🎭 Not Quite T. S. Eliot | “Bark” @ Theatre Palisades

Bark (Theatre Palisades)I want you to think about musicals and plays about animals — particularly ones told from the animal’s point of view. What comes to mind? For cats, there is (of course) The Lion King and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats.  Both are soaring epics — one based on Hamlet, the other on the poems of T. S. Eliot. Both have remarkable music from remarkable composers, and both have spectacular dance.  Both use the art of costuming to transform their performers into the animals they are portraying. All this for felines that are indifferent to us, at best (unless you have an Aby, as one of my friends will point out).

What about man’s best friend, the dog? Well, there’s Snoopy, the sequel (in some sense) to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Never a big hit. There’s the play Sylvia, about a dog and her owner. Both are funny, and either that particularly memorable.

In 2004, the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood introduced yet another musical about dogs: Bark! The Musical.  Bark! featured music by David Troy Francis (FB), with lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard (FB), Robert Schrock (FB), and Mark Winkler (FB), with additional music by Jonathan Heath and Danny Lukie. The book was by Mark Winkler (FB) and Gavin Geoffrey Dillard (FB). Bark! told the story of six dogs through song, and was the longest running musical in the Coast’s history. They produced a cast album in 2005, which I picked up in 2008 and enjoyed.

Fast forward to this year. I’m scheduling October, and I get an email from Goldstar about Bark! being performed at Theatre Palisades (FB). I was unfamiliar with the theatre, despite the fact that it was across the street from my high school (it opened 11 years after I graduated), but Bark! was on my list of shows that I had only heard but not seen. I knew they had good talent, because they had cast a friend of mine in a recent show there.. So I got tickets for last night. The theatre is quite impressive for a community theatre, with a stage that could house 2 99-seat theatre, including substantial space in the wings. The show also gave us the opportunity to see the new Caruso Palisades Village while we hunted down dinner.*
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*: So what did we think of it? A nice walking space with a good village feel. The stores that were opened were nice. It didn’t, however, have quite the old “downtown Palisades” feel of the days of the House of Lee and Morts. It was a Caruso-sanitized shopping experience, which didn’t make it bad, just … overpriced. Given the growth of housing prices and the wealth in that community, perhaps that’s more appropriate now than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

As for Bark! The Musical. This ain’t Cats folks. Cats are complex creatures, with quirks and oddities that inspire, well, poets. Dogs are simpler: give them love, attention, play with them, and for the most part, they’ll love you back unconditionally. The musical is equally simple: a series of songs sung from the dog’s point of view about their lives. The characters in the show represent a mix of dog types: King, an older dog whose boy has gone off to college; Boo, a scruffy dog owned by a family; Chanel, a poodle owned by a gay couple; Golde, a pampered dog owned by a Jewish couple, Sam, a mutt, and Rocks, a puppy. The songs aren’t particularly deep (c’mon, they sing about wizzing on cats!), but they are entertaining and enjoyable. A few of them are particularly moving. All in all, it makes for an enjoyable night out that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. In particular, given the events of the recent weeks, it gives a night out where you don’t need to think about politics (although there are a few folks I’d love to take a wiz on).

Under the direction of Susan Stangl (FB) with choreography by Heidi Dotson (FB), the actors do a reasonable job of capturing dog mannerisms — the excitement, the scratching, the nervousness, and so forth. But unlike the productions for their larger feline siblings, the mannerisms only went so far. You knew these actors as their characters, but they didn’t become dogs. I think a bit more imagination and creativity might have been required to create that illusion, including a stronger use of perspective in the set design, more ecovative costume direction, and such. But then again, this is community theatre with community theatre resources — so for what they had, they did well. The director did build a good chemistry within the team, and the dance worked will with the skill of the performers.

Of the six “dogs”, I really liked three of them. Two others were a close second, and the last was promising but needed to grow into his feet. In the favorite’s positions were Julie Hinton (FB) [Chanel]; Greg Abbott (FB) [King]; and Elena Coleman (FB) [Boo]. Hinton was extremely strong, with a truly remarkable singing voice, and a playfulness and personality that shined through her performance. She was really strong in her solo number, “‘Il Cane Dell’ Opera”, but was equally fun in numbers like “Siren Symphony” and “Three Bitches”. Abbott also brought a remarkable personality and a strong voice to his numbers, really capturing his character well. This was most noticeable in “A Grassy Field”, but also in his number about “Lassie”. I just really enjoyed watching him (and I kept wondering if he was the same Greg Abbott that went to Pali in the 1976-1977 time period). Lastly, there was Coleman’s Boo, who was not only really cute, but brought that cuteness to her personality and character. She also had a strong voice and strong acting skills, which she demonstrated  in numbers such as “Guarding Janie” and “Life Should Be Simple”.

In the second tier, down just a notch, were Marina Tidwell (FB) [Goldie] and Peter Miller (FB) [Sam]. Both were just a bit weaker on the singing side, but really strong on the acting side. Tidwell was a hoot in “Hey, You” and the “Howling numbers, and hilarious in “Cones” about the cone of shame. Miller’s Sam was fun in the background scene, and really really funny in the “M-U-T-T Rap” and “Seniorita La Pepita” numbers. The comic performances from both were just great.

In the third tier was the puppy of the group, Ben Fuligni (FB) [Rocks]. His performance was not bad, but truly a case of “growing into his feet”. This young man clearly has talent, and embodied the puppy personality and enthusiasm well. He simply needs a bit more experience and training and time, so when contrasted with the others in the cast — it showed. I look forward to seeing him in more local production as his experience grows.

Music was provided by an on-stage band: Gary Nesteruk (FB) [Music Director, Keyboards]; Dan Radlauer and Dave Kief (FB) [Bass]; and Tom Zygmont (FB) [Drums].

Turning to the production side of the show: The set and lighting design was by Sherman Wayne, and it worked reasonably well. There could have been a bit more forced perspective in the set to give the realization that we were seeing this through a dog’s eyes; instead, it was a if the dogs were the size of humans. But again, this is community theatre, so there’s a bit more leeway. It was supported by sound and projection design by the director,  Susan Stangl (FB). These worked very well, especially during the “M-U-T-T” number with the large variety of dogs. Also doing double duty was the choreographer, Heidi Dotson (FB), who did the costumes. Here was perhaps my largest quibble: other than being in a dog-appropriate color palette (browns, whites, greys), the costumes did not evoke “dog”. I think a tad more costume creativity was needed to provide that evocation, which would have helped the suspension of disbelief aspects a bit more. Other production creidts: Josh Harper (FB[Stage Manager]; Joanne Reich [Poster Design, Scenic Design]; Ria Parody Erlich (FB) and Sylvia Grieb [Producers]; Gavin MacLeod and Arnie Wishnick (FB[Executive Producers].

Bark! The Musical continues at Theatre Palisades (FB) through October 7, 2018. It is a cute show, and an enjoyable way to pass the evening. Tickets are available through the Theatre’s website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

October starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 A Cursed, But Great, Show | “Macbeth” at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Macbeth (Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival)A few weeks ago, we were on vacation up in Lake Tahoe. We never let a vacation stop us from our interests, and one of those interests is good theatre. So I always check the listings and see what is in the area. In this case, we were able to catch the last performance of Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB). Summer is the time for outdoor Shakespeare, and we do enjoy hitting at least one show during the summer, so this fit well. The venue itself was beautiful; I snapped the picture to the right from our original seats at the show. There are two seeing areas: formal seating on dirt rows, and less expensive seating at the top and the sides with chairs set in sand. We were in the latter.

Our location is significant because this, after all, is the Scottish Play. The curse of the play hit us before the show, while we were sitting in our seats eating the dinner we had brought. My wife took a bit of her sandwich … and got a hornet, which stung her tongue and cheek. She was worried about an allergic reaction (as was I), and I had visions of trying to get her out through the sand … whereas she was worried about a helicopter evacuation. Luckily, one of the volunteers was an RN and had Benedryl with her. This was able to damp down the reaction; they also moved us much closer to the front to the handicapped seats so they could observe her and make it easier to get out in the dark. In any case, the incident unnerved us — and let me to put off doing this writeup until I bumped into having to write up another show.

We had another show last night.

One other note on the venue. In the tickets, they advise you that it gets cold in the evening. Believe them. Even though it was hot when we arrived, as the sun went down the altitude and thinner air led it to cool off very quickly. We were glad we had brought jackets and a blanket.

So, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. Quite likely, you are familiar with the story of The Scottish King, who uses murder to achieve his position. A King who goes mad and kills his rivals. A king that sees conspiracies everywhere. A play with that famous line: “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”. I shant summarize the story as you can find it on Wikipedia.

What struck me, watching the play, was an echoing similarity to the Presidency of Donald Trump. A man who wants power. A man who wants adoration. A man who will seemingly do anything to keep that power. A man who tells a tale of sound and fury, but ultimately signifies nothing. I encourage those  familiar with the story to review it and see if they agree.

This production, which was directed by Charles Fee, was magnificent. With Shakespeare, I find that the dated language and style make it harder to get into the story at the start, but once I got into it, this presentation gripped me. There was no attempt to modernize or change the setting of the story: this was traditional Shakespeare, told in a traditional fashion. I’ll note there were a few understudy substitutions that — due to my wife’s hornet sting — I didn’t note down. There was also one player performing with what appeared to be a strained or broken ankle in a cast or boot. Live theatre, folks. The show must go on, even a cursed one.

As I’m writing this three+ weeks post show, it is a bit harder to remember the tiers of performances. But some stand out even through the mists of times.

As the Scottish Prince, the thane of Glamis, Lynn Robert Berg (FB) was spectacular. I still remember the anger and evil that radiated from him, and the power of personality that held people in his thrall. Very, well, Trump-ish. Erin Partin (FB), was not like Melanie. She portrayed the Scottish lady as the Prince’s equal in evil, someone equal in plotting, but who was literally driven mad by it.

Also strong were the three weird sisters, Sara J. Griffin (FB), Meredith Lark (FB), and Jessie Cope Miller (FB). They had a movement and style that made their performance just great .. and somewhat unworldly. Just a joy to watch.

