Revisiting Oz

Back in 2007, we attended the second production of the nascent revitalized “Wizard of Oz… and Then Some” at Nobel Middle School. It was, as one would expect, a work in progress. The program was still finding its legs — the kid’s enthusiasm was there, but the technical side was still growing and stretching. Today, we squeezed in an afternoon performance of a slightly retooled version, “Not Yo Momma’s Wizard of Oz” (yes, they’ve gotten to the point they can recycle productions). It wasn’t an ideal squeeze — I’m busy getting ready for the conference and had a headache strike during the show — but we were able to support the program.

As I wrote last time, the play is an amalgam of the Harold Arlen “The Wizard of Oz”, with a few songs from Charlie Small’s “The Wiz” and Stephen Schwartz’ “Wicked” thrown in… and a few more surprises. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the basic story, so I won’t repeat it here. Seeing it the second time, I’m not 100% sure the mashup works — for example, the song “Popular” seems spliced in, whereas “For Good” fits well. The material from “The Wiz” fits in much better, and as for some of the other splices, well, they work great in a Middle School environment of playfulness and building the size of the cast, whereas they might not work in a more adult environment. Most of the additional changes they made for this year’s production worked; the one thing I didn’t like was how they played the character of Uncle Henry as a little bit flaming. But this is a production designed for Middle School, so they get a pass.

In terms of performance, they did great considering the cast was a collection of Middle School students, many without professional training. The enthusiasm was strongly there, even if the caliber was ever so slightly off. As was the last time, I’m not going to list the very large cast completely. I do want to highlight a few particularly good performances. In terms of singing performance, I was very impressed with their Dorothy, Abigail Franks, their Scarecrow, Jeremiah Coleman, and their Tin Man, Andrew Lewis. I was also impressed with their Talulah, Gianna Lowe. In terms of acting, I liked their lead narrator, Cassandra Cohen, their Toto, Nathan Torres, their Cowardly Lion, Miaya May, and what I’m guessing was their playful wicked witch in training, Sara (Maya Efrat). Also worthy of note were their wizards, in particular the wonderful rap performance of their Lil Wiz, Bennett Chester, and the assistant principal (I’m guessing Mark Simmons) who was playing the Wizard of Oz.

Technically, this production was head and shoulders above the original production. The sets, designed by Dennis Kull, were spectacular. Sound (Bob McNabb was the sound consultant) was also much better than the original production, although there were times where you still could not hear people. Still, that was so much fewer and far between than the original production. Lighting, with a design by Richard Doherty and consultation by Artur Cybulski, had its problems. Evidently, the lighting board rebooted during the Friday night performance, and didn’t come back until just seconds before the afternoon performance. Still, they got it working and the lights were very effective. The choreography by Carolyn Doherty was very good, and the costumes worked well for the production. Michelle Franks was the program and poster designer, and I must make the same comment I’ve been making for year about the productions at Nobel — Please put the street address of the school on the poster! The production was produced and directed by Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro.

The last performance of “Not Yo Mamma’s Wizard of Oz” is occurring as I type this.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next week is lost to ACSAC in Orlando. You are coming to the conference, aren’t you? In terms of theatre, mid-December sees us at the Colony for “The Morini Strand” on 12/15 . That will be followed by “Judy Collins” at VPAC on December 21, and another intriguing mash-up: A Mulholland Christmas Carol”  at Theatre of Note on December 22 (this is a combination of A Christmas Carol with the story of the St. Francis Dam disaster). December ends with Other Desert Cities at the Taper on December 29. Whereas last week January looked empty, that’s rapidly changing. I’m planning to book Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson for January 6. January 12 is the MoTAS Shabbat. January 19 will possibly bring “Backbeat” at the Ahmanson.  January 26 is being held for the just announced production of Triassic Parq–The Musical at the Chance Theatre in Orange County. February will likely start with the first play of the REP season, “Putnam County Spelling Bee“.  February also brings “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. March features “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at the Colony and “Catch Me If You Can” at Broadway LA/Pantages. March may also bring “End of the Rainbow” at the Ahmanson. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).


Revisiting a Friend in Dr. Seuss’ World

Last night, we went to go see “Seussical–The Musical” at Nobel Middle School in Northrdge. Now, I’m sure your first question is… why? After all, our daughter has graduated high school, we have no other kids, so why would we willingly go to a middle school to see a musical. You’re probably thinking we are crazy. Trust me: we’re not. This little middle school does damn fine performances equaling or bettering many high schools and coming close to small regional productions. Plus, the people behind the program are just wonderful, and seeing how it was these people that were the teachers that were the initial “spark” for our daughter in school, we just had to go.

