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.



Better Warn the Pantages….

Cabrillo Userpicuserpic=colonyuserpic=repeastI’m three for three.

All three of the theaters at which I subscribed at the end of 2015 have gone dark or belly up.

  • REP just went silent; there have been no newsletters or messages to subscribers since December. A 2016 season was never announced. An old message on the grapevine said they might be back in August. We’ll see.
  • The Colony Theatre announced they were cancelling the last two shows of their seasons, and there was no prognosis for the future. One could “donate” the remainder of the tickets for a tax write-off, or wait to see if something emerges. No offers of refunds. At least the Colony had the decency to tell subscribers before the media.
  • Cabrillo Music Theatre announced today that they were closing up shop at the Civic Arts Plaza at the end of this season. The next season was cancelled, and the future is unknown. The TO Civic Arts Plaza will be refunding subscriptions and donations. They informed the media and Facebook before they sent the mail to subscribers.

First, someone better warn the Pantages — we just subscribed there. It also makes me think twice about subscribing at the Pasadena Playhouse: it looks like companies that have come out of financial problems remain shaky and unsteady. and Pasadena is only a few years out.

So here’s my question: We traditionally have had three subscriptions: one intimate, one mid-size, and one large. Arguably, the large is now the Pantages. So where should we consider for the intimate and the mid-size? I’ve got my ideas, but I’d like to hear your suggestions.


Tonight, A Comedy 🎭 “A Funny Thing … Forum” @ Cabrillo

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Cabrillo)Cabrillo UserpicMuch humor falls flat with me. Last week, during the 50hr Drive By, other audience members were falling over in the aisles, while I was sitting on my hands. But give me a good farce, and I’m laughing with the best of them. I find farces hilarious, but farces have to be done with skill and perfection to be done right. I’m pleased to say that we saw a great farce last night: Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB).

Now, I’m not unfamiliar with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (henceforth, just A Funny Thing…). I’ve got both the original and the revival cast albums, and I’ve seen the movie a few times — and it never left me laughing. Movie farces are like that: what works on stage falls flat on screen. If an on-screen farce does work, it is typically only “laugh out loud funny” the first viewing. There’s a reason for that. The best farces depend on split second timing, the unexpected performance, the unexpected juxtaposition. There’s that element of danger that things won’t work. With movies, you know they have worked hard to get the best take (after reshoot after reshoot), and you know it will be the same every time. That takes a lot of the fun out of it. Just contrast Noises Off on the screen with it on the stage, and you’ll know which works. Stage productions also have the feedback loop of the actors drawing energy from the audiences, amplifying and sending it back to the audience, who send it back to the actors. That doesn’t happen in front of a screen.

The previous paragraph is a long way of saying the following: First, if you get the chance to see a farce on stage, take it. Second, if you think you know A Funny Thing… because you’ve seen the movie or heard the music, think again. That’s what I thought, and after seeing it, I’ve fallen in love with this show. It is one of those shows that I think will be different in every performance, even with the same actors. In the right hands, it is up there with the best farces.

A good reason for that is it’s pedigree. This was the first show where Stephen Sondheim did both the music and the lyrics, coming off his success as the lyricist for Gypsy. The basic idea for the show — a low-brow comedy for Broadway — was from Burt Shevelove, who had worked on both Broadway and in television. He brought in Larry Gelbart to round out the book; Gelbart was a comedy writer who had written for folks like Jack Paar, Bob Hope, and Danny Thomas. He went on to create the TV show M*A*S*H, and to write movies such as Tootsie and Oh, God. The original production was directed by George Abbott and directed by Harold Prince, and had some doctoring by Jerome Robbins. Robbins famously replaced the problematic opening numbers (there were numerous trials) with Comedy Tonight, a masterpiece of introduction and exposition. The behavior of the leads were established by the astounding original cast, including Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, and David Burns.

The story of A Funny Thing… has a classic farce setup for mistaken identity and chances. It also recognizes out front that it is a play and a comedy, which makes breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect possible. In ancient Rome there are three houses. There is the house of Erronius, a befuddled old man abroad on a quest to find his children, who had been stolen in infancy by pirates. He knows them only by their rings depicting a gaggle of geese.  There is the house of Marcus Lycus, a procurer of courtesans. He has a number of ladies in his stable: VIrbrata, Tintinabula, the Geminae twins, Pancea, Gymasia, and Philia, who has been sold to Captain Miles Gloriosus of the Roman Guard. Lastly, there is the house of Senex, an older Roman citizen married to the dominating Domina, and father to the late-teen-aged Hero. Also in the house of Senex are two slaves: Pseudolus (slave to Hero) and Hysterium (slave to Domina). Hero has fallen in love with Philia.  Seeing this as an opportunity, Pseudolus gets Hero to agree that he will free Pseudolus if he can get Hero and Philia together. This sets the wheels in motion as Pseudolus schemes to get Philia into the house of Senex, drug her, and get her to the port with Hero while at the same time avoiding the Captain, Lycus, and his master, who has unexpectedly arrived home early. Things go awry, and … therein lies the humor. Let’s just say the the remainder of the story revolved around mistaken identity, chases, female impersonation, split-second timing, and classic vaudeville low-brow humor.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Press Photos)This is a show that requires directorial permission to have fun. If one attempts to get the cast to stick hard and fast to the script, the spontaneity that makes the humor goes out the window. This production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), who seemed to embrace the fun aspect. He assembled a great bunch of comic talent, wound them up, and let them go — while keeping them to the story. He also took great advantage of the change of venue. Unlike most Cabrillo shows, this show was done in the significantly smaller Scheer Forum. This permitted the actors to go through the audience and interact with the audience. This worked extremely well, and I’d almost be leery of Forum in a gigantic venue. Wilkenfeld also permitted a small amount of rejiggering to bring in local references and local humor, which worked quite well.

What truly made this show was the lead, Nick Santa Maria (FB), as Pseudolus. Productions of Forum are often characterized by their leads — and there have been some great ones: the aforementioned Mostel, Phil Silvers, and Nathan Lane.  Santa Maria brought in some elements of their performances, but also his own unique humor. I overheard some audience members mentioning that he had done some stand-up, and it was clear in how he played off the audience, played off the other actors both as actors and as his character, and was sharp-witted enough to ad-lib local humor into the situations. Through Santa Maria, you could easily imagine how Mostel stole this show in the original production with the audience interaction. His was just a fun, funny performance, executed well. There were so many favorite scenes, but the one that sticks in my mind is when Miles Gloriosus kept hitting his hat on the arch, and the two riffed back and forth.

Providing principal support to Santa Maria’s Pseudolus were Larry Raben (FB)’s Hysterium and David Ruprecht (FB)’s Senex.  Raben brought the right elements of panic and comedy to Hysterium, which were most apparent in the second act scenes, or in his solo number, “I’m Calm”.  In some ways, Hysterium is the uptight straight man to Pseudolus, providing the panic reaction to the manic unpredictability. Raben captured that quite well. As Senex, captured the old lecherous man quite well, although there were one or two odd-timings. For the most part, he was quite fun to watch…. especially in “Impossible”.

As the young lovers, Tyler Miclean (FB) [Hero] and Claire Adams (FB) [Philia] have simply drawn characters. Hero is the love-struck naive boy, and Philia is the dumb courtesan (the embodiment of “blond”). They pull these off well; in particular, I enjoyed Adams “dumb” portrayal for its cluelessness (which take work to pull off). They do great on their songs; I particularly enjoyed Miclean in “Impossible” and Adams in “That’ll Show Him”.

In smaller supporting roles were Andrew Metzger (FB) as Marcus Lycus and Matt Merchant (FB) as Miles Gloriosus. We’ve seen Metzger before; he was in the recent ARTS production of Addams Family. He brought the same craziness and humor to his performance here, and was quite fun to watch. Merchant had the right physical shape and presence for his role, and wonderful comic timing that was displayed quite well in his interactions with Santa Maria’s Pseudolus. If there was one weak note, it might be the amplification of Merchant. Especially in “Bring Me My Bride”, Gloriosus’s voice needs to boom. Merchant had the right vocal quality in the number; I think he just needed either a bit more amplification, or a bit stronger projection. But that, overall, is a minor quibble.

Rounding out the supporting characters were Elise Dewsberry (FB)’s Domina and Tom Hall (FB)’s Erronius.  Hall’s role is relatively simple: wander around looking befuddled — which he did very well… including during the intermission. Dewsberry’s Domina gets more to do: after a brief introduction in the first act, she gets her own song (“That Dirty Old Man”) and some wonder comic opportunities during the chase. Dewsberry does well with all.

Unlike most Cabrillo musicals, this show does not have the gigantic ensemble and children’s chorus. There are two ensemble-ish aspects. First, there are the courtesans of the House of Marcus Lycus: Beth Alison (FB) [Vibrata], Julie Alice Auxier (FB) [Tintinabula], Kai Chubb (FB) and Janelle Loren [the Geminae twins], Amy Lenhardt/FB [Panacea], and Anne Montavon (FB) [Gymnasia]. These are primarily dancing and movement roles; they have no lines and sing as part of full cast numbers. However, they play the comedy and dance well (and look beautiful as well). Also ensemble-ish are the three proteans (Marcus S. Daniel (FB), Jake Novak (FB), and Pablo Rossil (FB)), who play numerous roles throughout the show — eunuchs, soldiers, citizens, and many more. They do this, and they do it with a wonderful comic flair.

This is not the type of show that has big splashy dance numbers (Sondehim’s shows rarely are), but there is still a fair amount of individual dance (especially during “The House of Marcus Lycus”, where each courtesan gets their own unique dance), and lots of choreographed movement in various sequences such as the opening, Marcus Gloriosus’s entrance, and the funeral, chase, and finale sequences. This choreography was well designed by John Charron (FB), assisted by Kai Chubb (FB). The music was under the direction of Lloyd Cooper (FB), the musical director and conductor of the on-stage behind-house band, which consisted of Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Piano, Keyboard],  Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax], Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Alto Sax], Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Tenor Sax, Clarinet]; Matt Germaine (FB) [Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet, Clarinet], Bill Barrett (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn], Shane Harry (FB) [Double Bass], and Alan Peck [Set Drums, Percussion].  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the orchestra contractor, and Darryl Archibald (FB)  was the music supervisor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

The set was provided by Off Broadway West, and consisted mostly of flats and buildings. It worked reasonably well for the Scheer Forum space. Supporting props were designed by Alex Choate (FB).  Sound was by regular Cabrillo sound designer Jonathan Burke (FB) and was mostly excellent as usual; I would have amplified Matt Merchant just a tad more in order to give him more boom and power. The lighting by James Smith III (FB) worked well in establishing place and time. The wardrobe from The Theatre Company (FB) in Upland was supervised by Christine Gibson; hair and makeup design was by Cassie Russek (FB). Both worked well, and was suitably creative (although I did have some concern about cultural appropriation — I think I’ve become sensitized to it, just as I’ve become sensitized to a need for diversity on the stage, and was wondering here why the courtesans, at least, couldn’t have been more diverse).  Remaining significant production credits: Jack Allaway [Technical Director]; Vernon Willet (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tawni Eccles (FB) and Samantha Whidby [Assistant Stage Managers]. Cabrillo Music Theatre is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

The Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues at the Scheer Forum in Thousand Oaks until February 14, 2016. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar. Go. It is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.

Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) just announced their 2015-2016 season. You can find my thoughts on it here. We plan to resubscribe. Cabrillo is a special theatre in Southern California: it doesn’t do tours of these shows. Rather, these are professional regional productions with regional performers and regional directors. Often, the actors trained at Cabrillo go on to bigger things (I was going to say better, but that’s more of an “in the eyes of the beholder” issue). The regional aspect is important. On the Pantages season this year is The Book of Mormon. I have no desire to see it there — I saw the tour when it first came through.  Why see that interpretation again? But if Cabrillo did it, I’d be right there. It is special to see these shows reinterpreted creatively with local production teams and local talents. If you live in Southern California, they are really worth exploring.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birides) will not start 2016 shows until August. I may move the subscription to The Group Rep (FB), or I may just get individual tickets there through Goldstar. 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: February theatre starts on Saturday, February 6 with Empire: The Musical at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) — this gives us not only the chance to see a dear friend (Sheri F.) who doesn’t attend as much LA theatre as she used to, but a favorite performer (Kevin Earley). The next day brings “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). There’s a rare mid-week performance on February 9 of The Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The following weekend brings the Southern California premiere of the musical Dogfight at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills.  The third weekend in February is currently open, but that is likely to change. February closes with The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March starts with “Man Covets Bird” at the 24th Street Theatre (FB) on March 6 (the day after the MRJ Man of the Year dinner) The second weekend of March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.  The last weekend of March is being held for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix).  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2. It will also bring the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) , and our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). 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.


Thoughts on a Theatre Season 2016-2017: Cabrillo Music Theatre 🎭 Pantages

userpic=theatre_musicalsYesterday, I received in the mail my season renewal for Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); today’s news brought an update on the upcoming season at the Pantages (FB). So I thought I would share with you (over lunch) my thoughts on these announcements, together with my thoughts on an announcement we haven’t received from one of our regular theatres.


Cabrillo Music Theatre

Cabrillo UserpicCabrillo Music Theatre (FB) has sent season subscribers their renewal information for the 2016-2017 season — these is even before the 2nd show of the 2015-2016 season (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, opening Friday 1/29) is on the boards. If you recall, we skipped the 2014-2015 season because we had seen all of the shows; we rejoined back in 2015 because the shows sounded interesting again. Here is the set of shows for 2016-2017, with my thoughts on them. Note that the show in the Kavli has moved from being optional to part of the season.


  • Thumbs Up Evita. (October 14-23, 2016) We last saw Evita in a community theatre production while we were in Maui. While it was pretty good, it wasn’t at the professional level. The Evita before that was at Van Nuys HS. I saw the original tour when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City ages and ages ago. I actually enjoy the show if it is done right, so it will be interesting to see Cabrillo’s take on it.
  • Thumbs Up Disney’s Tarzan. (January 27 – February 12, 2017, Kavli Theatre) This was on Broadway briefly, but it otherwise hasn’t been in the LA area. I’m not even sure I’ve heard the music or seen a cast album of the stage version of it. It should be interesting to see how this works for Cabrillo.
  • Thumbs Up Sister Act. (April 21-30, 2017) We last saw Sister Act when it was at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) in its pre-Broadway run in 2006. We liked it then; it will be interesting to see how it has changed. So, why didn’t we see it when the tour came to the Pantages? Simple: It’s good, but it wasn’t worth Pantages prices that close to the Playhouse run. Time — and lower prices — bring it back into the “going” camp.
  • Thumbs Up Peter Pan. (July 14-23, 2017) According to the Cabrillo mailer, the theatrical rights have been tied up for a long time. I certainly haven’t seen it on stage in ages (if ever); Cathy Rigby used to do it regularly  at La Mirada, but it’s got to be at least a decade or two since it has been there. I’ve seen dramatic variations; I’ve seen prequels; and of course I’ve seen live stage productions on TV.  It will be interesting to see it on the Cabrillo stage, and I’m curious whether they are going to take the changes made for the TV production — additional songs, reworking of the Native American involvement — and move them back into the stage book.

So am I going to renew? I think so. The shows look interesting. The price is right (about $150 for Saturday evening Mezzanine, per person, for four shows)… plus they now allow you to split it over two payments!


Pantages Theatre

userpic=broadwaylaWhat truly prompted this lunchtime post, however, was the announcement that, as part of the Pantages (FB) 2016-2017 season, Hamilton was coming to Los Angeles. When the Hamilton tour was first announced, I wondered where it would sit down. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB), although having great seats, won’t host a show for that long of a period. As for the Pantages (FB), I didn’t think they would want to tie up the theatre for the long engagement Hamilton would need. I truly expected it would inaugurate one of the old movie palaces on Broadway. I was wrong.  It is doing a five month engagement at the Pantages. Here are my thoughts on Hamilton, plus the rest of the announced schedule:

  • Thumbs Up Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (November 1-27, 2016). I’ve heard the music to Hedwig, and I’ve grown to really like it. I wonder who they will get for the lead, and whether it will be a tour lead, or they will do a special lead for the Los Angeles engagement.
  • thumbs-side The King and I. (December 13, 2016 – January 21, 2017). I’ve heard the music to the recent revival of The King and I, and I like it more than other revivals. However, this is still my least favorite R&H show. I tend to find it slow and overdone. I’ll need to think about this one.
  • Thumbs Up Finding Neverland. (February 21 – March 12, 2017). Ah, Peter, my friend. Back so soon. I’ve heard the music to this and like it quite a bit. It will be really interesting to see it in the same season that Cabrillo is doing their Peter Pan.
  • Thumbs Up An American in Paris. (March 22 – April 9, 2017). Again, I’ve heard the music, and the wonderful Gershwin melodies. The story, at least as was in the movies, is weak. But I recall reading that the adaption made some interesting choices in the setting to make this work again. Plus, of course, there is the fabulous dancing.
  • Thumbs Down The Bodyguard. (May 2-21, 2017). An adaptation of a Whitney Houston movie, starring Deborah Cox. It hasn’t been on Broadway to my knowledge; this is a tour from London’s West End. Book is by Alexander Dinelaris based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasden. There are no credits for music or lyrics, so this is a jukeboxer. I was more interested in Ghost than I would be in this.
  • Thumbs Down The Book of Mormon (May 30 – July 9, 2017). Not interested. I saw this at the Pantages during the first National tour.
  • Thumbs Up Hamilton. (August 11 – December 30, 2017). Yes, oh yes. I’ve grown to really like the music and the story of this.

All in all, a reasonable season. I’ve been buying individual tickets when they first go on sale at the Pantages, at the cheapest price. I’m buying them online now, so I do get the service fee. Given that, I think I’ll see if I can get a 4-show mini-subscription this year, as it may mean better and more consistent seats for the price. I would love it if the Pantages did a “split into 2 payments” option, but I doubt they will. Too bad. They would probably get more subscribers. [ETA: The good news is that according to their website, they have 2, 4, and 10 no-interest payment plans. The bad news is that currently they only have a 7 show subscription. Flex packages go on sale around July.]

Other Tour Musings: Aladdin: The Musical just announced their national tour, starting in Chicago April-July 2017. Those dates mean it can’t go into the Pantages until at least 2018, and this is show that I’d expect to go into the Pantages. So it may show up at the Ahmanson in the Fall of 2017 (they haven’t announced their season yet), or (more likely) it will be in the Winter or Spring of 2018 at the Pantages. It also sounds like there is a tour of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  It is part of the 2016-2017 SHN San Francisco season, so my guess is that it will be a fall show at the Ahmanson, because (a) it is unlikely they would delay it until 2018, and (b) they rarely, if ever, book plays into the Pantages. Fun Home and Something Rotten have also announced tours; Fun Home starts in late 2016; Rotten in 2017. Given the Pantages schedule, I’m expecting both to show up at the Ahmanson. School of Rock: The Musical has also announced a tour; although that’s a show that would fit the Pantages audience better, the long sitdown at the Pantages means it will likely be an Ahmanson show. Gee. I’ve just figured out the Ahmanson season :-).


Repertory East Playhouse

userpic=repeastNow we come to the non-announcement. As you might recall, in all my writeups of late, I’ve been indicating that I’ve been waiting for REP East (FB) 2016 season. It normally would be well underway by now. But we have heard nothing from the theatre; their website has not been updated since December. I’ve heard ominous rumblings, but that could just be a bit of grisly beef I had for lunch. However, I did drop a note to REP, and did get a little something back. Basically, what I know is that they are closed for unspecified restructuring and renovations, and that a new season will begin in August. There will be a more formal announcement once the jello has jellified.

So the good news is: they are coming back. The bad news is: it won’t be until August. This is too short to switch a subscription to somewhere else, but I sense I’ll be getting a lot of The Group Rep (FB) tickets on Goldstar.


userpic=las-vegasP.S.: This time it is true. Abe Vigoda has passed away. And in the universe, a thousand memes cried in sympathy.


Skin in the Game

Damn Yankees (Cabrillo)Cabrillo UserpicYou gotta have skin.
All you really need is skin.
Skin’s the thing that if you got it outside,
It helps keep your insides in.
It covers your nose,
And it’s wrapped around your toes.
And inside it you put lemon meringue,
And outside ya hang your clothes.

