🎭 Here We Go Again | “Mamma Mia” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Mamma Mia @ 5-Star TheatricalsAnd now two outings to post-pandemic theatre are done. This could get to be a habit.

This time, the outing was to Mamma Mia at 5-Star Theatricals (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre) in Thousand Oaks. This was to be the second show in the 2019-2020 season, premiering in March 2020. We all know what happened in March 2020, and this cast, and the sets, and the preparations all sat waiting… until things came back to the stage this month. But as they say, Mamma Mia, boy the landscape is crowded now. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of the show, and theatres left and right are doing it.  Canyon Theatre Guild in Santa Clarita just extended their production; and La Mirada is kicking it off next weekend. Perhaps it is the upbeat show we need right now. Perhaps it is good that these other theatres are doing it, because we saw the last performance of the show at 5-Star this afternoon, so you’ll need to find someplace else to see it.* But I do hope this description piques your interest in 5-Star’s production, because the remainder of their season looks excellent: Something Rotten; The Addams Family; and Newsies.
(*: So why did we see the last show, when normally we see the first Saturday night? Because when it had its original dates, it stomped on our tickets to Spongebob Squarepants, and it was easier to move 5-Star — and due to confusion, we ended up at the Sunday matinee, and those dates carried over to the reschedule)

This was our second time seeing Mamma Mia; the first was back in January 2019 at Cupcake Theatre. I’m going to adapt my synopsis from what I wrote for that production:

The basics of the story (which was written by Catherine Johnson, and originally conceived by Judy Cramer) are as follows: A young woman, Sophie, lives on a Greek island with her mom, Donna, who runs a taverna. Sophie (20) is about to get married to a fellow, Sky. There’s one problem: She doesn’t know who her dad is. She finds her mom’s diary, and discovers three men who slept with her mom around the time she would have been conceived, and invites them to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mom. Also coming to the wedding are two of her mom’s best friends: Tanya and Rosie, who used to be in a singing group with her (mom): Donna and the Dynamos. As they then say, hijinks follow as the mom discovers the potential dads — Sam, Bill, and Harry; all three men come to believe they are the dad and offer to walk Sophie down the aisle; and past history is uncovered and revisited. All of this is built and engineered to fit in the music of Abba (music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with additional songs by Stig Anderson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch), meaning that some scenes are specifically contrived to make a song fit in, and ultimately do nothing to advance the plot or grow the character. That’s the nature of a jukebox musical: the story is shaped to fit the music, as opposed to the proper approach of making the music serve the story.

In any case, going back to the uncomfortable incidents: Uncomfortable is a good word for this, for there are points where the storyline veers into the uncomfortable. Think about the scene around “Gimme Gimme Gimme” (at least I think that’s the scene) where Sophie and her friends are dancing with (and seemingly seducing) the dads. He’s old enough to be your father — literally. Here we have a bunch of 20-something girls seducing 45+ men. A bit off to me. Similarly, there’s a scene in Act II — built to make a specific song work — about a 20-something guy chasing a 45+ woman. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with older men or women — I’m an older man, myself — but within the story it created this strange vibe. But perhaps that was just my perceptions — I’m not sure anyone else picked up on it.

But other than that, the story was slight. This is not a deep show. It is a romantic comedy on stage; a true “chick flick” romance. The audience ate it up: the loved the music, they loved the dance, they loved the romance. They loved the happy ending, and the sheer joy that Abba’s music brings to the stage (their music has always been a sheer delight). As my wife noted, in the end the story here doesn’t matter much. Does it ever in a jukebox musical? You’re just going to have a good time. Don’t overthink it; go with the flow and have fun. There are a bunch of talented actors on stage, with wonderful voices. There’s great dancing. There’s music you know and love. Everyone ends up happy. What more can you want?

This time as I watched the show, the scenes with the age difference didn’t strike me quite as uncomfortable: perhaps it was the fact we were further away from the action; perhaps it was the staging. They went a bit more for the humor this time. Instead, I had two different observations this time. The first was some ponderings on why this is such a successful show. I think part of it is that it isn’t just beautiful young men and women dancing. This musical shows middle-aged people as sexy: both Donna and her friends, and the three potential dads are all portrayed as sexy even thought they are older, and that strikes a positive note in the older audiences that attend theatre. The second pondering I had was a re-examination of the show in light of today’s understanding of past cultural problems. And you know what? This show fares pretty well. There isn’t a lot of major sexual stereotyping going on; Donna certainly doesn’t reflect traditional values. The point of the musical isn’t the marriage at the it. It fits very well into today’s cultural zeitgeist. The musical also doesn’t depend on particular casting: a completely color blind casting would work just as good. That’s nice to see.

Mamma Mia @ 5-Star Theatricals (Cast)One of the things that makes this production stand out is its production values and staging. One of the things I like about Cabrillo/5-Star is that it truly lives up to its former slogan “Broadway in your Backyard”. They present Broadway-caliber shows, with Broadway production values, at the regional level. They draw upon top national talent for the leads (and top local talent), and have a great knack of identifying up-and-coming talent from the Southern California talent pool. This production, under the direction of well-known Southern California musical director Richard Israel, was no exception. Israel knows how to bring out the best in his acting team: these folks were enjoying being back on stage, and they did a great job of having fun with their characters and broadcasting that fun to the audience. We always enjoy shows he directs, whether here, at Actors Co-Op, at the late Colony Theatre, or at other small theatres throughout Los Angeles.
(Image source: 5-Star Theatricals Facebook Page)

Let’s turn to the casting. In the lead positions of the story were Kim Huber Donna Sheridan and Nicolette Norgaard Sophie Sheridan. We’ve seen Huber many times before, and she was excellent in this production: strong singing, strong dancing, and she brought a certain gravitas to the role.  I read an article on Huber from VC On Stage: she evidently didn’t perform or do streaming during the quarantine; this was her first post-COVID performance. She came back strong, and you could tell she was just having fun being back in her element.  As for Norgaard, this was our first time seeing her on stage, and we were very impressed. She has a very strong voice, and brought quite a bit of fun to the role. We were watching her face and movement closely during the show, and this was much more than just song and dance. She really became the young bride, and it was fun.

Donna’s cohert consisted of Sandy Bainum Tanya and Lisa Dyson Rosie.  Neither role goes very deep on character development: Tanya is the blonde who is into money and many marriages; Rosie is the opposite–middle ages, always single, and a bit of that militant feminist. Both were strong performers and captured the comic sensibilities well (I’ll note Dyson was actually an alternate for the Cupcake Theatre version we saw). I particularly like Dyson’s character and how she blossomed and had fun with the role.

The dads were portrayed by Eric Martsolf Sam Carmichael Brayden Hade Harry Bright ; and Christopher Robert Smith Bill Austin. We’d seen Hade before in the role; he played Harry in the Cupcake version, and brought that comfort with the role to 5-Star. Then, as now, he was fun to watch. Martsolf brought a nice paternalism to Sam and a strong singing voice. Smith’s Bill didn’t leave as much as a character impression, but I think that has to do more with the writing than any performance issues. I truly enjoyed the performances of all three.

Closing out the group of main characters was Max DeLoach Sky. His character isn’t built up well, but when we saw him there was just a comfort and a gentleness about him that made him likeable. He had a nice singing voice in his duets with Norgaard.

The next tier of characters blended together as the story doesn’t give them strong personalities, and you don’t see them as identified individuals often enough to distinguish them apart: Alexa Vellanoweth Ali ; Kat Monzon Lisa ; Christopher Jewell Valentin Pepper ; and Anthony Broccoli Eddie.  I’ll note that Valentin did the same role in the Cupcake Theatre production, and both Vellanoweth and Monzon are 5-Star regulars. All were strong singers and dancers.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble (additional named roles noted), the pit singers, and the alternates. The Ensemble consisted of Julian Xavier Father Alexandrios ; Parker Blakely (FB); James Everts; Kristi Hawkesworth; A J Morales; Taleen Shrikian; Stephanie Urko; and Rachael Yeomans. The off-stage singers were Ananya Badami, Thomas Hollow, Tyler Luff, Nathaniel Mark, Kaitlin Maxwell, and Emilie Mirvis. Chelle Denton was the alternate for Donna/Tanya/Rosie.  The ensemble was strong in both singing and dancing, but it was hard to match the standouts to the names. The off-stage singers were fun to watch via binoculars from the Mezzanine. Some were really getting into the acting for the show; others were doing the occasional cell-phone check during the quiet times. But they brought that nice extra layer to the Abba sound that made it extra special.

Speaking of sound: 5-Star / Cabrillo is well known for the quality orchestra they bring to the table at every performance — generally due to the efforts of Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Orchestra Contractor.  Under the direction of Anthony Lucca Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard, the orchestra consisted of Lucca and Lloyd Cooper (FB) Keyboard 2 ; Chris Kimbler (FB) Keyboard 3 ; Tom Griffin (FB) Keyboard 4 ; Steve Bethers Acoustic & Electric Guitars ; Eric Rautenberg Electric & 12 String Acoustic Guitars ; Shane Harry (FB) Electric Bass ; Steve Pemberton Set Drums ; and Tyler Smith (FB) Percussion.

Lastly, we turn to the production aspects of the show. Adding to Israel’s direction was the dance, choreographed by Stephanie Landwehr Choreographer. The dance in this show is very much the 80s style of Abba, and Landwehr captured that very well. Jean-Yves Tessier Lighting Design and 5-Star regular Jonathan Burke (FB) Sound Design did a great job of establishing mood and place. Sets were from 3-D Theatricals. Supporting these design elements were Cindy Peltola Costume Design; Luis Ramirez Hair and Wig Design and  Alex Choate (FB) Prop Design. Others in the production team included Talia Krispel Production Stage Manager; Lewis Wilkenfeld Producer; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing;  David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity. 5-Star no longer seems to have an artistic director; Richard Storrs is Chair of the board; Cindy Murray is Executive Director; and Tal Fox is Assoc. Producer and Casting Director. As always, I acknowledge the COVID Compliance Officer, Erik Monak, who ensures the performers and audience are safe.

Alas, we saw the last performance of Mamma Mia from 5-Star of this run. See the 5-Star Theatricals page for information on their upcoming season.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. November brings Hamilton at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and Head over Heels at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). December brings The Bands Visit at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); lastly, March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, On Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

Share

🎭 That Takes a Lot of Brass | “The Music Man” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Music Man (5-Star Theatricals 2019)Have you heard the story about the con-man that comes into a mid-west community, convinces them to support him, convinces them to give him their hard-earned money, and promises to deliver something. He wins over the community with the charm, lusts after and chases the women in the town to keep them silent (not taking “no” for an answer), and plans to deliver nothing and abscond with the money? But the people, won over by his charm, refuses to see him for the con man and slime ball that he is, and he somehow gets away with it. Almost. He gets his foot caught in the door by wanting just a bit too much, and the community finds out.

No, I’m not talking about what has happened since 2016 in this country.

I’m instead referring to a classic story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, adapted for the stage with books, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, that first hit the Broadway stage in 1957: The Music Man. It was the show that opened the Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (now emphasizing its naming sponsor as the Bank of America Performing Arts Center), opened by the resident musical company, Cabrillo Music Theatre (which changed its name a few years ago to 5-Star Theatricals (FB)). The show was last done by Cabrillo in 2006, which is when we last saw it. In a similar fit on coincidence with the Pasadena Playhouse, which just presented Little Shop of Horrors as an independent production is returning to Off-Broadway, the Music Man is also returning to Broadway in a production with Hugh Jackman (in fact, it opened this week).

But I’m burying the lede. We saw The Music Man at 5-Star last night.

I’m sure you knew the story. Back in 2006, I summarized it as: “So, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman that didn’t know the territory. He sold bands, boy bands. No, not Menudo or the Backstreet Boys. Rather, he sold band instruments, uniforms, and instruction books in River City, Iowa in 1912. He was a lying, cheating, salesman, with a girl in every town. But he got his foot caught in the door, but in the end, everyone got what they wanted.”. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page, but what I wrote is essentially correct. Salesman comes into town. He takes advantage of town dynamics to convince them to buy instruments and uniforms, woos the one person in town who could find him out so that she doesn’t, and evades the equivalent of the press with non-answers and fake answers that don’t stand up to scrutiny. But when he has the people eating out of his hands, a whistleblower comes out of the woodwork to expose his scam, and he gets caught, as he put it, with his foot in the door.

This is a classic of music theatre, well constructed. It is an old chestnut with, when you look at it, a surprising connection to modern times. Quite surprising. Perhaps that’s one reason why this might be the right time for a revival, just as the times of OJ Simpson made Broadway ready for the Chicago revival.

But this was written in 1957 by a midwesterner, and a few things caught my woke sensibilities. In the early song “Trouble”, there’s this exchange:

One fine night, they leave the pool hall
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son, your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Mass-staria!

In 2019, the combination of the phrases “Libertine men and Scarlet women”, “Rag-time” and “jungle animal instinct” is clearly a reference to how Negros were viewed at the time — and was an jarring reminder that — despite whatever the onstage casting might be — River City IA in 1912 was a white bread as they can be. This is also echoed in Mayor Shin’s comments about the man her daughter is interested in: that he’s the son of a laborer, and not good enough for his daughter. This is a reminder of the class divisions in small towns, especially for the poor laborers, who had a different status that the noble merchants and farmers. It is a status also reflected in Oklahoma in how Judd was treated. It is also central to the story: how the fear of the outsider — and what the outsider brings — can lead people to embrace the candy-coated magic of the con man, despite the facts and tells.

The Music Man is jarringly relevant for our times. An con-men on stage are so fun to watch. Think about how many musicals you know of that involve con-men.

Music Man at 5-Star - Cast PictureAnd I’m pleased to say that, under the direction of Larry Raben (FB) and with choreography by Peggy Hickey (FB) [who also choreographed the currently running Anastasia across town], and with the magic brought by the leads Adam Pascalæ (⭐FB) and Katharine McDonoughæ (FB), this show is a gem — one of the best 5-Star productions since Beauty and the Beast back in July 2018. Part of that was for much the same reason: this cast was having fun with this show and these characters, and that fun and joy was radiated out into the audience. This fun and joy was consistent from the leads to the youngest members of the children’s ensemble. It showed in the movement, it showed in the chemistry between the characters, it showed in how the cast came together to make the town (and make the town sing), it showed in the playfulness between the characters both at the front of the stage and in the background, and most importantly, it showed in their faces. If you’re in the Mezzanine (as we were) or the Balcony–bring your binoculars. You’ll want to watch those faces.

As I noted, i the lead positions were Adam Pascalæ (⭐FB) Professor Harold Hill and Katharine McDonoughæ (FB) Marion Paroo. For those used to Robert Preston, who originated the road on stage and screen, Pascal is very different. Taller, wiry, and extremely playful, he just brings a joy to the role. If you’ve read discussions with Pascal, you’ll see that part of the reason is that this role is where he wants to be: he’s moved past the rocker roles he did 15 years ago, and past the heavy drama, and is having fun with the humor inherent in this role. It is clear from every movement, and how he interacts with every character. I was initially less sure of McDonough. In her first scenes, she came across as very different than the typical young woman that plays the role. But as her character warmed up I grew to appreciate her characterization of the role. It didn’t hurt that she had a lovely soprano voice that handled the ballads with ease. She also had a chemistry that built with Pascal’s character well.

Providing support to these characters were Lisa Dyson (FB) Mrs. Paroo and Joshua Blond Winthrop ParooDyson handled the motherly role well, and had strong chemistry with McDonough’s Marion and Blond’s WInthrop. Blond was, well, so cute. He handled his main song, “Gary Indiana”, extremely well.

Playing the foil and accomplice of Prof. Hill was Trent Mills (FBMarcellus Washburn. Again, he brings a different look than the film, but he has a easy humor and charm that makes the role work for him. He was especially strong in the “Shipoopi” number, and wonderful in his interactions with Dani Gonzalez (FBEthel Toffelmier in that number. The two made it completely believable that they were boyfriend and girlfriend, with a wonderful chemistry and joy between them.

The secondary couple in the show were Adam Winer (FBTommy Djilas and Antonia Vivino (FB) Zaneeta Shinn. Winer was a strong dancer and singer, and worked well with Vivino’s Zaneeta. He was particularly strong when he stood up to Mayor Shinn, her father. Vivino is a 5-Star regular and a strong singer in her own right (who has a new album out with her sisters Natalia and Donna called DNA, available on CDBaby and Amazon). She was clearly having fun with Zaneeta, especially the “Yee Gods” line. Joy from stage is contagious, folks, and there’s no vaccine for it.

Leading the town was Joe Hartæ (FBMayor Shinn and Christie Lynn Lawrence (FBEulalie Mackecknie ShinnHart did a great job of capturing the bluster and pomposity of Mayor Shinn, but perhaps my greatest delight was his bio, and seeing that he was in the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, a show that flopped on Broadway but had some wonderfully underrated songs. Lawrence captured the pomposity of his wife in the other direction: someone who thinks they have talent and wants to be the center of everything, but often doesn’t. She captured that well, and both had a great humor around themselves that projected out to the audience.

The members of the schoolboard that made up the great barbershop quartet were James Thomas Miller (⭐FB, FB) Olin Britt, Travelling Salesman, Chris Hunter (FB) Oliver Hix, Travelling Salesman, L. Michael Wells (FB) Jacey Squires, Travelling Salesman, and Jonathan Matthews (FB) Ewart Dunlop, Travelling Salesman. The four had wonderful harmonies together, and were having fun with their roles.

Rounding out the cast, as other characters in the town, traveling salesmen, River City residents, and so forth, were: Brittany Anderson (FB) Mrs Britt; Savannah Fischer Amaryllis; Dani Gonzalez (FB) Ethel Toffelmier; Rich Grosso (⭐FB, FB) Charlie Cowell; Samantha Wynn Greenstone (FB) Alma Hix; Anne Montavon (FB) Maud Dunlop; Richard Storrs (FB) Constable Locke; Dekontee Tucrkile (⭐FB, FB) Mrs. Squires; Laura Aronoff (FB) Ensemble; Nichole Beeks (FB) Dance Captain, Ensemble; Lucas Blankenhorn (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Lucy Bollier Youth Ensemble; Calvin Brady (FB) Conductor, Dance Captain, Ensemble; Samara Gottlieb Gracie Shinn / Youth Ensemble; Tina Hidai (FB) Ensemble; Scotty Jacobson (⭐FB, FB) Ensemble; Rachel Josefina (FB) Ensemble; Cleo Magill (⭐FB, FB) Ensemble; Chet Norment (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Camal Pugh (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Luke Pryor Youth Ensemble; Aria Surrec Youth Ensemble; Bayley Tanenbaum Youth Ensemble; Joshua Tanenbaum Youth Ensemble; Abigail Thompson Ensemble; Zachary Thompson Youth Ensemble; Spencer Ty (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; and Weston Walker-Pardee Youth Ensemble. Especially notable were: Dani Gonzalez (as noted earlier) for her joy in the “Shipoopi” number, Tina Hidai for her wonderful facial expressions in the backgrounds during numbers, and Aria Surrec, again, for wonderful facial expressions and performance in the background.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the leadership of Brad Ellis Music Director, Conductor.  The orchestra consisted of: Rhondda Dayton (FB) Flute I, Piccolo; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Clarinet I, E-flat Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Orchestra Contractor; Ian Dahlberg (FB) Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet II; Gary Rautenberg (FBBass Clarinet, Clarinet III, Flute II, Piccolo II; John Stehney  Bassoon, Bass Sax, Clarinet IV; Bill Barrett (FB) Trumpet I; Chris Maurer (FB) Trumpet II; Michael Fortunato (FB) Trumpet III; June Satton (FB) Trombone I; Nathan Stearns (FB) Trombone II; Robert Coomber (FBBass Trombone; Sharon Cooper Violin I, Concertmaster; Sally Berman Violin II; Judy Garf (FB) Violin III; Rachel Coosaia (FBCellos; Chris Kimbler (FB) Piano, Keyboard Synthesizer; Shane Harry (FB) Upright Double Bass; and Alan Peck Set Drums, Percussion. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. The set and scenery from Brian Wells and The Music and Theatre Company consisted of a number of large locales and flats; about the only problem was the basketball court was missing a basketball hoop. Costumes were a combination of the costume design of Tanya Apuya (FB) and previously developed pieces from Maine State Music Theatre. Whatever the source, they worked well to establish the characters and locales, and were suitably colorful. These designs were supported by the hair and wigs of Jessica Mills (FB) and prop design by Alex Choate (FB). Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design was good, as always. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting conveyed place and mood well. Rounding out the production credits: Talia Krispelæ (FBProduction Stage Manager; Julian Olive (FB) Stage Manager; Pedro Armendariz (FB) and Rebecca Wade (FB) Asst. Stage Managers; Jack Allaway (FBTechnical DirectorDavid Elzer/Demand PR PublicityFresh Interactive (FBMarketingPatrick Cassidy (FBArtistic Director.

The Music Man continues at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) at the Bank of American Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks (the Kavli Theatre) for one more weekend, until October 27, 2019. This is a wonderful production of a theatre classic, and well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Theatricals website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

P.S.: At the end of the show, Adam Pascal stopped the curtain call for an announcement… that actors would be in the hallways after the show with red buckets. I was so expecting him to be collecting for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but no, it was for 5-Stars Community Outreach efforts. I’m so trained when I hear that announcement. Yes, a donation went in the buckets.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

This afternoon sees us at In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The first weekend (before ACSAC) may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for mid-January for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date. January will also bring Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB). I’m already booking well into 2020.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

Share

🎭 Skin Color Battles Are Nothing New | “West Side Story” @ 5-Star

West Side Story (5-Star Theatricals)Most people know the musical West Side Story. Most people think they’ve seen the musical West Side Story, but when pressed, what they mean is that they’ve seen the movie version of the musical. That movie made some changes in the stage version, and is strongly rooted in the era in which it was filmed (it is being remade this year). But neither are the stage show. When did you last see the original?

For me, the answer was 15 years ago, almost to the weekend, in a production at what was then Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks (my wife had the (mis)fortune of seeing the bilingual tour version at the Pantages in December 2010).  I say “was”, because last night both of us were at Cabrillo, since renamed 5 Star Theatricals (FB), for their new production of West Side Story. Bottom Line Up Front: This is a very good production, well-cast and well performed. The dancing could use a bit more sharpness, but given it only runs two weekends and had limited rehearsal, that’s a minor quibble.

On the odd chance that anyone is unfamiliar with West Side Story, it is essentially Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reworked an transported to New York in the 1950s. Warring families have become warring gangs, and the battle has become a racial one: whites vs. hispanics, white Americans vs. “immigrants” (in quotes, because white America conveniently forgets PR is part of America). There are still star crossed lovers, and the story ends in tragedy. The story was based on a conception of Jerome Robbins, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondhim (with some translations, uncredited, by Lin-Manuel Miranda). The original production was entirely directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. You can read the story of the show’s creation on Wikipedia or on the WRTI page.

