💃 Cryptography and Apples | “Invertigo Dance Theatre” @ The Broad Stage

Invertigo Dance Theatre (Broad Stage)Our summer performance hiatus is over. As a side effect of Fringe burnout and the surfeit of performances that come out in July, we tend to have a lighter attendance schedule at the end of August and in early September. But that hiatus is over, and it is weekly live performance from now until December, when the conference creates another hiatus. First up: Alan Turing.

Back in early August, I received an email from The Broad Stage (FB) about an upcoming production that caught my eye. It talked about a performance that “invites us into the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing as cast into the mythologized ideas of his favorite film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Now I’ve been doing computer science since the mid 1970s, and computer security since the mid 1980s, so any story about Turing intrigued me. I went to the Broad web page for the event, and read the following:

Invertigo Dance Theatre (FB)’s Formulae & Fairy Tales places the worlds of mathematics, artificial intelligence and cryptography into a vivid, twisted fairy-tale palette. The multi-dimensional story casts the life of Alan Turing, mathematical genius and World War II codebreaker, into the Technicolor and mythologized ideas of his favorite film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Step into a world of lush dance, dynamic theatre, math, sex, fairy tales, humor and death.

Now, I’m not much of a dance person, other than in the context of a musical. I didn’t quite understand the Martha Graham company when I saw it, and I never saw what others saw in Matthew Bourne’s work. But this sounded fascinating. One does not often see pioneers of computer science on the stage, nor does one often see cryptography on stage. Computer Security, in general, gets little attention from live theatre artists. And so, with curiosity peaking, I went out to Goldstar and grabbed some tickets.

Now that I’ve seen the performance, I’m still working on processing it. Much of this is a vocabulary problem. Theatre, in many ways, is easy. We have words, we have stories. We have performance that is either realistic or mock-realism. We can typically relate what we see on the stage to what we know in real life, and can thus assess it.

Dance is much more abstract, especially in a piece where you don’t know the story ahead of time. This piece had some explanatory text, but the story was mostly told in dance and movement. The dance world has its own conventions, and if you are not fluent in them (which I am not), both understanding and describing them are difficult.

That said, the dance here was beautiful. There were feelings that were raised; feelings and images. There was the sense of cogs in a wheel; cogs in a machine; cogs in a rotor. That’s appropriate, given the nature of the Enigma. There were elements of the Snow White story, and there were clearly mathematical elements. There were notions of relationships, both conventional and non-conventional. All of these were from the movement, aided at times from the projections.

There was clearly metaphor: in particular, in the sequence using the Turing quote about how “one day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, ‘My little computer said such a funny thing this morning”, all the computers that were taking to the park were … apples. Could this a reference to Apples and the iPhone?

The dance also involved spoken elements, sometimes cryptic, relating the story of Turing. A repeated motif was the invocation of the Turing Test, which had slightly different construction each time it was invoked — and none of the times fit precisely what Computer Scientists understand as a Turning test (interacting with an unknown entity you cannot see, and through questions along, you make the determination of human or not).

Overall, the production was beautiful to watch. I can’t say it was what I expected, but I’m not sure what I was expecting.

Performers: Cody Brunelle-Potter (FB), Hyosun Choi (FB), Jessica Dunn (FB), Spencer Jensen (FB), Corina Kinnear (💃FB), Dominique McDougal (💃FB, FB), and Luke Dakota Zender (FB). The performances were very strong; I was particularly taken with the dance of Brunelle-Potter and Choi.

Choreography by: Laura Karlin (FB), Cody Brunelle-Potter (FB), Hyosun Choi (FB), William Clayton (FB), Jessica Dunn (FB), Adrian Hoffman (FB), Isaac Huerta, Spencer Jensen (FB), Corina Kinnear (💃FB), Dominique McDougal (💃FB, FB), Shane Raiford, and Luke Dakota Zender (FB).

Original music composed by: Toby Karlin (FB), Julia Kent,  and Eric Mason (FB). Additional music by Afriara Quartet (FB), A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and Nebulo (FB). Text was primarily written by Laura Karlin (FB), with other text by Janna Levin and Alan Turing.

Created and directed by Laura Karlin (FB).

Production credits: R. S. Buck (FBProduction Stage Manager, Lighting Design, Technical Direction; Celestial Zenith (FBStage Manager; Rosalida Medina (FBCostume Design; NightLight Labs Scenic and video design; Veronica Mullins (FBSound Engineer; Mallory Fabian (FBRehearsal Director. Laura Karlin (FB) is the artistic director of Invertigo Dance Theatre (FB); David Mack (FBExecutive Director.

We caught the last performance of Intvertigo at the Broad, although I have heard rumors that this production may be touring.

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

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the the last weekend of September brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting really busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), followed by In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

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

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays.

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

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🎭 Shakespeare, Slightly Swapped | “As You Like It” @ OSF

As You Like It (Oregon Shakespeare Festival)As I mentioned in my last post, we have an adage: hobbies don’t stop just because you’re on vacation. That means, when we go on vacation, that we’re stopping at local yarn and quilting stores, we driving the highways and byways looking for interesting history, and of course, we’re seeing local theatre whenever we can. I also mentioned that we were recently in Klamath Falls, and decided to meander down the road (Oregon 66, to be precise) to Ashland Oregon to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). We made a day of it, seeing two shows.  For our second show, we picked — what else — a Shakespeare play: As You Like It. This is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, meaning that everyone gets married by the end of the show.

Here’s the traditional summary of the play, from the Folger Library:

In As You Like It, witty words and romance play out against the disputes of divided pairs of brothers. Orlando’s older brother, Oliver, treats him badly and refuses him his small inheritance from their father’s estate; Oliver schemes instead to have Orlando die in a wrestling match. Meanwhile, Duke Frederick has forced his older brother, Duke Senior, into exile in the Forest of Arden.

Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, and Duke Frederick’s daughter, Celia, meet the victorious Orlando at the wrestling match; Orlando and Rosalind fall in love. Banished by her uncle, Rosalind assumes a male identity and leaves with Celia and their fool, Touchstone. Orlando flees Oliver’s murderous plots.

In the Forest of Arden, Rosalind, in her male disguise, forms a teasing friendship with Orlando. Oliver, searching for Orlando, reforms after Orlando saves his life. Rosalind reveals her identity,  triggering several weddings, including her own with Orlando and Celia’s with Oliver. Duke Frederick restores the dukedom to Duke Senior, who leaves the forest with his followers.

But Shakespeare, being in the public domain, invites invention. Director Rosa Joshi (FB) accepted the invitation. In this case, it is a bit of gender-bending. The banished Duke Senior becomes a women. Duke Senior’s attendents — all dressed as women, although some were cast with men. Surprisingly, this change really doesn’t change much: the play works, although there some additional notions that come from a company of women, led by a woman, in the forest. Challenging the patriarchy much? Was this why she was banished?

Modulo that change, Joshi brought a very light touch to the production. This is a good thing. Shakespeare can sometimes be heavy and hard to understand. In this production, the actors were light and playful; joyous and fun. Rosalind and Celia are giggly and excited, and Orlando, Touchstone, and even Oliver are just fun to watch. There’s music and there’s lightness, and you really fall in love with these characters.

In the lead positions were Jessica Ko (FB) Rosalind/Ganymede, daughter of the banished Duke Senior; and Kate Hurster Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick. Ko was spectacular as Rosalind — playful and giddy and serious and devious and just a joy to watch. Hurster matched her measure for measure, but a bit more on the girlish side. They really made the show.

We meet their eventual male counterparts, Román Zaragoza (⭐FB, FB) Orlando de Boys, younger son of Sir Rowland de Boys and Shaun Taylor-Corbett (FB) Oliver de Boys, oldest son of  SIr Rowland de Boys, early on, when they are arguing about inheritances, and Orlando is planning to wrestle the champion. Zaragoza presents an engaging personality, both when interacting with Rosalind, interacting with the wrestler, and even when he is interacting with Adam (Tyrone Wilson (⭐FB)), the attendant in the de Boys’ household.

Next we turn to the forest of Arden, to where Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando flees. It is ruled by the banished Duke Senior, played by Rachel Crowl (FB). Here we get our first gender bend: Duke Senior is transformed from male to female (although, during the show, I was a bit confused by the actor, but then later found the explanation). It works, and changes the crew in the forest from a patriarchy to a matriarchy. We’ll get to the crew in a minute.

Some other significant characters/performers are Rex Young (FBTouchstone, a fool; Will Wilhelm (FBAubrey, a country person (also Le Beau, lord attending Duke Frederick; follower of Duke Senior); MacGregor Arney Silvius, a shepherd (also Court Lord, follower of Duke Senior); Lilia Houshmand Phoebe, a shepherdess (also Court Lady, follower of Duke Senior); and Erica Sullivan (FBJaques, a noble-woman attending on Duke Senior (also Court Lady). The first two and the second two create couples that eventually get married. Young’s Touchstone and WIlhelm’s Aubrey form one of the gender bending couples; Young is particular fun as the fool. The second couple — Arney and Houshmand — form a pair of shepherds that don’t like each other: Houshmand’s Phoebe loves Rosalind as Ganymede, and dislikes Arney’s Silvius, who is in lust with her. But this is Shakespeare, so it eventually works out, and they have a great performance. Lastly Sullivan’s Jaques gets to play a melancholy fool, who provides some wonderful commentary.

Rounding out the cast are: Kevin Kenerly Duke Frederick; Hannah Fawcett (FBLady to Rosalind; James Ryen (⭐FBCharles, a wrestler to Duke Frederick (also Sir Oliver Martext, a country priest; follower of Duke Senior); Michele Mais (FBAmiens, a noblewoman attending Duke Senior; Sheila Tousey (⭐FBCorin, a shepherd (also Court Lady); Grant Luecke (FBWilliam, a country fellow (also Court Lord, Wrestling Attendant to Charles, follower of Duke Senior). Notable in this group was Mais, who had a lovely singing voice.

There were a large number of understudies whom I’m not listing.

Note that OSF does something I haven’t seen before: Actors are listed in the program with their pronouns.

Turning to the production and creative side: Sara Ryung Clement‘s scenic design was simple (and I was amazed how the same space had Mother Road just a few hours prior — it was totally transformed). A metal superstructure, banners, symbolic trees, and such. It worked for the story. It was supported by the lighting design of Christina Watanabe and the sound design of Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca (FB), which served to establish place and mood well. Christine Tschirgi‘s costumes worked well and were vaguely of some unidentifiable era. Other production credits: Palmer Hefferan (FB) Composer; Alice Gosti Associate Director of Movement; Alan Armstrong and Amrita Ramanan (FBProduction Dramaturgs; Rebecca Clark Carey Voice and Text Director; U. Jonathan Toppo Fight Director; Jeremy Eisen Production Stage Manager; and D. Christian Bolender and Emily Robinson Assistant Stage Managers.

As You Like It continues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB) through October 26. Tickets are available through the OSF website.

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

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

The first week of September is open. Live performance starts up the 2nd week, with the Invertigo Dance Company at the Broad Stage (FB). The show supposedly “places the worlds of mathematics, artificial intelligence and cryptography into a vivid, twisted fairy-tale palette.” Fascinating. The third weekend brings Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and a hold for Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

 

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🎭 On The Road Again | “Mother Road” @ OSF

Mother Road (Oregon Shakespeare Festival)We have an adage: hobbies don’t stop just because you’re on vacation. That means, when we go on vacation, that we’re stopping at local yarn and quilting stores, we driving the highways and byways looking for interesting history, and of course, we’re seeing local theatre whenever we can.

Recently, we were on vacation in Klamath Falls. The local live theatre had little of interest while we were in town, and so we decided to meander down the road (Oregon 66, to be precise) to Ashland Oregon to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). We made a day of it, seeing two shows. The first was one that appealed to both the roadgeek and historian in me: the world premiere of Mother Road by Octavio Solis (FB).

Mother Road is, in many ways, a homage to John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath. For those unfamiliar with the Steinbeck, the Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, forced to leave their family farm in Oklahoma due to the one-two punch of the depression and the dust bowl, and make the trek along US 66 (and US 566) to California, and eventually the central valley of California. Along the way they face hardship, family members die, and we see them for the proud and hardworking, but poor and downtrodden family they are.

Mother Road picks up the story in current times. William Joad, uncle of the original Tom Joad, is dying. He stayed in Oklahoma during the dust bowl, and wants to pass his family farm that he pieced together from sharecropped land to another family member. He has his lawyer, Roger, search, and they find the only remaining living Joad: Martin Jodes, grandson of Tom Joad of the novel. After Tom killed a man and ran away to hide, he went to Mexico. He raised a family, and there was one son: Martin. Martin has since followed the crops to Mexico, and he meets William in Weedpatch, a community near Bakersfield where the Joads onced lived. William tells him the story, and the two start a trek back to Sallisaw OK and the farm. Along the way, we learn the back story of both characters. We meet and pick up some people important in Martin’s life: Mo, a “cuz” whom Martin wants for a foreman, James, a preacher buddy of Martin’s, and Amelia, Martin’s ex. We also run into people who had interactions with the original Joads, including a waitress descended from the Wilson family. Along the way, we also see the parallels between the treatment of the dust bowl refugees (Oakies) and the Mexican farmworkers; we see how the Joad family has always fought against injustice and to do what is right.

Going into the show, I only had a passing familiarity with the original novel. I knew the basic outlines of the story of the Joads, but not the particulars. In preparing this writeup, I had a chance to review the summaries of the novel, and I can see even more how Solis mined the original story for incidents and connections. The two are tightly connected, almost in the same way as Wicked  and The Wizard of Oz, building upon an existing story to make points about contemporary society.

The story makes very strong points about how segments of our society view Hispanics, and how so little has changed since the great dust bowl migration. It shows the power of family, and by the end, shows that the important family is the family that you make through your travels through life.

The manner of storytelling was interesting. It wasn’t quite linear. There were times where there was a chorus commenting on the situation. There were also numerous moments of flashback, providing backstory for the characters. The story moved forward across the road, in fits and spurts like an old car, with the backtracks and sidetrips that make the journey worthwhile.

Under the direction of Bill Rauch, the story grabs you attention and keeps it throughout. The time just passes, and the characters seem like realistic people, not caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the creative choice around the portrayal of Casear, the truck used by Martin and William as they travel back to Oklahoma.

In the lead positions were Mark Murphey (FB) as William Joad, and Tony Sancho (FB) as Martin Jodes. Murphey does a great job with Joad, moving the character from a unlikable hardass to someone whom you see as a real person who had a hard life, shaped by the trials of life. He captured the depth and depths of the character well, The same is true with Sancho’s Jodes: moving from an angry young man beat down by life to a fully rounded person, whom you see is very much like the original Tom Joad of the novel.

In what I would portray as supporting positions were Amy Lizardo (FBMo; Jeffrey King Roger, William’s Father, State Trooper, Ranch Hand; and Caro Zeller (FBAmelia, Chorus Leader.  As Mo, Lizardo provides some great comic relief, especially as we learn the depths of her character. King is most notable as Roger, the attorney who helps William find Martin, and later shows himself as a form of son to William. His final scenes with Martin were particularly touching. Lastly, Zeller is notable as Amelia, Martin’s ex. Her exuberance and joyfulness as a marked contrast to some of the hardship captured by the other characters.

Notable tertiary performances included Catherine Castellanos (FBIvy, William’s Mother, Police Officer; and Cedric Lamar (FBCook, James. Castellanos was most notable as Ivy, the waitress descended from the family the Joads befriended on their trek west to California. Her portrayal of a proud woman who made the best of her circumstances was great. Lamar was notable for two things: first, his wonderful singing voice, and second, his portrayal of James, the spiritual friend of Martin who helps turn his life around.

Rounding out the cast were Armando Durán Abelardo, Ranch Hand; and Fidel Gomez Abelardo’s Father, Curtis.

There were a load of understudies, none of whom we saw.

Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic design by Christopher Acebo (⭐FB) was simple: a billboard on the back for projections, some simple establishing props such as counters, seats, beds, and of course the car. They worked well to establish location and support the action without being extremely realistic. More interesting was the fact that unlike most scenic designs, they were removable — in other words, when we went into to see As You Like It a few hours later, the entire scenic design was removed. Carolyn Mazuca‘s costume design and Cherelle D. Guyton‘s wig design was appropriate for the characters, and with the actors portraying multiple characters, captured each individual character well. Pablo Santiago‘s lighting design served well to establish time and mood; and Kaitlyn Pietras‘s projection design was the main factor in establishing the specific places along the road. Sound designer and composer Paul James Prendergast‘s effects and music also supported the establishment of mood and place. Routing out the creative credits: Ty Defoe Movement Director; Tiffany Ana López Production Dramaturg; Micha Espinosa Voice and Text Director; Kareem Fahmy Phil Killian Directing FellowU. Jonathan Toppo Fight Director; Cedric Lamar (FB) Dance Captain; Karl Alphonso Production Stage Manager; and Ray Gonzalez Production Assistant.

Mother Road continues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through October 26, 2019. Tickets are available through the OSF website.

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

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

There is one more writeup pending from OSF: As You Like It .

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and a hold for Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

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🎭 A Group, Unraveled | “Loose Knit” @ Group Rep

Loose Knit (Group Rep)Going in, you have to understand that my wife is into the fabric arts: knitting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing, quiliting … almost anything other the crochet. Her obsession for the last few years has been knitting, and she’s been involved with a number of knitting groups, the longest being a group that knits over at A Major Knitwork in Van Nuys. So when an announcement came across my electronic transom about Loose Knit, a play by Theresa Rebeck (⭐FB) at The Group Rep (FB) in North Hollywood, a play that involved a knitting group, I was intrigued. I sent the following description to my wife to see if she was interested (and whether there was larger group interest):

“Once a week, in the heart of Manhattan, five women gather to knit. As the sweaters pile up, their lives fall apart. On the surface this is a knitting club, but underneath all the yarn, this is a family of choice as these women give and get support. This contemporary play is a wool blend of Noel Coward and Wendy Wasserstein barbs showing us stylish ferocity and insight in a well-made comedy of manners.

Needless to say, she was interested. Luckily, I had just gotten a Goldstar announcement on the show, so I grabbed two tickets (passing on seeing Weird Al at the Greek, but we saw him at the Bowl a few years earlier).

The show itself turned out to be relatively interesting. My wife observed afterwards that the knitting was essentially a McGuffin: It served to provide the context to bring this group of women together, but it could have been any device that did the same thing: a bridge club, a coffee klatch, a group of bingo regulars, etc. The knitting itself was peripheral to the plot; it was the relationships of the women that were key.

That said, my wife also noted that the portrayal of knitting groups was accurate: the groups become family, there is often intense family drama, and the members of the group care about and support each others. This, of course, leads to a side plug: If you knit, go to your FLYS (Friendly Local Yarn Store) and get involved in a knitting group. You can find one by looking at the folks involved in the annual yarn crawl, or on the website Ravelry.

The actual story centers around the women in the knitting group, and their relationships in and out of the group. At the center are two sisters: Lily (Stephanie Colet (FB)) and Liz (Marie Broderick (FB)). Liz is secretly having an affair with Lily’s husband Bob (Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB)), using the knitting group as the excuse to run into him while bemoaning the guys that lie in the world. Margie (Julie Davis (FB)) is single and looking for the right guy, having just joined a singles group. Paula (Cathy Diane Tomlin (⭐FB, FB)), a therapist, is also looking for the right guy, but is jaded by the folks she’s met in her practice. The last member of the knitting group, Gina (Lisa McGee Mann (FB)), is a lawyer who, on the surface, just wants to knit and claims no problems, but is on the verge of a breakdown from those non-existent problems — but luckily she has a large yarn stash. Complicating matters is Miles (Todd Andrew Ball (FB)), a wealthy mergers and acquisitions guy, who keeps being set up with most of the members of the knitting group, and whose dates go spectacularly wrong.

Loose Knit - Photo StripGenerally, the segments that involve the women in the knitting group are the most interesting, where t hey are talking and interacting. Especially in Act I, the scenes involving Miles are cringe-worthy — not due to the performances, but just the nature of Miles and how much of a creep he is set up to be. Hang in there with respect to those scenes, for the Miles character finally makes sense in the final scenes on the show (although he still remains slime, just like his buddy “The Donald”, who is also mentioned in the show). Note that this play was written in the early 1990s, when men who behaved like this towards women (entitled, thinking their wealth allowed them to do anything) were common and accepted, The behavior that seemed perhaps innocuous then seems very problematic now, and is perhaps the most dated aspect of this play.

The one other thing that confused me about this play was the numerous references to Americans and the behavior of Americans. This might make sense if the knitting group was outside of the US, but for a Manhattan-based knitting group, why would they be running into people complaining about the behavior of Americans? It just made no sense, but was a minor distraction for the plot.

[📱 And speaking of minor distractions: Remember that the combination of silent mode 🔇 and airplane modemight not silence alarms, if they are set to ignore do-not-disturb. We learned the hard way, and apologize. Turn OFF your phones.]

But overall, we found the play to be reasonably funny and an accurate portrayal of knitting groups. The women seemed to genuinely care about each other, and the resolution at the end worked well. I think the play is well worth seeing, and it reminded us of the quality performances that come out of Group Rep (we were last at the theatre in 2016)

Under the direction of L. Flint Esquerra, the knitting group was believable, although it was clear that the actresses were a bit new to knitting. Remember, if B. D. Wong can knit, you can too. They seemed to inhabit their roles, and were comfortable around the needles. As noted earlier, the scenes with Miles were a bit more cringe-worthy, but that may be more of an issue with the writing vs. the performance. I’m not sure if there is a way to play them to lessen the cringe, but make the end reveal equal in strength.

As the sisters Lily and Liz, Stephanie Colet (FB) and Marie Broderick (FB) were strong and believable. I particularly liked Broderick’s Liz and the energy and attitude she brought to the role. Colet’s Lily was a bit more laid back, although her outburst at the end was particularly good.

Of the others in the knitting group, my favorite was Lisa McGee Mann (FB)’s Gina, especially when she had the breakdown at the end of Act I. I feel sorry for the poor stage managers who had to clean up and untangle the mess that she made! Her crawilng into the chest and covering herself in yarn was spectacular. Julie Davis (FB)’s Margie and Cathy Diane Tomlin (⭐FB, FB)’s Paula were also strong, especially in their interactions with Miles and the monologues and reactions afterwards. 

Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB)’s Bob came across as a generally nice and befuddled guy. For his role, one wonders how the perception of the story might shift with the casting. Haverty came across as a lovable schlub of an academic, but imagine if the role was played by someone buff, or with different characteristics. Would that have changed the audience perception of the relationship with Liz and Lily? In any case, Haverty played the role well.

This brings us to Todd Andrew Ball (FB)’s Miles. Sigh. Performance-wise, Ball captured the slime aspects of Miles well, and was convincing as the man to whom women were just a plaything, something to be bought with his money just like a fancy car or house, to be discarded when ultimately he got bored with them. Ball portrayed the character well; the problem was more that the writing of the character, while appropriate for when the play was written, was more jarring today.

Understudies were: Cynthia Bryant Paula U/S; Beccy Quinn (⭐FB) Margie U/S; Sandi Steinberg Gina U/S; and Sascha Vanderslik (⭐FBLiz U/S.

Turning to the production and creative side: The set design by Chris Winfield (FB) worked reasonably well, although for some reason three of the women in the knitting group had remarkably similar apartments :-). Seriously, establishing the sense of place was done well, and the appropriate prop knitting pieces worked well (although someone was doing a lot of visits to Jo-Anns and Michaels for the yarns, and they must have had fun both re-knitting and re-rolling pieces between each performance). Angela M. Eads (FB)’s costumes worked reasonably well, although there were times where Margie’s costumes were a bit puzzling. JC Gafford (FB)’s sound design generally worked well, and Douglas Gabrielle‘s lighting design established time and place well. Stage manager Ariana Fernandez had her hands full with all the yarn to corral between scenes, so kudos to her and her uncredited team. Other production credits: JC Gafford (FB) Asst. Director; Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB) Graphic Design; Nora Feldman (FBPublic Relations; Doug Engalla Photography/Videography; Katelyn Ann Clark (FB) Producer for Group RepLoose Knit was original presented as a workshop production at the Long Wharf Theatre 1992-09-15 (Arvin Brown, Artistic Director; M. Edgar Rosenblum, Exec. Director), and had its world premiere production at the Second Stage Theatre 1993-06-21 (Carol Rothman, Artistic Director; Suzanne Schwartz Davidson, Producing Director).

