A Promising Beginning | “Edges” @ Theatre CSUN

Edges (Theatre CSUN)A few months ago, when we went to see the musical  Hello, Again at Chromolume Theatre (FB), they had a series of videos playing before the show started. One of these videos was the song “Be My Friend” from the musical song cycle Edges, which Chromolume had presented during the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Edges turned out to be a song cycle written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (FB) during their undergraduate days in Michigan — their first show, as it was. This duo would later to go on to write shows such as Dogfight, A Christmas Story (which is having a number of productions now, including one at Canyon Theatre Guild with our friend Georgann, and a live TV production) and a little thing called Dear Evan Hansen; and for movies, the songs for La La Land and the upcoming The Greatest Showman.  However, Edges has never been recorded; they only way to get the music is to snarf the audio tracks from the various YouTube performances of the songs.

This, of course, meant that I was jonesing to see a production of the show. When we recently went to see Upright Citizens Brigade at  The Soraya,  the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), we found a postcard that indicated that the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) was doing Edges as part of their Fall season. By the end of the week, my wife (a CSUN alum) had used her alumni card to get us tickets for the show.

Guess where we were last night?

As noted earlier, Edges is a song-cycle. This means there is no plot; no specific characters. According to Pasek and Paul, it was written with the intention to share the many perspectives of 20-somethings as they come into their own and face the challenges of adulthood. It reflects the time that Pasek and Paul were in college — the early 2000s. There isn’t even a fixed order of songs: the license package includes the songs from the original production in 2005 and the songs from a revised production in 2007, and Pasek and Paul encourage producers to draw from those sets to create a version of the show that speaks to them. This goes to what, perhaps, is the one major flaw of the CSUN production: the printed program. There is no song list in the program to show CSUN’s order (which is a mix of both 2005 and 2007), nor a list of which performers sing which songs. If these shows are intended to be a showcase and spotlight for the performers, the audience needs to know who is singing what.

Edges CastLuckily, for you the reader, my Facebook-foo and internet search abilities are strong, and I was able to find you some pictures of the actors, and I’m familiar with the songs (and hopefully, I remember who sang them). But I do encourage CSUN Theatre to beef up their programs. It is only an additional black and white sheet — perhaps 10¢ a program — and it could make a big difference in the careers of your actors.

Edges was directed by Kari Hayter (FB), whose work we have seen both a CSUN (Urinetown and The Drowsy Chaperone) and at The Chance Theatre (FB). Watching the performers, I was surprised that — for a song cycle — there was so much performance. Hayter brought out in her actors the characters in the songs. If you get a chance to go see the show (and you should, but note that some performances are already sold out), watch the faces and the bodies in addition to listening to the songs. You’ll be blown away by the expressiveness and emotion these young performers bring to the stage.

The cast itself bring a mix of experience. For some, this is one of their first shows. Others have been in a number of productions at CSUN as well as out in the real world with companies such as Canyon Theatre Guide, Simi Arts, MTW, and of course, the Chance. This led to another suggestion I would make to the cast: warm up your singing voice before starting. I was unsure about a few of the voices at the beginning of the show, but by the end I loved them all. This means that the issue wasn’t the quality of the voice, just a missing warm up. As with any muscle, stretching before use gives a better result.

The more seasoned performers stood out from their first notes.  I was blown away by Jisel Ayon (FB), Alissa Finn (FB), and Leonel Ayala (FB) from the start. They nailed their songs and were a delight to watch and listen too. Ayon was particularly strong in all her songs, including the penultimate “Ready to be Loved”. I recall Finn was great in “Caitlyn and Haley” among other numbers, and there was a solo number by Ayala (of which I can’t recall the name — us oldsters need that list) that was just spectacular.

This is not to say the others were significantly less. It was just those three that made the impression first, the next tier of impressions that hit me were Darian Ramirez (FB), Shyheim Parker/Shyhiem Parker (FB), and Jared Price (FB). Ramirez was just spectacular — I thought I heard her in the background on the opening number, and then she had some solo pieces and …. wow. This included her interaction with the audience in “I’ve Gotta Run”. Parker also has a strong voice I thought I heard in the opening, which then came out spectacularly in his solo number (which I can’t recall the name of). Lastly, Price had a solo number (drats, no song list, and this 57-year old mind is blanking) that was really great.

I was initially unsure about Ethan Barker (FB) and Shiku Thuo (FB), but I think the problem was a warm-up one. Both were remarkably expressive in terms of performance, and were strong in their later solo numbers. In the latter half of the show, In particular, Thuo had a number where her face was just a delight to watch.

But this 8-person cast came together in the group numbers. Just watch their expressions — and the audience reactions — in numbers like “Be My Friend (The Facebook Song)”. Just a joy to watch. Watch them in the background in numbers like “Ready to be Loved” or the “Opening”, and you can see that this is more than solo performances glommed together: this is a cast that jelled and was having fun together. As I always like to note: a cast that is having fun with their show telegraphs that to the audience, and the joy is amplified.

Music was provided by two on-stage musicians: Peter Shannon (FB) on Piano and Athanasios Gousios (FB) on Drums. Watch Shannon in particular as he gets ready to rock out on the final number. They were having fun as well.

Turning to the production side: Efren Delgadillo (FB) scenic design was relatively simple: some platforms on both sides of the center stage, augmented with a few chairs and, occasionally, properties designed by Rob Murray. This was augmented by a lighting design by Mark Svastics (FB) that mostly worked well; there were a few times performers were ahead of the lights and in the dark for a second or two. Omnipresent Cricket Myers (FB) did the sound. Alas, there were some opening night problems here ranging from microphone static to occasional muffled sound. Hopefully post-opening adjustments should fix that. Costumes were designed by Elizabeth Cox (FB) and Brynn Mangelsdorf. These mostly worked well — and I particularly liked the outfits that Ayon and Ramirez were wearing. Rounding out the credits, Peter Shannon (FB) was the music director, and Quentin Melikidse (FB) was the stage manager.

Edges by the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) continues at the Experimental Theatre of VPAC through December 3, although some performances are already sold out. Tickets are available through the Associated Students Ticket Office at 818/677-2488 or through Ticketmaster. More information is available on the Event Page. This event is not available on Goldstar.


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

Upcoming Shows:

Today sees us at the Tumbleweed Festival (FB); Tomorrow, it’s Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB).

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

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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.


New From The Old

Today’s news chum post brings you five stories of new coming from the old:

  • North Hollywood. Emerging from the surface parking lot that just turned into a paid parking lot will be a new mixed use development. The plan would include 1,500 units of housing, 150,000 square feet of retail, and 450,000 square feet of offices (and 5,400 parking spaces). The project will be spread across a complex of new buildings centered around the intersection of Lankershim and Chandler. Plans also include a public plaza and a new entrance to the North Hollywood station, located beneath South Chandler on the western side of Lankershim (explaining the long empty stub on the S end of the North Hollywood station).
  • Masonic Lodge / Marciano Museum. The long shuttered Masonic Lodge on Wilshire (where once gigantic Lodge 42, my dad’s lodge, once met) is about to be reborn as the Marciano Art Museum. Here’s everything you need to know about it. The museum will be free and open to the public from Thursday through Saturday. Wednesdays will be reserved for school groups, and the museum will provide transportation reimbursements for all L.A. County public school visits. Advanced ticket reservations are required, and can be reserved online by setting up a free account (which takes less than 30 seconds) on their website.
  • Macy’s Woodland Hills / Woodland Hills Post Office. The long-standing post office in Woodland Hills on Clarendon (right next to where my father-in-law’s accounting office was) is closing. But don’t fear, Woodland Hills. They are moving — for perhaps 18 months — into the shuttered Macy’s at the Promenade Mall. Also facing closure and relocation are the Reseda and Northridge post offices.
  • Orange Grove Bistro / Hyatt Place. CSUN is getting a hotel. They are building it where the Orange Grove Bistro is now, and it will provide not only rooms for parents and visiting scholars, but a full-service restaurant and meeting rooms. This will be useful for campus, but I fear the traffic.
  • TWA Flight Center / Hotel. Moving out of LA for a moment, the unique long-shuttered TWA flight center at JFK Airport is becoming a hotel. Nearly 14 years after its closure—the TWA terminal finally found a new purpose. According to plans by JetBlue and a hotel developer, the original head house will be transformed into an airport hotel, consisting of 505 new guest rooms while maintaining many of the airport’s original icons, including the Lisbon Lounge and the Paris Café.



But The Title…

Urinetown (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunI first saw the musical Urinetown back in 2004 at the Wilshire Theatre (now called the Saban Theatre). This was one of the first reviews I had written (I started my Livejournal back in February 2004, and this was May), and it was relatively terse. My opinion about the show then was: “Ignore the bad name, and go see Urinetown while you can. It is one of the funniest musicals I’ve seen in ages, with obvious parodies of other musicals, great acting, and one of the most satirical and sardonic books I’ve seen in ages.” The good news is that, over 10 years later, the musical still holds the humor it held then. In the student-acted, faculty-directed production I saw last night at CSUN, the acting help up very well, despite the plethora of minor technical glitches.

For those that are unfamiliar with “Urinetown: The Musical” (Book by Greg Kotis (FB), Music by Mark Hollmann, and Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis (FB)), you can find a detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page. I won’t repeat all the details; here’s the executive summary: The central conceit of the show is that the world has been living over 20 years with a horrible drought. The situation has gotten so bad that a private company, “Urine Good Company”, has engineered the situation to make it illegal to urinate or defecate in anything other than a public amenity. No private toilets. No peeing in the bushes. The amenities are not free: you must pay to pee. If you break the law, you get sent to the mythicial Urinetown … a place to which people go but never return from.

Our main characters in the show are Caldwell B. Cladwell who owns and operates UGC; his daughter Hope; Penelope Pennywise, who operates Public Amenity #9; Bobby Strong, her assistant custodian; Officer Lockstop, who enforces the law and narrates the story; and Little Sally, a street urchin. The story starts at the public amenity, and after the initial exposition, we see Bobby Strong’s father get sent to Urinetown for peeing in the bushes because he didn’t have the fee, and Bobby refused to give it to him. An encounter with Hope encourages Bobby to listen to his heart and rebel. He opens the urinal for all to pee free. There is a battle with UGC, and Bobby and the people take Hope hostage, while UGC and the cops cannot capture them due to incredibly slow choreography. The rebels want to kill the girl, but they are convinced to keep her alive for leverage. Cladwell offers to meet with Bobby and attempts to bribe him, but Bobby refuses and is sent to Urinetown. Little Sally hears Bobby’s last words and tells the rebels and Hope. Hope goes on to lead the rebels to victory. They open all the urinals and get rid of the fee, but the water runs out and Hope eventually meets the same fate as her father. The world is revealed to be Urinetown. Oh, and the river is in you.

There are a lot of ways to look at this story. The surface story is a commentary on megacorporations as a power for good in the word — or, in reality, an opportunity for unchecked greed. As such, this become an allegory on rich vs. poor, and how the way in which the rich treat the poor can lead to rebellion. But it also points out that the poor may not be able to govern in a far-sighted way, and that short term reward is no substitute for long-term planning.

Yes, I guess it could mean that.

But to me, this musical tells a different story. It tells the same type of story that was later told by shows like “Drowsy Chaperone“, “[title of show]” and the currently running “Something Rotten“. Urinetown is (to me) a commentary on the theatrical form: its structure, its conventions, and the common theatrical tropes that evoke memories of other shows. This is consistent throughout Urinetown through the self-awareness that it is, indeed, a stage musical bound by illogical stage conventions (such as incredibly slow choreography, or the limitations of the ensemble size). It is also consistent through the references and parodies of other shows, such as the bottle dance at the top of Act II, the pastiche of West Side Story gang movements, the Les Misérables style mobs, the sudden choral numbers, the interjection of gospel, and the continual catchphrase of “Whaaaaat”?

But this type of show is not for everyone. You have to be open to its type of humor. You need to be able to suspend disbelief in the non-sensical plot, and just let the parody wash over you like a warm and golden shower. Oh, right, too soon.

This production of Urinetown was a product of the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication (FB) at CSUN’s Theatre Arts Department. This means this was primarily a student production, with faculty direction. This production was directed by Kari Hayter (FB), who has directed numerous musicals production that we have seen at The Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. She has also worked with students both as CSU Fullerton and CSU Northridge (CSUN, if you hadn’t figured it out already). In fact, she directed the excellent Drowsy Chaperone that we saw on the VPAC (FB) stage earlier this year. I’ve commented many times that I sometimes have trouble seeing the contribution of the director, but here there were glimpses of how she molded the students into actors. This was evident heavily in the pre-show, where the actors wandered onto stage in costumes and just kept doing little activities in character. It was evident in the early-audience policing of cell-phones by Officers Lockstock and Barrel. It was also evident in the behavior of those characters in the background. Hayter (FB) also was a co-choreographer with Christopher M. Albrecht (FB), and the two worked together to provide good movement across the stage. Urinetown is actually a production that benefits a little from overacting and over-stylized movements; both serve to amplify the comedy in this case. Hayter and Albrecht recognized this and clearly worked with the cast to bring it out.

The cast itself was excellent, especially considering that this was a student cast. I’d like to single out Jessamyn Arnstein (FB)’s Little Sally for special notice. I’ve seen Jessamyn before in both Bat Boy and Drowsy; she was just a knockout here. Strong voice (even with the technical problems), strong performance, strong dance, strong interactions, strong characterization. She took what was clearly a fun satirical role and ran with it. Brava!

Also worthy of special highlight was Daniel Bellusci (FB)’s Cladwell B. Cladwell. We also saw Bellusci in Drowsy as the Man in Chair (when I noted he was the product of Nobel Middle School in the years after my daughter matriculated from that fine institution). Bellusci had an evil aura that was perfect for the role, and had a surprisingly strong singing voice. Again, he got the mannerisms and characterizations down pat (and reminded me of another Nobel actor, Quest Zeidler, all grown up). A great example of this was Cladwell’s “Don’t Be The Bunny” number.

Dahlia Yablon (FB) ‘s Hope Cladwell had just the right sense of spunk and verve for the role, and she had a lovely high singing voice that brought something special to their songs. Yablon spends much of the second act tied to a chair with a gag on her mouth, yet still succeeds in successfully singing and dancing.

John Bernos (FB)’s Bobby Strong was unfortunately plagued with a microphone that kept going in and out, and kept producing a load of static.  He clearly had a great voice, but needed the extra amplification in a room of that size. His performance was strong (and continued in the vein of strong performances — we also saw him in Drowsy), and he captured the gung-ho nature of the character well. He played off of Yablon’s Hope very well, as demonstrated in the number “Follow Your Heart”, but also showed great comic timing in “Run Freedom Run”.

One of the first characters we meet is Robert Collins/FB‘s Officer Lockstock. He captured the tone of the character just right, but needed just a tad more strength in the voice to bring out the satire. But that’s really a minor quibble; I enjoyed his performance quite a bit. I discovered writing this up that Collins was Coalhouse Walker Jr. in a 2013 CSUN production of Ragtime. This shows he had the strength in the voice; my conclusion (therefore) is that he needed a bit more amplification. My only question regarding Collins is one of casting intent. Both Collin’s Officer Lockstock and Robert Stroud/FB‘s Officer Barrel were black, and most of the other cast and ensemble (except for two ensemble members) were white or white-ish. I didn’t know if this was a conscious decision of the director to make a commentary on all the recent police interactions between black and white, or if there was some other message. In the end, I decided that to think about that question was to overthink the question. I opted to accept the performance for what they were: very good, and fun. I’ll note that Lockstock is one of the those roles that actually benefits from a bit of overplay, and I think Collins captured that overplay very well and had fun with the role. I loved his opening speech before the show started, but he needs to remind people not just to not take videos, but to turn off the devices during a show (in fact, to turn off anything that emits light).

The last of the major roles was Valerie Gould/FB‘s Penelope Pennywise. As she did with Mrs. Tottendale in Drowsy, Gould plays older comedy well. She had great over exaggerated mannerisms (in the manner of Three Penny Opera) and style, and played the humor very well. She also handled her one major number, “It’s a Privilege to Pee”, with aplomb. This number had a number of very high notes and odd timing; it was great to see her nail it.

As for the remainder of the cast, who had smaller named and ensemble roles, there are a few worthy of special note. Sarah Kline (FB)’s Josephine Strong shines in her few highlighted moments, and has a great singing voice. Matthew Kesner/FB was appropriately menacing when he was leading the mob in “Snuff That Girl”. Robert Stroud/FB‘s Officer Barrel was a nice contrast to Collins’ Lockstock (almost in a Kenan and Kel fashion). Rounding out the smaller roles and ensemble were: Lance Amann/FB [Mr. McQueen], William Goldstein/FB [Senator Fipp]; Robert Murray/FB [Old Man Strong], Josh Cooper/FB [Tiny Tom]; Kate Graham/FB [Little Becky Two Shoes], Ethan Barker/FB [Robby the Stockfish], Elliott Maynes/FB [Billy Boy Bill]; Lulu Mack/FB [Mrs. Millennium], Nia Bernstine (FB) [Ensemble], Hyungwoo Jang/FB [Ensemble], JayCee Porter/FB [Ensemble], Darian Ramirez/FB [Ensemble], Cade Stedman (FB) [Ensemble], and Jin Villanueva (FB) [Ensemble].

Music was provided by the Urinetown Town Band, under the direction of David Aks (FB). The band consisted of Leon Thomasian (FB) on Piano, Isaac Green (FB) on Bass, Joe Martone (FB) on Drums and Percussion, Sean Harrison (FB) on Saxophones and Clarinets, and Ryan Ruder/FB on Trombone and Euphonium. The band had a real good sound; this was especially noticeable if you hang around for the playout after the bows — the band is just smoking and having fun with the music.

Finally, we turn to the technical and production aspects. This is where this show had the most difficulties; but on the upside, it is also an area that is easy to correct. The scenic design by Christopher Scott Murillo (FB), assisted by Ilana Molina/FB, was mostly a series of scaffolds and structures, with a few drop down signs to suggest locations. The big problem was that the back door of the stage was open, esposing the backstage area. This was never used or incorporated into the design, and so served to distract. At minimum (i.e., if the door could not be closed), put a backdrop over it during the show. Another problematic area was sound, which was designed by Kenji Kang/FB, assisted by Sierra McDuffee/FB. Here the problem was less design, and more technical: the mics were extremely staticky, and kept going in and out during the production. Part of the sound designer’s job is to teach the actors how to move without creating mic problems, and where to place the mic for best effect. Those are the two areas that need to be reexamined. Other than that, the sound was good — especially the background noises in the pre-opening. For the most part, the lighting design of Glen Howes/FB, assisted by Josh Legget/FB, worked well to establish the mood. I particularly liked the use of uplighting to create menace. However, the follow-spot requires a bit more work, as often it played catchup with the actors. The last of the problem areas related to the costumes designed by Paula Higgins (FB), assisted by Diego Arias/FB. Again, the problem wasn’t in the costumes themselves (which were fine), but in the execution. In this case, it was execution with respect to the ensemble’s quick changes: one actor came back in an early scene with the blouse puffing out of the zipper in the back of her skirt; in another ensemble number, a police officers blouse was visible through her unzipped zipper. These are distractions that just didn’t need to be there. One positive credit goes to the Prop Masters, Taylor Anderson/FB and Eric White/FB for engineering quite a few clever props, including the bunny slippers and the Bobby Strong Memorial Mannekin used in Act II. Other significant technical/production credits (there are far too many to list and link all the crew members, supervisors, operators, etc.): Scott McKim/FB [Technical Director], Meg Imamoto (FB) [Production Manager], Corey Sorenson (FB) [Vocal Coach], Jihee Jenny Park/FB [Stage Manager]; Beth Kalish/FB [House Manager], Ah-Jeong Kim [Department Chair/Producer].

Urinetown: The Musical continues at CSUN through November 8, 2015. Tickets and information are available at (818) 677-2488. They are also available online ($20) through Ticketmaster and other outlets. They are not on Goldstar.

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: Sunday sees us out in Simi Valley for “The Addams Family” at the Simi Cultural Arts Center (Simi Actors Rep Theatre (FB)). The following weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The following week brings Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14. The weekend before Thanksgiving I’m on my own. I picked up a postcard for “Timeshare”  at Eclectic Theatre Company (FB) while at the Colony for Best of Enemies, and it sounded so interesting I booked a ticket for November 21. The last weekend of November is currently open. December brings “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) the first weekend, followed by a mid-week stint as a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). December also has dates held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). 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.


At Last, The Stew: Tasty Links in a Simmering Sauce

Observation StewAnd finally, some tasty news chum stew, which has been simmering in the bookmarks for a couple of weeks:



Exploring Relationships

Singed (Operaworks)userpic=theatre_ticketsEvery year we go to a fascinating show that is impossible to describe. The show is the finale of the Operaworks (FB) Advanced Artist Program called “Opera Reconstructed”. Here’s why this is so fascinating:

The Advanced Artist Program is for operatic performers in graduate school or beyond, who want to work in-depth on their repertoire – dramatically, musically, and physically. It’s goal is to teach the performers the “other” side of opera beyond singing. In particular, the not only learn how to address the business and marketing side, but they learn how to act and move on stage as actors and actresses — how to relate to other characters as characters, not just stand in front of a piano and sing. The program culminates with two performance shows of improvised opera. The show consists of three acts, not necessarily related. For each act, the students pick a location and come up with one paragraph bios of their characters and their relationship to the other characters in their act. They then pick arias, from both operas and other musical theatre, for each character to relate to another character. Improvising dialogue, they now put these characters and arias into a show. Here’s an example bio:

Brynne (Pulver), 42, was tragically murdered last year at her co-owned business, the speakeasy, Sassy Sally’s. She was the songstress for over fifteen years, and was a local favorite. A beloved mother, sister, and friend, she is survived by her daughter, Alexandra, and son-in-law Scott; her sister Johanna, and from what we are told, long-time lover Evelyn. Some say they still feel her presence in the speakeasy. Will she ever rest in peace?

If there is one constant in these shows, it is sex and violence. Perhaps this is because stronger emotions are easier to portray, to express. But the plots are convoluted (as one might expect from those familiar with opera), and remembering them a day after the fact can be difficult. It is also rare in these shows for a performer to sing more than one song — not a surprise when you have 32 performers and 32 songs in 2.5 hours.

This year the tree acts were only tangentially related: some characters from Act One reappeared in Act Three — even though it was almost 80 years later. Time discontinuity aside, that was really the only connection. Let’s look at the acts and the singers from what I remember.

Act One was called “The Speakeasy”, and took place in a 1920s speakeasy called Sassy Sally’s. Sally’s is run by Noelle (Thomson); she runs the establishment and interacts with all. Joanna (Watson) is the cigarette girl and assistant manager, and loves to daydream about her ex. Jaime (Billman) is coming off a messy divorce with Shelly (who reappears in Act Three). Evelyn (Tsen) was in love with Brynne (see above), and hasn’t been able to move on. But now she has feelings for Karen (Levandoski), a cop who was investigating the case.  Madelaine (M. Martinez) is the new songstress, and wants to end her days as a high-end prostitute. Maggie (Woolums) is a prep school graduate who was friends with Alexandra and Elena. Scott (Ballantine) was a guard at the state prison (which we see in the next act) and comes to the speakeasy after work. Alexandra (A. Martinez) is in a tumultuous marriage with Scott, and is also a bootlegger. Elena (Bird) has resorted to exotic dancing to support her drinking problem. Cole Perder (Douglas Sumi) was the speakeasy pianist, playing piano to fund his addiction.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

To me, the most notable performer was Ms. Thomson — she was comfortable as her character and kept interacting with others and playing throughout.

Act Two, “The Prison”, took place in a prison. It seemed to concern a racial war between white prisoners and, umm, non-white prisoners (who were either Asian or Hispanic). The prisoners and other characters were: Carmen (Metry), a former foster child who found heroin on the streets; Mengtao (Zhou), a Chinese Black Widow who murdered seven boyfriends and is now in love with the guard, Nick (Harmantzis), who was brought up in an abusive environment and has pent up frustration and anger. Azur (Valcour) was sexually brutalized, and so strangled her oppressors and drank their blood. Katherine (Bruton) is a housewife with particular values, so she poisoned the blacks that moved into her neighborhood with arsenic. Christina (Ramos) had her child taken away, and is soon to be released — she’s also the only sane person in the unit. Eva (Kastner-Puschl) is a slutty murderer who killed her boyfriend, and subordinate to the leader of the “Whities” and makes out with the guard. Margaret (Boeckman) is a lifer who killed a nun who physically abused a friend, who is also under the rule of white supremacist Katherine. Lily (Barber) drowned her infant daughter and 3-yo son. Lau (Pu) is from a prominent family who killed her fiance. Elle (Logan) is a southern girl who had a psychotic break and dismembered the torso of her ex-husband. Quite a fun bunch. Tickling the keys was Dolores Cliburn (Mark Robson), a cross-dressing former piano instructor with a penchant for arson.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

I’d list memorable performances, but I was so involved with watching this one I forgot to make any notes.

Act Three, “The Family Reunion”, brought together a large disfunctional family to see Grandpa Mark (Mark Robson). The family members were as follows: Katia (Kotcherguina), a fun-loving party-going college student.  Shelley (yes, the one divorced from Jaime of the first act) (Mitchell), who is still hurting from the divorce (80 years ago?). Laura (Remy), the father of the family who came out last year and is transitioning, trying to connect with her two daughters, Ekaterina/Katia and Lindsey, who is estranged from her sisters Anna and Sarah. Anna (Buck), the mother of three who just wants perfection, and who has cut ties with two of her rebellious children, Michelle and Jen. Carolyn (Forte) is married to Andrew (Metzger), the winner of a reality show. Jen (Hansen) is a feminist lesbian. Sarah (Baumgarten) is a single-mother to Andrew, and has found Jesus and judgement. Michelle (Drever) left home at 16 and is a paleontologist and does makeup. Lindsey (Fuson) is a defiant teenager feeling abandoned with her father’s transition and her sister going off to college.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

Again, this was an act where I was so caught up following the performances that I failed to make notes.

Technical Credits: Stage Direction: Zeffin Quinn Hollis (FB). Movement Coach: Dr. Paula Thomson. Improvisation Coach: Laura Parker. Artistic Director: Ann Baltz (FB). Additional faculty and Operaworks staff is listed on the Operaworks site.

Alas, yesterday’s was the last performance. Operaworks (FB) will have a winter production on January 16, 2016, so look for 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: August continues the theatre craziness, with a double header at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend: “As You Like It” on Saturday, and the rescheduled “Green Grow The Lilacs” on Sunday.  The second weekend of August is equally busy, with “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) on Friday, our summer Mus-ique show on Saturday, and Concerts on the Green in Warner Park (with a Neil Diamond cover band) on Sunday. The third weekend of August is calmer, but only because we moved theatre off the weekend because my wife is driving my daughter’s car back to the bay area. As for me, I might very well go back to see the revised “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB) — they are returning to have live music and I expect that will make a significant difference. The third week of August may see us back at REP East (FB) for their “secret seventh show”, which has been revealed to be “A Company of Wayward Saints“. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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 A Musical Is Supposed To Do

The Drowsy Chaperone (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunNear the end of The Drowsy Chaperone, the Man in Chair (who has been the guide throughout the show) notes that, while The Drowsy Chaperone isn’t a perfect show, it does what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world, it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue. Last night, during the CSUN Theatre Arts Department‘s production of Drowsy, this line really hit me. Drowsy Chaperone is really the perfect palate cleanser between the heavy message of last week’s Carrie: The Musical and tonight’s production of Doubt at REP East (FB). Drowsy Chaperone is a musical I love — it is one of the funniest musicals around (especially if you are a regular theatregoer): it makes fun of musical conventions and audiences, and pretty much everything. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and yes — it chases your blues away.

Last night’s show, which was the first of three performances of CSUN students in the Great Hall at VPAC was astounding in many ways. First, it is using the Great Hall as it really should be used — as a venue for live theatre and musicals. The Great Hall is normally concert performances ala the Broad and similar venues, but it works so well for theatre. There had once been talk about doing some CTG programming there but that never happens. Having occasional two weekend shows there would be remarkable. Even better than that, the Great Hall was being used — for the first time — for a student production musical [ETA: Corrected: The music department put on “Carmen”, and there have been instrumental ensemble productions]. If you haven’t discovered CSUN Theatre Arts, you’re missing something. We’ve seen a number of CSUN shows before — Hair back in 2006, Bat Boy in late 2014 — and this department just shines with its talent and quality. Last night was no exception: this production was (at the talent and performance level) equal to — if not better than — the production we saw back in 2008 at the Ahmanson. I’ve heard rumors that CSUN will be doing Urinetown in the fall — yet another production I love. Expect to see that on my schedule.

For those unfamiliar with The Drowsy Chaperone, here’s how I summarized it back in 2008 [I’m all for adaptive reuse]: The Drowsy Chaperone is hard show to describe, although the subtitle actually describes it best: “A Musical Within A Comedy”. As with “Curtains”, Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to musical theatre of yesteryear, told through the eyes of a character named, uhh, “Man In Chair”. To escape from his unspecific sadness, he plays his favorite musical record: The 1928 Gable-Stine Musical “The Drowsy Chaperone”, which comes to life in his living room. That musical is a silly farce about an actress leaving the stage to marry her true love, the producer who doesn’t want her to leave, and the various hijinks that lead to the wedding. After all, this is a 1920’s musical: you really expect a coherent plot? The story exists solely to connect the songs. Anyway, the characters in this musical are the ditsy Mrs. Tottendale (host of the wedding), her butler Underling, the groom Robert Martin, his best man George, the producer Feldzieg and his chorine Kitty, two gangsters, the handsome leading man Adolfo, the bride Janet Van De Graaff, her chaperone, and Trix, the Aviatrix.

The backstory behind this musical is equally interesting. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it, edited a little: The Drowsy Chaperone started in 1997, when Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and several friends created a spoof of old musicals for the stag party of Bob Martin (FB) and Janet van de Graaf (FB). In its first incarnation, there was no Man in Chair, the musical styles ranged from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the jokes were more risqué. It was later reshaped for the Toronto Fringe Festival, when the Man in Chair was added. Following the Fringe staging, there was an expanded production at Toronto’s 160-seat, independent Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999, followed by a full-scale version at Toronto’s 1000-seat Winter Garden Theatre. This caught the eye of more producers, including the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, which led to a 2005 engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, followed by a Broadway opening in 2006.

This show is much more than the story. It is a love letter to musical theatre. From it’s opening line “I hate theatre” — it just telegraphs this message. All the asides by the Man in Chair are commentaries on society, on theatre conventions, on the silliness of the shows from the 1920s through 1940s, on the over-seriousness of the shows today. Theatre audiences are equally skewered by the Man in Chair, as are stereotypes. This is one of the funniest shows — I had forgotten how hilarious it was (and I normally don’t laugh at shows). I should note, if you didn’t know it before, that the show has music and lyrics by the aforementioned Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and book by Bob Martin (FB) and Don McKellar.

This CSUN student production featured professional quality performances. The faculty leadership team — Kari Hayter (FB) (direction and choreography), David Aks (FB) (musical direction), and Christopher M. Albrecht (FB) (associate choreographer) did a great job of shaping these students into a professional team. You couldn’t see the hand of their leadership, but it was evident in the overall quality and movement and joy the actors displayed.

In the lead position was Daniel Bellusci (FB) as the Man in Chair. We should have seen Bellusci before — he’s a product of Nobel Middle School (where our daughter went in the early days of their theatre program) and he was music director for two shows there. Alas, we missed the shows he was in. No big matter. He was perfect last night — infectuous, joyful, and completely in love with what he was doing on stage. I always believe that actors who are comfortable with their roles and who are enjoying their characters telegraph that enjoyment to the audience, and this was no exception. Keep your eye on this young man — both in the show and in his career.

In the lead positions for the show-in-show were Steven Brogan/FB as Robert Martin and Skye Privat (FB) as Janet Van De Graff.  Brogan had the charm and voice to handle his numbers with ease, and he was a delight with his tap dancing in “Cold Feet”. Privat was remarkable as Van De Graff, and was particularly enjoyable in her signature number, “Show Off”. This young lady could belt and dance and act, all the while telegraphing the fun she was having onstage.

There are loads of supporting positions, so let’s do these by couples. First, there is the titlular character, the Drowsy Chaperone, played by Brooke Van Grinsven (FB). I’ve seen Van Grinsven recently in Bard Fiction, and she was even better here. Strong singing, strong movement, strong comedy — and (modulo some microphone problems) belted her way wonderfully through “As We Stumble Along”. The other half of her pair (at least by the time the show ends) is the buffoonish Aldolpho, played by Nick Bruno/FB. Bruno has great comic chops and timing, and handled his number, “I Am Adolpho” with comic aplomb. Our next couple is Mrs. Tottendale and Underling. Mrs. Tottendale, played by Valerie Gould/FB, captured the older, ditsy nature of the character well. She was particularly funny in her spit-take scenes with Underling, , and delightful in the opening number “Fancy Dress” as well as “Love is Always Lovely in the End”. Her foil, Underling (played by Lance Amann/FB), captured the all-knowing puts-up-with-everything servant well, and was strong in his shared numbers with Gould.

This brings us to the gangster side of the equation. As the producer, Mr. Feldzieg, Shad Willingham (FB) had the authority and worry down well, and had good comic timing with his leading ladies and the gangster duo. I had guessed he was older than the other students — I was proven right when the linking for the review showed that he is one of the instructors. Playing off Feldzeig was Amanda Godepski (FB) as Kitty. Godepski was a powerhouse comic and singer in a small package. Lastly, playing the Tall Brothers playing the gangsters impersonating pastry chefs were John Bernos (FB) and Matthew Kesner/FB. These two young men demonstrated good comic timing. All four were strong in their shared number “Toledo Surprise”.

Rounding out the cast, in smaller roles, were Jared Tkocz/FB as George, Khylan Jones (FB) as Trix, and Harrison Seeley/FB as the Super. Tkocz was strong in his number with Brogan, “Cold Feet”, and Jones had a remarkable voice in her main number, “I Do, I Do in the Sky”. The ensemble behind all the numbers consisted of: Evelyn Onyango/FB, Rachael Johnson/FB, Brittany Williams/FB, Jessamyn Arnstein (FB), Alissa Finn/FB, Emily Blanco (FB), Logan Allison/FB, Hyungwoo Jang/FB, Felix Valle/FB, Alexander Cody Phaphol (FB), Robert Collins/FB, and Harrison Seeley/FB.

