Love Has Driven Me Sane | “Two Gentlemen of Verona” @ FPAC

Two Gentlemen of Verona - The Musical (FPAC)If you were to ask me what my absolute favorite musical was — that is, the one musical that was guaranteed to leave me happy and feeling good upon hearing the score — it would be the 1972 Tony-award winning Two Gentlemen of Verona written by William Shakespeare, adapted by John Guare and Mel Shapiro, with lyrics by John Guare and music by Galt MacDermot, originally presented by the New York Shakespeare Festival (now the Public Theatre). I saw it back in 1973 when I was just 13 at the Ahmanson, with Jonelle Allen, Clifton Davis (FB), Stockard Channing, and Larry Kert, and much of the original NY cast (including a young Katey Sagal). I hadn’t seen it since — aside from one production in Central Park in 2005, I can’t recall hearing of it being revived. I certainly can’t recall it being produced in Los Angeles since the original. So when my RSS feed from Goldstar alerted me to the fact that a theatre company I had never heard of — the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FB) — was producing the show and we were in the middle weekend of a three weekend production, the question was not “if”, but whether I could fit it in. After all, next weekend I already had two shows (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and On The Twentieth Century), and I already had a show on Saturday night of this weekend. Luckily, the show was nearby in San Fernando, so I got tickets for last night. Even though I had a slight headache, I’m very glad that I did. It was a delight to see my favorite show again, and as always, it left me very happy and with a smile on my face. I wish more companies would remember this show: it is sheer fun, multicultural, with a diverse cast great for schools, wonderful dance, pretty milkmaids, and a dog. It will live you loving it, and loving love.

If you aren’t familiar with Two Gentlemen of Verona, here’s the quick summary: TGOV is considered to be Shakespeare’s first play, and falls into the comedy category, because everyone falls in love at the end (as opposed to tragedies, where everyone dies). Valentine and Proteus are best friends. Proteus is infatuated with Julia, a local girl in Verona; Valentine scoffs at love and wants adventure in the big city, Milan. Valentine, with his servant Speed, heads off to Milan, while Proteus, helped by his servant Launce, courts Julia (and her servent Lucetta). But soon Proteus’s father sends him off to Milan, leaving Julia behind (and pregnant). She and Lucette dress up as men so they can travel to Milan and tell Proteus. In Milan, however, Valentine has found love in the form of Sylvia, the daughter of the Emperor of Milan. However, the Emperor has send Sylvia’s love, Eglamour, off to war, while arranging a marriage for Sylvia to a rich fool, Thurio. Sylvia detests Thurio, and enlists Valentine to save her. Proteus, who by now has forgotten Julia and is also smitten by Sylvia, learns of the plot and tells the Duke, who promptly sends Valentine off to war. Proteus then enlists two young men, Sebastian (nee Julia) and Cesario (nee Lucetta), to help court Sylvia. Eglamour returns to kidnap Sylvia, and everyone then joins in the hunt for Sylvia. Proteus discovers the lovers in the forest, but so does Valentine, and a sword fight ensues. When the dust has cleared, Proteus has discovered Sebastian’s reality and condition, and ends up marrying her. Eglamour is gone, and Valentine gets Sylvia. Thurio gets Lucetta, and Launce finds that a milkmaid from the field is better than a dog. Cupid is happy.

Two Gentlemen of Verona @ FPAC - CastThe musical version takes this story and just has fun with it. In an era of lily-white shows and lily-white casting, this show (like Hair before it) was gloriously multicultural. In the original cast, Proteus and Julia were Hispanic; Sylvia, Valentine, and the Duke were Black; Speed and Eglamour were Asian, Launce was old-Jewish, and Thurio and Lucetta were white. The casting of this production was similarly multicultural, although the hispanic emphasis of the leads was a bit less (the only place it made a difference was in the pronunciation, and truthfully, only people that had memorized the cast album like me would have noticed).

Under the direction of Timothy Jon Borquez (FB) (who seems to have been similarly enamored of this show), the action  was constant. He seemed to be emphasizing the fun of the production; there were few performers that had “painted on” faces — their happiness with this show was infectious to the audience. The direction brought out the playfulness in the characters — and this show is all about play. It is also worth noting that the material Borquez was working with — that is, his cast — were mostly younger actors (nary a resume on Backstage or Actors Access). They weren’t at the level of “fresh-outs” from high school, but they also weren’t seasoned Broadway professionals. Most are still theatre students. Broadly, there was a need for a bit more power in the voices. The raw talent overall was great and there was excellent vocal quality that shown through (as noted below) — just a bit more reach to the back of the auditorium was needed.

The best friends at the heart of this show were Proteus and Valentine, played by Steven Brogan (FB) and Jared Grimble (FB), respectively. Brogan had fun with Proteus (as the pictures show), really getting into the character. He had a wonderful voice that occasionally could use a little extra strength, but overall was a joy to listen to. He was great in numbers like “Symphony” and “What Does a Lover Pack?”, but needed a bit more anger behind “Calla Lily Lady”. We’ve seen Brogan before, it turns out, in the CSUN production of Bat Boy, The Musical. As Valentine, Grimble was similar: fun with the acting, believable in his character, and a remarkable voice. He was no Clifton Davis (but who is), but brought a wonderful style to numbers like “Love’s Revenge” and “Mansion”.

The object d’amour in Verona was Julia, played by Sarah Borquez (FB), and her servent, Lucetta, played by Hope English/FB. We may have seen Borquez before; her name comes up as being in a production of Into The Woods we saw at Nobel Middle School, but the years don’t fit the credits. In any case, Borquez was a strong performer and had a lovely singing voice. She just needs a bit more anger behind the loveliness in numbers like “I Am Not Interested in Love” and “What a Nice Idea”. English also had a great voice which astounded during “Land of Betrayal”.

Sylvia was portrayed by Beth Redwood/FB). Redwood had a strong voice from the opening number, and continued with that strength throughout the show. She also danced wonderfully, and captured the nature of Sylvia well. Her only weakness was costuming, which could have used a tad more support.

Proteus’ and Valentine’s servants, Launce and Speed, were portrayed by Wayne Remington/FB and Erin Arredondo/FB, respectively. Remington gets the slightly larger role here, getting to mug with the dog Gio (playing Crab), singing “Pearls”, and, at the end, getting to sing “Milkmaid”. Arredondo’s Speed mostly is a foil for Launce, but gets to join him in “Hot Lover”. Both appeared to be having quite a bit of fun with this production, which is always infectious.

The Duke of Milan was played by Dan White (FB). White’s role is mostly bombast, but he portrays that well and with joy. He gets one standout song: “Bring The Boys Back Home” (which is clearly a commentary on Nixon and the Vietnam War), which he handles with aplomb.

On the more comic ends of the spectrum are Cody Williams (FB) as Thurio and Mary Zastrow (FB) as Cupid. Williams captures the foolish and foppish nature of Thurio well, and brings that foolishness to the singing, especially in the song “Thurio’s Samba”. I was afraid they might need to censor the song, given the refrain (Boom-Chicka-Chicka, But-Fucka-Wucka-Wucka Cock-waka-waka Puss-wussy-wussy Wow) and the little ones in the audience, but they just slightly muddied the words and it went right over their heads. Zastrow was having the time of her life as Cupid. This isn’t a large singing role except for a few operatic numbers played for the humor, but as Cupid herself she got to mug away and just play.

Rounding out the named characters was Edgar Cardoso/FB‘s Eglamour. Cardoso played Eglamour more as fashion model/Fabio-ish, which is a little bit different than I remember the portrayl. He handled the number “Eglamour” well.

The ensemble consisted of Audrey Byer (FB), Cynthia Cordon/FB, Kasey Furginson/FB, Corazon Montanio (FB), Shannon Nail/FB, John Redwood/FB, Jackie Sanders/FB, Priscilla Nathalie Soltero/FB, Sienna Wescott/FB, and Van McDuff (FB) (who was omitted from the bios).  All were strong, having fun, and a joy to watch.

Music was provided by an off-stage band under the direction of Alex Borquez/FB. The band consisted of Alex Borquez/FB on Guitar, Bass, Drums, Percussion; Edgar Cardoso/FB on Keyboards (which is why there were no keyboards while he was on stage); Zachary Borquez/FB on Brass; Michael Fandetti/FB on Reeds; Desiree’ Deasy (FB) on Violin I and II (hows that again? four hands, two chins, you say); Rebecca Yeh (FB) on Cello, and Mairin Deasy on Viola.

The choreography was by Lindsey Lorenz (FB), assisted by Bella Briscoe (FB). It was all over the place, which means that it covered the stage well :-). Seriously, the dancing worked reasonably well. Nothing too complicated, but good enough that the ensemble numbers were fun to watch.

Turning to the technical side. No credits were provided for the traditional disciplines: set design, prop design, sound design, lighting design, fight choreography, and such. The presumption is that some came from the master-of-all-hats, the director, Timothy Jon Borquez (FB). In any case: the set was simple: some risers, some flats (behind-which the ensemble resided when off-stage), some vine-al and vinyl decoration. Enough to give a vague sense of place. There were various props, such as a bike, a boat, a trunk. I think here is where the limited budget of this production showed; I remember the stage show having much more in this area. Sound design was good, although a bit muffled and over-mic-ed in the beginning. The bird sounds were nice. Lighting was a different problem. The basic lights were good, but there needs to be better coordination between the actors and the lighting placement, especially the follow-spots and the follow-movers. Often actors were quite literally left in the dark. The fight choreography in Act II was reasonable but could have used with a dash more swash in the buckle. Costumes, designed by Yessica Armenta/FB (Costume Coordinator), presumably, were, well, Ren-Faire-ish which is what you expect as the RenFaire was set in roughly that time. There were a few faux paux: Sylvia’s hose line was visible, there were a few crotch buttons undone, and the more busty could use a bit more support so they didn’t bust out. But these were minor and didn’t distract from the story. Grace Gaither/FB was the stage manager, and Bianca Armenta/FB was the house manager.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Musical continues at the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FPAC) (FB) through August 6. A limited number of tickets are available through Goldstar; otherwise, tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Performances take place at the ArTES Theatre (FB) at the Cesar E. Chavez Academies (FB), 1001 Arroyo Street, San Fernando, 91340. Although the cast is a young and less seasoned, being primarily local theatre students, they have a large amount of raw talent. This talent, combined with their enthusiasm and good singing voices and the joyous nature of this little produced show, make this a joy to watch.

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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) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (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:

The last weekend of July proper brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts 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 are also squeezing 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). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). 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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