Loose Knit continues at The Group Rep (FB) in North Hollywood through September 8, 2019. Tickets are available through the Group Rep online. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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

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

Upcoming Shows:

The next couple of weeks are quiet, but August ends with a double feature: Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

 

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🎭 Schadenfreude | “The Play That Goes Wrong” @ Ahmanson

The Play That Goes Wrong (Ahmanson)The musical Avenue Q gave a word to most Americans for a concept they knew well. It was a concept that drove almost all comedy, and certainly comedic farce. It wasn’t a comedy driven by jokes or puns, or almost anything that was said. It was schadenfreude, the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.

Schadenfreude is at the heart of the final production of the Ahmanson Theatre (FB)’s 2018-2019 season: The Play That Goes Wrong, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields as a Mischief Theatre production in London. Bottom line up front: this is the funniest thing I have seen on stage since the first time I saw Noises Off in the original West End production at the Savoy.

The premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is a simple one: an amateur British theatre company, the Cornley University Drama Society, has been afforded the honour through a British-American Cultural Exchange Program of presenting a play on tour in America: The Murder at Haversham Manor, written by Susie H.K. Brideswell. Unfortunately, during the production, everything that can go wrong during the production does. Miscues. Misplaced props. Non-cooperating sets. Bad actors. Technology issues. Trying to summarize the story is pointless — the story exists only to provide a framework for the mayhem, and the mayhem is so rapid-fire that trying to describe it is (a) impossible, and (b) would destroy the humor.

Suffice it to say that your fun starts before the show when the actors are out in the audience getting things set up, and continues until the end of the curtain call.

Pulling off a well-timed farce like this requires strong direction to get the movement and blocking right — one wrong move and actors could get seriously injured. Tour director Matt DiCarlo (FB) luckily gets this right, building on his experience as the Production Stage Manager for the original Broadway production, as well as the original Broadway direction by Mark Bell. DiCarlo has honed his acting ensemble to split-second precision, while making it look completely disorganized on stage. That’s actually a skill to have order behind the comedy chaos. He is aided by Nigel Hook‘s scenic design, which supports the actors by failing in a predictable and controlled way while making it looks like chaotic failure. It really is a remarkable design, and I feel sorry for the technicians that must reset it every night, and ensure that it survives the tour scathed only in predictable ways (one can’t call a set that fails unscathed).

Similarly, the acting ensemble manages to perform precise physical and stage comedy while appearing completely amateurish. That’s not to say bad. This is ostensibly an amateur theatre company, so the first part of the acting is to make yourself look unskilled. It’s like a wonderfully talented singer intentionally singing bad without making it look intentional, which is really hard work. This company does that in a believable fashion, while precisely hitting their marks and being their to make their other company members look good. Or is that bad. With this play, you never know.

The company consisted of the following talented performers: Brandon J. Ellis (FB) Trevor Watson – Lighting and Sound Operator; Evan Alexander Smith (FB) Chris Bean – Inspector Carter & Director; Yaegel T. Welch (FB) Jonathan Harris – Charles Haversham; Peyton Crim (FB) Robert Grove – Thomas Colleymoore; Scott Cote (FB) Dennis Tyde – Perkins; Jamie Ann Romero (FB) Sandra Wilkinson – Florence Colleymoore; Ned Noyes (FB) Max Bennett – Cecil Haversham; and Angela Grovey (FB) Annie Twilloil – Stage Manager.  I’d like to highlight a few of these performances.

Ned Noyes was hilarious with his playfulness and recognition that the audience was there, dropping in and out of character to just have loads of fun. Evan Smith was similar — he kept trying to keep controlled while everything was collapsing around him, and his pleading to the audience not to laugh was just remarkable. Both of the technicians — Angelea Grovey and Brandon Ellis were hilarious both before the show, and after they got drafted to be on stage. In general, the comic playfulness was high and that joy came across to the audience.

Understudies were: Blair Baker (FB), Jacqueline Jarrold (FB), Sid Solomon (FB), and Michael Thatcher (FB). I’ll note Sid Solomon is an AEA council member who was active in the Pro99 discussions. I hope he’s had the time to see and visit the LA theatre scene while the tour has been in Los Angeles.

Turning to the production side: I’ve already mentioned the great scenic design of Nigel Hook; I’ll note there’s a great discussion of this on CTGs 30 to Curtain podcast, in an interview with Kevin McCollum, one of the producers. Credit should also go to Bay Scenery Ltd UK, which built the scenery. Roberto Surace (FB)’s costume design was believable for the nature of the show, and had the right level of playfulness. Ric Mountjoy‘s lighting design was well executed in support of the mayhem, and for the most part, Andrew Johnson‘s sound design was clear and crisp, with good sound effects (there were a few points of muddled sound). Especially for this show, the contributions of Michael Thatcher (FBFight Captain; Blair Baker (FBAsst. Stage Manager; Sharika Niles (FBStage Manager; and Jeff Norman Production Stage Manager deserve acknowledgment, as they are integral to making the mayhem happen precisely and without injury. Rounding out the production credits: Stephen Kopel CSA US Casting; Allied Touring Tour Marketing and Press; The Booking Group Tour Booking; David Benken Production Manager; Jose Solivan Company Manager; Bespoke Theatricals General Management. Producers include Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, and Ken Davenport.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through August 11, 2019. Go see it, it is hilarious. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and TodayTix.

This is our last show as subscribers to the Ahmanson 2018-2019 Season. Over all the shows across CTG’s three theatres in 2019-2020, there were only three of interest. We didn’t renew our subscription; we’re buying single tickets instead.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next week brings Loose Knit at Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB). The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

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🎭 Skin Color Battles Are Nothing New | “West Side Story” @ 5-Star

West Side Story (5-Star Theatricals)Most people know the musical West Side Story. Most people think they’ve seen the musical West Side Story, but when pressed, what they mean is that they’ve seen the movie version of the musical. That movie made some changes in the stage version, and is strongly rooted in the era in which it was filmed (it is being remade this year). But neither are the stage show. When did you last see the original?

For me, the answer was 15 years ago, almost to the weekend, in a production at what was then Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks (my wife had the (mis)fortune of seeing the bilingual tour version at the Pantages in December 2010).  I say “was”, because last night both of us were at Cabrillo, since renamed 5 Star Theatricals (FB), for their new production of West Side Story. Bottom Line Up Front: This is a very good production, well-cast and well performed. The dancing could use a bit more sharpness, but given it only runs two weekends and had limited rehearsal, that’s a minor quibble.

On the odd chance that anyone is unfamiliar with West Side Story, it is essentially Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reworked an transported to New York in the 1950s. Warring families have become warring gangs, and the battle has become a racial one: whites vs. hispanics, white Americans vs. “immigrants” (in quotes, because white America conveniently forgets PR is part of America). There are still star crossed lovers, and the story ends in tragedy. The story was based on a conception of Jerome Robbins, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondhim (with some translations, uncredited, by Lin-Manuel Miranda). The original production was entirely directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. You can read the story of the show’s creation on Wikipedia or on the WRTI page.

Over on the Guide to Musical Theatre, I found this concise synopsis. There’s a much more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and set in the urban slums of New York, the show used, as its modern equivalents for the Montagues and Capulets the juvenile gangs of local whites (the Jets) and immigrant Puerto Ricans (the Sharks). The did battle with childish seriousness over the streets that they claim as their territory. The Jets, boastful and contemptuous of the immigrants, call on Tony, who used to be their leader but now has a regular job and is on his way to adulthood, to help their new leader Riff and the gang in a challenge to the Sharks. Riff reminds Tony of his old allegiance and of how menacing are the newcomers. Tony reluctantly agrees reluctantly but soon becomes excited with the thrill of potential combat.

