A Cycle of Relationships | “Hello, Again” @ Chromolume

Hello Again (Chromolume)Some theatre is pure entertaining fluff. It isn’t there to make a point; sometimes, it isn’t even there to tell a story. It’s goal — pure and simple — is to have you walking out of the theatre with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Think a jukebox musical, such as Mamma Mia, An American in Paris, or 70, Girls, 70, and you get my drift.

Some theatre is there to make a clear point and statement. You are entertained, but walk out with a specific message intended by the authors. Think of Hamilton or Scottsboro Boys.

Some theatre leaves you scratching your head. It doesn’t fall into the “bad theatre” bin (i.e., poorly written story, poor acting, etc.), but its intent isn’t otherwise clear. It entertained you, but wasn’t entertaining. It had a message, but it was something to be teased out as opposed to being a brickbat to the head.

Last night’s show, Hello, Again at Chromolume Theatre (FB), with book, music, and lyrics by Michael John LaChuisa (FB), based on the 1897 play La Ronde by Arnold Schnitzler, was such a show. The music was dark and operatic at times. The story seemed to be trying to make a point, but the ultimate meaning and goal of that point was elusive. The basic subject matter — a series of sexual relationships — was uncomfortable at the minimum, and potentially triggery at the maximum (my wife said the show needed a trigger warning for the nature of the sex). In retrospect, this shouldn’t have surprised me. I’m familiar with some of LaChuisa’s music — I have the albums to First Lady Suite, Little Fish, See What I Wanna See, Giant, Queen of the Mist, and The Wild Party, and I’ve looked into the albums of Bernarda Alba and Marie Christie, but haven’t gotten them because the music is dark. LaChiusa has the occasional lighter song, but in general his music is deep and dark, melodic but not rhythmic – something unique. That doesn’t make his shows bad, but they are definitely not the typical Broadway fluff.

The structure of Hello, Again is a musical round. Not in the sense of multiple voices singing different songs coming together (although, looking back, it may have done that unintentionally). Rather, the show forms a circle of scenes told through a quasi-operatic, almost sung-through, score. The whore and the soldier in the 1900s, the soldier and the nurse in the 1940s, the nurse and the college boy in the 1960s, the college boy and the young wife in the 1930s, the young wife and the husband in the 1950s, the husband and the young thing in the 1910s, the young thing and the writer in the 1970s, the writer and the actress in the 1920s, the actress and the senator in the 1980s, circling back to the senator and the whore in the 1990s. These are essentially the same characters as in La Ronde, except that La Ronde was in a single timeframe, and LaChuisa changed La Ronde‘s “young miss” to “young thing” to introduce a gay relationship into the mix. La Ronde‘s point was to show the similarity of relationships across all strata of society, from the whore at the bottom, to the elite at the top.

As an aside, I’m not sure whether LaChiusa’s jumping around in the timestream helps the show. It served to confuse me, and to draw my attention to the program to see when we were. This is especially true when the implication seems to be that the character in one scene is seemingly the same character in the next. That works for adjacent-in-the-normal-direction decades; it is confusing when you go back in time.

So I walked out and the end of Hello, Again at the Chromolume conflicted. There were outstanding performances and the vocals were spot on, but I didn’t warm to the show. It left me uncomfortable, unsure. On the way home, my wife and I discussed the show. Our conclusion was that the show highlighted a continual pattern of relationships whose focus was the quick and hard sex (“wham, bam, thank you ma’am”), sometimes not fully consensual. None of the relationships in the round had any depth or love in them. They were couplings of convenience, almost all of them (for their era) being couplings of unequal power. They were consensual — so perhaps they weren’t rape in the conventional sense — but they were also not expressions of love. They were expressions of something darker: one side of a relationship using the other side for a particular purpose. They were portrayed in an ultimately negative light — moral bankruptcy, meaningless.

But through all of this, what was LaChiusa, or ultimately Schnitzler, trying to say? Our existence is a series of meaningless relationships where love is replaced by using other people? That nothing ever changes in how people treat and use people? That meaningless relationships exist across all strata and all ages?

Not cheery stuff. Not the typical stuff of musicals, which are more idealized romantic love as opposed to meaningless unbalanced power dynamic sex.

I think my wife was right: this stuff needs a trigger warning. The combination of the power dynamics and meaningless sex makes this borderline sexual abuse, and those with sensitivities may find the material disturbing.

Hello, Again (Chromolume / Cast Photos)But despite the nature of this musical and its ultimately cynical message, I don’t believe it is a bad musical. There are many for whom its message about men, women, and society will resonate. There are many for whom this represents their relationship arcs: sex and power dynamics, first; endearing or enduring love a distant second. It is certainly something emphasized by many “Hollywood” relationships.  I tend to have a more positive and upbeat outlook regarding relationships, and I’m not sure this is something I’d see again. But as they say, YMMV.

Setting aside the story, the performances (under the direction of Richard Van Slyke (FB) — a REP East alumni!) were uniformly excellent. So much so, in fact, that it is difficult to single out one performer above another. So let me introduce the primary cast, and we’ll continue the analysis on the other side: Michelle Holmes (FB) – The Whore; Cesar Cipriano (FB) – The Soldier; Allison Lind (Actor FB; FB) – The Nurse; Bretten M. Popiel (FB) – The College Boy; Sarah Randall Hunt (FB) – The Young Wife; Corey Rieger (FB) – The Husband; Kevin Corsini (FB) – The Young Thing; Joe Hernandez-Kolski (FB) – The Writer; Tal Fox (FB) – The Actress; and Michael Corbett (Actor FB; FB) – The Senator. Understudies were Nadia Ahern (Actor FB; FB) – Whore/Actress; David Callander (FB) – Husband/Senator; Kim Dalton (FB) – Nurse/Young Wife; Bradley Alan Turner (FB) – Writer/Soldier; and Judd Yort (FB) – College Boy/Young Thing.

Looking back this morning, which performances stick in my head? The first is Tal Fox. Not only when she was onstage in her role as The Actress, but in other smaller background parts, she had a look that was unique and caught your eye — which was drawn to her wonderful facial expressions. In whatever character she was, her face was reacting in a fantastic way that was a delight to watch.

Allison Lind’s Nurse was also fun to watch for the spunk and character she brought to the role. She also had one of the stronger dance routines in the show. Both were delightful to see. [Although I must admit I missed seeing the understudy for this role, as we have seen Kim in a number of shows and always enjoy her performances]

Bretten Popiel’s College Boy was another actor that was just fun to watch — he brought a great sense of playfulness to the role and that fun was transmitted to the audience.

All of the actors gave strong performances with this vocally difficult score. La Chiusa’s music doesn’t have your typical rhythms, and exhibits (at least to my ear) very odd ranges. This cast handled it all with seeming aplomb.

Music for the production was provided by the onstage music director, Brenda Varda (FB), behind the piano. Most of it was great; the only nit was that the actors mispronounced the Yiddish זײַ געזונט , which was particularly noticable in the second verse when they sang “tuh zei guzing” as if it was the Hebrew צ as opposed to ז. Choreography was by Bretten M. Popiel (FB), and seemed period appropriate. I particularly enjoyed the nurse’s dances.

Turning to the production and creative sides: Scenic design was by Chromolume regular Lauren J. Peters (FB) and was a creative use of the limited black-box space the theatre provides: abstract backdrops, with the sense of place primarily provided through the props and scenery pieces. The lighting design by Richard Fong (FB) worked reasonably well, as did James Esposito (FB)’s sound design (except for one nit: during the end of the second scene, the rain effects were confusing at first, with the bass thunder seemingly coming from something external to the building). Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design seemed somewhat period, and was sexy without being too revealing. However, my wife had some quibbles with the nurses’ uniform not being as precise as it should have been (she noted that nurses would not have gone out with those wrinkles, worn open toed shoes, or had anything like long hair). As for me, I just wondered whether they got the ranks and forms correct on the military uniforms, and where the hell they found those leisure suits and polyester shirts for the ’70s (which brought back bad memories — I had shirts like that in those years). Other behind the scenes support included: Mara Aguilar (FB) – Stage Manager; Armen Janazyan (FB) – Assistant Stage Manager; Ken Werther Publicity (FB) – Publicity.

The last performance of Hello, Again at Chromolume Theatre (FB) is tonight (5/28) at 7:00 PM. Call (323) 510-2688 to make a reservation. Chromolume will have a production at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): Slightly Off Broadway. I’m kicking myself for not seeing their past productions at Fringe, especially Pasek and Paul’s Edges: A Song Cycle, which they did in 2016 and does not have a cast recording. I discovered this after the fact from their YouTube channel, where I also discovered another musical I didn’t know (and they had done): Next Thing You Know, with the great song “Hungover“.

One additional note: I love subscribing at the smaller and regional theatres! The Pantages and Ahmanson never know your name. But little theatres like Chromolume, Actors Co-op, and in the past, the Colony and REP East get to know you, and the people there are like family. You don’t need to present anything when you check in; they know you and see you coming in the door, and have everything ready. These theatres need your support, and treasure every subscriber. Find a local theatre you like and subscribe. You might not like everything you see. But you will find a home.

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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. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

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

Upcoming Shows: Today, my wife is off to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB) on Sunday, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, while I work on the highway pages. As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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