Before I go into the specifics of this production, I want to talk about the program itself. Back in 2005, there was no drama program at Nobel–at least nothing that presented shows to people. That changed in 2006, when two hard-working English teachers, Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro, revitalized the program. Our daughter was in that first show, An Evening of Silverstein, and it touched a nerve for her. She was involved in every show thenceforth while at Nobel; she remained involved while at Van Nuys. It was the reason she went to Van Nuys HS (she loved working in theatre); it gave her friends and self-confidence. I think it was the “nudge” that turned her into the woman of today.

Now, that first show wasn’t all that fancy. There were a few lights on a light bar on the side, plugged in with extension cords because they couldn’t use the lights in the building. There was little amplification, and you couldn’t hear the kids. Sets were simplistic. The program wasn’t supported by the administration; in fact, it seemed as if the administration was actively hostile at times. Over the years, this program has grown and grown and become more professional. In Spring 2008 for Grease, there were professional-quality sets. Since then, the quality of the shows has continued to improve. They’ve got full theatrical lighting (paid for by the program or grants), a full lighting board and sound board with wireless microphones. They had spectacular sets. They are training students not only on acting and singing, but on the technical and backstage aspects of the production. They had remarkable costumes. All this in a drama progam at a Math-Science-Technology magnet. Even the administration seems to have turned around. Although there are still problems, I now see the school promote the drama productions and it has become something the school is proud of. All this is due to the work of Fanny and Jean and the parents, children, and others they have loved and brought into their orbit. These two women have made this program, and I just love them (both as teachers, and as really great people).

Turning to the show itself. This is one we’ve seen before–at the Teen Drama Workshop at CSUN. “Seussical” is a musical based on the Dr. Seuss books, with music by Lynn Ahrens, Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Eric Idle. The story basically combines “Horton Hears a Who” with “Horton Hatches an Egg”, with a number of other Seuss stories and characters thrown in for good measure. If you are familiar with the two-act version of the cast album, this is a cut down, one act version that preserves the basic story, but cuts out some of the more extraneous stuff, such as the Butter Battle, and the environmental subplot (it appears to be the Jr. High/Middle School version).  It is a great show for middle school: it supports good characters, lots of music, and lots of positions for kids.

Nobel did a great job with the show. I really couldn’t detect acting problems–there wasn’t the overacting you often see in HS productions. There was just good storytelling and kids having fun. The singing was mixed–some good, some weaker–but this is what you get in middle school with kids that aren’t going into that career. It was a step above past productions–this is likely due to the introduction of a choral director, Sara Greenberg. I’ll go into the tech in a bit.

Some of the kids performances were outstanding. Particularly notable was Michael Dager as Horton the Elephant: this young man could sing well, and could act well, conveying his emotion to the audience clearly. Also mostly strong were Julia Trites as the Cat in the Hat, Jessica Bell as Gertrude McFuzz, Jenny Tuell as the Sour Kangaroo. The acting of these three was all great, and for the most part, their singing was strong and spot on. As Jojo, Jordan Vasich started out weak, but once he moved into the real Jojo role, was pretty good. A number of other kids caught my eye with their acting–particularly Deven Streeton at Thing1, Megan Chu as Thing 2, the twins (Amanda and Jessica Wilheim) who played the baby kangaroos, and whichever citizen of Whoville was wearing the glasses.  These youngsters were just fun to watch.

As would be expected, there was a large cast in this show, and I could only highlight a few. The full cast was: Cat in the Hat: Julia Trites; Jojo: Jordan Vasich. Horton: Michael Dager. Gertrude McFuzz: Jessica Bell. Amayzing Mayzie: Taylor Pearl. Sour Kangaroo: Jenny Tuell. Baby Kangaroos: Amanda and Jessica Wilsheim. Mr. Mayor: Noah Gephart Canada. Mrs. Mayor: Jenny McNabb. Vlad Vladikoff: Cruz Godinez. Yertle the Turtle: Shelby Kaplan. Bird Girls: Abigail Franks, Emily Bernstein, Gianna Lowe, Kayla Hamburg, Shelby Vasich, Victoria Solkovitz. Wickersham Mob Boss: Josh Zweig. Wickershams: Aria Doherty, Bennett Chester, Edgar Tumbokon, Jeremiah Coleman, Michael Lertzman, Sabrina Vasich. Whoville Citizens: Alexander Goldbloom, Adnrea Mayorga, Berna Amet, Cassandra Cohen, Kaitlyn Guadagno, Maya Efrat, Nick Katurich, Nichole Wilheim, Shane Harrington. Thing 1: Deven Streeton. Thing 2: Megan Chu. Jungle Creatures: Alice Kazantsev, Ashley David, Crystal Garcia, Jaylen Dunn, Jessica Zubia Calsada, Josh Lloyd, Josue Solorzano, Sukhmani Kaur. Hunters: Josue Solorzano, Wade Hawthorne. Jungle Creatures/Fish: Alyssa Escartin, Drew Golden, Lisette Avila, Madison Tilner, Michaela Moser, Sanam Vojdanpak, Shannon Fonseca. Jungle Creatures/Circus Performers: Brian Card, Emily Flores, Miaya May, Michelle Sarabia, Shiloh Sacks, Sukhmani Kaur, Wade Hawthorne.

