🎭 A Warped Interfaith Shakespearean Comedy | “It Shoulda Been You” @ MTG

It Shoulda Been You (MTG)MTG UserpicTrust me, you’ll understand the title by the time I’m done explaining things. Just as with Saturday’s show, A Body of Water, there was confusion in the show we saw Sunday night: It Shoulda Been You at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). But this confusion was a good confusion, and the story progressed in a clear manner from Point A to Point B. But the path along the way was, shall we say, a bit warped. Point A starts with an Interfaith Wedding. Point B is the ending every Shakespearean comedy has. Ah, but the journey… the journey…

Warning: This writeup does contain spoilers. Given the age of the show, the availability of the cast album, and the fact that this was a single night performance, I’m not worried. But you’ve been forewarned.

It Shoulda Been You is a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi. It opened on Broadway in August 2015, and ran for 31 previews and 135 performances. I still remember the humor in the number they did at the Tony Awards. But it didn’t last, and it never went on tour. Luckily,  the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) brought it back for a one-night, staged reading performance. This means: 25 hours of rehearsals, minimal costumes and scenery, actors have their scripts in their hands per AEA rules, and a focus on the score and the story.

So what’s the story. It starts with an interfaith wedding, being told from the point of view of the oldest daughter, Jenny Steinberg. She’s a little bit zaftig, and her mother, Judy, has been pressuring her with the wedding planning, and guilting her for not being married or even having a relationship — as only a Jewish mother can do. Criticizing everything, butting in everywhere. Luckily, there is an all-knowing, all-seeing wedding planner to save the day. So what about the bride and groom. The bride, Rebecca, is having cold feet about the wedding, but the best man (Greg Madison) and maid of honor (Annie Sheperd) are holding that together. The groom, Brian Howard, is the reason for the culture clash. Coming from a nice WASP upper-class family, his parents, Georgette and George Howard, don’t want this marriage — for obvious WASPish reasons, if you get my drift. This whole mix is complicated when Jenny accidentally calls Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty, who rushes over to stop the wedding.

As I said, crazy comedy, but it gets worse. Insert all the expected Jewish and WASPish jokes. Insert all the jokes about drinking. Insert all the typical self-worth issues any wedding brings out. Insert last minute prenuptial contracts to protect the trust fund, and all that stress.

But, eventually, things get worked out and the wedding happens. But then Jenny walks into the room with the Bride and Groom after the wedding… to find the Bride busily kissing the Maid of Honor, and the Groom kissing the Best Man. You see, it turns out that her sister and her fiancee are both gay. The wedding was a scheme to split the trust fund, so they could be with their real loves. Oh, and the sister is pregnant by her gay groom, thanks to one night with too much drinking. Now comes the next part: how to tell the parents, and will they be cool with it?

Let’s add one more complication: the ex-boyfriend of the bride, Rebecca? He wanted to stop the wedding not because he was in love with Rebecca, but because he knew she was gay. He’s been in love with Jenny since school days, but never told her. Insert proposal.

As I said: A Shakespearean comedy, as everyone ends up married and in love at the end. One might easily draw some parallels to Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night.

As for what I thought of the show: I had heard the music before (I have the album), so I knew what was going on going in. In fact, we even used this as an event for the live theatre group at our synagogue. But the show was much much funnier than the cast album made it out to be. Just like with $5 Shakespeare (last Sunday’s show), this one was laugh out loud funny. Many of the jokes were extra funny if you knew the stereotypes or tropes behind them. So I really, really enjoyed this show.

I also liked quite a few of the songs, but they were much more contextual — not songs you would walk out the theatre humming or as an earworm. Nope, this is not a The Last Ship. But some songs, such as “A Little Bit Less Then” or “Jenny’s Blues” are just beautiful, and convey touching messages. Many of the other songs are just extremely funny, going from the opening number to the “That’s Family” number at the end.

So why did this show fail? I think, in some ways, it didn’t find its audience. The liberal Jewish audience would have no problem with a gay wedding, and the more conservative Orthodox audience wouldn’t have the interfaith aspects occurring. Some of the jokes may have fallen flat. But, I think, just as with the recent The Prom, much as we think audiences are ready to look at the humor in a particular subject, sometimes they just surprise us by not being ready. So why does something like The Book of Mormon work? One could say it was the message at the heart of it, but this is a Shakespearean comedy at its heart and that is timeless. Perhaps people were ready to laugh at Mormons? Perhaps this just needs to be rediscovered. I still think this should have toured.

Those who were able to make it out to the Alex Sunday night were treated to a wonderful show with wonderful performances, and only a few sound problems. Unlike Encores in NYC, these shows don’t have the possibility of extending. But if you see a production of It Shoulda Been You pop up near you, give it a try. I think you’ll find it a very fun evening.

One of the things that made this production so good was the performances. As I noted earlier: the cast gets a total of 25 hours to pull this together. They have scripts in hand. They haven’t had the time to polish and shine their musical numbers. So when performances are outstanding, that indicates a particular level of skill.

At the top of the performance chart was Julie Garnyé (★FB, FB) Jenny. She just hit it out of the ballpark with humor and character and fun. Her performances in both “Beautiful” and “Jenny’s Blues” were outstanding. Also strong was the actor playing her younger sister, Ashley Fox Linton (FB) Rebecca.  She also brought a load of humor to the role, and gave a touching performance in her main number, “A Little Bit Less Then”.

This brings us to the actors playing the Steinberg parents: Eileen Barnett (FBJudy and Anthony Gruppuso (FBMurry. Barnett, as in any Jewish family, had the larger role. She got to play some wonderfully humorous numbers, such as “Nice”, but also got the touching number “What They Never Tell You”.  Gruppuso got a smaller role in terms of songs, but handled the humor well as he always does.

Turning to the groom’s side of the equation, there was Zachary Ford (FBBrian Howard.  Ford is quite adept at playing comical characters, and he handled this quite well. His soft shoe with his father, “Back in the Day”, was spectacular.

Playing a larger role were the groom’s parents: Barbara Carlton Heart (FBGeorgette and Bryan Chesters (FBGeorge. Heart did a great job of the humor in Georgette, especially in numbers like “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the closing “That’s Family”. As noted above, Chesters did a great job with Ford in “Back in the Day”.

But if you want the real humor in the story, that credit goes to one of my favorite performers, Jason Graae (★FBAlbert, the wedding planner. He upped the humor an order of magnitude with the performance he brought to the role, and made every scene he was in. Graae is just a delight to watch.

The remaining members of the wedding party were Travis Leland (FBMarty Kaufman, the ex-boyfriend; Helen Jane Planchet (FBAnnie Shepard, the maid of honor; and Adam Lendermon (FBGreg Madison, the best man.  Leland did a spectacular job, especially in numbers like “Whatever”. He also had a delightful chemistry with Garnye’s Jenny. Planchet and Lendermon had more comic supporting roles, but they did wonderfully with them.

Rounding out the cast were Thomas W. Ashworth (FBWalt/Uncle Morty and Pamela Hamill (FBAunt Sheila/Mimsy.

Music was provided by a small on-stage band consisting of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB) Music Director / Piano; Steve Dress (FBBass; and Albie Berk (FBPercussion.  Although small, they had a wonderful sound.

The production was pulled together in the famous 25 hours by Josh Grisetti (FBDirector and Mackenzie Perpich (FB) Choreographer. Adding to the stress for this duo is that they just got married… to each other… less than 2 weeks ago and cut their honeymoon short to do this show. No pressure there, but it certainly meant that they understood the stress that is involved with planning a wedding and having things go wrong. That experience was demonstrated on the stage as they perfectly choreographed both the humor and the movement, and worked with the talented acting team to bring off the production with few hitches.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side: Set Design … none. Well, a few tables, a few boxes. Lighting design … minimal, with no credit. Sound design … minimal, which is a bad thing because microphone problems invariably happen in these productions. The one thing they did have were costumes, including two beautiful wedding dresses, that were coordinated by  A Jeffrey Schoenberg / AJS Costumes (FB). Other production credits: Paul Wong (★FBFB) Production Coordinator;  Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager, Production Manager; Stacey Cortez and Debra Miller (FB) Assistant Stage Managers.

This was a one-time only performance. The next Musical Theatre Guild (FB) performance is May 3, 2020 for the musical Kismet, which actually started here in Los Angeles at the LA Civic Light Opera. Tickets are available through the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) website. MTG announced much of their next season, which includes Mack and Mabel, The Wedding Singer, and Brigadoon, together with a show to be announced.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (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), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  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). 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. As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings 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 possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (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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🎭 Crossed Actors in Love | “The Goodbye Girl” @ MTG

The Goodbye Girl (MTG)MTG UserpicWhen you look at Broadway today, it seems we are in an era of taking any movie and attempting to put it on the stage. Pretty WomenTootsie, and Beetlejuice are just recent examples of a trend that has been going on since at least the 1950s. One such attempt occurred in 1993, when there was an attempt to bring the 1977 Neil Simon comedy The Goodbye Girl to the stage. The resulting musical: The Goodbye GIrl, featured an updated book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by David Zippel, and starred Bernadette Peters and Martin Short. You would think that with this pedigree the musical would easily succeed. It didn’t — it only ran for 23 previews and 188 performances — proving that even with pedigrees, it can still be a dog.

