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

Underlying Meanings | “Peter Pan” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre / 5☆ Theatricals

Peter Pan (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicHatred of Women. As I start writing this, news of the new Dr. Who has been released, and mysogyny is rampant in the comment sections on the Internet. I mean, Hillary Clinton was one thing, but a female Time Lord.

Get over it. Grow up!

The reason I bring the subject up at all, however, is because I saw a show last night that made me think about a deep seated hatred of women — mothers in particular — from another boy that refused to grow up. I am, of course, talking about Peter Pan (and I don’t mean the peanut butter). Peter’s hatred of mothers — his deep seated mistrust of them and desire to inflict regular pain on them by stealing their children — has been brought to mind regarding this story every since I saw the Blank Theatre production of Peter Pan – The Boy That Hated Mothers. That made me look at the boy quite differently. Gone were the days of innocence brought upon by the famous Mary Martin TV production of the musical.

However, until last night, I actually can’t recall having seen the actual stage musical … on stage. I’d seen the origin story of the story, of course, as well as the origin story of the author. I’d see both the 1960 original TV version and the recent politically-corrected and lengthened remake. But the actual stage version…. I hadn’t seen it. When Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) announced their season I was intrigued — and I wondered if in face I would see the original, or whether the updated TV version was now the only version licensed.

The answer: It was the original version being licensed with only one PC change (the word “redskins” was dropped in favor of “warriors”), meaning the problematic portrayals (i.e., stereotypical “Indians” vs. respectful “Native Americans”) were in the hands of the director.

And my verdict? What did I think of it?

The production itself was spectacular. The performances. The singing. The dancing. The theatricality. The fun. The spectacle. The magic. It was all there. There were scenes and songs I didn’t remember; it was different from yet similar to the 1960 broadcast. It erased the problematic memories of the recent Live! version.

But… But…

The story flaws remain. The presentation still hearkens to a level of stereotypical Indians — braves, savages, and war-paint. The presentation still is based around a child that has some deep psychological issues. In addition to, you guessed it, Peter Pan syndrome, there is that resentment towards mothers and adults. But you know, I see those things only when I have my “adult” hat on. Taking it off; being a child again — this remains a magical fun musical. Alas, the world forces us to grow up. But we can be children, and sometimes set aside our problems, when we go to a large building, often in a central part of a city, and sit together in the dark with lots of other people, all of whom have paid a great deal of money to be there, and just… imagine.

Oh, and for those that can’t get over the fact that Peter Pan, a boy, is played by a girl: GET OVER IT. Just think of Peter Pan as the ultimate Time Lord.

At this point, I would normally give you a synopsis of the story. But, c’mon, who doesn’t know the story of Peter Pan? A boy who refuses to grow up, who together with a fairy who loves the boy in a way that fairies  shouldn’t love boys, kidnaps the children of a family. He takes them, after performing some mindwashing, to an island where they get to play with poison and swords and fight pirates, keeping them out of communication with their parents. He fights a local Native American tribe, and after saving their leader, makes friends with the tribe. He then refuses to listen to a voice of sanity, lets a fairy get poisoned to the point of near death (only to be saved by breaking the fourth wall), and lets innocent children be captured and threatened with death. He then fights the pirates, wins, throws the captain overboard, and then burdens a family in their moment of relief at getting their children back with a significant number of additional mouths to feed. Oh, he then comes back years later and takes away the daughter of the woman he once called “mother”.

You thought the story was something different? Perhaps this?

Seriously, though, to give credit where credit is due: Peter Pan is the 1954 musical version based on the play by Sir J. M Barrie, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Moose Charlap, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and additional music by Jule Styne, and original choreography by Jerome Robbins, with proceeds from the licensing still going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.  With those credits, it isn’t a bad show at all. I just pull your leg — perhaps overly so, which is in the spirit of the show.

Peter Pan Cast (Cabrillo)The Cabrillo production of Peter Pan is simply outstanding. Under the direction of Yvette Lawrence (FB) and with choreography by Cheryl Baxter (FB), magic is created by the cast and crew. These production leads knew how to bring out the best in their cast, how to keep and make the playfulness in the story come out on stage, and how, simply to have fun.

In the lead position as Peter Pan, Carly Bracco (FB) has fun with the role. To my eyes, she was quite a boyish, impish, and strong Peter. I never cared for the lilt of Mary Martin, and have only a vague recollection of Sandy Duncan. Allison Williams was far too reserved in her portrayal. Bracco captures the right amount of boy — perhaps tomboy — in the character. Playful, petulant, flighty. All captured well, combined with a very strong singing voice and great dance moves.

Playing against her as Mr. Darling / Captain Hook was Gregory North (FB). As Mr. Darling, the role calls for a modicum of measured bluff and bravado. But as Hook, ah, as Hook, that is where North shines. This is a role that calls for measured and controlled over-acting, of chewing scenery and the pirate crew around you, of, in essence, playing as strong at the stereotype of a pirate as one can. North nails that person perfectly, and combines it with marvelous singing and performance. He is a delight to watch.

The Darling children are portrayed by Sarah Miller-Crews (FB) as Wendy, Micah Meyers as John, and Luke Pryor as Michael. All are spectacular. I’d like to particularly call out Miller-Crews lovely voice on “Distant Melody,” and Pryor’s remarkable dancing in Ugg-a-Wugg.

I noted earlier that, unlike the 1954 version, the character Liza does not come to Neverland. Perhaps that is because, similar to Mr. Darling, they cast the actor in a different role in Neverland. In this case, Brittany Bentley (FB), who portrays Liza, also portrays Tiger Lily. As with Hook, it is in Neverland that Bentley shines.  This time, it isn’t by overacting — it is by dance. From the moment of her Cirque de Soleil entrance as Tiger Lily thought her amazing dances throughout, she is just a joy to watch.

Turning now to some of the various named ensemble types, starting with the pirates. These are great comic roles, and the team just excels at them — particularly Justin Michael Wilcox (FB)’s Smee. From the Mezzanine, where I was sitting, it was hard to tell them apart, but there was loads of play, athleticism, gymnastics, and just great dance and fun.

Turning to the Lost Boys: As a group they were spectacular. Strong singing, strong dancing, strong gymnastics, and most importantly, strong play.

Lastly, Angela Baumgardner (FB) played Mrs. Darling/Adult Wendy (and presumably the narrator).