The production was directed by Jean Martellaro and produced by Fanny Araña. Choreography was by Carloyn Doherty. Choral direction by Sara Greenberg. No credit was provided for the recorded music.

Turning to the technical: Nobel has improved 200% in terms of light and sound. Going from the early days of stand up microphones at the front, with some light stands on the side that kept overheating and no controls for either to last night’s show: with multiple standard theatrical lights both on the sides and on top in front of the stage, as well as overhead on the stage, with a full lighting and sound board. Credit to this improvement goes to the technical directors, Fanny Araña and Brian Bengler. Brian also did lighting and sound design, and other than a few glitches, it was pretty good (and in many ways, stronger than I’ve seen at Van Nuys). The spectacular sets were designed by Gail Zweben, stepping in for regular designer Dennis Kull, who was unable to do the show. These sets were clever, multilevel (something you rarely see in middle school), well constructed, and took great advantage of black lighting. The costumes were extremely clever, and were the work of a large number of people. Also spectacular were the fish puppets — I think these had the audience in awe.

Technical credits (not already given): Production crew: Chriss Bell, Darlene Streeton, Huan Chu. Production assistants: Charlene Wilheim, Debbie Canada, John Roberto, Steve Wilheim. Specialty costumes: Bird Girls & Kangaroos – Larissa Kazantsev; Whos & Monkeys – Michelle Hamburg. Costume Assistants: Darleen Streeton, Debbie Sornborger, Lucia Arias, Patty Katurich. Fish puppet creators: Diane Kaspar, Baljot, Chanal, Micole Granados, Savannah Flores, Thrinity Martinez. Technical crew: Alex Pappas, Andre Shahinian, Bella Ortega, Daniel Zgodzay, Denise Rojas, Gillian Evenas, Isaíjah Johnson, Jojo Roecker, Jordan Whittaker, Luis Gallardo, Matan Levin, Megan Roberto, Nicolas Carlson, Ridge Echiverri, Rosemary Vazquez, Sahar Alubhoy, Salpy Haroutunian, Shaha Shahinian, Shane Scott, Stephanie Italiaie, Taylor Ketterling, Tyler Greene, Zaharun Hossain.

“Seussical” continues at Nobel Middle School today at 2pm and 630pm. Nobel Middle School is in Northridge CA at Tampa and Lassen; parking is on Merridy one block N of Tampa. This program is funded by donations, not tickets at the door. So come, donate, and help keep this program alive.

ETA: You can see some wonderful pictures of the production here.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: I may see if I can get last-minute tickets to  “Follies” at the Ahmanson for tonight. Rounding out June we have “Addams Family” at the Pantages on June 15 and “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Pantages on June 22, as well as the Palisades High School mega-picnic and the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps 60th Anniversary. July features “The Savannah Disputation” at the Colony, “The Laramie Project” at REP East, and “Meet Me In St. Louis” at Cabrillo. August is more open, but will bring “Memphis” at the Pantages and “Playdates” at REP East.  As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.

Music: Confessions (Liza Minnelli): Close Your Eyes


A Magical Transformation

For five years now, we’ve been involved with the performing arts program at our daughter’s middle school—she was a founding member of their performing arts program back in 7th grade (she’s now in 11th). Last night continued that involvement when we went over to Nobel to see their production of “Beauty and the Beast (Jr.)“. The “(Jr.)” (which wasn’t in their program but was mentioned in their listing on (yup, they were listed)) refers to the licensed version from MTI. The “(Jr.)” version cut out a number of songs and their reprises (“No Matter What”, “Me”, “How Long Must This Go On”, “If I Can’t Love Her”, “Maison De Lune”), and probably removed what little suggestive dialogue there was. Essentially, the Jr. version appears to be the movie version plus “Home” and “Human Again”, as opposed to the full Broadway version. Nobel got a surprising amount of publicity for the show—in addition to the normal parent channels, Facebook, and Evite, I found mentions in the Daily News, BroadwayWorld,,, and even the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council, plus they show up on MTI’s map of productions. Van Nuys High School could take a lesson from Nobel on how to publicize a show (as well as on how to fundraise, for Nobel was selling all sorts of stuff outside the show, as well as conducting a 50/50 raffle. They only thing they didn’t do was sell ads in the program!)

If you’re not familiar with the story, I’m surprised. You should read the Wikipedia page.

How did Nobel do with this production? Judging by the standard of Middle School productions (where the students are there for fun, and few have had professional training), they did reasonably well. The heart was there, the kids were having fun and trying their hardest, and that’s all you could wish for. The performances were reasonably good; the singing was hit-or-miss; and the movement was OK. There were some standout performances, to my eye. Rachel Denny, playing Belle, was a pretty good singer; her voice waivered at a few points due to amplification problems, but was reasonably strong and nice to listen to. Another strong singer was Danielle Geimer as Mrs. Potts—she essentially nailed her key song, “Beauty and the Beast“. As Lefou, Ethan Barker was an energetic and acrobatic actor (although his singing was weaker). Lastly, I was also impressed with Courtney Cohen as the Enchantress and Paige Nelson as the Enchanted Rose—neither had speaking lines but spoke through their ballet, which was beautiful.

Looking at some of the other leads. As the Beast/Prince, Bryce Edelberg did reasonably well, but he seemed to be over-blustering the beast, which hid the undercurrent of tenderness that needed to be there. Admittedly, that’s a hard-mixture for someone so young. Josh Zweig was good as Maurice, but the Jr. version eviscerated his role. As Gaston, Michael Dager needed a bit more pomposity and presence for his role; again, he did pretty good for a middle school student. It’s also hard for a middle school student to pull off the line “and every square inch of me’s covered with hair”. The other enchanted members of the Beast’s household were OK— Arthur Kazantsev‘s Lumiere had the right humor, Dylan Bellusci‘s Cogswell was appropriately stuck up, Taylor Pearl’s Babette was as much of a French Maid as a middle-school girl could be, Christian Laspada‘s Chip was suitably cute, and Jenny Tuell‘s Mme Grande Bouche attempted to be operatic.

No, I’m not going to list the remainder of the large cast. This was a middle school production. There were lots of kids, all of whom tried very hard, gave what they had, and made a lovely ensemble. I do feel for four of them though—Alice Kazantsev, Aria Doherty, Cassandra Cohen, and Cody Laspada, whose sole job was to play statues in the castle. It must have been hard to not even tap your feet.

Technically, the Nobel productions are improving. They used a fascinating fold-out set designed by Dennis Kull; this is the first time I’ve seen a set get applause! Lighting and Sound were designed by Brian Bengler (although I know Erin helped on the lighting design)—there were numerous mic problems last night (which could have been the kids not knowing how to work with the mics) and the lights were a bit too white (which I understand was a change from the original design, probably dictated by the producers). Costumes were by Larissa Kazantsev at Costume Creators and were remarkable for a middle school. Choreography was by Carolyn Doherty. The production was produced and directed by Fanny Araña and Jean Martallaro.

Let me highlight the hard work of those last two ladies: Fanny and Jean. They have taken this from a non-existant program in 2005 to a program presenting two plays a year. They have gone from simple poems and musicals they have hacked up themselves (their Wizard of Oz was a mix of the 1939 version and the 1977 stage version… and then some) to presenting professional-quality (in terms of technical) productions, with lots of middle school kids. They’ve done this in a Math/Science/Technology magnet, mind you, not a performing arts magnet, within LA Unified. They’ve done this with no budget from the school, running instead off of their boundless energy, parent donations, and the donations of those attending a show. In doing so, they have touched numerous students and given them a joy of the arts and joy in learning. This is what teachers should be, and they deserve the credit.

There are two more performances of “Beauty and the Beast” (Jr.) at Nobel Middle School. Today at 2:30pm, and today at 6:30pm. No tickets required; donations at the door. Nobel Middle School is in Northridge, at the corner of Tampa and Lassen. Exit Route 118 (Simi Freeway) at Tampa, and go South.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, but most of June is lost to the college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July starts with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (ticketed); followed by Western Corps Connection on July 3 in Riverside. July should continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl); “Shrek” (July 24, Pantages Theatre, ticketed); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August brings “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22, and (hopefully) Bernadette Peters at VPAC on October 16. October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.


Fiddler at a Middle School. Sounds crazy, no? But here in our village of Northridge…

Last night, we went to see the second performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Nobel Middle School. Our daughter was very involved with this program the previous two years, and we’re still generally supportive and involved with it. This production was the culmination of the third year of the drama program at Nobel Middle School.

I don’t believe I need to repeat the story of Fiddler on the Roof. You can easily find the synopsis on Wikipedia. It tells the story of Tevye the Milkman and his 5 daughters (the original story by Sholem Aleichem had 7 daughters), and features a book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. This particular production was based on the Fiddler Jr. version (which provided them with most of the musical accompaniment), but had some songs restored (such as Wonder of Wonders and the first half of Tevye’s Dream). I note that the Junior version takes some of the standard version songs and turns them into recitations, particularly the second half of Tevye’s Dream and The Rumor. A number of songs were cut from the second act: Now I Have Everything and Chaveleh, and the dancing after To Life was significantly cut. The Junior version also makes the production a single act; Nobel added an intermission after Wonder of Wonders, which is a non-standard and jarring break. To the instructor’s (Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro) credit, they did not augment the story to create additional characters, which in my eyes is a step forward for the Nobel drama program. I do hope that one day the drama program selections can be integrated in the rest of the curriculum, as plays like this provide a wonderful context to teach literature aspects as well as historical aspects in conjunction with the production, and that can serve to get the entire student body involved. This play, in particular, provides a wonderful opportunity for discussing the impact of hate crimes, the wave of immigration to American in the early 1900s from eastern Europe and its affect on society, and how traditions shape society.