Whoops. Right song. Wrong lyrics.

Those of you who are old enough will remember that parody song on Allan Sherman‘s album “Allan in Wonderland”. The underlying tune was from the song “Heart”, written for the musical Damn Yankees back in 1955 by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. I bring this all up because last night we saw the Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of “Damn Yankees“, and about my only complaint with the production had to do with skin. More on that later.

If you recall, we had decided to drop our Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) subscription when the 2014-2015 season was announced: Memphis, Company, Oklahoma, and Mary Poppins. None of which I had a strong desire to see again. So I was pleasantly surprised when the 2015-2016 season was announced: Damn Yankees, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Children of Eden, and The Little Mermaid. These were all shows that I had seen only in amateur productions (high school, middle school, church), or only in the movie version. So we rejoined as subscribers, and it felt good to be back. The Cabrillo organization is a great one — doing a helluva lot in the community and for the community — and it is one we are glad to be able to support. They also help a lot of theatre people get started in the industry — I still remember when we saw Katherine McPhee in Annie Get Your Gun.

As I noted, our only exposure to Damn Yankees was a high school production. Luckily it was a good one — the Van Nuys HS production back in 2010. In many ways, no one can top Quest as Applegate. But I did want to see a professional production, and the Cabrillo one was a very good one.

For those unfamilar with this 1955 show (which starred such folks as Gwen Verdon as Lola and Ray Walston as Applegate)… or its late 1990s revival (with Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and either Victor Garber or Jerry Lewis as Applegate), “Damn Yankees” is a sports-oriented retelling of the Faustian legend. It is set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The story is set in motion when a long-time baseball fan, real estate agent Joe Boyd, offers to sell his soul to see his team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant away from those damn Yankees. Be careful what you say, for the Devil (in the form of Mr. Applegate) shows up and offers Joe the chance to leave his long-suffering baseball widow Meg and become the long-ball hitter the Senators need. Joe agrees, but insists on an escape clause: he can decide the evening before the last game to get out and return to his wife. Applegate waves his hands, and Joe Boyd disappears and young Joe Hardy replaces him. Joe shows up at the Senators locker room, and convinces the manager to add him to the team. Everyone is won over by this man, except for a young reporter who is suspicious. While she investigates his background, Joe begins longing for his wife. Joe’s visits back to his old home get under the skin of Applegate, who plots what he can do to get Joe away from his wife. He sends a skilled homewrecker, Lola, after him, but she fails to seduce him. Applegate decides to switch tactics to ensure Joe’s failure. He releases false information about Joe Hardy’s true identity being “Shifty McCoy”, an escaped criminal and con artist. When Gloria discovers this information, she presses charges, and Joe is forced into court. As the Senators prepare for the final game against the Yankees for the pennant, Joe goes on trial. Joe tells the Applegate he wants out, and Applegate says he has to confirm this at 5 minutes before midnight. But the trial has various delays, and at the magic mark, just as Joe is proven innocent, the delays prevent him from exercising the clause. Joe heads into the final game, but Lola has drugged Applegate, and he doesn’t show until the very end. In order to have the Senators lose (the plan all along, for then there will be loads of suicides and anguish from the fans), Applegate does the only thing he can do: turns Joe back as he is catching the final run. Joe Hardy disappears, and Joe Boyd returns to his wife. Applegate tries to convince Joe Boyd to go back to being Joe Hardy, but the older Joe prefers the love of his wife. I’ll note there’s a longer synopsis (alas, of the 1994 version) on Wikipedia; the primary difference appears to be the setting of the novelty number, “Whos Got The Pain” and the setting for “Two Lost Souls”. Cabrillo appears to have done the 1955 version, with the “Pain” number as part of the Talent Show, and the “Souls” number done in a nightclub. That must be what they are licensing.

The story, by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop based on Wallop’s novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant“, is a little bit creaky in this age of instant sports stats and online research. However, if you transport yourself to the 1950s, you’re fine. The music, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, also mostly stills shines. The major problem is the number “Who’s Got the Pain?”, which to this day has nothing to do with the plot and makes absolutely no sense — a dance number inserted to accomodate the conventions of the day and not move the plot one iota. I enjoy the dance of “Whatever Lola Wants”, although I find the number itself a bit odd. Hands down, however, I love the number “Those Were The Good Old Days”.  But the plot is what the plot is: this is a 1955 classic that made the careers of a number of actors, and it still has wonderful roles that actors yearn to do.

The Cabrillo production was directed by Kirsten Chandler (FB). Chandler did a good job of bringing out good performances given the wide mix of skills in the cast. The choreography by John Todd (FB) was extremely energetic — I particularly recall the dance sequence in “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” and, of course, “Whatever Lola Wants”.  In general all the dance was quite fun to watch.

Leading off on the side of good were John Atkins (FB) as Joe Boyd, Sarah Tattersall (FB) as Meg Boyd, and Travis Leland (FB) as Joe Hardy. Atkins, as the senior Joe, projected the requisite old and creaky, and had a lovely singing voice (used to good effect in “Goodbye Old Girl”. Tattersall brought a youth, vitality, and lovelyness to Meg that I hadn’t seen before, which together with a wonderful singing voice was quite magical. The only problem was that, from the mezzanine, she seemed quite younger than Atkin’s Joe — making the statement that he married her when she was in her 20s a bit odd. She needs to somehow come across as a bit more 50ish, lovely as she is. But, overall, in the scheme of things, that is really a minor problem. Leland (who we saw before in Adding Machine) was a wonderful young Joe — nice voice, nice stage presence, and giving off the aura of the good guy that Joe is. He seemed to fit better with Tattersall’s Meg than did old Joe; this was demonstrated in their lovely ballad “A Man Doesn’t Know”.

Leading off on the side of evil were John Sloman (FB) as Applegate and Renèe Marino (FB) as Lola. Although he could have projected just a touch more malevolence, I enjoyed Sloman’s Applegate. He had slight-of-hand magic down pat, and did a wonderful job on “Good Old Days”, which requires a spectacular song and dance man. Marino’s Lola was a knockout. Spunky, sexy, and playful. She did a wonderful job with her two big numbers in the first act, “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and “Whatever Lola Wants”, and she was very touching with Leland in the second act’s “Two Lost Souls”. Just fun to watch.

In the second tier of roles, I’d like to highlight Katheryne Penny (FB)’s Gloria Tharpe. Her performance in “Shoeless Joe” was breath-taking — literally, as she must have been out of breath when she was done. Her performance there dancing, singing, and acting made me think of the prior Katherine on the stage (and I hope she has as much success).

Providing mostly comic support as Sister and Doris, respectively, were Farley Cadena (FB) [a Cabrillo regular] and Tara McGrath (FB). Both provided that well, and were fun to watch in their reprise of “Heart”.