What distinguished a Cabrillo production from any other production is the large and outstanding ensembles they assemble, especially in the quality of their dance. This show was no exception. The ensemble consisted of: Claudia Baffo (FB) [Indian]; Mackinnley Balleweg [Lost Boy]; John Paul Batista (FB) [Indian]; Brigid Benson (FB) [Indian]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Twin #1]; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB) [Starkey]; Luca de la Peña [Lost Boy]; Natalie Esposito (FB) [Indian]; Shannon Gerrity (FB) [Twin #2]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [Cecco]; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Indian, Dance Captain]; Diane Huber (FB) [Mermaid]; Evin Johnson (FB)  [Indian]; Ty Koeller (FB) [Indian]; Joey Langford (FB) [Tootles]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Indian]; Calista Loter (FB) [Indian]; Natalie MacDonald (FB) [Lost Boy]; Missy Marion (FB) [Nana, Crocodile]; Nathaniel Mark (FB) [Lost Boy]; Andrew Metzger (FB) [Noodler, Scottish Pirate]; Alyssa Noto (FB) [Lost Boy]; Charles Platt (FB) [Turkish Pirate]; Tanner Redman (FB) [Bill Jukes]; Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Nibs]; Brandon Root (FB) [Algerian Pirate]; Jessie Sherman (FB) [Curly]; Anthony Sorrells (FB) [Indian]; Landen Starkman (FB) [Pirate]; Gabriel Taibi (FB) [Slightly]; Ashley Kiele Thomas (FB) [Indian]; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) [Los Boy]; Abigail May Thompson [Jane]; Riley Way [Lost Boy];  and Jater Webb (FB).

No credit was provided for Tinkerbell. I preferred the days when they had to be imaginative with her, instead of playing confuse-a-cat with a laser pointer.

Understudies: Brittany Bentley (FB) – Peter Pan; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB)  – Mr. Darling/Captain Hook;  Natalie MacDonald (FB) – Wendy Darling; Nathaniel Mark – John Darling; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) – Michael Darling; Diane Huber (FB) – Mrs. Darling.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the musical direction of Dan Redfield/FB, who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Bariton Sax]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe; English Horn; Flute 2]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Piccolo Trumpet]; Mike Davis [Trumpet II]; Michael Fortunato (FB) [Trumpet III]; Jennifer Bliman (FB) [Horn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone]; Sharon Cooper [Violin]; Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Chris Kimbler (FB) [Keyboard I]; Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard II]; Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard III]; Elaine Litster [Harp]; Shane Harry/FB [Double String Bass]; and Alan Peck [Set Drums, Percussion]. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the production side of the show: The scenery was designed by John Iacovelli (FB), and was provided by McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB) (together with the costumes (designed by Shigeru Yaji), and any props that weren’t designed by Alex Choate (FB).  Add to this the hair and wig design of Jim Belcher. The total package worked quite well, especially in the costuming for the lost boys and the pirates, and the hiding of the flying harnesses. As for the costumes of the Indians, well, lets just say they fit the stereotype well, but in this area this show is not known for cultural sensitivity. Lighting and sound design were by CMT regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) [lighting] and Jonathan Burke (FB) [sound]. Flying effects were by Zfx, Inc (FB), who also win the award for best bio. After all, “They don’t wake up and put their pans on one leg at a time like the other guys. They wrap themselves in kilts and stride boldly out into the world.” Other production credits: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend to see Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) [and one more week to see it as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), see below]. Tickets are available at the Cabrillo Box Office Online; or you can call the Kavli box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

To explain the last parenthetical: At the beginning of last night’s show, Managing Director Will North announced that Cabrillo Music Theatre was no more. It wasn’t going away, no shows were changing; the upcoming season was unchanged. However, they were changing their name to 5 Star Theatricals. The reason for this was unclear. Was it to disassociate themselves from the horrid Theatre League productions, or the financial problems of the past? Probably not. The thinking seems to be more that it is to broaden their producing horizons to plays and other events, and to possibly increase their geographic reach (touring 5-Star productions on a regional circuit, perhaps). Whatever the reason, I think the timing is bad, especially after they printed up all the specialty material with the Cabrillo logo. The name has loads of goodwill; just go to Cabrillo Theatricals and be done with it. That’s my 2c. Alas, they don’t have a website up for the new name.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at 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:

Next weekend brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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

Getting to be a Habit | “Sister Act” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre

Sister Act (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicTen and a half years ago we were subscribers at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) when they presented the premier  of a troubled new musical, Sister Act. At the time, we could pinpoint a few suggestions, but overall, we enjoyed the musical, stating, “Wow! Call out the choir and sing it to the rafters, because this show has success written all over it.” (this was, of course, before I had realized that “Wow!” was trademarked by another professional audience member in Southern California). We had no problems with either the book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), nor with the music by Glenn Slater (FB), nor with the lyrics of Alan Menken (FB). In fact, we looked forward to the cast recording. Since that November day, this little musical went off to Atlanta and then to London, where it had cast member changes, and saw extensive reworking of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. It got a cast recording, and then went off to Broadway — with some more book changes and song changes. It opened on Broadway, got some Tony nominations, but didn’t get a new cast recording. It went on tour, and came to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) … where we didn’t see it, because we had seen it in Pasadena. A few years after that, it was released for regional productions, and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) picked it up for this season. This is a long way of saying that last night saw us in Thousand Oaks, revisiting the delightful musical Sister Act, and still wishing for a cast recording that had all the songs in the show in it.

Since we saw the show in Pasadena, some character names have been changed. A few songs have been added, and some have been dropped.  But the basics of the plot, which go back to the 1992 movie, have remained the same: black jive lounge singer witnesses a murder and turns police informant, and needs to go in hiding from her crime gang boyfriend. The police decide to hide her in a fading Catholic Church, amidst a superfluity (gee, and I thought the term was gaggle) of nuns. Mostly white nuns. Yeah, she won’t stand out at all. In any case, the Mother Superior objects and the two clash like oil and water. But this of course is the movies (and later, the theatre), so they must learn to love and appreciate each other. In this case, it happens by our nun-in-hiding taking over as choir director, and teaching the other nuns to repurpose 1950s and 1960s pop songs as Catholic anthems (and which, since that can’t be done in the theatre, to develop new songs that sound like 1950s and 1960s pop anthems but are not). These new songs bring new people into the church and save the church from being sold and the nuns dispursed. They also bring the spotlight to the church, leading the gangster boyfriend and his, umm, gang to figure out where the nun-in-hiding is hiding. A chase then ensues, which in the movie takes place in Las Vegas, but since the Las Vegas set was stolen by the gang from Honeymoon in Vegas, the theatre chase takes place in the nunnery itself. But in the end, everything comes together: the convent is saved, the Mother Superior and the nun-in-hiding grow to appreciate each other, the nun-in-hiding falls in love with the cop-who-hid-her (who had a crush on her in high school — fancy that!), and the gangsters, as in any show, turn into song-and-dance-men.