The acting, for the most part, was above typical middle-school quality, and exhibited the usual mix of strong actors and students going through the paces (the latter mostly buried in the ensembles). The cast numbered 55 students, so I’m not going to list them all. However, there are a few noteworthy performances I want to highlight, starting with that of Camille Martellaro (Hodel). I’ve seen this young women’s talent grow over the years, and I am always impressed with her. She has strong acting and exceptionally strong singing skills, and was particularly touching in Matchmaker and Far From The Home I Love. Also notable was Henry Rosen (Tevye): although his singing was a bit weaker (I’m told he was having vocal trouble last night), his acting and bathos were quite strong. Kelsey Trammell had the right shrillness for Fruma Sarah, and it would have been interesting to see her sing instead of speak the song. I also liked Devon Yaffe as Motel. Also worthy of mention was Chloe Rosen (Chava), who did a nice job on Matchmaker and in her final scene with Tevye. I should also note that their “Fiddler on the Roof” (Kinsey Cohen) was an actual violinist, although she only played one short bit, and simulated the rest. Other students in lead roles were Emma Wolgast (Golde), Teal Fink (Tzeitel), Sonni Vargas (Shprintze), Emily Hart (Bielke), Elliott Aronson (Perchik), Nicole Araña-Zweig (Yente), Paul Supanish (Lazar Wolf), Mariana Mora (Grandmother Tzeitel Z”L), Nicholas Lutfi (Constable), and Drake Irvine (Fyedka).

Turning to the technical side of things. The sound setup at Nobel has improved immensely from when they restarted this program, and all of the actors could be heard clearly from the back of the auditorium. However, there was a balance problem, in that the music at times overpowered the actors. As for the lighting… sigh…. it served to clearly light the stage, making everything equally visible. The lighting could have been used to much better effect: it could have highlighted the mood, and served to better delineate Tevye’s monologues. But it just lit the stage. Our daughter did submit a lighting design (and spent a fair amount of time in the lighting cage ensuring that what equipment could work did), but for whatever reason (most likely cost and students to operate it) it wasn’t used. Nobel is starting a technical theatre program next year, so hopefully they will improve in this area and start to use lighting to better effect — and hopefully they will integrate the technical theatre with the Math-Science magnet, as sound and lighting design are wonderful opportunities to teach rudimentary physics and the corresponding supporting mathematics (have you discovered by now I’m a big believer in integrating activities into curriculums, and making everying a learning opportunity). The sets (designed by Dennis Kull, a community volunteer) were effective, and exceptionally strong for a middle school production. The backdrop, however, could have been stronger (I’m guessing this was due to lack of time and budget). Costumes were typical peasant style, although more of the male characters (some of which were played by women) should have had beards, given the traditions at the time.

There are two more performances of Fiddler: today at 2pm and at 7pm at Nobel Middle School, which is located at Tampa and Lassen in Northridge CA (for some reason, they still don’t put their address on the flyers). Donations at the door.

Upcoming Theatre: Our next production is Sunday, May 31 @ 2pm, when we see “Setup and Punch” at The Blank Theatre Company. I’m still unsure if we are seeing anything the weekend of June 6: I’ve been interested in “Breaking the Code” at The Production Company in North Hollywood (5/15-6/20/09), but they only seem to put up 2 tickets on LAStageTix, and they don’t have anything on Goldstar. June 20 @ 8pm is “The Little Foxes” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Lastly, July 11 will bring “Fat Pig” at Repertory East Playhouse. Other shows pending scheduling and ticketing include “Spamalot” at the Ahmanson (7/7-9/6/09), the “Guys and Dolls” concert at the Hollywood Bowl (7/31-8/2/09), and Liza Minelli at the Hollywood Bowl (8/28-8/29/09). Also of potential interest are: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Neighborhood Playhouse (Venue Goldstar) (7/9-7/26/09); and “The Apple Tree” at Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood (6/5-6/28/09) (LAStageTix). I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix.


If Wishes were Fishes…

Now that the conference is over, I can get back to regular activities… and that includes theatre. Last night, we went to see the Nobel Middle School winter production, “Be Careful What You Wish For…: A Series of Folktales from Around the World”. If you’re wondering why we went (after all, nsshere graduated last year), we went because she remained involved in this production as a lighting consultant and overall “stalker”.