The Washington Senators consisted of Ray Mastrovito (FB) (Mr. Welch – Owner); Tom G. McMahon (FB) (Van Buren – Manager); J. Bailey Burcham (FB) (Smokey – Catcher); Timothy Joshua Hearl (FB) (Vernon); Michael Mittman (FB) (Rocky); Tyler Matthew Burk (FB) (Lynch, Sohovik), Ramiro Garcia Jr. (FB) (Micky); Jotapè Lockwood (FB) (Del); Dylan MacDonald (FB) (Ozzie); Rile Reavis (FB) (Henry, Postmaster); Joshua Rivera (FB) (Buster); Brance William Souza (Bouley); Julian Xavier (Bubba). They worked together as a team, and were particularly hilarious to watch during the opening practice prior to “Heart” (and they did a good job on “Heart” as well). The lead members of the team (Van Buren, Rocky, Smokey, Vernon) were particularly good in “Heart” in terms of performance, movement, and voice. Alas, it was during “Heart” that the skin issue mentioned in the beginning occurred. Suffice it to say that I saw some things that might have been better unseen — and the problem was not a performance one, but a directoral or choreographical choice. It didn’t detract from the show, but it stuck in my head.

Rounding out the adult ensemble were Nichole Beeks (FB), Bernadette Bentley (FB), Jenny Hoffman (FB), Janelle Loren, and Alysa Perry (FB). They were very good rounding out the dance in “Six Months Out of Every Year” and in the background of “Two Lost Souls”.  The Children’s Ensemble consisted of Addie Chandler, Calista Loter, Micah Meyers, Drew Rosen, and Marcello Silva. They were cute in their performance of the reprise of Heart, and even cuter leading the audience in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.

The music was under the direction of Cassie Nickols (FB), who also served as conductor. In addition to Nickols, the orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe, English-Horn, Tenor Sax, Clarinet]; Matt Germaine/FB [Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Clarinet]; Darrin Smith [Bassoon, Baritone Sax, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I]; Chris Maurer [Trumpet II]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone I]; Robert Coomber [Trombone II]; Sharon Cooper [Violin I, Concertmaster]; Sally Berman [Violin II]; Marisa McLeod (FB) [Viola]; Stephen Green [Cello]; Ben Gisberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer]; Shane Harry/FB [Double String Bass]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Set Drums, Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor, and Darryl Archibald (FB) was the Music Supervisor.

Turning to the technical side: There was no credit for set design; the program notes that scenery was provided by FCLO Music Theatre (FB). The set was pretty straightforward, with sets that rolled in for the Boyd home and the dugout, and a basic multilevel structure that served as the stadium and other purposes. Prop Design was by Alex Choate (FB). Costume design was by Christine Gibson (FB), with costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre (FB), The Theatre Company (FB) in Upland, and Costume World Theatrical (FB). The costumes worked pretty well; I particuarly appreciated the choice of uniform number 42 for the one black dancer. About my only costume quibble was that it kept looking like Katheryne Penny’s sweater would burst during the “Shoeless Joe” number.  Hair and makeup design was by Cassie Russek (FB); it worked pretty well, although I might have worked a tad more grey into Meg’s hair. Sound design was by CMT regular Jonathan Burke (FB); my only comment here was that the balanced needed to be reworked to either increase the amplification of the actors, or decrease the amplification of the orchestra. Lighting was by Rand Ryan, and exhibited the usual Cabrillo over-dependence on follow-spots (which in this case were occasionally late or off position slightly). Other than the spots, it worked well. A few of the buried credits that deserve highlighting. Ray Mastrovito (FB), who played Mr. Welch, is also credited for Applegate’s Magic Effects — this was one thing I particularly liked about this Applegate, so kudos to him. The preshow and intermission video design was by David Engel, and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of “Who’s On First“.  Rounding out the credits: Gary Mintz was the Technical Director. David Elzer/Demand PR (Public Relations). John W. Calder III (FB) and Chris Warren Murry (FB) were the Production Stage Managers. Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

Damn Yankees has one more weekend at Cabrillo. Tickets are available through the Cabrillo web site; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. It’s an enjoyable production.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: October was being held for the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB); they’ve finally announced some shows but nothing yet is of interest. Given their delays, I started booking weekends with non-fringe shows. The fourth weekend of October brings “Uncle Vanya” at Antaeus Theatre Company (FB) in North Hollywood. Halloween weekend sees me at CSUN for Urinetown, and then both of us out in Simi Valley for “The Addams Family” at the Simi Cultural Arts Center (Simi Actors Rep Theatre (FB)). The following weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The bookings for November conclude with Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14; the rest of the month is currently open. December brings “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) the first weekend, followed by a mid-week stint as a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). December also has dates held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). There are also a few other interesting productions I’m keeping my eyes open for. The first is the Fall show at The Blank Theatre (FB), “Something Truly Monstrous”, sounds wonderful — however, it runs through November 8, so squeezing it in would mean a double weekend. The show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) also sounds like an interesting exploration of clutter —  but “The Object Lesson” only runs through October 4, and I’m not sure we can squeeze it in. 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.


Thoughts on a Theatre Season II: Cabrillo Music Theatre

Over lunch, I shared my opinions of the Colony and Pantages seasons. This afternoon, Ellen over at Musicals in LA (a great blog) posted the details of the 2015-2016 Cabrillo Music Theatre season.  I was a long time subscriber at Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) since the 2001 production of Anything Goes. However, last season’s selections just failed to excite meMemphis: The Musical (which I had seen during its run at the Pantages and wasn’t particularly eager to see again); Company (which I had seen during its excellent run at Crown City); Oklahoma (which everyone has seen far too many times); and Mary Poppins (which I had seen at the Ahmanson— again, a large theatre). As I would rather spend my theatre dollars on shows I want to see (either because I haven’t seen them, or they are new approaches), I reluctantly let my subscription drop. I still contributed to their annual appeal, however, because I want them to succeed.

So I am pleased to report that Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) has redeemed themselves, and that (presuming the boss agrees) I’ll be contacting them to reestablish our subscription. Here is their line-up for 2015-2016, and my thoughts:

In short, pick the right shows and I’ll be back. Every show doesn’t have to be “new to me”, but the majority have to intrigue me enough (that was the case in the 2013-2014 season, where I liked three of the shows but was meh on Forever Plaid). Kudos to Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB) for his choices, and I hope that future seasons can preserve the mix of popular shows and shows that aren’t done too frequently.


ETA: When it rains, it pours. I just received the dates for Good People Theatre’s Closer Than Ever (which will be announced tomorrow), and learned from that announcement that the Pasadena Playhouse is doing a new Maltby/Shire musical, Waterfall, at the end of May. My weekends are getting incredibly full, and there are going to be a few of those dreaded two-show weekends. Whew!


