An Avenue Q Christmas

Who Killed Santa? (Theatre 68)userpic=chanukah-christmasPuppets have an interesting place in the panoply of potential actors. Some puppets are clearly designed to tell stories to children — sappy fairy tales with morals, clear distinctions between good and evil, and nary a hint of sex. Often, the intent is for the audience to see the puppets as only the puppet; the underlying puppeteer is invisible. The use of the puppets in adult stories was very limited, and limited to the Flahooleys in Flahooley, the puppets of Carnival, and, umm, well that’s about it.

Then came Avenue Q. Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell an adult story. In fact, Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell a story that might not be possible with human actors. Puppets can offend and say things that a human would never get away with. Avenue Q also showed that it doesn’t make a difference if you can see the human puppeteer, as long as said puppeteer dressed in all black. In fact, seeing the puppeteer had some advantages in that the expressive human’s face could augment the much more limited expressiveness of the puppet face. Oh, and ventriloquism? Thrown out the window.  If you can see the puppeteer, you know these are puppets and there is no reason to throw your voice. Just go with the suspension of disbelief.

Who Killed Santa?, which we saw last night at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) in a production from Theatre 68 (FB), is clearly a product of the Avenue Q vein of puppetry. The main cast of puppet characters (see in the postcard to the right) all have human manipulators that are clearly visible (and are, of course, wearing black). Most of the puppets are hand and rod puppets (think most Muppets or Princeton from Ave. Q); Frosty is a hand and glove or “live hand” puppet (think Sweetums from the Muppets or Nicky from Ave. Q).

Who Killed Santa? is also, clearly, a Christmas show. We’re Jewish. So why would we go see a Christmas show, especially as we had already seen one Christmas show this season already? The answer is, like the previous show, that the synopsis was so warped as to draw us in:

In this hilarious and irreverent send-up, Santa is hosting his annual holiday party attended by the usual holiday favorites: Frosty, Tiny Tim, The Little Drummer Boy, and Rudolph, who all have a bone to pick with Santa. After the introduction of the sexy new Little Drummer Girl, tempers flare, and Santa ends up with a candy cane through the heart. No one will confess, no one can leave, and Christmas is in jeopardy. As the tension builds, a couple of incompetent detectives enter the scene, and all the dirty secrets of these iconic holiday characters are revealed. Eventually, with the help of the audience, the murderer is convicted and sentenced.

So let’s put this together: We have puppets. We have a Christmas-themed murder mystery. We have adult themes and songs. We have no religious content. We have parodies of well-known Christmas songs. Wouldn’t that draw you in? This was either going to be great, or it was going to be a train wreck.

Who Killed Santa? (Production Stills)I’m pleased to say that the train stayed on the track. I am sad to say that I couldn’t get fully into the moment and the humor, but that wasn’t the fault of the show but the fault of the light migraine that chose to manifest itself 15 minutes into the show (after staying away for the entire ACSAC conference). But even with the headache, I found the show very cute and enjoyable, with great song parodies, wonderful performances, and some really good humor.

Playwright Neil Haven (FB) has created a Santa who is very different than the current image of the jolly fat man (which, truthfully, sets people up for unrealistic expectations). Haven’s Santa is one that overworks his elf employees, denies them holiday parties, drinks to excess, and who is interested in keeping his, well, North Pole polished, if you get my drift. This creates adult backstories / interstitials for all of the iconic characters portrayed by the puppets: Frosty, who Santa abuses and refuses to consider a part of Christmas, relegating him to the lesser “Winter” holidays, and who has an unspoken past with Santa; Tiny Tim, who is a virgin — a source of great mirth to Santa; Steve, the drummer boy, who has suffered abuse at the hands of Santa; Rudolph, who also has a drinking problem as well as potential relationship issues; and the newest icon: Chastity, the drummer girl, who was added to bring more female balance to the team, and to whom Santa is hoping to have a relationship that is inappropriate for an old man and a girl. Tim is also interested in such a relationship, which pisses off Santa who sees Tim as competition. All of this, you see, can lead one to murder.

That, of course, is eventually what happens. Santa is stabbed with a candy cane, and through various expositional means, all of the backstories come out. Any of the characters had both motive and opportunity. This leaves it to the elves to decide who is the guilty party.

This brings us to the elves, who are played by… the audience and the tech crew. At the beginning of the show, the two costumed elves — the keyboardist and the light/sound guy — inform the audience that they are elves, and are being oppressed by Santa. At various points in the show, they are led in protest songs (found in the program) and get to hold up picket signs (the last page of the program). They are also excluded from Santa’s holiday party where the action on stage is happening. As a result, the actors on stage periodically wipe the windows clear and made comments about the elven audience … and then turn to the elven audience to decide on the killer and to, in Edwin Drood style, determine which of the potential endings for the show will be used.

In terms of the story, I’d characterize it as a bunch of caricatures thrown together to create a story. In this sense, it is no different than other mashups, such as the movie Rise of the Guardians. The caricatures, however, seem intentionally drawn to turn these sweet characters into adults. The portrayal emphasizes their randiness and adult nature, including adult proclivities and weaknesses. I personally found it reasonably funny, although others might find it a tad overdone. I would guess that one’s reaction would depend on how one viewed the characters in the first place. As I have little connection or emotional resonance with the iconic characters, I’m willing to go with the flow.

The music in the story is primarily a collection of parodies of existing Christmas and holiday music. The nature of the parodies ranges from the extremely well done to the extremely raunchy. Here’s an example from a few pages of the script that I found online:

Frosty the Snow Thing
Is like them plastic dolls.
The kids forgot his ding-a-ling
But he does have three big balls.

Here’s another, to the tune of Carol of the Bells:

Santa is dead.
Blood has been shed.
Evil at work.
Someone’s a jerk.

No one can leave
Cannot believe
One of you guys
Wrought his demise

You should have the idea by now. I found the songs to be cute takes on the original. Will you like them? That depends on whether you’re willing to go along with the parody and the notions in play.

Where does this leave us, at least in terms of the story? I think if you are a person who hold Christmas near and dear, one who cannot laugh at iconic Christmas characters or accept their straying off the narrow path of purity, then this is not the musical play for you. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to go along with iconic characters (including Santa) as raunchy versions of themselves, and for there to be sexual dalliances between iconic Christmas characters (including children) and adults — and, in fact, if you can laugh at that notion — then you’ll love this play.

The performances are hard to judge; it is hard to be spectacular when one hand is covered in felt and foam, the other is manipulating a rod, and the audience may be looking at the puppet’s face instead of yours. Still, there were memorable aspects. As Frosty the Snowman, Jonathan Berenson (FB) (the bulk of Frosty), and Peter Osterweil (FB) (Frosty’s right arm) projected an air of affibility.  They brought a good energy to the role, although given the nature of Frosty, I hesitate to say they were hot (but I’m sure they did a great cold reading… I’m here all week folks, try the fish sandwich). Seriously, I liked their interpretation of Frosty — a bit addled, but clearly annoyed by Santa’s treatment of him.

Jotapé Lockwood (FB)’s portrayal of Steve, the Little Drummer Boy, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the cast. He did a great job of creating the image of Steve — the little drummer boy who now played with heavy metal bands. Then he opens his mouth for the parody of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, and this marvelous operatic voice comes out. I’d love to hear this guy do an opera or a concert — he is that good. Reminded me of Rod Gilfry in the quality of his voice.

Marissa Fennell (FB)’s Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer took the red nose to heart. She vocalized the character as if the red nose was due not only to drinking, but to a very bad head cold. There was this odd nasal quality to the vocal interpretation that I found odd until it was explained to me. As an audience member, I can’t tell if it was her choice or the directors, but I think it was a little strong. Other than that, the character came across fine — a randy drunken buck, potentially interested in other bucks. But as Fats Waller says….

Katie Zeiner‘s Tiny Tim was portrayed with a strong British, if not Cockney, voice and attitude. She conveyed the randiness of Tim appropriately, and limped as she moved the puppet, a nice choice.

Rebecca Rose Phillips (FB) was the newest iconic character, Chastity, the Little Drummer Girl. As Chastity, Phillips brought an interesting sexual energy to the role. Nowhere is this clearer than in her introductory number, a parody of Lady Marmalade,  with a refrain of “Faa-la-la-la Pah-rum pum / Faa-la-la-la-la here / Marshmallow Hot Choc-lat Yum Yum / Norske Goddess Mrs. Claus”

This brings us to the lone actor that portrays all the non-puppet characters: Thomas F. Evans (FB), who is Santa Claus, The Detective, The Tooth Fairy, and Mrs. Claus. Evans’ portrayal of each of these is very different from each other. His Santa Claus is clearly a horny alcoholic letch, although the costuming seemingly interferes with the clearly fake beard (although I understand why they do it). His dectective is suitably bumbling, and I truly do not have strong impressions of his latter two characters (the headache kicked in right around then, and all I can recall is enjoying them, but not the specifics).

The cast was rounded out by Ed Cosico (FB) and Jordan Wall (FB) as the elves.Their main performance role was to stir up the workers (audience) into singing protest songs and to hold protest banners. In their day job, they were the Acocmpanist and the Sound / Light Board operator, respectively.

Who Killed Santa? was directed and produced by Ronnie Marmo (FB), who is also the artistic director of Theatre 68. Marmo recognized this play for what it is: a light fluff of a comedy designed to entertain and then get out of the way. He captured the stereotypes well, if not a bit too much, and cast actors that were able to improves when things went wrong (which often happens in intimate theatre). I did appreciate that he had his actors do the little things, like vocalizing the squeaking you hear when you wipe a misty window dry to look out of it. Marmo was assisted by Heidi Rhodes (FB).

Turning to the production side of things: The set was designed by Danny Cistone (FB), who created a simple Christmasy room that established place and supported the story. What more could you ask for? The puppets were by Libby Letlow (FB), based on the original designs of Dan Katula. Letlow also provided the puppetry coaching. Both were executed well — the actors seems to inhabit and portray the puppet characters handily (see what I did there :-)). The puppets themselves seemed to be well suited for the job, and seemed to characterize their characters appropriately. The lighting by Paul McGee/FB did a suitable job of establishing mood and illuminating the scenes.  Props were by Grace DeWolff, and were cute and effective. The costumes, by MJ Scott/FB, were effective (such as they were). The parenthetical was due to the fact that the only character with a real costume was Santa / The Detective / Tooth Fairy / Mrs. Claus. Those worked, and provided sufficient ability to change. My only complaint was that the Santa beard was just a little too fake. Remaining production credits were: Emily Juliani (FB) – Tech Director / Prop Master; Brian Myers/FB – Music Arrangement; Jotapé Lockwood (FB) – Music Direction; Marissa Fennell (FB) – Publicity Stills (which you can see above); Neil Haven (FB) – Sound Design; Jordan Wall (FB) – Light and Sound Operator; Sandra Kuker PR (FB) – Publicity and Marketing; Sandra McHale – Playbill Design; Amanda Schlicher (FB) – Playbill Design. Who Killed Santa? was originally produced and conceived with puppets in Milwaukee WI by Neil Haven (FB), Bo Johnson (FB), and Dan Katula.

Who Killed Santa? continues at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) until January 2nd, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm, except for Christmas Day. Tickets are available at Plays411. It does not appear to be up on Goldstar; however discount tickets are available on LA Stage Tix, while they last. If you’re looking for an adult-oriented silly fluff of a Christmas play, this one should do nicely.

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

Upcoming Shows: The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for for January 16 or January 17 for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB). There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start. This leads to uncertainty about the Group Rep show (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Music: “The Gift”, from The Fortress of Solitude (2015 Original Cast), performed by Kristen Sieh, and the Fortress Ensemble


Fitting In in High School

Serial Killer Barbie (NoHo Arts/Theatre 68)userpic=yorickA word of advice before I start this writeup: Do not do a Google image search on the phrase “Serial Killer Barbie”. The results are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing, and likely not related to the show in question. Some people out there have sick and twisted, but amusing, minds. But you must admit that the name draws you in.

Ah, right, where was I. High School. High School is popular fodder for musicals: from the intensely popular Grease to the much less popular Carrie, to musicals such as Zanna Don’t and Lysistrata Jones, high school — in fact, school in general — serves as a microcosm of society in general. Capturing this microcosm is the goal of the hilarious new musical, Serial Killer Barbie: The Musical (FB), currently in extension at the NoHo Arts Center (FB), produced by Theatre 68 (FB) and Take a Hike Productions. The teaser description of this musical is as follows: “Quirky Barbara spends her life desperate to get in with the popular “Debbies.” From first grade through high school, she obsessively attempts to join the coveted social circle of Debbie, Debby and the queen of the WASPY clique, Debbi. After several failed attempts to fit in, she realizes, if you can’t join them, kill them.”

I learned about this musical in a mailing from their PR person (or perhaps Bitter Lemons — it’s a bit hazy now). The title drew me in, but when I read the description of the show I was more intrigued. Alas, the craziness that is December did not permit me to schedule it in. So, when it extended I started to explore ways to go (e.g., looking for discount tickets — yes, I could ask their publicist, but I prefer to buy my tickets if I can). Plays411 provided the discount tickets (they just went up on Goldstar), and so the first live theatre of the year became Barbie.

Serial Killer Barbie: The Musical (FB) (SKB) revisits a familiar theme that is common to most people: the quest to fit in and be popular. I noted before this is common in school-based musicals — it resonates in Carrie, it resonates in Zanna, and it even resonates (in the sub-plot) in Grease. It’s also a theme in some of our most popular musicals, including the current resident at the Pantages: Wicked. What will we give up to be popular, and how will that sacrifice affect our life? Usually, because the show is written by theatre geeks who never fit in to begin with (that’s a joke, son), the upshot is that the outcast becomes the hero or heroine, and learns to rejoice in their uniqueness. [I certainly resemble that story; us computer science geeks rarely fit in]

So if this is such a common theme, what makes SKB successful and not derivative. I think the answer is in the clever presentation of the story — credit here goes to the book writer, Collete Freedman (FB). Freedman posits the school experience as an endurance battle, which she portrays as a boxing match. Just like a boxing match has 12 rounds, school has 12 years (well, it could have 15 years if you count pre-school and kindergarten… and boxing used to have 15 rounds). For the outcast, attending school is like Ali’s rope-a-dope — putting yourself in a losing position to become the eventual winner. Freedman makes this analogy literal in the musical: each scene (except for the framing scenes) is construed as a round, and that round roughly corresponds to a grade. Through the 12 rounds (grades) we see our heroine (Barbara Laura) meet and interact with the Debbies during her school years. This is framed with the story of a mom (Barbara) telling the story to her daughter (Parker), and her daughter not believing the story is true. Is it? The question is left open.

The story that is told is a simple one: Barbara Laura Dunbar starts first grade. All the other kids are crying through separation anxiety, but she’s not afraid. She quickly befriends another individualist, Bruce, who has a penchant for adopting the personal of a difference fictional Bruce every year (he starts as Bruce Wayne). They become best friends; they are, however, never popular. Who is? The three Debbies: Debbie (with an “ie”) who wants to be first at everything (and we do mean everything); Debbi (with an “i”), who is always air-quoting things and is a true consumer whore — setting the fashion and consumer trends for everyone else; and the airhead blonde Debby (with a “y”), who is addicted to her cellphone.  Rounding out the class are Sebastian, the jock; Beatrice, the ADD-affected nerd-ish girl; Quinn, the clown; Sharon, the militant foul-mouthed angry child; and Ronald, the Boy Scout.

As the years go by, Barbara keeps trying to fit in with the Debbies and failing. Finally, they need  fourth for their singing group and accept her in … but she never quite fits in. After the lead Debbie takes advantage of Barbara’s frendship with Bruce to trash and embarass Bruce, Barbara has enough and leaves the group, and goes back to being an individualist. She also is desirous of revenge for what they did to her best friend Bruce. Serial Killer Barbie is born, and the Debbies drop one by one. Of course, there’s always the question of whether she did it, or whether the Debbies did it to themselves through their overfocus on themselves. This is the question you are left with as the production ends: Barbie’s daughter doesn’t appear to believe her mom did this, but did she?

I’ve written the above as if this were a play, but this is really a musical. The music was written by Nickella Moschetti (FB), with lyrics written by the book author Collete Freedman (FB) and Moschetti. Each round (scene) includes an appropriate song. The songs themselves are very entertaining — I particularly enjoyed “Consumer Whores”. Other entertaining songs included a well-choreographed number involving popularity and representation of character through the lunch boxes one brings to school (Barbara is the only one with a bag lunch); a hilarious and potentially scary Jesus Christ sexy dance routine; and the dark “21 Ways To Kill A Debbie”. Alas, there is no song list in the program, and although I searched and searched, I could not find one online. Songs mentioned by other reviewers included “Middle School Sucks”,  “I Don’t Want To Be Different”, “What Do I Wear?”, and “Price of Popularity”. But are entertaining songs enough today? If one was to drop the songs out of this show, would the story still flow and hold together? That last question is the difference between a true musical and a play with songs interpolated (and was the genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein). Here the question is harder. A number of the songs, while not integral, do a good job of illustrating the internal character and conflicts of the characters. Others are more disposable. The music has the potential here to elevate the show to something that could work in larger venues, but it needs a little more tweaking to become memorable and integral (and a song list will help).

Before we go into the specific performances, let’s round out the broad artistic aspects: namely, the choreography. Anne-Marie Osgood/FB served as choreography, and she did a great job of designing movement for the limited space in Theatre 2 at NoHo Arts. The movement in the opening number (“What Do I Wear?”) was inspired and fun to watch, and I particularly enjoyed the aforementioned lunch box ballet :-). The dance moves in the Jesus number were also fun.

Let’s turn now to the performances. In the lead position was Kelly Dorney (FB) as Barbie. Dorney was just a hoot to watch: quirky, enthusiastic, ernest, and just having a lot of fun with the role. If you’ve read past writeups, you know that this is something I love to see: actors who just meld with their roles, actors where the love of the character and the characters quirks, flaws, and oddities just oozes from their pores. Now, add to this the fact that Ms. Dorney could really sing, and did a great job with all of her musical numbers, and I was just blown away. This is someone I look forward to seeing again.

Supporting Barbie was her best friend, Bruce. Here’s my second quibble of the night — not with the actor, but with the program. Our program had a slip of paper indicating that our Bruce was the swing, Bradley Estrin (FB), and that playing Bradley’s normal role of Ronald would be Devon Hadsell (FB) as Rhonda. This actually excited us, as we had seen Hadsell in Lysistrata Jones and we were looking forward to her performance. We looked and looked, but couldn’t find her. It was only when writing this review that I realized what happened: the slip was in error. We had the original Bruce, Alex Robert Holmes (FB); Estrin was playing Ronald; and Hadsell wasn’t there that night. Leaving the slip in the program was poor form: it was a disservice to Holmes, it was a disservice to Hadsell, and it was a disservice to Estrin. If you are going to recycle programs, please remember to remove substitution strips.

That quibble aside, Holmes gave a very touching performance and Bruce. His portrayal of the character provided the needed sensitivity to the black comedic nature of the story, and played well with Dorney’s Barbie. He also sang quite well.

The remaining major characters were the Debbies: Katy Jacoby (FB)  as Debbi (with an “i”), Kacey Coppola (FB) as Debby (with a “y”), and Marti Maley (FB)  as Debbie (with an “ie”). All three were great singers, and their performances could best be described as intense. This was best illustrated with the Jesus dance routine, where they were making the concrete floor shake. They made these three come across as women you would not mess with — which is exactly what their characters were supposed to be. Again, these were actresses who were just having fun portraying these characters — they enjoyed playing with the them and letting that side of their personas come out. Great work.

Rounding out the cast were Cy Creamer (FB) as Sebastian, Nicole Fabbri as Beatrice, Jillian Fonacier/FB as Sharon, Christopher Kelly (FB) as Quinn, Bradley Estrin (FB) as Ronald, and Grace Nakane as Parker (Debbie’s 6-year old daughter). Each of these actors did a great job of making their characters their own. Especially notable were Creamer’s interactions as Sebastian with Holmes’ Bruce (in particular, the love sequence), Fabbri’s wonderful awkwardness and how she moved in the background during scenes, Fonacier’s radiated anger as Sharon (apparent from her first appearance on stage when she wrote “I will not use my middle finger to express myself” on the blackboard), and Kelly’s wonderful mime routine as Quinn. Nakane worked well as Parker, handling her adult astute observations with that childish nature of superiority. Some reviewers didn’t like the framing device that her performance provided; I felt it provided some necessary grounding and reality to the story. Lastly, Estrin’s Ronald mostly blended in as that character was wont to do; I can see how a different sensibility for the show would come from Estrin providing a less quirky Bruce and Hadsell’s Rhonda being involved with Sharon. As implied, Estrin served as understudy for Sebastian and as male swing, Devon Hadsell (FB) was the female swing, and Audrey Bluestone was the understudy for Parker.

Music was provided by the composer, Nickella Moschetti (FB), who served as musical director, played keyboards, and as the “Round 4” teacher who wrote the problems on the board. Rounding out the school “band” were Ed Cosico (FB) on guitar and Hilletje Bashew (FB) on violin. The three provided a very good sound; one wonders how this show would sound with a larger orchestration.

Turning to the technical, and the third qubble for the show — with had nothing to do with the artistic and more to do with the facility. For some reason, at our performance, there was no air conditioning, and with the lights, it was hot hot hot. Hopefully, that problem will be fixed soon.

As I said, turning to the technical: the set design by Adam Gascoine (FB) was both simple and perfect. A large number of movable wooden boxes, some lockers, and painted blackboards and schoolroom accessories on the wall established the scene sufficiently, and the few props worked to do the rest. The costumes, by Susi Campos, worked quite well and were revealing and sexy without being too revealing. This was a challenge as the actors come out in underwear and get dressed on stage in the opening number. The costuming demonstrated quite a bit of creativity and character building, and were a significant part of the overall scenic design. Adam Gascoine (FB) did the sound design as well (according to some additional credits I found), and Christina Robinson (FB) and Brad Bentz (FB) did the lighting desgn. Additional credits in the program are Christian Kennedy (Stills Photographer) and Eddie Roderick (Postcard Designer). One additional credit I found while researching this: the design for the poster was crowdsourced through

The production was directed by Ronnie Marmo (FB), who did what a director should do: make the direction appear invisible. Marmo did a great job of getting the actors excited about their roles and embodying their roles, and effectively used the space he had available to tell the story. What more could you want?

Serial Killer Barbie: The Musical (FB) has been extended to run through January 31, 2015. Performances are Friday, and Saturday – 8:00PM and Sunday – 7:00PM. Tickets are $30 and are available through Theatre68 by calling (323) 960-5068. They are also available through, Goldstar (until they sell out), and possibly LA Stage Tix.

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

Upcoming Shows: Sunday brings the second show of this weekend: “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11. The third weekend of January starts the Rep season with “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat January 17. The fourth weekend of January brings an interesting mashup: Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) at Theatre Asylum (FB) — this show is described as  “Ever wonder what Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece PULP FICTION would be like reimagined by the immortal William Shakespeare?”. The last weekend of January concludes with the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom, and I’m potentially looking for another show for Sunday. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Additionally, there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I may not make it. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.