Meanwhile, in a bridal shop Anita, the sweetheart of the Shark’s leader, Bernado, is converting Maria’s communion dress into a gown for the dance that evening. Maria is Bernardo’s sister. He has brought her from Puerto Rico hoping that she will marry his best friend, Chino.

At the dance Riff challenges Bernado and the groups agree to do battle. Tony and Maria have seen each other and fall in love, instantly and become oblivious to the menace that is building up around them.

Most of the Puerto Ricans are nervously elated over the coming conflict but they are confident and determined to assimilate into the American way despite the homesickness that some of them feel. The threatening groups are dispersed by a policeman but the separation is only temporary. What could have just been a game of muscle flexing turns to tragedy when Bernado provokes a knife-fight which results in Riff being killed. Bernado is murdered in turn by the avenging Tony. He flees to the home of Maria who has been told of the news of her brother’s death by Chino. Her love for Tony overcomes her hatred for her brother’s killer. Tony promises to take her away and in a dream ballet sequence the battle is re-enacted but this time the lovers are not allowed to meet. The dream turns into a nightmare but Tony and Maria flee.

The gangs meanwhile are concerned with their inevitable encounter with the law and mockingly imagine how they will deal with the situation in the number “Gee, Officer Krupke”. Anita taunts Maria for remaining faithful to Tony but nonetheless agrees to deliver Maria’s message for Tony to the Jets. Unfortunately the Jets threaten to abuse and rape her that she is driven to claim that Chino has shot and killed Maria. Hearing this, angry and wild with grief Tony goes after Chino, but Chino coolly shoots him just as Tony discovers that Maria is not dead after all. Somewhat ashamed, the Jets and the Sharks between them remove Tony’s body as Maria follows them.

As the production ended, one thought came to mind: How different this was from last weekend’s similar tragedy. Think about the compare and contrast with Miss Saigon, for it says a lot about why one production has become timeless, and one increasingly problematic. Both are stories ultimately based on classic theatre written by white men about cultures they didn’t know personally (Puccini about Japan, Shakespeare about Italy). Both were adapted into a story about cultural clash. Both end in tragedy, in the death of a key figure propelling the story, leaving the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces after the show ends.

But whereas Miss Saigon is a problematic adaptation, portraying no heroism or honor in the Vietnamese except for the lead heroine, West Side Story does not draw a caricature of the Puerto Rican culture. They are shown with loving families, as people who care about each other, who care about the country, and who just want their chance at the American way. The only racist sentiment (other than the inherent gang racism, of course) is from the Police, who express a racist attitude of anyone not white or lower class. But that, unfortunately, is something that is still present today. Just ask any hispanic or black family if they get fair treatment from some police departments.

Miss Saigon tells a story that in increasingly dated and stereotypical, but with beautiful music, dance, and stagecraft. West Side Story,  on the other hand, tells a story that is a timeless star-crossed lover story, set in an environment of racial fashions that alas is still far too prevalent today. Perhaps one day the racial and ethnic divisions that make West Side Story work will go away, and that aspect of the story will also seem dated. Hopefully one day.

The production used the modified 2009 version of the script. This was the version that replaced some of the songs sung by Puerto-Rican characters with Spanish lyrics, although by the time the tour settled down and the script was finalized for MTI, the only Spanish lyrics left was the sequence of the Sharks in “Tonight”. There were some relics in a bit of Spanish dialogue at points in the story.

The director, Larry Raben (FB), made some interesting directorial choices in the show. For Doc, the owner of the store where Tony works, he cast an African American. This emphasized without words the separation of that character from the battles around him, and made his attempts to stop the violence even more poignant.  He also presented the dream ballet sequence using a youth ensemble. This highlighted the innocence of the internal conceptions of the characters from the hard exteriors we saw on stage. There were some problems in the execution of the sequence, but the idea itself was an interesting choice. Raben also did a great job of working with the actors to bring out the characters as distinct.

As always with 5-Star/Cabrillo, the performances were strong. 5-Star uses a mix of AEA-talent (æ) (some established, some upcoming) in a few select lead positions, and the top local talent and upcoming local talent in smaller positions. I always like to point out that Katharine McPhee got her start on the Cabrillo boards, many years ago as the lead in Annie Get Your Gun.  It is a key training ground for talent.

In the lead positions were Brandon Keith Rogers (FB) (æ) Tony and Giselle Torres (⭐FB) Maria. Both gave very strong performances, and the chemistry between the two was believable. Rogers had a higher voice that I remembered for the Tony role, but it worked quite well and was lovely in all the songs. Torres got even higher notes, but handled them with aplomb. They were great.

Turning to the rest of the Jets: Aleks Pevec (FB) (æ) Riff, the Gang Leader; Doug Penikas (FBAction; Nic Olsen (FBA-Rab; Chet Norment (FBBaby John; Daniel Brackett (FBBig Deal; Brock Markham (FBDieseland Antonia Vivino (FBAnybodys. Pevec was strong as Riff, with a great stage presence and a nice singing voice. Most of the other guys blended into the background in the numbers, with Penikas and Markham as standouts in their characterizations. All the guys got to shine in the difference characterizations they get in “Officer Krupkie”. I emphasize the word “guys”, because as the one non-guy, Vivino’s Anybodys was always a standout, bringing a fun playful energy to her role. Although not explicitly credited, she was also the lead vocal for the dream Maria in “Somewhere”, bringing a lovely voice to the song (and outshining in vocal quality the dream Tony). Note that Vivino has a new album out with her sisters Natalia and Donna called DNA, available on CDBaby and Amazon. I happened to pick up a copy of the album yesterday because I remember Natalia from other Cabrillo productions, and although I’ve only listened to a few songs to date, it is beautiful.

The Jet girls (other than Anybodys) have smaller more backgroundish roles, and although they have character names, their characters come across as less distinct to the audience. The Jet girls were: Tara Carbone (⭐FB, FB) Graziella; Elizabeth Sheck (FB) Velma; Alley Kerr (⭐FB, FB) Minnie; Carly Haig (FB) Clarice; Lindsey Wells (FB) Clarice; and Laura Aronoff (⭐FB, FB) Suzy.

This brings us to the rival gang, the Sharks. In the lead positions for the Sharks were Patrick Ortiz (FB) (æ) Bernardo, the leader; Lauren Louis (FB) Anita, Bernardo’s Girl; and John Paul Batista (FB) Chino. Ortiz was very strong as Bernardo, with a strong stage presence and great singing and dancing voice. Louis got to shine as Anita, especially in “America” where she gets to be very playful. Batista also had a good stage presence, but didn’t get to shine until the closing scenes. Rounding out the gang were James Everts (⭐FB, FB) Pepe; Jared Cardiel (FB) Indio; Lyndon Apostol (FB) Luis; Joah Ditto (FB) Anxious; and Antony Sanchez (æ) Nibbles.

The other Shark girls, who get to shine in both “America” and “I Feel Pretty”, are: Taleen Shrikian (FBRosalia; Cheyenne Omani (FB) Consuela; Sophie Shapiro (FB) Teresita; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) Francisca; Arianna White (FB) Estrella and Erin Gonzalez (FB) Margarita.

The few adults in the show have much smaller roles: Ivan Thompson Doc; Skip Pipo (FBSchrank, Glad Hand; and Rich Grosso (⭐FB, FB) Krupke. Notable among these was Thompson’s Doc, who I mentioned previously. Note also that Pipo is a REP alumni, having been in multiple REP shows. REP memories are fading, and so REP alumni and season ticket holders need to stick together.

Rounding out the cast was the youth ensemble, who we only see during the dream sequence. The ensemble is primarily a dance ensemble, although one gets to sing a lead a dream Tony (and was a little shakey). Dance-wise they were reasonably good overall; and remarkably good given their age. The ensemble consisted of: Anabel Alexander; Brando de la Rosa; Natalie de la Rosa; Emma Driscoll; Iyana Hannans; Callie Kiefer; Mikayla Kiefer; Daniel Peters; Luke Pryor; Drew Rosen; Sawyer Sublette; and Emily Tatoosi (⭐FB).