The show wove together six folktales (The Near-Sighted Gardner, The Stonecutter, The Fisherman and his Wife, The Woodcutter and his wife, The Stone, and Too Much Noise) under the guise of examining the cases of five “wish-givers”, their apprentices, and their supervisors. All of the stories had the common theme of the wishes eventually being reversed, and the wisher being back to where they were to start, with a little additional experiential wisdom. In general, the stories worked well, and the additional glue also worked. There were some cute references to past Nobel MS productions. In some cases, there was a little too-much teen behavior humor (but that’s to be expected), but many jokes worked well for the adults as for the kids.

I’m not going to list the entire cast, as this was a large cast involving all the Play Production students. I do want to single out a few notable folks. I was most impressed with Henry Rosen (Horst, The Woodcutter and his Wife). I’ve seen Henry grow in ability over the years–he gave a clearly superior performance, speaking and projecting well, acting well, and interacting well. Nicole Zweig as his wife, Seiglinde, also has grown in her performance ability, and worked well with Henry. In the story The Stone, I was impressed with Camille Martellaro as Madronna–she is another that has continued to get stronger–she wowed us in both productions last year, and has continued to improve. Lucas Bashaar in the same story also showed some good dancing skills. I also enjoyed the kids who made up the animal ensemble in Too Much Noise, as well as Christian Lippe as the Whistler. Elliot Aronson was also strong as Herschel in the same story. All of the actors were having fun and enjoying the show, which is a good thing to see.

Turning to the technical: The sound situation in the Nobel MPR has improved, although they had the gain too high in the first act. The lighting was better (thanks to nsshere), but could still stand some improvement. Specifically, they should use what they have better: individually control the lights on the side, and see how they can improve the stage lights. nsshere has some specific recommendations I hope they follow.

As for us, what’s next on the theatre calendar. Our last scheduled show for 2008 is on Saturday December 20th, when we’ll be seeing “The Life” at the Steller Adler Theatre. Turning to 2009, January 17th brings “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. The next few weeks are still to be ticketed, but my thinking as as follows: “Cabaret” by the Aerospace Players (Jan 30-Feb 7) on the Jan 31 W/E; “Minsky’s at the Ahmanson (Jan 21 – Mar 1) on the Feb 7 W/E; “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Rep East (Jan 23 – Feb 21) on the Feb 14 W/E. February 21 brings “Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Musical” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Lastly, sometime in March will be “Little Shop of Horrors” at Van Nuys High School. I’m sure more will join the 1Q09 list as I peruse Goldstar Events, a wonderful way to find half-price tickets.


I’m Sensing A Fence…

Today I learned that my daughter had no water at school. I should be more specific: she had no running water. Evidently, over the weekend, vandels broke into the school and stole copper piping. They’ve done this before, which is why all the air conditioning the school had couldn’t be used.

This rash of copper thefts is getting ridiculous. I’ve heard reports of thieves stealing copper from street lights, traffic signals, and (as we saw at Nobel), schools. It endangers public safety; it endangers out children’s safety, and it costs tax dollars to replace — much more than just the value of the metal.

Unfortunately, I think it is just a symptom of the larger economic malaise. It is the same reason why your catalytic converter is more valuable now than your car radio. I just wish I knew the answer.


A Wop Ba-ba Lu-mop, A Wop Bam Boom

For the last two nights, we’ve gone over to Nobel Middle School (and we’re going twice today) to see the Theatre Arts Department production of “Grease”. Of course, we have a vested interest: our daughter is the student producer, plays Mrs. Lynch, and was also an assistant to the Set Designer, a Set Assistant, and just a general “do-er”. In fact, last night we heard her teachers say that she is one of the reasons this two-year program has gotten off the ground so successfully; they won’t know what to do next year without her. That really warms a parent’s heart.

Anyway, on to “Grease”. The version of “Grease” that was done by the school was not the original stage version (book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey), the movie version, the current stage version, or even the exact current licensed version. It certainly wasn’t exactly the version we saw at Van Nuys HS earlier in the year. I think the basic version of “Grease” is well-known; if you’re not familiar with the canonical story, please look at the Wiki page. The version at Nobel was adapted by the Theatre Arts Department teachers. This adaptation did some things you would expect a middle school to do, such as add sufficient roles to involved the entire class, which worked reasonably well. As an example of this, there were two teen angels, one saw a full cheerleading squad, and one saw the coach trying various sports with Danny Zucko before settling on track. There were some wording adaptations to (sigh) adapt things for younger sensibilities, for who wants to hear 13 year old girls singing about possibly being P.G., or singing “Won’t go to bed ‘till I’m legally wed”. I could actually live with both of these. But there were aspects of the adaptation that did create problems for the purest in me. Songs were cut: Alma Mater, Those Magic Changes, Freddy My Love, Mooning, Shakin’ at the High School Hop, It’s Raining on Prom Night, Born to Hand Jive, Alone at a Drive-In Movie, Rock N’ Roll Party Queen, and There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Some of the movie songs were added (this was done in the revivals as well, so I can’t fault them much on this). Significant aspects of characters were either dropped or mentioned and forgotten. In particular here was the nature of Marti’s relationship to Freddy (shown in “Freddy My Love”) and the world-view of Rizzo (which didn’t require the P.G. aspect), shown in “There are Worse Things I Can Do”. Songs were also rearranged slightly. Some of these adaptations were due to time, and some to permit scenery changes, but I felt that it hurt the story. It didn’t make the show unwatchable, and probably would not have been noticed by those not familiar with the stage or movie versions, but it did grate on me.

