Imagination on Stage | “James and the Giant Peach” at Chance Theatre

James and the Giant Peach (Chance Theatre)Imagination is a wonderful thing. It is imagination that allows us to anthropomorphize animals — that is, it is imagination that allows us to believe animals can talk to us in English.  It is imagination that allows us to believe that nannies can fly on umbrellas, that fairies protect lost boys, and that genies live in lamps. It is imagination that gives us green ogres with talking donkeys, fairy princesses that swim moats, and kings and queens fighting battles. And it is imagination that gives us little girls using their mind to defeat mean schoolteachers, chocolate bars with magic tickets, and giant peaches.

Movies can capture imagination, but in a realistic way. Through movie magic, we’ve seen all sorts of things, but through special effects or animation, it is presented as if it was real. But on stage — ah, on the stage — it is there that real imaginative creativity happens. It is on the stage that movement and expression can create a world, either alone or through the addition of a few simple props: boxes, umbrellas, goggles, and cloaks. On the stage, performance makes miracles happen — miracles that you didn’t believe were possible because you were looking at live people. Yet they are created nevertheless. This is the magic of the stage, the magic of imagination, the magic that is created through a unique human endeavor: live performance in front of an audience. Further, that magic is amplified when you add music, song, and dance to the creative mix.

All of the examples I’ve given above have taken life — and been successful — on the stage. The last three examples — involving school girls, chocolate bars, and peaches — all come from the fertile and slightly subversive mind of Roald Dahl.  They have all been musicalized for the stage. The first two will soon be seen on the stages of Southern California: Matilda is part of the 2018-2019 season at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is part of the 2018-2019 season at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). As for the last, James and the Giant Peach? That’s the subject of this writeup.

For Matilda and Charlie, over the next season, the magic happens on a large stage in a very large building (in a dark room, in an central part of town, filled with people that have paid a lot of money, but that’s a different musical, a class act, so to speak). But it is on the small stage — the intimate stage — that real theatrical magic happens. Large theatres have large budgets and can create large effects. Small theatres are up-and-close, with small budgets, dependent more on the performance and the magic that said performance gives. James and the Giant Peach is the subject of intimate theatrical magic, multiple times a week, on the Fyda-Mar Stage of the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim, at least until March 11. Even though ostensibly this is a “kids” show, you need to go see it and be swept away by its magic.

I first learned about James and the Giant Peach after seeing a production at last week’s venue, the Chromolume Theatre (FB). They had played a song from the song cycle Edges during a pre-show, which set me off in search of a song. There I discovered a number of additional works by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul beyond the shows I knew: Dogfight (which I’d seen first at the Chance) and last year’s Tony winner, Dear Evan Hansen (coming to the 2018-2019 season of  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). There I discovered that, in addition to Edges and some Emmy-winning and nominated movies, they had also done a musicalization of James and the Giant Peach, (with a book by Timothy Allen McDonald (FB)), and that a cast album was available for download, free even (although that website seems to be down as I write this). I listened to the music, and grew to love the energetic and entertaining combination of styles (proving yet again how this composing team are part of the top tier of new composers). Later, while perusing the Chance season announcement last year, I discovered that Chance was starting their 2018 season with a production of James. HOLD dates were created on the calendar, ticklers were set at my various ticketing sites, and I waited for tickets. Once available, I visited the appropriate website, and made plans for the 2 hour drive to Orange County.

So guess where we were yesterday. Guess where you’ll be in the future, if you’re in the area and can get tickets? I’m sure you guessed it.

I’ll note that Chance is doing this as part of their “Theatre for Young Audiences” series, which means the audience is full of kids. Don’t let that deter you. The magic is amplified when you watch the faces of these children enthralled by the stage magic and performance, some I’m sure for the first time. This is what creates life-long lovers of live performances: seeing magic such as this.

Going in, I was actually unfamiliar with the story of James. I had heard the music, but I’ve never read the book nor seen it on the screen. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the story: “The plot centres on a young English orphan boy who enters a gigantic, magical peach, and has a wild and surreal cross-world adventure with seven magically-altered garden bugs he meets. They set off on a journey to escape from James’ two mean and cruel aunts.”. In the case of the stage show, make that five garden bugs (well, six, if you count Glowworm), but that’s the gist of the story. The story in a, well, peach, so to speak.

James and the Giant Peach (Photo Strip)Under the direction of Darryl B. Hovis (FB),  a team of nine performers make magic happen. With limited resources and facilities — the Fyda-Mar stage is perhaps 12 feet deep, with no fly space for scenery, no real off-stage space, right up against the audience of at most 98 — this team enthralls you the entrance of the first character and a magical face. Hovis clearly worked with the actors to bring out these magical performances, and it works well. Often, the merit of shows shines in a different way on the small stage — one only see the reaction to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert currently on stage at the tiny Celebration Theatre, and contrast it to the production at the Pantages to understand what I mean (I recall a similar effect seeing Gypsy at an intimate theatre). Hovis makes this work … spectacularly … on the small stage. Through the performances he drew out of the team, and the imagination of the scenic design and properties, he executed a vision that had both the adults and the kids watching in rapture. (at least, that’s what I saw on the faces at my performance).

The first performer we see — he of the magical face — is Tyler Marshall (FB) as Ladahlord. This character is not in the book. Ladahlord serves as a master of ceremonies or narrator,  moving the story along, and portraying various minor characters throughout the story. He also has the responsibility of handling the main song of the show, which keeps reappearing: “Right Before Your Eyes”. Marshall has a wonderful singing voice, a remarkably expressive face, and just draws your eye to him whenever he was on stage.

We next meet our main character, James, portrayed by Christopher Diem (FB). DIem captures James’ boyish spirit, energy, and fear quite well. He has a good singing voice, and is believable as James in his interactions.

The villains of the piece are Spiker and Sponge, James’ aunts and only living relatives after his parents are killed. They are portrayed by Shannon Page (FB) and Holly Jeanne (FB), respectively. These are roles that require a level of overplaying — they can’t be played realistically, but too over the top and they become caricatures. Page and Jeanne capture the overplay well, and for the most part, restrain it as appropriate while keeping the fun. The roles are intentionally overdone in the songs, which the performers do spot on (but which also disguises their real voices). As could be seen when the autograph session started at the end of the show, these two are just having fun with the roles.

The remainder of the cast play various small roles — James’ parents, other adults, and handling puppets of various insects, until they transform into the main magically-transformed insects when the Giant Peach is realized. As the larger insects, this team — Erica Schaeffer (FB) [Spider]; Richard Comeau (FB) [Green Grasshopper]; Miguel Cardenas (FB) [Centipede]; Rachael Oliveros Catalano (FB) [Ladybug]; and Alex Allen (FB) [Earthworm] — is mesmerizing. In this group, my eyes were first drawn to Schaeffer and Catalano. Schaeffer reminds me quite a bit of another excellent chance performer,  Kim Dalton (FB). She had an incredibly expressive face and movement style (especially as Spider), and I noticed her even in the background of scenes as she continued in character. Truly fun to watch, with a very nice singing voice. Catalano had a different, darker look, but she was a delight as Ladybug in her interactions with both James, Centipede, and Grasshopper. Strong singing, strong performance. On the male side, Comeau was outstanding as Grasshopper, exuding a warm personality and having a really really warm and nice singing voice. The remaining two folks were Cardenas’ Centipede and Allen’s Earthworm. Cardenas plays Centipede as what the other insects describe as a pest; however, his performance shines later during the rescue scenes. Similarly, Allen gets to portray Earthworm as someone living in fear; he comes into his own in the seagull scene (where he as a great performance).

It is at this point where I would normally introduce the band, under the music direction of James Liebson. But there is no band credited, and the music is seemingly pre-recorded. If there was a flaw in this production, this is it. Theatre needs live music; the audience needs to see that music comes from something other than a computer. They need to see people playing instruments, with the real-life variations that creep into such performances. However, I do understand the restrictions of a young artist program (as well as the space limitations) that force compromises such as this. At least the credit of a music director means that this is a Chance pre-recording of local artists (uncredited), which is better that a generic recording provided by the musical’s license holder.

With performance and movement, when stirred with music, comes dance. Working with the director, as Choreographer and Assistant Director, was Christine Hinchee (FB). Hinchee worked with Hovis to bring some remarkable dance and movement to the confined space of the Fyda-Mar Stage, and it worked very well. It certainly had the audience mesmerized.

This brings us to the remaining creative and production credits. I think one of the true stars of this show is Megan Hill (FB), the scenic and properties designer. Looking at her resume, Hill has been responsible for some of the most creative shows we’ve seen at the Chance — Loch Ness and Claudio Quest.  Her design is no less imaginative here, with simple props used to create the peach, simple screens for projections, and cute properties to suggest and create seagulls, sharks, and the Empire State Building. Her designs and properties interact with Aaron McGee (FB)’s puppets, McLeod Benson (FB)’s projections, and Alex McClain (FB)’s costumes to create James’ world. The team creates theatrical magic.  Supporting this team was Darryl B. Hovis (FB)’s sound design and McLeod Benson (FB)’s lighting designs. Other key production credits include: Courtny Greenough (FB) [Stage Manager]; Oanh Nguyen (FB) [Artistic Director]; and the large list of Chance staff and production team members.

James and the Giant Peach continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim, at least until March 11. This is an incredibly imaginative and fun production. well worth seeing. Even though it is part of the Theatre for Young Audiences, it will delight young and old, and veteran audiences will appreciate the rapture and delight on the faces of the young audience members as they watch theatre that will instill a lifelong love. Tickets are available through the Chance Website. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar (although they are currently sold out); I don’t see them at either TodayTix or LA Stage Alliance.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and as of Friday, Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

February concludes with this afternoon’s show: Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week. This enables us to see a remounting of Leslie Jones starring in Prez – The Lester Young Story that weekend. This is followed on the second weekend with the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB) and the MRJ Man of the Year Dinner. The next weekend brings Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend brings only the joint TBH Brotherhood/MoTAS Mens Seder. The last weekend of March is currently open.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to]. The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. 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.

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A 4-Bit Player in an 8-Bit World | “Claudio Quest” at Chance Theatre

Claudio Quest (Chance)I have a confession to make: I’m not a video gamer. Although at times I have played games on the computer, they have all been text-based, starting with the lunar landing game on the HP 3000C. I’ve played Adventure and Zork, and my level of dungeon games are things like nethack and larn. But those video games? Perhaps Pong?

So I went into the new musical Claudio Quest, opening this week at the Chance Theatre (FB), with the same sense of disconnection I felt when I saw Bard Fiction when I had never seen Pulp FictionClaudio Quest, featuring music, lyrics, and book by Drew Fornarola (FB) and Marshall Pailet (FB), tells the story of a video game roughly analagous (so I’m told) to Super Mario Brothers. The rough conceit of the bulk of this musical is that we are in the game itself: the characters have come to life, and we are seeing their doubts, fears, and questioning of their motives. In particular, and to put it in Mario terms, it is the story not of Mario (Claudio) but of Player 2 — Luigi (Luis) — and how does he face his position of being second banana and having to become a hero.

I’ll note that figuring out that aspect of the story didn’t come clearly: I found myself wondering for much of the first act where the story was going: who were we rooting for, what was the ultimate goal. As this was a preview performance of a developing musical, perhaps that is something worth improving: having the goal and motivation be a little clearer in the first few establishing songs.

The video game story constituted the bulk of the musical; it was wrapped and interspersed with a real-world wordless story of two brothers: one who continually played the game Claudio Quest and kept winning, and his younger brother who seemingly longed to play with him. The message and relationship between these two worlds came through by the end, but I found myself wanted to know more about these two other than just seeing them with cartridges, controllers, and a screen.

The game story itself supposedly paralleled Super Mario Bros, but veered just enough to avoid a trademark violation. The heroic older brother Claudio, in a blue jumpsuit, was on a continual quest to rescue Princess Poinsettia of the Eggplant Kingdom, who had been kidnapped by the evil Fire-Breathing Platypus Bruiser. Claudio was Player 1, and wore the golden eggplant, which allowed him to jump upon and destroy the various creatures set to attack him.  He was aided by his younger Brother  and the dinosaur Y. The Younger Brother, Luis, was Player 2 and wore an orange jumpsuit; he carried Claudio’s backpack and was able to transfer extra lives to Claudio. The Princess’s sister, Princess Fish, also wanted to be a player but the game wasn’t designed that way.

As the show went on, self-awareness of the characters increased, and Luis and Fish increasingly were able to play and introduce new ideas into the Eggplant Kingdom. Basically, they added a dimension to their two-dimensional lives. When this existential crisis resulting in Claudio losing his last life, it remained for Luis and Fish to figure out how to rescue the Princess and save the kingdom.

OK, OK. I’m sure by now you’re going: A musical about a video game? That’s as stupid as a movie about a board game., or a musical about a kid’s cartoon. But as this show went on, there was a surprising depth to the questions raised. What particularly comes to mind is near the end of the first act where the two main videogame characters are arguing about self-will and self-determination? Do they have it? Is there the ability to do what they can do preordained or controlled by some outside higher power, or do they have the ability to take control of their own lives? In facing such a question, they are asking themselves something that has been a question for religious folks for years: does God direct our actions and pre-ordain our destiny, or are we free to do whatever we want to do with our lives. In many ways, this is a similar question to that raised in Pailet’s earlier musical, Triassic Parq, which explored the world of Jurassic Park from the point of view of the dinosaurs, and their becoming self-aware and wanting to take control of their lives.

The musical also explored the question of what makes a hero? A heroes only the people who constantly win, and win in the same way everytime? Can one be a hero and still have doubts and fears? Are heroes the people who come up with new ways to do things, of new solutions? Most importantly, are heroes the people that appreciate the diversity around them, and who use that diversity to learn new ways to attack problems and survive, which changing their world along the way.

For an 8-bit videogame, it had surprising depth.

Under Pailet (FB)’s direction, the actors made a similar transformation in directionality. Initally, in the videogame world, actors moved very two-dimensionally: jerky, up and down, never forward and back. As the game and story progressed, their movement became three dimensional. They could turn and face, they could kick and rotate. This was also reflected in the staging — more on that later.

I’ll note that there was a similar transformation in the music itself. I recently listened to a fascinating episode of the 20 KHz podcast on 8-bit sounds. This was a unique world, very different than our sounds of today. Chips were designed to work independent of the CPU; they weren’t playing prerecorded songs but generating songs based on chords supported by the chips in a very limited fashion. This uniqueness was paralleled in the score. Songs, under the orchestration and musical direction of Ryan O’Connell (FB), went from being primarily 8-bit to more fully realised. The songs themselves were of a quality similar to Triassic or Loch Ness. Some had surprising depth, some were quite funny (in particular, the Platypus Song, and a number were quite cute. Unfortunately — and this could be a side-effect of only seeing the show once — I didn’t walk out humming any of them.

Turning to the performances: the cast consisted of a number of folks we’d seen before at other Chance musicals and elsewhere around the Southern California stages. The performances overall were good, with a few interesting quirks and looks that caught the eye and stuck in the head.

Our heroes — Claudio and Luis — were played by Beau Brians (FB) and Andrew Puente (FB), respectively. Both brought quite a bit of character to the show, and both had wonderful singing voices. Brians’ Claudio had the correct amount of bravado and swagger, while Puente’s Luis had the right hesitancy one would expect from a Player 2.

The heroines, Princess Poinsettia and Princess Fish, were played by Kim Dalton (FB) and Monika Pena (FB), respectively. We have seen Kim in a number of shows now (Dogfight, Toxic Avenger), and she always brings a strong performance and a great voice to any role. Her role gets the chance to shine in the latter half of Act II; the writing has her role more two dimensional earlier in the show. Her number with Bruiser and the scene in the dungeon are great. Pena’s Fish, in contrast, breaks out of the gate running demanding to be herself on her own term. The actress brings a spunk and vitality to the character that is quite a bit of fun to watch. Both sang and moved very well.

The villain, Bruiser the Platypus, was portrayed by Miguel Cardenas/FB. In the first act, Cardenas’s character was mostly bluster. However, in the second act, his number with Poinsettia, “The Platypus Song”, was just hilarious. He was also great in his interactions with his therapist.

All of the other characters (with two exceptions) were played by members of the ensemble: Kellie Spill (FB) (Engafink / Ensemble); Amy Rebecca King/FB (King Eggplant / Ensemble); Elise Borgfeldt (FB) (Kevin the Turtle / Ensemble); Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) (Boof / Ensemble); Joseph Ott/FB (Big Brother / Gary / Ensemble); and Jimmy Saiz (FB) (Steve the Turtle / Ensemble). I would like to single out a few performers here. First, Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB). Ms. Nelson has been the lead in Dogfight and the lead in the recent Little Woman; she’s in the ensemble here and also serves as what I guess would be the narrator in the game. In that latter role, she is hilarious. As always, she is a singing and dancing and comedic joy to watch. Next, Amy Rebecca King/FB.  When featured as King Eggplant, Ms. King is extremely funny and a joy to watch. Lastly, there are the two turtles, who get a very funny scene in the second act.

Rounding out the cast were Jack Reid, alternating with Dylan Shuba as Little Brother. I’m not sure which one we saw, but whichever it was, there were some wonderful facial expressions. Lastly, there was Y, who played himself. I regretfully must comment that his performance was a bit wooden.

The choreography was by Maxx Reed (FB), and the Scenic Design was by Fred Kinney. Chris Baab and Jalen Morgan were the welders. There’s a reason I lump all of these together for this show. Although there was dancing — and excellent dancing — choreography is also movement. That’s where the scenic design came in, with a design reminscent of Loch Ness with multiple moving platforms. These were used to give the suggestion of levels in the video screen, and were constantly moving in and out. This meant that the characters were also moving on top of moving platforms and from platform to platform. That’s choreography, my friends: lots of well-executed movement that created magic without anyone getting hurt.

The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), with lighting design by Matt Schleicher (FB). Both were executed well with clear sound. The lighting was particularly interesting, using a type of moving light that I hadn’t seen before. Animation was by Justin Melillo (FB), and primarily consisted of a great video game opening for the show. The costume design by Rachael Lorenzetti was suitably 8-bit appropriate and entertaining. Makeup and hair design was by Marci Alberti/FB and was character appropriate (especially Princess Fish’s stache). Courtny Greenough/FB  was the Stage Manager.

Claudio Quest continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) through February 26, 2017. It’s a cute musical, well worth seeing for the performances, the creativity, and if you are in to video games and Super Mario Brothers. Tickets are available through the Chance website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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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). 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 2017 starts with 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.; we’re also seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  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. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). 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). 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.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.

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Challenging Convention | “Little Women” @ Chance Theatre

Little Women (Chance)userpic=theatre_ticketsI have a number of quests in my life. One quest is to add music to my iPod, and often this includes Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I haven’t seen, but are recommended. Another quest is to see musicals I’ve only heard. This weekend was an opportunity to do the latter, informed by the former, when we went to go see the second preview performance of Little Woman: The Broadway Musical at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway).

Little Women: The Broadway Musical is a 2005 musical written by Allan Knee (FB) [Book], Jason Howland (FB) [Music], and Mindi Dickstein (FB) [Lyrics], based on the 1869 novel by (all together now) Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps surprisingly to some, I have never actually read the novel (although I do recall having a copy of the sequel, Little Men, as a boy, which I also never actually read). So, going in, my only knowledge of the story was from the cast album, which I had really only listened to on shuffle. I knew it was about four sisters, and one was a writer, and that’s about it.

Reading the Wikipedia summary of the book after the show, I came to see that the stage production was a condensation and approximation of the book. It captured, at least based on Wikipedia, the major themes of the books and some of the major incidents. It also played a little loose with the timeline in the book, but not in a way that seemed to affect the themes in the story. Being a condensation, it was only able to draw the characters broadly; I think this is a flaw that would be found in many musicals that are based on condensations of larger novels — the time available makes it difficult to build deep characters and move the story along. For that, you need TV and binge watching.

The focus of the story is the growth of the character Josephine (“Jo”) March from approximately 15 to her early 20s during the time of the Civil War; it is also a semi-autobiographical tale of the original author as represented by Jo. It explores the relationship between Jo and her sisters (Meg, Beth, and Amy); the societal expectations on women in that era; the perceived role of men in relationship to women; and the perceptions of a headstrong, independent, woman to Civil War society. Thinking about that statement as I write it, I’m drawn to a parallel between Jo March and another headstrong literary woman at the end of the Civil War: Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind. One Northern, one Southern. Hmmmm.

As opposed to attempting to write a detailed synopsis, I’m just going to point you to the Wikipedia page. I’d rather use this space to explore my observations on the story and its presentation.

Much of the first act is spent establishing the characters and their personalities. With so many significant characters (the four March sisters and Laurie), that takes a while and quite a few songs (and is very different than a story with one or two protagonists).  The main character, Jo, is someone who must have been quite a draw when the story was first written: strong, independent, headstrong, eschewing the cultural norms. They must not have known what to make of her. In fact — being unfamiliar with the story — I had the feeling at the end of the first act that she might be either asexual or lesbian. There was just some sense about her. That proved not to be the case (and isn’t a surprise given when the story was written), but one wonders if that was an attraction of the book (or is an artifice of the musical). Thinking about her in contrast to Scarlett O’Hara is interesting. Jo achieves what she does through her wits and essentially independent of any man. Scarlett has the wits but keeps them to herself; she manipulates men through her femininity and her exploitation of cultural mores. Is this a reflection on the North vs. the South of the time? Ultimately, both attract the men they need by being themselves — their mates love them for who they are and less as a societal caricature. Both are also fiercely loyal to family and relationships. There are significant differences: Jo starts out poor and earns her money; Scarlett starts out rich, becomes poor, but acquires money through manipulation of men. It is still an interesting parallel.

The authors establish the characters of the other sisters to a much lesser extent, and mostly through interaction with Jo. The superficial aspects are sufficient for a musical, although some of the comments I read on the original production felt that was a flaw. I didn’t see it that way. Let’s look at the characters through the performers that created them.

In the lead position was Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) as Jo March. We’d seen Nelson before in Dogfight, and she was equally strong here. The characterizations of Jo March I’ve read online talk about her as beautiful. I’m not sure you get that classic beauty with Nelson, but you get that same strong inner beauty that shone through in Dogfight. In fact, you get a bit more — there are these telling little smiles and expressions that are just delightful to watch; her performance brings forth the inner fire within Jo to succeed. As such, her performance is mesmerizing. One of the best places to see this is in her interactions with Laurie — just watch during “Take a Chance on Me”, or her face on the lovely “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. A truly delightful performance.

Jo’s sisters were less strongly drawn in the script, but still gave remarkable performances. Laura M. Hathaway (FB), as Meg, the oldest sister, seems more traditionally drawn. She shines in her interactions not only with her sisters in the group numbers, but in her one-on-ones with John Boone. Again, watch the face and the little things, especially during her number “More Than I Am”. Another remarkable performer was Emma Nossal (FB)’s Beth. In fact, it was her performance in “Some Things Are Meant To Be” that made me realize remarkable acting. She was flying a kite on stage just through her movements, and I could swear that I could see the string to the kite. That’s a great performance, where through craft alone one can create the image and impression of existence of the non-existent.  She also had a lovely singing voice, which you can see in the delightful “Off to Massachusetts” number. The youngest sister, Amy, was portrayed by two actresses: Olivia Knox was the younger Amy at our performance (she alternates with Alea Jordan); Angela Griswold (FB) was the older Amy. Young Amy is primarily in the first act and mostly has group songs, yet is still fun to watch  in her performance. The older Amy has a remarkable and distinctive smile and voice — watching her interact with Laurie in “The Most Amazing Thing” is a delight to watch.

This brings us to Laurie (Theodore Laurence III), the orphaned grandson of the neighbor across the street, Jo’s best friend, and … well, you’ll find out. He is portrayed by Jimmy Saiz (FB), who brings a remarkable energy, spirit, and bounce to the role. You can rapidly see why he and Nelson’s Jo become best friends. Again, he has a strong singing voice that is demonstrated both  in “Take a Chance on Me” and in his wonderful duet with older Amy, “The Most Amazing Thing”.

This brings us to the second tier of characters, who are drawn with a much lighter pen. Rachael Oliveros Catalano (FB) portrays Marmee, the mother of the March clan. The scenes she has show here as the glue of stability for the family, and she has some lovely numbers in “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty”. Beyond that stability and the tension and pain she is facing as woman running a house while her man is away in the Civil War, we don’t learn much about here. Similarly lightly drawn is Glenn Koppel (FB)’s Mr. Laurence, the wealthy man who lives across the street, and who initially is the caricature of the mean rich man. He has a remarkable transformation in his number with Nossal’s Beth, “Off to Massachusetts”, which is quite fun to watch.

One of the characters we meet in the first scene we don’t see again until the top of the second act. Although also lightly drawn, he is one of my favorite performances — Nicholas Thurkettle (FB) as Professor Bhaer.  Not a super amount of lines, but watch closely his interactions with Jo and his facial expressions — particularly in “How I Am” and “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. That last number in particular I found quite touching — I’m sure many of us know relationships like that.

Laurie’s tutor, and Meg’s eventual husband, John Brooke is portrayed by Stefan Miller (FB). We don’t get to know much about John, but the actor has a great duet with Hathaway’s Meg in “More Than I Am”. Lastly, the authoritarian Aunt March is portrayed by Sherry Domerego (FB). We’ve all known or had an aunt like that (I certainly did). Domerego captures the character to a “T”, and is fun to watch in her number with Jo, “Could You”.

The production was directed by Casey Long (FB); Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB) was the Associate Director. As I’ve written before, as a non-actor I have trouble determining where the actor ends and the director begins, or is that where the direction ends and the acting begins. Perhaps it is the distinction between the individual (which is more acting) and the ensemble (which is management of the group). If so, then this production shows the talent of the direction team in not only bringing out strong individual performances, but it bringing out strong group interactions — be it the interactions of the March sisters in numbers like “Our Finest Dreams” or “Five Forever”, or the small two person interactions I’ve previously mentioned. Supporting the directoral team on this was the choreography of Jessie McLean. The dance numbers in this show weren’t all that fancy, but they worked well and supported the story.

Bill Strongin (FB) was the music director, and presumably the on-stage piano player. It was interesting hearing this with the single piano approach. I was only familiar with the full orchestra approach of the Broadway cast album. The single piano worked just fine.

Turning to the behind the scenes creative and supporting professionals: The scenic and lighting design was by Masako Tobaru (FB). I am always impressed by the creativity of the Chance set designs, and this was no exception. This was a clever mix of large book pages (I am still trying to determine if they printed large sheets, or applied words in a reasonably straight line), a projection along the back, and a raked wooden platform, supplemented by a few movable pieces. It worked remarkably well, and was supported by spectacular lighting that made up quite well for the Chance’s lack of a moving spot. In fact, the lighting and set worked well together to direct the attention to particular areas and lessen the focus on others. The Sound and Projection Design supporting this was by the director, Casey Long (FB). I initially thought I would notice the projections more; as it was, the set and lighting moved my perception of the projections to the background. As a result, they supported, instead of actually defining, the sense of place. Sound was similar, as the actual design was only apparent during the storms. The actors were not miced. This isn’t really necessary in a small space like the Chance, although a few could use a pinch more volume. Costume Design was by Erika C. Miller (FB), assisted by Associate Designer Barbara Phillips. The costumes seemed reasonably period to me, and there was only one minor malfunction (which I attributed to the 2nd preview — a dress didn’t get fully zipped). Original fight choreography was by David McCormick. Teodora Ramos/FB was the stage manager.  You can find a list of the Chance Staff here.

Little Women: The Broadway Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway) until December 23. You can get tickets through the Chance Online Box Office, or by calling 888.455.4212. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The show is worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre has just announced their 2017 season. In the main series is (1) Claudio Quest, January 27 — February 26 2017, a new musical from the team behind Loch Ness about video games; (2) Middletown, April 21 — May 21; (3) Parade, June 30 — July 30; (4) in a word, September 8 — October 8 ; and (5) Tribes, September 22 — October 22. The TYA Series consists of (1) The Little Prince, February 17 — March 5; and (2) Fancy Nancy, the Musical, May 5 — May 28. The OTR series consists of four shows: (1) How to Conquer America: A Mostly True History of Yogurt on March 1; (2) Ted Malawer’s The Anatomy of Love: OTR LAB Workshop on July 20-23; and (3-4) two TBA shows on May 10 and October 18. The Holiday series consists of The Secret Garden – The Musical, November 24 — December 23 and the return of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, December 8 — December 23. Of these, only one show currently appears worth the 63 mile drive from Northridge: Claudio Quest. As for the other musicals, I’ve seen them up here (or their time period is completely booked). However, I might make an exception if my niece and nephew want to see Parade. If you live in Orange County, however, this looks like a great set of shows for an affordable price.

Dining Notes: Whenever we go to the Chance, we always eat at the same place: True Seasons Organic Kitchen (FB), a healthy organic hot pot restaurant across the street from the Chance. Healthy vegetables, healthy meat, gluten free options, and home-made flavoring broths.

* * *

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). Note that Chromolume Theatre (FB) is doing a “Black Friday” sale, with 20% off their subscription with the code in the linked email. That’s three musicals for just $16 each (and then donate the 20% back for a tax deduction). You only have until midnight on Monday to take advantage of this special.

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:  December starts with Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, and staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with 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 Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with 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 the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  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: 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.

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Always Faithful 🎭 “Dogfight” @ Chance Theatre

Dogfight (Chance Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsConsider the following story: A bunch of fresh Marine boot-camp graduates, on their last liberty before shipping overseas, decide to hold a “dogfight”: a competition of who can bring the ugliest date to a bar, and hopefully, go to bed with her. Along the way to the bar, they joke between each other about the best way to get the women drunk so they can have their way.

In today’s eyes, this would be abhorrent. Today, we’ve become sensitized to abuse and coercion. We (hopefully) have come to learn that consent and respect are the way to go.

It wasn’t always so.  Back in the early 1960s, the attitude was very different. Look no further than Bill Cosby for evidence of this: Early 1960s mores saw nothing wrong with drugging women to get them to bed.

Perhaps this is one reason the first act of Dogfight, a recent Off-Broadway musical in its Los Angeles and Orange County premiere at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim,  is so uncomfortable.  Dogfight, with book by Peter Duchan (FB) and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek (FB) and Justin Paul (based on the 1991 movie Dogfight written by Bob Comfort and directed by Nancy Savoca), tells the story of Eddie Birdlace, a young Marine just out of bootcamp in 1963. Birdlace is about to ship out to Vietnam with his buddies for a year of being an advisor and isn’t worried at all. After all, the Marines have trained him for this, and what could be worse than boot camp.

The first act of the musical focuses on the titular “dogfight”. The Marines are going to “Frisco” (yes, that’s what they call it) for a night on the town before they ship out to Okinawa. The group includes “the three Bees” — three recruits who have become close friends during boot camp thanks to alphabetic and size proximity: Birdlace, Boland, and Bernstein, as well as three other Marines — Fector, Stevens, and Gibbs.  They want to get laid, they want to win the dogfight, and they want some fun before they leave. They all work to find the ugliest girl and bring them to a dance at a bar where they will get them drunk before the girls are judged. Eddie finds his dog working in a local diner: Rose Fenny, a young girl into folk music, working for her mother as a waitress, who has no experience with boys, men, and especially Marines. He asks her to come to a party that evening by feigning interest in folk music. She’s not interested, but he keeps pursuing her, and she eventually relents. Boland finds his by recruiting Marcy, a toothless prostitute.  Bernstein ends up with Ruth Two-Bears, a Native American woman, and the others find equally odd-ball choices. When Birdlace picks up Rose, he sees how much this party means to her and how innocent she is. Later, at the party, Birdlace sees how the women are being encouraged to overdrink, and how they are being treated, and tries to convince Rose to leave before the “dance”. She refuses: she came for a party, and she wants a party. So the judging dance begins, and Rose and Eddie are about to win… but Marcy removes her teeth, and… we have a winner (note that the girls, other than Marcy, are oblivious to the competition). Rose  goes to the bathroom, sick from too much alcohol. There she meets Marcy where she learns the truth about the competition, and about Marcy and her relationship with Boland. She comes out, slaps Eddie, and tells him she wishes he and his friends would die overseas, and heads home to cry in her bed.

Thus ends the first act. At this point, we were really unsure about this musical. We didn’t like its attitude towards women. We didn’t like some of the stereotypical portrayals (I was particularly bothered by Ruth Two-Bears, which had the stereotypical “Indian” dance and chop moves). The clash between the 1963 mores and our modern sensibilities was too jarring, and we didn’t know where this musical was going. All we could sense was that there might be some form of love story between Eddie and Rose. We decided to give the musical a chance to redeem itself in Act II — after all, this had a great cast album and it had gotten many awards in its New York premiere.

I’m pleased to say that the show did redeem itself in the second act, although not in the way we expected. The second act focuses on the deepening relationship between Eddie and Rose and the strong bond between the “Three Bees”. It also features the departure for the Vietnam War, the horrors of the War itself, and what happens when the heroes return home. I don’t want to spoil things with the specifics, but they are in the synopsis, if you want to read it.

This morning, as I worked on this writeup, I strugged with what to call it. What was the heart of this story? Although titled “Dogfight”, the heart wasn’t the fight itself — that was just the catalyst to get the audience to see and meet these characters. But then I thought about a question during the after-show Salon — a question about a common phrase these characters used: “Semper Fi, Do or Die”. The heart of this story — both what holds it together and the questions that it raises — is the devotion to faithfullness and fidelity. Semper Fidelis. Always faithful. There was the faith and fidelity between the Three Bees: the bond that let them to work together to protect each other in life and in battle. There was the faith and fidelity that grew between Eddie and Rose, a different sort of bond. There was also the faith and fidelity to the ideals: of being a hero, of doing what a hero does, of coming home to that heroes welcome. This bond was very strong in Eddie: he had that heroes heart, which was hurt by not doing right by Rose in the first act. At the start of the second act he redeems that heroism, but at the sacrifice of the fidelity to his buddies. He goes off to war, and redeems himself in battle. He comes home, only to find what many servicemen found on their return to Vietnam in the mid-to-late Sixties — that they weren’t heroes in the eyes of the public… that their service wasn’t appreciated. The people didn’t want that war, and they didn’t want the people who fought it (this is a very different attitude than today, but event today Vietnam Veterans often don’t get the same respect and thanks that Iraqui war veterans get). Disappointed, Eddie held on to the one aspect of faith and fidelity he knew — Rose. Even though he never contacted her during the war and she moved on, he ultimately finds his welcome — and his faith — restored by her.

So, ultimately, what was the verdict on this show? Did the cultural mores-clash of the first act overwhelm the show? Did it leave us with a good feeling about these characters?

I’m still not sure. It left us thinking, which is perhaps what good theatre does. It left us aware of how society has changed — how we have gone from a society that thought “dogfight”-ing was acceptable to one that values women in all roles — even in the Marines.  It showed the horror of war, and the value of redemption. I think the best that I can say is that this musical moved me; in moved me in ways that I did not expect.

Dogfight (Publicity Photos)The performances, uniformly, were excellent. I think this was due to a combination of the excellent direction by Matthew McCray (FB) and the acting talent of the performers below. McCray brought in Vietnam Veterans to talk to the performers, all but one of which were not alive during the conflict and its aftermath, and coached them on how to interact and behave in this story. Based on what we heard from the Salon before we had to leave (dinner reservations), he also gave them the freedom to find things in their characters and bring them to the stage.

Nowhere was this seen better than in the performances of the leads: Andrew Puente (FB) as Eddie Birdlace and Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) as Rose Fenny. Puente gave a touching performance as Eddie, moving easily from Marine bravado and bluster to a scared teen on his first in the first act; he showed through his performance that although boot camp toughened the exterior, there was something deeper inside. In the second half, he was able to turn this around to find the man inside. Particularly touching was the shaky hand after that war; that touch of PTSD that demonstrated how deeply the war experiences had changed the man. Nelson radiated an equal vulnerability. Perhaps her character was harder to watch in the first act because we had been there — my wife and I grew up in this era (although about 10 years younger). We knew the vulnerable types into folk music and out of step with the rest. Nelson captured this perfectly: both the excitement and fear of a first date, the awkwardness. She also captured finding the confidence in her inner self as she got to know Eddie. In the second act, she also captured the worry of war well; during the Salon she revealed that her boyfriend is in the military, providing her a deeper understanding of the character and her fears. It was just a beautiful portrayal, combined with a beautiful voice. Note that Nelson also had a particularly lovely voice and guitar style, demonstrated on “Before It’s Over”.

The other 2 of the 3 Bees were played by James McHale (FB) (Boland) and Jonathan Rosario (FB) (Bernstein).  McHale’s Borland was the opposite of Birdlace: invulnerable (in his mind) and focused on winning at any cost, even if it meant bending the rules. Of the three, he came across as most loyal to the triad, believing that its strength was what would allow them to survive the conflict to come. It was a great portrayal. In contrast was Rosarios’s Bernstein: young, naive (in many many ways), unsure about women, unsure about life. He, too, believed in the triad and hope that it would save him. Also a strong portrayal.

The remaining non-emsemble character was Kim Dalton (FB)’s Marcy. Dalton captured the hard prostitute exterior well, as well as the softer side in her interactions with Rose. She was wonderful in her main song, “Dogfight”.

The remaining actors constituted the ensemble, portraying many characters. I tried to map from some of the character lists out there, and Chance seems to switched around some of the dual roles (for example, traditionally Mama and Ruth Two-Bears are the same actress, but that was clearly not the case here; most casts lists do not have Pete/Sargent as a separate character, instead dualing with Stevens; most list a Lounge Singer, who was not explicitly identified here. The ensemble gave strong, umm, ensemble performances — especially the Marines, who bonded together as a strong group. About the only portrayal I didn’t like was Ruth Two-Bears. I don’t know whether it was the way the character was written, what the actor brought to the character, or what the director or choreographer brought to the character, but I’ve gotten too sensitized to cultural appropriate for that form of a Native American portrayal to be comfortable. Other than that, a uniformly strong ensemble performance. The ensemble consisted of Robin Walton (FB) [Pete / Sergeant / Ensemble]; John Wells III/FB [Fector / Ensemble]; David Sasik (FB) [Stevens / Ensemble]; Joseph Ott/FB [Gibbs / Ensemble]; Cassendra Rieck (FB) [Mama / Ensemble]; Nohely Quiroz (FB) [Chippy / Ensemble / Ruth Two-Bears (guess)]; and Monika Pena (FB) [Peggy / Ensemble].

The onstage musicians were under the musical direction of Taylor Stephenson, who also was on the keyboard. Supporting him were Jimmy Cormier (FB) [Guitar], Lois Good [Violin], and Jorge Zuniga (FB) [Drums / Percussion].

Choreogrpahy was by Angeline Mirenda (FB). This show didn’t have large dance numbers (as you might see on some musicals), but did have some interesting coordinated movement — especially of the Marines, who were very precise in unison. There was also effective choreography during the war sequence.

Turning to the non-performance creatives: The scenic design by Christopher Scott Murillo (FB) was … adaptable. There was a background flat-ish with an odd TV-ish design, and a number of rolling counters, tables and benches. These opened up to become bars and diners, bedrooms and scenic overlooks. It worked to tell the story, but didn’t have that depth to evoke a particular place or a particular time. There needed to be something more 1963-ish about it, but I do understand limited theatre budgets.  The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB).  There were elements of the sound design that were strong, such as the background sounds in a number of scenes. But there were also places where the microphones were noisy (static) or unbalanced; in particular, the band overpowered the voices at times, and there was some significant microphone hiss. These adjustment problems should have been resolved during previews. The lighting design of KC Wilkerson (FB) was very effective, particularly during the war sequence where much of the story was told through lighting. Costume Design was by Christina Marie Perez (FB). This was mostly effective, particularly for the women. However, with respect to the Marines, she really should have consulted with USMC Pendleton down the road: although as privates there would be no rank insignia, my understanding is that there would be service and name tapes and olive-green undershirts uniformly. [ETA: My earlier information was incorrect. I checked the regs with an AF Officer and he provided some clarification, as well as pointing to the Marine Corp regs. There would not have been nametags, but with the short-sleeve khakis as shown, the pants would have been olive-drab, and the undershirts would have been uniformly white. It appears there should also have been a Marine insignia pin on the collar. Being privates, there is no rank insignia.]  Not a fatal flaw, certainly, but something that struck me from the beginning.  Courtny Greenough (FB) was the stage manager.