Over on the Guide to Musical Theatre, I found this concise synopsis. There’s a much more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and set in the urban slums of New York, the show used, as its modern equivalents for the Montagues and Capulets the juvenile gangs of local whites (the Jets) and immigrant Puerto Ricans (the Sharks). The did battle with childish seriousness over the streets that they claim as their territory. The Jets, boastful and contemptuous of the immigrants, call on Tony, who used to be their leader but now has a regular job and is on his way to adulthood, to help their new leader Riff and the gang in a challenge to the Sharks. Riff reminds Tony of his old allegiance and of how menacing are the newcomers. Tony reluctantly agrees reluctantly but soon becomes excited with the thrill of potential combat.

Meanwhile, in a bridal shop Anita, the sweetheart of the Shark’s leader, Bernado, is converting Maria’s communion dress into a gown for the dance that evening. Maria is Bernardo’s sister. He has brought her from Puerto Rico hoping that she will marry his best friend, Chino.

At the dance Riff challenges Bernado and the groups agree to do battle. Tony and Maria have seen each other and fall in love, instantly and become oblivious to the menace that is building up around them.

Most of the Puerto Ricans are nervously elated over the coming conflict but they are confident and determined to assimilate into the American way despite the homesickness that some of them feel. The threatening groups are dispersed by a policeman but the separation is only temporary. What could have just been a game of muscle flexing turns to tragedy when Bernado provokes a knife-fight which results in Riff being killed. Bernado is murdered in turn by the avenging Tony. He flees to the home of Maria who has been told of the news of her brother’s death by Chino. Her love for Tony overcomes her hatred for her brother’s killer. Tony promises to take her away and in a dream ballet sequence the battle is re-enacted but this time the lovers are not allowed to meet. The dream turns into a nightmare but Tony and Maria flee.

The gangs meanwhile are concerned with their inevitable encounter with the law and mockingly imagine how they will deal with the situation in the number “Gee, Officer Krupke”. Anita taunts Maria for remaining faithful to Tony but nonetheless agrees to deliver Maria’s message for Tony to the Jets. Unfortunately the Jets threaten to abuse and rape her that she is driven to claim that Chino has shot and killed Maria. Hearing this, angry and wild with grief Tony goes after Chino, but Chino coolly shoots him just as Tony discovers that Maria is not dead after all. Somewhat ashamed, the Jets and the Sharks between them remove Tony’s body as Maria follows them.

As the production ended, one thought came to mind: How different this was from last weekend’s similar tragedy. Think about the compare and contrast with Miss Saigon, for it says a lot about why one production has become timeless, and one increasingly problematic. Both are stories ultimately based on classic theatre written by white men about cultures they didn’t know personally (Puccini about Japan, Shakespeare about Italy). Both were adapted into a story about cultural clash. Both end in tragedy, in the death of a key figure propelling the story, leaving the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces after the show ends.

But whereas Miss Saigon is a problematic adaptation, portraying no heroism or honor in the Vietnamese except for the lead heroine, West Side Story does not draw a caricature of the Puerto Rican culture. They are shown with loving families, as people who care about each other, who care about the country, and who just want their chance at the American way. The only racist sentiment (other than the inherent gang racism, of course) is from the Police, who express a racist attitude of anyone not white or lower class. But that, unfortunately, is something that is still present today. Just ask any hispanic or black family if they get fair treatment from some police departments.

Miss Saigon tells a story that in increasingly dated and stereotypical, but with beautiful music, dance, and stagecraft. West Side Story,  on the other hand, tells a story that is a timeless star-crossed lover story, set in an environment of racial fashions that alas is still far too prevalent today. Perhaps one day the racial and ethnic divisions that make West Side Story work will go away, and that aspect of the story will also seem dated. Hopefully one day.

The production used the modified 2009 version of the script. This was the version that replaced some of the songs sung by Puerto-Rican characters with Spanish lyrics, although by the time the tour settled down and the script was finalized for MTI, the only Spanish lyrics left was the sequence of the Sharks in “Tonight”. There were some relics in a bit of Spanish dialogue at points in the story.

The director, Larry Raben (FB), made some interesting directorial choices in the show. For Doc, the owner of the store where Tony works, he cast an African American. This emphasized without words the separation of that character from the battles around him, and made his attempts to stop the violence even more poignant.  He also presented the dream ballet sequence using a youth ensemble. This highlighted the innocence of the internal conceptions of the characters from the hard exteriors we saw on stage. There were some problems in the execution of the sequence, but the idea itself was an interesting choice. Raben also did a great job of working with the actors to bring out the characters as distinct.

As always with 5-Star/Cabrillo, the performances were strong. 5-Star uses a mix of AEA-talent (æ) (some established, some upcoming) in a few select lead positions, and the top local talent and upcoming local talent in smaller positions. I always like to point out that Katharine McPhee got her start on the Cabrillo boards, many years ago as the lead in Annie Get Your Gun.  It is a key training ground for talent.

In the lead positions were Brandon Keith Rogers (FB) (æ) Tony and Giselle Torres (⭐FB) Maria. Both gave very strong performances, and the chemistry between the two was believable. Rogers had a higher voice that I remembered for the Tony role, but it worked quite well and was lovely in all the songs. Torres got even higher notes, but handled them with aplomb. They were great.

Turning to the rest of the Jets: Aleks Pevec (FB) (æ) Riff, the Gang Leader; Doug Penikas (FBAction; Nic Olsen (FBA-Rab; Chet Norment (FBBaby John; Daniel Brackett (FBBig Deal; Brock Markham (FBDieseland Antonia Vivino (FBAnybodys. Pevec was strong as Riff, with a great stage presence and a nice singing voice. Most of the other guys blended into the background in the numbers, with Penikas and Markham as standouts in their characterizations. All the guys got to shine in the difference characterizations they get in “Officer Krupkie”. I emphasize the word “guys”, because as the one non-guy, Vivino’s Anybodys was always a standout, bringing a fun playful energy to her role. Although not explicitly credited, she was also the lead vocal for the dream Maria in “Somewhere”, bringing a lovely voice to the song (and outshining in vocal quality the dream Tony). Note that Vivino has a new album out with her sisters Natalia and Donna called DNA, available on CDBaby and Amazon. I happened to pick up a copy of the album yesterday because I remember Natalia from other Cabrillo productions, and although I’ve only listened to a few songs to date, it is beautiful.

The Jet girls (other than Anybodys) have smaller more backgroundish roles, and although they have character names, their characters come across as less distinct to the audience. The Jet girls were: Tara Carbone (⭐FB, FB) Graziella; Elizabeth Sheck (FB) Velma; Alley Kerr (⭐FB, FB) Minnie; Carly Haig (FB) Clarice; Lindsey Wells (FB) Clarice; and Laura Aronoff (⭐FB, FB) Suzy.

This brings us to the rival gang, the Sharks. In the lead positions for the Sharks were Patrick Ortiz (FB) (æ) Bernardo, the leader; Lauren Louis (FB) Anita, Bernardo’s Girl; and John Paul Batista (FB) Chino. Ortiz was very strong as Bernardo, with a strong stage presence and great singing and dancing voice. Louis got to shine as Anita, especially in “America” where she gets to be very playful. Batista also had a good stage presence, but didn’t get to shine until the closing scenes. Rounding out the gang were James Everts (⭐FB, FB) Pepe; Jared Cardiel (FB) Indio; Lyndon Apostol (FB) Luis; Joah Ditto (FB) Anxious; and Antony Sanchez (æ) Nibbles.

The other Shark girls, who get to shine in both “America” and “I Feel Pretty”, are: Taleen Shrikian (FBRosalia; Cheyenne Omani (FB) Consuela; Sophie Shapiro (FB) Teresita; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) Francisca; Arianna White (FB) Estrella and Erin Gonzalez (FB) Margarita.

The few adults in the show have much smaller roles: Ivan Thompson Doc; Skip Pipo (FBSchrank, Glad Hand; and Rich Grosso (⭐FB, FB) Krupke. Notable among these was Thompson’s Doc, who I mentioned previously. Note also that Pipo is a REP alumni, having been in multiple REP shows. REP memories are fading, and so REP alumni and season ticket holders need to stick together.

Rounding out the cast was the youth ensemble, who we only see during the dream sequence. The ensemble is primarily a dance ensemble, although one gets to sing a lead a dream Tony (and was a little shakey). Dance-wise they were reasonably good overall; and remarkably good given their age. The ensemble consisted of: Anabel Alexander; Brando de la Rosa; Natalie de la Rosa; Emma Driscoll; Iyana Hannans; Callie Kiefer; Mikayla Kiefer; Daniel Peters; Luke Pryor; Drew Rosen; Sawyer Sublette; and Emily Tatoosi (⭐FB).

This brings us to the dance and stage movement, under the direction of choreographer Karl Warden (FB) and dance captain Veronica Gutierrez (FB). This is, at its heart, a dance show. The dancing in the show was good, but at times, the sharp precision the music leads one to expect just wasn’t there. It was close, and most of the audience didn’t perhaps notice it. But I’m used to movement in drum corps, where all the rifles come down with a singular snap. The Bernstein movement requires that precision, and in quite a few numbers it wasn’t there. This isn’t a major flaw, as this is a show with limited performances and limited rehearsals, and that precision take work to build. Hopefully, they can get a bit closer in the second weekend. This was particularly notable during “Somewhere”, as the kids ensemble just doesn’t have the strength at their age to pull off the strength and power the dream ballet requires. They come close, and are beautiful, but at are about 90%. On the other hand, the fight choreography, presumably under the fight captains Lyndon Apostol (FB) and James Everts (⭐FB, FB), was spectacular, creating believable and menacing fight sequences. Well done, well done.

The pit orchestra was under the musical direction of Jeff Rizzo (FB), who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of: Ian Dahlberg (FB) Flute, Piccolo, Alto Sax, Clarinet; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Clarinet, Alto Sax, E-flat Clarinet; Bill Wilson Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone;   Matt Germaine (FB) Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Baritone Saxophone; John Nunez (FB) Bassoon;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) Horn; Bill Barrett (FB) Trumpet 1; Chris Maurer (FBTrumpet 2; Nathan Stearns Trombone; Sharon Cooper Violin 1 (Concertmaster); Sally Berman Violin 2; Judy Garf (FB) Violin 3; Stephen Green Cello; Jennifer Oikawa Keyboard Synthesizer; Lance Conrad-Marut GuitarShane Harry (FB) Double String Bass; Chris Kimbler Piano, Celeste; Steve Pemberton Drums; and Tyler Smith (FB) Percussion. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. The orchestra had a great sounds and was a joy to listen to.

Lastly, the remainder of the production and creative team. There is no credit for scenic design, although the program notes that the set and scenery were provided by The Music and Theatre Company LLC, with costumes provided in party by the Maine State Music Theatre. Other costumes were designed by Kathryn Poppen, with hair and wig design by Jessica Mills (FB) and prop design by Alex Choate (FB).   Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well in establishing time and mood; I particularly noted it during “One Hand, One Heart” where there was just a beautiful background color.  Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design was good, as always. Rounding out the production credits: Talia Krispel (FB) Production Stage Manager; Jack Allaway (FB) Technical Director; David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing; Patrick Cassidy (FB) Artistic Director. Originally produced on Broadway by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by Arrangement with Roger L. Stevens.

West Side Story has one more performance this weekend, and a number next weekend. For more information and tickets, visit the 5-Star Site. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). That’s followed by Loose Knit at Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB). The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks. Somewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

Share

🎭 Taking Back the Power | “Matilda” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Matilda (5-Star Theatricals)Last Saturday night we saw Matilda (with a book by Dennis Kelly and Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin (FB) based on the novel by Roald Dahl (FB)) at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). I had seen Matilda before at the Ahmanson almost four years ago, and I was at a loss how to describe the show last time. Back then, I had riffed off the bullying theme in the show (perhaps because I had just seen the La Mirada production of Carrie, and was making the connection). But this time that theme didn’t hit me, and so I was stuck. In fact, it wasn’t until near the end of the show we were seeing on Sunday, Ada and the Engine,  by Lauren Gunderson, that it hit me: The two shows were linked with a common theme. In fact, it was a theme common with my third event of the weekend: A Purim Carnival. Purim, after all, tells the story of Queen Esther, who saved her people by speaking up.

What was this common message, you might ask. Simple: It is up to you to change your story. It is a message I highlighted in the lyrics I quoted in my previous post:

If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Won’t change a thing.
Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it’s OK.
And that’s not right.
And if it’s not right, you have to put it right.

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Matilda overcame the bullying by her parents and by the Trunchbull to take charge of her story, and to change the ending.

Esther overcame the existential threat from Hamen, and changed the ending to save her people.

Ada overcame the legacy and reputation of her father, the overbearance of her mother, and her participation in a field that wasn’t particularly welcoming of women to change the nature of computing (more on that in the next post).

All changed their story. All overcame parents who were bullies. This was the uniting them of the shows over the weekend: Finding your agency. Overcoming your circumstances to write the end to your story, the way your want it to be. Not being powerless; taking the power into your own hands. Using the power of your mind. Being a little naughty along the way.

I just realized I’ve been blathering on without providing you a short synopsis.. After all, you might never have read the novel; you might not have seen the wonderful 1996 movie with Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman, and Mara Wilson. Luckily, I can copy what I wrote back in 2015: As opposed to trying to detail it all here, I’ll point you to the Wikipedia page. The “TL;DR” version is: Matilda is a precocious and intelligent little girl born to parents who didn’t want her, and who value stupidity and the messages that TV teaches over reason. Unable to control her (Matilda loves to play pranks on her parents), then enroll her in a school run by an evil headmistress who delights in torturing children. One teacher sees Matilda’s value, and working together they fight the headmistress, and return the school to a place of love and learning. Oh, and Matilda gets a happy ending as well.

Back then, I also noted that in adapting this story to the stage, the authors imbued it with an additional message that was not the novel or the movie — a message that is a commentary on parents today. In the opening scenes, there is a birthday party where every parent is talking about how their child is a precious little miracle and something special. This, of course, creates a contrast with Matilda’s parents who see her not as a miracle and as something not special. The point that is being made is that if everyone is special, then no one is. Special becomes the norm, and the truly special become invisible. The reality must be that we, as parents, must not predefine our children with labels, but must encourage them to grow up and be whatever they are destined to be (and be the best at that).

Today, there was one other additional message that I noted: At the top of Act II, there is a number called “All I Know” (which is known to most folks as “Telly”). In it, Matilda’s father and her brother sing of the joys of getting all your information from television, and making fun of people that believe in facts and getting information by reading. Back then, the number was a novelty number. But that was 2015. It is now 2019 — and Donald Trump is President. All I could think of watching that number was that it described perfectly Donald and Eric Trump.

My one complaint with the show from the first time I saw it, alas, was not resolved as the version was adapted for licensing and regional productions. The Act I ending is still too abrupt. You want Act I to end with a rousing number to get you talking during intermission and wanting to come back. Instead, you get Matilda alone on stage going “But That’s Not Right”. There are a few points where the story seems to drag a bit, or at least move away from the interesting. But overall, the structuring of the story is fun and well-paced, and the songs are more than just entertaining patter. In particular, the songs did a great job of illustrating the wants and motives of the characters; they illustrated and illuminated personalities and drives. This is what the songs in musicals should do.

I also want to note that, unlike the production at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) back in 2015, this production was not a tour. 5-Star Theatricals, formerly Cabrillo Music Theatre, is Broadway in Your Backyard, and they pride themselves in not booking tours. They cast using a mix of local and new-to-local top talent. They pride themselves on finding newcomers (such as Katharine McPhee (FB), who was in CMT’s Annie Get Your Gun) who excel. They do this all in an environment of community outreach and giving back. As an example for this production, they made an effort to honor local teachers, and collect used books for school libraries and children. Next year will be 5-Star/Cabrillo’s 25th Anniversary. They have just announced their season: The Music ManMamma Mia, and Newsies.

Matilda @ 5-Star Photo StripThis production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), the former artistic director of 5-Star, and choreographed by Heather Castillo (FB), who has choreographed a number of productions at 5-Star. Both know how to work well with kids and ensure that they are having fun with the show, and this was evident in how the children and adult performers were having loads of fun with the show. This is one reason why we keep coming back to 5-Star, even with seasons (such as the upcoming season) where we’ve seen the shows before.

The lead position in Matilda is quite demanding, and as a result is dual-cast. The 5-Star Matildas are Lucy Bollier and Olivia Marcum. At our production, we had Lucy, and she did a spectacular job. She had a very strong singing voice, and a wonderfully mischievous and expressive face. She moved well, was suitably playful, and was just fun to watch. If you are up in the balconies, bring your binoculars because you’re going to want to watch her face.

On the other hand, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (FB)’s Miss Trunchbull is best seen at a distance. His performance itself was quite strong and hilarious; it is more that a closeup of his/her makeup was a bit off-putting, with the exaggerated cheekbone and moles. That might have been the intent, but it was a bit distracting through the binoculars. But, again, that doesn’t make the performance bad. Performance-wise, Mongiardo-Cooper is perfect, capturing the overbearing and bullying nature of Trunchbull perfectly, and handing Trunchbull’s few songs well and with strong humor.

Even more humorous moments come from Matilda’s parents: Janna Cardia (FB) as Mrs. Wormwood, and James Larsen (FB) as Mr. Wormwood. Cardia was hilarious during the opening “birth” number, as well as in her dancing number with John Paul Batista (FB) as Rudolfo (who was side-splitting in the background). Larsen — who research shows we saw over 10 years ago in Parade, where I noted the strength of his performance even then — was just great. His comic movements with the hat were just great, and his performance in “All I Know” was very very strong.

Representing the good in the show was Matilda’s teacher, Miss Jenny Honey, played by Katie DeShan (FB). DeShan captured the innocence of the character well, as well as the pathos in the later scenes. She had a strong singing voice and a wonderfully expressive personality on stage. A slight PS: She needs to update her personal website as it still uses Flash, which has security risks and has been deprecated.

Then there are the kids. Cabrillo/5-Star loves kids, and works with them as performers to bring out something special. The youngsters in Matilda are no exception. Strong singers and strong dancers, they had delightful performances, with special acknowledgements for the kids playing Lavender and Bruce. The kids consisted of: Drew Rosen — Nigel; Luke Pryor — Tommy; Olivia Zenetzis — Lavender; Marcello SilvaBruce; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) — Amanda; Nico Ridino — Eric; Glory Rose — Alice; and Iyana Hannans — Hortensia.

This brings us to the adults who had the smaller roles, and the members of the adult ensemble (many of whom also played kids). The most notable performance here was Deanna Anthony (★FBFBIG)’s Mrs. Phelps, who brought a wonderfully comic touch to her scenes. She’s been in a number of 5-Star roles and always brings a great humorous character touch to her roles. We also recently saw her singing and dancing her way through Cupcake Theatre’s Mamma Mia — who knows, perhaps she’ll reprise the role for 5-Star in their next season. Also notable (as I noted earlier) was John Paul Batista (FB)’s Rudolfo, who was hilarious in “Loud”.

Anyway, the other adults on stage were: John Paul Batista (FB) — Rudolfo, Ensemble; Ben Carroll (FB) — Escape Artist, Doctor; Monica Ricketts (FB) — Acrobat, Ensemble; Joah Ditto (FB) — Ensemble; Maya Galipeau (FB) — Ensemble; Tyler Luff — Ensemble; Julia Marley (FB) — Ensemble; Jared Cardiel (FB) — Ensemble; Renee Cohen (FB) — Ensemble; Josh Golombek (FB) — Ensemble; Carolyn Lupin (FB) — Ensemble; and Tyler Marie Watkins (FB) — Ensemble. I’ll note that, as a former Rep East subscriber, that we saw Ms. Cohen many years ago in Rep East production.

This brings us to the musicians, under the direction of Jennifer Lin, musical director and conductor. The excellent 5-Star Theatricals orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) — Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) — Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax; Chris Maurer (FB)  — Trumpet 1, Flugelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet; Michael Fortunato (FB) Trumpet II; June Satton (FB) — Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone; Brian LaFontaine (FB) — Acoustic & Electric Guitar; Bang Eunn Lee (FB) — CelloChris Kimbler (FB) — Keyboard I;  Jennifer OikawaKeyboard II; Shane Harry (FB) — Double String & Electric Bass; and Alan Peck — Set Drums & Percussion. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Finally, we turn to the production team. Unlike recent productions, where 5-Star had moved from the days of Cabrillo building its own sets to renting sets from other productions, this production has no credits for set rental, meaning that the excellent sets were the sole work of Stephen Gifford (FB) and his construction team. Gifford is a busy man; we saw his sets a few weeks ago for Anna Karenina. I had memories of the Ahmanson tour sets: swings and letter blocks everywhere. Gifford’s unifying motif was books and more books, library bookcases around the stage, with other pieces that came in for the school, Trunchbull’s office, and a large blackboard that made good use of projections. It worked well, and was augmented by properties design of Kevin Williams (FB) — who, in an interesting coincidence, did the properties for 1776 at the Saroya (together with Gifford‘s scenic design), which we saw the same day as Karenina. Also supporting this design was Noelle Raffy (FB)’s costume design, Jessica Mills (FB)’s hair and wig design, and Debby Bryan (FB)’s makeup design (modulo my comments on Miss Trunchbull’s makeup, which I thought was a bit overdone).  Jonathan Burke (FB)’s was reasonable, although the first few numbers had the same problem as the Ahmanson — clearly making out the lyrics that were being sung. Always test the sound quality in the balconies!  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well in establishing time and mood. Other production credits: Alex Choate (FB) — Asst. Props Design; David Elzer/Demand PR — Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) — Marketing; Tal Fox (FB)— Assoc Producer; Jack Allaway (FB) — Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB) — Production Stage Manager; Patrick Cassidy (FB)— Artistic Director. The original Broadway production was directed by Matthew Warchus and choreographed by Peter Darling.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda – The Musical has one more weekend at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). Overall, I thought it was a very strong production with good performances and a great message. It is well worth seeing; you’ll enjoy it. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Theatrical’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The last performance of Matilda is March 31, 2019.

***

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (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:

The day after Matilda, we saw Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage). March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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.

Share

🎭 An Interesting Beast | “Shrek: The Musical” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Shrek - The Musical (5-Star)Musicals take interesting paths. Some are clear hits, running forever on Broadway, and taking their own sweet time on hitting the regional market (ex: Wicked). Some are perennials: classics on Broadway and on the regional market (ex: Fiddler). Some are Broadway hits, but never quite get the knack of the touring production, and never quite make it in the regional market (ex: Natasha, Pierre, …). Some are so-so on Broadway, and perhaps they do a tour, but then they fade away (ex: Catch Me If You Can). Some fade away as soon as they open on Broadway (ex: Tuck Everlasting).

But then there are shows that embrace the tour. They get reworked for the road, and that rework makes them much stronger than the original Broadway production. The reworked version works well, and quickly goes into the regional market and becomes a staple production, from the school level to the community theatre to the larger regional theatre.  These are shows like Legally BlondeThe Addams Family, and Shrek.