However, what didn’t hurt the production was the quality of the student acting and singing. Overall, this was quite good, although in a few number the ensemble drowned out the leads, and as with the Van Nuys production, the Teen Angels could have used a bit more vocal suave, smoothness, and strength (in particular the Good Angel). But overall the acting was quite strong: students were in character, most could be heard clearly (a problem in the last musical they did), there were no dropped lines, no prop gaffes — everything was seamless and strong.

Before I go to listing the cast, there are a few standouts I want to mention (and no, my daughter isn’t the only one). I think one of the strongest actresses in the entire show was Camille Martellaro as Frenchy. She sang strong and clear, she got the vocal characterization down, and she played the character well. I think she’ll go far. The leads (Teal Fink as Sandy and Henry Rosen as Danny) were also quite strong. Their acting was spot on. They had the right vocal quality and timbre for singing, but at times they needed a bit more strength. That will come with practice. The honor students, Gabby Koek as Patty Simcox and Evan Lowell at Eugene were also well played: they didn’t have non-ensemble singing roles, but they embodied their characters well. Maria Kazantsev as Cha-Cha DeGrigorio was also quite strong: she did perfect dancing, had fun playing off Eugene, and just seemed to fill the role well. Lastly, I was impressed by Erin Faigin (nsshere) as Mrs. Lynch. Again, a non-singing role, she characterized it well — and had the best projection and diction of all the characters, being heard clearly and distinctly, in character, from the back of the auditorium. Daniel Black was also very strong as Coach Calhoun.

This production also exhibited the growth of the department at Nobel. There were professional quality sets, and a significant number of set changes and costume changes (difficult in a middle school with limited wing space). From a full school professional-quality backdrop, to a full burger shop, to a Murphy-bed in a bedroom, to era-appropriate props. All excellent. Credit goes here to Dennis Kull (who was the set designer for “Bark!”) and his team of parent and student set builders, the prop selectors, the prop managers (led by Shoshana Strom and Crysta Gomez). The dancing was also very strong, even with multiple injured T-Bird members. Credit here goes to Giamaica Zeidler and her dance captains (Samantha Dorman, Nicole Zweig, and Chelsea Thomas). The sound was much improved over past performances, although the school could really benefit from the donation of about 6 body mics for production leads (hint, hint). Lighting was also strong, under the direction of Quest Ziedler. These were amazing technical aspects, especially for a 1960-era multipurpose room without significant upgrades.

Cast: Pink Ladies: Teal Fink (Sandy); Nicole Thompson (Rizzo); Camille Martellaro (Frenchy); Brooklyn Madrid (Marty); Lisa Aleksyuk (Debby). T-Birds: Henry Rosen (Danny); Trevor Chandler (Kenickie); John Accardo (Sonny); Benji Lampel (Putzi); Imman Leyberman (Doody); Roger (Robert Torres). Honor Students: Gabby Koek (Patty Simcox); Evan Lowell (Eugene). Cheerleaders and Jocks: Samantha Dorman (Sammy); Kelsey Trammell (Kelly); Erika Correa (Elizabeth); Owen Harvey (Arnold); Brandon Palacios (Andy); Ishaan Dayal (Albert). Teen Angels: Quest Ziedler (Bad Angel); Devon Yaffe (Good Angel). Faculty: Brandi Mcdow (Principal McGee); Jessica Levonian (Secretary Blanche); Erin Faigin (Mrs. Lynch); Rachel Spire (Miss Murdoch); Daniel Black (Coach Calhoun). Shining Stars: Jon Brenner (Vince Fontaine); Ryan Tayahua (Johnny Casino); Maria Kazantsev (Cha-Cha); Nicole Zweig (Violet). Greasers: Paola Grillo, Anthony Perrone, Shoshana Strom, Justice Benjamin, Mario Martinez, Tiffany Fleetwood, Quincy Moore, Emily Stachowiak. Poodle Skirs School Girls: Jaqueline Olguin, Alicia Lee, Jessica Harlow, Lianna Novitz, Belinda Freeman, Heather Raksin, Sussie Lopez, Jessica Zelaya, Brooke Gould. Denim Chick Clique: Chelsea Thomas, Tanira Cahu, Crysta Gomez, Claudia Ayala, Monique Bugarin, Jade Field, Elitza Batchiyska, Amanda Hirsch.