Also sticking out in my mind for their performances (but the specifics are lost) were David Anthony Smith (FB)’s King Duncan; Jonathan Dryud (FB)’s Banquo, and Christopher Tocco (FB)’s Macduff.

Rounding out the cast (and other roles) were: Lavour Addison (FB[Ross]; Joe Atack (FB[Lennox]; Peder Benson Bate (FB[Sergeant, Murderer, Ensemble]; Remell Bowens Jr. (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Aled Davies [Seyton]; Sara J. Griffin (FB[Weird Sister, Lady Macduff]; Jeffrey C. Hawkins (FB[Malcolm]Meredith Lark (FB[Weird Sister, Gentlewoman/Lady Macbeth’s Attendant]Jessie Cope Miller (FB[Weird Sister]; Andrew Pope (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Peter Ribar (FB[Donalbain, Ensemble]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Duncan, Siward]; Mark Anthony (M.A.) Taylor (FB[Murderer, Ensemble]; Daniel Telford (FB[Young Siward, Ensemble]; and Colin Unruh [Maduff’s son, Fieance]. Understudies included the ensemble members and non-lead players, as well as Brittni Shambaugh Addison (FB), Briana Biller (FB), Adriano Cabral (FB), and Gregory J. Klino (FB) (whom I’m guessing also served as swings).

Turning to the production side: The scenic design by Russell Metheny was simple and Shakespearean, and appeared to make great use of the LTSF facility. Costumes by Kim Krumm Sorenson seemed appropriately period. The lighting design by Rick Martin I recall as being sufficient, but I think there was the occasional actor in the dark. The sound design by Matthew Webb was good during the show, but the sound used for the pre-show announcements was much weaker. Rounding out the credits were: Ken Merckx [Fight Choreography]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Text and Speech Coach]; Casey Hagwood (FB[Stage Manager]; Sarah Kelso (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]Jonathan Dryud (FB) [Fight Captain]Macbeth was a co-production of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB), the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (FB), and the Great Lakes Theatre (FB).

We caught the last summer performance of the LTSF and Macbeth at Sand Harbor. Were we back in the area, we’d look at future productions.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

This weekend brings Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 Watching a Friendship Ravel | “Merrily We Roll Along” @ 4Leaf • GPAC • Colony

Merrily We Roll Along (4Leaf/Golden Performing)When one thinks about the Second Broadway Golden Era — roughly the post-Fiddler era to the British Invasion of the 1990s, there are a few major composing teams that come to mind — teams that characterize that era. Once of these folks was Stephen Sondheim. His successes from those days are well known — shows like Sweeny Todd or Into the Woods. Other shows were only moderate successes when first performed, but have grown into legends subsequently, such as Company or Follies. Still other shows have remained problematic and are rarely produced, such as PassionsAnyone Can Whistle, or Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve had concert or revival versions of the latter two on my iPod of late, and I’ve been growing to appreciate the music, recognizing how many of the songs from these shows have gone on to a longer life, even if the show was recognized as problematic.

Enter the Colony Theatre (FB). We are former Colony subscribers. After they had a second run of financial trouble, the producing side of the company went dormant, and they focused on leasing out the space and offering classes to make the rent and to presumably keep the City of Burbank happy. The shows they have brought in have been hit or miss over the years, and we’ve skipped most of the offerings (although their guest production of Funny Girl a couple of years ago was good). But one of their guest productions this summer piqued my interest: 4Leaf Music (FB), a new producing company, together with Golden Performing Arts Center (FB), a Canoga Park-based non-profit that trains young actors, had teamed up to present Merrily We Roll Along at the Colony. As this was a Sondheim show — in particular, a Sondheim show I had only heard but never seen — plus it was one of those legendary Sondheim flops (it ran for only 52 previews and 16 performances) — I had to figure out a way to see it. Luckily, the timing worked out, and so we were back at the Colony last night for Merrily.

I must note that every time we visit the Colony venue these days I’m filled with a sense of melancholy. What was once a great company is gone. The walls once filled to the brim with years of photos of productions are now empty. The furniture pieces in the lobby, which were leftover props from past productions, are gone. A few towers with set designs from productions are all that remains. Even the artistic director, Barbara Beckley, has gone Emerita and her spirit doesn’t permeate the halls or the stage. What went wrong? Where did this company veer off course and flounder?  When was the seed of destruction sown; when did the artistic notion that propelled them go by the wayside? As I said melancholy — and looking back now, an interesting echo of the story to be told on stage. It was like, say, presenting a production of Follies in a theatre that had been long closed and was reopening just for that show before being torn down.

Which brings us to the story of Merrily We Roll Along, which featured a book by George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.  Merrily tells the story of Franklin Shepard, a producer of Hollywood movies, chasing after fame and money. As with the original play, it starts with him at the top of his fame, after multiple divorces, with his current wife learning of his affair with the leading lady in his movie, which was to have starred her, with an estrangement from his best friends, Charlie Kringas (his lyricist) and Mary Flynn (a writer and theatre critic) who helped him get started. This is in 1976. As with the original play, it then moves backward in times, showing key moments about of where it went wrong, of where he snatched seeming victory (but really defeat) from the arms of time. 1973. 1968. 1966. 1964. 1962. 1960. Finally, 1957, where we see him move in with Charlie and meet Mary for the first time. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page; the 1994 synopsis presented there reflects the show at the Colony.

Whereas the original play was a somewhat success for its time (151 performances in 1934); the first version of the musical was a failure. The staging had lots of problems. The themes — about abandoning ones dreams for commercial success — were not well received at the time, and the reverse chronological approach made the show difficult to understand. There were also some problems with the structure of the score, which were remedied to an extent in subsequent revisions and revisals, leading to the 1994 version that was performed at the Colony.

Did they succeed in fixing the problems of the show? My wife found the show ponderous. I thought it was interesting, but that the backward time structure hindered the storytelling. It forces you to start out with people who you don’t like, and over emit (time, backwards), learn what they did to make themselves unlikable, instead of learning why you like them. The backwards structure provides the 20/20 hindsight that allows the audience to think they know better by providing “aha, that’s why” moments and “oh, no, don’t do that moment”. Using conventional time would have worked better: you would see the character arcs of how the person changed with the foreshadowing. Further, the reverse nature of the story necessitated musical transitions to take the back in time with the people on stage — and these transitions slowed the narrative without adding to the story.

In short, the book remains problematic — and problematic in a way that may never be easily resolvable. This show may be the Mack and Mabel of Sondheim’s catalog: the show that got away. The show with great music that had an incurable book. As such, it will remain a piece of fascination — a piece that will be reexamined to see what went wrong, and where were the signals that were ignored.

That brings us to the 4 Leaf/GPAC production. An LA Times piece on this production makes clear why the producers chose this show, and chose to do it now:

The impetus to stage this production started about 12 years ago, when Trevor Berger [the actor playing Franklin Shepard] was in a “Merrily” production with L.A.-based Musical Theatre Guild, playing Frank’s son, Frank Jr. “I fell in love with the show,” Trevor Berger said. His father decided to mount a production, which will have a full orchestra, as the younger Berger gets ready to move to New York City. “It’s a big send-off party for him,” Rick Berger said.

Nice father.

While the performances in this show were mostly very strong, the first production nature of the show did show through at points on the production side. More on those production problems in a bit. Under the direction of Sonny James Lira (FB), who also did the choreography, the cast brought a lot of energy onto the stage. Theatrically, they did a great job of inhabiting their characters and bringing them to life. The movement was satisfactory, but at times the dance side was a bit baffling, as I couldn’t see what story or message the movement was bringing. Movement shouldn’t just be there for movement sake, it should enhance the story.

However, the performances were, for the most part, quite strong. In the lead position, as Franklin Shepard, was Trevor James Berger (★FB, FB). I was unsure about Berger at first — he didn’t have the right look of the character for me. But his performance grew on me, and by the end I quite enjoyed his performance, He had a very pleasant singing voice, and he embodied the character quite well.

I had no such questions about the other leads: Jeremy Ethan Harris (FB) as Charlie Kringas and Tori Gresham (FB) as Mary Flynn. Harris had a lovely and strong singing voice, and a strong personality that he brought to the character making him warm and likable. Later in the show, a comparison struck me between Harris and a young Richard Kind, who worked with Sondheim on Bounce, later retitled Side Show. Greshman’s Flynn was a delight. She had a wonderfully unique and strong singing voice, and her performance had elements of both Stritch and Merman. She’s an actress I hope to see on the stage again. Her performance was that strong.

In the second tier of characters, a particularly notable performance was Sarah Ryan (FB) as Beth Spencer, Frankin’s first wife. Strong performance, strong singing, good movement, good personality — and did I mention that she had a great voice. I was less taken with Renee Cohen (FB)’s Gussie Carnegie (Franklin’s second wife). There was just something off in her characterization and performance that I couldn’t put my finger upon. Technically adept, but there was a sense of “trying too hard” in either the look or the acting that missed the mark slightly. I don’t mean to imply the performance was bad — it wasn’t. But it needed something different in the characterization that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Rounding out the second tier of characters was Brian Felker (FB) as Joe Josephson, as Franklin’s producers and Gussie’s Ex, and Vince Venia as Franklin Shepard Jr. Felker gave a strong performance within the confines of his character; I particularly liked him in “Opening Doors”. Venia did what any child actor must do: look cute while believably being a character’s kid. Both worked.

This brings us to the ensemble. There are a few performances of members of the ensemble worth particularly noting:  Taylor Bass (FB) [Meg, Ensemble] was a particular standout: there was something about her look, her voice, and her performance that just drew my eye to her. Also strong was Shaunte Nickels (FB) [Scotty, Evelyn, Ensemble] — she had a very strong voice and brought a nice character to her track. I also liked the look of Ashley Knaak (FB) [TV Newswoman, Mrs. Spencer, Ensemble] and her voice, although the wardrobe her track had problems. Rounding out the ensemble (named roles indicated) was: Logan Allison (FB) [Terry, TV Newsman, Mr. Spencer], Riley Boronkey (FB) [Dory, Jerome], Aaron Camitses (FB) [Make Up Artist, Photographer], Donna Kim (FB) [KT], Josiah Lucas (FB) [Tyler, Judge], and Christopher J. Thume (FB) [Ru, Minister].