So what rewriting was necessary? Think of the plot as a skeleton. A certain series of adaptations were made to put the plot on the big screen. Not all of those work when one translates to the more limited stage, and so that movie plot was reworked for the first stage version. But there were rough spots still. Some songs didn’t work. Some points that may have been clear before — in particular, whether the conversion of the nun-in-hiding, Doris Collins → Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence, was a religious one or just an appreciation. Some character names were changed to — well, I don’t know why, perhaps to make them more stereotypical. The humor was punched up to a form that works better on the stage. The general consensus is that the changes worked — they made a better show. I do know they removed one song I liked from the London cast album, pretty much for logical consistency: the nuns sounded too good singing it, and it was before they were supposed to start singing well.

This is where the compare and contrast comes in. There probably aren’t many audience members that saw it in both 2006 and 2017. We did. We liked it then, and we liked it now. I think that, in general, they improved the story, tightened the songs, and created a production that worked. Further, Cabrillo executed that new production well, under the direction of Misti B. Wills. Wills created the cohesive whole of the cast, bringing them together to create a family that shows to the audience: these nuns really care about what they are doing and each other. That’s a key aspect to this story. She also helped them play for the humor. In fact, the show was so funny we had some folks behind us constantly saying, loudly, “Gee, that’s funny!” But I digress (they were also crushing their water bottles, whistling in my ear during the curtain call, and screaming that everyone should stand up, they were so good). Theatre newbie audiences. Sheesh.

Sister Act - Cabrillo - CastOne of the strengths of this production is the cast. Let’s start at the top, with our nun-in-hiding, Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence. I enjoyed the original, Dawnn Lewis, and I can imagine how strong Patina Miller (FB) must have been on Broadway (but, alas, she’s now been shuffled off to a desk job in the State Department), but Daebreon Poiema (FB) was spectacular. She had the comic chops, the dance moves, the personality, the look, and most importantly, the killer voice to take and own this role. I could name some numbers, but she is great in all of them.

Our group of thugs was led by Dedrick Bonner (FB) as Curtis, supported by David Kirk Grant (FB) (Joey), Kenneth Mosley (FB) (TJ), and John Paul Batista (FB) (Pablo). Their roles, alas, are written very shallow and stereotypical, but the script is what it is. They do their best with it, shining in numbers such as “When I Find My Baby” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress”.

The savior of Deloris — no, not that savior, the other savior (Officer Eddie Souther) — is portrayed by Wilkie Ferguson III (FB). Ferguson expressed a very pleasant, and affable personality that interplayed well with Deloris; he also did a very nice job with “I Can Be That Guy”.

The named members of our murder of nuns — wait, murders are for crows, who also dress in black — our superfluity of nuns were Cabrillo regular David Gilchrist (FB) as Monsignor O’Hara, Debbie Prutsman as Mother Superior, Francesca Barletta (FB) as Sister Mary Patrick, Karla J. Franko (FB) as Sister Mary Lazarus, Hallie Mayer (FB) as Sister Mary Martin of Tours, and Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) as Sister (Novitiate) Mary Robert. Gilchrist, as usual, played the comedy well — we’ve seen him in quite a few roles now, and he is just a great character actor. Prutsman made a strong Mother Superior and played off Poiema quite well, especially in the opening scene of Act II and the reprise of “Sister Act”. Barletta, who again, we’ve seen many times, brought great humor and the requisite sillyness to Sister Mary Patrick (the original Kathy Najimy role). Franko’s Mary Lazarus has the requisite crustiness and handled the rap chops quite well. Lastly, Chelsea Stock, who astounded as Sister Mary Robert. Who knew such a big voice could be in such a small package? To quote Steve Stanley, “Wow!”.

The remaning roles in the production were handled by the expert ensemble that consisted of Terri K. Woodall (FB) [Michelle, Ensemble], Fay James/FB [Tina, Ensemble], Ron de la Peña MD (FB) [Ernie, Pope, Ensemble], Bernadette Bentley (FB) [Ensemble], Jacob Byrd/FB [Ensemble], Gwen Carole (FB) [Ensemble], Amanda Carr/FB [Ensemble, Dance Captain], Zy’heem “Z” Downey/FB [Ensemble, u/s Pablo], Jenna Elise (FB) [Ensemble], Catriona Fray (FB) [Ensemble], Erin Grandelli [Ensemble], Lakeisha Renee Houston (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Deloris], Alyssa Noto (FB) [Ensemble], Katie Porter (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Patrick], Rile Reavis (FB) [Ensemble], Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Michelle], Dana Shaw (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mother Superior], Marie Spieldenner (FB) [Ensemble], Tyler Stouffer (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Joey], Natalia Vivino (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Robert], Kendyl Yokoyama (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Tina], and John Gaston [Pit Singer]. Of all of these, just a few notes, as they were all great — but also hard to distinguish. We always enjoy seeing Vivino on stage ever since first seeing her in Addams Family. She will make a great Mary Robert if she gets the chance. A shout-out to Ms. Bentley, who is a friend of a friend of ours on FB and a wonderfully creative cosplayer. Also notable is Jenna Elise for her dancing and movement skills; she caught my eye in the one number where she was out of the habit.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the direction of Kyle C. Norris (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Matt Germaine/FB [Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Flugelhorn]; Chris Maurer/FB [Trumpet II, Flugelhorn]; Mike McCully [Trombone]; Gary Solt [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard I]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and 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.

Dancing and movement was choreographed by Michelle Elkin (FB), and was mostly 1950s and 1960s group dance movement, as opposed to the more intricate ballet we saw recently in An American in Paris.  What is more note-worthy is that Elkin was also the choreographer back in 2006 for the Pasadena Playhouse production.

Turning to the production aspects: Sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), which was newly released for production this year. Costumes were provided by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts (FB) in Utah; additional costumes and designs were by Helen Butler. Daniel Robles designed the hair and wigs, and Trina White designed the makeup. Cabrillo regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB) did the lighting and sound design, respectively. Alex Choate (FB) designed additional props. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Art Brickman (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Sister Act: The Musical plays for one more weekend at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Tickets are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.  It is a very enjoyable show.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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 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 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 last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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

Dictators or Elected Leaders | “Evita” at Cabrillo Music Theatre

Evita (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicLast night, we went to go see Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Going in, I was hoping to find some resonance with this year’s political campaign. After all, looking at it one way, we had the story of a popular entertainer who grew into a potent political power, a person who ran a foundation that appeared to do good but was primarily for their family’s personal benefit, a person whose rise to power was based more on style than substance. When examined the other way, we had the story of an ambitious woman whose rise to power was based more on her husband’s reputation than her own; a woman whose husband had a record of sleeping with whores; a woman who ambitiously craved power in a country where women had never ruled; a woman whose political opponents were made to shut up, and often conveniently disappeared.

I was hoping to find resonance, a lesson to be learned, something useful I could bring to my discussions on Facebook.

I found nothing. But it was still a fun story.

I’ve seen Evita numerous times before. I had seen the original when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City back when both existed back in 1980. I next saw Evita in a high-school performance at Van Nuys HS back in 2011. The next version was community theatre: the  Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) production at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB) last August. Last night, Cabrillo’s version.

As I wrote back in August: For those not familiar with Evita, it is the second rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. It is a sung-through opera, with very little non-musical spoken dialogue. You can find a detailed synopsis of the story on the wikipedia page or on the Rice/Webber page for the show.

When one has seen a show this many times, one tends not to focus on the book but the performances. In this production, there were strengths and weaknesses. In terms of overall direction, Roger Castellano (FB) used his ensemble and set well, taking advantage of the simple set and the power of the masses. I appreciated some of his touches, such as the casket for Eva and the “Santa Evita” number. The power of the people came into play in many numbers, particularly in “A New Argentina”. My only directoral quibble (which could be more choreographical, and thus Cheryl Baxter (FB)’s department) was the behavior and movement of the Argentinian Generals in the various scenes (e.g., “The Art of the Possible”, and similar scenes). They need to be crisp, strong, precise, and exude authority and power. These guys ambled in, and had all the precision of a volunteer army. Tighten it up, men.

Evita is one of those shows that lives and dies based on the strength of its leads. Alas, I must report that this production was a mixed bag. Their Che, Marc Ginsberg (FB), was excellent. He had the vocal power, he had the stage presence, he had the appropriate cynical attitude, and he had the look down pat. One of the best Che’s I’ve ever seen. I could list his numbers as examples, but he was just great. This production is worth seeing for his performance.

Their Eva, Cassandra Murphy (FB), was… almost. She had the look perfect. Her vocals were spot on. Her dancing was great. All of which are critical for an Eva. But to excel, Eva needs something extra — a stage presence that grabs you by the neck and demands your attention. This was something that  Amy Hānaili’i Gilliom (FB), the Eva we saw in Hawaii, had. It is something that many of the Broadway Eva’s had. I think it may come from years of being on the stage and knowing how to be the presence that makes that spotlight come to you on its own. Murphy’s Eva had about 85% of that luminescence, but it needs just a bit more to achieve the stellar highs.

The weak spot in this production (at least to me), was David Kirk Grant (FB)’s Juan Peron. Peron needs to be a presence, not a milquetoast. Grant’s Peron had the right voice, but he did not exude power. Peron has to have the sense of a former military man who grabbed the reins of power, not by always the best of means. He has the soft spot for Eva — she is perhaps his one weakness — but otherwise there needs to be that toughness. That just didn’t come across.

In the second tier, we have two named characters who primarily appear only in the first half of the first act. Both were very strong. Bill Ledesma (FB)’s had the sexy look and the requisite sexy voice for the tango singer, Agustin Magaldi. His portrayal of Magaldi against Murphy’s Eva was very strong. Also very strong was Isa Briones (FB)’s mistress.  She has one scene and one song, and she just nails it beautifully. I hope to see more of Briones in future productions in Southern California.

Everyone else in Evita is ensemble. The upper crust. The generals. The des camisados. The union workers. The maids and butlers and hangers-ons. All ensemble. As such, it is hard to single anyone out. However… the little girl that opened up “Santa Evita” just melted my heart. Lovely performance. I’m also pleased to note that the ensemble featured all colors, shapes, and sizes, which I thought was particularly good. The ensemble consisted of Elizabeth Adabale (FB), Isa Briones (FB), Liz Bustle (FB), Fernando Christopher (FB), Eduardo Giancarlo (FB), Augusto Guardado/FB, Veronica Gutierrez/FB, Timothy Joshua Hearl (FB), Jackson Hinden (FB), Katie Hume (FB), Brandon Taylor Jones/FB, Bill Ledesma (FB), Lyrissa Leininger (FB), Janelle Lillian (FB), Sarah Marie Maher (FB), Drew Mizell (FB), Alastair James Murden (FB), Tracy Ray Reynolds (FB), Joshua Rivera (FB), Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal (FB), Katherine Steele (FB), and Kendyl Yokoyama (FB). The children’s ensemble consisted of Luca de la Peña/FB, Savannah Fischer/FB, Calista Loter/FB, Madison North/FB, Brooke Rassell/FB, Emma Safier/FB, Marcello Silva/FB, and Lilly Victoria Thompson/FB.

Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal (FB) was the understudy for Eva Peron.

As an aside, the diverse casting of the ensemble made me question the leads a little: after all, this is Argentina. Wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, the leads be Hispanic. But then again, Eva is always portrayed in the archival newsreels as lily white, so perhaps this was seen as a virtue in the England-worshipping society of Argentina in the 1930s. Still, I think it is an interesting question to explore.

The music for the production was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB), Musical Director; Dan Redfield/FB, Conductor; Darryl Tanikawa (FB), Orchestra Contractor; and Darryl Archibald (FB), Music Supervisor.  The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB)[Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I]; Chris Maurer [Trumpet II]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone]; Melissa Hendrickson (FB) [Horn]; Sharon Cooper [Violin I, Concertmaster]; Sally Berman [Violin II]; Karen Goulding Long [Viola]; Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard II]; Tom Griffin [Keyboard III]; Pathik Desai (FB) [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Percussion]. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the production and creative side of things. Th sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), with additional scenic design by Alex Choate (FB). Costumes were provided by The Theatre Company (FB); Beth Glasner (FB) was the costume designer. Both the sets and the costumes worked well; I particularly liked the integration of actual archival footage into the projections.  The lighting design by Kim Killingsworth (FB) worked well, particularly the integration of two spots on the scaffolding on the sides of the stage. Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design, as always, was clear and crisp. Jim Belcher did the hair and makeup design, and it worked reasonably well — particularly the wigs for Eva Peron. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Jessica R. Aguilar, Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Note that last credit. This was Will North (FB)’s first time helming a production, taking over from long time artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB). Whereas Lewis would go on and on (and on and on) about what Cabrillo was doing in the community, introducing groups in the audience, and so forth, Will was much more succinct. No mention of all the good, just a quick mention of the raffle and moving forward. Lewis created a personality for Cabrillo; hopefully, over time, we will be able to see Will’s personality emerge as he loosens up and endears himself to the audience.

