🎙 A Staring Contest | “Frankie Avalon” @ The Soraya

Frankie Avalon (Soraya)Tom Paxton often says about nostalgia that it is OK to look back, as long as you don’t stare.

Thursday night, when we saw Frankie Avalon at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), it felt like it was a staring contest — there was that much nostalgia. Admittedly, Avalon’s long career — dating from the 1950s to today, can lend one to nostalgia. Admittedly, the age of the audience made that nostalgia successful (we were some of the younger folks there). But the show was dripping in nostalgia none-the-less.

I didn’t scribble down a set list, but just get the latest Everly Avalon (i.e., Edan Everly and Frankie Avalon) album “The Good Old Days”, and you’ll have much of the show. I do have a few observations I want to share, however… I’ll note that overall, the show was enjoyable and a trip down memory lane.

  • This show demonstrated the clear difference between a nightclub act and a concert. Contrast this to Mandy Gonzalez a few weeks ago, or even Big Daddy at McCabes. Those were concerts: full song, with perhaps a bit of lead in for each song. This was a clear nightclub act — something that would be at home in any 1960s lounge in Las Vegas. There was a camaraderie with the audience… a looseness, a comfort. There was a playfulness.  Yet, in actually, it was all scripted (something that become clear when you hear the album — same jokes). Songs were rarely the full song, but more snippets.
  • There was loads of looking back. In 1958 I did this… On American Bandstand I did this… Annette and I did this… These famous rock artists and I did that… There was extended clips of his family (and two were part of the band). As I said: staring.
  • One thing that hit me about the show was the … whiteness of it. There was a joke with his music director discussing the musical Grease how in Mexico is was called “Vaseline”. That landed with a thud. There was a song about nostalgia that seemed to be wanting the days of the 1950s all back again. There were tributes to musical artists — all white, many whom covered black singers, with nary a mention of the black artists. I don’t think this was intentional on Avalon’s part. I think it was reflective of the era in which his talent bloomed. But it did demonstrate that his act and his schtick, so to speak, haven’t been updated with the times. There were jokes in his act older than my grandfather. To woke members of the audience, the suspended animation was clear to see … and painfully dated.

But, as I said, musically the show was a load of fun. It was a very fast 90-110 minutes. But don’t go expecting anything newer than “Beauty School Dropout”.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I also have a hold for December 21 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🎶 Pop Stars and Folk Musicians | Lea Salonga and Noel Paul Stookey

Lea Salonga (Soraya 2019)This week was a week for concerts. The first was Wednesday night, when we saw Lea Salonga (FB) at the Saroya (FB), which was known as the Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN the last time Ms. Salonga played there in April 2016. If I had to characterize this show, which was the penultimate stop in her The Human Heart tour, it would be: Ballads and Anthems. Unlike back in 2016, where we were treated to a number of upbeat songs, including some songs in her native language, this was primarily slower songs and power songs. The two act show had the following songs:

Act I:

Feeling Good
Go the Distance
Reflection
Fast Car
Drops of Jupiter
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Part of the Human Heart
I Give My Life for You

Act II:

Another 100 People
In a Very Unusual Way
Story of My Life
Take On Me
Blurred Lines
Burn
A Whole New World
Dead Girl Songs: I Dreamed A Dream / On My Own
Encore: You Will Be Found

Accompanying Ms. Salonga was Larry Yurman (FB) – Piano, Music Director; Kevin Axt (FB) – Bass; Paul Viapiano (FB) – Guitar; and Ray Brinker (FBDrums.

Salonga had a great rapport with the audience, telling wonderful stories before most of the songs. Her duet on “A Whole New World” was wonderful. On the whole, it was an enjoyable show, but I did find myself wishing for a few more upbeat numbers. We did support the artist by picking up one CD: The Story of My Life: Live from Manila, with the BYU Chamber Orchestra.