This brings us to the dance and stage movement, under the direction of choreographer Karl Warden (FB) and dance captain Veronica Gutierrez (FB). This is, at its heart, a dance show. The dancing in the show was good, but at times, the sharp precision the music leads one to expect just wasn’t there. It was close, and most of the audience didn’t perhaps notice it. But I’m used to movement in drum corps, where all the rifles come down with a singular snap. The Bernstein movement requires that precision, and in quite a few numbers it wasn’t there. This isn’t a major flaw, as this is a show with limited performances and limited rehearsals, and that precision take work to build. Hopefully, they can get a bit closer in the second weekend. This was particularly notable during “Somewhere”, as the kids ensemble just doesn’t have the strength at their age to pull off the strength and power the dream ballet requires. They come close, and are beautiful, but at are about 90%. On the other hand, the fight choreography, presumably under the fight captains Lyndon Apostol (FB) and James Everts (⭐FB, FB), was spectacular, creating believable and menacing fight sequences. Well done, well done.

The pit orchestra was under the musical direction of Jeff Rizzo (FB), who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of: Ian Dahlberg (FB) Flute, Piccolo, Alto Sax, Clarinet; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Clarinet, Alto Sax, E-flat Clarinet; Bill Wilson Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone;   Matt Germaine (FB) Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Baritone Saxophone; John Nunez (FB) Bassoon;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) Horn; Bill Barrett (FB) Trumpet 1; Chris Maurer (FBTrumpet 2; Nathan Stearns Trombone; Sharon Cooper Violin 1 (Concertmaster); Sally Berman Violin 2; Judy Garf (FB) Violin 3; Stephen Green Cello; Jennifer Oikawa Keyboard Synthesizer; Lance Conrad-Marut GuitarShane Harry (FB) Double String Bass; Chris Kimbler Piano, Celeste; Steve Pemberton Drums; and Tyler Smith (FB) Percussion. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. The orchestra had a great sounds and was a joy to listen to.

Lastly, the remainder of the production and creative team. There is no credit for scenic design, although the program notes that the set and scenery were provided by The Music and Theatre Company LLC, with costumes provided in party by the Maine State Music Theatre. Other costumes were designed by Kathryn Poppen, with hair and wig design by Jessica Mills (FB) and prop design by Alex Choate (FB).   Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well in establishing time and mood; I particularly noted it during “One Hand, One Heart” where there was just a beautiful background color.  Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design was good, as always. Rounding out the production credits: Talia Krispel (FB) Production Stage Manager; Jack Allaway (FB) Technical Director; David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing; Patrick Cassidy (FB) Artistic Director. Originally produced on Broadway by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by Arrangement with Roger L. Stevens.

West Side Story has one more performance this weekend, and a number next weekend. For more information and tickets, visit the 5-Star Site. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). That’s followed by Loose Knit at Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB). The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks. Somewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

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🎭 A Shakespearean Sitcom | “A Comedy of Errors” @ Shakespeare by the Sea

A Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare by the Sea)What would summer be without Shakespeare in an outdoor setting. Last year, it was in beautiful Lake Tahoe,  where alas the Scottish Play led to a food mishap for my wife before the show. This year we opted for a comedy, in a wonderful location next to the freeway in Long Beach. But the Scottish Play struck again with the food — more on that at the end. The production, on the other hand, was a delight: Shakespeare‘s A Comedy of Errors, which is being done in repertory with Henry V throughout Los Angeles and Orange County, from the South Bay to the Valley, by Shakespeare by the Sea (FB). The company is on tour throughout the southland, with forthcoming stops in Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Torrence, Ranch PV, Pasadena, Whittier, Encino, Seal Beach, Aliso Viejo, Santa Monica … you get the idea.

A Comedy of Errors is a play I was seeing for the first time, although I had heard the music. Well, I had heard the music from The Boys from Syracuse, which was actually the first musical made from a Shakespeare play. That’s close enough. So I knew the basic plot. It really is a Shakespeare sitcom, as there is loads of mistaken identity. It is also a Shakespeare comedy, because everyone ends up in love and coupled off by the end of the play, including the servants.

Here’s the basic story, from the synopsis page on the website:

Aegeon, a merchant from Syracuse is arrested in Ephesus for violating a law barring travel between the two cities. He tells the Duke that he came to Ephesus seeking his wife and twin sons (both called Antipholus) and their servants (both called Dromio). They were separated in a shipwreck. Aegeon was rescued with one son and one servant but the other son and his servant were rescued by a different ship. Aegeon never knew what happened to the rest of his family. When Antipholus of Ephesus came of age, he and Dromio went in search of his twin brother. But when they never came home, Aegeon went out looking for all four of them. The Duke commiserates and gives him one day to pay a ransom or suffer the death penalty.

Unbeknownst to all, the long-lost twins and their mother Adriana have settled in Ephesus, and Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have also arrived in Ephesus. Antipholus S. meets Dromio E. and has words when Dromio takes him to Adriana’s house for dinner. When Antipholus E arrives at his real home for dinner, Adriana locks the doors, believing that her husband is already inside with her. A gold chain that was ordered by Antipholus E is accidentally given to Antipholus S and Antipholus E refuses to pay Angelo, as he doesn’t believe he received it. Angelo has Antipholus E arrested and he asks the Duke for help, as he has been wrongly accused. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse go to the abbey for safety, and when they emerge, find Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, as well as Aegeon. The abbess reveals that she is actually Aegeon’s long-lost wife, Emilia. Aegeon’s ransom is paid, and the family is reunited.

Was I right. It’s a sitcom.

A Comedy of Errors (Production Photos)It’s also very funny. Under the direction of James Rice (FB), the action is fast and furious, and the actors are given sufficient leeway to have fun with their roles and play a little bit to the audience. This is clearly fun for them, and that fun is contagious.

In the lead positions are Jonathan Fisher (FBAntipholus of Ephesus, Alex Elliott-Funk (FBAntipholus of Syracuse, Melissa Green (FBDromio of Ephesus, and Brendan Kane (FBDromio of Syracuse. These four were spectacular: they handled the dialogue well and made it so the audience could hear it (always important with Shakespeare). They handled the physical comedy well, and were extremely funny. I particularly liked the comic antics of both Green and Kane. They must just be so sore by the time the evening ends with all the running and jumping they do.

Primarily playing off of these four were Antipholus-E’s wife Adriana (Olivia Saccomanno (FB)) and her sister Luciana (Amber Luallen (FB)). These two were also very playful with their roles, as well as bringing beauty to the stage. They, too, got to have fun with the physicality of the roles, especially Luallen in her scenes with Kane.

Also critical to the story are the merchants who work with Antipholus-E, and the Courtesan who is his friend: Sean Spencer (FB) Pinch / First Merchant; Alden Bettencourt (FB) Second Merchant/Gaoler; Benjamin White (FB) Angelo; and Sharon Jewell (FB) Courtesan / Balthasar. Of these, I’d particularly like to highlight White’s performance. He’s the goldsmith, and he has quite a bit of fun with the role.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles are: Andy Kallok (FB) Aegeon; Sonje Inge (FB) Abbess/Luce; and Jane Hink (FB) Duke.  Hink, in particular, did a great job playing the Duke for comic effect.

Haley Tubbs (FB) is the Luciana understudy on 8/17.

Production-wise, things are kept simple, given they have to take down the stage after every performance and rebuild it the next day. There’s a multilevel set with some simple doors, and relatively simple lighting. Costumes are vaguely Shakespearean but of no particular time or era. The artistic and production staff consists of: Sara Haddadin (FB) Tour Manager; Matthew White Scenic Designer; Diana Mann (FB) Costume Designer; Nayla Hull Sound Designer; Patrick Vest (FB) Fight Choreographer; Claire Mazzeo (FB) Stage Manager; Cinthia Nava-Palmer (FBSound Engineer; Amy Zidell Webmaster; Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (FB) Press RelationsLisa Coffi (FB) is the Producing Artistic Director, Suzanne Dean (FB) is the Associate Artistic Director, and Stephanie Coltrin (FB) is the Associate Producer and synopsis writer.