Music was provided by the Drowsy Chaperone Orchestra, under the direction of David Aks (FB). The orchestra consisted of Justin Yun/FB, Jeff Brown/FB, James Walker/FB, Alec Olson/FB on Reeds; Garek Najita/FB, Michael Guttierez/FB, and Nolan Markey/FB on Trumpet, Ryan Ruder/FB on Trombone, Peter Shannon on Piano, Lindsay Aldana/FB on Synthesizer, Mary Duffy/FB on Bass, Eli McDonald/FB on Drums, and Lindsay Eastham/FB on Percussion.

Turning to the technical side. The sound design was by Michael Zeigler was generally clear and crisp, however a few actors had microphone problems, and I’m not sure the spit take did the equipment any good. The lighting design by Nick McCord created the mood without intruding. The scenic design of François-Pierre Couture was nothing like the 2008 Ahmanson design with people coming out of refrigerators and beds opening up. The apartment set was realistic and worked; the remainder of the set was mostly scaffolding and stairs, combined with some very effective projections. Costumes were by Elizabeth A. Cox and were extremely effective. Geoffrey Stirling/FB was the stage manager.

The Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN has two more performances: tonight at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Tickets should be available at the on-site box office, as well as by calling 818/677-2488. Go see it. You’ll be astounded.

Pro99 - Vote No NowOur theatre stars of tomorrow get their starts in college productions such as The Drowsy Chaperone. The subsequently hone their skills working alongside AEA actors in Los Angeles’ wonderful 99 seat and under theatre scene. Their ability to do so is seriously threatened by the recent AEA proposal that would require most 99 seat and under theatres to pay minimum wage (along with the concurrent employer taxes and pension benefits and union fees) to AEA actors for fixed minimum rehearsal times and performance times. This would force many theaters to go non-union (because they are already losing money as is), and would derive new actors from the learning experience. KEEP LOS ANGELES INTIMATE THEATRES ALIVE AND VIBRANT. If you are an AEA actor, vote “No” on the proposal when you see it. If you are activist, join the march on AEA Western HQ on Monday, 3/23. Find out more information at http://www.ilove99.org/.

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: Tonight brings “Doubt” at REP East (FB). March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things (including our annual drum corps show). 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.


The Measure of a Community Is How They Treat The Stranger

Bat Boy (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunWhen I told people that I was going to go see “Bat Boy: The Musical“, most thought I was going to see a musical about Batman. After all, there have been musicals about Superman and Spiderman, so a musical about  the caped crusader as a boy isn’t that farfetched. Farfetched, after all, would be a musical drawn from the pages of the Weekly World News, that crusading paper that is more accurate than Fox News, brings you headlines such as “Saturn is a Giant UFO“, “Chicago to be Renamed Obama City“, and, yes, “Bat Boy: Going Mutant“.  But it is just that paper — and in fact, that last story — that was the inspiration for the musical “Bat Boy: The Musical“, drawn from the pages of the Weekly World News, that we saw last night at the CSUN Experimental Theatre.

For those not familiar with the Bat Boy, he was a creation of the Weekly World News — a news source much like the Onion of today, only weirder. Half-man, half-bat, he was discovered in a cave in West Virginia. Constantly hunted by the government, he is regularly captured but escapes. The story first appeared in the pages of the WWN in 1992; by 1997, the Actors Gang had created a musical based on his story. This musical, with story and book by Keythe Farley (FB) and Brian Flemming, and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, made it to an off-Broadway production (which was recorded, permitting me to learn about it) and a London production. This fall, Janet Miller (FB) [who has done a great job with Good People Theatre Co (FB) productions of “A Man of No Importance” and “The Fantastiks“] selected “Bat Boy” as a production of the CSUN Theatre Arts Department. I learned about this production when I saw a poster for it while attending the Operaworks Advanced Artist production this summer. Having heard the music (which is great), loving the story (which has a great message), and knowing the quality of the director made this a must see. As soon as the ticket office opened in late August, I purchased my tickets for opening night.

[I’ll note an odd coincidence: Last night, I added yet another album to my iPod: the cast album for Heathers: The Musical, which just closed on Broadway. It turns out that Laurence O’Keefe did the music for that show, as well as for the Legally Blonde: The Musical. You’ll like the music to Bat Boy, especially the main song (“Hold Me, Bat Boy”) which is a definite ear worm.]

Bat Boy: The Musical” takes place in Hope Falls, WV. As the production opens, Rick, Ron, and Ruthie Taylor are exploring some deep caves near the town. In one cavern, they discover the Bay Boy; as Ruthie tries to make friends with it, he bites her on the neck. They kick and capture the Bat Boy and take him to the Sheriff and Ruthie to the hospital. The Sheriff decides to take the Bat Boy to the local veterinarian, who will know what to do with him. The vet, Dr. Thomas Parker, isn’t home so they leave the boy with his wife, Meredith and their daughter, Shelly. Although Meredith wants to take care of the boy and make him part of the family, the daughter wants nothing to do with him. Mom wins out, and slowly starts educating the boy (who is a fast learner). When Dr. Parker comes home, he wants to put the boy down, but Meredith dissuades him from doing so with the promise of sex with her (which hasn’t been happening for a while). Meanwhile, the town is becoming agitated: not only is Ruthie Taylor not getting better, the coal mine has closed, and all of the cattle around the town are getting sicker and thinner. The town, naturally, blames the Bat Boy and believes that killing him will solve all their problems. Back at the Parkers, the Bat Boy (now renamed Edgar) and Shelly are growing closer, and Edgar is learning fast — he already has his high school equvalency diploma. He wants to attend the big revival meeting but the town doesn’t want him to. When Meredith and Shelly take him anyway, he wins the town over. But when Rick Taylor attacks Shelly, Edgar goes crazy and bites Rick. This starts the hunt for the boy, based on some turn of events and resulting in some disclosures which I won’t reveal (as they are spoilers)… but you can find them in the Wiki synopsis.