Love Between The Strangest of Strangers

It Happened In Roswell (NoHo Arts Center)userpic=theatre_musicalsHow do you celebrate your anniversary? Dinner? Flowers? Expensive trinkets? This year, we celebrated by going to the theatre, and what we saw turned out to be the perfect anniversary love story to see. It was a story about a quest to find true love, even when the government is after you. Perhaps I should explain…

Two weeks ago, when we were at The Colony Theatre (FB), we saw a postcard for a limited run (8 performances) of a new musical being workshopped by New Musical Inc. This musical won the 2014 Search for New Musicals, as well as the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2008, and the Festival of New Musicals in 2007. Further, it looked like one of those “outer space alien attack” musicals we’ve grown to love, in the genre of “Brain from Planet X“, “It Came From Beyond“, “Zombies from the Beyond“, or even “Return to the Forbidden Planet“. It was playing on our 29th wedding anniversary, and so we thought it might be a kick to go to the show.  So last night, after a wonderful dinner of Puerto Rican food, and even though I was recovering from a migraine, we were at the NoHo Arts Center to see the developmental workshop production of “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical“.

Going in, I expected this musical to be similar to the others we’ve seen — loosely based on a pre-existing cheesy movie, with songs that were more in the novelty vein than moving the story forward. The plots tend to be similar: in act I the alien comes to earth with the intent to attack and enslave the humans, in act II the humans triumph over the aliens. That wasn’t Roswell; at least to me, Roswell was a new and clever twist on the alien visit approach. Here’s the story of It Happened In Roswell, which has book, music, and lyrics by Terrence Atkins (FB) and Jeffery Lyle Segal (FB):

Down on his luck Weird World News reporter Joe “Scoop” O’Reilly and his photographer, Frank, break down outside Roswell, NM. His latest story having been a bust and hearing a report about a flying saucer on the radio, they decide to fabricate a story by taking a picture of a hubcap in the air and pretending there was a saucer. This they do, and they head into town to transmit the picture to their editor. When they arrive they go to Mabel’s Diner, where Mabel Brown and her daughter, Betsy, work. Betsy has been fending off the advances of the Deputy Sheriff Rusty Dobbs with a story of another man (when she really lusts after the flat-footed mechanic, Floyd Dimwitty). When Scoop and Frank arrive, they convince Floyd and Betsy to go to the outskirts of town and tow in their car, while Rusty and another women customer, Edna, go off to find the aliens. When Floyd and Betsy arrive at the car, they discover the actual flying saucer, and the female alien, Nine-O. Nine-O explains that she has come to the planet to find out about love. After making some advances on Floyd, Betsy convinces her to come back to the diner where they will pass her off as her distant cousin, Aileen. This starts a number of sequences in motion including the hunt for the alien, including Frank inventing a hideous-looking alien with tenticles. Scoop wants to get a picture of someone being attacked by the fake alien, so he romances Aileen… with predictable results. Yes, they fall in love with each other. The remainder of the story addresses how they resolve that love, how the various other romances resolve, and how they survive while being changed by Major Nails.

As I stated above, this was a developmental workshop. Every expense was spared in developing the set and props — and it worked to the advantage of the show. The production was presented on the existing set of the NMI musical “Max Factor”, and so the only “scenery” was a “Welcome to Roswell” sign and a few 2x4s that formed a little table. Additionally, there was a table in the back where the actor who played Major Nails set with the script, making all the sound effects. The only props were a flying saucer on a stick, the alien tenticle costume, and loads and loads and loads of loads of little white signs on sticks. These signs had pictures of ray guns, real guns, food, and anything else they needed as a prop… including words and instructions to the audience. We understand the necessity of this due to the workshop nature of the show… but guess what… it worked great. If this show moves on, we recommend they keep this approach for the props — realism might hurt the show (well, unless it really makes it to Broadway, but then it would need the Little Shop of Horrors treatment with full orchestrations and five part harmonies and circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back… oh, wrong song).

So far, we have a unique story and a unique staging. There also was a top-notch cast. In the lead positions (which you know from the opening number) were Julie Tolivar (FB) as Nine-O/Aileen and Rory Dunn (FB) as Scoop. Tolivar’s alien was a delight — she had a lovely naivete combined with an underlying seriousness of purpose that was fun to watch, combined with a very cute and slghtly-sexy costume. She sang very well and had a lovely voice on numbers such as “Nothing Is Stopping Me”, although she would benefit from a bit of amplification. She also danced very well. Equally strong (and according to my wife, sexy) was Dunn’s Scoop. He, too, had an excellent voice and a personality that shone through the character; the two actor’s voices blended beautifully in “Shooting Star” — you could believe these two as a couple. Just fun to watch.

However, I must admit that Tolivar wasn’t my favorite actress in the piece. That honor goes to Amy Bloom (FB) as Betsy, who had a look and a voice and movement that just melted me. It was just a delightful innocence that she portrayed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she sang wonderfully — especially in combination with the other female voices — Carrie Madsen (FB) as her mother Mabel, and Emma Sperka (FB) as the oversexed Edna. When the three of them sang together in the early number “When Will the Ice Man Come?” — the blending of the voices was just spectacular. Bloom used her delightful innocence quite well, but especially in her scenes with Nathan Ondracek (FB) as Floyd. Ondracek had a light voice that my wife also liked (I’m not a great judge of men’s voices), and it too worked very well in his numbers with Bloom such as “As Free as the Stars”.

Rounding out the cast, as I mentioned before, were Carrie Madsen (FB) as Mabel Brown, and Emma Sperka (FB) as Edna. Both sang and acted well; Madsen had a particularly nice number in “Every Day”. Emerson Boatwright (FB) was a wonderful comic sidekick as Frank, especially in his scenes as the tentacled alien. Matthew Herrmann (FB) played the deputy sheriff with the hots for Betsy very well. Lastly, John McCool Bowers (FB) (who we’ve seen before at both Simi Valley ARTs and Cabrillo), was a hoot #1 as Major Nails, but even more of a hoot (#2) as the sound effects guy in the background during the first act.

Lastly, I want to applaud the actors for having fun with this musical… and for letting the audience share in their joy of performing it. When the actors enjoy the show and the work, it is broadcast to the audience and everyone wins (and an additional thank you to those actors who gave their websites in their bios!)

I’ve said before that It Happened in Roswell, was a musical… so how was the music? I should note that, as a workshop, the sole musical accompaniment was a single piano off to the side. I’m guessing it was Ron Barnett, the Music Director, tickling the ivories. The songs in the show ranged from nice character songs to lovely ballads. There was only one number that was really a novelty number (“The United Forces of Dancing”), but it proved later to be integral to the plot (although not, as you might think, through dancing). It would be interesting to hear the numbers with full orchestration; still, I love rinky-tinky piano and piano only scores (the piano-only version of “I Do! I Do!” is much nicer than the full orchestration).

The choreography was by Susanna Young (FB), who created some lovely dance moves for a workshop production.

Turning to the remaining creatives…  as noted before, there was no set and thus no credited scenic designer. There were master carpenters, however, consisting of the co-author, Terrence Atkins (FB); the Marketing Manager, Gavin Atkins/FB; and Wade Clegg. The inventive props were by Scott Guy, who also co-directed the production (together with Terrence Atkins (FB)). The costumes were by Abel Alvarado (FB) and were quite good for a simple workshop (although, if this were a real production, the Major needed proper boots). The alien tentacled costume was particularly inventive. Jules Bronola was the wardrobe head. Lindsey Mixon (FB) was the casting director (and has the cutest baby, who was visiting at intermission). Pat Loeb was the stage manager.

As this is a developmental workshop, I tried to figure out what requires improvement before it is produced. In fact, it was one of the topics of discussion between my wife and I on the ride home. The answer really depends on where the musical wants to go. In its present form, it is about perfect for an intimate to small-midsize house (e.g., something the size of the Mark Taper Forum, Colony Theatre, or Kirk Douglas). Work might be required were it to go into a larger house, but this would be more fleshing out the movement, choreography, and orchestrations. The larger problem would be one of depth, as this is not a “serious” musical or play. Houses — even intimate venues — that go for the more established and deep stories might be less inclined to produce this. I’m not sure how to fix this, as I feel what makes this musical so fun is the tongue-in-cheek nature. If I had to compare it with something, it might be the “39 Steps” quasi-parody that was on Broadway. It had a sense of manic silly earnestness that helped it succeed, and the approach with the signs created that here. I hope this musical does well; we certainly enjoyed it.