But is it really a dog. That’s the question that the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) asks. They present shows with only 25 hours of rehearsal, minimal staging and scenery, in a staged reading format that allows reexamination. The second outing of their season was The Goodbye Girl, which we saw last night.

In the program, the supposition is made that the reason for the failure was the theatre: The Marquis Theatre. At the time of the show, there had been a string of failures there, and Broadway is a superstitious bunch. But subsequent to the show, there have been a few hits at the theatre. So was that the reason.

Before I give you my thoughts on the show, perhaps I should tell you what it was about. After all, 1977 was a long time ago — I was just graduating high school. The musical retained much of the original movie’s plot, making only a few changes. It is difficult to find a synopsis online that isn’t a scene by scene breakdown (such as the one in the Guide to Musical Theatre), so I’ll give it a try:

Paula and her daughter Lucy are looking forward to moving to California to be with her actor-boyfriend Tony. But they discover Tony has left them for a movie role in Spain; further, he has sublet their apartment without their knowledge to an actor friend from Chicago. Paula doesn’t want to share the apartment, but Elliott (the Chicago actor) points out that he owns the lease, so they work out a tenuous arrangement. He has a role in a version of Richard III where the director wants him to play it as a man playing a women playing a man (this was originally a homosexual queen portrayal in the movie). Unsurprisingly, that approach fails. As Elliott recovers from the drunken opening night pain, he sees the tender side of Paula, and no surprisingly, a spark is ignited. Insert the predictable march to the happy ending.

My reaction to the show was hard to characterize. On story and music alone, it was a pleasant evening — but it also wasn’t a spectacular “wow” along the lines of Come From Away or Hamilton. It struck me much more as a Pretty Women or the current show at the Marquis, Tootsie. In other words: yes, it was a fun show to watch, but it also didn’t seem to have the staying power that the powerhouse shows have. This should not be construed as saying it was bad. It was a very very funny show, with some really good performances. It just didn’t have that staying power. Similar to the Donna Summer musical I saw Saturday night, it was a piece of fluff that was tasty while you were eating it, but it left you craving something much more substantial.

So why did The Goodbye Girl fail so spectacularly in its first outing. After all, movie to musical properties often have a reasonable life, even if they aren’t long running hits. I think there are a number of reasons:

  • I’m not sure this was a movie that cried out to be musicalized. Were there emotions or arcs of the characters that could only be told by song? I’m not sure. Without that crying need for music, you end up with something that might be entertaining, but isn’t spectacular. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be profitable, but that profit will not be achieved on Broadway, but in long term licensing and performance.
  • I think the original casting was off. Martin Short was fine, but I think this wasn’t the right role for Bernadette Peters. This show came between Into the Woods and the Annie Get Your Gun revival. Trying to have Peters be believable as an unemployed, out of shape dancer just didn’t work.
  • Although David Zippel’s lyrics were strong, I’m not sure this was Marvin Hamlisch’s best score. Hamlisch had a problem finding scores for the theatre that had long term lasting power after A Chorus Line. None of the songs here had a long term lasting power, although “Elliott Garfield Grant” was an earworm.
  • The transition from the movie to the stage didn’t use the opportunity to fix the problems in the original screenplay. When you read reviews of the movie, Paula was often viewed as unsympathetic in the first half of the movie — someone you don’t particularly like. Audiences didn’t warm up to her until the latter part of the movie. Read reviews of the stage musical, and guess what — same thing. If you can’t get invested in the characters early, it is hard to get the audiences to care about the show.

But this is MTG — and one of the goals of MTG is to give a chance to see properties such as The Goodbye Girl for just this reason. It allows one to see if the underlying good in the material, and to determine what possibly went wrong the first time out. Luckily, the execution of this production was significantly better than Barnum a few months ago.  About the only production problems were one or two instances of feedback, and a few cases where the sound team was behind the actors, and the microphones weren’t enabled when they should be. As directed by Linda Kerns (FB), and with choreography by Michelle Elkin (⭐FB, FB), the production moved briskly and without problems, and the actors did a great job of inhabiting the characters. This was particularly remarkable when you consider the short time they were living with these characters — remember, just 25 hours of rehearsal.