The story is a good one, and quite time. At its heart, it explores xeonphobia in a funny and touching way. The Bat Boy is the stranger in our midst — an uglier reflection of ourselves. Seemingly uncivilized, yet some can see beyond that to discover the civilized person underneath. Are they human? Are they animals? Do we blame the stranger for our problems, or are our problems often created by our own actions (after all, you can’t feed cows on a coal mine). Take this musical, which was written in 1997, and look at it through 2014. Muslims in our community are the Bat Boys of today — misunderstood aliens, seen by some as civilized members of society, but seen through ill-informed and ignorant eyes as all evils, prone to attack when provoked. I think this musical is much more timely today than when it was first performed.

This production — like many CSUN theatre productions — was excellent (I still have fond memories of an excellent production of Hair many years ago). Director and Choreographer Janet Miller (FB) worked with the students to bring out excellent dramatic performances — you could see that were intensely into each character they played. That’s not to say the production was 100% perfect, but it was very very good. Let’s look at the players.

In the lead position was Skylar Keck/FB as Edgar, the Bat Boy. Keck nailed the dramatic side of the performance, from his movement as the uncivilized Bat Boy to his maturation as the civilized Edgar. In the beginning you see Keck on all fours, running around and screaming gibberish. As the story progresses you see him grow into an Oxford-English speaking young man (BBC language tapes). He was really spectacular to watch. He also moved well during the dance numbers. If he had one drawback, it was that his singing voice was a little off on some of the numbers; I believe that will improve with time and practice. I look forward to seeing him in future professional productions.

In the other lead positions were Aubrie Alexander (FB) as Meredith Parker, Jessica Patterson/FB as Shelly Parker, and Jared Tkocz/FB as Dr. Thomas Parker. All three had strong characterizations of their characters — I was particularly taken by both Alexander and Patterson in their characters. Tkocz had the evil side down well as well. All three were also strong in their singing and dancing numbers.

Much of the remainder of the cast doubled or tripled roles, some going cross-gender. This initially confused me; my wife thought it had to do with the diversity statement in the program. It turns out neither was the case: it appears to be intentional double casting from the original production. In any case, given the multiple casting it is difficult to single out many performances. Some, however, are worthy of special note. I was very taken by Nick Bruno/FB‘s performance as Pan during “Children, Children”. He had a very strong singing voice combined with a winner personality that shone through the character. Bruno also doubled as Bud, one of the ranchers whose cattle were dying. Also strong was Matthew Kesner/FB as Reverend Bill Hightower in the “Joyful Noise” number — again, a strong singing voice combined with good movement and the ability to be humorous worked well. Kesner also doubled as Daisy, a schoolteacher, with a very incongruous look (I’d say you could guess why she was a spinster, but then again, this is West Virginia). Lastly, I liked Benjamin Schwartz/FB‘s portrayal of Sheriff Reynolds. My wife felt that Mrs. Taylor (Logan Allison/FB) deserved an award for overacting, but I think the character was intentionally written that way to play up the nature of the Bat Boy threat. Allison also doubled as Roy, a rancher.  Rounding out the townsfolk and remaining cast were: Steve Brogan/FB (Rick Taylor, spelunker; Mr. Dillon, a rancher); Rachael Johnson/FB (Ron Taylor, spelunker; Maggie, senior Town Council rep); Julia Alix Ober/FB (Ruthie Taylor, spelunker; Ned, a rancher); Sarah Kline/FB (Lorraine, a rancher’s wife; Clem, a townsman); Hyungwood Jang/FB (a doctor, ensemble/townfolk); Jessamyn Arnstein (FB) (a doctor, ensemble/townfolk); Chelsea DiBlasi/FB (Institute Man, ensemble/townsfolk); and Alexander Cody Phaphol/FB (ensemble/townfolk).

The actors were supported by an on-stage band behind the main set. This band consisted of Philip Matthew Park (Musical Director, Keyboard I), Paul Duffy (Keyboard II), Andi Moresi (FB) (Guitar), Dustin Morgan/FB (Bass), and Wayne Hildenbrand/FB (Drums). The band had a great sound quality, and about the only quibble was the reflection of the “Exit” light in the plexiglass surrounding the drummer.

Turning to technical side, where my main quibble with this production lies. Let’s start with the problem, and then move on to what worked. What didn’t work was the sound design by Kenji Kang/FB. When the microphones worked there was an odd echo quality to them; later on in the show there were numerous static and glitch problems. This could just be opening night problems — I see that Kang was a Van Nuys HS graduate, meaning he should have learned from the best (Marque Coy (FB)). Hopefully, they will get things tuned for subsequent productions. In contrast to the sound, the lighting design of Kevin Vasquez/FB worked quite well, creating a mood, illuminating scenic queues, and making good use of moving lights and LED lights. The costume design of Bich Vu worked well and appeared suitably West Virginia-y to me, although my wife had some problems with the footware on some of the actors. The costuming for the Bat Boy was particularly good. The scenic design of Christopher Scott Murillo (FB) was simple but effective, and made good use of the CSUN Experimental theatre black box space. Heidi Dippold was the dialect coach; her work was particularly notable in the Bat Boy’s gibberish and later BBC accent (I can’t speak to WV accents). Shad Willingham (FB) was the Fight Choreographer. Lindsey Martin/FB (as opposed to Lindsay Martens/FB) was the stage manager (yes, I did a double take for a minute).

Bat Boy: The Musical” continues at CSUN (CSUN Theatre Arts Department (FB) through September 28, 2014, with performances today (9/20), tomorrow (9/21), and next weekend (9/24-9/28).  Tickets are available through A.S. CSUN at 818/677-2488. You might be able to get them online through Ticketmaster, but the fees will be less through the phone. Tickets are not available on Goldstar. You’ll have a great time if you go.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend brings  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.


Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

[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:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.