Here in Southern California, it seems to have been a season of Shrek. I recall quite a few productions: Simi Valley, one in Santa Clarita, loads of school  productions. But they weren’t there when 5 Star Theatricals (FB) announced their production at the beginning of the year. The season they announced was intriguing: Shrek (perhaps overdone at the school level), Matilda (first large regional production), and West Side Story (appropriate, for Lenny’s 100th). Two were new for 5-Star. This was also coming after some turmoil at the company: Will North, who had picked the prior season (JosephHunchback, and Beauty and the Beast) and had starred in Hunchback, quickly disappeared and Patrick Cassidy (FB) was there as Artistic Director. Quite likely, it was North that picked the current season, which Cassidy got to execute. We renewed — not only because the shows are interesting, but because 5-Star has a great mission in serving the Ventura County community that is deserving of support.

Back to Shrek (which we saw Saturday night at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) in Thousand Oaks): The stage production lasted a year on Broadway, and was mostly true to the movie. You could see the story points from the Dreamworks Movie and the original book by William Steig that the book author (and lyricist), David Lindsay-Abaire (FB), and the composer, Jeanine Tesori, wanted to preserve. But some elements kept changing and adapting on tour and in the West End, and these made it back into the show that was eventually licensed. [This highlights yet another difference between stage and screen. The screen stays the same, forever: story and performance. Stage adapts: what was on Broadway is different from the tour and regional, and performers constantly change, and every performance is unique.]

As with The Addams Family, the eventual licensed version became stronger than the original. There also seemed to be a bit more freedom — I noticed some very topical additional to the show, and references to shows that were produced after Shrek was on the Great White Way. This is good, and it reminded me that we shouldn’t assume we know a property from the Broadway production and the cast album, and that there is value in seeing a show you already know again.

The story of Shrek is essentially the movie on stage, with some slight modifications for the limitations of live action over animation. The Wikipedia page has a good summary of the original Broadway production. The licensing page from MTI (click on synopsis) provides a summary of the licensed version. I’ll wait while you read (plays with phone and taps feet).

Watching the show, a number of thoughts came to my mind. The first was something that happens more and more of late: there were resonances with current events. In this case, Farquaad’s notion of petty dictatorship, the hatred of the other Fairy Tale creatures and the desire to keep them out and walled away, and the subsequent reveal that he, too, was one of them, had far too many echoes of the current occupant of the White House, a leader for whom the size of his ego makes up for his other shortcomings. There were other echoes of politics as well, including songs about building a wall. At least I don’t recall any consent issues in the show (that has made a number of other shows much more creepy), although there was a great Cosby reference.

Second: This show was a love-letter to Broadway. Just as the original movie had loads of references to Disney and other children’s movies, this show had loads of references to other Broadway productions. There were lines from Gypsy, Fosse style dancing, references to Dreamgirls and Les Miserables and Wicked and Beauty and the Beast. There were puppets from the Lion King. There was even a reference to Kinky Boots. If you are Broadway-aware, see if you can catch all of them.

The message of the story — thanks to the current situation — transcended the original as well. Coming out of the original production, one would have been imbued with the message of the importance of being who you are, and that there is someone out there who will love you for who you are. But today, the message of “letting your freak flag fly” has a difference resonance — especially as we are in an election season where those whose voices have been trampled by the pandering to the Trump base can finally speak back up and assert our power. The ending of the show is a clear reminder of the importance of “letting your freak flag fly” at the polling place the first Tuesday in November.

In summary, this was a show that entertained the kiddies at one level, with the storytale antics and fart jokes of the original. But for the adults, it was something that transcended the original Broadway production. It brought a level of self-awareness of what it was, with an undercurrent of political meaning, that adults would pick up on. As such, it was very very enjoyable.

It didn’t hurt that, under the direction of Kirsten Chandler (FB), the performances were very strong. This was supplemented by the great choreography of Karl Warden (FB). Of course, this wasn’t quite at the pinnacle of the previous Beauty and the Beast with the original Broadway Belle, but it was very very good. I’ll note here the one big drawback with this show: For most of the characters, the heavy costumes and heavy makeup often obscure the actor as the physical presence. These costumes also tend to limit what is possible in terms of the choreography — it’s hard to dance in oversize shoes and donkey hoofs. That’s a problem not of this production, but endemic to this show and other similar animation adaptations.

In the lead position was Trent Mills (FB) as Shrek. Mills, who looks to be a newer performer in the area, did a spectacular job and held his own against his Equity colleagues. He had a very strong singing voice, and generally brought the right presence to Shrek, capturing the humor well.

Rounding out the lead triumvirate were Lawrence Cummingsæ (FB) as Donkey, and Alison Woodsæ (FB) as Princess Fiona. We have seen both recently on the 5-Star/Cabrillo stage in The Little Mermaid. Cummings projects a great attitude and is seemingly game for anything. He has a strong singing voice, and handles the comedy and movement of the character well. Woods, also, is strong and possessed of a lovely singing voice. For this character, she captures the feistyness of the Fiona quite well, and seems to be having quite a bit of fun in “I Think I Have You Beat”. Both are very fun to watch. The only weakness with Fiona was the transformational makeup, and I don’t believe that was an actor issue.

This brings us to  Marc Baron Ginsburgæ (FB) as Lord Farquaad. We’ve seen a lot of Marc of late, from his Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast and his remarkable Levi Strauss in Levi! (not to mention other Cabrillo/5-Star roles). He’s a remarkable character actor and singer, and the Southern California area is lucky to have him in so many shows, for the always guarantees a good show. That’s no different here: he brought a level of fun to Farquaad, capturing the innate absurdity and projecting it out well. [Odd thought: Ginsberg as Pseudolus in Funny Thing. Just saying. Or as Meyer Rothschild in The Rothschilds. Yes, he has that range.]

The remaining performers had multiple tracks and roles for the most part, also serving as part of the ensemble (the exception were the younger performers). This group consisted of the following folks — and there are a few whom I single out at the end: Kyle Frattini (FB) [Pinocchio, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Deanna Anthony (★FB, FB) [Mama Ogre, Mama Bear, Dragon, Ensemble]; Zachary Thomson [Young Shrek, Dwarf]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Young Fiona]; Kate Godfrey (★FB) [Teen Fiona]; Gabrielle Farrow (FB) [Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Ensemble]; Dominic Franco (FB) [Peter Pan, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble];  Sara Gilbert (IG, FB) [Ugly Duckling, Ensemble, Fionau/s]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [King Harold, Captain of the Guard, Pied Piper, Bishop, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Isaiah Griffith (FB) [Bricks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]; Augusto Guardado (FB) [Sticks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]Mitchell Johnson (FB) [Big Bad Wolf, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Drew Lake (FB) [Fairy Godmother, Dance Captain, Ensemble]; Colden Lamb (FB) [Straw – Pig, Ensemble, Dragon Puppeteer]; Julia Lester (FB[Sugar Plum Fairy, Gingy, Ensemble]; Natalie Miller (FB) [Shoemaker’s Elf, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]Kat Monzon (FB) [Little Bo Peep, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]; Matthew Christopher Thompson (★FB, FB) [Papa Ogre, Papa Bear, Thelonius, Knight, Ensemble, Shreku/s]; and Alexa Vellanoweth (FB) [Baby Bear, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]. Of this group, there are a few worth special notice. First, there is Deanna Anthony — who has a truly remarkable gospel and theatre voice, which she uses to great effect on “Forever”. Also notable was Julia Lester’s double duty, and her ability to switch quickly from Gingi to the Sugar Plum Fairy voice, all while belting out the lead in Freak Flag. The actors that did the puppetry of the dragon (Frattini, Franco, Gilmond, Johnson, and Lamb) did remarkable work on bringing the dragon to life. On the kid side, both Tanenbaum and Godfrey had very strong voices and captured their characters well (although it is interesting to see how Fiona got smaller moving from teen to adult — usually, its the other way around). The three blind mice — Miller, Monzon, and Vellanoweth — were hilarious during their number, making stumbling around into an art.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the direction (and conduction) of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB), and contracted by Darryl Tanikawa (FB). The musicians were: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Matt Germaine (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax]Melissa Hendrickson (FB[Horn]Bill Barrett (FB) [Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Ruth Bruegger (FB) [ViolinI, Concertmaster];  Sally Berman [ViolinII];  Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Steve Bethers [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Ukelele]; Gary Solt  [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin];  Chris Kimbler (FB) [KeyboardI]Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard SynthesizerII]Shane Harry (FB) [Electric Bass, Acoustic Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB[Percussion].

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. The sets, scenery, and props were provided wholly or in part by 3D Theatricals (FB). This included the first time I can recall seeing a turntable on the Kavli stage. Some elements were quite clever, some looked a bit shopworn (perhaps rented out a bit too much without refurbishment), and some seemed a bit more amateur (a scrim or two). I miss the days Cabrillo built their own, but these were serviceable and gave the “Broadway” level to which 5-Star strives, but couldn’t afford if it had to amortize the sets over two weekends of performance. Additional props were by Alex Choate (FB). The costumes (supplied by 3D) were coordinated by Kathryn Poppen (FB), with hair and wig design by Jim Belcher (FB), and makeup by Denice Paxton (FB). For the most part, these worked — although the heavy costumes in this show often hide the beautiful and expressive faces and movement of the performers (which isn’t a fault of the team, but inherent in the show). A few costumes could use a little work: Young Shrek needs to grow into his head, and the transformed Fiona (likely due to time) needed a bit more ogre and a bit more green to fully pull off the transformation. Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design mostly worked: the sound effects were spot on, including the synchronization for the dwarf at the end, but there were points where the performers voices were lost in the hall (especially up in the Mezzanine). Hopefully, that can be adjusted before the final weekend.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well, and there wasn’t overuse of the spotlight as we used to see in Cabrillo productions. Rounding out the production team:  Jack Allaway [Technical Director]; Talia Krispel (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tawni Eccles (FB) and Julian Olive (FB) [Asst. Stage Managers]David Elzer/Demand PR [Press]Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]; Fresh Interactive (FB) [Marketing Team]; Jason Moore [Original Direction]; Rob Ashford [Original Direction]; and Patrick Cassidy (FB) [Artistic Director].

Shrek: The Musical continues at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) for one more performance today, and for next weekend. It’s a fun show and a great diversion, with some very strong performances. Tickets are available through the 5-Star box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (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:

October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music on Saturday, and She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) on Sunday, and a visit to Stitches So Cal sometime over the weekend.  The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Friday, and Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB).

January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and ends with a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), but much of February is also open.

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.

Share

🎭 Belle, Matured | “Beauty and the Beast” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Beauty and the Beast (5-Star Theatricals)Last night, I interrupted the marathon addition of maps to my highway pages (I’m in the 170s) to go see Beauty and the Beast at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). When the production was announced last summer, I wasn’t all that excited about it. After all, these days, productions of Beauty and the Beast are everywhere. We all know Alan Menken‘s music, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice‘s lyrics, and Linda Woolverton‘s book. We all know the original Disney animated movie. Why see it again? But 5-Star figured out a way to elevate it above the ordinary. First, they cast the original Belle on Broadway, Susan Egan (FB), to reprise her role for the first time in 22 years. I happen to love Egan’s voice and vocal characterizations, so that truly made it unique. Although back in the days of the LA Civic Light Opera we might get the original stars, that doesn’t happen much these days. Then they announced the supporting cast — true local luminaries like Adam Hollick (FB), David Gilchrist (FB), Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB), and Gregory North (FB). All are excellent performers. Combine this with 5-Stars excellent orchestra, and the significantly better acoustics than the Pantages, and this production was truly “Broadway in your Backyard”.

I don’t think I need to provide a synopsis of Beauty and the Beast. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1980s, you know the story. But I would like to share a few observations about the impact of the story at this performance.

