michael Everett (FB); Karlee Ferreira (FB) [Swing]; Michael Graceffa (FB) [Shop Owner]; Adrienne Howard (FB); Albert Jennings (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Omaru/s]; Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua (FB); Jason Scott MacDonald (FB); Angelina Mullins (FB); Celina Nightengale (FB); Jaz Sealey (FB) [Prince Abdullah, Fight Captain, Kassimu/s]; Charles South (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Babkaku/s]; Manny Stark (FB) [Aladdinu/s]; Annie Wallace (FB) [Attendant, Jasmineu/s]; and Michelle West (FB). Standbys were Korie Lee Blossey (FB) [Genie/Sultan]; Ellis C. Dawson III (FB) [Genie/Babkak]; and Adam Stevenson (FB) [Jafar/Sultan]. In general, the ensemble showed strong dance skills, the ability to change costumes quickly, and seemed to be having a great deal of fun with their roles. I particularly remember Michelle West and Olivia Donalson as having looks that I could match up later. I’ll note that the ensemble has an extremely athletic dance job, so they well deserved the applause.

Brandon O’Neill (FB) was the generic spooky voice. Interestingly, he was the original Kassim on Broadway. Yes, it gets a credit.

Moving from voices to music. Music Supervision was by  Michael Kosarin (FB), who also did the incidental music and vocal arrangements.  Danny Troob (FB) did the Orchestrations. Glen Kelly did the Dance Music Arrangements. Music was provided by the Aladdin Touring Orchestra combined with local contractors. This orchestra consisted of (T indicates touring): Brent-Alan HuffmanT (FB) [Music Director / Conductor]; Faith SeetooT  (FB[Keyboard2, Asst. Conductor]; Danny TaylorT (FB) [Drums / 2nd Asst. Conductor]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Larry Greenfield [Concertmaster]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]Trey Henry (FB[Bass, Electric Bass]; Dick Mitchell[Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax];  John Yoakum (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]Greg Huckins (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Bari Sax]; Wayne Bergeron (FB), Paul Baron (FB), and Rob Schaer (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; Andy Martin (FB[Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Bruce Carver  [Percussion]David Witham (FB[Keyboard1]; and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard2 Sub]. Music support was provided by: Howard Joines (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Anixter Rice Music Services (FB) [Music Preparation]Jeff Marder (FB) [Electronic Music Programming]. Brian Miller was the Orchestra Contractor. The music had a great brassy sound to it and was quite enjoyable. People should read the music credits — these are some top notch studio musicians; we saw many of them playing with Doc Severensen at VPAC.

Finally, we come to the production credits. The scenic design was by Bob Crowley, and was over the top — especially the scenic design during “Friends Like Me”, but the other designs were no slouch either. This was assisted by Jim Steinmeyer (FB)’s Illusion Design and Jeremy Chernick‘s Special Effects Design. This was the first time I’ve seen magnesium based fireworks used IN a theatre — spectacular (and dangerous). Gregg Barnes (FB) did the Costume Design, which was also sequined and spectacular, and at quite a few points, daring in a family way. Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (FB) did the Makeup Design, which was also very strong, although both Jafar and the Sultan looked like they were wearing masks. The sound design by Ken Travis was as clear as it could be for the Pantages; Natasha Katz (FB)’s lighting design established the mood well. Rounding out the production credits were: J. Allen Suddeth (FB) [Original Fight Direction]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Neuro Tour Physical Therapy Inc [PT]; Geoffrey Quart (FB) / Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision / Production Management]; Clifford Schwartz (FB) [Senior Production Supervisor]; Jason Trubitt (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Kate McDoniel [Stage Manager]; Trisha Henson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; and Vanessa Coakley (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager].

Disney’s Aladdin: The Broadway Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 31. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. This is a fun diversion of time with great singing and dancing; the story is Aladdin, so no big surprises there, but it is well fleshed out for a full-length musical.