As I noted earlier, this summer’s season of Shakespeare by the Sea (FB) has many more performances until its last on August 17. Locations it will be visiting include Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes, S. Pasadena, Whittier, Encino, Seal Beach, Aliso Viejo, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, the Fairfax District, La Mirada, Cerritos, with the final performances in San Pedro. You have no excuse to go — the performances are free (although donations are accepted).

We really had a good time at the show. Now that we know about this, we’ll try to make it again next summer. Learn more about the show, its tour schedule, and how to reserve space at the Shakespeare by the Sea website.

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Although the show was great, alas, I can’t say the same thing about dinner before the show. On the recommendation of a friend, we tried The Attic in Long Beach. It was my wife’s birthday, and we wanted some place sorta-foodie. We thought she would be safe: their menu marked what was gluten-free, and we let them know she was gluten-free — not by choice — when we made the reservation and placed our order. But the curse of the scottish play from last year followed us.

She ordered the shrimp with grits, which was marked Gluten Free.

It wasn’t. Somehow, she got poisoned with gluten, either as a direct ingredient or by cross-contamination. This is unacceptable; it left her sick all day. Enjoy the restaurant if you can handle gluten, but if you are at all sensitive — stay away. My wife has left a negative review on Yelp.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). October starts with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB), and concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).  Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

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🎭 A Problematic Reinterpretation | “Miss Saigon” @ Pantages

Miss Saigon (Pantages)Our post-Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) theatrical break has ended (last weekend, which I didn’t write about, was the quasi-theatrical concert of An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB)). Saturday night we were at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Miss Saigon (FB). It is a show for which I’ve known the music for years and years, but had never seen.

Now that I’ve seen it — so many mixed emotions. I’m glad to have seen it, and to finally have an understanding of the story behind the music. But I have no strong desire to see it again; in fact, this is a show that requires a lot of context setting and discussion to make it fit well in the modern world. This tour is not doing it; IIRC, it has chosen not to do it. Most audiences will see this show, take it on surface values for the beautiful music and performances, and not understand the real story and problems behind it. There are some attempts to bring important issues to the fore, but they seem tacked on afterthoughts for the story.

Let’s start where all performances must start: the story. In this case, an uncredited adaptation of the themes of Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini made by Alain Boublil French Lyrics and Claude-Michel Schönberg Music, with further adaptation by Richard Maltby Jr, and Alain Boublil English Lyrics, Michael Mahler Additional Lyrics, and the production expertise of Cameron Mackintosh. Madame Butterfly, if you are unfamiliar, tells the story of an American Naval Officer in 1904 who goes to Japan, falls in love with a Geisha (“Butterfly”), and then leaves. Butterfly finds herself pregnant. Three years later he returns, married. The wife has agreed to raise the child, but when she sees how devoted Butterfly is to the child, she decides she can’t take the child away. Butterfly insists that the officer come tell her himself. When he does, she prepares her child to live with his father, and commits suicide behind a screen.

One important to note at this point: We’re talking a story about Japanese culture, written by a white Italian, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by a white French man, that has traditionally been performed by non-Asian opera singers. What could possibly go wrong as it is adapted for modern times?

Boublil and Schönberg updated the setting of the story, transforming it to the time of the fall of Saigon. This time, an American GI, Chris, falls in love with a girl from a local village, Kim, who just started to work at a girl-bar for “The Engineer”. The two get married per Buddhist custom. During the marriage ceremony, the cousin to whom she was promised, Thuy, shows up — a North Vietnamese officer — and curses her.  Saigon falls, and Chris is on the last chopper out of the embassy, unable to get Kim out. Cut to three years later. Thuy has found The Engineer in a reeducation camp up North, and persuades him to find Kim for him. He does, but Kim does not want to marry the officer. When pressed, she reveals she has a son who is half-American. Thuy threatens to kill the boy, but Kim shoots and kills Thuy to save her son. The Engineer, on the other hand, sees the boy as the ticket out of Vietnam, and pretends to be Kim’s brother and they escape to Bangkok. Back in the states, after a year or so, Chris remarries to Ellen, who knows nothing of Chris’ past. John, Chris’s buddy from Vietnam, contacts him to let him know Kim has been found, and there is a child. All three go to Bangkok to meet Kim. But before the planned meeting, the Engineer lets Kim know where Chris is. She goes there, only to meet Ellen. Ellen had been willing to bring the boy back, but seeing Kim’s attachment decides they instead will support Kim and the boy, Tam. Kim insists that Chris tell that to him face-to-face. Chris, John, and Ellen head down to Kim’s room to do so. As they do, Kim tells Tam that he’ll be going with his father to a better life. She goes behind a curtain and shoots herself. Tearful last scene with Chris.

Of course, this is a linear presentation of the story; the stage version keeps going back and forth in time.

When this first opened, there was controversy aplenty when Mackintosh cast a white actor, Johnathan Pryce, as the Engineer, and another white actor as Thuy. He also cast Lea Salonga as Kim. He petitioned Equity to bring these three to America (and won), but not after lots of protests. Times have changed, and at least we have Asian actors in those roles. These are usually Filipino, not Vietnamese, however.

So where to start, story-wise. The basic story, stripped of all the cultural trappings, is both classic opera and classic colonialism, taking advantage of those in a culture felt to be inferior. If it was to be set entirely in a European culture, would it be an acceptable story? Probably not, other than as melodrama. But both the original and the Miss Saigon version use the story to present a colonial view of Asian culture, and that’s wrong. White guys writing about Asian culture. What could go wrong?

When you look at the Asians in the story, only one comes off as noble and good: Kim. The rest are either pimps (The Engineer), whores (the bar girls), or Communist Baddies (North Vietnamese soldiers). Further, their portrayal is excessively offensive — especially in the bar scenes. Women are treated as property, sexual toys, vessels for men to take advantage of and use. Setting aside ethnicity for a moment, this is an extremely offensive portray of the treatment of women. This is not to say that it didn’t happen in the mid-1970s in Saigon and Bangkok, but it is so different from modern sensibilities that context is required. None was provided. So we have an offensive stereotypical portrayal of Asians, and Asian “sex dens”, and of violence towards women in that culture and time. What more could go wrong?

This brings us to “The Engineer”: A character designed to be a pimp and a conniver and a schemer, a man who will do anything and everything he can to survive and make money for himself, and achieve the stereotypical American dream. He made me think quite a bit of Donald Trump, except the Engineer is a rung above Trump, as the Engineer is at least aware of what and who he is, and what he does to get there. Trump is. But the Engineer is one of those offensive anti-heroes (and it is no surprise that Pryce went on to play Fagin in a revival of Oliver! a few years later — the two are very similar stereotypical characters).

As for the Americans, they are portrayed as honorable types who could do no wrong. They are only virtuous, wanting to do what is best. This, again, is a stereotypical portrayal hyping the image of the great white God.

If there is anything redeeming in the story, it is perhaps bringing attention to the children left behind after war. But even then the show does not make an effort to inform the audience of how to help these children. The stories are real, as described by the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. And there are real foundations helping these children, including the Pearl Buck Foundation. But are they mentioned in the show or in the Playbill? No.

So the story itself not only presents a tragedy on-stage, but contains a multitude of additional tragedies. It could be a beneficial starting point to oh so many discussions. But that opportunity is not taken, and so we are left with a white-man’s view of a tragic love story, designed to pull emotion out of audiences.

If the story is problematic, why does Miss Saigon keep succeeding for over 25 years. The answer is threefold: music, performance, and stagecraft.

  • In terms of Music: Boublil and Schönberg (and Maltby)’s music and lyrics are beautiful. Some of the songs, such as “The Last Night of the World”, “Bui Doi”, or the Act I closer, “I’d Give My Life For You”, have become ballad standards. Other songs, such as “The Heat Is On”, “If You Want to Die in Bed”, or “The American Dream” are just energetic earworms. This is a score that is just nice to listen to, crafted well.
  • The performances tend to be strong. The Engineer, while sleaze on stage, is fun to watch. Kim has soaring vocals. John gets a lovely turn in Bui Doi. And Chris’ duets with Kims are lovely.
  • The stagecraft seals the deal. From the Vietnamese soldiers dancing acrobatically during the “Morning of the Dragon”, to the sex shops of Saigon and Bangkok, to the spectacular landing of a helicopter on stage in Act II: the audience applauds the art.