Evita continues at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) for one more weekend. Tickets are available through the Cabrillo online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This is a reasonably good production of the show; well worth seeing if you haven’t seen it before.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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 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 Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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 brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB). The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

November starts with another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB): Culture Clash’s Vote or Die Laughing. The following weekend brings Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Nottingham Festival (FB). We then lose a weekend as we travel to Palo Alto for a Bar Mitzvah. The third weekend of November brings Funny Girl, a Conundrum Theatre Company (FB) guest production at  The Colony Theatre (FB) and a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]. November concludes with a HOLD date for Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. The last month of the year will include Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just a single hold date for Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). February 2017 gets back to being busy: with a hold for Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. 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

Rediscovering the Magic | “The Little Mermaid” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre

Disney's The Little Mermaid (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicThis season at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) has been a great one. All four of the season’s show have been “firsts” for me — in that the Cabrillo production has been the first time I have seen the adult version of the show done by a professional company. Their first show, Damn Yankees, I’d only seen Van Nuys HS do. Their second show, A Funny Thing Happened … Forum I had only seen the movie version. Their third show, Children of Eden, I’d only seen a church group do. Last night’s show, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I’d only seen the Jr. version from Nobel Middle School.

In lacking the ability to see a professional version of these shows, I wasn’t alone. Damn Yankees is rarely done on the large stage, and Funny Thing is so complex you don’t often see it (although it had a recent 99-seat revival at Crown City). Children of Eden has never been on the big stage in LA.  All three of those are older musicals, so perhaps that’s not a surprise.

But The Little Mermaid? After it closed on Broadway in 2009 after a mixed run on 685 performances and tepid reviews, a tour was announced but never materialized. Unlike other Disney musicals — Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Newsies have played the Hollywood Pantages (FB) multiple times; Aida has been at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) — The Little Mermaid has never been on a main Los Angeles stage. Even the recent Hollywood Bowl production was actors singing along to the animated film, not the musical. The only place to see it has been school productions… until this year.

After the tepid reception of the show on Broadway, professional productions were limited… until Glenn Casale came along. Glenn reworked and redesigned the production from the problematic Broadway version for a 2012 Dutch production. He then reworked it again for Sacramento in the round later that year. It hit the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2013, and then the Pittsburgh CLO (remember those names, you’ll see them later). This year, a mini-tour of the revised version materialized, hitting cities such as Houston’s Theatre under the Stars, Sacramento, Dallas, and La Mirada. That would have been an interesting version to see, as it had both Tracy Lore (of CMT’s Once Upon a Mattress) and Devon Hadsell (FB) (of Chance’s Lysistrata Jones) in it. But that wasn’t Cabrillo’s version.

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. They had an existential scare earlier this year, but they survived and are going strong into next year.

This is a long way of saying that last night we were at CMT’s second performance of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and it was our first time seeing the show in a fully professional version. It was our first time seeing the reworked Glenn Casale envisioning, reworked and reimagined just a little bit more by director Larry Raben (FB) and choreographer Heather Castillo (FB). I should note that I also came into the show with no preconceived notions from the original animated movie as — and you’re probably shocked — I’ve never watched the entire animated version. I’m also pleased to say (BLUF as it were), that we were blown away by the imagination and inventiveness of the CMT version, and it continued their standard of theatrical excellence for which they are known.

You, on the other hand… you have likely seen the 1989 animated film, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, and produced by Howard Ashman and John Musker, written and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, with music and lyrics by Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman. You may have even heard (as had I) the score of the stage version, which had added songs by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright. So you probably know the story well.

So…. I’m not going to detail it for you. However, I will note that there have been significant changes from the animated movie, especially in Ariel’s motivation, and significant changes from the 2009 Original Broadway version, especially in the nature of the relationship between Triton and Ariel, and even more pointedly between Triton and Ursula. They are detailed somewhat in the Wikipedia synopsis of the stage version, and even more so in the summary of how Glenn Casale reworked the stage version in 2012.  However, do be warned: this is, at its heart, a children’s fairy tale. Don’t expect depth, angst, bathos, or truly adult themes. This isn’t The Lion King, and it’s not based on Hamlet. It is based on a Disney animated movie. It improves on it some, but can only go so far.

Cabrillo’s version of the show brought the undersea world to life in a creative and imaginative way.  This is not to say that feet were never visible on the fish — during some of the dance numbers they were wearing colorful sneakers. But rather, for the main mer-folk, their costumes covered the feet; this was combined with flying affects to allow them to swim across the stage as if they had fins. Other characters glided across the stage on hoverboards or skate-shoes. There were giant puppets of jellyfish. There was undulating seaweed. There was loads of black lighting and iridescence. This contrasted with the human world, which was sunlit in a normal spectrum, with normal costumes.

The performances, as with all Cabrillo productions, were excellent. In the lead position was Alison Bagli (FB) as Ariel. Bagli brought a wonderful youthful enthusiasm and a lovely voice to what could be a saccharine role. In particular, she made the role seem, well, as realistic as a mermaid could be — both in capturing the late teenage rebellion against the strictures of a parent refusing to see the child as an adult, and in capturing the joy of discovering something new…. like feet. But she was somehow more… adult. She didn’t play the role as the typical 14-year old; she was 19 with glimpses of 15. She did a spectacular job with signature numbers such as “The World Above” and “Part of Your World”.

In the featured role as the crab mentor, crab advisor, and composer was Lawrence Cummingsæ (FB) as Sebastian. Cummings was an accomplished singer and dancer, doing wonderful in Sebastian’s key songs of “Kiss the Girl” and the ear-worm “Under the Sea”. He was able to capture the exasperated nature of the character well, and provided wonderful comic relief.  [æ denotes members of Actors Equity]

Featured actors with a more understandable relationship to Ariel were Conor Guzmánæ (FB) as Ariel’s love interest, Prince Eric, and David Engelæ (FB) as Ariel’s father, King Triton. Guzman’s Eric was the typical Disney prince, whom the story imbued with a problem similar to Ariel’s: having a nature different from what their parent wanted them to be. He captured that aspect well, and had a wonderful singing voice to boot. He also exhibited a great chemistry with Bagli’s Ariel, especially  in numbers like “One Step Closer”.  Engel’s Triton was suitably parental, although his kingly presence was a bit light until supported by sound effects and bass vibrations. He had a wonderful number in “If Only”, especially in the second act’s quartet, but was lightly used by the story.

In featured roles as Ariel’s friends were Pablo Rossil (FB) as Scuttle, the seagull, and Michael C. Kennedy (FB) as Flounder, the tropical fish. Kennedy’s Flounder, who we meet first, does a great job of capturing a boy with teen affection for Ariel, who never seems to quite notice him. He’s one of the three actors who use hoverboards heavily in the show, and he handles it quite well. He brought a great youthful enthusiasm to the role.  Rossil’s Scuttle is much more comic relief, although he does get a great number in “Positoovity”. He does a reasonable job of making the character his own, as opposed to channeling the animated version’s Buddy Hackett.  As one would expect, he does a lot of flying in the role, which he handles quite well.