In the lead positions were Wendy Rosoff (⭐FB, FB) Paula and Will Collyer (⭐FB, FB) Elliot. Rosoff captured the neurotic nature of Paula well and had a great chemistry with Collyer’s Elliot. Her songs came off as a little more shrill than perhaps were intended, but I think that’s something that would have been adjusted in a longer run. Collyer was great as Elliot — he had a warmth and charm that made one see how Martin Short could have been so strong in the role.

Also in a lead position was Maya Somers Lucy. This young lady just blew me away with her talent and voice. As she grows as an actress, I look forward to seeing her on the stages of Los Angeles.

Supporting the leads in named roles were Jenelle Lynn Randall (⭐FBMrs. Crosby, and as Lucy’s friends, Bella Stine (⭐FB) Cynthia and Olivia Zenetzis Melanie.  All were very strong. Randall brought some wonderfully sardonic humor and moves to Mrs. Crosby, and nailed her “2 Good 2 Be Bad Number”, and Stine and Zenetzis made a delightful trio with Somers.

Rounding out the cast were: Jennifer Knox (FB) Donna / Ensemble; Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) Jenna / Ensemble; Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) Billy / Ensemble; Anthony Gruppuso (⭐FB, FB) Mark / Ricky / Ensemble; Tal Fox (FB) Ensemble; Gabriel Navarro (FB) Ensemble; and Mark C. Reis (⭐FB) Ensemble.

Dennis Castellano (FB) served as Musical Director and Conductor of the onstage band, which consisted of Castellano (FB) Piano, John Reilly Woodwinds, and Alan Alesi Drums/Percussion.

As this was a minimally staged concert performance, there was no real scenic, lighting, or sound design.  A Jeffrey Schoenberg (FB) provided the costumes, and Todd Gajdusek was Production Coordinator. Stage managers were Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager / Production Coordinator, Stacey Cortez Asst Stage Manager; and Debra Miller Asst Stage Manager.

This was the only performance of The Goodbye Girl.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (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:

Next weekend is open due to Stiches SoCal, although I might still book a show. 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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🎭 Humbug, I Say | “Barnum” @ MTG

Barnum (MTG)MTG UserpicThere’s one major problem with seeing shows on Sunday evening: When to do the writeup? That’s made even worse when you are trying to walk 10K steps a day, have a full-time job, have evening meetings, and it is the first week of the new television season. Please accept that as my excuse for why this writeup of the musical Barnum, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and book by Mark Bramble, is so late. We saw the show last Sunday night (its only performance); and I haven’t had time to write it up until now.

Barnum is the show that really introduced me to Cy Coleman’s music. When I got the cast album, I also picked up an album of the Cy Coleman trio doing songs from that show, and almost wore it out. I first saw the show in January 1982 at the Pantages Theatre with most of the original cast: Jim Dale, Glenn Close, Catherine Gaines, Ray Roderic, Terri White, Terrence V. Mann, and others. In the recent past, I saw the show back in 2006 at the NoHo Arts Center with James Mellon and Janet Fontaine.

This time, I was seeing Barnum as the first show of our subscription to Musical Theatre Guild (FB), a local company that specializes in doing staged readings of rarely done “gems”. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) season was a bust in terms of musicals we wanted, and MTG had moved to Sunday night and was doing three shows we hadn’t seen: The Goodbye Girl, It Shoulda Been Youand Kismet — so we subscribed and Barnum was part of the deal. “Staged reading” means you get the entire libretto and book. However, there are no formal sets; the actors (by AEA rules) have their scripts in hand, there is truly limited rehearsal (25 hours); and any ensemble is minimal. It is a great way to “see” a show and imagine what it could be, but not have the expense of a full production. However, as there is only one performance, there are likely to be all sorts of technical problems and rough edges.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it tells the story of P.T. Barnum, from his first “humbug” with Joyce Heth (after he met his wife Charity Barnum) until the creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It has a very Dixie-land score, and features rope tricks, juggling, tightrope walking, marching bands, the world’s smallest man, the world’s oldest woman, the world’s biggest elephant, magic tricks, and more… in this case, with a cast of 9.

So I’ve seen Barnum in the big, and I’ve seen Barnum in the small. How did this production do? The answer is: reasonably well. Overall, the performances were good, and the character performers were extremely creative in presenting Big Top acts on a teeny-tiny budget. Some of the voices were remarkable. The show, however, was marred by sound problems (especially on some of my favorite songs), some of the actors lost their places in the scripts, and the lead just couldn’t keep up with some of the strong patter songs (and I believe dropped some lyrics, and perhaps even cut an entire reprise of the verse).