Pantages 2018-2019 Season. The Pantages will be announcing their 2018-2019 season on January 30th, so what might it be. We already know that Dear Even HansenCome From AwayFalsettos, and The Play That Goes Wrong will be going to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). What does that leave for the Pantages, as they don’t produce their own. Here are my guesses: BandstandAnastasia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are highly likely; so is the Miss Saigon revival. So would Groundhog Day, except they just cancelled their tour. If A Bronx Tale had announced a tour, it would also be likely. Ditto for Hello Dolly or . Lesser possibilities are Amazing Grace, or A Night with Janis Joplin. In terms of potential retreads, I could see them bringing in the current Les Miz tour, and possibly the Fiddler on the Roof,  Lion King or Wicked tours, if they are still on the road. Also known to be going on tour/on tour, and thus possibilities for retreads, are Cats and Phantom, as they will draw in crowds and haven’t been in LA recently. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has announced a tour, but I think the Pantages is too large for them. I could see them doing the Ahmanson. As for the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), which has two slots to announce, I predict that one will be a show in development, and the other will either be Natasha, Pierre, … , or some form of dance or ballet, like the Matthew Bourne stuff that they’ve done recently.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This afternoon brought an interesting production of Heathers The Musical at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, produced by YA4Ever  (FB). It closed today; expect that writeup tomorrow. Next weekend currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to). The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Willkommen… No, A Real Cabaret | January Cabaret @ Chromolume

Chromolume Cabaret - 2017: A Year in Revue

January tends to be a quiet month for live theatre. New shows in small theatres are rare, as they don’t like to rehearse and produce during the holiday season. Of course, there are the tours and concerts at the major venues, but it is hard to find the kind of small shows we like in the first two weeks of the year. We were planning on going to the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura, but the tickets were expensive and they weren’t showing up on Goldstar. But then I started to see announcements of the monthly cabaret at one of the theatres at which we subscribe: Chromolume Theatre (FB). This cabaret, which is “pay what you can” (meaning the show is free, and you make a donation), is a way of showcasing artists they like in an informal setting. As Chromolume started to list their artists — quite a few of whom were were familiar with from past shows of theirs — the show grew more and more interesting (and trudging out to Ventura seemed less and less interesting). So last night we went down to Chromolume, which is basically at the edge of Culver City and the West Adams district of LA, to see our first Chromolume Cabaret. The BLUF (bottom line up front) is that this is something we’ll do again, although likely not every month given our schedule. It helped build the connection to this theatre as family, something that has been missing since Rep East Playhouse (REP) in Newhall went dark. In fact, I’d encourage those folks who were active at REP to consider exploring this cabaret and venue: it has the same family feel of “just good” people.

As an aside: This is why I tell people to subscribe at the small theatres: to build and support these families. We’ve rapidly made the family connection with the people at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and we’re slowly making it with the folks at  Actors Co-op (FB) (they are a larger organization). That’s something you don’t get with the Hollywood Pantages (FB) or  Ahmanson Theatre (FB), where you subscribe just to get good seats at shows. At the small and medium size venues, your subscription can help them survive, and you get to meet really great people. But I digress…

For this show, which was hosted by Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB), each artist got two songs that they used to reflect back on their 2017. There was good, and there was bad, but it was basically just an informal (i.e., the artists sat in the audience, instead of hiding backstage) fun evening with great music. Here are the performers and the songs:

🎶 Claire Buchignani (FB). Claire was first up; she’ll be performing in Chromolume’s first production of 2018, Dessa Rose. It was a delight seeing her excitement about her engagement. Her two songs were:

  • “A Quiet Thing” (from Flora the Red Menace, Fred Kander/John Ebb)
  • “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from Funny Girl, Jule Styne/Bob Merrill)

“A Quiet Thing” is a harder number given its range, and Claire did a reasonable job with it. She was stronger with her second number, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”. Both songs brought back memories of seeing the shows: Flora was done back in 1990 by the Pasadena Playhouse, and Funny Girl was done in 2016 by a guest company at the Colony in Burbank.

🎶  Jason Bornstein (FB). Jason we’ve seen before at Chomolume when he was the lead in Zanna Don’t. His two songs were:

  • “Michael in the Bathroom” (from Be More Chill, Joe Iconis)
  • “Soliloquy” (from Carousel, Rodgers/Hammerstein)

I really enjoyed both Jason’s singing and performance in “Michael”, and that’s on top of the already enjoyable Joe Iconis song. Be More Chill is a show that really needs to be done in LA; the music is great. “Soliloquy” was an interesting choice — Jason was right that it is not a role he’s likely to be cast in … which is too bad, because he nailed the song and its emotion.

🎶 Tal Fox (FB). We saw Tal earlier in the year in Hello Again, and I recall enjoying her performance then. She didn’t disappoint. Her two songs were:

  • “Women”  (from The Pirate Queen, Boublil/Schönberg)
  • “The Other Side of the Tracks” (from Little Me, Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh)

I had not heard “Women” before, and I truly liked the song for its words and emotion. I need to get that cast album (alas, the cheapest I can find it is around $40 on Amazon, as it is out of print). So Tal wins the first “Stump the Daniel” award by having a show song I don’t recognize. She did a great job with it, as well as with “Other Side of the Tracks” (which also made me realize that Little Me is another show that needs a Los Angeles revival).

🎶 Everjohn Feliciano (FB). Everjohn was also in Zanna Don’t. His songs were a lot less energetic than most:

  • “Beautiful City” (from Godspell, Stephen Schwartz)
  • “Dreamer in Disguise” (from Carrie, Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore)

On “Beautiful City”, the lyrics seemed somehow different, so I wonder if a different version is being licensed from what was in the show (well, at least it didn’t fit my memory of what was in the show soundtrack or cast albums). He did a nice job with it, nevertheless. Although I did see Carrie in the recent immersive La Mirada production, I didn’t recall the “Dreamer” song.

🎶 Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB). We’d seen Bonnie before in Chromolume’s 2017 Fringe Festival Show. (as well as the CSUN production of Hair) Her songs were both from the musical Ordinary Days (Adam Gwon), which we saw a few years ago at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank:

  • “Calm”
  • “I’ll Be There”

The two numbers are very different: one is frenetic and full of energy, which Bonnie captured quite well. The other is more reflective, dealing with moving on after a tragedy. She did great with both of them.

🎶 Marissa Mayer (FB). Marissa was new to us, and so was her first song (which isn’t a surprise, as it is from the current pop world):

  • “I’m Going Down” (Mary K. Blige)
  • “Times are Hard for Dreamers” (from Amalie, Daniel Messé/Nathan Tysen)

As noted, I hadn’t heard the first song before, but that’s not really a surprise as I rarely listen to modern pop music. Interesting song. I enjoyed the second — it is nice to see songs from the recent Amalie getting a new life after the show closed in New York. Amalie was a show that I really enjoyed at the Ahmanson, and I hoped would succeed on Broadway.

🎶 Jaq Galliano (FB) and Gina D’Acciaro (FB). This was a duo that had been doing a bunch of cabarets and performances around town (although we did see Gina in Lucky Stiff at Actor’s Co-Op). They were mostly telling the story of how they met and got engaged in 2017, which was so cute. Both of their songs were from the pop world, and I hadn’t heard either:

  • “Not in That Way” (Sam Smith)
  • “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (Meghan Trainor)

Both songs were well performed, and the couple was cute together.

 

Daniel Yokomizo (FB) accompanied the performers on the piano (Jaq and Gina added their friend Isaac on Guitar and Ukulele). Lauren J. Peters (FB) was in the booth.

As noted at the top, Chromolume Theatre (FB) does these Cabarets monthly, so watch their Facebook page and their website for the announcement of the next show. I’m not sure we’ll make February, but do plan on attending some more. I also encourage you to subscribe to Chromolume: for $60 you get their three mainstage shows (Dessa RoseJane Eyre – The Musical, and Stephen Sondheim’s Passion), plus whatever they end up doing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June.

We discovered Chromolume Theatre (FB) when we went to go see Prez, a solo show written by playwright Willard Manus about the Jazz musician Lester Young, who was played in this one-many show by Leslie Jones (FB). The production of Prez is being remounted with Leslie at Write Act Repertory (FB) in celebration of Black History Month as part of a Festival Series at Write Act Rep’s Brickhouse Theatre called THREE BY WILL IN REP.  The Series includes two World Premiere’s along with the return of Prez.  The intimate drama is produced by John Lant II, and will be directed by Daniel E. Keough.  The show is set to open February 4th, 2018.  All performances for Prez will be on Sunday at 2PM, through March 11th, 2018. Additional information is available at http://www.writeactrep.org/index.html.

***

The Greatest Showman (Movie)Christmas Movie: The Greatest Showman. I was remiss in not writing up the movie we saw on Christmas Day:  The Greatest Showman. In short: we truly enjoyed it — both the music and the performances. I had seen some criticism that the story wasn’t true to real life of P. T. Barnum, but then again, neither was Cy Coleman’s Barnum. Barnum himself would have enjoyed the humbug being sold and how it was presented. Unlike the musical, however, The Greatest Showman focused primarily on the American Museum period in Barnum’s life; the musical went beyond this into his ventures into politics, into building utopias, and the eventual creation of the circus and the merger with Bailey. There were also some aspects of the American Museum that were left out — I can understand (perhaps) leaving out Joyce Heth, given the increased sensitivity of the subject and the tone the movie was going for, but to leave out “This Way To The Egress” was a bit more questionable.  The two taken together, however, create an interesting picture; the movie demonstrates that perhaps it is time for a Broadway revival of Barnum. However, there are some odd timeline clashes between the two (particularly in the timing of the creation of the circus as distinct from the museum). Perhaps some of those issues could have been handled through a more detailed epilogue or disclaimer at the end — I’m not sure.

I was particularly taken by the musical numbers and their accompanying cinematography and choreography: they had a movement and a rhythm that one cannot do on the stage, and it was engrossing. The song that was submitted to the Golden Globes — “This Is Me” — I could see being a wonderful empowerment anthem (and it goes very well with Coleman’s “My Body” in The Life). I enjoyed the singing of the leads — I’m more and more impressed with Hugh Jackman the more and more I see of his performances. Just a delightful show, and the Golden Globe won by Pasek and Paul for the music was well deserved.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 our first touring show, Aladdin, at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to). The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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You’ll Put Your Eye Out | “A Christmas Story Live!” on Fox 12/17

A Christmas Story Live! (Fox)This was a weekend where our only truly live performance — that is, a performance were (if we wanted to, and security allowed, we could touch the performers) — was Saturday for the Klezmatics. But we did see another performance that was labeled “Live!” (but was tape delayed for our timezone): A Christmas Story Live! on Fox (KTTV 11) Sunday night. This is part of the trend of bringing back “live” musicals on television that was restarted with A Sound of Music on NBC, and has continued there with Peter PanThe Wiz, Hairspray Live!, and which Fox picked up to bring us Grease Live!. NBC didn’t have a holiday musical this year (Bye Bye Birdie, which was planned for this month, but indefinitely postponed), but Fox brought us their incarnation of A Christmas Story – The Musical (which, I should note, that if you want to see really live you can at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB), or numerous other venues around this country). Don’t worry, there are even more “live theatricals” (Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent) in the pipelines.

This was my first time seeing A Christmas Story — and that means either the original movie or the musical production. I had heard the music from the cast album of the show before, however, so I had a vague familiarity with the story. I won’t recap the story here, as I’m sure you can find it or you’ve seen it. Instead, I just want to share some observations on the live TV production that need to get out so my brain can be productive again:

  • NBC’s attempts have attempted to preserve the form have kept that “stage” feel: static sets, no special television tricks or techniques. Fox, on the other hand, has gone for this odd hybrid between stage and screen: expansive sets designed to keep the steadicam operator busy, some elements of realism in the set design and execution, significantly larger ensembles, and often camera and cinematography tricks. The “risk” of live performance is still there, however, as they still have to navigate set movement, costume changes, and the cinematography tricks in real time. I’m not 100% sure I like Fox’s approach, but I understand why they did it.
  • Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (FB) appear to have written two new songs for this show: the opening number which was “eh?”, and a number on Chanukah. That number, while good, felt shoehorned in for inclusivity, especially with the overkill of the Magen David-themed wall paper and getting the number of nights right. Two problems, however. The song sang of Matzah Balls, which most assuredly are not Chanukah food; and the Jewish family was later in line for Santa (highly unlikely, even in the 40s).
  • Inclusivity was a big theme in this, especially with the mixed nature of the ensemble. Now I’m all for inclusivity and diversity, but in this production it felt too politically correct, too forced, too … wrong. Perhaps that was because they were going for the realism aspect, and it didn’t fit the real world of the 1940s. On stage, you can get away with the diversity because the realism isn’t there.
  • Matthew Broderick did pretty good, but there seemed to be a few points where he had line hesitations. For such a seasoned stage actor, that seemed wrong.
  • There appeared to be only one line gaffe, when the father (Chris Diamantopoulos) was stealing a taste of the turkey and cracked up the mother. They covered it well.
  • Having now seen the story, it seems a bit inconsequential and forced to be a musical; but I can also see why it, just like Elf – The Musical created around the same time, will be perennial holiday favorites at small companies throughout the world. Why they can’t just do A Mulholland Christmas Carol is beyond me.
  • The actor playing Ralphie (Andy Walken (FB)) did a great job — he handled the music and the cuteness well, although he was a bit fast talking on the commercial breaks.
  • … and they’re dancing on snow, too!
  • One of the kids in the kids ensemble (Artyon Celeste) looked like Gary Coleman, and got me thinking of a remake of Different Strokes (although that wouldn’t work these days — these days the diversity comedy is Superior Donuts). Overall, the kids ensemble was very strong in the show.
  • For all their attempts to be “period” — from the Cars to the Kelvinator — there were some significant slipups, such as the electrically lighted hand-held candles in one song to the lighted candy canes in the other. The directors (Scott Ellis and Alex Rudzinski) really must decide if they are going for realism or not.
  • During the “Ralphie to the Rescue”, the use of TV tricks (black and white, graininess) was gratuitous and unnecessary, especially as this was supposedly a live production of a stage show, not a movie.
  • The odd breaks into production numbers were odd given the realistic nature of this — they need to pick one form or the other. Such production numbers are something that will work much much better on stage, and do make me want to see the stage version of this in the future.
  • Viewers slammed this remake. The ratings were worse than any of the recent live musicals broadcast to date.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

We may be going to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Happy and Joyous | “The Klezmatics” @ VPAC/Saroya

The Klezmatics (VPAC/Saroya)Can you think of a better way to celebrate Chanukah Hump Day (the 5th night) than to go to a concert of Chanukah Klezmer music by one of the best Klezmer bands around? I can’t.

So you can guess where we were last night. Why weren’t YOU there?

The Happy Joyous Hanukah concert by The Klezmatics (FB) at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) was VPAC/Saroya’s last concert of 2017; it was also our last currently ticketed live performance event of 2017 (it is looking less likely that we’ll see A Christmas Story at CTG as they aren’t putting tickets up on Goldstar, and the Music Center celebration isn’t a ticketed event). It was the perfect way to send out the year, with toe-tapping klezmer music.

The show consisted of a number of songs from the Klezmatic’s album Happy Joyous Hanukkah, a few songs from their latest album Apikorsim, and a few other songs from other albums. Almost the entire band was there; Frank London wasn’t as he was out recuperating from surgery.

During the show, I was struck by the connection between some of my favorite styles of music: folk, bluegrass, celtic, and klezmer. They really are elements along a continuum, often united by the fiddle or other stringed instruments. The Klezmatics happily channel Woody Guthrie; Celtic musicians play Bluegrass. Of course, there are even broader connections. I know of Jewish Bluegrass musicians (Nefesh Mountain), and of course, we all know that the Talking Blues is the spiritual parent of Hip-Hop (and I’m even familiar with Bluegrass Rap music (Gangstagrass). I think it goes to show that musical “styles” are just labels, and don’t distinguish good from bad. Good music is what you like; bad is what you don’t.

I liked the music last night. Toe-tapping, energetic music. Great to get one out of a funk, if you had wandered into one. Great to bring out the joy of the holiday. If you get the chance to see the Klezmatics, do so.

I only have one question: They mentioned they have a staff Yiddishist. How do I find my daughter a job like that 🙂 ?

By the way: If you don’t know about the venue (the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB)), you really should. This is a gem of a concert hall on the campus of Cal State Northridge, in the center of the West Valley, the square formed by US 101, I-405, CA 118, and CA 27 (Topanga). Take a look at their upcoming schedule on their website, and I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll enjoy.