[A side note to the young actors in this production: If you notice, I attempt to link to your actor page — this is to help people find you if they like your performance. Most of you didn’t have such pages. Get them. Create yourself a web page, and remember to keep your domain registration paid. Create a resume on Backstage or an equivalent site. Enter your credits at abouttheartists.com. Link your page to your Facebook. Make sure the pages you want come up if someone searches your name + “actor”. This is to help people who like your performance find you for future performances.]

Music was provided by a live orchestra, under the musical direction of Jan Roper (FB) [Conductor, Keyboards]. In addition to Roper, the orchestra consisted of Ann Kerr [Woodwinds], Peter Miller [Woodwinds], Anne King (FB[Trumpet], Andrew Lippman (FB[Trombone], Christian Klikovits (FB[Synthesizer], Steve Billman (FB[Bass], and Alan Peck [Drums / Percussion].

This brings us to the remaining production aspects of the show, which is where most of the problems revealed themselves. Effy Yang (FB)’s set design was simple — perhaps too simple — consisting of a number of movable platformy-stagey things and simple projections that were drowned out by the lighting. Two problems here. First, the stage pieces didn’t convey that much of a sense of place, so it was difficult to distinguish where something was happening. The projections didn’t help all that much in that regard; they also had some jerky motions that served to distract. The sense of place — and more importantly, time — can also be conveyed through the costume design, and the hair and makeup design. This was the second place that was problematic. Michael Mullen (FB)’s Costume Design was sometimes period-right and sometimes period-wrong, and it was often paired with the wrong hairstyle for the period, providing chronic-dissonance. There were also distracting costume failures (my wife noted a seam on a suit), odd gaps, and outfits that appeared to be too tight or misfitted. Some of this might come with the financial constraints of a production such as this for a new company, but they remained distractions from the show. Even if you must compromise, you must do so in a way that doesn’t unduly distract the audience. Slightly less problematic was the Zachary Titterington (FB)’s lighting design. Here, the problem was that the occasional actor on the side of the stage was not lit, so they were performing in darkness. Not in darkness, however, were the upper wings. The orchestra, of course, can’t be dark, but the curtain can be adjusted to minimize their operating lights. On the stage left upper wing, there was no reason for the work light to be on when the actors weren’t up there. Again — distractions. Rounding out the production team was Riley Boronkey (FB) [Asst. Choreographer]Manichanh Kham (FB[Stage Manager]. Rounding out the creative credits: Jonathan Tunick [Original Orchestrations]; Harold Prince [Original Direction].

There is one more weekend of performance of 4 Leaf/GPAC’s Merrily We Roll Along. Tickets are available through Brown Paper TIckets. Although there are some flaws on the production side, and the book of the show remains problematic, the energy and enthusiasm of these performers does elevate the production and makes this rarer show worth seeing.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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Absurd in San Jose | “Adrift in Macao” @ Tabard Theatre

Adrift in Macao (Tabard)How far would you travel you travel for theatre (excluding, of course, those silly enough to fly all the way to New York City)? For us, pretty far. We’ve gone 62 miles to the  Chance Theatre (FB) in the Hills of Anaheim. We’ve gone 155 miles to see shows at theatres like  the Cygnet Theatre (FB) or the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego. This weekend? We drove 328 miles to see Adrift in Macao at the Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose.

I first learned about Adrift in Macao when I got the NEO: New, Emerging, Outstanding Musicals album back in 2007; I subsequently got the Off-Broadway cast album in 2011. I fell in love with the score: it was absurd and self-referential, and sounded quite interesting. So (as I am wont to do) waited for a production in Los Angeles. And waited. And waited. In 2014, I was visiting my daughter at UC Berkeley and was looking for interesting theatre, and found a production of The Immigrant at a small company, the Tabard Theatre Company (FB), in San Jose. It blew me away, and I joined their mailing list. When I learned they were doing Adrift in Macao as part of the their 2017-2018 season, I started to make plans — we ended up building a mini-vacation to see friends around the show (their 2018-2019 season isn’t bad either, and we’re thinking about coming up for Queen of the Mist).

Adrift in Macao was written by Christopher Durang, well known for comedies such as Sister Mary Ignatious Explains It All or Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. In this comedy, he builds a musical about parodying all the detective film-noir conventions. What are these conventions, you ask? Quoting from the afore-linked site:

The primary moods of classic film noir were melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia.

Heroes (or anti-heroes), corrupt characters and villains included down-and-out, conflicted hard-boiled detectives or private eyes, cops, gangsters, government agents, a lone wolf, socio-paths or killers, crooks, war veterans, politicians, petty criminals, murderers, or just plain Joes. These protagonists were often morally-ambiguous low-lifes from the dark and gloomy underworld of violent crime and corruption. Distinctively, they were cynical, tarnished, obsessive (sexual or otherwise), brooding, menacing, sinister, sardonic, disillusioned, frightened and insecure loners (usually men), struggling to survive – and in the end, ultimately losing.

Storylines were often elliptical, non-linear and twisting. Narratives were frequently complex, maze-like and convoluted, and typically told with foreboding background music, flashbacks (or a series of flashbacks), witty, razor-sharp and acerbic dialogue, and/or reflective and confessional, first-person voice-over narration. Amnesia suffered by the protagonist was a common plot device, as was the downfall of an innocent Everyman who fell victim to temptation or was framed. Revelations regarding the hero were made to explain/justify the hero’s own cynical perspective on life.

Ripe stuff for a parody, right? The music was by Peter Melnick, grandson of Richard Rodgers, composer of The Last Smoker in America, and numerous film scores.

The story? Well, it was about that classic film-noir quest … the search for a McGuffin. This is defined by Wikipedia as “a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The MacGuffin’s importance to the plot is not the object itself, but rather its effect on the characters and their motivations. The most common type of MacGuffin is a person, place, or thing (such as money or an object of value).”

In the case of Adrift in Macao, our McGuffin is literally a Mr. McGuffin, whom nobody knows what he looks like, but everyone is scared of him. Enter Lureena Jones, who has been left with no money, no job, and only a slinky dress in Macao. She tries to hail a rickshaw, but instead hails Rick Shaw, owner of a seedy nightclub (yes, that is the level of jokes and absurdity in this).  She talks him into hiring her as a nightclub singer. This pisses off the current nightclub singer, Corinna, who takes solace in her opium addiction. Into the nightclub comes Mitch, a downtrodden detective, accused of a murder he didn’t commit (he took the fall for McGuffin’s deed). He’s trying to find McGuffin to clear his name. He inquires of the bartender, Joe, and the Chinese worker, Tempura, to find Shaw in order to find McGuffin. You can guess how the story goes from there, with mistaken identities, stereotypical portrayals suitable for 1952 (the year of the movie), and a little support from the cigarette girl, Daisy.

The production is filled with references to noir films from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as non-noir dramas and mysteries. I’m sure there are references that I missed, but I did pick up on quite a few.

When I listened to the music, I found it absurd. Multiple songs to the same underlying tune, used for great comic effect. Watching the show unfold, I’m pleased to note that it was even more absurd than the music. I was laughing and smiling throughout. I was hearing numerous laughs from the friends we had brought with us to introduce them to the theatre. That’s not to say this is a deep or meaningful show in any way. It isn’t. It is silly and absurd. The plot is a McGuffin. It is self-referential. It used words it doesn’t even know the meaning of. But it is fun. Sometimes, you go to the theatre to have fun, and I think that was the concensus of our group.

Adrift in Macao - Cast PhotosThere were some problems at our show, all primarily technical. I’ll cover those later. However, performance-wise, it was great. Director Doug Baird (FB) is sufficiently familiar with the film noir conventions that he was able to work with his ensemble to bring them out in the performances in a hilarious fashion. This was augmented by the choreography of Jennifer Gorgulho (FB), which fit well into the film noir and various other styles (mambo) called for in this show.

In the lead positions were Alicia Teeter (FB) as Lureena Jones and Tim Reynolds (FB) as Mitch. Both had lovely voices, which start the show out strongly in the numbers “In a Foreign City (in a Slinky Dress)” and “In a Foreign City (in a Grumpy Mood)”. They capture the noir aspects of their characters well, and were just a delight to watch. Very, very funny and (as appropriate) very very deadpan.

Playing counter to the leads were Cami Jackson (FB) as Corinna and Derek DeMarco (FB) as Rick Shaw. Jackson had a lovely voice and style, and played well against her Teeter as her foil. About the only complaint is that the two had similar looks, and potentially a wig should have been used with one of them to provide more distinction. But that’s a minor quibble for what otherwise was an excellent performance with great comic timing, good dance, and a lovely voice on numbers like “Mambo Malaysian” or “Adrift in Macao”. DeMarco’s character has fewer numbers, although he shines in “Rick’s Song” and has great chemistry with Jackson’s Corinna (which is no surprise, as he is her real life fiancee).

Perhaps the most problematic character in the show is the funniest as well: Joshua Lau (FB)’s Tempura. As written, this character is over-the-top stereotypical movie oriental, with all the problematic dropping of r’s, and inscrutability. But the writing makes clear that this is intentional tongue-in-cheek — this is 1952, and it is how Asians were written then. That doesn’t make it right or less offensive, but it does put it into the context of the show and of film noir — which was at its very nature both stereotypical, mysogynistic, and offensive in portrayals. By doing so, I think it was highlighting how those portrayals were absurd and wrong. Lau plays with this to the hilt, and seems to be having a lot of fun with it. He sings well in numbers like “Tempura’s Song” and the closing “Ticky, Ticky Tock” number, and is quite funny.

Rounding out the cast in supporting ensemble roles as well as the indicated named roles were Emily Schmeichel-Frank (FB) as Daisy, the cigarette girl/waitress and Patrick Kelleher as Joe, the bartender (at some performances, Joe is played by Hank Lawson (FB)). Schmeichel-Frank draws the eye and is fun to watch when she is on-stage, and Kelleher (at our performance) had some great comic moments, and they moved well in their ensemble background numbers.

Music was provided by an off-stage (behind a screen) five piece band, under the musical direction of Samuel Cisneros (FB), who also played keyboards. The remainder of the band consisted of Doug Forsyth (FB) [Keyboard 2]; Ron Bowman (FB) [Reeds]; Jerald Bittle (FB) [Drums]; and Linda Jansen (FB) [Bass].

Turning to the production side of the equation, starting with what worked. There is no program credit for scenic or set design; presumably, the director did that. Tabard has a quarter to third round stage, and this was designed with an oriental symbol in the center (with the band behind it), a bar space, and some table space, with some dancing space front and center. This worked, although the bead curtains to off-stage were a little noisy. The design was supported by Miranda Whipple (FB)’s props, which worked well. Mood and date was provided more by Melissa Sanchez (FB)’s costumes, assisted by Marilyn Watts (FB); there was no credit for hair or makeup. The costume designs seemed reasonably period, but I’m no expert in that area.

Now for what was more problematic…. The sound design by John DiLoreto (FB) was great at some points (particularly the directionality of the sound during the hunt for McGuffin), but there were other times where actors drifted in and out of amplification. This could have been a board problem, but the sound designer is responsible for training the board operator. Similarly, Nick Nichols (FB) lighting design mostly work, but there were times performers were singing in the dark (meaning spot or position failures). Lastly, the bigggest flaw belonged to Technical Director Rover Spotts (FB): when the time came for the sing-along at the end (of “Ticky Ticky Tock”), the projection design wasn’t ready — they had to play catch up with opening and starting the presentation, and then the presentation was just words. It did add to the humor, but that wasn’t intentional.

Rounding out the production credits: Charlynn Knighton (FB) [Production Manager]; Robert Lewis (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager, Board Operator]; Cathy Spielberger Cassetta (FB) [Producer]; Barbara Reynolds (FB) [Program Layout]. Speaking of programs: As this is a regional theatre out of a traditional theatre city (LA, NYC), most of the actors and the production team did not have professional bios online (there were perhaps two), and being Silicon Valley, many folks are smart and don’t have FB. But luckily, Tabard puts its program online so you can read the credits.

There is one weekend left for Adrift in Macao. You can get tickets through the Theatre’s website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The next event at Tabard is on May 10th at 7:00 PM, when the Tabard Theatre Company will celebrate its 10th year of being the resident and managing theatre company of Theatre on San Pedro Square. Information and tickets to this free event are available online. The next show will be a production of Love Letters, running June 8 – 24. The first show of their new season, Another Roll of the Dice, starts September 14th. This is the West Coast premiere, thanks to the death of the Colony Theatre (FB) which was about to produce the show when it informed subscribers that it was going belly up on hiatus for an indefinite period.

As a side note: I was surprised at how many theatres there were in DTSJ – Downtown San Jose. Within walking distance of Tabard were: Broadway San Jose at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts; the Montgomery Theatre, which also includes the City National Civic, the Center for the Performing Arts, and the California Theatre — all withing walking distance.  Those are the largest; next on the size scale is the Hammer Theatre at SJSC, also managed by the city, and the Trianon Theatre. Going smaller, there’s the San Jose Stage Company, which looked to have a great season, and  the City Lights Theatre Company. For someone used to LA theatre, seeing this concentration of theatres demonstrates that although the South Bay may have worse drivers than Los Angeles, it has a great theatrical community.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open.

June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). I’ve begun planning my scheduling using the HFF18 information, and it looks like we’ll be seeing 19-20 shows over the weekends in June. More on that when the schedule finalizes. Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out.

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, with Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season – 5-Star Theatricals, Theatreworks, and a little bit more

It’s season announcement time, and I’ve gotten a few more in the mail. What am I interested in and what will I attend? What should you consider? Read on, McDuff!

🎭 5 Star Theatricals (FB) 🎭

This is the company that was formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre. They operate out of a large regional theatre in Thousand Oaks, doing locally-cast musicals with a mix of Equity performers, non-Equity professionals, and up and coming artists. They have announced three shows for the 2018-2019 season (currently remaining in the 2017-0218 season are The Hunchback of Notre Dame (April 20-29) and Beauty and the Beast (July 20-29)):

  • Shrek. 👍 Oct. 19-28, 2018. This is the first time 5-Star/Cabrillo is doing Shrek (Music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire), although it has been done regionally before (notably at Simi ARTS back in 2014). We last saw this back in 2009 at the Pantages; it should be nice to see a good regional production of the show.
  • Matilda the Musical 👍 March 22-31, 2019. Book by Dennis Kelly and Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin (FB) based on the novel by Roald Dahl (FB). This is the regional theatre premier for the region. We last saw this back in 2015 at the Ahmanson.  5-Star should do a good job with this.
  • West Side Story. 👍 July 26-Aug. 4, 2018. A classic show, with score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Very appropriate in this year celebrating Leonard Bernstein. We last saw it at Cabrillo back in 2004.

We should be renewing our subscription when the packet arrives.

 🎭 Silicon Valley Theatreworks (FB) 🎭

I recently received the announcement of Theatreworks next season. Theatreworks is in the San Jose/Palo Alto area, about 300 miles away, but for the right show I might drive up, plus I have friends who live in that area. Here is their next season:

  • HOLD THESE TRUTHS. By Jeanne Sakata. REGIONAL PREMIERE. Palo Alto: July 11–Aug 5, 2018. An unsung American hero, Gordon Hirabayashi, fought passionately for the Constitution against an unexpected adversary: his own country. During World War II, he refused to report to a relocation camp with thousands of families of Japanese descent, launching a 50-year journey from college to courtroom, and eventually to a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • NATIVE GARDENS. By Karen Zacarias. REGIONAL PREMIERE.  Mountain View: Aug 22–Sept 16, 2018. In this cutting edge suburban comedy from America’s hottest new playwright, gardens and cultures clash, turning well-intentioned neighbors into ecological adversaries. When an up-and-coming Latino couple purchases a home beside the prize-winning garden of a prominent Washington D.C. family, conflicts over fences and flora spiral into an uproarious clash of cultures, exposing both couples’ notions of race, taste, class, and privilege.
  • FUN HOME. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron.  Mountain View: Oct 3–28, 2018. [They don’t say it, but I think this is a premiere at the regional level.]  Welcome to Fun Home, the blazingly honest memoir of Alison, a graphic novelist exploring her youth in a loving, dysfunctional family whose secrets of sexual identity echo her own. Winner of every Best Musical award of 2015, this tragicomic tale is told with enormous emotion and sensitivity, its haunting yet amusing score illuminating one of the most extraordinary and original musicals of our times.
  • TUCK EVERLASTING. Book by Claudia Shear & Tim Federle. Music by Chris Miller. Lyrics by Nathan Tysen. REGIONAL PREMIERE. Palo Alto: Nov 28–Dec 23, 2018. An enchanting bestseller springs to life in this 1890s tale of Winnie Foster, a free-spirited girl whose search for adventure leads to the Tucks, a close-knit family that has discovered the secret to everlasting life. With a rousing score and a wealth of warm-hearted humor, this whimsical Broadway musical offers Winnie the choice of a lifetime: return to everyday life, or join the Tucks on their infinite, irreversible voyage through time.
  • FROST/NIXON. By Peter Morgan. Mountain View: Jan 16–Feb 10, 2019. Richard Nixon has resigned. David Frost has been canceled. With America caught in the riptides of Watergate and Vietnam, the former leader of the free world and the lightweight British talk-show host clash in a legendary series of TV interviews that will determine the President’s legacy forever. In a riveting political prizefight unseen again until today, the cameras roll, the truth spins, and it becomes clear that he who controls the medium controls the message.
  • MARIE AND ROSETTA. By George Brant. WEST COAST PREMIERE. Palo Alto: March 6–31, 2019. Stirring churches in the morning and the Cotton Club at night, Sister Rosetta Tharpe became a musical legend. With competition growing on the 1940s Gospel Circuit, she auditions a new partner, a beauty with a voice made in heaven. Will they blend, break, or find harmony at last? Don’t miss this roof-raising musical hit from our New Works Festival, the saga of the woman who inspired Elvis, Ray Charles, and more on her way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Hershey Felder: A PARIS LOVE STORY. Featuring the music of Claude Debussy. Written and Performed by Hershey Felder. WORLD PREMIERE. Mountain View: April 3–28, 2019. Virtuoso Hershey Felder takes us on his own personal journey as he explores the life and music of Impressionist composer Claude Debussy. For decades Felder’s “Great Composer Series” has celebrated the brilliance of Beethoven, Berlin, Tchaikovsky, and more. In this glorious series finale, he brings to life a visionary who proclaimed nature his religion and romance his milieu, creating music of ravishing beauty, color, and compassion. From the sweeping La mer and evocative L’après-midi d’un faune to the mystical Clair de lune, this soaring tribute will never be forgotten.
  • ARCHDUKE. By Rajiv Joseph. NORTHERN CALIFORNIA PREMIERE. Mountain View: June 5–30, 2019. Can one man, one moment, derail a century? Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph explores the present by focusing on the past: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, 1914—the flash that ignited World War I. On a darkly comic quest for immortality, three hapless insurgents prove that little has changed from then to now. This New Works Festival sensation is from the author of Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

An excellent season. If I lived in Northern California, I’d subscribe both to TheatreWorks and to Tabard, whose season I already mentioned in my review of A Walk in the Woods:

  • The Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose has an interesting season coming up: Another Roll of the Dice / Sep 14 – Oct 7, 2018; The Explorer’s Club / Oct 26 – Nov 18, 2018; Uptown Holiday Swing / Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2018; Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook (featuring songs from the Stephen Schwartz catalog)/ Jan 11 – Feb 3, 2019; Beau Jest / Feb 15 – Mar 10, 2019; and Queen of the Mist / Apr 5-28, 2019.  If they weren’t 300 miles away, we’d consider subscribing; still, we may drive up for Queen of the Mist. If you’re in the southern Bay Area, you should consider subscribing in our stead.