Noel Paul Stookey (McCabes 2019)Our second concert saw us in Santa Monica at McCabes (FB) for a favorite artist of ours: Noel Paul Stookey (FB), who is best known as Paul in Peter Paul and Mary (FB). We last saw Noel Paul in a concert with Peter Yarrow in Thousand Oaks in 2017; our last solo visit with him was 2015 at McCabes. Noel Paul just recently did a concert in Ventura. Paul, and his musical companions, hold a special place in my heart: My first favorite group was PP&M, and folk music was a constant in my life even before there were the tunes from Broadway. McCabes also holds a special place: I remember seeing Shep Cooke (FB) there many many years ago with my uncle, back in the 1980s.

Noel Paul’s repertoire at this two set show was a mix of PP&M tunes and many of Noel Paul’s more recent solo tunes. There were just a few that I had never heard before. Alas, although he teased in the first act that he might do “Impeachable“, he didn’t. But the sentiment was clearly there.

Noel Paul’s sets were (🌟 indicates new songs):

Set 1

Standing on the Shoulders🌟
Not That Kind of Music
Puff the Magic Dragon
Ives🌟
Right Field
The Winner
Imagine (Alternate Version)🌟 / For The Love of It All
Revolution (1 x 1)
Where Have All the Flowers Gone
Love Rules!

Set 2:

Whatshername
Cabin Fever Waltz
Cue The Moon
Love With a Capital “L”🌟
The Wedding Song
One & Many
Jean Claude
America the Beautiful
Blowing in the Wind
In These Times
Encore: If I Had a Hammer

Noel Paul has roots as a comedian, and it shows in how he tells stories before each song. He clearly loves performing at McCabes, which holds a special place with folk musicians. His shows there are extremely enjoyable, and are not to be missed.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 weekend brings one last show for May: Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Perfect Union, Imperfect Men | “1776” @ The Saroya

1776 (The Saroya/VPAC)There are those that would have you believe that the founders of our nation were perfect and infallible, working with a God-given drive to create America. Those folks would make you believe that their decisions were right then, and are right for now.  Those folks … would be wrong.

We have (well, most of us have) celebrated the rise of a new musical over the last few years that tells the story of the founding of America. A musical that has been playing to sold out houses, returning to cities over the country again and again (it will be returning to Los Angeles in March 2020). This musical, while framing the story in the modern immigrant narrative, shows the ugly personal and political battles that the founders engaged in. There was petty jealousy, there were strong disputes about how the county should move forward and establish itself. It wasn’t pretty, and the founders were far from perfect men. Even those protesting the history contain in the show aren’t trying to show the perfect of the men in the story, but to show them as even less perfect than the musical holds them out to be.

But this show wasn’t the first to put the creation of the nation on the musical stage. Fifty years ago — back in 1969 — another musical premiered that told the story of the creation of America — a musical that shared Broadway with the rock musical of its day, Hair — and bested it at the Tony Awards. That musical was 1776, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, and book by Peter Stone, based on an original concept by Sherman Edwards.

1776 shares a moment in time with that other musical, Hamilton. focusing on a two to three month period in 1776. It shares only two characters with Hamilton: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But it makes the same point: this is a nation that is built on compromise with those you disagree with. It makes the same point: our nation was founded by imperfect, but passionate men. 1776 portrays our founders not as paragons of virtue, but as flawed men: gluttons, drunkards, womanizers, and much more. It shows how they were flying by the seats of their pants, and taking immense risks to create this nation.  It shows that many of the political battles of today existed at this nation’s founding: battles over taxes, battles over the treatment of minorities, the battles of Conservatives vs LIberals. When John Dickenson sings that people will follow the Conservatives because most people would rather protect the possibility of being rich than face the reality of being poor, that is something that one could sell in the poorest “red” precincts of this country. When Jefferson and Adams stand up for the rights of the Negro, this is a battle that is still being fought. And when Jefferson is forced to admit that he is a practitioner of that filthy practice of slavery, he is admitting complicity in the immoral practices of his time, just as the leadership of Virginia has been caught up today. It demonstrates that America was, and still is, a nation that is built upon imperfection and compromise.