The developmental workshop production of “It Happened in Roswell” has (looks at watch) 3 more performances: tonight at 8pm (better hurry), Sunday August 24, and Monday August 25. Purchase tickets through, or visit the show website.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… and out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Three Theologians Are Trapped In Purgatory…

Discord: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoyuserpic=meeting-of-mindsA little over a month ago, I saw an ad* for a show that sounded intriguing: putting Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy in a room and having them argue about the versions of the Bible they created. It had a very “Meeting of Minds” feel to it… and I love Meeting of Minds. I then read the LA Times review,  and saw the following line: “Imagine the dramaturgical love-child of “Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.“”. Wow. I just had to see this show. After hunting and hunting for half-price tickets**, I just broke down and bought tickets for the show — the world premier of  “Discord: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy” (FB) at the NoHo Arts Center (FB). It was well worth it, and I strongly recommend that everyone see this show.
(*: It was either on Bitter Lemons or in Footlights magazine)
(**: There are no half-price discounts, although there were. There is a discount trick I mention at the end of this writeup)

The conceit of this show is simple, and in many ways is similar to “Meeting of Minds” sans the moderator. You have a locked room with a table, three chairs, and a mirror. Into this room are “tossed” three people — in their perceptions, immediately after their death, and as they were at pivotal points in their lives: President Thomas Jefferson, the writer Charles Dickens, and Count Lev Nikolayevich (Leo) Tolstoy. They cannot get out of the room. Their job: figure out why they are there, and how they get out of this room (which is essentially purgatory).

After some stumbles and starts, they hit upon focusing what they have in common: each was a student of Jesus Christ, and each make their own version of the gospels. They rapidly decide that their task is to reconcile their three versions (if at all possible), and each starts detailing how they viewed the story of Jesus. Dickens‘ gospel sets aside much, but keeps many of the miracles. Jefferson has a more rational, Deistic approach, discarding miracles. Tolstoy focuses on the secret of life, which he boils down as the rejection of violence and hate.  Both Jefferson and Tolstoy reject the God aspects of the story and focus on the story of Christ, the man, and his teachings. Eventually, the realize that they cannot reconcile their believes, and continue to search for other reasons. This forces them to reexamine each of their lives, and to disclose the secrets highlighting their hypocracy and how they weren’t living the Christian life they were purporting to believe.  After this disclosure, they start writing — something (it isn’t specified), and this gets them out of purgatory.

I found the show fascinating and thought provoking — and this was amplified by the talk back afterwards. The notion that I took from the show was that these men believed that Christianity — at least as created by the organized Church — was completely wrong and was a travesty. The story of Jesus was much more meaningful when examined without a God or miracles — a man who preached what he believed in — a man who preached overturning the class order, non-violence, and caring about others — and who was martyred for those beliefs. This is a moving message — and one (if one thinks about it) — that would have resonated with the Rabbis of the day (think about the Pirke Avot), but would have been heresy and dangerous to the ruling classes.  This is theatre that does what theatre is supposed to do: make you think, make you discuss, make you question, and to use a dramatical setting to explore.

Discord” was written by Scott Carter, who is Bill Maher‘s producer. He’s evidently been working on it for 27 years, and appears to have finally found the right balance between getting out the biographical details of the characters as well as the theological beliefs. In the Meeting of Minds approach, this would be Steve Allen’s job — to goad the characters into telling their stories and to ask the stupid questions to get them to detail their beliefs. Lacking the moderator, the characters are manipulated in such a way that they tell their stories as they go along. This is good — the 85 minutes, one act production just flies along.

The performances in this production are excellent — the cast is Larry Cedar (FB) as Thomas Jefferson, David Melville (FB) as Charles Dickens, and Armin Shimerman (FB) as Leo Tolstoy. All were extremely strong, especially considering the large amount of dialogue that they had to memorize. Cedar’s Jefferson was very statesman-like; my only quibble was that his Virginia accent kept going in and out. Melville’s Dickens kept me thinking of Tim Curry, but was very flamboyant and self-centered. Shimerman’s Tolstoy was perhaps the strongest characterization — he became Tolstoy, with no reflection of the actor underneath. The direction by Matt August  kept the action going and utilized the simple setting well.

Speaking of the setting: The scenic design by Takeshi Kata was pure simplicity: a table with some drawers, three metal chairs, three white walls and the hint of a mirrored window as the 4th wall, and a locked door (my only complaint was that the hinges were on the wrong side). This design was augmented with the excellent lighting of Luke Moyer (FB) and the projection design by Jeffrey Elias Teeter (FB). The lighting made heavy use of LED bars above the three walls to create appropriate color washes; this was combined with normal lighting and spots to highlight and create the mood. The projections were key to the story: they augmented the door and the entries, and they served to title and move along each scene. In many ways, they were the fourth actor. Costume Design was by Ann Closs-Farley (FB), and appeared historically accurate and  correct for each character. The sound design was by the always excellent Cricket S. Myers.(FB). Properties were by Tris Beezley; they must go through a fair number of notebooks and King James Bibles. Laura Rin (FB) was the stage manager.  “Discord” was produced by Kevin Bailey of NoHoACE; Diana Copeland (FB) was the associate producer. “Discord” was a joint presentation of the NoHo Arts Center (FB), the Independent Shakespeare Company (FB), and Efficiency Studios.

After the production (and I’m led to understand this occurs after each performance) there was a talk-back with the author, Scott Carter, religious scholar Reza Aslan, and Armin Shimerman (FB). Each talked about their theological views of the show, and there were questions from the audience. I asked two questions, both of which were misunderstood by Mr. Carter. The first was a hypothetical question of how the end result might have differed had Steve Allen been present — not as a moderator, but as another Gospel author (Allen has written a number of books on the bible). The intent was to see whether a stronger rationalist might have led to some different conclusions, but Mr. Carter took it as a suggestion to change the current script (which it wasn’t). The second question was along a more Jewish line, wondering what conclusions might have been drawn from a J-E-D-P Old Testament discussion — basically could the multiple authorship theory of the Old Testament lead to the ability to remove God and miracles from there as well, and reconcile rationality and morals with belief. Again, he took the question as a suggestion on the script, which it wasn’t. Ah well.

I strongly recommend that everyone go see “Discord” if you can fit it into your schedule before it closes. Tickets are available through the JDT Project. Half price tickets are not available, although if you are a supporter of the Independent Shakespeare Company (FB), their website or FB page provides information on how to get a $10 discount per ticket (note that seniors are defined as 60+). ISC is well worth supporting — they are the folks that put on the free Shakespeare in Griffith Park each summer.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend (February 8) brings “Forever Plaid” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The following weekend (February 16) brings Lysistrata Jones at The Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. The next weekend, February 22, is currently open. I may be needing to do a site visit to Portland OR for ACSAC; if not, I’m keeping my eyes open for “On The Money” at the Victory Theatre Center (FB) or “My Name is Asher Lev” at the Fountain Theatre (FB) (as this runs through April 19, this might be good for mid-March or April), or something else that hasn’t caught my attention yet. The last day of February sees us in Studio City at Two Roads Theatre for Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing“, followed the next evening by the MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. March theatre starts with “Sex and Education” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on March 8.  (this might be good for March 16); The weekend of March 16 brings Purim Schpiels, with Sunday afternoon bringing “Inherit the Wind” at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank. March 22 is being held for “Harmony” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB). March concludes with “Biloxi Blues” at REP East (FB) on March 29. April will start with “In The Heights” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 5, and should also bring “Tallest Tree” at the Mark Taper Forum, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Art Imitating Life, Sibling Edition

One_November_Yankeeuserpic=theatre_ticketsLast year at this time, a little play was running at the Pasadena Playhouse that asked the question, “What is art, and why do we consider it art?” The art in question then was a painting that consisted of a white background, upon which there are some faint white diagonal lines. Last night at the NoHo Arts Center the play “One November Yankee” (1NY) by Joshua Ravetch asked a similar question. The difference is that in “Art“, the focus was on the reaction to the artwork.  In 1NY, the focus is more on the history behind the artwork, and the relationship between brothers and sisters. We enjoyed the production, and it was a nice change of pace from the musicals we usually see. Alas, you won’t be able to see it, as last night was the final performance 🙁 ; but the good news is that the film rights have been acquired, so you might see it on the big screen.

