🎭 And We Ask Ourselves, “Why?” | “Columbinus” @ Edgewood College

Columbinus (Edgewood College)As I indicated in my last writeup, being I’m out of town on vacation doesn’t mean that the live performances stop. Being out of town solo also affords me the ability to see the type of show that my wife would find to be too dark. Last nights show was one of those: Columbinus, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli. Columbinus is a docu-drama about the Columbine High School Massacre, where two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher, and injured many many more. As I said: A dark subject.

Columbinus is not a fictional dramatization. Rather, using an ensemble of young people, it follows the events in their lives before, during, and after the shooting. We first meet the cohort of students as they wake up, and we learn the “who” of who they are: the jocks, the science nerds, those off to the sides, etc. This takes up perhaps the first half of the first act. We then start seeing the growing alienation and ostracizing of two of the more angry students, leading up to the first incident of vandalism and “mischief”. The second act sees the attempts at rehabilitation failing, and those two students — now explicitly identified as Dylan and Eric — starting to plan their attack. We then see the attack — both through the 911 tapes and the stories of survivors from the library. Lastly, we see the aftermath on the other students and the parents.

The presentation is strong, with VERY strong language and VERY strong material. This is certainly a show where guidance is required — if you at all sensitive to violence, racial language, hatred, and gun violence, this isn’t for you. So why SHOULD you see this show?

The answer, I think, is in addressing the question of “Why?”. Often, when I see shows, they dovetail with something else I’m doing. In this case, I was listening to the Earwolf podcast Factually!, and Adam Conover’s interview with Celeste Kidd of UC Berkeley regarding how we form our beliefs. One point made is that humans often believe strongest in the first thing that we here, especially if it fits our preconceived notions. If it fits, and we think it covers all the facts, we are no longer curious and no longer accept other answers. That clearly is the case when we look at school shooting violence: the subject is so uncomfortable and scary that we often don’t want to dive deeper into the causes of the problem. So we tend to latch on to the first plausible solution and answer: it is the access to guns; it is anger from videogames; it is mental illness; it is bullying; it is …

One of the things that Columbinus does is show that, perhaps, it isn’t just one factor. As you watch the show, there likely wasn’t a factor that, if absent, would have stopped the shooting or stopped some form of anger in violence. It was a number of factors coming together that created the problem. It also demonstrates that there isn’t just a single factor in the solution set. There are numerous pieces to the risk reduction puzzle, ranging from limiting access to guns to increased mental health care, to reducing the stigma of receiving threatment for mental health, addressing the anger in society. Each of these pieces of the cause and solution puzzle are vital to building the complete picture.

The performance of the ensemble in this production, under the direction of Audrey Lauren Wax, does a skillful job of realistically portraying a wide variety of students. Their performances build through the production allowing the audience to connect with the various types of students at the school. While listening to the conversations during the intermission, I was hearing that impact. I heard patrons referencing the fact that they were the loner in high school, that they identified with the jock or the nerds, that they saw themselves in those kids.

Overall, I found this a compelling production. Was it entertaining? I hesitate to say that, as how can one find a real-life tragedy “entertaining”. Illuminating might be a better term, and that term fits with one of the functions of theatre in society. LIve performance and story telling exists not only to entertain us, but to inform us. From the first performances by early man of the hunt, providing warnings and guidance to other hunters, or philosophical productions that explored the meaning of why we do what we do, theatre has illuminated society and forced us to ask us “Why?”. This is one of those productions, and for that reason, I think it is something that (if you can handle the subject matter) is worth seeing.

The ensemble of this piece does an excellent job. The ensemble consisted of: Joe Bondurant (FB), Noelle Grapentine-Benton (FB), August Hirschboeck (FB), Ryan Jorenby (FB), Alan Lau-Brown (FB), Ariana Manghera (FB), Shawn D. Padley (FB), and Emma Sorenson (FB). Special acknowledgement goes to Joe Bondurant (FB) and Shawn D. Padley (FB), who do a wonderful job of capturing the anger, illness, and backstory of the protagonists of the story. But the entire ensemble is excellent. (Edited to correct the actor who played Dylan)