So let’s explore those performances, which were under the direction of Laurence Conner,  with musical staging and choreography by Bob Avian, and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt (FB), helped by Seth Sklar-Heyn (FB) Assoc. Director, Jesse Robb (FB) Assoc. Choreographer, Ryan Emmons (FB) Resident Director, Brandon Block (FB) Dance Captain, and Anna-Lee Wright (⭐FB, FB) Asst. Dance Captain.

In the “lead” position was Red Concepción (⭐FB, FB) as The Engineer (👨‍🎤) (Eymard Cabling (FB) at select performances). Concepción’s Engineer was very different than what I surmise Pryce’s must have been. Concepción played the character with an incredibly slimy and disgusting vibe, which was perfect for the character. He did a great job on songs such as “The Heat is On” “If You Want to Die in Bed”, “What a Waste”, and especially “The American Dream”. He was only hindered by the horrible acoustics of the Pantages, which delight in muffling sound — and which require actors to sing very clearly and with the right sound balance. But his characterization was spot on.

As Kim (👩), Emily Bautista (FB) (Myra Molloy (⭐FB, FB) at select performances) was stunning. She had a beautiful voice, and captured the initial shyness — and later the determination — of the character quite well. A joy to watch.

Her love interest, Chris (👨), was played by Anthony Festa (FB). Festa had a nice “everyman GI” look to him. He wasn’t overly hunky or buff, but a believable everyguy who was drafted into a war he didn’t want to be in. He sang well, and had a nice chemistry with Baustista’s Kim. As his buddy John (👦🏿), J. Daughtry (FB) did an outstanding job, especially with his Act II opening number, “Bui Doi”.

Turning to the remaining second tier roles: Jinwoo Jung (FBThuy (👧), Barman and Stacie Bono (FBEllen (👱‍♀️). Jung brought a strong presence and a strong voice to Thuy, the spurned suitor/cousin, and a great ghost in the second act. Bono’s Ellen exists more in the background, although she does get a nice number in the second act with Kim.

Of the last somewhat main characters, there is Kim’s son, Tam (Adalynn Ng at our performance, alternating with Tyler Dunn, Haven Je, and Fin Moulding). This character is … a human prop. “He” (because some actors are female) gets to be on stage, hug his mother, be carried by other characters, and occasionally, be thrown around and manhandled by other characters. He has no lines. At the curtain call, he comes out and looks cute, and gets applause for surviving. The actors do the best they can for the limited role, and for their age, but I feel sorry them in that they don’t really have more of an opportunity to show their skills off.

This brings us to the rest of the company, who play many different roles over the show. Of these, most notable are Dragon Acrobats (Noah Gouldsmith (FB), McKinley Knuckle (FB), and Kevin Murakami (FB)) who were outstanding. The company consisted of (additional named roles as shown; named understudy positions indicated with superscripts): Christine Bunuan (⭐FB, FB) Gigi (👩‍🦱), Patpong Street Worker; Eymard Cabling (FBThe Engineer (👨‍🎤)-Alt, Vietnamese Army Soldier, 👧u/s; Myra Molloy (⭐FB, FB) Kim (👩)-Alt; Devin Archer Marine, 👨u/s; Alexander Aguilar Marine; Eric Badiqué (FB) Vietnamese Army Soldier, Moulin Rouge Club Owner, 👨‍🎤u/s; Kai An Chee (FB) Bar Girl, 👩u/s, 👩‍🦱u/s; Julie Eicher (FB) Bar Girl, 👱‍♀️u/s; Matthew Dailey (FB) Marine, Shultz; Noah Gouldsmith (FB) Marine, Acrobat; Adam Kaokept (FB) Vietnamese Army Soldier; David Kaverman (FB) Marine, 👦🏿u/s; McKinley Knuckle (FB) Marine, Acrobat; Madoka Koguchi (FB) Dominique, Moulin Rouge Club Dancer; Garrick Macatangay (FB) Vietnamese Army Soldier, Patpong Street Worker; Jonelle Margallo (FB) Mimi, Patpong Street Worker, 👱‍♀️u/s,  👩‍🦱u/sKevin Murakami (FB) Acrobat; Jackie Nguyen (FB) Yvette, Moulin Rouge Club Dancer; Matthew Overberg (FB) Vietnamese Army Soldier; Emilio Ramos (FB) Marine, Vietnamese Army Soldier; Adam Roberts (FB) Marine, 👨u/s; Michael Russell (FB) Marine; Julius Sermonia (⭐FB, FB) Asst. Commissar, 👧u/s; Emily Stillings (FB) Bar Girl, Patpong Street Worker; Tiffany Toh (FB) Fifi, Patpong Street Worker; Nicholas Walters (FB) 👦🏿u/s; and Anna-Lee Wright (⭐FB, FB) Yvonne, Patpong Street Worker. U/S Key: 👨‍🎤 Engineer; 👩 Kim; 👨 Chris; 👦🏿 John; 👱‍♀️ Ellen; 👧 Thuy; 👩‍🦱 Gigi.

Swings were: Brandon Block (FB), Joven Calloway (FB), Rae Leigh Case, Nancy Lam (FB), Brian Shimasaki Liebson (FB).

This brings us to the music side of the art: the orchestra, conducted by Will Curry (FB) Music Director, assisted by Adam Rothenberg (FB) Assoc. Conductor. The orchestra had a very nice sound, and consisted of the following artists (🌴 indicates local): Zoe Miller (FB) Concertmaster; Erik Rynearson 🌴 Viola;  David Mergen (FB) 🌴 Cello; Mike Epperhart (FB) Bass; Mira Magrill (FB) Flute / Piccolo / Asian Flutes; Michele Forrest 🌴 Oboe / English Horn; Richard Mitchell 🌴 Clarinet / Alto Sax / Flute; John Fumo (FB) 🌴 Trumpet;  Charlie Morillas (FB) 🌴 Trombone / Bass Trombone; Jenny Kim 🌴, Katie Farudo French Horns; Russ Nyberg (FB) Drums / Percussion; Adam Rothenberg (FB), Jordan Jones-Reese Keyboards; Mary Ekler (⭐FB) 🌴 Keyboard Sub. Other music credits: Stephen Brooker Music Supervision; James Moore (FB) Tour Musical Supervisor; Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 Orchestra Contractor; John Miller (FB) Music Coordinator; William David Brohn Original Orchestrations; Stephen Metcalfe (FB) & Seann Alderkng Original Orchestration Adaptations.

This brings us to the stagecraft and creative side of the story. Based on a design concept by Adrian Vaux, Totie Driver and Matt Kinley‘s Set Design is remarkable, especially for a touring production. They have done a very effective job of creating the hustle and seedy underbelly of Saigon and Bangkok, and the gigantic Ho head is quite menacing. They also create a great helicopter illusion. My only complaints are more Bruno Poet‘s lighting design (which continues the Cameron Mackintosh tradition of being far too dark and dim) and Mick Potter‘s sound design, which is far too muffled for the Pantages. It take work to get clear and crisp sound in the Pantages, and there are some that get it right when they load in. These folks didn’t, and on the sides, you couldn’t always clearly hear or make out the words. Andreane Neofitou‘s costumes seemed appropriate, although I cant’ speak to their authenticity. Luke Halls‘s projections were effective. Remaining production credits: Tara Rubin Casting Casting; Jack Stephens Company Manager; Justin T. Scholl Assoc. Company Manager; Jovon E. Shuck Production Stage Manager; Michelle Dunn Stage Manager; Stephanie Halbedel Asst. Stage Manager; Rachael Wilkin Asst Stage Manager; Broadway Booking Office NYC Tour Booking.

Miss Saigon continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through August 11. If you like the Les Miz style of Boublil and Schonberg, you’ll enjoy this. The performances and stagecraft are great. But don’t think too much about cultural problems behind the story, because that might make you think twice about attending. Me? I’m glad to have seen it this once, but I don’t have the desire to see it again.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday brought us A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB), which is next on the list to writeup. The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). October starts with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB), and concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).  Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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

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