The requisite evil side of the story was represented by Triton’s sister, the octopus Ursula (Debbie Prutsman) in the main position, and electric-eels Flotsam and Jetsam (Eric Stanton Betts (FB) and Alex Levy/FB, respectively) as the supporting minions.  Prutsman was strong as Ursula, capturing the evil nature of the character well, especially in songs like “Daddy’s Little Angel” and her signature number, “Poor Unfortunate Soul”. Flotsam and Jetsam were more supporting eels, although they did get a little bit of a number in “Sweet Child”, and handled their hoverboards well.

Rounding out the named characters were David Gilchrist (FB) as Grimsby, Tyler Stouffer (FB) as Chef Louis, and the gaggle of girls that made up Ariel’s sisters: Gillian Bozajian (FB) (Atina), Lyrissa Leininger (FB) (Adella), Janaya Mahealani Jones/FB (Arista), Missy Marion (FB) (Andrina), Jamie Mills (Aquata), and Annie Sherman (FB) (Allana). Gilchrist was great as always in a comic supporting role; we’ve seen him in a number of productions over the years. Stouffer really only gets one number –“Les Poissons” — which really has little to do with the plot other than comic relief. He handled the number well, although it was difficult at times to make out his words (which could have been a sound problem). Ariel’s sisters had fun with their few numbers — “Daughters of Triton” and particularly “She’s in Love” — but were otherwise not deeply characterized in the story. It was nice to see a bit of diverse casting there.

Rounding out the production was one of the few luxuries that CMT has: a large ensemble and a large kids ensemble, which they used to great effect (especially the kids in quite a few numbers). The ensemble consisted of: Jeni Baker (FB), John Paul Batista (FB), Alex Choate (FB), Rodd Farhadi (FB), Kevin Gilmond (FB), Scott Hendrickson (FB), Jenny Hoffman (FB), Kurt Kemper (FB), Julia Kreinces (FB), Joey Langford (FB), Janelle Loren (FB), Kenneth Mosley (FB), Brittney Nevison (FB), Jordan Schneider/FB, and Ryan Schultze/FB. The kids ensemble consisted of Baylee Fogelmanis, Calista Loter, Mia Nelson, Drew Rosen, Marcello Silva/FB, Taylor Lynda Thomas/FB, and Hattie Ugoretz/FB. Kenneth Mosley (FB) was also the understudy for Sebastian.

As is pointed out at every CMT show: Live musical theatre needs live music. The CMT Orchestra, under the music direction of Colin Freeman (FB), was excellent. The orchestra consisted of: Colin Freeman (FB) (Conductor), Gary Rautenberg (FB) (Flute, Alto Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet); Kimaree Gilad (Oboe, English Horn); Darryl Tanikawa (FB) (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Alto Sax); Bill Barrett (Trumpet, Flugelhorn); Melissa Hendrickson (FB) (Horn); Sharon Cooper (Violin I – Concertmaster); Sally Berman (Violin 2); Rachel Coosaia (FB) (Cello); Cassie Nickols (FB) (Keyboard I); Lloyd Cooper (FB) (Keyboard II); Tom Griffin (Keyboard III); Colin Freeman (FB) (Keyboard IV); Shane Harry/FB (Electric and 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.

Turning to the remaining creative and production credits. The scenery design was by Kenneth Foy, with the scenery, props, and costumes having been created by a partnership with the aforementioned Paper Mill Playhouse (FB), Pittsburgh CLO (FB), Kansas City Starlight Theatre (FB), Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, and Dallas Summer Musicals (FB). Costume Design was by Amy Clark and Mark Koss. Christine Gibson (FB) was the costume supervisor. Stephanie Fenner/FB and Cassie Russek (FB) did the hair and makeup design, and Alex Choate (FB) designed additional props. I mention these all in virtually one breath because they all combined to create magic: an undersea delight, and believable and identifiable characters.  The magic was additionally created by the flying effects of ZFX, Inc.; the sound design of Jonathan Burke (FB), and the lighting design of Christina L. Munich (FB). I’ll note there were a few times where the spots were a little off; this was the second performance, so presumably that will be corrected. Rounding out the production credits: John W. Calder III (FB) (Stage Manager); David Elzer/Demand PR (Press Representative); C. Raul Espinoza (FB) (Marketing Consultant); Jack Allaway (Technical Director). Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

There is one more weekend for you to catch this excellent production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid,  with shows from July 20 – 24, 2016. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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 end of July gets busy, with Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on July 23, Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN on July 24, and a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland on July 28, and … currently nothing for the weekend. August is a bit more open in terms of theatre. The first weekend just has a Jethawks game on Sunday; the second weekend has a Bar Mitzvah.  The third weekend brings another event from the wonderful counter-cultural orchestra, Muse/ique (FB) — American/Rhapsody — a celebration of George Gershwin. Late August sees us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September returns to conventional theatre. The first weekend has a HOLD for Calendar Girls at The Group Rep (FB). The second weekend may be another Muse/ique (FB) event — Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend has a HOLD for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Mark Taper Forum (FB). The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Share

Saturday Stew: A Little Bit of Everything

Observation StewNote: In case you missed my posts earlier this week, I had one with a collection of articles related to why I decided to support Hillary Clinton; a collection of articles related to food and diet; and a summary of the shows that I’m planning to see at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival. But now it is Saturday, and I’m staring at the list of links I’ve accumulated over the week… and realizing there’s not a coherent theme buried in there.  You know what that means — it is time to make News Chum Stew!

 

Share

The Spark of Creation 🌠 “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo

Children of Eden (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicFor a change, I’m going to start a writeup with a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): If there was ever a reason that Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) needed to survive, it is productions such as this. We have been attending Cabrillo since Anything Goes back in the Fall of 2000, and I believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, production that they have done. I believe that this production could transfer to the Pantages, Ahmanson, or even a Broadway stage and the audience would be equally blown away. The performance, technical, dance, creative, and musical teams come together perfectly to make a creation that is an Eden. If you do nothing else, get tickets for one of the remaining performances. You will fall in love with this musical, its message, and this production.

OK. Enough gushing. You’ve probably figured out that we liked this show.

One of the things that I liked about this particular Cabrillo season was that it was all shows that I have seen with a professional company: they’ve been films, schools, and churches. My exposure to Children of Eden, other than the music, was a Church production back in 2013. This version of Children of Eden was head and shoulders above that version, and that version was very strong for what it was. I’ll note that this is one of those rare musicals that has never seen a life on Broadway: it went straight out to the regional circuit, where it has done extremely well. Steven Schwartz (FB), the composer (who most know from Wicked these days), has indicated that this is his personal favorite musical. There’s a reason, which become apparent as you see it multiple times. If “Feed The Birds” was the heart of Mary Poppins, I think the heart of this show is the Act II song “The Hardest Part of Love”:

And it’s only in Eden
Grows a rose without a thorn
And your children start to leave you
on the day that they are born
They will leave you there to cheer for them
They will leave you there to mourn
Ever so

Like an ark on uncharted seas
Their lives will be tossed
And the deeper is your love for them
The crueler is the cost.
And just when they start to find themselves
Is when you fear they’re lost

But you cannot close the acorn
One the oak begins to grow
And you cannot close your heart
To what it fears and needs to know
That the hardest part of love…
That the rarest part of love…
That the truest part of love…
Is letting go.