So I think we have established that 1776 is an important musical to be seen — in the abstract. So why this production, and why now? First, because to see live theatre at the Saroya (nee VPAC) (FB) demonstrates that the San Fernando Valley wants first class musical theatre in the heart of the valley. Second, because in the political times we are facing today, it is important to remind ourselves of the need to compromise with those with whom we disagree, in furtherance of a larger and more important goal. Third, because the production team behind this production, McCoy – Rigby (FB), has a proven track record of doing strong theatre both at the southern edge of Los Angeles County, and now here in the valley. Lastly, because this production itself is very strong (I had only a few minor quibbles). Alas, however, the Saroya only bring in these shows for one weekend. We need to encourage them to do more theatre — both bringing in productions, as well as presenting on the Saroya stage, for the Saroya audience, more of the excellent work done by the Theatre department on campus.

This is not to say that 1776 doesn’t have its flaws. The roles for women in the production are both few and miniscule. They interact with the men more as wives; one is on for essentially two scenes and one song, and then disappears. Even some of the men have tiny roles: one song and gone. The production — mirroring those times — is excessively single hued, and does not hold up to broader casting well. There are extremely long stretches of dialogue with no music; at times this is more of a play with music than a musical. There is no latitude for creative staging: the show builds up to a single tableau at the end, and must do so for the story to work.  Lastly, as Wikipedia summarizes, there are numerous historical flaws and inaccuracies in the story. In the last case, yet again, this is just like that modern musical, Hamilton, which also adapts history for dramatic purpose.

But even in acknowledging the flaws in the work, the show is an important one to be seen for its message. Although this production has come to a close, if 1776 shows up again near you, go see it.

Luckily, the production team of Glenn Casale (FB) [Direction and Staging] and Jeff Rizzo (FB) [Musical Direction], were up to the task. They essentially used two scenic areas: the meeting room of the Continental Congress, and a space in front of a shuttered wall for all the other scenes. Within these limitations, they helped the story to unfold, with the help of the acting team.

In the lead performance position was Andy Umberger as John Adams (Mass.). Umberger captured the fire and the passion of the character well, and had a strong singing voice demonstrated in so many numbers. Working with Umberger was Peter Van Norden (FB) as Benjamin Franklin (Penn.). Van Norden’s was the one performance that didn’t set me on fire. It wasn’t bad, but he just didn’t seem to fit the character for some reason, which made the performance a little bit off. But that’s just my opinion. Rounding out the main trio was Caleb Shaw (FB)’s Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). He gave a strong and spirited performance, although his wig needed a touch more red in it to fit with the comment made by Adams about his being red-headed.

This brings us to the rest of the Continental Congress — or at least the subset thereof who are portrayed on stage. All get their moments; some even get songs :-).  The rest of the Congress consisted of:  Nick Santa Maria (FB) [John Hancock (Mass.)]; Jason Chacon (FB) [Dr. Josiah Bartlett (NH)]; Gordon Goodman (FB) [Stephen Hopkins (RI)]; Michael Dotson (FB) [Roger Sherman (Conn.)]; Jotapé Lockwood (FB) [Lewis Morris (NY)]; Victor E. Chan (FB) [Robert Livingston (NY)]; Mitchell McCollum (FB) [Rev. John Witherspoon (NJ)]; Michael Stone Forrest [John Dickinson (Penn.)]; Ted Barton (FB) [James Wilson (Penn.)]; Gary Lee Reed (FB) [Caesar Rodney (Del.)]; Matthew Kimbrough (FB) [Col. Thomas McKean (Del.)]; Brad Rupp (FB) [George Read (Del.)]; Peter Allen Vogt (FB) [Samuel Chase (Maryland)]; Michael Starr (FB) [Richard Henry Lee (Virginia)]; Joey Ruggiero (FB) [Joseph Hewes (N. Carolina)]; James Barbour (FB) [Edward Rutledge (S. Carolina)]; and Jordan Schneider (FB) [Dr. Lyman Hall (Georgia)]. Of these folks, most notable were Starr’s performance as Lee in “The Lees of Old Virginia”; Forrest’s strong performance as Dickinson in “Cool, Cool Considerate Men”, and Barbour’s Rutledge in “Molasses to Rum”. Non-musically, I liked Kimbrough’s McKean and Chan’s Livingston.