First, Susan Egan. Lovely voice, lovely performance, and clearly she was having the time of her life. Limited run, with a strong cast, she had the freedom to have fun with the role, and it showed — and was broadcast to the audience. But the real critical question is whether the show would work with her now. After all, presume she first did the role when she was very young — perhaps 20. That would make her in her mid-40s now. Could she pull off the character?

The answer is an emphatic YES. In fact, arguably, Belle works stronger as someone in her mid-20s or early 30s vs the sweet young thing she is in the movie (other than an odd taste for fairy tales). It emphasizes her difference from the rest of the town; it makes their assertion that she’s a strange and special girl much stronger. She’s someone who never married to take care of her father, and retreated into the world of her books. Most of us know folks like that. So the mature Belle works a lot better. It also makes the one “new” song (as in, “it’s not on the cast album” — turns out it was added in 1998 for Toni Braxton), “A Change in Me”, even more significant.

The second change in view arises from the impact of the “#MeToo” generation. Twenty-two years ago (even longer for the movie) when this first came out, the behavior of Gaston and the Beast (in the beginning) seemed cartoonish, but something we had all seen and could laugh at. Today? Gaston is downright creepy and a bully, mentally and physically abusing those around him. He makes fun of people, abuses underlings, demands adoration, treats women like trash, and is not above inciting mob violence against an imagined enemy to get what he wants. He is, in another word, Donald Trump.

Beauty and the Beast PhotostripI’ll give you a second to let that sink in. The analogy hit me in the second act like a ton of bricks. This makes Belle’s behavior even more reflective of the modern woman: standing her ground, not giving in to intimidation, not giving into harassment. Not only is Belle reflective of the smart woman, she’s reflective of today’s woman who no longer puts up with sexual harassment.

Beast’s behavior, on the other hand, is indeed beastly in the beginning. But that’s the point of the story. But more so, it is demonstrative of the modern man who can move past the learned abusive behavior and attitude towards women and others to a more enlightened worldview. All it takes is an enchantment — be that fairytale magic, or the thing that actually did it in this story: the enchantment of a modern women. For in this story, it wasn’t enough for the Beast to want to be rid of the enchantment and to love Belle, but to learn how to share her interests, truly care about her and others as people, and to learn how to treat her with respect and with consent.

Now add the fact that Belle is an older women, and the new mature view of Beauty and the Beast comes into play. I don’t know if this was on the mind of director Yvette Lawrence (FB) , but it sure came across clearly to me. Lawrence is also to be applauded for not insisting on a tight rein, and letting these talented actors have a little fun a points. This came across clearly with both Egan and Ginsberg, and a lesser extent North and Hollick. They were having fun, and that makes this show fresh.

I’ve already written about how much I love Susan Egan (FB) — her voice, her vocal characterizations, her performance, her movement. I think both her performance and voice have gotten stronger since Broadway days; she’s matured and gotten more comfortable with her craft and what she can do with it. She made clear the value a Broadway performer can bring.

The Beast, Jason Chacon (FB) we last saw in the Kelrik production of Violet, and we liked him then. He gave a strong performance with lovely singing, although the pre-recorded roar was a bit odd. He also had a good chemistry with Belle.

The comic foils, Adam Hollick (FB) as Gaston and Justin Charles Cowden (FB) as Lefou worked quite well. Hollick understood the nature of Gaston as a self-absorbed fool, and played that up well. He had the strong voice and the physique for it. Cowden handled the comedy well, but was hampered at our performance by amplification that failed, making it hard to hear him during his standout number, “Gaston”. Still, his comic timing and movement was spot on.

David Gilchrist (FB) as Belle’s father, Maurice, was a type of character that Gilchrist plays exceptionally well. He did again, but brought in a number of very touching moments with Egan’s Belle.

The lead enchanted objects,  Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB) as Lumiere and Gregory North (FB) as Cogsworth, were perfect. We’ve seen Ginsberg before and always enjoyed his engaging performance and voice — his Levi Strauss is still stuck in my memory, and I love his voice on the cast album. North was a complete 180° from his character in the recent Hunchback. Both were having fun out there — playing, laughing at jokes, and bringing strong characters to what were inanimate objects. That’s a good way to put it — they were animated.

The very slightly lesser enchanted object — lesser in terms of stage time, although she still gets the main song from the show — was  Sarah Marie (FB) as Mrs. Potts. Although the understudy, she was a delight to see. I’ve loved her when I’ve seen her before on the Cabrillo/5-Star stage, and this was no exception. She was a bit more limited in her vibrancy in the role, but she embodied the character well, interacted well with the other objects, and seemed to be having a great time. She did a great job on “Beauty and the Beast”. The role is normally performed by Tracy Ray Reynolds.

The other somewhat major lesser enchanted objects — Luke Pryor as Chip, Nandani Sinha (FB) as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and  Devon Davidson (FB) as Babette, were all joys to watch. Pryor was exceptionally cute; Sinha brought the operatic aspect to the role, and as for Davidson, she brought the playful French maid aspect to the role. I’d say “oooh-la-lah”, but that’s no longer correct these days :-). All were great and having fun.

The remaining cast members served as members of the ensemble and in various named smaller roles. All were strong performers and great acrobats and dancers. These folks were: William Carmichael (FB) [Monsieur D’Arque]; Melia Bacon (FB[Enchanted Objects, Belleu/s];  Claudia Baffo (FB) [Enchanted Objects]Daniel Berlin (FB) [Enchanted Objects, Madame de la Grande Boucheu/s]; Daisy Bishop (FB[Silly Girl]; Lulu Bishop (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Young Prince, Wolf, Pepper, Enchanted Objects, Lefouu/s]; Amanda Carr (FB[Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Josh Christoff (FB[Bookseller, Enchanted Objects, Mauriceu/s]; Gil de St Jeor (FB[Kids Ensemble]; Courtni Gidish (FB[Wolf, Salt, Enchanted Objects]Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Enchantress, Enchanted Objects, Dance Captain]; Marcus Henson [Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Grant Hodges (FB[Cheesegrater, Enchanted Objects]; Keenon Hooks (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Danielle Jensen (FB[Ensemble Swing]; Ashley Knaak (FB[Ensemble Swing, who swung in at our performance]; Liana Leininger (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Marissa Margolis [Kids Ensemble]; Sean McCarthy [Enchanted Objects]; Madison North [Kids Ensemble]; Luca de la Peña [Kids Ensemble]; Ron de la Peña MD [Enchanted Objects]; Drew Rosen [Kids Ensemble]; Jade Rosenberg (FB[Silly Girl]; Pablo Rossil (FB[Enchanted Objects]; Katie Self (FB[Enchanted Objects];  Jessie Sherman (FB) [Silly Girl]; Olly Sholotan (FB[Wolf, Doormat, Enchanted Objects]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Kids Ensemble]; and Jater Webb (FB) [Enchanted Objects]. Particularly notable were Sholtans, Gidish, and Camitses’s dance performances.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the musical direction and conduction of  Dan Redfeld (FB★, FB). Orchestra members were: Rhondda Dayton [Flute, Piccolo]Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute]Bill Barrett (FB[Trumpet1, Piccolo, Trumpet]Chris Maurer (FB) [Trumpet2]; Nathan Stearns [Trombone, Bass Tombone, Tuba, Horn3]Sharon Cooper (FB) [Violin1, Concertmaster]Sally Berman [Violin2]; Rachel Coosaia [Cello]; Chris Kimbler [Keyboard1]Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard2]Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard3]; Elaine Litster [Harp]Shane Harry (FB) [Double String Bass]Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB) [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the orchestra contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Dance and movement was choreographed by Cheryl Baxter (FB). The dance and movement worked well, especially during the large numbers like “Gaston” and “Be My Guest”.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side; Scenery was provided by Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, with costumes and props from 3D Theatricals, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, Costume Designer. Additional costumes were from Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, Youth costumes were by Frank LaGuardia, with additional scenic elements by Escape Theatre.  Beth Glasner (FB) was the costumer, Daniel Robles did the hair and wig design, and Denice Paxton did the Makeup Design. Additional prop design by Alex Choate (FB). ZFX Inc. did the flying effects. Jonathan Burke (FB), did the sound design, which was plagued by microphones that weren’t working and comic sound effects that were just odd.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design had similar niggling problems, such as performers occasionally being in the dark. The lighting and sound were the only two minor flaws in the production. Remaining production credits:  Jack Allaway [Technical Director];  Talia Krispel(FB) [Production Stage Manager];  David Elzer/Demand PR [Los Angeles Press Representative]Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]Mustang Marketing (FB) [Ventura County Press Representative, Marketing Team]. Patrick Cassidy is the new Artistic Director for 5-Star Theatricals.

Beauty and the Beast continues at 5-Star for one more weekend, until July 29. If you can work your way to see this production, do so. It truly is “Broadway in Your Backyard”. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Box Office; they may be available on Goldstar.

***

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:

Today brings the OperaWorks (FB) production “Golden Lasso” at CSUN. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. 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.

Share

It Rings a Bell | “Hunchback of Notre Dame” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Hunchback of Notre Dame (5-Star Theatricals) What makes a monster, and what makes a man? This was the underlying question of an almost perfect production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on the Victor Hugo novel and the songs from the Disney Film, that we saw at the The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) back in October 2016. When we got the season announcement for the “inaugural” season of the newly renamed Star Theatricals (FB) and saw that it contained Hunchback, we were intrigued. Could it equal or come near the spectacular La Mirada production. Last night, we saw the second performance of Hunchback at 5-Star, and I’m pleased to say that it was very very close. There were some touches that I preferred in La Mirada, and one annoying misstep in the printed program,  but I recommend the 5-Star production strongly. If you have not seen the new darker theatrical production of Hunchback, this is well worth seeing.

As I wrote back in 2016 (and have since edited slightly):

Coming into the show, the first thing I would say is: drop your expectations. This is not exactly the Victor Hugo novel. It is definitely not the Disney film, although it retains the songs by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. It retains some notions of the Disney adaptation, although all cutesy humor has been dropped, along with the happy ending (it roughly retains the ending of the original). It is not the 1999 German musical version with a book by James Lapine — there are significant changes in the story there. It is based on the 2014 production at the La Jolla playhouse and the 2015 Paper Mill Playhouse version of the show (with a revised book by Peter Parnell) but even then there are some changes from that version. The seeds of this particular production were sown at the Sacramento Music Circus earlier in August 2016, and I believe the Sacramento version is the version that is now licensed by MTI.

Given the complexity of the story, I’m going to refer you to the Wikipedia entry on the Paper Mill Production for the detailed synopsis. The story focuses on the Frollo brothers, Claude and Jehan, and their legacy. Given salvation in the Cathedral of Notre Dame as infants, they are raised in the church. Jehen rebels and marries a Gypsy woman; Claude continues in the church and rises to Archdeacon, ever resenting the Gypsys for stealing his brother from him. On his deathbed, Jehan summons Claude and presents him with Jehan’s son, a deformed infant. Claude raises the boy, whom he has named Quasimodo, in the church, keeping him away from everyone in the bell tower. Quasimodo’s only friends are the stone gargoyles, who come to life and speak to him in his imagination. Once a year, the Gypsies are allowed to dance in the street; Quasimodo goes out that day and is crowned King of the Gypsies, and then taunted for his looks. The palace guards stop the taunting, and a gypsy woman, Esmeralda, comforts Quasimodo. She visits the church to see him, where Claude develops a lustful attraction for her. So does the captain of the guards. You can see the tragedy set in motion from that point, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice it to say that this doesn’t end well for everyone in the end (do Hugo’s novels ever do?).