Dogfight continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) through March 6. Tickets are available online or by callling 714.777.3033. The Chance page for the show lists numerous discounts, discount tickets may also be available on Goldstar.

Dining Notes: Whenever we go to the Chance, we always eat at the same place: True Seasons Organic Kitchen (FB), a healthy organic hot pot restaurant across the street from the Chance. Healthy vegetables, healthy meat, gluten free options, and home-made flavoring broths. It made a lovely valentines dinner.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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 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 birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. 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 brings “Prez” at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on February 20, and “String/Awakening” from Muse/ique (FB) on February 21. 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 is open, thanks to the cancellation of “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB); I’m thinking possibly of Hollywould at The Hudson Theatre (FB). The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  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). April may also bring A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB). 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.

 

 

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Wanting to Believe

Loch Ness (A New Musical)userpic=theatre_ticketsThis year seems to be starting out on a particular theme — one that is emphasizing creativity and expressiveness.  We saw that creativity earlier this year at ZJU’s 50 hour theatre; it was also apparent in the creative reimagining of Pulp Fiction.  We’ve seen super expressiveness on stage as well, both with the puppeteers of Avenue Q, the clever ideas behind Serial Killer Barbie, and the wonderfully expressive lead in Redhead. We saw both combined in the new musical now playing at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hils: Loch Ness.

Loch Ness, a new musical by the father/son team of A. D. Penado (FB) (lyrics and book) and Marshall Pailet (FB) (director, music, books), tells the story of the Loch Ness monster, of course (although that term is a little pejorative :-)). But that’s only part of the story in Loch Ness (the musical). The real focus of the story is on belief, holding on to that belief in the face of reality, recognizing when to give up on a mistaken belief, and coming to the realization — when you do so — that what you gain by giving up may be much more than you gain by holding on. Loch Ness (the musical) is a story about relationships and love — but it isn’t the traditional romantic love that was celebrated in the Chance’s last musical, She Loves Me; rather, the love celebrated in this musical is the love between parent and child, and between child and parent. The two notions — belief and love — combine to create the necessary “I want” that propels the story forward, and provide to be what, ulitmately, make the story successful.

So what is the story behind Loch Ness? It centers around the Westerbook family: the father, Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and his daughter, Haley Westerbrook (and her pet frog, Mudpie).  The Westerbrooks recently lost Haley’s mother in an aircraft disappearance over the North Sea. After searching and searching and searching — exhausting all family funds — Dr. Westerbook gave up the search. The only work he could find was for a wealthy patron, Leana Callaghan, who had once seen the Loch Ness monster when she was young and snapped a picture of her (which looks like a smudge). After a timely inheritance, she now had the funds to prove she exists. She hired Dr. Westerbrook to do the search. Haley comes along, although she’s supremely pissed at her father for giving up the search for her mom and keeps running away and rebelling. Assisting Dr. Westerbrook in the search are Captain Jameson (who prefers to be called “CJ”, the C being for Captain) and two French research assistants, Pierre and Eclair. Not surprisingly, during one of her rebels, Haley discovers Nessie. Nessie, too, is searching for her mother and wants to return to the North Sea to find her. She believes that she can, if only she can get big enough. This gets to the underlying myth of this show: Nessie shrinks when she is photographed and reality comes into play; she grows when people simply believe in her. This starts Haley’s quest: to get people to believe in Nessie while preventing her father’s mission (and Lady Callaghan’s mission) to provide photographic proof of Nessie. If Haley succeeds, Nessie has promised her that she will take her to the North Sea to find her mother. Lurking behind everything is the mysterious “Oiler”, who keeps muttering about things in the Scottish highlands. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the adventure along the way, but suffice it to say that by the end of the show, both Haley and Nessie have found what they needed, even if it was not necessarily what they believed. The overall effect was just beautiful, creative, and touching.

Katie Brown, Nessie, and Julia Cassandra Smith. Photo ©2014 True Image Studio provided by the Chance Theatre press websiteMuch credit goes to the direction of Pailet (FB), the choreography of Kelly Todd (FB), and the masterful scenic and puppet design of Fred Kinney (FB) and Megan Hill (FB). These folks used creative collaboration to create an environment where Nessie came to life through the work of multiple puppeteers. Using the same technique seen in Avenue Q, the puppeteer’s faces were visible and were amplifying the limited expressiveness of the actual puppet head (which was a single-rod puppet). Katie Brown (shown to the right) served as the main face and voice of Nessie (more on her later), while other actors doubled controlling other parts of Nessie and were equally visible and expressive. It was remarkable to see and emphasized why intimate theatre is a necessity — in the scale of a large auditorium, this magic would be lost for much of the audience.

Julia Cassandra Smith and Nessie/Katie Brown. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Theatre press websiteMusically, Loch Ness was well-assembled as well. A complaint with many new musical writers these days is that they don’t know how to write musicals. The songs seem like the novelty songs of old — dropped in because they wanted music at that point, but the music simply repeats what had been said in the story, or provides an entertaining diversion. This was a problem in the recent Serial Killer Barbie.  I’m pleased to say that this musical gets it right — the songs are integral to the story and propel it along. I’d give specific examples with the names of the song, but (alas) no song list was provided and one could not be found online (even at the press site, hint hint). A few musical moments do stick in my mind the morning after. In Act I, there is the moment where Nessie and Haley express their shared hope, their desire to fly back to their mothers. This is just a beautiful song that moves the story along perfectly. Another song that sticks in my mind is the opening to Act II, where CJ, Pierre, Eclair and the Oiler express their joy at finally realizing Nessie is real. The creative musical nature of the number was remarkable. Lastly, there is a touching song in Gaelic that perfectly captures the emotion between parent and child.

Loch Ness Set. From Marshall Pailett's websiteI mentioned the set design earlier with the puppet, and I’d like to discuss it before I go into the actors. The picture to the right, from Marshall Pailett’s website (there were no good set pictures on the Chance website), gives you an idea. There was this large wooden sided pit with Viking wood carvings in front, topped by a movable bridge that could slide back and forth. The bridge represented the ship or land; Nessie and her puppeteers moved in the pits, ducking under the bridge as necessary. At the back of the set were wooden doors that could open up to prove a few specific locations. Dealing with the movable bridge and its back and forth was a different style of choreography on top of the few somewhat traditional dance numbers (this was more of a performance than a dance show). The set worked magic to create the sense of place, especially in the opening where fog machines were used to great effect to create the image and feel of steam rising off the Loch, and the bridge creating the image and feel of being out on the water. You may have heard the phrase “stage magic”. This was stage magic — art and imagination combined to create something real but not realistic, something that bridged the world between the imaginary and the concrete. About my only worry is whether this would scale — it wouldn’t work in many theatres, might lose the magic in large theatres, and there could be problems (as noted in the talk-back) in theatres with balconies. Then again, those are problems you want to have to solve, because that means a future life for the show.

Turning to the performances — they were remarkable (however, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the Chance Theatre (FB)). In the lead tier were Julia Cassandra Smith (FB) as Haley, and Katie Brown (FB) providing the “face” and voice of Nessie.  Both were remarkable. Smith’s Haley was youthful and playful and gave off a delightful depth of spirit — and she had a wonderful voice. Brown’s face was remarkably expressive and just made you melt; again, she also had a delightful voice that worked quite well with Smith’s.

Loch Ness - Jackson Tobiska, Matt Takahashi and Angeline Mirenda . Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Press websiteIn the second character tier were Jackson Tobiska (FB) as Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and Angeline Mirenda (FB) as Leana Callaghan. We’ve seen Tobiska before in both Triassic Parq and Lysistrata Jones. He plays the scientist well, and captured the fatherly nature of the character quite well. He had a very nice singing voice. Mirenda was seemingly the villain of show — the women hellbent on proving the existence of Nessie. She captured that aspect of the character well both in look and performance.

As we enter the next tier, we’re getting to characters who not only played their “name” roles, but who also helped manipulate the puppets. The first half were the main ship characters: Alex Bueno (FB) as CJ, Keaton Williams (FB) as Pierre, and Gina Velez (FB) as Eclair. We’ve seen both Bueno and Williams before in Parq and were impressed with them then; they were perfection here. Velez is new to us but was also fun to watch. As their name characters they were delightful — both in the little comedy asides (in particular, CJ and the coffee cup at the beginning of the show, and the interactions between Pierre and Eclair) and in their singing and dancing (as I noted before, the opening of Act II is just spectacular). Williams and Velez were also notable for their manipulation of Nessie — especially when they were working close to Smith’s Haley, where the expressiveness of their faces (especially Keaton William’s face) was indescribable for what it added to the show. You can see the three of them in the image to the right.

Loch Ness - Gina Velez, Alex Bueno and Keaton Williams. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance press siteRounding out the characters in the show were Corky Loupe (FB) as the Oiler, Matt Takahashi (FB) as Angus Ogilvie, and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as the Balladeer. We saw all three before in She Loves Me. These roles were minor, although Louple’s Oiler provided a wonderful comic relief in his few songs and asides — in particular with the toaster joke (no, not that toaster joke) and the percussion in the Act II opener. I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the Balladeer; I saw her more as an echo of the mother who was lost at sea (and it might have been better to refer to her that way). All three provided other background characters and puppet manipulation, and were wonderful in those aspects (in particular, the pub crawl scene).

Music for this show was prerecorded to provide the lushness that that the composer wanted. Mark Sonnenblick (FB) was the Musical Director, and Ryan O’Connell (FB) was the orchestrator.  I do have a few wishes for the music: (a) that a song list was provided somewhere — this not  only helps those who want to share the show with our friends, but helps match the songs with the actors that performed them (a boon to the actors); and (b) that there was a cast recording. I strongly suggest that a Kickstarter be considered for such a recording (hell, if Evil Dead: The Musical or Now. Hear. This. can do it) — it can not only promote the show, but would preserve this wonderful cast (and might even provide income for the Chance). (PS: There also needs to be a scene list in the program)

I’ve talked before about the wonderful set and the Nessie puppet. Remaining credit in those areas goes to Baxley Andresen (puppet mechanics/fabrication) and Amy Ramirez (FB) (props designer). The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), and was notable not only for the quality of the amplification (which did occasionally overpower the singers, but that was positional and got adjusted during the show), but more so for the ambient noise that was provided that increased the feeling that one was at the Loch. Lighting was by Jonathan Daroca (FB) and it effectively established the mood. I particularly noted the effect of the LED lighting used on the side; I don’t recall this use of LED lighting before at the Chance.  Costumes were by Rachael Lorenzetti and worked quite well. The tight skirt and hose on Lady Callaghan actually made her character seem more evil; Haley’s outfit made her more kid-like, and the outfits of the crew made them appear to be suited for a ship. There were also all those woolens and plaids! There was no credit for makeup or wigs. Remaining show credits: Nora Ives (FB) (Associate Director), Nichole Schlitt (FB) (Stage Manager); Mary Kay Fyra-Mar (FB) (Executive Producer); Lee Seymour (FB) (Associate Producer). I’m not going to list all the Chance staff positions that were in the program; you can find them listed on the Chance website. Two that are worthy of note are Oanh Nguyen (FB), the artistic director, who presumably picked this show for the season (good choice!); and whomever is the marketing director (I’m guessing Molly Dewane, based on a web search), for her well-done speech before the show.

Loch Ness: A New Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) until March 1. Tickets are available through the Chance website; they may also be available through Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre is lucky — they are in Orange County and not affected by the proposed changes to the 99 seat plan from AEA. These changes, if enacted, could create major changes in the intimate theatre scene in Los Angeles County — and have the potential to at worst decimate it, and at best move many small theatres to eschew the use of actors belonging to Actors Equity or other unions. This will hurt everyone — actors, producers, and audience members. I strongly urge everyone to read about the proposed changes. Colin Mitchell and Bitter Lemons has been doing a remarkable job of being THE source for information about this. Read. Learn. If you are in a position to do so, speak up about it. Alas, I don’t believe Actors Equity would care about the opinion of audience members (that is certainly not their constituency); they likely don’t care about the Producers either (or they wouldn’t have proposed this). They certainly don’t understand the Los Angeles theatre scene. Still, if can never hurt to let your opinions be known — as audience members, we can also choose to stay away from Equity productions under this proposal — after all, a show without an audience. Whatever you do, be out there to support LA Theatre and Southern California theatre.

Dining Notes: Yet again we had an excellent meal before the show at True Shabu. Wonderful organic hot-pot cooking, with farm fresh and healthy ingredients. It’s a shame it is so far away, or we would eat there more often.

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 Shows: Theatre continues this afternoon with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB). The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). 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.

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A Timeless Love Story

She Loves Me (Chance Theatre)userpic=dramamasksI’ve written before about how I’m always up to see musicals I’ve only heard, but never seen. So back in January, when we were at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim to see Lysistrata Jones, I noticed that they were planning to do She Loves Me at one of their holiday plays. I’m familiar with She Loves Me — I’ve got two cast album versions, and have always enjoyed the music from the show. From what I had heard, it was Bock/Harnick’s best crafted show, but never achieved the measure of success they later had with Fiddler on the Roof. So it went on my RADAR for future ticketing. Now it is December, and the Chance is performing She Loves Me. So guess what part of our mad dash was yesterday: that’s right: a 61 mile (one-way) jaunt to the Anaheim Hills for She Loves Me (after which we rushed to Culver City for an 8 PM concert, but that’s another writeup).

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

The execution of the show at the Chance was (as with every Chance show), perfect. The instrumentation was kept simple: a single pianist (Ryan O’Connell (FB)) and an occasional Romani Woman (Tina Nguyen (FB)) on violin. I’m a big fan of simple orchestrations — one of my favorite versions of I Do! I Do! is instrumented with just two pianos. Do it simple, or do it lush. What the Chance Theatre did here worked very very well. Note that the actor playing Kodaly, Taylor Stephenson, also served as musical director.

The performances were equally strong. In the lead positions were Stanton Kane Morales (FB) as Georg Nowack and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as Amalia Balash (normally Erika C. Miller (FB) performs the role, but she was out this weekend). Both brought a wonderful joy and enthusiasm to the role (clearly evident in Georg’s wonderful numbers “Tonight at Eight” and “She Loves Me”, and Amalia in “Ice Cream”), and both sang and danced beautifully. In the first act, it was totally believable that they didn’t like each other, yet in the second act, they were able to turn that into a playful spark that made them a believable couple. This chemistry was more remarkable when you realize that we were watching the understudy, who hasn’t had the time to build the chemistry. Credit here goes to the actors, as well as the director, Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB).

In the second tier we had the remaining Maraczek employees: Ilona Ritter (Camryn Zelinger (FB)), Ladisov Sipos (Corky Loupe (FB)), Steven Kodaly (Taylor Stephenson), the shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Beach Vickers (FB)), and the delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo (Daniel Jared Hersh (FB)). All were excellent. In particular, Zelinger gave a spot-on performance in her number “A Trip to the Library” (which now I finally understand), and Vickers was wonderful in “Days Gone By”. Hersh had the appropriate youthful enthusiasm in “Try Me”, and both Loupe and Stephenson were great in their solo numbers “Perspective” and “Ilona”.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller roles were Matt Takahashi (FB) (Waiter, Ensemble), Eric T. Anderson (FB) (Busboy, Ensemble), Shafik Wahhab (FB) (Keller, Ensemble), Elizabeth Adabale (FB) (Ensemble), Erica Schaeffer (FB) (Ensemble, Dance Captain), and Katelyn Spurgin (FB) (Ensemble). A few things about the ensemble that stick in my mind: A few of the male ensemble members doubled as women customers during Act I; this is not a surprise in an intimate theatre setting, and was actually quite fun to watch. What was even more fun to watch was the shop interaction of all the ensemble members — and particularly Adabale, Schaeffer, and Spurgin — as they tried products and silently worked with the clerks. Schaeffer and Spurgin were also fun to watch as the patrons in the Cafe scene, and Adabale handled her Fats Waller number quite well. Takahashi was quite good in “A Romantic Atmosphere”, and all of the ensemble was just delightful in “Twelve Days to Christmas”. Lastly, and most superficially :-), Adabale has one of the cutest faces I’ve seen in a while :-).

She Loves Me doesn’t have the big splashy production numbers one expects in shows from the 1960s; this was one of its original problems. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have dancing, choreography, and movement. There were scenes that were particularly movement-beautiful — in particular the movement of the opening number (“Good Morning, Good Day”, the simple dancing of “Days Gone By”, all the movement in the Cafe, Ilona’s movement in “A Trip to the Library”, and the overall chaos and movement in “Twelve Days to Christmas”.  She Loves Me was choreographed by Christopher M. Albrecht (FB), and Erica Schaeffer (FB) served as dance captain.

Turning to the technical: Again, the execution of She Loves Me was spot-on. The sound design of Ryan Brodkin (FB) was clear and worked well. When the show started I was a bit concerned that the actors might be over-amplified for the space, but the sound ended up being great. The lighting by Jonathan Daroca (FB) worked well to establish the mood, and didn’t seem to depend on the spotlights so many stage shows of this era seem to depend upon. The scenic and costume design by Bruce Goodrich (FB), together with the prop design of Amy Ramirez (FB), worked reasonably well to establish the mood and setting. I say reasonably, because I did have trouble recognizing it as Budapest; I was thinking more French or English given the barets, the backgrounds, the pricing, and the place names. However, the open and close set for the parfumerie worked particularly well. The clothing otherwise seemed period appropriate. Rounding out the technical credits were Michael Martinez-Hamilton (FB) as Assistant Director/Dramaturg, Chauna Goldberg/FB providing hair and make-up, Michelle Kincaid assisting with costume design, and Jonathan Castanien/FB as stage manager.

She Loves Me” continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim until December 28. If you can fit it into your schedule, you’ll enjoy it — it is a thoroughly delightful show. Tickets are available through the Chance Box Office. Goldstar is sold out, and discount tickets are not available through LA Stage Tix. Chance has announced their 2015, which consists of 11(!) shows over two stages (they are currently fundraising for the second stage). The shows are (♦ = main stage; ◊ = second stage): ♦ Loch Ness (a new musical with book and music by Marshall Pailet of Triassic Parq, lyrics & book by A. D. Penedo; January 30 – March 1); ♦ After the Revolution (by Amy Herzog; April 10 – May 10); ◊ Samsara (by Lauren Yee; April 30 – May 31); ♦ Hairspray (Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman; July 10 – August 9); ◊ The Dragon Play (by Jenny Connell Davis, July 23 – August 23); ♦ A Bright New Boise (by Sam Hunter; September 25 – October 25); ♦ Anne of Green Gables (Book by Joseph Robinette, Music and Lyrics by Evelyn D. Swensson; Holiday Series: November 27 – December 27); ◊ The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (by Jeff Goode; Holiday Series: December 8 – December 23); ◊ Alice in Wonderland (by Randy Wyatt; Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA): February 28 – March 8); ♦ Fancy Nancy – The Musical (Book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo, Music by Sam Viverito; TYA – May 29 – June 7); and ◊ The Legend(s) of Sleepy Hollow (by Jonathan Josephson, TYA: October 8 – October 18). [As an aside, for the TYA shows, I’m impressed that Chance does a special performance for Autism Spectrum kids.] Of these, I’m interested in Loch Ness and Fancy Nancy.

Dining Notes: Prior to the show, we found a spectacular restaurant that is almost worth the drive on its own: True Shabu (FB). It is basically across the street from the Chance, next to the cinemas. It is an upscale Shabu Shabu restaurant where you cook your food at the table. Meats are organic, vegetables are organic and from local farmer’s markets where possible, the sauces are hand-made, the place is gluten-free friendly. Prices are not outrageous, especially for lunch. You can see the menu here. Note: The chef indicated they may be changing names to help people find it better, but whatever the name: go before or after the show. You’ll love it.

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 Shows: Right after this show we ran to Culver City for the  Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City (that’s the next writeup). There is one more show in December for me: A Christmas Carol, as interpreted by Zombie Joe’s Underground (FB) on December 28  (my wife is seeing The Klezmatics at Disney Hall on December 22). January is slowly filling up:  “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11; “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17; and possibly the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. 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.

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Girl Power in Anaheim

Lysistrata Jones (Chance)userpic=theatre_musicalsToday, we saw girl power on the stage and thoroughly enjoyed it. No, I’m not talking about the Spice Girls Musical. I’m talking about the original girl power, reimagined.

Perhaps I should explain this better. Back in 411 BCE, the Greek playwright Aristophanes (FB) debuted an comic play called “Lysistrata“. In this play, a woman named Lysistrata forces an end to the Peloponnesian War by persuading the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers. This forces the men to negotiate peace. This play has been done many times over the years, and the strategies of Lysistrata have been adopted by many women’s groups to get men to do what they should do, not what their little brains tell them to do. In 2011, Douglas Carter Beane (FB) (book) and Lewis Flinn (FB) (music and lyrics) came together to retell the story in a contemporary fashion. This musical, called “Lysistrata Jones” was successful off-Broadway, but tanked in the larger Broadway houses. The Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills is currently presenting the West Coast premier of “Lysistrata Jones“. I’ve had the music for a while, and so jumped at the chance to see the musical, even if it meant driving 120+ miles roundtrip. So this afternoon, down to Anaheim we drove for “Lysistrata Jones“.

Lysistrata Jones” updates the setting of Lysistrata to Athens University and their basketball team, the Spartans. The Spartans have been losing at basketball for over 30 years straight, and a new transfer student, Lysistrata Jones, who is dating the captain of the basketball team, wants to change that record. She convinces the other team girlfriends (Lampito, Cleonice, and Mhrrhine) to form a cheerleading squad to support the team. This doesn’t help. Then one day at the library, she learns of the story of her namesake from the library intern, Robin, and gets an idea. She, and the other girls on the cheer squad (including Robin, who has joined the squad) will stop “giving it up” to their boyfriends until the basketball team (Mick, Uardo, Tyllis, Cinesias, and Harold) win a game. However, this plot backfires, as the boys initially decide it is better to make no effort and lose, than to try hard… and lose. So the girls visit a local prostitute to learn how to encourage the boys better. Again, the tactic backfires. This continues back and forth (I’m not going to completely spoil the fun) until, as in the original story, the girls have their way. Egging them on throughout this is Hetaira, a Greek Goddess who assumes various roles, and Xander, a young man recruited from the library to serve as the Spartan’s mascot.

The college setting — with basketball and cheer — provides for lots of energetic music and eye candy (umm, stunning visuals) for all ilks in the audience. But beyond all of that is a good story, well performed, with lots of fun writing. There were numerous throwaway lines that were just hilarious. This is no surprise when you realize that Beane was behind the musical version of Xanadu as well, and that show amped up the parody. But behind the energy and the visuals and the fun was a strong and great message of empowerment of women to change the world — as as the play was updated — the message that people can do what is right for them and change the world. This is a great message to impart, buried within all that fun.

So were there weaknesses in the story? Yes. A number of the characters were stereotypical, but that’s common in theatre where things often need to be painted with a broad brush (especially in comedies). You’ll find similar stereotypes in similar musicals such as “Bring It On“. What I liked was that, in many way, the characters started out stereotypically but moved, in various measures, beyond those stereotypes.

The entire cast was strong, and there performances blended so well with the direction that I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. This is a good thing, and is a credit to the director Kari Hayter (FB) [and the assistant director, Crystal Hoskins Phillips (FB)]. One of the particular things I liked about the overall ensemble was the overall enthusiasm and fun they were having — this was clearly evident from the looks on their faces on numbers such as “Hold On”. They were just enjoying this show, its message, and this enjoyment was clearly broadcast to the audience. You can see some pictures from the show here.

Leading the charge to get the team to win were the girls, led by Devon Hadsell (FB) (Lysistrata). Her squad consisted of Klarissa Mesee (FB) (Lampito); Danielle Rosario (FB) (Cleonice), Chelsea Baldree (FB) (Myrrhine), and Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) (Robin). Camryn Zelinger (FB) (Hetaira) added the Greek element and the narration, while doubling as the referee and the prostitute. All were great. I was particularly smitten by the energy of Devon Hadsell and Ashley Arlene Nelson in their roles, and the flexibility of Camryn Zelinger in the multiple roles she had to play. I was also amazed at how all of them found the energy to do all that dancing (which was extremely energetic) and not be winded. They were also very strong singers. They all were just fantastic to watch.

On the basketball team side were J. D. Driskill (FB) (Mick), Michael Dushefsky (FB) (Uardo), Darian Archie (FB) (Tyllis), Ricky Wagner (FB)( Harold), and Jackson Tobiska (FB) (Cinesias). Robert Wallace (FB) rounded out the guys as Xander, who the girls recruited to be the mascot. All of the guys had strong energy, and did a reasonable job on the basketball court (which for actors, is pretty good). My wife enjoyed watching the transformation of Robert Wallace’s character — he went from almost comic relief in the beginning to a well rounded character at the end.  Again, all were strong singers and performers.

Strong choreography is vital to this show, and the choreography by Kelly Todd (FB), assisted by Christopher M. Albrecht (FB), worked quite nicely. This was even more amazing when you realize that this show is in a new space for the Chance, and the space was not ready until a week before the show. As a result, all the movement had to be learned in a space that had a set with different spacing and objects. That the team succeeded so well is amazing.

Music was provided by a four-piece band under the direction of Rod Bahheri (FB), who played piano as well. Supporting him on-stage were Garrett Hazen (FB) on guitar, James McHale on bass, and Jorge Zuniga on drums.

Turning to the technical and support side — which was more amazing considering that this was the Chance Theatre’s first show in the new larger performance space, and that the technical work on this show couldn’t be started until construction was completed just a few weeks ago. The set was designed by Christopher Scott Murillo (FB), and consisted of a floor painted to resemble a well-worn wood basketball court with two hoops (lowered so that actors could reliably make shots). There were stairs in the back with the band on top, and bleachers on the side. This all worked quite well to support the story; it was aided by the prop designs of Daniel Bravo. The sound design by Ryan Brodkin (FB) worked well for the most part (there were one or two minor drops), and I particularly appreciated the use of reverb at points. The lighting design by Matt Schleicher also worked well, and I noticed quite a few new lights for the Chance (movers, scrollers, what looked to be some square halogens, and some LED lights). There were a few spots where actors were in the dark, but I’m sure that will be adjusted in future shows. Supporting all of this were Sarah DuVal (Dramaturg), Courtney Greenough/FB (Stage Manager/Company Manager),  Casey Long/FB (Managing Director), Masako Tobaru (Production Manager/Technical Director)., Jennifer Ruckman (Literary Manager), Marc Sanford (Associate House Manager), Erika C. Miller (Development Director), Teodora Ramos (Master Carpenter), Jeff Hellebrand (Box Office Associate), and Jocelyn A. Brown (Associate Artistic Director) . Oahn Nguyen is the Artistic Director for Chance Theatre.

Lysistrata Jones” continues at The Chance Theatre (FB) through March 9, 2014. Tickets are available through the Chance Box Office, and may be available through Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. Note: If you had starred the Chance Theatre at their old address on Goldstar, you won’t see notices at the new address. You need to star this address. This is the first show in their new, larger location, which is at the other end of large office complex from their original location. For those unfamiliar with where The Chance Theatre (FB) is located, it is right near the junction of Imperial Highway and Route 91.

The Chance Theatre (FB) has announced the remainder of their 2014 season. It consists of Sarah Ruhl’s “Passion Play” (April 25-May 18) [this was recently mounted at the Odyssey in West LA]; “In The Heights” (July 3-August 3) [being done this Spring in Thousand Oaks; Chance has the Orange County regional premier]; Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine” (Sept. 19-Oct 12); the Bock-Harnick musical “She Loves Me” (November 28-December 28); and a holiday musical to be announced. We plan to head south again for “She Loves Me“, as this is rarely done in the area.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we had lunch at Slater’s 50/50 Burgers By Design. In a word… yum! 50/50 refers to the fact their burgers are half-beef, half-bacon. I didn’t have a burger, but opted instead for a pesto-sun dried tomato macaroni and cheese with grilled chicken breast. That was my final choice — I had to decide between that, a double grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-basil soup, or the build-your-own burger.

[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:  Read this closely, as the menu options have changed. Next weekend, February 22 I’m doing a site visit to Portland OR for ACSAC. But that doesn’t stop the theatre — we’ve going to the Brunish Theatre at Portland5 to see the Elton John/Tim Rice musical “Aida“. The last weekend of February was going to start with Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” at Two Roads Theatre, but the problematic reviews (decidedly mixed reviews on the performances, and nearly unanamous reviews that the show was too long and had too many long scene changes) led me to cancel it and replace it with Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” at Crown City Theatre (FB). The next evening brings the MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel, followed by “Sex and Education” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sunday March 2 (moved from March 8). The weekend of March 8 now brings “Biloxi Blues” at REP East (FB) (moved from March 29). The weekend of March 16 brings Purim Schpiels, with Sunday afternoon bringing “Inherit the Wind” at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank. March 22 brings “Harmony” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by “Author, Author: An Evening with Sholom Aleichem” at the Santa Monica Playhouse (FB) on March 23. The last weekend of March is open, and will likely stay that way as we’ll be exhausted. April starts with “In The Heights” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 5, and should also bring “Tallest Tree” at the Mark Taper Forum, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. April may also bring “My Name is Asher Lev” at the Fountain Theatre (FB) (as this runs through April 19). 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 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.

 

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Singing and Dancing Velociraptors… What Could Go Wrong?

triassic_parquserpic=theatre_ticketsI’m always on the lookout for new and offbeat musicals. Many years ago, this led me to the hills of Anaheim (~64 miles away) to the Chance Theatre for their production of “Brain from Planet X“, a delightfully-kooky science fiction musical. Since then, there have been a number of productions that have intrigued me at the Chance (Jerry Springer-The Opera, Rooms: A Rock Romance, Anne of Green Gables), but either timing or the distance has led me to miss them. So when I read last November that Chance was bringing out “Triassic Parq: The Musical, I started monitoring Goldstar Events for discount tickets. Luckily, some performances did show up, and even luckier, the first preview performances were the weekend after my birthday. So it was off to the Hills of Anaheim… and I must say, it was well worth the drive!

Triassic Parq: The Musical” falls into the category of quasi-parody musical. It isn’t a true parody musical like “Silence!” or “Toxic Avenger: The Musical” that follow the original storyline closely, exaggerating the humor. But it also isn’t a serious musical as one sees on the Broadway stage, with a deep storyline and earnest seriousness behind it.  It is a musical that uses the theatrical Jurassic Park as a starting point (similar to the way Brain from Planet X used Plan 9 from Outer Space) to have a good time and perhaps make a point or two along the way. Luckily, Triassic Parq has grown since its first outing at the NY Fringe Festival; it has moved from a collection of sketches to a reasonable storyline with good character growth. In fact, one might say that unexpected growth is a main point of the story.

Triassic Parq (book by Marshall Pailet (FB), Bryce Norbitz (FB), and Steve Wargo (FB); music by Marshall Pailet) tells (roughly) the story of Jurassic Park… from the point of view of the dinosaurs. After a singing and dancing rollcall opening, the background exposition is provided by Morgan Freeman, who relates the story of the island of the dinosaurs, how the dinosaurs were created from prehistoric DNA of an insect mixed with a little DNA of a frog, and how the population is kept under control by being all female. Freeman also notes that the frog used for the splicing has the capability to change genders when necessary to keep the community alive, but indicates that fact isn’t important. Freeman’s character is quickly dispatched afterwards, and we’re left with our primary characters — T-Rex 1 (Kaitlyn), T-Rex 2, the Velociraptor of Innocence, and the Mime-a-saurus — all female. The two T-Rexes are best friends, and Innocence (the lead protagonist) is, well, innocent and curious.  When the lab provides the food for the day (a cute baby goat, wonderfully portrayed through puppetry), the Velociraptor of Faith has a prayer service to give thanks to the great Lab for their food. This celebration is interrupted by changes happening to T-Rex 2. She is having these funny feelings, and there is this strange growth in her body. Faith, recognizing it for what it is, expels her to beyond the electric fence, just like the previously expelled Velociraptor of Science. This provokes Innocence into action: she decides to go beyond the fence to find Science, and learn the true story of what is happening. Innocence goes on her quest, together with her cuddly cow companion, and eventually finds Science. Science knows well what is happening to T-Rex 2, and gives Innocence a book on Human Anatomy. This is where Innocence learns about the Dinosaur-Stick that T-Rex 2 is growing. Later, when T-Rex 2 comes across Innocence in the forest, she learns what is used for. Unfortunately, T-Rex 1 discovers them, and goes mad. This leads to the inevitable conclusion.

This story has hints of the original Jurassic Park story: you can see it in how the Dinos were created, through occasional touch points in the story, and how they go crazy at the end. During the discussion after the show, one of the authors pointed out that the closest parallel is Wicked — using the basic characters as a framework to tell a slightly different backstory from a different point of view. For Triassic Parq, when you strip away all the stereotypical jokes about men and their behavior, what you have is a story about family, the importance of survival, and how families will do what is needed to survive. We see this in the growth of Innocence, who moves from a young girlsaur to being a leader, as well as in the growth of the other dinos, who learn to accept their sexuality. What the story lacks (and perhaps what keeps it in the quasi-parody camp, although it doesn’t hurt the fun) is a depth of character: we see the lead characters as more broad archetypes as opposed to deeply realistic characters with which we identify.  This may improve as the show continues — we saw the 2nd preview and changes were still being made… on top of the large number of changes since the recent off-Broadway staging and the extensive changes from the original version. Translation: it keeps getting better and better. [ETA: Note that this also means that the Triassic Parq cast album may not agree with the show; the authors should consider doing a Kickstarter for an updated cast album, as they did with Now. Here. This.]

The staging of the show is very creative. The dinosaur aspects are conveyed through hints of costuming (as can be seen in these photos). Puppets are used to good effect, and the dancing uses the stage space well. I also liked the creative use of the electric fence. The score was a rock score and was enjoyable; I would need a few more listens to determine how well it holds up. Another creative aspect was the gender bending — all of the male characters were portrayed by females, and the female characters were mostly played by men. This allowed the audience to not bring in external stereotypes to their interpretation of the characters. However, there was another bending problem in the show: my mind couldn’t grok the species-bending aspects of T-Rexes mating with Velociraptors. Oh well, I guess all dinosaurs look alike in the sack.

Under the direction of the author, Marshall Pailet (assisted by Christopher Renfro/FB), the performances were great. In the lead position was Keaton Williams (FB) as the Velociraptor of Innocence. Williams brought a delightful (shall I say girlish :-)) energy to the ensemble: he danced well and sang wonderfully. Playing off of Williams were the two T-Rexes: 1 and 2. T-Rex 1 (Kaitlyn) was played by Micaela Martinez (resumé, FB) , and T-Rex 2 was played by Kellie Spill (resumé, FB). Both were strong singers and dancers, and Spill had some wonderful gender-bending scenes. The two also had a lovely duet.

Leading the dinosaur group was the Velociraptor of Faith, Jackson Tobiska (FB).  Tobiska had a bit more of a malevolent presence, for some reason — you weren’t quite sure of his motivations or why, but there was something he was hiding in his actions (note: I’m never sure what pronouns to use here, for you had male actors playing female characters). This was the mark of a good performance. Rounding out the cast were Alex Bueno (resumé, FB) as Mime-a-saurus and Camryn Zelinger (FB) as Morgan Freeman, the Velociraptor of Science, and various unnamed dinosaurs.  Bueno performed well, although (a) I couldn’t figure out why there was a particular dinosaur that was a mime, and (b) I couldn’t always figure out what she was miming. Other than that (which was more of a book flaw), Bueno was fun to watch on stage, especially in her final scenes. Zelinger was also fun. This was especially true in her Freeman introductory exposition, as well as her wonderful rap number with Innocence.

Movement and music-wise, the production was excellent. The production was choreographed by Kelly Todd (FB), who designed  creative dances that used the stage — including the fences and the poles — to good effect. Musical direction was by Taylor Stephenson (FB), who also led (as Pianosaurus) the three-piece band consisting of Stephenson on keyboard, Ryan Navales (FB) (Guitarodactyl) on guitar, and Jorge Zuniga (FB) (Percussodon) on percussion. The band provided great sound (I’ve always liked the live music at the Chance), and I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Pianosaurus and the remainder of the cast.

Turning to the technical (and I’ll note there were a few glitches I’ve written off to it being a preview performance): The scenic design by Joe Holbrook (FB) [assisted by Karrah Marie Spitznagel/FB] was relatively simple: a cave-like structure, some electrified fencing, with the musicians at the top of the structure. It worked well, although I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the ropes at various places. Lighting was by Matt Schleicher (FB) was very effective — it made good use of what I think were scrollers, as well as a number of LED lights and conventional lights. The sound design by Ryan Brokdin (FB) worked well, modulo the preview glitches. I particularly liked the deep-bass dinosaur roars. I’ll also note that Ryan worked on one of my recent faves, A Mulholland Christmas Carol, although he didn’t list it in his bio.  The costumes, which I’ve previously mentioned (and you can see here), were designed by Anthony Tran.  We’ve seen Tran’s work previously at the Colony for Year Zero. He did a great job here, with costumes that provided the suggestion of saur-i-ness without being overly limiting. Stage (or should I say Satge) Management was by Christopher Ramirez (FB), assisted by Jules Fugett/FB. The Executive Producer of Triassic Parq – The Musicalwas Mary Kay Fyda-Mar (FB).

Triassic Parq-The Musical” continues at The Chance Theatre through February 24. It is well worth seeing, whereever you live in Southern California.  Tickets are available through Ovation-Tix, and may be available through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix. Chance has an interesting season this year with good pricing (as low as $45 for all 4 mainstage shows); alas,  they are a bit far away for us to subscribe). Their 2013 season consists of Triassic Parq (1/25-2/24), The Laramie Project/The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (4/18-5/19), Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (7/5/8/4)*, and Time Stands Still (9/27-10/20). The Holiday series is The Secret Garden-The Musical (11/15-12/29) and The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (11/25-12/23). [*: Note: BBAJ was just announced the 2013 season of DOMA, running 10/18-11/24, if you don’t want to drive]. As for us…

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:   Next week sees us back at REP East for the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee“.  February 9 is “Backbeat” at the Ahmanson. February 16 brings “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and the last weekend of February is The Snake Can” at the Odyssey Theatre (based on an ad that caught Karen’s eye in the latest Footlights). March starts with “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at the Colony. After a break for Fogcon (although I may do something here), theatre picks up with “Catch Me If You Can” at Broadway LA/Pantages on March 16 and “Boeing Boeing” at REP East on March 23. March may also bring “End of the Rainbow” at the Ahmanson, most likely on March 30. April will bring the Southern California Renaissance Faire (huzzah for the $15 Holidazzle sale), “Grease” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and a winetasting at Temple Ahavat Shalom. May is also busy, with two concerts — Elton John in Las Vegas on May 4, and (tentative) Michael Feinstein at VPAC on May 11. May may also bring “Falling for Make Believe” at The Colony Theatre, “To Kill a Mockingbird” at REP East. Lastly, continuing the look ahead, June will bring (tenative) “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” at the Pantages, (tentative), Sweet Charity at DOMA, and the Western Corps Connection at the end of the month. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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