Looking at the TheatreWorks season, I’m really interested in Tuck Everlasting. This failed on Broadway, so it is unlikely that Los Angeles will see a tour. This means I’m dependent on a theatre company down here to do it, which isn’t that likely given our companies (I could see Chance giving it a try, or MTW. But anyone else? It might be a while). Yet I loved the music and the premise of the show. That might make it worth the drive for either Thanksgiving weekend or after the ACSAC conference.

 🎭  Chromolume Theatre (FB) 🎭

Chromolume just announced their Hollywood Fringe Festival production, and I’m excited. Here’s what they wrote:

We are happy to announce that our 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival production will be the one-act musical, The Story of My Life! We are also excited to announce we will be performing at the The Hobgoblin Playhouse. We are excited to bring this story to you…coming in June! Click on the link below to find out more!

http://crtheatre.com/story.html

And for those of you who don’t know, if you purchase your season subscription before our current production ends, you will get free tickets to see this production!

We last saw Story of My Life back in 2009, right after the death of our dear friend Lauren. The story touched me in special ways; it is just a beautiful and meaningful show. Here’s one verse from a song in the show:

“You’re a butterfly my friend,
Powerful and strong
And I’m grateful for the way
You’ve always hurried me along.
When you flap your wings to stretch yourself
It might seem small to you
But you change the world
With everything you do.”

I’m really, really, excited for this show. We’re season subscribers. You should subscribe as well: $60 for Dessa RoseJane Eyre The Musical, and Sondheim’s Passion, as well as the Fringe show. Support a wonderful small theatre.

 🎭  Ahmanson Theatre (FB 🎭

Lastly, an update on the Ahmanson. They’ve been announcing their season in pieces, with the first chunk here, with an additional show I discussed with the Pantages season. There are two shows left to announce, and when I asked, CTG replied:

So, in two weeks, I hopefully should be able to make the final subscription (and see if I got my predictions right).

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Dreams and Denim | “Levi! A New Musical” @ LACC Camino Theatre

I monitor all sorts of theatre related feeds, one of which is the feed of Bruce Kimmel (FB). Kimmel was the guy (literally, the Guy) behind the Lost in Boston series, numerous theatrical record labels including his current Kritzerland, and one of my favorite Off-Broadway musicals, It Came From Planet X. We have seen many of Bruce’s shows — mostly at the LA City College Theatre Academy (FB) — and they have always been enjoyable. When Bruce indicated he was doing a Indiegogo to help mount an new Sherman Bros musical, I was intrigued. The Sherman BrothersRichard M. and Robert B. (who died in 2012) — were the musical team behind many of the Disney musicals and music of the 60s and 70s. This musical had the potential to be very interesting, and so I signed up for the Indiegogo at a level that would get me tickets, and waited for it to be funded so I could schedule a date.

That date turned out to be at a very busy time — as I was getting ready for ACSAC. Given that the show was dark for Thanksgiving weekend, there was only one possible date: the evening before we flew off to Orlando. So guess where we were Friday night, after packing all day? That’s right: we braved the traffic on the 118 and the 101 to get to LA CC for the penultimate performances of Levi!

Levi!, which features a book by Larry Cohen (see also here) and Janelle Webb Cohen, purports to be a biomusical about Levi Strauss. It begins as Levi is coming to America with his friend, August. Levi makes it in but August does. Going to his family in New York, he starts life as a peddler in New York. Soon, gold is discovered in California, and his family sends him to San Francisco to represent the family business there. On the ship, he meets a fellow immigrant, Sarah Zimmerman, with whom he falls in loves. That hope gets destroyed when he learns that she is engages to Aaron Goodman. Levi arrives in San Francisco, losing the girl and most of his dry goods to businessmen who convinced him to sell it to them for 3x the value. All he is left with is worthless blue sailcloth canvas.

That’s Act I. Act II continues the story with Levi going to the mining camp, and while saving some Chinese workers, discovering that the world — especially miners — need strong pants. A fellow miner comes up with the idea to rivet them, and the “Waist Overalls” are born. Soon Levi has factories all over, with his factory in San Francisco employing Chinese workers at the same wages as the white workers. This upsets the classed folk in San Francisco, and there are riots over the Chinese Exclusion Act. Meanwhile, one of the Chinese girls has fallen in love with Levi, but he doesn’t follow up on it. The riots force Levi to send his Chinese workers to Chicago. He never gets the girl, although at the end of the show he does bring over August’s family, whom it is implied will succeed him at the factory.

Note: After this write up was posted, the producer, Bruce Kimmel (FB), commented with some corrections to what I wrote. I have interpolated his comments in this style. Additional thoughts, if any, follow his comments.

We walked out of the show thinking it had a lot of promise. It did what a good bio-show should do: It made me want to research the person around whom the story was constructed. It had a great musical and singing, and strong performances. But work was needed. The Chinese immigrant portions of the story had aspects that could be viewed as cultural insensitivity, especially as they were written by non-Chinese folks. A good Asian dramaturg was needed to ensure those aspects were handed with the right sensitivity and accuracy.

Bruce noted: “very incorrect about the Chinese – that is all factual – he not only employed them he helped them, and when the burning of Chinatown happened, he protected them and then sent them to Chicago – he gave in to the pressure from the bullies and for years his San Francisco sign said, “Made by all white labor.” “. He also noted: “I was also heartened that not one person in our audience had a problem with the way the Chinese characters were presented because believe it or not sometimes audiences understand context. We didn’t need an Asian dramaturg because the writers, myself, and our actors are all sensitive people, but also people who understand history – and we’re not going to change history to make everyone who can’t deal with it comfortable, because the way it was is the way it was. Certainly our Asian actors had no problems and happily embraced their roles. No art will ever survive if we can only look at it through the lens of today.

While I understand what Bruce is saying — and I do agree that we shouldn’t always look at things through the lens of today’s sensitivities — I do think there will be some who will be bothered by this. I hope that isn’t the case, but fear it may be. I still remember many years ago by people being upset at the phrase “Chinese Fire Drill” in reference to the production of Heartbeats at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I have a number of friends that are oversensitive to cultural appropriation and such. All shows can use improvement, so this may be one area to tweak as the production matures. The issue is not changing history; the issue is adjusting the presentation to not fall into stereotypes or problematic tropes, and to ensure it is accepted by all audiences and doesn’t serve to distract them from the rest of the show.

Some songs were clearly Disney-style; “Opportunity!” could fit into the Carousel of Progress any day. The show was saddled with what I call the Mack and Mabel problem: you want the hero of the story to get their dream family and career, but that is dashed on the rocks of reality. Same problem here: Strauss never got the wife and family he wanted. How do you make that ending upbeat. All of these are book problems — and were probably one reason why after the initial readings of the show many many years ago, it was shelved. But they can be worked out — they were not insurmountable.

Bruce clarified this last point a bit: “Your supposition that this show stayed unproduced because of the readings many, many years ago – no. This show had not ONE reading anywhere. History again. In 1979, when they wrote this, readings for new musicals were not commonplace, nor were workshops, labs, and whatever else they seem to call these things these days. In fact, the first show to ever have what became known as a workshop was A Chorus Line and it remained the only show to do so until its director did Ballroom and then Dreamgirls. The show stayed unproduced because its book was not producible back then, which they would have found out had they done a reading. It was too unwieldy, too big, too sprawling, too unfocused, and written more like a film than a show. With Larry Cohen’s blessing, I completely revised the script, cutting all the fat, rewriting stuff that needed it, but always in his style and with his humor. When we did a reading of the revised book, Larry and Richard Sherman were both over the moon about it, as was our cast, and eventually as were our audiences. In fact, the comments I got, which were many every night, were all about how strong the book was and how it was so lovely to have a musical in which you actually care about the characters.

I’m glad to learn that wasn’t the reason the show wasn’t initially produced. I did like the book of the show and the characters (and I felt the same way about Mack and Mabel when I saw it at the LACLO); it’s just that the ending you hope for doesn’t materialize. That was handled the best way it could in this book, but it still leaves a twinge of disappointment. I do think audiences today can handle that better — which is why I didn’t believe that to be insurmountable.

Alas, when I got home, I discovered there may be an insurmountable problem that will prevent this story from going on. It certainly soured me on the story aspect (not the performances or the music, mind you). It is a problem I lay solely at the feed of the book writers, one of whom may have had a political agenda.

Simply put: The story itself is 98% fabrication. Based on my research (also here, here, here, here, here, and here) the only true aspects were Strauss immigrating from Bavaria, landing in New York, eventually going west, selling “Waist Overalls”, and never marrying. There is no evidence of a friend named August who tried to come over with Strauss; he actually immigrated with his mother and sisters. Strauss went to Louisville KY to sell dry goods after New York before being sent to San Francisco. Already in San Francisco was his sister Fanny, who moved there from St. Louis. There was no Sarah Zimmerman, nor did her husband Aaron Goodman exist and go on to the US Senate. Levi didn’t invent the Waist Overalls in the gold mining camps, nor did the idea for the rivets come from a fellow miner. Rather, Strauss was already making the pants, and one of his merchandisers, Jacob Davis, came up with the idea for the rivets and sent it to Strauss, and the two patented the idea. There is no evidence of the Chinese workers that I could find, other than Levi Strauss and Company getting into hot water for mistreatment of Chinese workers in the 90s — and that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s of this story.  Strauss ends up not leaving the country to August’s kids, but to the family of his sister Fanny. Further, it appears that in order to obtain any historical photos from the company, they have to vet the story and authorize that it is correct.