Credit goes to the director, Alan Bailey (FB), and the choreographer, Cheryl Baxter (FB), for the creative way they brought the show to life with their limited budget and limited rehearsal time. Some of the creative decisions such as how they did the tightrope, the acrobats, the execution of the Tom Thumb and Jumbo sequences, and the implementation of the circus acts were great. Given the limited rehearsal, the movement was in general quite good and conveyed a sense of what the show could be with more time and rehearsal. The incorporation during one sequence of a sign indicating the AEA required them to hold scripts at all times was a hoot.

In the lead position was Kirby Ward (FB) as PT Barnum. Ward had a good voice, and captured the character and the playfulness of Barnum well. Where he had problems was keeping up with the script: there were one or two places where he seemingly lost his place. A greater problem for me was that, in the “Museum Song” (a song I have memorized), he seemed to misplace a line, and skip the fastest reprise. He had some similar problems in “Join the Circus”, IIRC. I understand the limited rehearsal time and being “on book”, but …

Working with him as Charity Barnum was Tracy Lore, who we’ve seen in numerous productions at Cabrillo/5-Star and appears to be an MTG regular. Lore’s Charity had a lovely voice, and she did a great job of bringing the character to life and playing off of Ward’s Barnum. A flawless performance.

As we move to the remainder of the cast (who all handled multiple roles), there are a few I would like to particularly highlight. Regina LeVert (⭐FB, FB) Joyce Heth / Blues Singer / Ensemble had a remarkable voice and gave a great performance, but was hindered by a malfunctioning microphone that hurt her powerful vocals. What made matters worse is that they didn’t fix the problem after the first failure, but let it fail again in her second song in the second act. The stage manager had the presence to hand her a mic near the end of her first song; they could have done that at the first hint of trouble in the second. Another strong singer was Kelley Dorney (FBJenny Lind / Ensemble. For Lind, Dorney has to capture an operatic soprano voice, and she just nailed it with both beauty and grace. The third performance I would like to highlight is Matthew Patrick Davis (FBChester Lyman / Tom Thumb / Wilton / Ensemble.  Davis brought a strong voice to his performance in “Bigger Isn’t Better”, but more importantly brought loads of humor to Tom Thumb, as the tallest ensemble member recruited to play the world’s smallest man. He made it work, and then he reappeared at the end on stilts! Rounding out the ensemble were: Jasmine Ejan (⭐FB, FB) Mrs Stratton / Ensemble; Glenn Shiroma (FB) Ringmaster / James Bailey / Ensemble; Matt Braver (FB) Amos Scudder / Goldschmidt / Morrissey / Ensemble; and Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) Sherwood Stratton / Concertmaster / Templeton / Ensemble.

Also “performing” on stage were two ASL Interpreters from Pierce College, Angelina Giudice (FB) and Heaven Ringle (FB). I cannot attest to the quality of their signing, or whether they were able to keep up with the show and the songs, but they were fun to watch and had their own interplay during the show.

Lastly, augmenting the performers during the Act II opening number “Come Follow the Band” was the Verdugo Hills High School Marching Band. They were a hit with the audience; they only way the reaction could have been better had been if they marched down the aisles.

Speaking of music: the on-stage band was under the musical direction of Jan Roper (FB), who was also tickling the ivories (and not the ivories of Jumbo). Rounding out the on-stage musicians were Chris Tedesco (FB) Trumpet; Dave Ryan Trombone; John Yoakum (FBWoodwinds; Steve Wilkinson Bass; and Alan Peck Drums / Percussion.  I did appreciate the red noses at the start.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. There were no credits for scenic design, although there was a production coordinator (Barbara Carlton Heart), video technical assistance (Ernest McDaniel), and a video board operator (Megan Salisbury). There were no credits for sound or lighting, even though they really needed a sound person on site, given the mic problems. They did, however, have costumes by Jeffrey Schoenberg / AJS Costumes, which served to define the characters and provide a limited sense of who and when.  Rounding out the production team was Leesa Freed Production Stage Manager / Production Manager, Stacey Cortez Asst Stage Manager; and Debra Miller Asst Stage Manager.

Musical Theatre Guild (FB) productions are one performance only. Their next performance is The Goodbye Girl on November 10, 2019.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (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:

Saturday night brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting really busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), followed by In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  The third weekend is open, but may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB). November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for January 4 for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date.

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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