A Dirty, Rotten, Review

Ever since I’ve heard the music from David Yazbek’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in 2005, I’ve wanted to see the show. But it has never worked out—either it was at a theatre that didn’t discount from their full high prices (cough, Pantages, cough, Theatre League) or at locations that were a pain (cough, south Orange County) or at times that didn’t work. Luckily, the stars finally came together this winter: a local company doing the show at a local theatre, and putting half-price tickets up on LA Stage Tix. So last night, we went to the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood to see the show, which was being produced by the center’s newest resident company, Interact Theatre Company.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is based on the 1988 movie with Steve Martin and Michael Caine (written by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning). Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Lane, and with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, the story centers on two competing con men living on the French Riviera. At first, the suave and experienced Lawrence Jameson takes the rookie con man, Freddy, under his wing. But soon, Freddy tries to compete directly with Lawrence. The competition comes to a peak when they agree that the first con man to extract $50,000 from the female heiress, Christine Colgate, wins and the other must leave town forever. Going into further details might spoil the story for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll note there is a more detailed synopsis on Wikipedia.

Those that have seen the movie or this musical know that the story is a very funny one. This is a comedy, not a social commentary (although I still insist that the song “Chimp in a Suit” could have applied to a past occupant of the White House). For this to work, you need to have actors that can channel their funny, and that don’t mind being silly at times. This is not a show that calls for underplaying and subtlety. Luckily, Interact has cast some very talented actors in the lead positions that do just that. Leading the show are Chip Phillipsæ as Lawrence Jameson and Matt Wolpeæ (FB) as Freddy Benson. These two men have excellent coming timing, and reasonably strong singing voices (there were only a few spots where they could have been a tad louder). Their vocal quality is very similar to the original leads in the roles (John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz, respectively), and they were a joy to watch. Supporting them as the Chief of Police, Andre Thipault, was Michael Manuelæ. Manual gave a very strong performance and had a strong singing voice in his main songs: “M0nkey in a Suit” and “Like Zis/Like Zat”.

As for the ingénues who were, ahem, worked over by these men… the first one we meet is Muriel Eubanks of Omaha, played by Susan Hullæ. No, she doesn’t constantly sing and hold her arms in the air in the manner of a last act finale (does anyone get that reference?), but she does give a wonderfully comic performance as a woman first interested in Jameson, and later interested in Andre. She has some great numbers such as “What Was a Woman to Do?” and “Like Zis/Like Zat”. The next lady we meet is Jolene Oakes, a heiress from Oklahoma, played by Tracy Powellæ, who also goes after Lawrence. Her introductory number, “Oklahoma” is a comic gem when you look at the words closely. Our last leading lady is the soap queen, Christine Colgate, played by Kelly Lohman. Yet another strong actress who captures the comedy well, Lohman has a number of excellent numbers, with the introductory number, “Here I Am”, being one of my favorites. However, all three leading female leads have a common problem: although they sang the songs well, they need a bit more power in the presentation—they need to belt the numbers a bit more. “Here I Am” also highlights another minor problem with the show (which is also seen in “Ruffhousin’ mit Shuffhausen”): they hold back a bit on the physical comedy. In other words, the clumsiness of Christine Colgate or the switch hitting of Dr. Shuffhausen needs to visibly appear to hurt, and the stage performance held back a bit. This is more likely a problem with the direction of Richard Israel, as the actors would follow the director’s instructions here, but I do hope they can improve this a bit.

Rounding out the ensemble were a team of four men and four women. The men were Steven Connoræ, James Benjamin Cooperæ, Robert Briscoe Evansæ, and Marc Fellnererezæ. All were good, but none particularly stand out in my memory. The women were Ellen Dostalæ, Jessica Evans, Melanie Rockwellæ, and Sara J. Stuckey. All were strong singers and comics. Of these I was particularly enamored with Ms. Dostal and Ms. Evans. Different looks than most actresses for both, and both were just fun to watch.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical side: The production was directed by Richard Israel, who as done a number of West Coast Ensemble’s musicals. The direction here was good and made the most of the small stage, however (as noted above) there were a few scenes where the comic pain was dialed down, and this was distinctly felt. Choreography was by Tracy Powellæ and was quite good: I enjoyed the stage coverage, I enjoyed the soft shoe numbers, and it was just fun. The set was designed by Deborah “Dove” Huntley (assisted by Robert Corn), who took the small stage at the No Ho Arts Center and turned it into the Riviera. I should note this is not an easy task: remember, Scoundrels was on Broadway with numerous set changes, and this production transferred that to a single set with no flyspace (only movable props) in a 99-seat theatre. The costumes by Meagan Evers evoke the mood quite well within the likely budget for this show, although a bit more “oomph” would likely have been nice. Lighting was by Carol Doehring (who for some reason didn’t have a bio in the program) and was quite good: no follow spots, but general lighting and a few effective gobos created the moods and illuminated everything. If there was a weak technical area, it was the sound by Matt Richter: although there were drop mikes, they seemed ineffectual, leading to my comments above about the lead actresses needing stronger voices. Stronger unobtrusive light amplification could have helped quite a bit. The stage manager was Faryl Saar, and Carla Marnett was the producer.

The musical director was Johanna Kent, who we have seen in a number of productions. She led the small orchestra, consisting of piano (Kent), drums (Mike Wachs), Bass (Clyde Yashuara), and keyboards/clarinet/saxophone (Patrick Burns). This small group was likely due to the size limitations of the facility, but it did hurt the show. Scoundrels needs strong music, and the addition of some real horns would likely have helped this quite a bit (although it likely would have forced amplification of the actors).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” continues at NoHo Arts Center until March 21. Tickets are available through Interact. Half-price tickets, if available, are through LAStageTix.

Upcoming Theatre. As for us, what’s upcoming on the theatre calendar? Today sees two more productions: this afternon brings “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” at the Fremont Theatre Center in South Pasadena, and this evening brings the February installment of “Meeting of Minds (Episode 23 with Jean Smart as Catherine the Great, Ian Buchanan as Oliver Cromwell, and James Handy as Daniel O’Connell) at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. The last week of February is open, and may remain that way as we’re seeing our congregation’s Purim Schpeil on Sunday evening. March starts with The Story of My Life” at the Havok Theatre on March 6 @ 8pm (where we’ll be joined by shutterbug93). March 13 brings “Celebrate Dance 2010” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale; followed the next day by “On Golden Pond” at REP East. March 21 will be another installment of “Meeting of Minds”. April brings more of potential interest, most currently pending ticketing, including Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris” at the Colony Theatre (likely April 10 or April 16), “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys HS (April 15-17), the April installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre on April 18, “12 Angry Men” at REP East (likely April 24), and the So Cal Ren Faire (either April 25 or May 16). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), See What I Wanna See” at the Blank (likely May 9), The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson (likely May 15), the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16), the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22), and “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (likely May 30).

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.


Creatively Insane

As a Father’s Day afternoon treat, the family made this a double-theatre weekend and took in the second performance of a new musical, “Insanity”, at the North Hollywood Arts Center. “Insanity” (music and lyrics by Scott DeTurk, book and additional lyrics by James J. Mellon, based on a concept by Larry Russo) primarily tells the story of Zarek Saxton, a director of slasher movies who is exasperating Ramsey Hawking, studio liasion, with the time he is taking on his current slasher pic, starring Katelyn Keenan. Zarek, you see, has this new vision for the picture, something that will “change the world”. One night, in New Orleans, after partaking in a psychedelic something, he is found naked and in a fetal position, talking strange. Sensing his opportunity to get Zarek off the movie due to an insanity clause in the contract, Zarek is shipped back to a vanity psych clinic in Malibu for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. Hawking presses the hospital psychiatrists (Dr. Megan Goodman and Dr. Hudson) to figure out a way to find him insane before the 72 hours are up. But this patient is a difficult one for Dr. Goodman, as it brings back memories of her crazy actor ex-husband, as well as her daughter who died at age 3 (these two facts come out slowly during the piece). While at the clinic, we see the interactions between Zarek and the other patients: Peter, Monica, Virginia, Raymond, Rex Reynolds, and Hughie. We also learn the real story behind Zarek’s state, courtesy of his brother, Matt. Will Zarek remain at the clinic past the 72 hour hold, or will his “Insanity” take him into a new creative direction… and what will be the effect of this experience on Dr. Goodman, who relates the experience, and her demons from the past?

The storytelling rough edges were remarkably few for the second performance of a new musical. It took a while to figure out the demons of Dr. Goodman (although they made sense as they came out), and as she told the story one began to wonder if this was really her story, or Zarek’s. As for the basis of the story itself, it was an interesting cross between “Next to Normal” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, although with a very different ending. One might wonder, based on the ending, how much of the directorial staff in Hollywood is really sane… and if they are not, whether we could tell it. Along the way, we meet some very interesting characters: a gay young man who can’t come out to his unaccepting parents; an opera singer withdrawn into herself; a nympho-starlet fighting the demons in her head; an ex-Shakespearian actor; a man who thinks he is Jesus; and a man who believes he is carrying an alien baby. As Zarek sings, “You Couldn’t Write This Shit”, meaning the craziness life can bring you is weirder than anything a Hollywood writer can come up with.

The cast for this production was very strong. In the lead roles were Kevin Baileyæ as Zarek Saxton and Dana Melleræ as Megan Goodman. Both were strong singers and dancers, and I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the manic insanity of Bailey contrasted to the stoic scientist of Meller. Bob Morriseyæ, as Ramsey Hawking, was a good dancer but seemed to have trouble being heard — I don’t know if this was his projection or a technical problem with the opera (hanging) microphones. As Katelyn Keenan, the star, Sabrina Miller portrayed the appropriate air of bubblehead actress whose brains were mostly in her chest. The remaining hospital staff were Tara Lynn Orræ as Dr. Hudson and Curtis C.æ as Freddie, the Attendent (Curtis also played Ovacu, the Shaman). Lastly, Zarek’s straightlaced brother, Matt, was played by Jonathan Zenzæ.

Rounding out the cast were the patients in the clinic: Peter (Victor Warrenæ), who thought he was Jesus; Monica (Cat Davisæ), the nympho starlet; Virginia (Clarissa Park), the opera singer; Alex Robert Holmesæ, the homosexual; Rex Reynolds (Brad Blaisdellæ), the Shakespearian actor; and Hughie (Arthur Ross), who is an alien baby incubator. Of the patients, I particularly enjoyed Blaisdell and Davis, as well as Holmes. All gave realy interesting portrayals of their characters.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical… the stage (design by Laura Fine Hawkes) was a multilevel structure, with simple props (by Janet Fontaine) that established the space: tables, chairs, cameras. Providing more location establishment were the costumes by Curtis Jackson: these clearly distinguished the sane from the patients and the doctors from the actors. The sound design by Jonathan Zenz was having problems: actors weren’t miced, but the opera mics weren’t picking things up clearly. The lighting design by Luke Moyer was remarkable in its use of projected images and colors; spotlights were done with moving lights and moving mirror lights, but the actors had difficulty coordinating with the programming. Hair and make-up were by Rique. The production stage manager was Karesa McElheny. Bobby Nafarrete served as musical director for the unseen band, and choreography was by Suzanne Carlton. The production was directed by James J. Mellon.

“Insanity” continues at the North Hollywood Arts Center until August 9, 2009. Tickets are available from the theatre. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar Events and LaStageTix.

Upcoming Theatre: The next two weekends are currently unscheduled, although I am exploring the Mini-Musical Festival at the Secret Rose Theatre. Sunday, July 12 @ 1pm brings “Spamalot” at the Ahmanson. Saturday July 18 @ 8pm is “Fat Pig” at Repertory East Playhouse. July 25/26 is currently open, although I’m considering “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Neighborhood Playhouse, in its last weekend. August 1st brings “Cats” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (our last Saturday matinee before our tickets move to Saturday evening). Lastly, August 8 brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. Tuesday gf_guruilla plans to go to the Bowl to ticket the 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). Lastly, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.