1NY tells the story of an aircraft, a bright-yellow Piper Cub with tail number N241NY. The play opens at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ralph has been commissioned by his sister, Maggie (a museum board member) to produce an art installation. His result is a reproduction of the hypothesized nose-first crash of N241NY. He based the work on the story of a brother and sister pair that had such a crash five years earlier. Their story of that brother and sister  appealed to Ralph because it paralleled his relationship to his sister. In that story, the brother was a novelist and the sister was a librarian; in the real world, Ralph was the artist, and his sister acquired and arranged the installations of art. Upon seeing the installation, Maggie was disappointed and upset because she thought that a crashed Piper wasn’t art, even if the artist saw it as a metaphor for the crashing of society into destruction and ruin.

The second scene paralleled the first by telling the story of the real crash five years earlier. Margo and Harry were on their way from New Hampshire to their father’s wedding in Florida. Only Margo was going through a divorce and forgot to ensure the fuel tank was full. Shortly after leaving the airport, the airplane took a nose dive into the woods. Harry was injured and unable to walk out. Their discussion after the crash explored the relationship of these two siblings  — their childhood growing up, their hopes and desires, the relationship with their parent. As the scene ended we knew that Harry would not make it out of there alive, and Margo was determined to stay with her brother.

The third scene occurred shortly before the art installation. Another pair of brother and sister hikers, Mia and Ronnie, are hiking in the woods when they come across the wreckage of N241NY. The hike was a way of restoring their relationship after the loss of their older brother, Daniel, in an airplane crash upon takeoff 22 years earlier. Upon discovering the wreckage, Mia and Ronnie start to piece together the story of the crash. Findings include Margo’s wallet, Harry’s remains, books, glasses, watches, etc. Simultaneously to discovering Margo and Harry, they are telling their own story and their relationship to their deceased older brother. As with the previous two scenes, there are loads and loads of parallels between the stories of the siblings. I also had a problem with this scene: namely, would random hikers start taking things from the wreckage and moving it around (including human remains), or would they preserve the scene and just report it to authorities? They did the former, which seems odd to me.

As the play ends, the last scene returns us to the art museum, where the preview has ended and the critical reaction is coming in. Ralph and Maggie are ecstatic, as the reaction has been very positive and the critics saw the meaning Ralph intended. Further, the report of the hikers has come in, and this has magnified interest in the exhibit of the aircraft sculpture. Suddenly there is no question that this is art… but then Ralph discovers a final review that takes the contrary view, lamenting that anyone can throw anything on exhibit, slap a label on it, and call it art. As the play closes and Ralph is turning the lights off on the display, we see Margo enter from stage left, and look wistfully at the play. Is this Margo in real life or Margo as a ghost? We never find out, and the lights go out.

As you can see, this is an interesting story (and perhaps an odd subject for a comedy). At points the writing was rough and unrealistic, and I found the continual parallels between the three pairs of siblings to be a little forced and overdone. Still, I liked the basic story and the rough parallels, and thought the numeric assessment of Bitter Lemons was quantitatively correct–this was a mostly positive production with a few rough spots. It will be interesting to see how this translates into a screenplay.

What made this play work (and what made me originally want to see it) was the acting team. This was a two-hander performed by stage and screen veterans Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit. These two possessed a wonderful ability to make the three siblings distinctly different characters — from middle ages hikers full of energy, to crash victims, to art student and art buyer. Their performances transcended their age (as did their looks: Hamlin is still as ruggedly handsome as he was in the days of LA Law, and Swit looks nowhere near her actual age of 75 — she looked closer to her late 40s). The two were a joy to watch, and raised the story well above the pedestrian.

Basically, you believe these actors were the characters they were portraying. This was likely helped by the direction provided by the playwright, Joshua Ravetch, who also served as director. However, this may also have been what hurt the play, for the playwright being the director also leads to the situation where it is unlikely the rehearsal and mounting process will results in cuts, trims, and modifications that will improve the show. It didn’t affect the great performances, but did result in the end script probably not been as good as it could have been.

The set design by Dana Moran Williams was simple: a Piper Cub nose-down into the set. I couldn’t tell if it was a fabricated Cub or a real aircraft, which I guess was a good sign. The program made you think it was real, telling the story of how the author and production designer stood on the tarmac at the Santa Paula airport looking at a yellow Piper Cut, and that it was delivered to the theatre on November 1. If real, (a) I wonder how the hell they got it into the NoHo Arts Center; (b) N241NY is not the registration, as N241NY is a Cessna. Surrounding the plane were a few black cubes, augmented by various props. Near the end of the production, I found myself imagining the Pasadena Playhouse producing this and seeing (in my head) how the Playhouse would have set the stage. I mention this because I was surprised to learn while writing this review that this play originated at the Pasadena Playhouse in the Hothouse series. Set construction was by Red Colegrove, with properties coordinated by Janet Fontaine. The lighting design by Colony regular Luke Moyer was also very strong; I particularly liked the oranges and golds in in the Mia and Ronnie scene, and the effective projection background for the Margo and Harry scene. Costumes were by Kate Bergh; they were effective and conveyed the characters very well. Jeff Gardner‘s sound was also noteworthy — not only the flight-themed inter-act music, but the background sounds during the actual crash scenes. The one thing I didn’t get was the odd “pinging” that was playing before the production.  Diana Copeland was the production stage manager. 1NY was produced by Jay Willick and Kevin Bailey. The artistic director for the NoHo Arts Center is James Mellon.

Alas, you can’t get tickets to “One November Yankee“, as last night was the last performance, and there is another production scheduled for the space (“As The World Goes Round”, a Kander/Ebb jukebox musical). It may pop up at another theatre in the future or as a movie.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next week is open, and we’re likely taking a break for a week. January 26 take us to Orange County for Triassic Parq–The Musical at the Chance Theatre (Goldstar). February will start with the first play of the REP season, “Putnam County Spelling Bee“.  February 9 might be “Backbeat” at the Ahmanson, but I’m unsure about the show, and Karen is getting theatre-ed out (is that possible?). February 16 brings “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and the last weekend of February is currently open. March starts with “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at the Colony. After a break for Fogcon (although I may do something here), theatre picks up with “Catch Me If You Can” at Broadway LA/Pantages on March 16 and “Boeing Boeing” at REP East on March 23. March may also bring “End of the Rainbow” at the Ahmanson, most likely on March 30. April will bring the Southern California Renaissance Faire (huzzah for the $15 Holidazzle sale), “Grease” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at REP East. 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).



And Oh, The Clothes We Once Wore…

I’ve written before about how Tom Paxton said, about nostalgia, that it is OK to look back as long as you don’t stare. Today, we went to an exercise in nostalgia—specifically, the musical “Boomermania” (at the North Hollywood Arts Center), which purports to be a musical about baby boomers (i.e., those born between 1950 and 1964, roughly). Both my wife and I fall into this category, so we are well suited to judge this category. I should note that Boomermania is one of the longer running musicals in LA for 2011; tonight was the close of a seven month run.

So what did we think of Boomermania? Somewhere between cute and cutesy. Boomermania is a look back at the baby boom generation, framed in a story about a high-school student in 2525 finding a time capsule and wanting to learn about the period. The first half of the musical focuses on the 1960s, primarily the period from 1964 to 1969 as rock music was coming into play. There are remembrances of the duck and cover drills, reminders of what TV was like, and most importantly, emphasis on the “flower power” and protest period. This is all told with classic tunes from the period updated with parody lyrics. The authors of the musical (book, lyrics, and direction), Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio, do a reasonable job with the lyrics—not at the level of Shakespeare or Kander and Ebb, but passibly entertaining. The second act focuses on the 1970s and after, exploring the drug scene, disco, fashion, and the inevitable college reunions and retirement homes. Again, there are aspects that are silly, but the tunes are recognizable and the lyrics OK.

