A Successful Original New Musical — I Guess You Can Have It All!

In 1982, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown, wrote a book titled “Having It All”, claiming that it was possible for a woman to successfully have it all: a loving relationship, a full and complete family with children, and a fulfilling career. Since the book was written, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether what Brown believed was actually possible. Mother, actress, producer, and educator Wendy Perelman was thinking about this in 2002 when she began to develop an original musical about whether a woman could have it all. She pulled a team together: David Goldsmith to work on the book with her and to craft the lyrics, and John Kavanaugh to craft the music. The musical in 2006 “Having It Almost” premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. But that wasn’t the end for this original musical. Work continued on it. It was produced again in 2008. Work continued: songs were added and deleted and a new producing team (David Elzer and Peter Schneider) was brought in with significant experience in successful small musicals (this team produced both “The Marvellous Wonderettes” and “Life Could Be A Dream”). Additional dramaturgy occurred, an equity acting team was pulled together, a talented director (Richard Israel) added to the mix, and a great theatre venue selected. Turn the crank a few times, and you have the wonderful result that opened on March 12 at the North Hollywood Arts Center: Having It All. We saw it last night, and I’m pleased to say this musical does indeed succeed in having it all: a well written original musical, a great performance team, and a book that works and draws in the audience.

Having It All” tells the story of five women in the boarding area for gate B26 at the New York International Airport (JFK), waiting for the flight to Los Angeles. The first, Julia (Jennifer Leigh Warren) is the uber-professional woman: an entertainment industry executive, a wife, a mother… and her life is falling apart all around her. The second, Amy (Shannon Warne), represents the other end of the spectrum: a woman who gave up any career to be a wife and mother of two boys. Third is Sissy (Lindsey Alley), a budding professional writer who broke her foot having stand-up sex. The fourth woman is Carly (Alet Taylor), a yoga instructor whose healthly lifestyle can’t help her beat one factor in her life: getting older. The last woman is Lizzie (Kim Huber), a woman who loves her husband and her career as a midwestern teacher, but is missing the one thing in her life that would bring her fulfullment—a child. These women are all introduced in the expositional opening number, “In Her Shoes”, where they all are judged and assessed based on the traditional woman’s harbinger… the shoes that they are wearing. As we learn more about these women, we learn that Sissy’s book treatment is overdue, and she’s blocked for a topic. Not surprisingly, a topic presents itself: writing the story of these women and their lives. This serves as the jumping off point for the remainder of the musical, which explores the lives of each of these characters. Were they happy with where life has taken them? Did they succeed in having it all, or is their lift still missing something? More significantly, how much are they deceiving themselves, believing they want something when in their hearts they are craving something else?

It is this exploration that is the heart of the musical; it is what ultimately make the musical connect. As I listened and watched the musical, I also watched the women in the audience. They were intensely listening and nodding their heads. I think this means that the musical was reminding every women in the audience of their life, and whether they were “having it all”. This is a good thing, for musicals are successful when they hit home… being reminded one of their youth, their lives, or their loves. But, you’re sure to ask, what about the men? This musical connects with them as well, for they recognize the issues from the women in their lives.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the cast is uniformly excellent, and most are well known to Los Angeles theatre audiences (we’ve seen all but one of them in other productions). Lindsey Alley, who we hadn’t seen before, was excellent as Sissy, with an intriguing face and incredibly strong singing voice (in fact, they all had great voices, so you’ll hear me say that a lot). Also strong was Jennifer Leigh Warren as Julia, who we saw as Sheila in the Reprise production of Hair, and have heard on numerous albums. Warren portrayed the correct mix of bitchiness and vulnerability in her character. As Carly, Alet Taylor give off the correct new-age aura; we’ve seen her before in Guys and Dolls at Cabrillo. Amy was portrayed by Shannon Warne, who we’ve seen before in Loving Repeating, Camelot, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Shannon is always excellent and was a deslight to see in this production. Lastly, as Lizzie, Kim Huber (who we have seen both the Cabrillo and El Portal Marvellous Wonderettes) provided that touch of innocence and wanting. They were all just great.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

The music for the production was top notch, under the musical direction of Gregory Nabours. The program provides no credits for the musicians, so I’m guessing it was primarily Nabours at the keyboard. Whatever it was, it was sufficient. I’ll note that if you’re curious about the music, the demos for the 2008 version are available on the web; they appear to correspond to the show except for one number.

[ETA: As I’ve been cleaning this afternoon, I’ve been listening to the demos on my iPod. There’s a depth to the lyrics I didn’t pick up when I first heard the songs in the theatre (where they go by very fast). In particular, there’s quite a bit of foreshadowing in the songs I didn’t notice at the time; now that I know the dénouement, I’m appreciating the forward references.]

Turning to the technical side: The scenic design by Stephen Gifford was nice and elegant, capturing a generic high-class boarding area quite well.Properties were by Sara J. Stuckey, who deserves mention if only for having to deal with all the food wrappers :-). The sound design was by the omnipresent Cricket S. Myers (who we see everywhere in LA theatre), and was clear, crisp, and professional. The lighting design by Luke Moyer was for the most part good, however there seemed to be spotlight difficulties. Given that the NoHo Arts Center uses moving mirror lights as opposed to a follow spot, this could indicate some adjustment in the lights or the blocking is needed. The costumes by Ann Closs-Farley did a great job of conveying the nature of the characters while still seeming realistic. Casting was by Michael Donovan CSA. Stage management was by Chris Warren Murry, assisted by Eric Heidenthal. Michael Spellman was the Associate Producer.

Having It All continues at the No Ho Arts Center through April 24. Tickets are available through Plays411.net, as well as through Goldstar and LA Stage Alliance. This show is worth seeing, and will likely have a long life. Go see it.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend (March 26) brings “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Repertory East. The following weekend, April 2, brings Glory Days” at the Lillian Theatre. April 9 will bring the Renaissance Faire. April 16 sees us out in Thousand Oaks revisiting “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, with Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre on April 17. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. April 24 was to will bring God of Carnage at the Ahmanson Theatre, but the Hottix sold out in ½ hour… so we may try to get rush tickets (for they are not selling rear balcony in advance). The last weekend of April brings a concert: Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May starts with our penultimate Pasadena Playhouse production, “George Gershwin Alone“, on May 7. The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28, and (pending ticketing) Dear World” at the Lyric Theatre. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might hit a show in Nashville or St. Louis). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); “Shrek” (July 23, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed).