What Theatre Geeks Are Really Like

Back in 2007, Amazon’s recommendation mechanism recommended the CD of a new musical called “The Green Room”, which I finally broke down and ordered in February 2008. I listened to the CD, and found the music quite nice. Shortly after that, I discovered (thanks to the author’s MySpace page) that the musical would be at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse… in May 2009. So, I kept waiting… and watching….

Last night, after a brief visit to Fiesta Hermosa (which was far too overcrowded to make it possible to even look at what limited art they had on display), and some dinner at Versailles (mmm, Cuban), we went to the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. We met up with shutterbug93 and her husband, Mark, which was a treat. Then we finally saw “The Green Room”. It was worth it.

“The Green Room” tells the story of four college students (Anna, John, Divonne, and Cliff) at the mythical St. Nordoff’s college. The action takes place in “The Green Room”, a room just offstage where actors wait, and that these four acting students have made their home in their college years (in fact, it made me think a lot of the UCLA Computer Club where I hung out). The first act chronicle’s Cliff’s first year at college: he arrives at the Green Room on the invitation of his sister Anna, and after some tripidation, gets accepted by Anna’s fellow sophmore acting students John (her boyfriend) and Divonne. Divonne and Cliff have a fling, with some predictable and not-so-predictable results. The second act appears to be when they are all seniors: Cliff is no longer nerdish and somehow seems to have caught up with the others, and the big concern is whether Anna and Cliff’s rich parents will fund Cliff’s off-Broadway show, which requires that (a) they all graduate, and (b) they all be in the show.

As this is a new musical (in fact, this is the premier production), it’s reasonable to start off looking at the above book, which was written by C. Stephen Foster and Rod Damer, with music and lyrics by Chuck Pelletier. The story is clearly in the vein of musicals about the theatre, which include “A Class Act”, “Curtains”, “Minsky’s”, “A Chorus Line”. The musical style is a mix of rock-style fast numbers and ballads, all enjoyable with interesting lyrics (although the lyrics appear to have been toned down from the CD, likely to protect the sensibility of the older-skewing Hermosa Beach audience). As the artistic director noted, it is also in the vein of the newer musicals about the theatre (such as (ugh) “High School Musical” and “Glee”). Unlike these other attempts, however, this focuses on the college years of acting development. I found that quite enjoyable, and certainly captured types I’ve seen watching my daugher as a performing arts student (although we both noted there needs to be a musical about technical theatre geeks!).

However, the book, while enjoyable for what it is, is not perfect. The problem is not that there are plot flaws or places where it drags, but the story is just too short. This musical clocks in at perhaps 1¾ hours with intermission, and at points the dialogue sections seem more designed to set up the next song than to let us learn about the characters. As such, some of the songs seem more novelty (although enjoyable) as opposed to interwoven with the plot. This is especially apparent in the second act, where we learn nothing about the intervening years, we learn nothing about how Cliff lost his nerdiness, we learn nothing of how these characters grew. We’re back from intermission… and “boom”, it is 3 years later. Gaining that additional insight could be done in some additional scenes, or perhaps a song or two, and might greatly improve Act II.

The music of the show is quite enjoyable. There has been a lot of buzz about the song “It’s All About Me”, but all of the songs from the show are very enjoyable. In addition to “It’s All About Me”, I particularly enjoyed “Nothing Can Stop My Boys” (it’s fun watching the audience react), the novelty number “Don’t Try To Part The Water”, “Good-Lookin’ Girls” and “I Wanna Go To Extreme”. The songs are energetic and playful. Do give them a try (you can listen to them through the musical’s MySpace page).

One of the things that makes this musical come alive is the acting ensemble, all of whom appeared to be extremely talented and enjoying their roles (although in our performance, there were a few line hesitations, but nothing major). Anna was played Stephanie Burkett Gerson, who captured the reserved character well. Her boyfriend, John, was played by her real-life husband, Zane Gerson. I was particularly taken with the performance of Jessica Gisin as Divonne — she brings a lot of fun and a great voice to the role. Lastly, as Cliff, Michael J. Willett, captures the theatre-nerd reasonably well in Act I, and transforms in Act II. If this story belongs to any character, it is Cliff, for it follows his growth in college.

Turning to the technical side (and I should note: the actors seemingly thanked only the band, and not the remainder of the tech crew, which they should remember to do if they want to be heard and seen): Hermosa Beach did reasonably well with what they had. Music (under the direction of the composer, Chuck Pelletier), consisted of a four-piece offstage band (piano, drums, bass, and guitar). The musical quality was very good. There were no discernable sound problems in the sound design by Kevin Goold, although at times it appeared the sound came more from the speaker system than the actors, but that could have been a balance problem from Row B. The lighting design by Ric Zimmerman was very good (we’ve seen his work before in “Into The Woods”): he made creative use of scrollers and moving lights on a traditional theatrical stage, and seemingly eschewed the overuse of spotlights except in one comic appropriate number. Choreography was by Karl Warden, who had some interesting creative movements that didn’t come across as traditional dance. The set, designed by Christopher Beyries, consisted of the typical cluttered college campus room, with a wide variety of props by T. Theresa Scarano (who also does props, IIRC, for Cabrillo). The costumes, by Christa Armendariz, are reasonable college student clothing, although I did find Anna’s costume in Act II slightly disconcerting, as her bright blue bra was showing through the yellow top. That can, and should, be easily fixed. Surprisingly, there were no credits for stage management. The production was directed by Stephanie A. Coltrin.

“The Green Room” continues at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse through next weekend, May 31. Tickets are available through the Hermosa Beach boxoffice, and may also be available through Goldstar (that’s where we got our tickets).

Upcoming Theatre: Our next production is back at the Middle School level, when we see Fiddler on the Roof” at Nobel Middle School on Fr 5/29. May 31 @ 2pm brings “Setup and Punch” at The Blank Theatre Company. If the Goldstar Gods are with me, the weekend of June 6 will bring “Breaking the Code” at The Production Company in North Hollywood (5/15-6/20/09) (on LAStageTix, Venue Goldstar). June 20 @ 8pm is “The Little Foxes” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Lastly, July 11 will bring “Fat Pig” at Repertory East Playhouse. Other shows pending scheduling and ticketing include “Spamalot” at the Ahmanson (7/7-9/6/09), the “Guys and Dolls” concert at the Hollywood Bowl (7/31-8/2/09), and Liza Minelli at the Hollywood Bowl (8/28-8/29/09). Also of potential interest are: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Neighborhood Playhouse (Venue Goldstar) (7/9-7/26/09); and “The Apple Tree” at Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood (6/5-6/28/09) (LAStageTix). I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix.