The Mother Superior Ship

Nunsense (Crown City)userpic=theatre_ticketsEspecially when contrasted to movies, sequels in the live theatre business are extremely rare. In general, for theatre, sequels flop. Just look at Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, or Love Never Dies. When you move to the arena of Off-Broadway (i.e., smaller size houses), sequels and series fare better. There are, of course, the Holiday spinoffs (e.g., Plaid Tidings, Winter Wonderettes). There are a few live theatre tentpole seriess: the Forbidden Broadway series, the Don’t Hug Me series, and the extremely popular Nunsense series (which is just about to launch a streaming TV series), written by Dan Goggin.

I’ve known about the Nunsense series for years, having many of the cast albums in my collections. However, I’ve never actually seen a Nunsense in the wild. That is, until last night.  When I learned that Crown City Theatre (FB) was doing Nunsense as their holiday show, the ticket watch started. We ended up ticketing for this weekend, and so we were blessed with Nunsense as our final live theater show of 2015. I’m pleased to say that this production lived up to the excellent quality standard we’ve seen from Crown City. More on that in a paragraph or two.

So what is Nunsense about? The elevator pitch explanation is, to put it bluntly, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?” Well, forget those nuns in The Sound of Music. Those are not the nuns that you are looking for. For which you are looking. Oh, never mind.

Here’s a longer summary from the Nunsense website: Nunsense begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the eighth grade production of “Grease.” Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.

Or, as I said, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?”  This is not high concept theater, folks.

Luckily, funny it is. Under the direction of Kristen Towers Rowles (FB), these nuns have fun, let loose, and generally ham it up (which they can do, because they do not keep kosher). The sense is playful from beginning to end, and I even got the sense that there was some level of improvisation (at least in how some bits were done).

Nunsense Production StillsThe performances … at least the ones we saw … were excellent. I add that caveat because there are swings for every role; at our performance we had the swing for Sister Mary Hubert. Thus, I cannot speak to the folks we didn’t see, but given the playfulness of this bunch, I’d expect them to be great.

As Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior, we had Michelle Holmes (FB) [Swing: Karen Christie (FB)]. Holmes seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role, as could be seen in the Unexpected Discovery scene near the end of Act I, the “Just a Coupl’a Sisters” song, and in particular, the “Baking with the BVM” scene. About my only comment on her performance is easily correctable: there are a number of lines in the script that imply that the Mother Superior is a bit more on the hefty size, or at minimum, has a hefty rump. However, Holmes is relatively skinny — which made those lines incongruous. Some slight adaptation to the script would solve the problem.

At our performance, Sister Mary Hubert was played by Elizabeth Jane Charlton/FB, the swing [Normally: Renee Cohen (FB)]. I really liked Charlton’s Hubert. I’m sure part of this is that she fit my mind’s image of Hubert, for some reason. She had a very good singing voice, which manifested itself in her number “Holier Than Thou” much more than in her other numbers. She was fun to watch.

Sister Robert Anne was portrayed by Lisa Dyson (FB) [Swing: Kristin Farrell (FB)]. Dyson gave off an appropriate New Yawk street smart vibe, which worked well. She did very well in her number “I Just Want to Be a Star”.

Kelly Dorney (FB)’s Sister Mary Amnesia gave one of my two favorite performances in the show (Swing: Amanda Walter (FB)). She brought a wonderful playfulness to the role, and an even more remarkable singing voice. I was just blown away by her singing. Wow. Umm, where was I. Oh yes. It is hard to pick a favorite performance of hers, but I really liked her “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” number, but “So You Want To Be A Nun” comes a close second.

My other favorite performance was Shayna Gabrielle (FB) as Sister Mary Leo (Swing: Alix Isom (FB)). Gabrielle was just mischevious, especially later on where you could see she was getting into the overall humor and starting to crack up at the antics of the other performers. Her comic dance in “Soup’s On” was just spectacular. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.

The movement of the nuns was choreographed by Lisaun Wittingham (FB), assisted by Michael Marchak (FB). In general, the dances worked well. Particularly notable was “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” and the aforementioned “Soup’s On”.

Music Direction, arrangement, and performance was by William A. Reilly (FB).

Turning to the production side. The program states that the set and prop design was by the Eighth Grade Class at the Mount Saint Helen School, but I truly doubt that. I’m guessing it was done by the dedicated folks at Crown City. Of course, this show doesn’t really need that much of a set, and the primary prop is Sister Mary Annette. Costume design was by Tanya Apuya (FB), and they looked suitably nun-like to this Jew. Lighting Design was by Zad Potter (FB), who also served as Production Stage Manager.  Lighting is an interesting challenge at Crown City, as there is no space for a traditional spot and use of a moving mirror is required. This worked reasonably well, although there was some flicker either coming from either the spot or the floor lighting. Remaining production credits: Sound design: Joe Shea (FB); Projection/Video Design: Chris Thume/FB; House Technical Manager: Michael Pammit/FB.

Nunsense continues at Crown City Theatre (FB) until at least January 17, 2016, with a possible extension (which is highly likely, as Crown City shows love to extend). Tickets are available through the Crown City website; they are also available through Goldstar and Plays411. Go. You’ll enjoy it.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This was our last live theater show for 2015. Next up is “year in review” writeup. The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). February starts with a hold date for “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The rest of the February schedule is empty except for February 28, when we are seeing 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 brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  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.


Damn Furriners

The Foreigner (Crown City)userpic=yorickIf you had asked me a few weeks ago what show I was seeing the last weekend of February, I would have told you “The Real Thing” by Tom Stoppard, at Two Roads Theatre. But I had gotten those tickets based on the strength of the author — once I read the reviews of the actual production… in particular the review of M.R. Hunter… I began to get nervous. Luckily, I’m at a level with Goldstar where I can cancel tickets without penalty. So I did, and I replaced it with another show that had a good reputation with a company that I know does great work. That show was Larry Shue‘s “The Foreigner“, and the company was Crown City Theatre (FB) in North Hollywood. The production was well worth braving the sorely-needed torrential rains to go see.

“The Foreigner” is, in many ways, a farce — it depends on good timing, good performances, and misunderstandings that the audience is clued into but the people on stage are not. The setup of “The Foreigner” is simple. Froggy LeSueur is a British demolitions expert who sometimes runs training sessions at military installation near a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. His best friend, Charlie Baker needs to get away from his situation at home where his wife (who pathologically cheats on him, but whom he loves dearly) is on her deathbed. So Froggy brings Charlie with him to Georgia to spend a few days at the fishing lodge. The problem is that Charlie (a proofreader for science-fiction magazines) is pathologically shy and is terrified at the prospect of having to converse with strangers at the lodge for three days. To help his friend, Froggy tells Betty, the owner of the lodge, that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and neither speaks nor understands English.

Charlie doesn’t want to go along with this, but when people start talking around him as if he isn’t there, he starts to play along. He soon learns the situation at the lodge: Catherine is staying there with her fiancee, Rev. David, and her dim-witted brother, Ellard. Catherine has inherited lots of money, and David wants to get all that money and the lodge. He has been plotting with Owen, the county inspector, to have the lodge condemned. He’ll then marry Katherine, buy the lodge, and recreate the Georgia Empire of the KKK. Catherine knows nothing about this. While learning this, Charlie grows into his role, including pretending to learn English under the training of Ellard. He uses his broken English to goad both Owen and David, with the net result that the Klan sets their eyes on the foreigner, Charlie, and sees an easy way to gain the lodge. The second act is how Charlie foils the KKK attack — and I won’t spoil that for you as it is hilarous.

The performances in this were supurb under the seamless direction of Joanne McGee (FB). I particularly enjoyed watching the actors who were not the focus on the scene reacting — you could tell they were having fun with this show. In the lead position, as “the foreigner” Charlie Baker, was Brian Graves (FB). Graves had this mischievous streak in him that just shone through in the performance; this playfulness worked well. He was so natural with this role that I began to wonder if there was some measure of improvisation going on. His buddy, Froggy, was played by David Ghilardi (FB); Ghilardi had an equal measure of playfulness in his scenes — especially in the final scene.

The actors behind the folks at the lodge were equally talented: Nan Tepper (FB) as Betty, Kelly Huddleston (FB) as Catherine; Adam Simon Krist (FB) as Ellard, and Jacob C. Head (FB) (Rev. David). Rounding out the main players was Ian Patrick Williams (FB) as Owen. We’ve seen Tepper before at REP East; she was very good playing the bufuddled owner of the lodge. I truly enjoyed watching Huddleston’s Catherine — I was unsure in her first few scenes, but as the production went on I loved how she got into the character, got playful, and was having fun with Graves’ Charlie. Krist was appropriately energetic and yet slow as Ellard, and Head and Williams provided the appropriate element of evil. Rounding out the cast as the KKK members for one scene were some combination of: Richard Kray, Stephen R. Peluso, Derek T. May, Mark Leland, Ivone Reyes, James Hall, Orion McCabe, Jade Rosenberg, David Yukon, Sarah Keller, Stephanie Green, Michele Mahone Kwas, London May, and Amy D. Higgins.

The set design by Joanne McGee (FB) was appropriately lodge-ly and kitschy — I particularly appreciated the three Billy Bass mounted on the stage, and the effort to find a dial phone. Prop Design was by Keiko Moreno (FB). I also noticed the excellent sound design of Nikko Tsiotsias — this was especially apparent in the opening scenes with the car sounds and the rain. Also excellent was the lighting design of Anna Cecelia Martin, particularly with the creation of the headlight effect. Rounding out the technical and creative credits are: Tanya Apuya (Costume Designer), Zad Potter (Stage Manager), Oriana Havlicek (House and Literary Manager), and Gary Lamb/FB (Executive Producer, Technical Director, Co-Artistic Director) and William A. Reilly/FB (Producer/Co-Artistic Director).

Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” continues at Crown City Theatre (FB) through at least March 30 (and Crown City often extends their shows). You can get tickets through Brown Paper Tix here. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, or Plays411. If it was worth braving the rain for, imagine the strength of a recommendation for a sunny day.

[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:  Tonight 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.


What ‘Cha Want To Get Married For?

Company - At Crown City Theatreuserpic=theatre_ticketsGetting out of your comfort zone. This is something I’ve been discussing with my daughter of late, as she (a History major) has been taking an Astronomy class. This is also something most of us do in life when we get into a relationship and take a leap of faith when we commit to a lifetime relationship when we get married. Getting our of his comfort zone is the question ultimately faced by the lead character, Robert, in that classic Stephen Sondheim / George Furth musical-comedy “Company“, which we saw last night at the Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood. In short, this is an excellent production of the musical, and is well worth going to.

Before I go on, I’d like to note that this is a write-up, it is not a review. I am not a trained theatre critic, and I pay to attend every show I go to, just like most other audience members. I share my opinions on the shows I see with my friends, because I believe the best way to grow live theatre is to spread the word. This is in response to an editorial by Peter Finlayson on Footlights that was in our program, lambasting the “hacks” (untrained critics) who post their opinions about shows in blogs. I’ll have a separate post on that later, but that editorial served to insult this “hack”.

Luckily, the show more than made up for that insult. For those not familiar with it, “Company” is one of those seminal musicals (Sondheim has a lot of those). When it premiered in 1970, it was a flop. Critics and audiences at the time did not appreciate or connect with its music and found its books confusing. The music was Sondheim at his best: a mix of dissonance, clever patter numbers, tender numbers, and exceedingly complex numbers that served to illuminate the characters, as opposed to being an integral part of the plot or moving story forward. George Furth’s book was not necessarily linear, presenting a series of vignettes about marriage and relationships. It also made a point that did not necessarily sit well.

Given this structure for the story, describing it is difficult. “Company” is really the story of Robert (Bobby). Bobby is turning 35, and all of his married friends want him to get married. These friends — Joanne and Larry, Peter and Susan, Harry and Sarah, David and Jenny, and Paul and Amy — all believe that being married is the desirable state, and that by 35 one should be married. As for Bobby… well, he wants to get married, but not really, well he’s unsure. Through a series of scenes we see how Bobby views the marriages of his friends, as well as Bobby’s relationships with the single girls in his life. All of these propel Bobby into a deeper understanding of why he might want to get married, and what marriage really is. Sondheim has indicated this is one of those musicals where he had trouble getting just the right song for the ending, and the one he chose, “Being Alive”, worked well to capture the final point being made.

The director, Albert Alarr (FB), updated the story slightly, incorporating modern communication devices and modern dances. These updates worked very well, especially during the opening where Bobby is simultaneously playing a video game while dealing with email, messages, phone calls, texts, and chats from his married friends. Alarr also did an excellent job in bringing out the characters from the actors — one of the things I was impressed with in this production is how well performed it was. That’s a sign of a director in synergy with his acting ensemble. This was just a well well performed performance.

It was also great to see this musical up-close in a small venue. I’ve begun to realize that many “Broadway” musicals shine when given the small treatment — when the creative energy is used to make the big show up close and personal. I’ve seen this in the under-99 seat version of Gypsy, and it truly shows in this small theatre production of Company. The performances amplify — you get a close-up sense of the people and the couples, and the small space makes the show even more New-York-ish than a large gigantic stage would do.

Let’s now look at the cast and the couples, and in doing so, I’ll highlight two of my favorite performances; the rest I’ll hit as I go through the cast. [* indicates members of Actors Equity or one of the other 4A unions for actors]

In the lead position was Ben Rovner* (FB) as Robert. Rovner’s Robert was comfortable and accessible, and just seemed like the type of person you would like to be around — a good friend always there when you need him. You could see why these couples liked him and wanted him to be what they perceived as happy. Rovner’s signing voice was delightful, shining in numerous numbers such as “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive”, and he danced wonderfully.

Moving from the lead to one of the smaller roles, equally impressive was Julia Black*’s Marta. Marta is one of the girlfriends of Bobby, and is the lead singer for  “Another Hundred People”. Black impressed me in two ways. First, she had a wonderfully powerful singing voice that you could hear in the background of a number of songs, and which shone in “Another Hundred People”. Further, she had a wonderfully expressive face that reacted to the story going on around her — again, this was seen in “Another Hundred People”, as well as in the interplay with Peter and Susan, the married couple who divorced but are still living together for the children. She was also a standout in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”.

In the Broadway original, one of the standouts was Elaine Stritch as Joanne. In the production, Joanne was played by Sonja Alarr* (FB), playing off of her stage husband Larry (Mike Hagiwara* (FB)). Both were excellent. Alarr’s Joanne wasn’t quite as hard and cynical as the original, but came across as a lovely older lady with a sardonic view of life and an incredible capacity for alcohol. Her two main numbers — “The Little Things You Do Together” and the “Ladies Who Lunch” were just great. Hagiwara was one of the best male performers on the stage, with a great voice and wonderful movement.

During Joanne’s first number, we meet the couple of Harry (James Calvert* (FB)) and Sarah (Libby Baker* (FB)). The two worked well together, and Baker had a very lovely singing voice.

The couple of Amy and Paul were portrayed by Amy Albert* (FB) and Christopher Davis Carlisle* (FB). Albert’s Amy was spectacular, and I was blown away by her comic timing, expressions, and vocal capacity during “Not Getting Married”. Carlisle shown less in the singing and more in the reactions during the same number.

Peter (Zeffin Quinn Hollis* (FB)) and Susan (Lena Gwendolyn Hill* (FB)) were mentioned earlier — they are a married couple who decided the best way to preserve their relationship was divorce.  I was unsure about Hill’s Southern portrayal at the beginning, but it ended up working quite well and both performers were fun to watch.

The last couple is David (Jon Hand* (FB)) and Jenny (Beatrice Crosbie* (FB)). Both were a delight to watch, especially in the pot scene where seeing Jenny high was a treat.

Rounding out the cast were Robert’s other two girlfriends — and the remaining parts of the trio for “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. April, the flight attendant, was played by Emma Degerstedt* (FB). She was spectacular in “Barcelona” and “Drive a Person Crazy”, with a delightful look and wonderful comic timing. The other remaining girlfriend was Kathy (Katy O’Donnell* (FB)).

As I indicated at the beginning, the entire cast was fun to watch, and the large number of people conveyed the New York feel quite well. Also working well was the set design by Jack Forrestel (FB), which integrated well with the props from Joanne McGee (FB) and the projections by Zeffin Quinn Hollis*(FB) to turn the long black-box Crown City space into an effective New York apartment. It is this creativity that shows small theatre at its best — these things are easy to do when you have lots of fly and wing space, but when you are limited and you make it work it is just remarkable. The lighting design by Anna Cecelia Martin worked well to convey the mood, and the sound design by Mark Duggar/FB worked well to provide that ambient noise of New York well. The costumes by Tanya Apuya (FB) worked very well, especially the lovely outfits for all the female characters.  Serving as music director (and on the piano) was William A. Reilly/FB, and the delightful choreography was by John Todd/FB. Gary Lamb/FB was the Technical Director, and Kimberly Bullock/FB was the production stage manager.

“Company” continues at Crown City Theatre at least through the end of March. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, and note that shows seem to be selling out.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:   Next weekend takes us to the Pantages and Hollywood for  “Catch Me If You Can”on March 16. The fourth week of March brings “Boeing Boeing” at REP East on March 23, and March ends with “End of the Rainbow” at the Ahmanson on March 30. April has less theatre — so far, only one show is scheduled. The first weekend of April is open. The next weekend brings with the Southern California Renaissance Faire.  Following that is “Grease” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and April concludes with a winetasting at Temple Ahavat Shalom. May is busy in a different sense, with two concerts — Elton John in Las Vegas on May 4, and (tentative) Michael Feinstein at VPAC on May 11. May also brings “Falling for Make Believe” at The Colony Theatre and “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, and (tentative) Sweet Charity at DOMA. We were originally planning on the Western Corps Connection at the end of the month, but their collection of corps this year is poor. 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).

Music: NEO: New, Emerging…Outstanding! (Concert Cast) (Darius De Haas): “Field Flowers (Based On Text By Thomas Campbell)”



I Am The Very Model of a Modern Starship Officer…

Great entertainment often comes from taking a well-known and successful story and transplanting it to another place and time. For example, take Wagon Train, the story of a wagon train making its way from Missouri to California, along the way meeting all sorts of strange and interesting people. Transplant it to outer space, and voilà, you have the classic “Star Trek“. Now, suppose you took the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” and transplanted it to outer space (specifically, the aforementioned world of Star Trek)… voilà, you have “U.S.S. Pinafore”, the musical we saw last night at Crown City Theatre.

U.S.S. Pinafore” is actually a pretty straight retelling of the “H.M.S. Pinafore” story, with character name and costume changes, and of course adaptation of they lyrics to parody the TV show we all love. For those unfamiliar with the story, Pinafore tells the story of the U.S.S. Pinafore and it’s captain, Captain Corcoran (Jesse Merlin, mistermerlin). While orbiting the planet Penzance 12 in deep space, a local star trader, Little Buttercup (Kathi Chaplar), boards. She hints that she may be hiding a dark secret. Ralph Rackstraw (Aidan Parkæ), a Transporter Assistant Repairman (TAR) enters and declares his love for the Captain’s daughter, Josephine (Ashley Cuellar). The other red shirts on the crew (Bib Bobstay, first officer (Tim Polzinæ); T’Preea, Vulcan Communications Officer (Paton Ashbrookæ); Datum, Cyborg Navigator (Michael Levin); Dave Becket, Security Officer (Dave Bergesæ); and Dick Deadeye, a lizard-like alien (James Jaegeræ)) offer their sympathies, for a woman of her class would never end up with a TAR. Captain Cocoran greets his crew, complimenting them on their skill and promising to never (“well, hardly ever”) use bad language. After the crew leaves, the Captain confesses that his daugher is reluctant to consider a marriage proposal from Sir Joseph Porter (Ron Schneideræ), head of the U.F.P. Buttercup says that she knows how it feels to love in vain. Josephine enters and reveals to her father that she loves a humble sailor in his crew, but she assures him that she is a dutiful daughter and will never reveal her love to this sailor. Sir Joseph comes on board, accompanied by the Trust Fund Girls, Phoebe (Misha Bouvionæ), Hebe (Victoria Gonzalez), and Jebe (Paton Ashbrookæ) (his sister, cousin and aunt, respectively). Porter recounts how he rose from humble beginnings to be head of the U.F.P. in a well-known patter song. He also declares that all crew in Star Fleet are equal, except to him. This emboldens Ralph to declare his love to Josephine, but annoys Dick Deadhead, the realist. We also learn that Dick, the lizard creature, once had a torrid affair with Phoebe. Josephine rejects Ralphs love, but when Ralph is about to commit suicide by phaser, she enters and admits she loves him after all. Later, while the Captain expresses his concern to Little Buttercup, he indicates that if it were not for the difference in their social standing, he would have returned her affection. She prophesies that things are not all as they seem and that “a change” is in store for him. Sir Joseph enters and complains that Josephine has not yet agreed to marry him, and the Captain speculates that she is probably dazzled by his “exalted rank” and that if Sir Joseph can persuade her that “love levels all ranks”, she will accept his proposal. When Sir Joseph makes this argument, a delighted Josephine says that she “will hesitate no longer”, and reaveals her plan to marry Ralph. All beam down to the planet, where the Captain and Sir Joseph confront the lovers. The pair declare their love, justifying their actions because “He is an Earthman!” The furious Captain blurts out the D-word, and is confined to quarters. Ralph indicates the reason, and Sir Joseph has the sailor “loaded with chains” and taken to the brig. Little Buttercup now comes forward to reveal her long-held secret: when children, she mixed up the captain and Ralph: The wellborn babe was Ralph; your Captain was the other. Ralph and the Captain enter, having switched tunics, and a series of couples are now formed.

As I said, a straightforward translation of Pinafore. However, their Star Trek parody was spot on as well, mixing cliches from both the original and new series. These ranged from the fact that every red shirt expected to die; that they all leaned to the side when the ship was attacked; that the scottish crew member loved to drink; that the Vulcan was overly logical; that alien probes were painful… well, you get the idea. The set was a parody of the original set, with TNG artwork (Okuda-screens). The computer, Al (Jason D. Rennie), kept controlling things, except when he wouldn’t open the pod doors. The music was updated to reflect that Star Trek setting and changes, although the best reaction came when the entire cast started singing “Star Trekking, across the Universe…”.

Musically, the production was excellent. Although the score was pre-recorded, the vocal quality of the cast was spot-on, having been made up of a number of locals actors with operatic quality voices (a number of whom had done local opera and caberets). Some of my favorites were Jessie Merlin as the Captain; we’ve seen Jessie before in “The Beastly Bombing. Jessie has a true operatic voice, and is an expert in Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, and is just fun to listen to. Also strong was Ashley Cuellar as Josephine—her credits indicate that she’s done a lot of caberet singing (you can hear her music on her MySpace page). As Ralph, Aidan Park had an incredibly strong voice. Of course, singling out these three is difficult, as the entire cast was great.
[æ denotes members of one of the 4-A performing arts unions, including æ Actors Equity ]

Acting-wise, you could tell this ensemble was just having fun with their characters. Just watching Michael Levin as Datum’s movements in a minor role, or Paton Ashbrook’s logical movements, or the little asides of Victoria Gonzalez… these folks were just getting into their characters and going with it. Of particular note was James Jaeger’s Deadeye, where he was going wild with being a lizard (he was doing so good, the Geico Gecko should watch out). This fun is infectious, and the audience had a great time with it. This is a testament to the talent of the actors and the skills of Jon Mullich, the director. Also help shaping this production were William A. Reilly (Musical Director) and Stephanie Pease (Choreographer), who made the stage come alive with movement and music.

Turning to the technical side: the sets (designed by Tony Potter) did a wonderful job of presenting the Star Trek bridge, with TNG elements, in a limited budget. There were consoles and computer screens and interactive displays—this went far beyond just a few blinking buttons, folks. Of course, this isn’t a surprise, as his bio makes it clear he is a Star Trek geek, and has worked with many of the original crew. C0stumes were by Caitlin Erin O’Hare, and reflected the original series costumes quite well. The lighting by Sarah Templeton made effective use of the space and created the mood well with color. This was all held together by Kimberly Bullockæ (Production Stage Manager) and Keiko Moreno (Assistant Stage Manager).

U.S.S. Pinafore” continues at the Crown City Theatre Company until, well, I don’t know. It was supposed to close August 8, but keeps being extended (right now, it looks like it goes through September 5). Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, as well as through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix. If you are at all into Gilbert and Sullivan or Star Trek, go see it.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. September starts with “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4. The following weekend brings The Glass Menagerie at the Mark Taper Forum on September 11. The weekend of September 18 is Yom Kippur; no theatre is currently scheduled. The last weekend of September brings “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre. October is currently more open, with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East ticketed for October 9. and Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre ticketed for October 30. I should note that October 23 will be a Family Gaming Night at Temple Ahavat Shalom. , November will see “Bell, Book, and Candle” at The Colony Theatre on November 13; Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels” at the Mark Taper Forum (November 10–December 22, Hottix on sale September 9, potential date November 21); and Amadeus” at REP East (ticketed for November 27). December will bring Next to Normal” at the Ahmanson (November 23–January 2; Hottix on November 2; planned date December 11). Of course, I learn of interesting shows all the time, so expect additions to this schedule.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review, and that I purchase my own tickets to the shows. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.