A Bye-Bye Too Good To Be Bye-Bye

Bye-Bye Birdie (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicLast night, at the Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) penultimate performance of “Bye Bye Birdie“, the artistic director of Cabrillo, Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB) spoke about how this may be Cabrillo’s final show if they don’t reach their fundraising goal (more on that at the end of the write-up). That would be a great loss — Cabrillo has been on a roll this season with great shows, and their production of “Bye Bye Birdie” was the excellent topper to a great season. One way to help them is to buy tickets, so you’ve got the last matinee today to catch! The show is well worth seeing. Here are a few of my thoughts why…

Bye Bye Birdie” is an interesting show. The first Broadway musical of many musicals by the songwriting team of Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), it was one of only two to be stellar successes and have a long life (the other was “Annie“). It is also one of only a single handful of musicals for which a sequel (“Bring Back Birdie“) was attempted (two of the others were “Annie” — “Annie 2” and “Annie Warbucks“), and for which the sequel was a notorious failure. The book was by Michael Stewart — his first Broadway musical in a career that included “Hello Dolly“, “Mack and Mabel“, “I Love My Wife“, and “Barnum“. “Bye Bye Birdie” is also one of those musicals that have had few big revivals (unlike equivalent spoofs of the era like “Grease“) — a recent attempt failed badly to recapture the magic. I can posit many reasons — primarily that there are concepts in the book that are increasingly unknown to today’s Boomer and younger audiences, whereas “Grease” builds on the universal high school experience. But when you revisit the show, the story, and the music, you realize that it still can speak to a younger audience whilst being entertaining to all.

How do I know this? Last night, we brought our cousin-who-is-like-a-niece with us. This young woman (14 going on 15) is a rabid boy-band fan, currently into One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer. Speaking to her after the show, she said she could see herself in the behavior of the girls onstage. The reaction of the Birdie Girls to Birdie — well, it is universal in every generation. Her reaction to the show, however, perhaps explains why it has been less successful as well. She asked why there wasn’t more Conrad. Consider: “Grease” is told from the point of view of the kids — the center of the story is Danny and Sandy. Although Conrad Birdie is in the title of “Bye Bye Birdie“, he is not the center of the story. “Bye Bye Birdie” is the love story of Albert and Rosie — those are the characters that see the most growth and change, but who also are more centered in a time that is increasingly foreign to audience’s eyes.

I just realized I haven’t told you what “Bye Bye Birdie” is about. After all, you might not have seen the original show on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera (sheesh, this show is as old as I am!), the 1963 movie with Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, or the 1995 TV remake with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams (although I should note that both movies make changes to the story from the original version, and the version we saw last night interpolates a few songs from the movies). On its surface, “Bye Bye Birdie” is the story of Elvis leaving for a stint in the Army. Elvis was changed to Conrad Birdie (a parody name of Conrad Twitty), and his “last kiss” of a WAC was changed to a kiss of an fan club member in Sweetwater OH. This fan club member, Kim MacAfee, was just “pinned” (remember what I said about outdated concepts :-)) by her sweetheart, Hugo Peabody. Jealousy ensues between Hugo and Conrad. However, the real story in Birdie is about a different couple: Albert Peterson and Rose Alvarez. Albert is an English major who gave up on a goal of being an English teacher to write songs for, and manage, Conrad Birdie. Rose Alvarez is Albert’s long-suffering (is there any other type) secretary and girlfriend, who sees Birdie’s going into the army as an opportunity to (a) get Albert back to teaching, (b) get Albert out from his mother’s clutches, and (c) solemnize their relationship. As for Albert’s mother, well, she’s the exemplar for passive-aggressive. Rose conceives as the “last kiss” as a way to get Albert out of debt and make something out of Birdie’s leaving. In Sweetwater OH, however, Birdie’s arrival exacerbates Hugo’s jealousy, and Albert’s mother’s arrival (in response to a “go away” note) fractures Rose’s relationship with Albert. This culminates with Hugo punching out Birdie, and Rose breaking up with Albert, live on the Ed Sullivan Show. The second act features Kim and Conrad’s rebellion, and concludes with the appropriate musical theatre reconciliations. Thrown into this entire mix, for extra spice, is Kim’s family — especially her acerbic and cynical father, Harry.

Cabrillo’s execution of this was excellent. I’ll get to the acting in a minute — let’s look at the “general effect” first. Cabrillo excels in large cast musicals with full orchestration — and they hit the target with this one. The large ensemble with lots of kids works well, and the orchestra is a delight. The stage is used well, and the overall impression is that everyone is just having fun with this. A few spot observations:

  • The opening overture sets the mood for the evening. As the orchestra starts, they keep getting interrupted by members of the Birdie fan club singing “I Love You Conrad”. This increases, with the fan club leader eventually taking out the conductor, leading the fan club in the song, and then finishing by leading the orchestra in the end of the overture. I never saw the original cast, and can’t recall seeing any of the tours or local productions, so I don’t know if this is a Cabrillo invention, but it is great.
  • In the second act, there is a quartet that sings in Maude’s Bar for the “Baby, Talk to Me” number. I turned to my wife during this and whispered, “So that’s what happened to Forever Plaid“.
  • The dance in this production is astounding. I think there is more true dance in this musical than any I’ve seen of late — in particular, numbers such as Rose’s unnamed long dance numbers, as well as the Shriner’s Ballet and “Spanish Rose”, the dancing in “Put on a Happy Face”, the dancing in both “Honestly Sincere” and “A Lot of Living to Do”. All of it just spectacular. Credit goes out not only to the dancers, but to John Charron (FB) (Choreographer) and Kai Chubb (FB) (Assistant Choreographer).
  • I liked Cabrillo’s clever interpolation of the movie’s title song, “Bye Bye Birdie” into the opening of Act II, with the youngest generation forming their own fan club (including a fake band with the drums labeled “The Chirp Chirps”) to sing it.
  • The large ensemble was particularly noteworthy during the ensemble dance numbers, as well as in the ensemble “Hymn for a Sunday Evening”. If there were more productions of the show, I would recommend seeing it multiple times so that you can focus on different ensemble members each time. Alas, there’s only one more performance (and I have tickets for a different show at that time).
  • Kudo’s to the director, Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), for corralling such a large cast and bringing them into a cohesive whole while retaining the fun, for telling the story in such an effective way, and for bringing out great and believable performances in his cast.

Let’s now turn to the cast (and one of the things that make these reviews so long to write, with all the linking I do). In the primary lead positions were Zachary Ford (FB) as Albert Peterson and Michelle Marmolejo (FB) as Rose Alvarez. Ford’s Peterson was an excellent dancer, and excellent comic and singer, and (at least as far as I could tell through my binoculars from the Mezzanine). He wasn’t channeling Dick Van Dyke or Jason Alexander, but did have a touch of the boyish charm of John Stamos (who was in the recent revival). I kept trying to figure out who he reminded me of. The best I could come up with was a cross between Jimmy Fallon and Sean Hayes. This isn’t a bad thing — both have an easygoing comic charm and a pleasant singing voice. As for Ms. Marmolejo, her dancing simply blew me away. She was effortless and joyful, and it was a delight to watch. Her singing and acting weren’t bad either. We’ve seen Ford before, particularly in Pasadena Playhouse’s “Camelot and Colony’s “Brel, and enjoyed him both times. Marmolejo may be new to us; it is unclear if she was in Zumanity when we saw it; she may have been in some of the tours we saw at the Pantages.