Did we find the show entertaining? That’s a different question, perhaps skewed by our perspective. There were people in the audience that were obviously entertained by the show, laughing and playing along. We were a lot quieter, finding only about 20% of the show laugh out loud funny. That’s most likely due to the fact that we were the nerd contingent: the students who were playing with the nascient computer field, as opposed to being out in the rock and roll, disco, and dancing/partying scenes. So perhaps we weren’t the stereotypical target audience.

I do have to say the show was well performed. Given that there weren’t specific characters, it was difficult to tell the specific actors apart even with a program—but that wasn’t a problem, as all were strong singers and dancers. The ensemble consisted of Daniel Amerman, Scott Reynolds, and Dylan Vox in the male roles, and Alison Friedman, Anne Montavon, and Sarah Weismer in the female parts.

Turning to the technical: The show was overamplified—perhaps the sound designer, Sean Kilian, thought all baby boomers had lost their hearing from rock music. The overamplification was clear: it left the singers sounding muddy, and left the audience with headaches. The lighting, by Coby Chasman-Beck, was very well done and evoked the mood well. The costumes by Erica D. Schwartz did an excellent job of capturing the period, The wig stylist didn’t get a larger credit but she shoud: Katy Harvy did an outstanding job with the large number of wigs that made this show succeed. Dove Huntley‘s set was suitably flexible and served the production well. Supporting the set well was the excellent multimedia design by Dan J. Foegelle and Pat Sierchio, which included some truely great videos and visuals.

The production was directed by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio, the authors. Choreography was by Edward Carignan, and did a good job of capturing the movement. Mary Ekler was the musical director, composer, arranger, and pianist, and led a six piece band that was hidden somewhere I couldn’t find. Heather Gonzalez was Production Stage Manager, and Michael Anthony Gremo was the general manager.

The performance we saw was the closing performance of “Boomermania“.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend sees us in Sherman Oaks for Kvetch at the Whitefire (and it is good weekend for Erin to see Tick Tick Boom!” at The MET Theatre). The fourth weekend of October brings “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22. The last weekend of October brings “Victor Victoria” at the Malibu Stage Company on Saturday. November will start with The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT on November 5. It will also bring “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day, but we’re not sure about the weekend yet). Karen will also be seeing “Riverdance” at the Pantages on November 16. I’m still waiting to ticket “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale for our block on November 8). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. Also of potential interest, if time is available, are “A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” at the El Portal (Nov 2-20), “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant” at the Secret Rose (9/30-11/20; Theatremania has $10 tickets with code “PREGNANT”); or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center (11/19-12/16). Not of interest is “South Street” at the Pasadena Playhouse, given the reviews. The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. 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.


A Successful Original New Musical — I Guess You Can Have It All!

In 1982, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown, wrote a book titled “Having It All”, claiming that it was possible for a woman to successfully have it all: a loving relationship, a full and complete family with children, and a fulfilling career. Since the book was written, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether what Brown believed was actually possible. Mother, actress, producer, and educator Wendy Perelman was thinking about this in 2002 when she began to develop an original musical about whether a woman could have it all. She pulled a team together: David Goldsmith to work on the book with her and to craft the lyrics, and John Kavanaugh to craft the music. The musical in 2006 “Having It Almost” premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. But that wasn’t the end for this original musical. Work continued on it. It was produced again in 2008. Work continued: songs were added and deleted and a new producing team (David Elzer and Peter Schneider) was brought in with significant experience in successful small musicals (this team produced both “The Marvellous Wonderettes” and “Life Could Be A Dream”). Additional dramaturgy occurred, an equity acting team was pulled together, a talented director (Richard Israel) added to the mix, and a great theatre venue selected. Turn the crank a few times, and you have the wonderful result that opened on March 12 at the North Hollywood Arts Center: Having It All. We saw it last night, and I’m pleased to say this musical does indeed succeed in having it all: a well written original musical, a great performance team, and a book that works and draws in the audience.

Having It All” tells the story of five women in the boarding area for gate B26 at the New York International Airport (JFK), waiting for the flight to Los Angeles. The first, Julia (Jennifer Leigh Warren) is the uber-professional woman: an entertainment industry executive, a wife, a mother… and her life is falling apart all around her. The second, Amy (Shannon Warne), represents the other end of the spectrum: a woman who gave up any career to be a wife and mother of two boys. Third is Sissy (Lindsey Alley), a budding professional writer who broke her foot having stand-up sex. The fourth woman is Carly (Alet Taylor), a yoga instructor whose healthly lifestyle can’t help her beat one factor in her life: getting older. The last woman is Lizzie (Kim Huber), a woman who loves her husband and her career as a midwestern teacher, but is missing the one thing in her life that would bring her fulfullment—a child. These women are all introduced in the expositional opening number, “In Her Shoes”, where they all are judged and assessed based on the traditional woman’s harbinger… the shoes that they are wearing. As we learn more about these women, we learn that Sissy’s book treatment is overdue, and she’s blocked for a topic. Not surprisingly, a topic presents itself: writing the story of these women and their lives. This serves as the jumping off point for the remainder of the musical, which explores the lives of each of these characters. Were they happy with where life has taken them? Did they succeed in having it all, or is their lift still missing something? More significantly, how much are they deceiving themselves, believing they want something when in their hearts they are craving something else?

It is this exploration that is the heart of the musical; it is what ultimately make the musical connect. As I listened and watched the musical, I also watched the women in the audience. They were intensely listening and nodding their heads. I think this means that the musical was reminding every women in the audience of their life, and whether they were “having it all”. This is a good thing, for musicals are successful when they hit home… being reminded one of their youth, their lives, or their loves. But, you’re sure to ask, what about the men? This musical connects with them as well, for they recognize the issues from the women in their lives.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the cast is uniformly excellent, and most are well known to Los Angeles theatre audiences (we’ve seen all but one of them in other productions). Lindsey Alley, who we hadn’t seen before, was excellent as Sissy, with an intriguing face and incredibly strong singing voice (in fact, they all had great voices, so you’ll hear me say that a lot). Also strong was Jennifer Leigh Warren as Julia, who we saw as Sheila in the Reprise production of Hair, and have heard on numerous albums. Warren portrayed the correct mix of bitchiness and vulnerability in her character. As Carly, Alet Taylor give off the correct new-age aura; we’ve seen her before in Guys and Dolls at Cabrillo. Amy was portrayed by Shannon Warne, who we’ve seen before in Loving Repeating, Camelot, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Shannon is always excellent and was a deslight to see in this production. Lastly, as Lizzie, Kim Huber (who we have seen both the Cabrillo and El Portal Marvellous Wonderettes) provided that touch of innocence and wanting. They were all just great.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

The music for the production was top notch, under the musical direction of Gregory Nabours. The program provides no credits for the musicians, so I’m guessing it was primarily Nabours at the keyboard. Whatever it was, it was sufficient. I’ll note that if you’re curious about the music, the demos for the 2008 version are available on the web; they appear to correspond to the show except for one number.

[ETA: As I’ve been cleaning this afternoon, I’ve been listening to the demos on my iPod. There’s a depth to the lyrics I didn’t pick up when I first heard the songs in the theatre (where they go by very fast). In particular, there’s quite a bit of foreshadowing in the songs I didn’t notice at the time; now that I know the dénouement, I’m appreciating the forward references.]

Turning to the technical side: The scenic design by Stephen Gifford was nice and elegant, capturing a generic high-class boarding area quite well.Properties were by Sara J. Stuckey, who deserves mention if only for having to deal with all the food wrappers :-). The sound design was by the omnipresent Cricket S. Myers (who we see everywhere in LA theatre), and was clear, crisp, and professional. The lighting design by Luke Moyer was for the most part good, however there seemed to be spotlight difficulties. Given that the NoHo Arts Center uses moving mirror lights as opposed to a follow spot, this could indicate some adjustment in the lights or the blocking is needed. The costumes by Ann Closs-Farley did a great job of conveying the nature of the characters while still seeming realistic. Casting was by Michael Donovan CSA. Stage management was by Chris Warren Murry, assisted by Eric Heidenthal. Michael Spellman was the Associate Producer.