Bruce corrected this a bit: “Just to set the record straight, while of course a story had to be created for this particular show, Larry Cohen based most of it on research he did. And I’m happy to tell you the historian from the Levi Strauss company came and really enjoyed the show – yes, she knew it had fiction, but overall she was happy with they way it was presented and the light it showed Levi Strauss in. Very happy.” He also noted: “our show does not take place in the 1890s it begins in 1840 and ends twenty-five to thirty years later, nor does this show ever state or even imply who he left the company to, as he’s very much alive at the end of the show.” Lastly, he noted: “But you can’t just put history onstage, the real history – nobody does that, ever. You have to make a story that audiences will respond to and Larry did that very well, I think.

As I noted when I first wrote this up: It did what a good bio-show should do: It made me want to research the person around whom the story was constructed. That’s where I discovered the portions of the story that were fabricated, and that’s where I couldn’t find articles on the internet that corroborated what I really, really, wanted to be true — because the story they put on stage was such a good story. Perhaps this could be handled best by managing expectation: Providing something in future programs (1 page) that acknowledges some changes were made in the story for stage purposes, and perhaps even identifying them and acknowledging the reality. Seeing the reviews saving the new movie The Greatest Showman for not presenting the bad slides of the life of P. T. Barnum, while the story seemingly told had as much hiding of reality as Cy Coleman’s musical Barnum did, demonstrates that today some segments want no historical whitewash.  I recall similar problems after Finding Neverland. So you acknowledge the differences, and move on.

So that uplifting book? A fabrication, and one that the Levi Strauss company would likely get upset about would this make it to Broadway. The book, in this form, is DOA. That does’t mean the songs — or at least most of them — couldn’t be salvaged into a realistic story. Some new songs would have to be written, and with half of the musical writing team deceased, that might be difficult. Kimmel could partnership with Richard to complete and rework the songs — he shares writing credits on one song in the show already. But a lot of rework is required to get this show to a Broadway-ready form.

Update: After reading Bruce’s comments, the above paragraph is too harsh. I still think some tweaking might be required as this moves along its life-path… but I no long believe it is DOA in its current form, or that a significant amount of rework is required.

Which is sad, in many ways, because there is so much potential here. The opening number of the show, and the main theme of the show — Opportunity! The Streets are Paved with Gold — captures the immigrant Jewish experience quite well. It captures the promise and the reality. A few other shows have touched upon this — Rags and Ragtime most notably — but it is a great subject to tackle. The story of Strauss’ start in the west is a good one, minus the unnecessary Chinese subplot. But any bio-story needs to be historically correct (or at least 80%), and there just may not be the right protagonist for this story to make it survive for the two acts and all the songs it needs to motivate.

Lastly, Bruce noted in his comments: “We all have high hopes for the show and the fact is eight theaters have already contacted me about doing it.

I do to. I hope the show goes on to a long life — I saw loads of potential in it. Reading Bruce’s comments and responses makes it clear the show may not have all the problems I saw — and that’s a good thing. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, is that if one audience member sees something someway, others will see it that way — even if that wasn’t the producer’s intent, and even if others in the audience don’t have the same reaction. As in the acquisition world in which I work, the program office (that is, the producer), must decide the level of risk that is acceptable to them, and may choose to mitigate that risk. This was the first production of a show, and for a first production, it was 90% there if not more (and much better than many other first productions I’ve seen and still wish would reappear in a final form — I still remember Les Jazz at the Taper, and Mask and Dangerous Visions at the Pasadena Playhouse, as examples). But if I saw something — even if I interpreted it wrong — then others may as well. If small tweaks can address those issues — either through book or presentation changes — to make the show even stronger, as with software, earlier is the time to do them. If one reads histories on musicals — especially musicals that might eventually make, shall we say, “The Big Time” — is that they grow and adjust from production to production along the way. They aren’t frozen at the beginning.  My intent — as I do in my real world job — is to identify potential risk. It is the job of others to determine the likelihood of that risk, and make any necessary mitigations.

As for the songs themselves: they are (for the most part) enjoyable and peppy, and classic Sherman Brothers songs. This show needs a cast album to preserve the music and these performances. Kimmel has the ability to do so and has done so in the past, and even given my problems with the book, I’d participate in an Indiegogo for that album. Some of the songs are great — especially the opening number and the repeated theme, the “Business is Business” number, the “Pay Dirt” number and its audio choreography. Even the touching ballad that Kimmel helped complete, “So many Empty Rooms”, is really good. A few songs are on the culturally problematic side — “Like a Man” has that problem (as well as the comparisons to Mulan), or “Great American Friend” or “Dream I Must Not Dream”.  Absent those songs, the ones here are great (although perhaps a tad too Disney — and I’m writing this walking distance from Disney Orlando, so I know).  The one other concern I had song-wise was whether this show was too much in the “old-style” musical style of musicals from the 1960s and 1970s. Broadway musicals have seen a seismic shift in how the songs connect with the material (think Hamilton or Dear Even Hansen), and the style here just feels barely old-school.

Bruce noted: “One thing I love about it is the very thing you have a problem with: It’s very old-fashioned in its construction and feel. There is a reason Hello, Dolly! a big, old-fashioned musical is a huge hit on Broadway right now. There is a reason why Bart Sher’s productions of South Pacific and The King and I did well – big, old-fashioned musicals. Nothing like ’em. 🙂

I’d agree, to an extent, although Hello DollySouth Pacific, and King and I also were classic era successes to begin with, not new shows. Other new shows that have had the old-fashioned feel haven’t had the same success — even though I might personally have loved the music and the books (Young Frankenstein, Addams Family, and Big Fish are examples here, although they’ve had a long production lives after Broadway). Others, luckily, have hit with the audience in spite of being old fashioned in construction and having slight book problems as perceived by reviewers (Wicked is an example here). So I think the concern remains. The show will be a hit for the audience looking for an old-style show. The plot elements may allow it to connect with the audiences looking for meaning, but will that be enough to overcome the older musical stylings — that’s the question I can’t answer.

PS: If you want to hear the music from this, Bruce’s label, Kritzerland, is doing a limited run pressing of the cast album. I encourage you to order and give it a listen.

So, summarizing what we have so far: Book and Music-wise, this show has lots of promise and many wonderful songs. However, there are some structural and content problems at the heart that would require significant rework [Edited: could use a little tweaking] if this show was to succeed about this this subject, in these days, in a larger venue and lifespan (i.e., a Broadway mounting).

So, setting book aside, how was the execution of the show. Here I’m pleased to say that it was top-notch; something I’ve come to expect and enjoy when Bruce Kimmel (FB) is at the helm as director and  Kay Cole is on-board as Choreographer. This team works well together, and takes the time and care to bring out great performances from the actors. In this case, most of the actors were students at LACC, but you would never know it from the quality of their performances. The choreography was also great — especially in the “Pay Dirt” number. The show was simply enjoyable to watch owning to the hard work of the actors and the directorial and choreographic teams. The actors were having the time of their life on the stage, and it was reflected and amplified by the audience. So kudos to the team for this.

In the lead position was Marc Ginsberg (FB), the sole Equity actor, as Levi Strauss. He was a delight to watch. He had a singing voice that I really enjoyed (particularly in the opening number, “Seven Beautiful Children”, and “Look How It Adds Up”), a great stage presence, a personality that came through in his performance, and just an affable way of relating to the other actors that made the show great. If the show were still running, I’d advise you to go see it just to see his remarkable performance.

Most of the rest of the performers were either students in the LACC Theatre Academy, or alumni of the Theatre Academy. The quality of their performances were remarkable. There are a few sets of named performers, and then I’ll get to the ensemble players.

As Sarah Zimmerman, Rachel Frost (FB) had most of her scenes on the boat between New York and San Francisco, with a few more in San Francisco. She interacted well with Ginsberg’s Strauss, and had some beautiful numbers in “We Know Why”, “Happy Love”, and”So Many Empty Rooms”. She had a lovely singing voice.

The two young kids — Scotty Vibe (FB) [Jacob] and Hadley Belle Miller (FB) [Young Girl] were… cute. But I also noted their performances, and how they played with their characters even when it was clear they were on-stage primarily for the “ahh, cute” factors. They were acting, and they were doing a great job of it.

The Chinese contingent — Tristen Kim (FB) [Han Chow], and his three “wards” Prisca Kim (FB) [Su Lin]; Eliza Kim (FB) [Tim Sang]; and Brianna Saranchock (FB) [Tam Lee, Immigrant, Woman, Miner] — were interesting to watch. Problematic characters in a cultural-sensitivity sense, they had good comic timing in “Like a Man” and the surrounding scene, and Prisca Kim did a delightful job with her solo “The Dream I Must Not Dream”. Note that I was also taken by her performance in Kimmel’s previous LA: Then and Now. The problem with these characters is how to integrate the performance without having it drop into the stereotypical or formulaic.

Jesse Trout (FB) [Howard, Miner, Official] and Connor Clark Pascale (FB) [Stafford] are perhaps the villains of the piece: they underpay Strauss on the boat, and later they to convince him to go against his Chinese workers. They capture the villainy right, and do good on their reprise of “Business is Business”.

Rounding out the cast in various ensemble and smaller named roles were: Charlton Brio (FB) [Old Willie, Miner, Immigrant]; Kyle Brogmus (FB) [Official, Junk-Man, Sailor, Crew-member, Miner]; Eugene Thomas Erlikh (FB) [Karl, Stevedore, Voice 1, Immigrant]; Paola Fregoso (FB) [Streetwalker, Flo]; Bedjou Jean (FB) [Blacksmith, Official, Miner]; Kole King (FB) [August, Isadore, Shortman]; Christina McGrath (FB) [Official, Peddler, Miner]; Shawna Merkley (FB) [Crew, Woman, Voice 3]; Anastasia Perevozova (FB) [Aunt Frieda, Immigrant]; Justice Quinn (FB) [Miner, Voice 2, Official]; Savannah Rutledge (FB) [Official, Peddler, Servant, Miner]; James Singleton (FB) [Goodman, Immigrant, Policeman, Cowboy, Miner]; Trenton Tabak (FB) [Man 1, Man 2, Passerby, Official, Miner]; and Sabrina Torres (FB) [Immigrant, Miner]. As a group, they sang and moved well; they also seemed to be having fun with their roles.