Back when I saw the La Mirada production — in the period just before the election of Donald Trump — I wrote of the character Dom Claude Frollo “The character itself brought to me echos of Donald Trump in his reactions to immigrants, his anger, and his desire to keep the world safe and simple as he knows it. That echo is not intentional in the story, of course, but does make this story truly relevant to this year when we consider what makes a candidate human or a monster — the question of compassion vs. anger.”. It is now 18 months later, and Donald Trump is now president. There is hatred of the immigrant growing, there is increased judgement of the disabled, and we have leaders that actively work against those who are different. In the welcome to the show in the program, these issues were highlighted: “It is an easy connection to make between the gypsies in this story, and those sections of our contemporary society who are equally marginalized. The character of Quasimodo, with his physical deformations could just as easily be any myriad of persons who are wrongly viewed as unworthy in our society for any number of reasons (physical, mental, moral, among others).”. I’m pleased to see this echo recognized in the program: it is perhaps why this show is seeing an increased number of productions, and perhaps it will lead to better understanding of the plight of the immigrant and understanding of the disabled — perhaps seeing them as people and not monsters to be feared. On the other hand, it may also lead to viewing some of the leaders who have the veneer of acceptance to be seen as the monsters they are underneath. This is the point of this story; it is perhaps why it is so timeless, and why the darkness is so important.

There’s one other additional echo worth comparing since La Mirada: The impact of the #MeToo movement. I’m seeing this more and more in theatre today: aspects of productions that were once accepted without question have new meanings. In this show, there was a scene in the second act where Dom Claude attempts to use his power to sexually coerce Esmeralda. It now makes the audience uncomfortable, increasing the pleasure when Dom Claude gets his comeuppance. Think about this production and the view of women in the story. Think particularly about the implication from Dom Claude where he blames the gypsies and the behaviors for his desires and his misbehavior, when instead it is his lack of self-control. In this production — at this time — that statement screamed out to me in its relevance. Who are the monsters that cannot control their desires and then blame others for their lack of control, and who are the men who control their desires and who work and accept others. It is a telling message.

In the period leading up to the 5-Star production, I read an interview with Will North, Managing Director of 5-Star, about the 5-Star production of Hunchback. North has a strong connection with this show; this connection, I believe, is why he chose the show for the season. In 1996, North was the first actor to portray Quasimodo on the Disney World stage; he returned to the role for this production (and this seems to be a theme this year at 5-Star, for Susan Egan will return to the role of Belle in Beauty and The Beast in their next production, a role she last played in 1994). In any case, in the interview, North said, “I want to take the movie’s lighter tone and bring it to the stage”. I had been curious how he would do this, as the stage version is very dark and intense, and ends differently from the movie. I’m pleased to say that I didn’t detect a significant lightening of the tone, although my wife noted a few staging aspects that may have been lighter (such as the pouring of the molten lead).

It is in Will North (FB)’s casting that the most significant change from the La Mirada production occurred. In La Mirada, two actors portrayed Quasimodo: a deaf actor (John McGinty (FB)) who handled the performance and speaking portions, and a hearing actor (Dino Nicandros (FB)) who handled the singing portions. This, and the incorporation of ASL, made clear that the songs and the belief that Quasimodo didn’t see his disability was completely in his mind. It also permitted La Mirada to show the transformation of the actor to Quasimodo onstage, raising the question of Quasimodo as everyman. 5-Star took a different approach: North handled both the singing and the speaking, and only appeared on-stage made up as Quasimodo. His performance was exceptional, and he had a surprising and strong tenor voice, but the “unification” when compared to La Mirada lost a level of meaning. I think this is something that would only be significant to someone who saw both productions, however. Looking at North’s performance as something new, I still believe audiences will be blown away. The difference, is essentially, between 100% and 95%.

5-Star (I keep wanting to type “Cabrillo”, their former name) continued its tradition of strong leads and strong casting, with a mix of newcomers and AEA veterans. Their leads, in addition to North, were spectacular and just blew me away with their performance and vocal talent. Cabrillo 5-Star also knows how to use an ensemble well, and they continued that here — both in the gypsy ensemble and the gargoyle/statue ensemble. The main ensemble problem was the printed program: it is being able to identify the strongest ensemble performers that allows them to move up in their careers and get recognition, and it was difficult to do that from this program. More on that later.

Director Misti B. Wills (FB) and choreographer Michelle Elkin (FB) did a remarkable job of shaping the ensemble, the performances, and the movement. There were some elements on stage — particularly the use of real less-controlled fire — that you don’t see that often. They also brought out the appropriate intensity in the leads, and utilized the stage space well both in the dance and in the overall movement and coverage.

‘ve already noted the strength of Will North (FB) as Quasimodo. It was a surprising performance, especially considering that North has moved behind a desk, and is less on the stage as an actor and singer. He had a strong and emotive voice and handled his numbers well. He worked well in his interactions with those around him, and — most importantly — was believable and not a caricature. Quite a remarkable performance.

As Esmeralda, Cassandra Marie Murphy (FB) was simply spectacular. Her “God Bless the Outcasts” will blow you away with the beauty of her voice. She captured the sexiness of the character without being over, and truly portrayed her as a strong independent woman. She was a joy to watch.

Gregory North (FB), who we have seen before as a strong Capt. Hook at Cabrillo/5-Star, was an equally strong Dom Claude. North has to bring strength and power to this role, which he does in both performance and voice. His “Hellfire” is extremely strong.

Adam Hollick (FB), who was Joseph in Cabrillo/5-Stars recent production of Technicolor Dreamcoat, gave another strong performance here as Captain Phoebus De Martin. We admired his singing and his look then, and he didn’t disappoint this time.  ollick has a great singing voice and a good stage presence, and handled his character well.

The last “lead” character — at least as the publicity photos go — was Justin Michael Wilcox (FB) as the “King of the Gypsies”, Clopin Trouillefou. We’ve seen Wilcox in numerous past shows, and he always gives a great performance. In this show, he has the added burden of most of the narration and exposition — a task he handles well. Strong singing and strong dancing make him fun to watch.

The remaining actors have smaller named roles as well as performing in the ensemble. It is here that the printed program first breaks down (there are more): it doesn’t distinguish the ensemble members that are part of the gypsy ensemble, and those that are Quasimodo’s stone friends and statues. This is bad, as there are some remarkable performances and looks in those clearly identified roles, and it is difficult to match the performers to the role. This is particularly true for the statues: there was one female statue with a breastplate that had a strong voice (later identified as Miyuki Miyagi (FB), who we liked in Allegiance)  and my eye kept being drawn to the mouse or rat or gargoyle on stage left (at least I think it was left — it may have been Elizabeth Adabale), but identifying the performer was hard. I did admire the performer playing Saint Aphrodisius (L. Michael Wells (FB)) for his look; I had a similar admiration for the “Madame” character for her look and characterization. I also admired Emma Carlborg’s work with the live fire and dance. In general, I found myself watching the ensemble members closely during the larger numbers just for their expressions, happiness on stage, and performance quality. The following folks comprised the ensemble/smaller named roles: Katie Hume (FB) [Florika, Ensemble]; William Carmichael (FB) [Father Dupin, Ensemble]; James Beardsley (FB) [Frederic Charlus, Ensemble]; Trevor Shor (FB★, FB) [Jehan Frollow, Ensemble, Phoebusu/s]; Tom Hall (FB) [King Louis XI, Ensemble]; Sarah Marie (FB) [Madame, Ensemble]; L. Michael Wells (FB) [Saint Aphrodisius, Ensemble]; Daniel Berlin (FB) [Official, Ensemble]Zy’heem Downey (FB) [Ensemble]; Elizabeth Adabale (FB★, FB) [Ensemble]; Andrew Garcia (FB) [Ensemble]; Emma Carlborg (FB★, FB) [Ensemble]; Evin Johnson (FB) [Ensemble]; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Ensemble]; Mitchell Johnson (FB[Ensemble, Clopinu/s]; Miyuki Miyagi (FB) [Ensemble]; Alastair James Murden (FB★, FB) [Ensemble]; Kat Monzon (FB) [Ensemble, Esmeraldau/s]; Rodrigo Varandas (FB★, FB) [Ensemble]; Naomi Murden (FB) [Ensemble]; Jimmy Saiz (FB) [Ensemble, Quasimodou/s]; Elizabeth (Lizzy) Jorden Sheck (FB) [Ensemble]; Marie Spieldenner (FB) [Ensemble]; Tyler Marie Watkins (FB) [Ensemble]; and Terri K. Woodall (FB) [Ensemble, Dance Captain].

As with La Mirada, there was an on-stage chorus (almost liturgical) that provided additional voices and sound, as appropriate for a French church setting. Laura Dickinson (FB), who was the narrator for Joseph,  served as Chorus Master. Alas, here is where the second failure of the program comes into play: The members of the chorus are not credited anywhere that I could find. All I can say is that they were in good voice.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the musical direction of Dan Redfeld (FB★, FB). The orchestra consisted of:  Gary Rautenberg (FB) Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Soprano Sax; Kimaree Gilad (FB) Oboe, English-Horn, Alto Sax, Clarinet; Darrin Smith (FBBassoon, Bass Clarinet, Baritone SaxJennifer Bliman (FB) Horn; Bill Barrett (FBTrumpet I, Piccolo, Trumpet; Chris Maurer (FBTrumpet II, Flugelhorn; Mike McCully (FBTenor Trombone, Bass Trombone, Euphonium; Colleen Coomber (FBViolin I;  Sally Berman (FB) Violin II; Karen Goulding-Long (FBViola;  Bang Eunn Lee (FB) Cello; Benjamin Ginsberg (FBKeyboard Synthesizer I; Ryan Whyman (FBKeyboard Synthesizer IIShane Harry (FB) Double String Bass; and  Tyler Smith (FB) Set Drums, Percussion.  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Finally, turning to the production side. The program contains absolutely no credit for scenic design. No scenic designer, no rental credit for the scenery. Nothing. Nada. There is the possibility that they rented the scenic design from McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB) and the La Mirada production — there are some similarities. As I wrote then: “The scenic design by Stephen Gifford (FB) was…. towering. The stage consisted of a two level structure. The lower level served a number of purposes, both low (town square, church floor) and high (bell tower). The upper level housed the choir on each side, and provided an upper portion to the bell tower and an observation point for various characters. There were large bells that were lowered, and a grate that was likely wooden…” — this seems to fit 5-Star’s usage. So this is the third problematic program omission: scenic designs deserve credit, both for the designer and any subsequent rental.

Returning to the production side: the non-scenic design props were designed by Alex Choate (FB) and worked well — especially the use of fire effects presumably coordinated by Emma Carlborg (FB★, FB). Costumes were by Beth Glasner (FB), with hair and wig design by Daniel Robles (FB) and  Trina White (FB) did the makeup. In general, the costumes, hair, wig and makeup worked well. I was particularly taken with St. Aphrodisius’s costume and the illusion of him holding his head. A few of the gargoyle costumes needed some undergarment correction to be a tad less — shall we say bulgy in wrong places. The gypsy costumes worked well, and I appreciated the tattoos that appear to have been added. Overall, I felt the illusions created by the costumes worked well; I can’t speak to how Quasimodo’s costumes and makeup looked up close, as we were in the Mezzanine. The sound design by  Jonathan Burke(FB) generally worked well; there could have been more effects for the lowering of the grates and such.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design established mood and time well. Remaining technical credits:   Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; Mustang Marketing (FB), Marketing Team; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend to see Hunchback of Notre Dame at Cabrillo  5 Star Theatricals (FB). Tickets are available through the 5-Star Box Office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. It is a well-done production that is well worth seeing; be aware that it is darker than the Disney animated movie.

***

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 (FB) in the West Adams district, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as 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:

Next weekend sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open.

June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out.

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, with Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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.