Just Make Sure You Get The Right Exterminator

This afternoon we joined ixixlix and crew at the final performance of “Pest Control: The Musical” at the NoHo Arts Center. “Pest Control” tells the story of Bob Dillon (yes, that’s his name), the mild mannered head of Pest Control, an extermination service, whose passion is killing…. bugs. We first meet Bob in a dream sequence when the roaches of his nightmares are crawling out and threatening him. We also meet Marcella, who also runs an extermination service… of a (shall we say) different kind. Her top “exterminator” (her borther Klaus) is retiring, and she is in worried about finding an equally capable replacement. When Bob stumbles into Klaus’ retirement party, two things happen: first, his type of extermination is misunderstood by the clientele there, and Bob falls in love with the waitress (who is in reality, CIA Agent Parker). Marcella hires Bob to rub out Mr. Roach. When Mr. Roach dies of a bee sting, Bob is considered responsible… and is suddenly believed to be legendary “Vanished Killer”. Soon the CIA is hiring him to rub out the leader of a small South American company, which will permit them to embrace capitalize, and open up a chain of high-priced coffee stores with a green and white logo to sell their coffee. Will Bob takes the job? Will he succeed? What happens afterwards? Was Bob really a normal pest control exterminator to begin with, or was he really the legend just pulling off an act?

In many ways, this was a perfect show. There was strong singing and dancing. The actors were spot on, enjoying their roles and being a delight to watch. The rock/rap score worked perfectly. The lighting was effective. The sets were strong and made great use of the space. The micing (sound) was perfect. The costumes were spot on (include one song where the lead actress changed costume about 10 times during the song). It was just great. I’m sorry we caught the last show so more folks couldn’t be recommended to see it.

So, who was responsible for making this work? In the lead role of Bob, the seemingly nieve nerdish exterminator, was Darren Ritchieæ. This young man exuded charism and charm, could dance and sing strongly, and even accompanied himself on guitar. Opposite him as CIA Agent Parker was Beth Maloneæ, who we last saw in Sister Act. Another strong singer, actor, and dancer, Malone was a delight to watch. Assisting Bob at the Pest Control service were Alex Robert Holmesæ as Jon and Karesa McElhenyæ as Jean. Of course, every CIA agent needs a boss: Agent Parker’s was Agent Wolfe, played by Cleavant Derricksæ. As for the other extermination agency, it was headed by Joanna Glushakæ as Marcella, Jay Willickæ as Klaus, Dana Melleræ as Chantelle, and Paul Dennistonæ as Mr. Maxwell. In the role as the lead menacing bug (who did a great job of it) was John Allsoppæ. Rounding out the ensemble were Suzanne Carltonæ, Megan S. Densmore, Janet Fontaineæ, J. R. Mangels, Sabrina Miller, Billie Puyear, Erik Sorensenæ, and Jonathan Zenzæ. All of these actors were extremely talented and amazing.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity]

Technically, the set design was by Eugene Caine-Epstein (assisted by Dana Moran Williams), with costumes by Scott A. Lane, hair by Diane Martinous, lighting by Luke Moyer, and sound by Jonathan Burke. This show was a technical marvel, with a multilevel stage, fabulous lights that did wonderful mood establishment, great visuals, and stunning costumes (especially the roaches).

Turning to the basics of the production: This is a new musical, with book by John Jay Moores Jr., music by Vladimir Shainskiy, and lyrics by Scott DeTurk, who also supervised the music. Additional music was by Joseph Church and tea & tonik. It is inspired by the novel by L.A. crime writer Bill Fitzhugh. The production was directed by James J. Mellonæ (who also did the choreography), assisted by Christopher Brownæ (who also was production stage manager). Amy Oh was executive producer.

This was the last performance of “Pest Control.”

Next up on our theatre calendar (in two weeks) is “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm), and “The Taming of the Shew” (Shakespeare in the Park) on Sun, 6/29 @ 6pm in Hart Park in Santa Clarita. July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm). I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (perhaps 7/5), as well as the Cal Phil production of the music of Rogers and Hammerstein featuring Suzanna Guzman as mezzo soprano and Kevin Earley as tenor on Sunday July 27 at 2:00p at the Disney Concert Hall.


“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure…”

This evening we returned to the theatre, specifically to the NoHo Arts Center (MySpace) to see “Bush Is Bad: The Musical”. This is an interesting musical. It really doesn’t have a coherent plot or direction (much like the Bush administration). There is no story to be told (much like the current administration). In fact its unifying theme is a dislike of the current administration (much in the same way the president is uniting the country… in wishing they had elected someone else).

Bush is Bad”, simply put, is a musical: a collection of songs written to make fun of the current administration (which admittedly isn’t hard to do, but I am pleased that we can still do it). Such musicals rise and fall on the strength of the writing and on the strength of the cast. We’ll cover the cast shortly… what about the music. One can get a taste of that from a listing of the musical numbers (listen to some of the songs):

How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb?
Anyone Can Grow Up To Be President
Good Conservative Values
Crazy Ann COulter
Mr. Whittington Regrets
Torture Has Been Very Good To Me
Down in Crawford
Fair and Balanced
Our Job
Won’t You Please
Das Bush Ist Schlecht
The Gay Agenda
      Social Security Performance Art
You Can Never Have Enough Bush
Uniter, Not A Divider
Get Real
Culture of Life
Scooter Libby, Superstar
Heck of a Job
Can’t Help Lovin’ That Bush
Sure, You Betcha, George
In His Own Words
Wake Me When It’s 2009

If you click here, you can see some scenes from the New York Production. It does appear a CD is available.

These numbers serve to skewer a wide variety of topics, people, and positions… from the president himself, to Condi, to Cheny, to Scooter Libby (in a wonderful parody of Jesus Christ Superstar), to Ann Coulter, to Fox News, to Gonzalez, to Rummy. They skewer typical actions, such as the tendance of the president to praise failures for their good jobs, his going on vacation, his misspeaking… and all sorts of conservative positions. The songs were all well written and got their message across with the subtlety of a Viking war hammer. In short: If you would attend a musical with the title “Bush Is Bad”, you would like the songs. The musical’s website even gives more links on how bad Bush is.

What about the cast? The cast consisted of very strong performers and singers, whom you can see in the image to the right (pictured are, L to R, Michael Lavine, Gerry Mullins, Mai Thompson-Heath, Melanie Ewbank, Sabrina Miller, Michael Craig Shapiro, Roger Ainslie, Stefanie Black, and Jonathan Zenz). You can find even more pictures here. The performers consisted of : Roger Ainslie (who did a mean Bush impersonation), Stefanie Black*, Melanie Ewbank*, Michael Lavine (Musical Director), Sabrina Miller, Gerry Mullins, Mai Thompson-Heath, Michael Craig Shapiro*, and Jonathan Zenz. They were all fun to watch perform (especially the ladies, as three out of the four were zaftig, and all were quite beautiful). Ainslie, as noted above, did a great Bush impersonation, and Thompson-Heath was great as Condi.
[* indicates Actors Equity Members]

On the technical side, the set was relatively basic (which is common for a revue). Music consisted of a single piano, on stage. Costumes were a problem, especially for the zaftig ladies–specifically, they were too tight, and in my opinion, a little too short (i.e., I spent too much time enjoying the scenery). But the tightness was the real problem, for often they showed either how they were constructed or what was under the costume. I should note that, except for a few pieces in specific scenes, the costumes consisted of black business suits for the guys, and black slinky short dresses for the ladies. The specific technical credits were: Jay Willick (Director), Joshua Rosenblum (Composer/Lyricist/Creator), Michael Lavine (Music Director), Luke Moyer (Lighting Design), David Matwijkow (Costume Design), Jonathan Zenz (Sound Design), with Curtis C as Assistant Director and Production Stage Manager.

If you want a musical that makes fun of Shrub, “Bush is Bad” is worth going to. However, if you want something even more fun, or for additional fun, go see “The Beastly Bombing” at the Steve Allen Theatre. It is currently on hiatus, but will be back in June. “Bush is Bad” appears to be running until the end of June.

A Dining P.S.: I must also recommend the place we found for dinner before the show: Miss Peaches Southern Cuisine at 5643 Lankershim Blvd., just above Burbank. Yummy, yummy southern cuisine. We’ll be going back there the next time we go to NoHo.

So what’s next on our theatre calendar? For May, I’m still looking for tickets to “Driving Miss Daisy” at REP East to show up on Goldstar [Update: Now ticketed for 5/26 @ 8:00p]. We’ll also be attending “The Wizard of Oz and Then Some” at Nobel Middle School in Northridge on 5/31 @ 6:30p, 6/1 @ 6:30p, and 6/2 @ 2p and 6:30p (contact me for tickets). Currently ticketed theatre starts back up in June, with “The Constant Wife” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 6/2 @ 8pm; “Side Show” at UCLA Theatre Arts on 6/9 @ 8pm; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA on 6/16 @ 2pm. We’re on vacation the end of June in Nashville, and when we return, it is “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm; “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm; “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm, and the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm . I’ve also ordered season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here, and there’s likely to be a Hollywood Bowl show in there somewhere.