The production was under the Music Direction of Richard Allen (FB), and featured Orchestrations by Lanny Meyers (FB). The on-stage, in the back, orchestra consisted of Richard Allen (FB) [Keyboard1, Conductor]; Lanny Meyers (FB) [Keyboard2]; Say Jay Hynes [Violin]; Kim Richmond and John Reilly (FB) [Woodwinds]; Timothy Emmons [Bass]; and Ed Smith (FB) [Drums / Percussion]. The orchestra sounded great.

Rounding out the production credits: Tesshi Nakagawa (FB)’s scenic design was a movable wood structure that made me think of Hamilton‘s scaffolding. Minimalist, but it worked well. The lighting design by Derek Jones (FB) set the mood well. The Sound design by Austin Quan (FB) was reasonably clear, although there were a few mic problems. Morgan Gannes (FB)’s Costume Design seemed appropriately period. Graphic design was by Doug Haverty (FB). Maggie Marx (FB) was the Production Stage Manager.

The last performance of Levi!i was Saturday, December 2, 2017.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

This week continues with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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

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A Los Angeles Story | “This Land” @ Company of Angels

This Land (Company of Angels)There are many ways that I discover the shows I go see — especially the non-musical plays. Most often, they come through a season subscription — rare is the small company that only does musicals, and so the artistic director’s vision introduces me to new plays. Occasionally, I know the playwright, such as with last week’s Mice. Even less frequently I’ll discover a play from one of my various theatrical feeds (Playbill, Broadway World, Bitter/Better Lemons). Even rarer is the publicist’s missive that catches my eye — typically because there’s something in the subject matter of the play.

That’s what happened with Company of Angels (FB)’s This Land, which we saw last night. The publicist, Susan Gordan (FB), sent a proposal for an article describing an upcoming world premiere. The pitch was: “a rich story spanning over 150 years about four families with ancestry from different parts of the world (Tongva Indians, African, Mexican, Irish) who make their home on one particular plot of Southern California land now known as Watts. A host of old curses and blessings, traditions and recipes, loves and betrayals travel down family lines from the 19th to the 21st century, forcing each successive generation to ask in times of hardship, “Should I stay or should I go?”” Little did Susan know that although I might appear to them as a theatre reviewer because of this blog, I’m really a cybersecurity guy who not only loves theatre but who also has an intense interest in history — especially California history (which anyone who reads my highway pages knows). I’m a native Angeleno (Los Angeles native, for those not familiar with the term) who has been studying Los Angeles history for years — not only just freeways, but transit, city growth, water, and city politics. This was a show on a topic that was truly of interest to me. So even though I couldn’t find discount tickets, I got tickets and went.

I am really glad that I did. This Land is — to date — I think the best play I’ve seen all year, and it is close up there for best show (and that’s putting it against Hamilton). Especially if you love history or love Los Angeles, this is a play that you must see. It tells the story well, it educates its audience, it makes the audience think and see the city in a different way. It does what a play is supposed to do: tell you a story, draw you in, and not only entertain but elucidate.

Additionally, it also does something to address a common complaint about theatre in Los Angeles: It tells a story about Los Angeles, to audiences that reflect Los Angeles. Let me explain: There are very few plays — and even fewer musicals — that tell Los Angeles stories.  Just ask yourself: What shows do you know that tout the New York experience, are centered in New York, or that focus on New York? Now ask yourself the same question about Los Angeles. See my point? Los Angeles has an extremely rich cultural history, significant historical events, culture clashes and milieus. Yet Los Angeles is viewed by playwrights often as a collection of suburb in search of a city, a shallow car culture (witness Freeway Dreams from earlier this year). There are a few plays that touch on nostalgia (such as Bruce Kimmel’s LA: Then and Now,  or the even earlier Billy Barnes’ LA). The large LA theatres rarely commission or present shows about Los Angeles (a major complaint of the LA Times critic). There are the occasional shows, yes — A Mulholland Christmas Carol occasionally resurfaces,  and of course there is Zoot Suit, which packs them in at the Mark Taper Forum (which we saw in February). Further, the Los Angeles theatre audience is often unfortunately predominately a single shade, and aging (I’ve complained about this before: how the complexion of an audience changes only when the subject of the play is about that group’s experience — and that’s wrong). Yet This Land was not only a story about the diversity that is Los Angeles, it reflected the diversity of Los Angeles in the casting, and even more significantly, reflected the diversity of Los Angeles in the diversity of the audience — a melting pot of ethnicities and ages and genders. This is a play that touches and speaks to the diversity that is Los Angeles, that speaks to young and old, to the recent immigrant and the long time resident. Further, it turns out that this is a commission from the Center Theatre Group (FB), one of the largest non-profit theatre groups in the city, being produced by Company of Angels (FB), the oldest non-professional theatre company in Los Angeles, founded in 1959 by a group of television and film actors that included Richard Chamberlain, Leonard Nimoy and Vic Morrow, with a revised mission to provide a space for the voices and audiences neglected by the major regional theaters. This is not only theatre in Los Angeles, it is Los Angeles theatre — about Los Angeles, reflective of Los Angeles, speaking to Los Angeles.

Do you think I liked the show? 😊

This Land is a story that spans 150 years in a community in South Los Angeles called Watts. It is a small area, roughly bordered by 92nd Street on the North, Imperial Avenue on the South, Central Avenue on the West, and Alameda on the East. You might have heard of Watts: it was the location of the Watts Riots in 1965, and the Rodney King riots in 1992.  It was one of the original suburbs of Los Angeles. It started out as the site of the Tongva village, Tejaawta, and became part of Rancho La Tajauta in 1843. It was incorporated into the city in 1926. Like Boyle Heights, this was a community that welcomed the worker. After the Tongva and the Mexicans, there came the American farmers and waves of farmers moving west around the depression. In the 1940s, it was one of the few communities in Los Angeles that permitted African-American residents (Los Angeles has a nasty history of restrictive covenants and red-lining, which affect the city to this very day). The influx of the black community had an impact on the existing white residents (again, another common nasty history in Los Angeles). With the growth of the hispanic communities in Los Angeles in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Watts changed again. Now, with the rebirth and resurgence of rail in Los Angeles (Watts was along one of the original transit backbones of the city, and is again), combined with affordable prices and gentrification, well, you know what is happening and who is being pushed out, with no affordable solutions.

This Land (Cast Strip)That history is the background and setting of This Land. It tells the intertwined stories of five families representative of the various eras of Watts: the original Tongva settlers interacting with the first Missions and Ranchers in 1843 (Tomas, Toya, and Enrique), the first influx of the Americans in 1848 (Patrick), the first black families moving into the area in 1949 and later in 1965 (Maeve and James, Leola and Leslie), the transition as the hispanic families change the communities yet again in 1992 (Fidel and Ricardo, Sharon and Mel), and the wave of gentrification as developers purchase homes from families to transform the area yet again in the near future of 2020 (Ricardo, Della, and Dalton). The storytelling is intertwined, moving back and forth between the historical periods. It shows how — in true LA fashion — there was hatred when new cultures came in, yet eventual cultural transfer of ideas and food. It showed the importance of water to the city — not only was the LA river near Watts, but Watts was one of the few areas in the city that was able to draw water from artesian wells. It highlighted the discrimination and restrictions that existed in the city not only for the people one might think of as minorities — the blacks, the hispanics — but other groups as well, such as the Jews or the Dust Bowl Refugees. It really speaks to the multicultural story of the city — not of a predominately single ethnicity experience as was seen for the 1940s Pachucos of Zoot Suit, or the rose-tinted nostalgia of the Los Angeles reviews such as Los Angeles: Then and Now (which tend to look back on kitsch and ephemera, and not the painful ugly aspects). For many LA plays, the ugly aspect is the gay history of the city — but there is much more ugliness under the surface. It also captures well the little LA things, from Dy-Dee Diaper service to the importance of the Aerospace industry and the automotive industry (and how the decline of both drastically impacted minority communities in the city).

Playwright Evangeline Ordaz (FB) has crafted a story that drew me in and kept me enthralled up to and including the closing scene. From my knowledge of the history, it captured things quite well. Interconnections that could have come off as forced coincidences don’t — they seem to flow well and a naturally, and work to highlight the impact of the story and show the ultimate connectedness of people to each other and to the land. Director Armando Molina (FB) handles the small cast in this large story well. Almost every actor portrays multiple characters for the different eras, and the performances are so distinctly different that in some cases I actually left thinking there were additional actors and one had been left off of the program. That is how well this director worked with the actors to individualize each performance to the character, and to make the characters believable. Very very well crafted both in the story and the stage realization.

As for the acting ensemble, what can I say but: I was impressed by their ability to become their characters. Unlike most shows, I can’t discuss them in tiers because this was a true ensemble — performances of approximately equal size and weight across the story. So let’s work across the eras.

Beginning in 1843, we have Toya (Cheryl Umaña (FB)), the Tongva village leader whose father, Tomas (Richard Azurdia (★FB, FB)) has gone to the Mission. There is also Enrique (Jeff Torres (FB)), the son of the rancher whose lands are encroaching on the Tongva village lands. There is also Pepe (Niketa Calame (FB)), the Mexican soldier who is helping Enrique. All are strong here, but the central relationships are Toya and Tomas, and Toya and Enrique. Umaña is great as Toya, trying to understand a culture and communicate in a language and with a changing world she does not understand. Torres is also spotlighted here as the rancher trying to do right by both the mission and Toya’s father, Tomas. As Tomas, Azurdia has a great portrayal of a man who tried to do right for his village, but who was broken by the Mission system (which was the beginning of poor racial relations in the City of the Angels).

Moving to 1848, we meet Patrick (Ian Alda (FB)) , an Irish-American soldier coming to the land with the Americans, as the days of the Mexican land grants are waning. This is a smaller era in the story, but Alda captures the Irish aspects well.