Note: The show we saw last weekend, Pacific Overtures, has extended for one week, until December 23. Go get tickets now, before they sell out. Tickets are available through the Chromolume Website, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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:

There is still the possibility that we’ll squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). More likely is going to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but I’ll miss that because they pushed back from their advertised date right on top of my non-refundable tickets to the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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 Fateful Visit | “Pacific Overtures” @ Chromolume

Pacific Overtures (Chromolume)When one thinks of the musicals of Stephen Sondheim (FB), one often thinks of theatre in the large. The full size Broadway stage, houses with over 800 seats, fully executed scenery and staging. But often one gains a greater appreciation of Sondheim in the small staging, the intimate theatre environment. Think about small intimate creative stagings of Into the WoodsSweeny Todd, or Assassins: these often provide insights and understanding that the Broadway staging doesn’t give.

Intimate staging of Sondheim’s successes are somewhat easy to find. Stagings of the shows that fared less well on Broadway — that’s a different story. Take Pacific Overtures, for example. First produced on Broadway in 1976, it ran for 6 months (and subsequently had a mounting at the LA Civic Light Opera later that year). I don’t have a recollection of the LACLO performance; it is possible that I didn’t go to it (I do remember the show after it, Irma La Douce). It’s had a few mountings on Broadway or Off-Broadway since then, and there have been even fewer mountings in Los Angeles. The last mounting was in 1998 by the East-West Players. So when I saw that the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2017 season announcement included Pacific Overtures, I was intrigued. Chromolume is an under-50 seat theatre — how the hell were they going to pull off a full Sondheim musical — especially one as complicated as Overtures — on a small black box stage with no fly space and limited cast size?

Saturday night we found out. The answer is: they pulled it off by embracing the minimality in the staging, instead of trying to duplicate the grand Kabuki stylings of the original. There are still Kabuki-ish elements, to be sure; however, there is no use of traditional Kabuki whiteface, and there are no set stylings to speak off. For me, the minimalism worked. It felt … Japanese in styling, although I must admit that I am far from being an expert — or even familiar — with what is traditional Japanese style. From reading the background on this story, that was Sondheim’s intent: to provide a Westernized version with a Japanese feel. However, in today’s sensibilities, it does raise some interesting questions of cultural appropriation that, given the underlying message in the story, create an even more interesting contrast and echo.

The message in the story — that’s right, I haven’t explained that yet. Pacific Overtures — with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (FB), book by John Weidman, additional material by Hugh Wheeler, and original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick — tells the story of the (re-)opening of Japan to Western culture in the late 1850s and thereafter (for those that remember the miniseries Shogun, this is the reopening after the post-Shogun isolation). It begins with the arrival of Commodore Perry to Japan in 1853, and looks at the reaction to that arrival in the traditional Japanese culture of the Emperor and Shogunate — a culture that had been isolated from other nations for over 250 since the Spanish and Portuguese were expelled (i.e., the Shogun period). It also explores the exploitation and westernization that occurred thereafter — often in the names of “commerce”. [As an aside, it created an interesting parallel with the gentrification occurring today in South LA, where again predominately white men are exploiting a culture seen by implication as inferior and worthy of updating.] The musical ends with a political commentary on Japan’s success, adopting a Western commerce with a uniquely Japanese attitude, often beating the West at their own game.

The means of telling the tale centers around the use of  “reciter” — essentially, a narrator — combined with a focus on two primary characters: a minor Samurai named Kayama Yesaemon and a sailor named John Manjiro. The remaining members of the ensemble played all the other characters. Chromolume’s seeming conceit and framing (by director James Esposito (FB)) was that this was a group of actors wandering in and presenting the story, which explained the small number and the use of men to play women (without having to go full on Kabuki, where that is the tradition). Reading some of the reviews before the show gave the impression this was more of a concert staging, but I never got that feeling. This seemed fully executed, albeit in the small.

The performances developed by the actors and the director, James Esposito (FB), were strong. I remember watching the faces for the nuances of performance and find them. The stylized movements seemed appropriate, and the character interplay was good. The voices were strong — most notably Paul Wong (★FB; FB[Reciter], Cesar Cipriano (FB) [Kayama Yesaemon], John Sala (FB) [Ensemble, Warrior, Russian Admiral, Sailor], and Gibran Mahmud (FB) [Ensemble, Fisherman, Dutch Admiral, Second Councilor, Sailor]. These four had voices that just blew me away (which is not to say that the others weren’t great either). The one whose face won me over was Julia May Wong (FB) [Ensemble, Tamate, Young Boy, Geisha Girl]. She just had great facial expressions in all of her scenes; she also wins the award for the best bio (a haiku: “About to Give up / Chromolume came to save her. / Honored. Humbled. Thanks.”).