There’s A Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute…

…but ma’am, you might have been the minute inbetween.

Last night we went to see Barnum at the NoHo Arts Center. Now, I’ve seen Barnum before, in January 1982 at the Pantages Theatre with most of the original cast: Jim Dale, Glenn Close, Catherine Gaines, Ray Roderic, Terri White, Terrence V. Mann, and others. I love Cy Coleman‘s music and the music from the show: not only do I have the original cast recording, but I also have very rare Cy Coleman Trio recording of Barnum (Gryphon Records G-918). So I’ve very familiar with the music.

After seeing that the NoHo Center was doing Barnum, I ordered tickets to the show via Goldstar Events. The NoHo Center is a small (99 seat) theatre in North Hollywood, formerly the American Renegade Theatre. It was my first time there; needless to say I was impressed and I’ll see if they have other interesting shows.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it tells the story of P.T. Barnum, from his first “humbug” with Joice Heth (after he met his wife Charity Barnum) until the creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It has a very Dixie-land score, and features rope tricks, juggling, tightrope walking, marching bands, the world’s smallest man, the world’s oldest woman, the world’s biggest elephant, magic tricks, and more… all with a cast of 12. Don’t believe me? See the show.

For the most part, the cast was excellent. Barnum was played by James J. Mellon, Artistic Director of Open at the Top (the company doing the production) and the NoHo Arts Center… and the President and Founding Pastor of the NoHo Arts Center for New Thought. I mention this because this fellow has the remarkable charisma and acting chops of a great pastor. He becomes Barnum, and was excellent in the role. He is also the author of many musicals, including Dorian, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and the upcoming Lizard at the NoHo Arts Center.

Others in the cast included Janet Fontaine as Chairy Barnum (filling in for Yvette Lawrence); Emily Kosloski as Jenny Lind, Robert Mammana as the Ringmaster, Jacquelyn Levy as Joice Heth/Blues Singer (filling in for Regina LeVert), Dan Perry as Tom Thumb (our third understudy), and Cory Benjamin, Elly Jaresko, J. R. Mangels, Jennifer Richardson, Jonathan Zenz, and Jamie Rogers. The production was directed by Josh Prince, with musical direction by A.J. Robb, Scenic Design by Craig Siebels, Lighting by Luke Moyer, Costumes by Shon Leblanc, and Sound by Jonathan Zenz.

What did I think of the production? Good and bad. I thought the cast, for the most part, was excellent. In some of the early songs, Ms. Fontaine’s voice was a bit weak, and I think Jacquelyn Levy could have belted a bit more. My wife noted that Ms. Kosloski didn’t quite have Jenny Lind’s range. In terms of acting, however, the cast was uniformly excellent, and the 99-seat venue allowed one to see the facial expressions of the cast, and share in the 0bvious joy this cast has in doing the show. I did miss some of the benefits a larger theatre provides; in particular, the number “Come Follow The Band” needs a full marching band to be entirely effective. But that’s a nit; I truly enjoyed the show.

Reviews for the show have been mostly raves. Backstage.Com says that the show is “a great blend of energy and in-your-face magic”. TheatreMania.Com says that the NoHo Arts Center lifts “this musical to new heights with a minimal orchestra, a cast of 12, and a stage smaller than most living rooms”. ShowMag.Com says “small theater doesn’t get any better than this”. The only pan came from the Daily News, which said ” to succeed, “Barnum” needs razzle-dazzle, and this tight space prohibits it”, although it looks like they attended on a night frought with mishaps.

The show has one more week, and supposedly tickets are still available for next weekend. Don’t look for us there; we’ll be out in Perris at the Orange Empire Railway Museum for the Spring Train and Trolley Festival. Come by and say hi: I’ll be on one of the cabooses 3rd shift on Saturday, and on train 51 (the passenger train) all day on Sunday. Upcoming theatre events include Defending The Caveman this Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, and Hair at CSUN on May 13. Of course, we’ll also be seeing shows at the RenFaire on April 29. Shows I’m planning to get tickets for include Curtains at the Ahamanson, and Don’t Dress for Dinner at the RepEast Playhouse.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]