Jumping to 1947 and 1965, we meet Maeve (Johanna McKay (FB)), a white woman living in Watts who moved there during the depression-era dustbowl migration, and her new black neighbor, Leola (LeShay Tomlinson (FB)), who has just moved from Louisiana.  Both were remarkable performances. McKay captures well the woman whose neighborhood is changing but sees her neighbors as people, not their skin (an attitude that, unfortunately, wasn’t too common). Tomlinson gives a wonderful portrayal of a woman who has escapes the overt discrimination of the South only to run into the covert discrimination of the West — or to paraphrase as she put it, in the South they are at least racist to your face, not behind your back. She also captured the proud woman just trying to do the best for her family while dealing with the changing circumstances of life (and I knew many people like that — both friends and parents of friends from those areas).

By 1965, the children are added to the mix: Maeve’s son James (Ian Alda (FB) in his 2nd role), and Leola’s daughter Leslie (Niketa Calame (FB) in her 2nd role). These two capture well the angst of their era: Alda capturing well the young white adult in Watts who wants his parents to move somewhere “safer” (which, yes, is code we still see today), and Calame capturing the young adult trying to make changes in society.

Turning to 1992, we are dealing with the children of the prior era, and yet another transition. We have Leslie’s children Mel ((Niketa Calame (FB), in her 3rd role) and Sharon (LeShay Tomlinson (FB), in her 2nd role). Maeve has moved out, and moving in is a HIspanic family with a taco business, Ricardo (Jeff Torres (FB)) and Fidel (Richard Azurdia (★FB, FB), in his 2nd role). All of the performances shine here. Calame was spectacular as Mel, the young woman trying to make friends and accept her new neighbors, seeing them as people and not their skin. This was in contrast to her sister, Sharon, as portrayed by Tomlinson (who I didn’t even recognize as the character, the difference was that distinct). Tomlinson’s Sharon was more antagonistic, not trusting the new people in the neighborhood and moving to violence as the solution. Next door we had Azurdia’s Fidel and his Taco Truck, which was just a realistic and very human portrayal that could easily have gone stereotypical. Lastly, we had Torres’s Ricardo — a young man who was just trying to fit in the neighborhood. All great performances.

Lastly, there was 2020, where we had Dalton (Ian Alda (FB) in his 3rd role), James’s son, attempting to buy back the land and the houses from Torres’ Ricardo and Della (Cheryl Umaña (FB), in her 2nd role), Mel’s daughter. Smaller scenes, but still strong performances capturing the residents of today seeing the developers come in to try to move them out, with no place they could afford to go.

Simply put — all great performances.

Turning to the production side: This was Company of Angels (FB)’s first production in their new space at Legacy LA (FB) at the Hazard Park Armory (interesting history of its own) next to County-USC Medical Center.  This is an expansive warehouse space creating one of the largest stages I’ve seen for a small company. Justin Huen (FB)’s scenic design worked well in the space, creating a backdrop for Benjamin Durham (FB)’s projection to establish the place, with the scenic design creating the house spaces, the truck spaces, and the land and river spaces well. This was augmented by Huen’s lighting design that created time and mood. Manee Leija‘s costumes (which presumably included hair and wigs, as there wasn’t a distinct credit) distinguished the characters well, although I can’t vouch on authenticity. Rebecca Kessin (FB)’s sound design amplified (get it, amplified 🙂 ) the environment, and provided the cues for the transitions. Rounding out the production credits were: Daniel Muñoz (FB) – Stage Manager; Heather McLane (FB) – Asst. Stage Manager and Prop Design; Susan Gordon – Publicist; Tamadhur Al-Aqeel (FB) – ProducerCompany of Angels (FB) is under the Artistic Direction of Armando Molina (FB).

The World Premiere of This Land continues at Company of Angels (FB) through November 13. The remaining performances are Fridays at 8pm on Nov. 3 and 10; Saturdays at 8pm on Nov. 4 and 11; Sundays at 7pm on Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and 12; and Mondays at 8pm on Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and 13. Tickets are $25; senior $15; students $12; Monday performances are Pay-What-You-Can. TIckets are available through the Company of Angels website or possibly calling 323-475-8814.  Discount tickets do not appear to be available on Goldstar.  I have seen a reference that code “COMUNIDAD” may give a discount, but I don’t know if it was efffective (I paid full price). This is one of the best shows I’ve seen all year, followed closely by Hamilton and Zoot Suit. Go see it while you and, and learn about our great city.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The theatre drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. October concludes with  This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights. Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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

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A Mouse’s Tale | “Mice” @ Ensemble Studio Theatre

Mice (Ensemble Studio Theatre - LA)There are many reasons I attend a show. Sometimes it’s on a subscription. Others I hear the description, and they sound interesting (like next week’s This Land). I may have heard the music, and that makes me want to see the show. For a small number, I have a personal connection to someone in the production. In the case of Mice, which I saw Sunday evening at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village, I know the playwright. Schaeffer Nelson (FB), who wrote Mice, has a day job at a ticketing service, and he has been the person with whom I’ve been working the last two years to do our Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) subscriptions. He has always been patient with me on the phone, working to get us the most shows for what we could afford, in the best seats, at prices we like. So when EST’s publicist sent me the announcement for Mice and I saw Schaeffer was the author — and it was indeed the Schaeffer I knew — I knew I would try to fit it in. This was despite the fact that it was about a subject that I normally wouldn’t go see — horror and murder. Mice is a seventy-minute one-act play about a sadistic cannibal in a mouse costume who kidnaps the wives of pastors, binds them in a dungeon, tortures them, and eats them. If you’ve read my reviews, you know that’s a play I wouldn’t see. Well, to be precise, I wouldn’t go to see it unless there was song and dance (cough “Silence, The Musical”, cough, “Evil Dead, the Musical“).

When you are let into the theatre, you are confronted with the scene of two women, sitting on top of trash, chained by their hands and feet to two poles. As the show starts, the two start talking, with the one who had been held the longest, Ayushi (Sharmila Devar (FB)) attempting to calm the most recent capture, Grace (Heather Robinson (FB)). In doing so, she’s providing the necessary exposition for the show: why and how people are captured, what is done with them. She also encourages Grace to attempt to escape the next time their captor comes down to the basement for them. Shortly thereafter, we meet their abductor and capture, who is wearing a large mouse costume (Kevin Comartin (FB)). We soon learn why he has been capturing women, and why he has changed his mind about eating Grace. It is not, as you might think, that the suit told him to “Say Grace Before Eating”, which he heard as “Save”. Rather, the suit has told him that he needs to find a replacement, and both women smell right — so now he must decide. I’ll leave the plot hanging there.

I’ll first note that, although I went in expecting not to like this show — as I’m not a big fan of such dramas — this one caught my attention. I found the  story, umm, captivating, and I really had no idea where it would go. That’s good. From reading some reviews, there was a worry that it would be scary or sadistic, but I didn’t find that to be the case.

Second, it was really interesting to see this on the heels of Bright Star. There is an interesting connection with and parallel to the two stories, and a similar suspension of disbelief is required for both shows. I won’t give more away in that area, but see both if you can, near each other. I will note that I wasn’t the only audience member to walk out noting the connection.

There were a few sequences where the dialogue got into heavy Christianity discussions, which left me — as a Jewish audience member — wondering if I was missing something. So given that this was in an intimate space (and thus the script might be revised for future productions), I’d ask: What is there about this play that specifically requires both women to be familiar with Christianity? What might change if one of the women was a Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife), or a wife of an Imam, or the wife of the leader of an Eastern religion? How much Christian theory and practice must the audience know?

There were also a few plot slips that left me puzzled. Why, for example, after Mouseman was knocked out the first time, didn’t the women just take his ether soaked cloth and knock him out completely? It probably could be answered easily, but wasn’t. You don’t want to leave the audience distracted by such questions.

Other questions, however, remain. Why, for example, a mouse? Was it a reference to this being some sort of cat-and-mouse game? Was it a play on our thinking of rodents as dirty and nasty? Or was it just a costuming convenience. There should be a reason, and it somehow should be clear. And how to they do to the bathroom. People in plays never seem to have normal bodily functions. But I digress.

Some reviews I have read saw this story as a battle of faith, playing off the fact that Ayushi had essentially given up on her faith, but Grace was still strongly faithful. That battle didn’t come across to me — but it could be my lack of familiarity (or care) about Christian tenets, nor could I tell the difference between Ayushi abandoning Christianity and going back to Hinduism. There were a few pointed comments about the hypocrisy of Christianity, but the focus was more on self-loathing. Although it seemed to be a given that the wives of pastors are filled with self-loathing, I fail to see how that would be. Is there a particular reason that would be the case? I certainly haven’t seen it from the spouses of Rabbis that I know.

But overall, I found this an interesting play — as any discussion between two captors might be.

I noted the actors before. All of the performances were strong.

The production was directed by Roderick Menzies (FB), who kept the pace moving along, and helped bring out proper captive behavior in the actors.

On the production side, the Amanda Knehans‘s scenic design was simple: four poles for the captors (two each), some trash, tables, chairs, and a basement. Simple works.  Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design supports this well — the women look like, well, women who were at church, and Mouseman’s costume is suitably mouselike and bloody. The sound design of David Boman (FB) is interesting. One wouldn’t expect a lot of sound design would be needed in a show like that, and one would be wrong. There were numerous sound effects, all of which worked well. Ellen Monocroussos (FB)’s lighting design worked well to establish the mood and suspense.  Other production credits: Mike Mahaffey (FB) – Fight Coordinator; Priscilla Miranda (FB) – Stage Manager; Liz Ross (FB) – Producer; Christopher Reiling (FB) – Associate Producer.

Mice continues at Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) through October 29. Tickets are available through the EST LA Website. I was unable to find discount tickets on either Goldstar or LA Stage Tix, but small theatres like this can use the full price purchases. This show isn’t for everyone’s taste, but if you find the subject matter interesting — or attend  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) — it is worth seeing. EST-LA has another well reviewed production playing during October, Wet: A DACAmented Journey. I won’t be able to fit it in my schedule, but you might. This production’s Mouseman serves as the director.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The theatre drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. October concludes with  This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights. Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics. We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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

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