🎭 Exploring and Pushing the Boundaries | “Earhart” and “Retro SciFi Futurist” @ HFF18

userpic=fringeAs you’ve probably noted with my news chum posts, I try to find themes. Our first two shows on Sunday had a common theme on exploration: the first looked at Amelia Earhart, a pioneering women aviator; the second looked at how Science Fiction at the time looked forward to the future. But first, my obligatory explanation of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB):

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to our Sunday shows….


Amelia Earhart has always fascinated me, both because of her odd disappearance, and because of her pioneering work. As someone who now is part of a group actively promoting women in cybersecurity, her pioneering work is even more fascinating. So when I had a slot available and noticed Earhart – More than a F-ing Mystery (A Musical Flight) in the Fringe catalog, I consulted with my wife (a long time member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)), and we decided to go. I mean, given our background and the following description, wouldn’t you go? Here’s what was in the catalog:

The story of Amelia Earhart as she breaks the odds, defies stereotypes, and paves the road for anyone to be whatever they dream despite what the rest of the world believes. Like Amelia herself, Earhart is full of strong themes surrounding feminism, equality, and the success of failure, highlighted by an all female cast. For 50 years, Amelia Earhart has been known as only an unexplained mystery, but she was, and is, much more than that – especially today. Earhart delivers the story of a proud, kickass girl, who set out to change the world and to prove once and for all that she is more than a fucking mystery.

Earhart – More than a F-ing Mystery (A Musical Flight) is an interesting show that has quite a bit of promise. In many ways, it reminds me of Gutenberg: The Musical (which we saw in San Diego a few years ago), due to its tongue in cheek attitude and the way that it recognizes that is it a stage show. Right now, the show itself is extremely Fringe-y and at times a bit cheesy, but I think there are some really strong bones that could support taking this forward and making it into something much much more. The basic story combines with a strong set of performances to make this all so wonderful.

The show opens with Dana and Mandy, the “author” and “composer” (who are not the real author and composer), talking about this show they had written about Amelia Earhart, but how it just ends with an unresolved mystery because, well, Amelia’s life ended with an unresolved mystery. At this point, two audience members protest. Claiming to be Earhart’s granddaughters, they point out that her story is much more than just an unresolved mystery: it is an inspiration. At this point, the story transitions to the early days of flight, where the existing guard of men are insisting that women simply cannot fly or be aviators. Earhart is meeting with her promoter and admirer, George Putnam, about her being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She’s proud of the achievement, until it is pointed out that she was only a passenger. It is at this point she gets the idea to do it the right way — as the pilot. She works with Putnam (who is also interested in marrying her, while she continually rebuffs him), who helps her find sponsors for the trip. Once the money is raised, she does the flight… and agrees to marry George. However, her flight has one glitch: she lands in Ireland, not Paris. Still, it’s Europe.  But she has also realized that she has fallen in love with the sky — that it, flight itself. She begins to draw away from George, and plan to circumnavigate the globe. She meets her navigator — a noted drunk, Fred Noonan — and takes off on the fateful flight. At this point, the story ends, but the grandchildren come back out. They point out that the flight wasn’t a failure, for look at all the women that were inspired. More importantly, success is built on the bones of failure.

As I said, great message, right?

Throughout the story, there is a gaggle (that’s a technical term) of beautiful young women who are inspired by Earhart in various ways. We also get to meet the 99s, a pioneering women flying group.

Note: I discovered while writing this you can get a sample of the show, as many of the folks were on a podcast about it.

The performances were top-notch — and for some parts of the show, a bit gender-switching. In the lead position was Heather Woodward (Resume) as Amelia Earhart. She had a large number of the songs, and handled them with a lovely strong voice. She also brought quite a bit of humor to the role, and was fun to watch. I particularly liked her “I Wanna Do The Impossible”.

Playing off her for much of the show was Muriel Montgomery (FB) as George Putnam [also Grumpy Old Man #1]. Montgomery also had a nice singing voice and had a good chemistry with Woodward’s Earhart.