Share

The Magical Morphin’ Dreamcoat | “Joseph … Technicolor Dream Coat” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (5 Star Theatricals)Sunday afternoon we saw the first show of the 2017-2018 5 Star Theatricals (FB) Premiere season, even though we’ve been subscribing at the theatre for 16 years, since the 2000 season. Perhaps I should explain. Over the summer, what was Cabrillo Music Theatre was rechristened “5 Star Theatricals”; we, however, have been subscribing since Anything Goes in the Fall of 2000 (with the exception of the 2014-2015 season). Over that time, we’ve seen a wide variety of shows at the theatre — including, way back in Summer 2003, a little show called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as part of the 2002-2003 season. As part of the 2017-2018 season, 5-Star opted to revive the show at 14 years and see if they could find something fresh in it. The result was an interesting updated take on the show: some aspects worked, and some didn’t, but overall it was quite enjoyable. [I’ll note that 5-Star is reviving yet another show they’ve done before later in the season: they last did Beauty and the Beast back in 2007, 10 years ago.]

Now, this isn’t our first experience with Joseph. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a late 1960’s pop cantata, 35 minutes long— it was the first published work by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, it was rewritten and lengthened with some novelty musical numbers — but at its heart, it is a simple pop cantata, essentially sung through.  I know, I’ve had the original pop cantata album for years. It tells the Biblical story of Joseph from the incident with the coat of many colors through the brothers return to Egypt through pastiches of musical styles, and is — to put it succinctly — cute. It requires some strong lead vocals, and has loads and loads of choral parts. The first time I saw the show on stage was the tour of 1982 Broadway Show when it was at the newly remodeled Pantages theatre  — in fact, I think it was one of the first shows after the remodeling. Since then, it has been lengthened a little each time it hits Broadway again. This adds material, not depth. None of this is anything to those who license it can change. The most recent time that I’ve seen the show was in December 2014, when it was performed by Nobel Middle School.

So if the text of the show can’t be changed, and the lyrics of the songs can’t be changed, how does one freshen the show. The answer is simple and triparte: staging, dance, and music. Although the story can’t be changed, the director (in this case Will North (FB)) can adjust the energy and diversity of the cast to influence the story’s perception; the addition of children and wives, in only singing roles, can influence the cuteness. The director can also influence the staging of the scenes in both positive and negative ways. The dance styles of the show are not fixed (unlike, say, West Side Story where Jerome Robbin’s dance is part of the staging). In this case, 5-Star selected a choreographer, Dave Scott (FB), who comes not from the theatre world but the modern pop “hip hop” dance world — and he brought a very different dance sensibility to the show. Lastly, the Musical Direction (in this case by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB)) can slightly adjust songs — lengthening them through reprises, or introducing extended dance breaks in a piece. All three of these things were done in this production to make it slightly different than past Josephs.

Did it work? That’s a different story, but for the most part, the answer is yes.

There were some staging elements that had me scratching my head. In particular, during “Those Canaan Days”, there was inexplicably a mime, a fairy, and the Les Miserables red flag. Why? There was also the overuse of the projected Instagram graphics and the overuse of the animation and cuteness in the projections. But other things worked well. The diversity of casting of Joseph’s brothers brought an interesting overtone and meaning to the scene where they come to Egypt, and Joseph doesn’t trust them. Could the Bible have been foreshadowing current society’s lack of trust of unknown foreigners and people different from them? I have no idea, but this is what diversity in casting can bring. (Similarly, I read about a production of Oklahoma that cast Judd as a black man, which put the relationship with Laurie in a completely different light, and would have been realistic). The Children’s Chorus made me melt with the cute of it all. The addition of the female dancers (generally portrayed as wives), added a lot of dance energy. The addition of the school choirs brought in a lot of parents to see their kids — always a good thing for the energy of a show.

The staging — and especially the costume design of Beth Glasner (FB) assisted by the wigs of Leo Quang Zeller (FB) — emphasized the cultural anachronisms in the show. In general, the traditional “biblical” style was replaced by a hip-hop street sensibility for the brothers (although Jacob remained in robes, and Joseph in a loincloth); Egypt was more “King Tut”; and the musical pastiches were area-appropriate. For some odd reason, there was writing on the Egyptian wigs that I couldn’t figure out. One other costuming / makeup comment: Cover the tats. Whenever I see real tats on an actor, it takes me out of the make-believe of their character into the reality of the actor, and I wonder what they are and what their symbolism is. That’s an unnecessary distraction.  I noticed them on the Assistant Choreographer; my wife noted them on some of the male dancers.

Similarly, the new approach to dance worked well. There was a problem in that the non-theatrical dance sensibility made the dance less part of the story, and more a separate performance aspect (especially so in the ending mega-mix). But the energy and the quality of the dance was top-notch, and the additional styles of dance made what is, admittedly, a overstretched and overstuffed and over-pastiched cantata into a dance show accessible for a modern generation. All in all, that’s a good thing. It was the best they could do given the limitations of the story.

The one change that consistently worked well was the stretching of the music to provide extended dance and the occasional reprise.

Turning to the performances, this was in general top-notch. In the lead position was Adam Hollick (FB) as Joseph and Laura Dickinson (FB) as the Narrator. My wife’s summation of Hollick: Beefcake with a voice to match. I’d have to agree (and I’m not into beefcake). This is a guy who came into school on a football scholarship (so he has the bod), then transitioned to vocal performance and opera singing before transitioning again into acting and the musical theatre world. He had one of the nicest and smoothest voices I’ve ever heard as Joseph, and he captured the emotion of the character well (well, as much as there is in this lightweight show).  Dickinson brought a powerhouse voice and movement to the Narrator — this is much more of a singing than an acting role, for as the narrator she moves the action along. But that she did, with a remarkable fluidity and presence.

Another character role that stands out is Pharaoh, normally portrayed as an Elvis-type. One wonders how much of the audience even remembers Elvis, but I digress. He was popular in the 70s when this was written. Pharaoh was portrayed by Patrick Cassidy (FB) — yes, of David Cassidy and Shirley Jones fame. Cassidy has done this show many times before (I’m guessing as Joseph), and he was clearly having fun with his role here — and that fun comes across to the audience. He was a delight to watch, had a great singing voice, and got the Elvis moves down well.

Next come Joseph’s brothers: Reuben – Marc Ginsburg (FB); Judah – Mitchell Johnson (FB); Levi – James Olivas (FB); Benjamin – Patrick Viloria (FB); Asher – Cedric Dodd (FB); Naphtali – Derek A. Lewis (FB); Simeon – at our performance, Adlai Musia (FB), but normally Neico Joy (FB); Issachar – Rodolfo Larrazolo (FB); Dan – Rile Reavis (FB); Zebulon – Zy’heem Downey (FB); and Gad – Kyron Correia (FB). Most of these become interchangeable on stage unless you can memorize faces quickly, but all had great dance moves and got the choreography down well. A few were worth singling out. James Olivas, as Levi, got to take the lead in “One More Angel”, and he did a great job with capturing the humor of the piece well. Simarly, Marc Ginsberg as Reuben got the lead in “Those Canaan Days”, nailing the French bathos well. Mitchell Johnson’s Judah got the lead in the “Benjamin Calypso” and handled the calypso/island nature of that well. Lastly, Patrick Viloria’s Benjamin just was great to watch dancing.

In terms of other named characters, two come to mind. First is Cabrillo / 5-Star Regular  David Gilchrist (FB) as both Jacob and Potiphar. Gilchrist is a reliable character actor, who did great with both characters (although Potiphar with a bit of a British accent was odd). What was neat was seeing him rocking out during the mega-mix.  Tyler Stouffer(FB) played the Baker and handled him with aplomb, but was more interesting was his mime during the “Canaan Days” number. The remaining named characters were Michael Mittman (FB)’s Butler and Naomi Pacheco (FB)’s stint as Potiphar’s wife. She also served as Assistant Choreographer, which explains her great dance.

Rounding out the cast were the various ensembles and choruses. All of the brothers sans Joseph joined the ensemble at points. Additionally, the following dancers and singers were in the adult ensemble: Julia Lester (FB), Terri Woodall (FB), Rebecca Gans (FB), Devon Davidson (FB), Haley Gilchrist (FB), Alyssa Noto (FB), Alissa Tucker (FB), Miyuki Miyagi (FB), Carolyn Lupin (FB), Julia Marley (FB), and Naomi Pacheco (FB). Looking at the photos, the following folks in the ensemble stuck in my mind from some aspect of their dance or performance: Terri Woodall, Alissa Tucker, and Julia Lester. The kids ensemble consisted of: Rhythm Pacheco, Bayley Tanenbaum, Lilly Thompson, Marissa Margolis, Collin Nelson, Madison North, Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB), Marcello Silva, Andrew Grigorian, Calista Loter, Lal Besir, Luca De La Pena, Amelia Fischer , Savannah Fischer, and Drew Rosen. Can’t speak to talent, but the kids ensemble was adorable. At times, the ensembles were joined on stage by visiting local choirs — a different one each performance. The choirs performing are MATES, Westlake Elementary, Homeschoolers of Ventura County Choir, Red Oak Elementary Choir, EARTHS Elementary Choir, Round Meadow Elementary, Mariposa School of Global Education, Sumac Elementary, Lindero Canyon Middle School, OPUSD – Brookside Elementary, Viewpoint Chorus, and Oaks Christian (Note: I believe we had Round Meadow Elementary at our performance).  Julia Lester (FB) was also the understudy for the narrator.

As always, the newly renamed 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, conducted by Dan Redfeld (FB), sounded great. The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) – Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax; Ian Dahlberg (FB) – Oboe, English Horn;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) – Horn; Sharon Cooper (FB) – Violin I; Sally Berman (FB) – Violin II; Karen Goulding-Long (FB) – Viola; Bang Eunn Lee (FB) – Cello; Chris Kimbler (FB) – Keyboard I;  Tom Griffin (FB) – Keyboard II; Lloyd Cooper (FB) – Keyboard III; Brian LaFontaine (FB) – Acoustic & Electric Guitars I; Shane Harry (FB) – Double String and Electric Bass; Alan Peck (FB) – Set Drums; Tyler Smith (FB) – Percussion.  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. Music direction was by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB).

Turning to the production credits: The production was directed by Will North (FB) with choreography by Dave Scott (FB) [assisted by Naomi Pacheco (FB)]. I’ve already commented on their work. There is no credit for the set design, although the program does indicate that the sets and props were provided by 3-D Theatricals (FB). The set was supplemented with projections designed by Jonathan Infante (FB). The set was a three-level beast with spaces for the various choirs and ensembles on the side, and a top piece that could connect to the projections. The set itself was fine. The problem is the projections attempted to modernize the story, with occasional Instagram snaps related to the story, and graffiti on Jacob’s tent. I’m not sure that worked, but I’m an older audience, not the modern audience. Props were also credited to Alex Choate (FB).  The lighting and sound designs were credited to Jose Santiago (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB), respectively. Both worked well. Other production credits:  Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; Mustang Marketing (FB), Marketing Team; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend of performances for this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Tickets are available through 5 Star Theatricals (FB) on their ticketing page; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Additionally, 5 Star posted on their FB page: “Use code TEN4JO & save 10% off rear/side orchestra and mezzanine tickets for all evening performances! (Code good through 10/22).” This is an interesting take on a well-worn pastiche. It is enjoyable and presents a lot of great dance, but the updates and juxtapositions are jarring at times and some don’t work. Still, it is worth seeing for the effort and ideas and the attempt alone.

***

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(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as 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 drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. Thursday sees us back at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) for a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love.  The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday; on Sunday, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Thansgiving brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB). The third weekend will hopefully bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thankgsiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics. We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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.

Share