OK, So Grossingers It Isn’t

Back in the early sixties, there was this resort in the Catskill Mountains. No, not Grossingers. A place called Esther’s Paradise Resort. This resort, run by Esther Simowitz, has what you would expect from a Catskill’s resort: mah jongg, breakfast buffets, campfires, horseback rides, … oh, and a nightly show hosted by Del Delmonaco. Haven’t heard of him? You will. A scout from American Bandstand was coming to see the last show of the season on Sunday night. So everyone is getting ready, from Harvey Feldman the comic to Gabriel Green, the resort gofer. In fact, for the show, Del has these two new backup singers, Marge Gelman and Lois Warner. Marge is up there because her wedding to Leonard never happened, and since a weekend paid-for shouldn’t go to waste, she and Lois… well, you get the idea. Lois talked her into doing the show to take her mind off of Leonard (and so the scout could hear Lois sing). Lois asked Del to pay Marge some attention. What happened that night? Wouldn’t you like to know.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, Esther’s is a fictional place. However, we were there this afternoon when we went to see the musical “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks. “Breaking Up” is a jukebox musical under the skin, using the songs Neil Sedaka songs (lyrics by Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, and Philip Cody) made famous by many (including Sedaka and The Carpenters). These songs have been assembled and ordered by the book writers Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters to tell the story about Esther’s and the fateful Labor Day Weekend in 1960, when Leonard broke up with Marge, Marge and Lois went to the Catskills, and love was found. This was the West Coast premier of the musical, although it has been running for a long time in Branson MO. The musical definately has a Branson-like air to it, with lots of audience participation, including bringing audience members up on the stage to embarrass them publically for musical numbers. Still, the musical works and is enjoyable, although many of the comic’s jokes are old (after all, this is the Catskills, or a reasonable facsimile). One interesting note is that the musical itself never mentions Neil Sedaka, but instead credits the songs to someone else. I just hope Sedaka doesn’t find out, but perhaps this is a parallel universe.

The cast for this production was outstanding. Lois was played by Julie Dixon Jacksonæ (whose website is done by the lovely shutterbug93). Julie was a delight to watch — she is a remarkable comic actor and singer, and has the 1950s ditzy blonde perfect. We’ve seen Julie in a number of shows (Marvelous Wonderettes, I Do I Do, Side by Side by Sondheim) and she is always great. Her best friend Marge was played by Leslie Spencer Smithæ, another strong singer and comic actor. We’ve also seen Leslie before — in 1776. The two of them together were just a delight. Turning to the resort staff: Del Delmonico, the host of the lounge show, was played by Ryan Nearhoff. Ryan had the 1950s singer style down: good dancing, good singing, good acting, and fun to watch. Helping him out was Gabe, played by Jeff Leatherwood (who we have seen previously in the ensemble in Annie Get Your Gun on the Cabrillo stage). Jeff was another good singer and actor, and had great comic timing. Esther, the owner, was played by Eileen Barnettæ, who we last saw in Kiss of the Spider Woman, but whom we’ve also seen in Putting It Together and Radio Gals at the Pasadena Playhouse. Eileen had the voice perfect, although at times I thought Carol Nussbaum, the CEO of Cabrillo, could have understudied the voice. However, Eileen also was great on the singing. Her long time comic Harvey was played Nathan Hollandæ (who we haven’t seen before :-)). Again, a good singer who added the nice older touch.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The music for the production was on-stage, led by Michael Paternostroæ, who also played the keyboards. Others in the band were Wes Styles (Guitar), Eli Hludzik (Drums), Gary Rautenberg (Saxophone), and Nicholas Schaadt (Bass).

Turning to the technical side: The production was directed by Troy Magino on a nice three-area set designed by Andrew Hammer. This was Cabrillo’s first in-house set design, and was constructed over at the nearby Naval SeaBee base. Lighting was by Jean-Yves Tessier and was reasonable, although there still was heavy use of the follow-spot. Sound was by Jonathan Burke and was quite good (except for a few minutes where it went out :-(). The costumes by Debbie Roberts and wigs/makeup by Paul Hadobas were creative and reflected the 1960 Catskill’s style well. Props were designed by T. Theresa Scarano, who also served as the production manager. “The Ever Capable” Lindsay Martens (who we know as youarebonfante) was the Production Stage Manager, with Emilee Wamble as Assistant Stage Manager. Lewis Wilkenfeld is the artistic director of CMT.

One note about Lewis Wilkenfeld. Normally, the introduction to the show is done by Carole W. Nussbaum, the CEO of Cabrillo. This show was the first time where Lewis did it, and what he said was interesting. He emphasized the Cabrillo’s productions are not tours: they are high-quality local produced and designed shows. I don’t know if this emphasis was due to the economic downturn (for this show, Cabrillo has done special pricing — including $20 tickets — and is rarely full), but it was nice to see. We have always enjoyed Cabrillo’s productions in the eight years we have been subscribers.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” continues through tomorrow evening, January 18, 2009.

So, what’s next on our 2009 theatre calendar? Next Saturday, 1/24 @ 8pm, we’re seeing “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Rep East in Saugus. Sunday 2/1 @ 2pm brings “Caberet” being done by the Aerospace Players at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center. Sunday 2/8 @ 1pm brings “Minsky’s” at the Ahmanson Theatre. Skipping Valentine’s weekend brings us to 2/21 @ 8pm and “Stormy Weather” at the Pasadena Playhouse. March will also bring “Little Shop of Horrors” at Van Nuys HS. That’s all I have booked so far (other than season tickets, such as “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” at Rep East 3/13 through 4/11), but there a number of “shows of interest” I plan to ticket, including “big” at West Coast Ensemble (5/9-6/28); “The Green Room at Hermosa Beach Playhouse (5/19-5/31); “Is He Dead? at ICT Long Beach; and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Theatre League Thousand Oaks (4/28-5/3).

Lastly: With these bad economic times, local theatre needs your support to survive. Theatre doesn’t add stuff to your house, other than great memories. Theatre is a true local business: you support local actors and craftspeople with every performance. Theatre is ephemeral art: every performance is different. Be it a play, a musical, an improv, dance, opera, or something new: go see live theatre… and when you do, share your experience. Criticism is vital to theatre: it helps spread the word about great performances… and God knows the newspapers can no longer be depended upon to do it for us!