Having It All continues at the No Ho Arts Center through April 24. Tickets are available through, as well as through Goldstar and LA Stage Alliance. This show is worth seeing, and will likely have a long life. Go see it.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend (March 26) brings “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Repertory East. The following weekend, April 2, brings Glory Days” at the Lillian Theatre. April 9 will bring the Renaissance Faire. April 16 sees us out in Thousand Oaks revisiting “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, with Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre on April 17. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. April 24 was to will bring God of Carnage at the Ahmanson Theatre, but the Hottix sold out in ½ hour… so we may try to get rush tickets (for they are not selling rear balcony in advance). The last weekend of April brings a concert: Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May starts with our penultimate Pasadena Playhouse production, “George Gershwin Alone“, on May 7. The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28, and (pending ticketing) Dear World” at the Lyric Theatre. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might hit a show in Nashville or St. Louis). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and 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); “Shrek” (July 23, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed).


Well-Worn Schtick

Back when I was in High School, the Marx Brothers (and other 1930s and 1940s comedy teams) had a brief resurgance in popularity due to the long-awaited re-release of “Animal Crackers” in 1974 and series of still picture books by Richard Anobile (“Why a Duck?”, “Who’s On First”, “A Fine Mess”, and others). But today, if you mentioned comedy teams such as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, or Abbott and Costello to the “youth of america”™, you’ld likely get a blank stare. Planely silly comedy, with intelligent wordplay, has been replaced by raunch and shock.

I mention all of these because last night we went to the NoHo Arts Center to see “It’s Top Secret [Facebook] (A Golden Performing Arts Center Production), part of the New American Festival of Musicals. “It’s Top Secret” bills itself as a Marx Brothers Musical (and there are precious few of those—“A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” is the only one coming to mind, although “Cocoanuts” was originally a musical, and many of the Marx Bros films had music… and a non-musical bioplay, “Groucho: A Life in Revue” regularly trods the boards). With that billing, you don’t expect high comedy, a deep (or even sensical) plot, or your typical musical convention. You expect the Marx Brothers and zaniness.

The plot of “It’s Top Secret” is at the usual Marx Brothers level: sufficient enough to hang the comedy on, but not strong enough to withstand a Southern California earthquake. The year is 1942. Dr. Avendale is working on a TOP SECRET formula that will permit American to Win The War. His daughter (Carol) is in love with the beat cop (Frank), of whom Dr. Avendale and his wife (Lydia, a society matron) disapproves. However, the world is at war and treachery is afoot. As the play opens, Dr. Avendale is found dead. The butler (James) and the maid (Sally), who are really Nazi spies, conspire not to call the real FBI but the private detective agency of Notello Bordello (“Chico”) and Lucky (“Harpo”). Also called in is Milton P. Malpracticus (“Groucho”) as the coroner. The two words, “mayhem ensues”, never applied better.

As I said, this was a very slight plot, reminiscent in many ways of a bunch of Marx Brothers movies put into a blender. The strongest antecedent is perhaps Animal Crackers, but I also recognized elements of Duck Soup. Many of the characters were also charactures of movie characters: Lydia (played by a man in drag) was the Margaret Dumont role. Carol was the Thelma Todd role. Frank was obviously meant to be Zeppo, although he had little comic schtick. They also threw in almost all of the well-known Marx Brothers bits: Groucho’s puns, Harpo’s endless pockets and chasing of girls, Chico’s mangling of the languge, the chase, the fluid architecture, Harpo playing the harp. I could say they threw in everything except the kitchen sink, however…. they threw that in as well (which gives you an idea of the level of puns). The show broke the wall with the audience continually, making reference to the fact they were in a musical, and even commenting on the action and the audience.

The music in the show was slight. One song was sung four times—a fact that did not escape Groucho’s notice. They sang the audience off to Intermission, and exhorted us to by candy. There were tangos and ballets. But, as in the original movies, the music didn’t serve to further the plot—it was just another element of the entertainment, allowing characters to show their talent.

Acting-wise, it was reasonably well done. In the first tier of characters, we had the Marx Brothers equivalents: Dan Wilson Davisæ as Milton P. Malpracticus/Groucho; John Albert Price as Notelli Bordello/Chico; and Adam Miller as Lucky/Harpo. These three captured their charactures well. I was particuarly taken with Davis’ Groucho and Price’s Harpo—those two really captured the sillyness. Price’s Chico was a bit weaker, as he didn’t quite have the Italian scoundrel done right. But all three were fun to watch (and it was nice to see the Marx Brothers again): I had forgotten the zaniness, and I had forgotten how much fun a character that doesn’t speak can be if it is done right.

Turning to the second tier: Dimitri Toscasæ was a man in drag playing Lydia, the Margret Dumont characture. This was a bit weaker: I’m not sure the Brothers would have done the gender-bending, and there are certainly actresses that could have done the role. Still, Toscas was funny for the schtick he did. Megan Campbellæ was stronger as Carol, the Thelma Todd characture. She was a good singer and dancer, and seemed really to be having fun with the role. Stephen Vandetteæ was a good characture of Zeppo as Frank, the policeman. He had the slight stiffness and handsome demeanor that Zeppo had, and played with the comedy well.

Rounding out the cast were the two spies: Kyle Nudo as James and Ailene Quincyæ as Sally. Nudo was good and suitably comic as the bad guy, serving primarily as the foil for many jokes. I initially wasn’t sure about Quincy, with her deep voice and small stature. But as the evening wore on, I grew to like her more: she seemed to me to be in the Nancy Walker mode—perhaps not the strongest singer, but a gifted comic actress. Still, at points (especially in the first act), she came across as a little wooden and not having fun with the role. I hope she works on that—this is a show to play and have fun with. Completing the cast were John Welsh as Dr. Winston Avondale and Erin Daigle as the occasional kitchen help and ensemble member.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical side: David Goldstein provided the set (assisted by Tim Miller) and lighting design. The set was a simple living room with lots of doors and stairs, which worked well for the comedy. The lights also worked well to establish the mood, with some interesting gobos used (especially at intermission). The sound by Jeff Resnick was more of a problem: there was a fair amount of static at points, some characters were overamplified, and in general you were aware of the amplification. The costumes by Rachel Stivers were good: the Brothers were dressed as their characters usually were, and the other costumes seemed reasonably period (although I’m not sure there were Nazi cummerbunds and aprons, but perhaps I didn’t visit the right merch store). Todd M. Eskin was the production stage manager, assisting by Joni Davis.

It’s Top Secret” was written by Steven A. Muro and Daniel W. Davis. The production was directed and choreographed by Robert Petarca, who had one nice dance number in the corpse ballet. Paul Taylor was the music director and conducted the five-piece on-stage band, which included Taylor on piano, John Spooner on Percussion, Ross Craton and Tim Miller providing woodwinds, and Dave Hickok on trombone. The production was presented by the Golden Performing Arts Center, with Shelli and Tim Miller as Executive Producers.

“It’s Top Secret” continues at the NoHo Arts Center through July 11. You can get tickets from the production website; they are also available through Goldstar. More information is available from the “It’s Top Secret” production page or their facebook page. “It’s Top Secret” is a featured musical in the 3rd annual Festival of New American Musicals.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. This is a busy, busy summer. Tonight brings The Rocky Horror Show” at the Underground Theatre. July starts with “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3, and the Western Corps Connection in Riverside on July 5. The next weekend (July 10 @ 8pm) is the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie”. The third weekend of July brings ; The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 and the July “Meeting of Minds on July 18. The 4th weekend brings Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 24, and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum on July 25. Plus July will possibly bring some ventures out to the Hollywood Bowl. July or August should also bring [title of show] at the Celebration Theatre (July 16-September 5) — I’m just waiting for tickets to show up on Goldsar. In terms of what is ticketed and calendared, August starts with “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages on August 1, and (hopefully) “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl (pending ticketing) the following weekend. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, and August 21 “Side Man” at REP East. Looking into September, there is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4, and “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, to be ticketed), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16). It is unknown if there will be a September “Meeting of Minds”, and if so, when and where.

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