Note: On his website, Stephen Schwartz has a wonderful document on the show, its origins, its themes, and its impact on people. Well worth reading. He notes that he particularly likes “Stranger to the Rain”:

I don’t curse what I can’t change
I just play the hand I’m dealt
And when they lighten up the rations
I tighten up my belt
I won’t say I’ve never felt the pain
But I am not a stranger to the rain.

The story of Children of Eden (book by John Caird (FB), based on a concept by Charles Lisanby, with music and lyrics by Schwartz (FB))  is the story of letting go, and the story of learning to let go. Act I tells the story of Adam and Eve, from their creation to their death, their interaction with their Father, and in turn, their interaction with their children (who exhibit remarkably similar traits to their parents). It deals with parents being disappointed with their children; it explores children and boundaries (which brings to mind The Fantastiks line about getting children to do something by just telling them “no”). It demonstrates that parents are only human as well, and the hard choices we are sometimes forced to make when we have knowledge — especially when we must decide between two things that we love. The second act brings the other end of that lineage:  it explores the story of Noah, focusing on the reason for the flood, and again focuses on the power of choice, of making a decision.

As this was my second time seeing the show, I’ll note that I got much more out of Cabrillo’s production. I found myself recognizing depths and aspects of this story I hadn’t seen in the Church production, and insights and story aspects that made we want to explore more of the midrashim in this area. I think it demonstrated why the point of these stories in the Book of Genesis is much more than a creation story: it is a parable of parents and children, of raising the question of proper choice that surfaces again in Deuteronomy. It shows that — independent of the religious trappings — the stories in Genesis have wonderful lessons to teach us about life and handling life’s situations.

If theatre and performance can make you reflect and think like that… that’s the power of theatre and of live performance. And, as I said upfront, it is why performance and production teams the size and scale of Cabrillo are vital for a community’s spiritual and emotive health. This is a large production: in addition to the leads and main players, there were 12 Storytellers, 5 adult Ensemble members, and 20 children’s Ensemble members. Broadway can’t afford that. Regional productions can, especially when mixing local and Equity talent. But regional spaces that can handle that size of a show are rare; this is especially true when attempting to find such spaces that aren’t already booked with the “From Broadway” tours. Again: a reason why Cabrillo is vital to the artistic health of Ventura and northwestern Los Angeles county.

Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), who directed this production, brought some interesting touches. I particularly noted the unspoken framing devices: The story starts with Father (God) in street clothes reading the story to his children in bed; it ends with the cast not in their biblical garb, but again in street clothes as they sing:

We cannot know what will occur
Just make our journey worth the taking
And pray we’re wiser than we were
In the beginning
It’s the beginning
Now we begin…

This simple directorial decision changes the impact of the story from something in the past to a challenge to us today.

[It also, as I re-read the words, has an interesting echo for Cabrillo Music Theatre itself (for which Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB) also serves as Artistic Director): They want to make the journey worth the taking, hopefully being wiser than before the flood. It’s the beginning of a new Cabrillo. But I digress…]

There are some other directorial decisions that I thought were the little touches that gave this performance something extra. Lewis obviously worked with the children on this show, keeping that childish joy there (seen when they are portraying animals). He was the one with the broad view that brought the overall image the magic that it needs. He also, I’m guessing, was responsible for some of the little things, like how Father would watch the characters go on and off stage during Act II, just like a caring watchful parent. Observing all. Saying little.

This is one of those shows where everything came together: the dance, the lighting, the visuals, the movement, the performances, the costumes. That overall vision — especially on the stage — comes from the director. Kudos to Lewis for this vision.

Normally, I might hunt down some publicity pictures for you to look at while I discuss the cast. I found some on Broadway World, but it is unclear if they are BWW’s or the show’s. To play it safe, I’ll just provide you the link to see them.

The leads in the show were played by three Equity actors whom we have all seen at Cabrillo before (as well as in other regional productions): Norman Large (FB) as Father, Misty Cotton (FB) as Eve/Mama Noah, and Kevin McMahon (FB) as Adam/Noah. All were spectacular. Let’s take them one by one:

Large’s Father was just what you would want a father to be: caring, loving, and concerned for the future of his family. You could see the exasperation of a father when he was dealing with a childish Adam and Eve. You could see his anger and disappointment when his children disobeyed his orders, and especially when they brought harm to others he loved. Large captured well the emotions every father knows well. He sang beautifully in all his numbers, but especially memorable was his opening number and his duet with Noah in “The Hardest Part of Love”. What I’ll remember, however, is something little he did: In Act II, as characters walked off -stage, he turned and watched them. This is the omnipresent concern of a father, keeping an eye on your children wherever they may be.

Cotton had the matriarchal roles in both acts: Eve and Mama Noah. We’ve seen Cotton many times, most recently in her wonderful performance as the mother in Carrie: The Musical. In this show, what I remember most about her was her childish enthusiasm and curiosity, which she captured so well in the first act in number such as “The Naming” and “Grateful Children”, as well as her interaction with the snake in one of my favorite songs, “In Pursuit of Excellence”. Where she brought the house down, however, was her gospel-y, rock-ish performance of “Ain’t It Good”, the penultimate number of the show. Just an astounding performance.

Lastly, McMahon’s Adam/Noah was a wonderful counterpoint to Cotton’s Eve. He, too, had the childish nature that came across in Act I, but with a much more obedient streak, which made his portrayal of making the decision between his wife and his father a more painful one.  His standout performance, however, in my eyes, was in “The Hardest Part of Love”, where he captured the true emotion of what it means to be a father.

Next we have the children of Adam/Noah: Ryan J. Driscoll (FB) (Cain/Japeth), Barnaby James (FB) (Abel/Ham), and Paul DiLoreto (FB) (Seth/Shem).  Driscoll gave a strong performance both as Cain and Japeth. In the first act he did a wonderful job on “Lost in the Wilderness” as well as the emotion and passion of his battle with Abel. In the second act, he had some wonderful interactions with Yoneh and had a wonderful duet in “In Whatever Time We Have”. James’ Abel was also strong, especially in his interactions with Cain and Adam, and in “A Ring of Stones”. James and DiLoreto’s roles were less visible in the second act; I’ll note that all three were enjoyable in “A Piece of Eight” and in the concluding number “In The Beginning”.