Supporting the Congress were Jordan Goodsell (FB) [Congressional Secretary, Charles Thomson]; Michael Rothhaar (FB) [Congressional Custodian, Andrew McNair]; Rodrigo Varandas (FB) [A Leather Apron /A Painter]; and Nick McKenna (FB) [A Courier]. Rothhaar was fund to watch throughout, but the standout performance was McKenna in “Mamma, Look Sharp”.

This brings us to the two women in the cast, who are relegated to ancillary characters: Teri Bibb (FB) as Abigail Adams and Ellie Wyman (FB) as Martha Jefferson. Wyman gave a standout performance both in voice and dance and playfulness during her one scene and one song (“He Played the Violin”). We see more of Bibb, but her character is more restrained. She does have a lovely singing voice.

Music was provided by 9-piece orchestra, conducted by Music Director Jeff Rizzo (FB). The Orchestra consisted of: Kathleen Robertson (FB[Concertmaster / Violin, and who coincidentally also played Violin for Hamilton when it was at the Pantages ];  Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; John Sawoski (FB) [Keyboard]; Jay Mason (FB) [Woodwinds]Adam Bhatia (FB) [Trumpet]; Dave Ryan [Trombone / Bass Trombone]; Mark Converse (FB) [Percussion]; and Tim Christensen [Bass / Contractor].

Turning to the production and creative team: I’ve already mentioned Stephen Gifford (FB)’s Scenic Design and how that worked well. It was supported by the Properties Design of Kevin Williams (FB). I should note that I missed the nice “rip” of the dates; but I understand the need for removable dates. The Costume Design of Shon Leblanc (FB) mostly worked well; however, the red heels on the black shoes of John Dickinson were a distraction. Other than that, both the costumes and the hair / wig / makeup design of Eb Bohks (FB) seemed reasonable period and were effective in conveying the characters. Again, this is an area where there is limited creativity, as the end result has to fit Trumbull’s tableau painting of the signing. The sound design of Philip G. Allen (FB) and Leon Rothenberg (FB) mostly worked well, although there were a few annoying sound drops that I’ll attribute to mistuning on the move from La Mirada to VPAC / Saroya. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting conveyed place and mood well. Rounding out the production credits: Julia Flores (FB) [Casting Director]; Justen Asher (FB) [Technical Director]; Patti McCoy Jacob (FB) [General Manager]; Ana Lara (FB) , Lindsay Brooks (FB), and David Nestor (FB) [Production Management]John W. Calder III (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Heidi Westrom (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; and David Elzer (FB) / Demand PR (FB) [Publicity]1776 was produced by McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB), originally for The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) .

1776 has closed at The Saroya, but a subsequent production from the same production team, Singing in the Rain, will be at The Saroya over the weekend of April 12. Tickets for Singing in the Rain are available through The Saroya online, and may be 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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The day we saw 1776 was theatrical whiplash, as we ran out of the production to head over to Hollywood for Anna Karenina at Actors Co-op (FB).  Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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From Potter to Porter | HFF18 and VPAC

userpic=fringeOn top of all the highway page updates I’m doing, there’s one more element that makes June an incredibly busy month:  the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). For those unfamiliar with the Fringe Festival, there are over 350 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.


Nineteen Years Later (HFF18)Our first day of Fringing started with two Harry Potter-themed shows, although both were careful not to use that magical name so as not to run into the Voldemort of the entertainment world — the trademark aurors. Our first show, Nineteen Years Later: A (Surprisingly Dark) Satire of Witchcraft and Wizardry (HFF18) (FB) was what might be best characterized as a surprisingly good extended fanfiction in the “Boy Wizard”-universe.

The Fringe description characterized the show thusly:

We join Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger Weasley 19 years after we left them. They all have children headed to Hogwarts. But things are amiss, wizards are disappearing and turning up dead. All must overcome old rivalries and create new friendships if they are to figure out who is behind this and stop them.

The description on the show’s actual website gives a bit better of a description:

When Albus, middle child of famed Boy-Who-Lived, doesn’t quite measure up to expectations, his life becomes a series of seemingly never-ending blunders. Isolated, his sole friend the child of his father’s first enemy, Albus finds connecting with those around him nearly impossible. Enter Cecilia, an American exchange student, and a woman who will challenge everything Albus knows – or thought he knew.

This is a very short description for what turned out to be a 26 scene, two-act (with intermission) full-length play about the children of Harry and Ginny Potter, Ron and Hermoine Granger Weasley, and other well known characters going off to Hogwarts. But Harry’s middle son isn’t quite the success his father is: he is sorted into a house he doesn’t want, doesn’t acquire a lot of friends, and the ones he does acquire are either annoying or problematic. Yet, as in the original story: there is a mystery to be solved that ends up bringing the groups together and finding inner strengths. I don’t want to say too much more, as it might give away some of the twists. But suffice it to say there’s lots of magical fighting, a few love scenes, some unexpected relationships, and some different drawing of frendship lines.

Just like the show itself, the cast is exceedingly large: 18 performers! Here’s the list: Ian Cardoni (FB) [Harry Potter]; Kate Hart (FB) [Hermoine Granger-Weasley]; Daniel Adomian (FB) [Ron Weasley]; Ryan Miles (FB) [Albus Potter]; Conner Stevens (FB) [Scorpius Malfoy]; Kena Worthen (FB) [Rose Granger-Weasley]; Ian Coleman (FB) [Draco Malfoy]; Eric Barnard (FB) [Neville Longbottom]; Skip Pipo (FB) [Cerbeus McGuffin]; Emily Blokker-Dalquist (FB) [Ginny Potter, Sybil Trelawney, Professor McGonagall]; Tina Hartell (FB) [Cecilia Sinclaire]; Bobby Greeson (FB) [James Potter]; Jacqui Ross (FB) [Lily Potter]; Manuel Villarreal (FB) [Frank Longbottom]; Kourtnie Reyes (FB) [Kaylin Blackwell]; Alyssa Furtado (FB) [Stella Towie]; Bella Phillips (FB) [Ellen Merryride]; and Amanda Lenora Meade-Tatum (FB) [Kendall Betcher]. With this large of a cast, and no pictures in the program, it is hard to know who is whom. Suffice it to say that all gave great performances — I particularly likes Miles’ Albus, Worthen’s Rose, and Hart’s Hermoine. [ETA: Tina Hartell (FB) [Cecilia Sinclaire], who was left out of the program. I’ll also add that I quite enjoyed her portrayal of her character, so I’m glad she let me know who she was.]

The production was directed by Kate Hart (FB), who also handled marketing. It was written by Kena Worthen (FB), who also produced the show and did the costumes.

As we left, our conclusion was that this was a pretty good piece of fan fiction, well performed. If you are into, or at least familiar with, the HP-universe (and I don’t mean the printer), it is well worth seeing.


From Toilet to Tinseltown (HFF18)For our second Fringe show, we went from a large cast show with a program, to a one person show with a postcard.

From Toilet to Tinseltown: Moaning Myrtle’s One Woman Show was exactly that. Here’s the Fringe description:

Moaning Myrtle, everybody’s favorite ghost from the Harry Potter series, was forced to leave her toilet at Hogwarts years ago. After failing in the UK for a bit, she decided to come to LA for her shot at fame … or something like it. This is her dark and comedic one woman show, her chance to finally be seen (figuratively, of course).

As Moaning Myrtle, Maddie Patrick (FB) (who was also the author) was hilarious. Floating around the stage on her hoverboard, she was everything you would expect a 14-year old ghost who had started a stand-up career would be. She described how and why she was kicked out of the toilet at Hogwarts, and how she went around London. She eventually made her way to Hollywood, where she met the sort of people you would meet in Hollywood, where she fit in well (having no substance). After trying to get started in acting, she eventually made her way to Las Vegas, beginning a career in standup. During the show, she dished not only on her past life, but on people in Hollywood as well as Las Vegas. It was a thoroughly entertaining show.

Ms. Patrick captured the attitude of the ghost well — petulant at times, playful, childish, but with surprisingly astute observations. It was a strong characterization and performance.

Production values were simple: A single costume, a hoverboard, and a microphone.

The production was directed by Patrick Albanesius.

I should note that there is a ticketing discount available if you see both shows, although we didn’t know about it going through the Fringe website. So it goes.


Billy Porter: The Soul of Richard Rodgers (Saroya)Our last show of the evening was not a Fringe show. Back in March we were supposed to see Billy Porter: The Soul of Richard Rodgers at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). But due to other commitments, it was rescheduled to the first Saturday of Fringe, which then resulted in having to move our tickets to The Color Purple (Hollywood Pantages (FB)) to next Saturday, meaning two musicals that day. Time travel is a horrible thing, as we learned today at The Universe (101), but that’s the subject of another post.

If you’re not familiar with Billy Porter (FB), he’s the fellow who made famous the role of Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway. Broadway star… Richard Rodger … this is going to be a nice evenings of Rodgers ballads. Isn’t It? Isn’t It?

The key word in the title was not “Richard Rodgers”, but “soul”. This was a soul and R&B treatment of Rodgers, loud and with loads of bass. We were able to get some 25db foam earplugs from the ushers, but it was still too loud for my wife. I think it was also either too loud — or too political — for some in the audience, who left during the show. Their loss.

For those who stayed, we were treated to a wonderful soul/R&B show. The program was:

  1. We’ll Be Together
  2. Golden
  3. My Romance
  4. The Lady is a Tramp
  5. I Have Dreamed
  6. Funny Valentine
  7. Wash That Man (video)
  8. Carefully Taught
  9. World Gon’ Have To Wait
  10. Feel It to Heal It
  11. Time/Love Is On The Way
  12. All That Matters
  13. What’s Goin’ On
  14. Edelweiss
  15. Kinky Boots Medley

Needless to say, except for the Kinky Boots Medley, these weren’t your traditional treatment of Rodgers. The show was also strongly political — Wash That Man was a pointed video about Trump’s election and his reaction thereto, and the subsequent song, Carefully Taught, was even more relevant today. There was a strong emphasis on needing to restore what we had and to RESIST.

We liked the message. I think some didn’t. But we need to shock the comfortable.

Billy Porter was backed by a four piece band consisting of Jordan Peters on guitar, David Cutler (FB) on bass, Zach Mullings (FB) on drums, and Christian Almiron, on keyboards and as music director. Michael “Lofey” Sandlofer was the Executive Music Director. “Lady and the Trump” featured a special appearance by Zaire Park. There were backup singers, but they were uncredited and not introduced. Bad form in my book.

This was the last performance of the Soraya 2017-2018 season. We’re in the process of planning and scheduling our next season.

***

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), a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB) at the Hudson [yeah! Chromolume found a new location]. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Nothing Moves Above Their Waist | “Dublin Irish Dance” @ Soraya/VPAC

Dublin Irish Dance (Soraya)Over the weekend, we closed out our February live performances with some dance: we saw Dublin Irish Dance‘s production “Stepping Out” at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). This is the “Riverdance” style of Irish Dance, although I must admit I’ve never seen Riverdance.

The production consisted of 8 musicians and 8 dancers doing what I presume is traditional Irish dance — at least that’s what they call it, although I have no idea whether the Irish dancers I know would agree. The music and the dance was technically brilliant and precise. It was beautiful to watch as they attempted to tell a story of Irish immigrants coming to America, back in the time when the Irish weren’t accepted as immigrants,

Although the production was technically brilliant, it left me… cold. I’m not sure why. The music was beautiful, and I listen to Celtic music all the time. In fact, the music sounded a lot like the recent instrumental Irish and Celtic Music podcast. The dance was precise. But unlike stage shows that I go to, there wasn’t a warmth being projected from the dancers. They were coldly precise — were they enjoying the dance? I couldn’t tell.

I think I’ll need to give this particular genre of dance another try, perhaps one day when I’m not as tired (my muscle relaxant was hitting me). It wasn’t that it was bad — it wasn’t at all. It just didn’t wow me as much as I had hoped it might.

To give credit where credit was due: The musical team consisted of Megan Burns [Vocals and Guitar], Kenneth Browne [Accordion, Banjo, Mandolin], Brian Murphy [Fiddle and Guitar], Conal Duffy [Pipes, Flute, and Whistles]; Ryan O Shaughnessy (FB) [Vocals and Guitar]; Oscar Little [Drums and Bodhran]; Marco Andrew Pes [Keys], and David Harte [Bass Guitar]. I do find it interesting that most of the musicians don’t have an identity on the Internet, not even as part of an indie Irish band. I did enjoy their sound quite a bit.

The dancers were (* indicates lead): Sinead Neylon (FB)*, Erin Kuncaitis, Ciara Faber, Jessie Driscoll, Dylan Millar*, Sean Dolan, Lucas Lawton, and Ash Millar. The production was choreographed by Alan Scariff and Ciaran Connolly.

I find it telling that the program only gives bio on the choreographers. Musicians and dancers aren’t interchangable. Tell me something about these people. Celebrate them. Perhaps celebrating your performers over your staff will be reflected out.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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Happy and Joyous | “The Klezmatics” @ VPAC/Saroya

The Klezmatics (VPAC/Saroya)Can you think of a better way to celebrate Chanukah Hump Day (the 5th night) than to go to a concert of Chanukah Klezmer music by one of the best Klezmer bands around? I can’t.

So you can guess where we were last night. Why weren’t YOU there?

The Happy Joyous Hanukah concert by The Klezmatics (FB) at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) was VPAC/Saroya’s last concert of 2017; it was also our last currently ticketed live performance event of 2017 (it is looking less likely that we’ll see A Christmas Story at CTG as they aren’t putting tickets up on Goldstar, and the Music Center celebration isn’t a ticketed event). It was the perfect way to send out the year, with toe-tapping klezmer music.

The show consisted of a number of songs from the Klezmatic’s album Happy Joyous Hanukkah, a few songs from their latest album Apikorsim, and a few other songs from other albums. Almost the entire band was there; Frank London wasn’t as he was out recuperating from surgery.

During the show, I was struck by the connection between some of my favorite styles of music: folk, bluegrass, celtic, and klezmer. They really are elements along a continuum, often united by the fiddle or other stringed instruments. The Klezmatics happily channel Woody Guthrie; Celtic musicians play Bluegrass. Of course, there are even broader connections. I know of Jewish Bluegrass musicians (Nefesh Mountain), and of course, we all know that the Talking Blues is the spiritual parent of Hip-Hop (and I’m even familiar with Bluegrass Rap music (Gangstagrass). I think it goes to show that musical “styles” are just labels, and don’t distinguish good from bad. Good music is what you like; bad is what you don’t.

I liked the music last night. Toe-tapping, energetic music. Great to get one out of a funk, if you had wandered into one. Great to bring out the joy of the holiday. If you get the chance to see the Klezmatics, do so.

I only have one question: They mentioned they have a staff Yiddishist. How do I find my daughter a job like that 🙂 ?

By the way: If you don’t know about the venue (the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB)), you really should. This is a gem of a concert hall on the campus of Cal State Northridge, in the center of the West Valley, the square formed by US 101, I-405, CA 118, and CA 27 (Topanga). Take a look at their upcoming schedule on their website, and I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll enjoy.

Note: The show we saw last weekend, Pacific Overtures, has extended for one week, until December 23. Go get tickets now, before they sell out. Tickets are available through the Chromolume Website, discount tickets may be available through 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:

There is still the possibility that we’ll squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). More likely is going to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but I’ll miss that because they pushed back from their advertised date right on top of my non-refundable tickets to the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  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.

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With Just a Stick in her Hands | Anat Cohen Tentet @ VPAC/Saroya

Anat Cohen Tentet (VPAC/Saroya)Sometimes, I’m familiar with the artists that we see. Sometimes not. The latter is often the case when I’m selecting shows from the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB)’s season brochure. In this case, they listed a performance as the “Anat Cohen Tentet”, categorized as Jazz, with the following description:

Israeli clarinet virtuoso Anat Cohen is the charismatic female bandleader who stands out in a predominantly male environment. Cohen’s tapestry of sounds captures the jubilation of many genres, spanning modern and traditional jazz, classical music, klezmer, Brazilian choro, and Argentine tango.

I was trying to pick a program that had a few shows that might appeal to my wife, and this was clearly one of those: my wife loves modern and traditional Jazz and klezmer, and here we have one led by an Israel, and a female bandleader.

I’m pleased to say that this program was enjoyable beyond any expectations; as my wife put it, this women can do things with her clarinet and create sounds we’ve never heard before. This show came on top of two Grammy nominations (one for Outra Coisa, an album of Latin Jazz, and one for Rosa Dos Ventos). The Anat Cohen Tentet (FB) is a new group she has organized together with her music director, Oded Lev-Ari (FB). They have just put out their first album, and this is their first tour. The Tentet consists of the following musicians, in addition to Cohen on Solo Clarinet: Rubin Kodheli (FB) [Cello], Nadje Noordhuis (FB) [Trumpet & Flugelhorn], Nick Finzer (FB) [Trombone], Owen Broder (FB) [Sax & Clarinet], James Shipp (FB) [Vibraphone & Percussion], Vitor Gonçalves (FB) [Piano & Accordion], Sheryl Bailey (FB) [Guitar], Tal Mashiach (FB) [Bass] and Anthony Pinciotti (FB) [Drums].

Going into the show, I didn’t know what to expect. I like Jazz as well, but I’m less varied in my likes than my wife: She’ll go for the modern Jazz of Marsales; I’m more into the rhythmic swing or big band or New Orleans’ Dixieland. I don’t know how to describe the Tenet’s music, but it definitely wasn’t atonal or non-rhythmic. Joyful? Melodic? All I know is that I found myself enjoying it greatly. After the show, we purchased the Tentet’s new album, Happy Song, as well as one of the Grammy-nominated albums, Outra Costa. I’ve given them a listen (playing them into the 5-or-less playlist, currently at just under 400 songs), and they are quite enjoyable.

The performance consisted on one very long set, mostly of songs we learned later were from Happy Song, a brief introduction to the band, followed by a closing number and an encore.   Perhaps my one and only complaint is with the phrase “charismatic female bandleader” (in the program, described as ” infectious charisma”). Although she did exhibit some charisma with the fellow bandmates, she needs to work a bit on her interaction with the audience. As an audience member, I hope to get in a live show something I can’t get listening to an album. Let me learn your story and the Tentet’s story. Tell me about each song, and a bit more about the featured performers. But I think this is a learned skill, and the Tentet is new. This will come with more tours and more performances, I am sure.

Overall, I’m thankful for this performance. It introduced me to yet another new artist, and a new style of Jazz that I like. You often see Jazz groups fronted by trumpeters; I can only think of three (Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey) led by folks on the stick.  Correction: White men on the stick. As one who champions women in all fields, it was great to see female leadership. It is something we need more of (especially given the men that have screwed things up).

The  Anat Cohen Tentet (FB) had only one performance at  the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), although there are more performances in both their International and Jazz series coming up. The Tentet is on tour, so perhaps you can catch them in your city.

***

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:

December started with Levi! (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB). That’s next on the writeup list.

This week continues 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.

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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.

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