In the lead positions, as noted before, were Wong as Reciter, Cipriano as Yasemon, and Daryl  Leonardo (FB)  as John Manjiro. Wong was strong as the Reciter, carrying the burden of the exposition on his back, helping to explain the story to the audience. Cipriano and Leonardo had a good chemistry between them, same strong, and conveyed emotion well.

Rounding out the cast, in addition to the three previously mentioned, were Marcel Licera (FB) [Ensemble, Lord Abe, Old Man, Sumo Wrestler], Peter Jeensalute (FB) [Ensemble, Mother, American Admiral, Merchant], Daniel Koh (FB) [Ensemble, Madam, British Admiral, Third Councilor], and Kevin Matsumoto (FB) [Ensemble, Commodore Perry, French, Admiral, Sailor]. Reuben Uy (FB[Ensembleu/s, Madamu/s, British Admiralu/s, Third Counciloru/s] was the understudy. All were good: I particularly enjoyed the facial expressions in the “Welcome to Kanagawa” number, the difference characterizations in “Please Hello”, the Emperor puppet, and Matsumoto’s dance as Com. Perry. 

Uncredited in the program as the horse and the servant was the ASM, Louis Lake III (FB). Lake’s performance was a hoot and quite a surprise.

Michael Marchak (FB)’s choreography seemed appropriately Japanese, but then again, I’m not an expert on the subject. All I know is that the movement worked well and was enjoyable to watch, and kept up with the various references thrown into the mix by Sondheim.

Music was under the direction of Daniel Yokomizo (FB), who also led the on-stage but off-stage band on piano, assisted by (at our performance) John A. Graves [Bass] and Jeff Fish (FB) [Percussion]. Note: At some performances, bass is provided by Alex Moore (FB), and percussion by Anthony Jones (FB)  or Lee Piatelli (FB). For its size, the orchestra was strong. Pacific Overtures is not a show that requires a large orchestra, as it isn’t dependent on traditional Western instruments as much as many shows.

Turning to the production side of the staging. As you can see from the images to the right, Hector Figueroa (FB)’s scenic design was minimal: some platforms, tan and red backgrounds, and a hiding place for a character or two. Necessary context was provided by properties or the costumes, which were designed by Kara McLeod (FB). The costumes seemed reasonably appropriate; again, I’m not an expert on Japanese attire of tha period. Lighting design was by Jesse Baldridge (FB), and it worked well to establish the mood. There is no explicit credit for sound design, but James Esposito (FB) has done it for some past shows so it is likely he did it again. The sound worked well this time around. Veronica Vasquez (FB) was the stage manager, and the aforementioned Louis Lake III (FB) was the asst. stage manager… and the 🐎 :-). Publicity was by Ken Werther (FB).

Pacific Overtures runs for one more weekend at Chromolume Theatre (FB), with performances today at 2pm and 7pm, and next Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are available through the Chromolume Website, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This really is a production you should see if you can: Pacific Overtures just isn’t produced all that often, and this may be one of the few chances you have to see a great production in an intimate space by a company that loves them some Sondheim.

Chromolume Theatre (FB) has just announced their 2018 season, and it is three shows that I haven’t seen (in fact, two for which I didn’t even have the cast album until the announcement): Dessa Rose with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty [Feb 2 2018 – Feb 25 2018]; Jane Eyre – The Musical with music and lyrics by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon and a book by John Caird [Jul 13 2018 – Aug 5 2018],  and Passion with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine [Nov 9 2018 – Dec 2 2018]. We plan to subscribe in the next couple of weeks. You should too! Season subscriptions are only $60, which is $20 per show… and Goldstar is $18 per show plus service fees. What a bargain, and you help guarantee this little theatre’s survival.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This afternoon brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). I probably won’t write that one up. The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). We might also go to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but I’ll miss that because they pushed back from their advertised date right on top of my non-refundable tickets to the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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