The roles for the brother’s wives come into play only in the second act; I have the feeling they were part of the larger ensemble during the first act. Of the wives, the standout is Natalia Vivino (FB)’s performance of Yoneh, a character created by Schwartz to create the second act conflict. Vivino first blew us away when we saw here in ARTS’s Addams Family; she did it again last night. She was just spectacular in the touching numbers “Stranger to the Rain” and “Sailor of the Sky”, and in her duet with Driscoll in “In Whatever Time We Have”. There have been performers we’ve seen go big after their days at Cabrillo (yes, we remember Katherine McPhee in Annie Get Your Gun). I hope that happens for Ms. Vivino — she has a unique look and a wonderful talent, and I think she will go far (for whatever the opinion of this cybersecurity specialist means). Rounding out the brother’s wives were Elizabeth Adabale (FB) as Aysha and Kayla Bailey (FB) as Aphra.

Children of Eden uses the storytelling device of a chorus (in the Greek Chorus sense). This group provides commentary on the action and fills in portions of the story as needed. As such, it is difficult to separate the voices and the actions, although I do recall that the lead storytellers were very strong. The storytelling chorus consisted of Kenneth Mosley (FB) (Lead), Katie Porter (FB) (Lead), Francesca Barletta (FB), Jenny Hoffman (FB), Janelle Loren (FB), Zy’heem Naheo/FB, Rile Reavis (FB), Christopher Reilly/FB, Pablo Rossil (FB),  Rodrigo Varandas (FB), Terri Woodall (FB), and Kendyl Yokoyama (FB). I will note that I particularly enjoyed those members of the chorus that comprised the Snake for “In Pursuit of Excellence”; the Storytellers were also very strong on “Generations”.

Rounding out the players on stage were the adult ensemble and the children’s ensemble. The adult ensemble consisted of Judi Domroy (FB), Nicholas Ferguson, John Gaston (FB), Heidi Goodspeed (FB), and Susan Robb/FB. The childrens’ ensemble consisted of Carolina De los Rios, Audrey Devina-Goldberg/FB, Natalie Esposito/FB, Mia Gabbey/FB, Gannon Hays/FB, Samantha Hirschhorn/FB, Julia Rose Kreinces (FB), Kyle Lobenhofer/FB, Calista Loter (FB), Nathaniel Mark/FB (Young Cain), Brielle Napue/FB, Zoë Reed/FB, Marcello Silva/FB (Young Abel), Ashley Kiele Thomas (FB), Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB), Lilly Thompson/FB, Hattie Ugoretz/FB, Jessica Wallace (FB), Emerson West/FB, and Megan Zide/FB. Whew. That’s a lot of links. The ensemble is what made this show special in many ways, particularly the kids’ ensemble. They were particularly notable during the animal scenes (especially in Act II, where they just melted your heart as they stayed in character as they moved offstage). There was also one adorable little girl, brown hair, relatively young, who was just radiating so much joy as she danced in one of the second act numbers. Cabrillo always has outstanding ensembles, but this group (particularly the little ones) outdid themselves with what they added to this show.

Unseen, but heard, was the off-stage pit choir consisting of students from Thousand Oaks High School, Chaminade College Prep High School, Santa Susana High School, Simi Valley High School, Moorpark College, CSU Northridge, and CSU Channel Islands.

As Lewis Wilkenfeld reminds us every show: live theatre needs live music. The Theatre League learned this the hard way when they were raked over the coals for pre-recorded music during their recent production of Ragtime at the Kavli. Luckily, Cabrillo had a great orchestra, under the musical direction of Cassie Nickols (FB). This orchestra consisted of Cassie Nickols (FB) (Keyboard Synthesizer I), Benjamin Ginsberg/FB (Keyboard Synthesizer II, Asst. Music Director), Lloyd Cooper (FB) (Keyboard Synthesizer III, Asst. Music Director), Gary Rautenberg (FB) (Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax), Ian Dahlberg (FB) (Oboe, English Horn, Tenor Sax, Clarinet), Matt Germaine/FB (Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Clarinet), Jennifer Bliman (Horn), Pathik Desai (FB) (Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin), Gary Solt (Electric & Acoustic Guitars), Stephen Green (Cello), Shane Harry/FB (Double String Bass), Tyler Smith/FB (Percussion), Alan Peck (Set Drums). The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

This is a show with a very strong choreographic element. This is evident from the very first number, where the choreography, projections, lighting, and performance come together to make it clear that you are seeing something special. Credit, of course, goes to the dances as well as the choreography of Michelle Elkin (FB) [whose work we saw ages ago in Sister Act at the Playhouse]. In general, this is a show with a very special movement component throughout. Just look at the movement in “Let There Be”, “The Naming”, “The Return of the Animals”, and “Ain’t It Good”. A wide variety, well executed.

Lastly, we turn to the production and remaining creative team. This is one of those shows where everything came together perfectly, and no where is that seen better than the combination of the lighting design of Christina L. Munich (FB) and the scenic and projection design of Jeff Cason. It was just an astounding tour de force. Adding to this was the outstanding costume design of Noelle Raffy (FB), the hair and makeup design of Cassie Russek (FB) and Stephanie Fenner/FB, the prop design of Alex Choate (FB), and the animal costumes from Maine State Musical Theatre Costume Rentals (FB). Sound design was by CMT regular Jonathan Burke (FB). Remaining production credits: Jessica R. Aguilar (Production Stage Manager), Jack Allaway (Technical Director), David Elzer/Demand PR (Public Relations), and C. Raul Espinoza (FB) (Marketing Consultant).  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

Children of Eden continues at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) through April 17, 2016. It took me so long to write this up you only have next weekend to see it. Tickets are available online through Cabrillo; there are no discount tickets currently on Goldstar. 🌟🌟🌟Go See This🌟🌟🌟.

Dining Notes: We found a new place to eat just down the street from the Kavli: Mouthful Eatery (FB). Handcrafted food, relatively heathly, very very tasty. Reasonably fast. We will remember it.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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 had been subscribing at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and REP East (FB): but all have gone or are going dark (update: Cabrillo is coming back!), I just added a subscription to the  Hollywood Pantages (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’s theatre is on Thursday, because the actual weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April will be the Four Clowns (FB) production of Lunatics and Actors at the LA Shakespeare Center on April 30. May starts with Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: Alien vs. MusicalAll Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansCode 197 DWB (Driving While Blewish)Qaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond MusicalDoctor in the HouseHamlet (Las Vegas Style) ✨. But that’s just a small percentage; there are over 200 shows listed now.  We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Share

An Alphabet of Chum: From A to Almost Z

userpic=masters-voiceOur life is a litany of interesting news articles, of news chum, ripe for the discussion. Shall I enumerate? I shall.

 

Share