In the secondary lead positions were Austin MacPhee/FB as Conrad Birdie and Noelle Marion (FB) as Kim MacAfee. MacPhee’s Birdie toned down the Elvis impersonation (which is a good thing), and captured a more modern teen idol. I kept thinking Justin Bieber, but that’s dated thinking. All I know is that the teen sitting next to me was practically drooling, so he must have been doing something right. Marion’s MacAfee was a strong dancer and performer; her voice seemed a little high to me but was acceptable. Those familiar with the movie might be surprised with the changes in her role in the stage version; the movie had Kim’s role amped up to highlight Ann Margaret.

In what I would characterize as the comic relief positions were Jim J. Bullock (FB) as Harry MacAfee, Celeste Russi as Mae Peterson, and Farley Cadena (FB) as Doris MacAfee. Bullock seemed to be channeling Paul Lynde, the original Harry, in his performance, which wasn’t a bad thing (Wendt came off as too gruff in the 1995 remake). The script seemed to confine his humor until “Kids”, when his ad-libs really shone and were quite funny (and made me wonder if they changed each show). He was also wonderful in the breakfast scene, and delightful in the reaction shots. Russi’s Mama Peterson, as I said before, is the poster-child for Jewish passive-aggression (e.g., “I’m only your mother; put me out with the garbage”). In the original version, she doesn’t even have her own song (this is made fun of in the sequel when her song notes she can only sing three notes); either Cabrillo or the revised licensed script interpolated the “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore” number from the 1995 movie, and Russi performed it to perfection. Cadena (a CMT regular)’s Mama MacAfee is written to have a much smaller part, but she was also quite good in her introductory scene and in the breakfast scene.

Before I turn to listing the large ensemble and smaller roles, a few more standouts worthy of mention. Francesca Barletta/FB (as Ursula Merkle) was a remarkable character actor channeling her energy into humor. More importantly (especially if I have the right actress identified), it was great to see a larger actress on stage doing what she did. Such performances inspire the young, and we need more of them. As Randolph MacAfee, Micah Meyers was especially cute as the miniature Birdie in the Act II opening number. Rounding out the large cast were (he takes a deep breath): Harrison Meloeny (FB) (Hugo Peabody), Markus Flanagan (FB) (Mayor Merkle), Tracy Ray Reynolds (FB) (Mayor’s Wife), Emily Albrecht (Judy), Jessica Bernardin/FB (Alice), Savannah Brown/FB (Becky Lynn), Amanda Carr/FB  (1st Sad Girl / Lucille), Maggie Darago (FB) (Margie), Gabi Ditto/FB (Nancy), Natalie Iscovich (FB) (Dottie), Isabella Olivas/FB (Cindy), Jocelyn Quinn/FB (Helen), Ali Rosenstein (FB) (Mary Beth), Jennifer Sanette/FB (Mary Kate), Megan Stonger (FB)  (2nd Sad Girl / Peggy Lee), Alison Teague (FB) (Roberta), Antonia Vivino/FB (Phyllis Ann), Natalia Vivino (FB) (Deborah Sue), Harrison Anderson/FB (Dennis), Michael J. Brown/FB (Franklin / Hugo u/s), Paul Crish/FB (Karl), Josh Ditto (Tommy), Jay Gamboa/FB (Alex), Peter Dallas Lance Gill/FB (Bruce), Cameron Herbst/FB (Otis), Kurt Kemper/FB (Montgomery), Michael Kennedy/FB (Paul), Christopher Reilly/FB (Harvey Johnson), Erin Fagundes (FB) (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Heidi Goodspeed (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Timothy Hearl (FB) (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Gina Howell/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Raymond Mastrovito/FB (Maude / Parent), Anna Montavon (Gloria / Adult Ensemble), Paul Panico/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Leasa Shukiar/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Shannon Smith/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Scott Strauss/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), and the kids: Natalie Esposito, Jenna Guerrero, Sam Herbert, Autumn Jessel, Chelsea Larson, Nathaniel Mark, Jade McGlynn, Logan Prince, Emily Salzman, Hayley Shukiar, Ashley Thomas, Abigail May Thompson, and Lilly Victoria Thompson. Guest Shriners were Arryck Adams (FB) and Steve Giboney.

One of the advantages of Cabrillo is the presence of a full orchestra. The orchestral sound at this show was wonderful, thanks to the hard work of Music Director and Conductor Lloyd Cooper (FB) and Orchestra Contractor  Darryl Tanikawa (FB). The orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) (Alto Sax I, Flue, Piccolo, Clarinet);  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) (Alto Sax II, Clarinet I); Ian Dahlberg (FB) (Tenor Sax, Clarinet II); Matt Germaine (Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet, Clarinet III); Bill Barrett (Trumpet I); Chris Maurer/FB (Trumpet II); Rick Perl (Trombone); Melissa Hendrickson (Horn); Sharon Cooper (Violin I, Cancertmaster); Sally Berman (Violin II); Richard Adkins (Violin III); Rachel Coosaia (Cello); Chris Kimbler (Piano); Pathik Desai (Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Banjo); Shane Harry (Acoustic & Electric Bass); Michael Deutsch(Percussion); and Alan Peck (Set Drums).

Turning to the technical artists. The set design worked well–the scenery was designed by Adam Koch, and rental props were designed by Courtney Strong. The scenery was provided by the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (gone are the days when Cabrillo did their own scenery, it seems). The lighting design by Rand Ryan was effective and worked well; I was surprised that Cabrillo went with a neon sign (but that might have been amortized from the rental). Sound design by Jonathan Burke (FB) was clear and crisp. Christine Gibson was the wardrobe supervisor, using costumes provided by The Theatre Company in Upland CA. Hair and Makeup Design was by Cassie Russek (FB). Gary Mintz was the Technical Director, and Brooke Baldwin/FB was the Production Stage Manager. Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

The last performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” is today at 2pm. Hopefully, this post will be up before then. You can get tickets at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Box Office.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Cabrillo is having major financial difficulties. They are trying to raise $250K by the end of the next two weeks; they are about 65% there, and they need to make 80%. They’ve got a $30K match in place. I feel a bit guilty as we didn’t renew our subscription — I just don’t have the desire to see the shows they are doing next season again. But I believe in what Cabrillo is doing, and will toss them another donation to help them out. You should too, as well as supporting their upcoming dance marathon and other fundraising activities such as Lazertag and a Silent Auction.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  Still to come today is the annual Operaworks improv show. August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at 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.