Crew: Fanny Arana and Jean Martellaro (Faculty Producers/Directors); Erin Faigin (Student Producer); Michael Chandler (Vocal Director-Parent Volunteer); Giamaica Zeidler (Choreographer-Sister Volunteer); Dennis Kull (Set Designer), assisted by Sarah Martellaro, Josh Zweig, Camille Martellaro, Nicole Zweig, Erin Faigin, and Quest Ziedler; Chelsea Thomas (Stage Manger), assisted by Tanira Chau; Brandi McDow (Vocal Assistant); Hollywood Sound (Sound); Jon Brenner and Devon Yaffe (Sound Managers); Quest Ziedler (Light Manager), assisted by Lianna Novitz; Evan Lowell, Alicia Lee, and Ishaan Dayal (Costume Managers, Mistresses, and Masters), assisted by Anthony Perrone and Jacqueline Olguin; Shoshana Strom and Crysta Gomez (Prop Managers) assisted by Nicole Zweig and Ryan Tayahua; Brandon Palacios (Mic Manager); Maria Kazantsev (Set Manager)… and many others.

“Grease” continues at Nobel Middle School this weekend: there are performances today at 2:30 PM and 6:30 PM. Come out and see the show, and support Rydell Nobel Middle School.

What’s next for us, theatre-wise? June brings “A Very Brady Musical” at Theatre West (Sat, 6/14 @ 8pm) and “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm). July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 8/2 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 7/31 @ 2pm). There is nothing currently ticketed for August. I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (6/22 or 7/5) and “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (7/19). Lastly, I just learned of a Cal Phil production of the music of Rogers and Hammerstein featuring Suzanna Guzman as mezzo soprano and Kevin Earley as tenor. Saturday July 26 at 7:30p will be on the green at the County Arboritum, but we have Playhouse tickets that night. However, they will reprise the concert on Sunday July 27 at 2:00p at the Disney Concert Hall, which I’ve never seen. Sounds like a possibility.


Cow Patty! Not!

Last night, we saw the opening night production of “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School. To begin with, I must disclose that my daughter was in the production, so there is a *little* bias :-).

For those not familiar with production, “Stinky Cheese Man” is based on the book by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, and was adapted for the stage by John Glore, who graciously granted Nobel Middle School exclusive non-profit rights in Southern California (it was recently presented commercially in the area). It is a collection of well known fairy tales, with various twists on them. The best known of the stories in the bunch is probably the version of “The Three Little Pigs”, from the wolf’s point of view. Other stories included in the collection are Chicken Licken, The Princess and the Bowling Ball, Ugly Duckling, Frog Prince, Little Red, Jack’s Story, Cinderella, Tortoise and the Hair, and The Stinky Cheese Man. South Coast Rep described the play as follows:

The extremely cockeyed—and enormously popular—children’s book is even more fun when the fairy tales take on lives of their own and go berserk right on stage! Characters burst into song. Rumpelstitskin turns up in Cinderella’s story. Jack sends the Giant back up the beanstalk (which he hasn’t even planted yet). Chickens can’t wait for their cues. The audience can’t wait to applaud—and you’ll never want it to end!

Especially for a middle school production, the quality was excellent. Lines were said clearly and distinctly, and with appropriate emotion, and the kids seemed to be really into their characters. Costuming was simple but quite good: all but one of the actors wore colorful T-shirts with their character’s name printed on them (even the extras wore shirts that said “Extra”). The sets were constructed by the art classes and were quite good. Lighting had some trouble in the beginning but that got resolved later in the program. Not one kid appeared to forget their lines, although a few rushed them out without waiting for the audience to quiet down. The use of the outside script was good, and led to a very entertaining production (extremely funny at times).

I’m not going to list all the kids in the program, because there are *lots* of them and all are under 15. Suffice it to say they were all excellent. Particular standouts were Jack/Narrator (Jon B.), Cow Patty Kid (Jessica L.), Chicken Licken (Camille M.), Big Bad Wolf (Quest Z.), the Giant (Daniel B.), and I must not forget the Evil Step Mother (nsshere). But in reality, all were quite good.

The production continues tonight at 7:00pm and tomorrow (Saturday) at 5:00pm. I hope that some of the staff of the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys HS show up for one of these productions — this would be a wonderful feeder program for their magnet.

And with that, our 2007 theatre year comes to an end, unless I schedule something last minute over Winter Break. I hope you enjoy reading these reviews as much as I enjoy writing them. I do encourage everyone to go to live theatre — it is an incomperable experience. Our theatre starts up again on 1/5/08 at 2:00pm, when we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.