The remaining women formed an ensemble that provided the narrator/author, as well as numerous other characters. Dahlya Glick (FB) [Dana, 99s, others]Alexandria McCale (★FB, FB[Mandy, 99s, others]Richelle Meiss (FB) [99s, Grumpy Old Man #2, others];  and Kristen Rozanski (FB) [99s, Grumpy Old Man #3, George Reflection, others]. Alas, we didn’t get a program that told us who was who, but I believe that Glick was the narrator. All were great, fun to watch, and had lovely voices, especially together in songs like “The Ninety-Nines”. I particularly enjoyed listening to Glick and Rozanski; I hope I’ll be able to pick them out on the CD that was available.

The remaining “women” in the cast were the two granddaughters, played by two excellent drag performers, Pocket Turlington (FB, RL)  and Damiana Garcia (FB, RL/FB). My only comment for these two was a costuming one: Garcia needs to do a little better job on keeping her shirt tucked in to that the illusion isn’t broken.

The show featured music and lyrics by Manny Hagopian (FB). The songs were relatively simple but good; I particularly liked the last song about failure being important to success. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but if the show is to move forward, there may need to be some reexamination of the songs to ensure they do not stand apart, but move to work the plot forward as well as being entertaining.

The show was directed by Greg Smith (FB), who presumably did the movement as well. I always have trouble separating what the director brings from what the actors bring, especially in shows that have good performers and are not over or under directed. This was one of those: the director handled the movement and realism. There were no credits provided for scenery (which wasn’t much), costumes, or hair — but hey, this is Fringe, right? There was also no credit for the fellow at the keyboard in the back.

We found this an enjoyable show. There are two performances during the last weekend of Fringe, and I think it is worth seeing.


Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist (HFF18)As for our second show of the day, Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist, it was the description that sold these two long-time science fiction aficionados:

He’s the singer of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV theme song. And now James Mandell has turned the story of sci-fi futurism into an eye-candy multimedia event. Performing live with original music videos, infernal electronics and comic flare, he chronicles the development of this amazing genre in a show spanning 200 years of incredible imagery.

  • SEE! Rare footage from the sci-fi’s first filmmakers.
  • HEAR! Gripping historic radio recordings from the 1930’s.
  • THRILL! To space operas, secret decoder rings and sputtering rocket ships.

It’s a ramp-up to the brilliant future coming for us all – and you’re gonna wanna be there for that!

Yes, this was another one-man show. As I’ve noted before, one man shows can scrape the bottom, they can work well at a pedestrian level, and they can soar to fantastic heights. This show, performed by James Mandell (FB), the man behind the iconic voice of the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme song, was an exploration of all things Science Fiction. Using a mixture of videos, props, and his own music, Mandell told the story of the evolution of science fiction. He started with the earliest artists such as Mary Shelly, and moved on to folks like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and much more. All the while, he was illustrating the evolution of the genre — and its predictions — with films and media of the era. His focus was on the origins through the late 1970s.

Mandell had a wonderfully entertaining show. His focus was rarely telling his story (unlike two of our early one-performer shows); his story was that of the evolution of the genre. More importantly, he talked about how the genre was predicting wonderful technology that didn’t always make it out to the public. After all, we’re all still waiting for our flying cars.

The show was filled with cute and inventive music, which isn’t a surprise given that Mandell has four solo albums, and has worked studio sessions as a keyboardist and singer. The songs in the show were drawn from music he had written dealing with a distant retro future.

Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist was written, directed, and performed by James Mandell (FB). Technical assistance by Joe Tagnipes (FB). Eric Bridges (FB) was the stage manager. Isis Nocturne (★FB) served as social wranger, with Collin Pelton (FB) handling press relations.

We just found this to be a delightful and fun show, with extra fun for those who are actually into science fiction as well are. It is well worth seeing. There is one more performance during the last weekend of Fringe.

Lastly, I’ll note it was between this show and the next that I was ambushed by Princess “Wow”, which I’ve written about earlier.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

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

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

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