A Bountiful Barrio in T.O.

In The Heights (Cabrillo)Cabrillo UserpicBack in 2010, I made my first visit to Washington Heights. Although the touring production of “In The Heights” at the Pantages might have been good, I had so much trouble with the accents and the sound that I couldn’t understand anyone. As a result, it was a scenic mess. So I was pleased when I learned that Cabrillo Music Theatre was launching one of the first regional productions of “In The Heights“. We went there last night, and I’m pleased to say to say that this is one of the strong productions I’ve seen out of Cabrillo in over 10 years of shows there. Further, it had a spectacularly energized audience with a new demographic. That’s a win-win. If you have the opportunity to get out to Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) to see this afternoon’s final show, do it. It is well worth it.

In The Heights”  (book by Quiara Algría Hudes (FB), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB)) is primarily the story of Usnavi, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who runs a bodega in Washington Heights, a barrio in New York. Usnavi is not the only character: it is the story of Usnavi’s assistant; the story of the Rosario family who run a taxi service, and whose daughter, Nina, has just dropped out of Stanford; and the story the salon next to the bodega: the owner Daniela, her friend Vanessa. It is also the story of Abuela Claudia, who immigrated from Cuba and has served as grandmother to Usnavi. When Abuela wins $96,000 in the lottery, we see how the money affects the life of this community. The website for the show describes this generally as follows: In the Heights tells the universal story of a vibrant community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind. If you read the full synopsis, you’ll see this is a complicated interwoven story. This is a story where it truly helps if you can hear the words of the dialogue and songs. The Pantages blew it in 2010. Cabrillo, on the other hand, was spot-on.

It is important to note, however, that the success of the Cabrillo production is due to much more than the sound quality. It was a combination of the elements, from the lead players to the ensemble, from the direction to the choreographic team, from the quality of the (imported) set to some of the best spot usage I’ve ever seen at Cabrillo. Speaking of spots, let me highlight some of what I loved.

Let’s start with the background, for they are part of what makes this show. This is one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen in any Cabrillo show. Under the strong direction of Morgan Marcell (FB), who also recreated the original Broadway choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler (FB) (with the help of José-Luis Lopez (FB) as Associate Choreographer), the ensemble was always moving. They were in the background, filling the barrio with people going about their daily business. They were dancing — spectacularly I might add — in a style that wasn’t your stereotypical musical. They were all shapes and sizes, because real life doesn’t look like the world portrayed in magazines. They were interacting with the main characters — not necessarily with words, but with movement. In short, they were a joy to watch. It is hard to pick favorites, but one that kept catching my eye was Natalie Iscovich (FB).  It wasn’t just her movement (which was great); it wasn’t just her look (which seemed unique to me). I think it was the joy of her interaction and the fun she was having that drew the eye too her; she just seemed to really be into it and that fun projected out. But my calling her out does not mean the rest of the ensemble were phoning it in. To the contrary, they all seemed to be inhabiting and enjoying these characters; this joy in the background just brought this musical to life. The remainder of the ensemble consisted of Marcos Aguirre (FB), Risa Baeza/FB, John Paul Batista (FB), Charlotte Chau-Pech/FB, Ariella Fiore (FB), Javier Garcia/FBAndrew Retland/FB, Tiago (FB), Shaun Tuazon (FB), and Elizabeth Maria Walsh (FB).

Now let’s turn to some of the lead players — again, all were very strong. In the lead position was Lano Medina (FB) as Usnavi. Lano handled the hip-hop dialogue very well — although at times a little fast for these ears to pick up. Good singing voice, and a wonderful performance. Perhaps even more impressive to me were some of the female leads — in particular, Ayme Olivo (FB) as Nina, who just blew me away with the beauty and power in her clear voice. Also strong was Rachae Thomas (FB) as Vanessa — yet again, another strong strong voice.

The supporting named characters were also equally strong, and each had their moment to shine. Again, you could see that they were all truly enjoying this show and having fun with these characters. That’s such an important thing — actors shouldn’t look like they are acting — they need to inhabit and become one with their characters, and then they just shine with that joy and their performance hits it home. This is why it is so hard to single out any of the supporting performances. I can easily think of moments where each just shone. The supporting characters were Frank Atuhello Andrus Jr./FB (Benny), Jonathan Arana (FB) (Piragua Guy), Tami Dahbura (FB) (Abuela Claudia), Anna Gabrielle Gonzalez/FB (Carla), Chala Savino (FB) (Daniela), Benjamin Perez (FB) (Kevin Rosario), Celina Clarich Polanco (FB) (Camila Rosario), and Robert Ramirez/FB (Sonny).

Musically, In The Heights has a wonderful Latin-flavored score with lots of energy.Under the musical direction and leadership of Brian Baker/FB, the 14 piece orchestra did a great job, although I wished at times for a bit more volume or energy (but, more like, I was spoiled by the cast recording). Darryl Archibald (FB) was the music supervisor, and Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the music contractor. [ETA: Another review I read noted that the tour at the Pantages only had a 9-piece orchestra; this was the first time since the original Broadway production that the full score was used.]

Turning to the technical side. The sound design by Jonathan Burke (FB) was excellent — this show is so much better when you can actually hear what the actors are saying and singing. The Pantages needs some schooling on this, but they are getting better. The lighting design by Jean-Yves Tessier was excellent (and he has one of the best bios around), I was even more taken by the use of the spots (which for a change were neither overdone nor the standard white spots). The set was not developed by Cabrillo but came from Port City Equipment Rentals in Charleston SC (another review I read clarified these were the original Broadway sets). Props were by Alex Choate. The costumes were originally designed by Colleen Grady for the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelpha PA. This wardrobe was supervised by Christine Gibson, with Cassie Russek (FB) doing the hair and makeup design. Gary Mintz was the technical director. Brooke Baldwin/FB was the production stage manager, and Anthony Sierra/FB was the assistant stage manager. Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

Today is the last performance of In The Heights at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). You can likely get tickets through the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza box office.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the audience. This audience was the largest I’ve ever seen at a Cabrillo show. More importantly, it was younger than the typical theatre audience — this show — and its publicity — reached out and touched a nerve in Ventura County. This is a good thing, and I hope this brings in a lot of new subscribers to Cabrillo. The quality of the show certainly made me think about resubscribing. Alas, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the hurdle of the mix of shows (all of which I’ve seen recently), and the fact that my wife and mother-in-law can no longer handle the stairs to our sets (so I usually sit apart from them — they’re in the last row, and I’m in our seats in row B).

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend is brings The Tallest Tree in the Forest” at the Mark Taper Forum on April 12. The following weekend brings a benefit at REP East (FB): “A Night at the Rock Opera“. The last weekend of April will bring Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. Current planning for May shows “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB), as well as “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School. I may also be scheduling “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson. June is mostly open pending scheduling of an MRJ meeting, but I will try to fit in as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as I can. 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.