On the production and creative side, the staging was well done (especially for the college level). There was a simple set of some movable lockers and fencing, with a black board in the background, and what looks like a gym floor (but with chalkboard paint). There are movable tables and chairs, and appropriate props for the story. All of this was designed by Christopher Dunham, supported by the props from the props crew of Noelle Grapentine-Benton (FB) and Margo Skolaski. The costumes, designed by Mary Waldhart (FB), seemed appropriate for the period and the situation. Movement was orchestrated by Kristin Roling Choreographer and Alan Lau-Brown (FB) Fight Captain. About the only quibble was with one aspect of Alice Combs (FB) lighting design: during the Guidance Counselor visits, some of the yellow leikos were going on and off for no reason to support the story. Maddie Budner (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Rounding out the production credits: Rachel Seizer (FB) Assistant Director, Stage Manager; Lily Pero (FB) Asst. Stage Manager; Cassie Carney (FB) Hair and Makeup Designer; Jade Proctor (FB) Video Designer; Audrey Lauren Wax Box Office Manager; Ariana Manghera (FB) Dramaturg; Patricia Hersch Original Dramaturgy; PJ Paparelli Conception; and loads of students in the various supporting crews and work studies.

If you can handle the subject matter, Columbinus is well worth seeing. Tickets are available at the door or through the Edgewood College Theatre Online Ticketing. Alas, my usual discount ticket outlets don’t work in Madison.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

I have one more show in Madison (although I may not be writing it up):  MST 3000 at the Overture downtown.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth and fifth weekends are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Who Tells The Story | “The Revolutionists” @ Mercury Players Theatre/The Bartell

The Revolutionists (Mercury Players Theatre/The Bartell)I’m a firm believer that being on travel shouldn’t stop a habit obsession of attending live theatre. We’ve seen the musical Aida in Portland OR, attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and seen Evita in Maui. So a trip to Madison WI to visit my daughter shouldn’t interrupt going to see a show. And it didn’t. Last night, my daughter picked The Revolutionists, a play by Lauren Gunderson (who everyone loves to note is the most produced playwright in America), which was in its final weekend at The Bartell Theatre in downtown Madison WI. The Bartell is home to six theatre companies, one of which is the Mercury Players Theatre, who produced this show. Although I hadn’t realized it at the time, we’ve seen Gunderson’s work before, back in May 2019: Ada and the Engine, one of her science themed plays, which was presented by  Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage), topping a weekend where there was a lot of emphasis about women and their agency (it was also the Purim carnival, and we had just seen Matilda The Musical).

Perhaps women and their agency is a running theme of Gunderson in her work. I don’t know for sure, but at least in our small sample of two plays, both have focused on the agency of women, and telling the story of significant women. The Revolutionists is no different. It focuses on the lives (and ultimately, the deaths) of four women: three of whom are real, and one who is a composite. The real women are Olympe de Gouges, Charlotte Corday, and Marie Antoinette; the composite was called Marianne Angell, a composite of the symbol for Republican France and various female Black abolitionists from the French colonies.

The center of the play, at least when it starts, is Mme. de Gouges (Olympe), who is a playwright. One by one the other women come to her, wanting her to help them with some writing assignment or another. Marianne wants pamphlets written to support the cause of abolitionists. Charlotte wants someone to write her last words — the words she will say just before they guillotine her. Marie Antoinette wants a play written about her, one that will make her sympathetic to the Jacobins in charge of the revolution so that they will spare her life.

Beyond this beginning, and the end (which is preordained, because we know what happened historically), the rest is a bit of a confusing jumble that doesn’t start to come together until after the intermission. As I went into this play, I was expecting something on the order of Meeting of Minds, the Steve Allen series that had people of different periods coming together for us to learn about. But as the play started, what I got instead was a women searching for a way around her writer’s block. Jumping from idea to idea to figure out the way to find a story to outlast here. It was at times [title of show], at times Something Rotten, and even a bit of Les Miz.  One might even toss in a bit of the $5 Shakespeare Company. It even delved into some of the areas of What the Constitution Means to Me. But it certainly wasn’t the historical play I was expecting. Working against the historical aspect of the play was the playwright’s choice of language. For a while I thought that might have been a directoral choice, but reading other reviews in other cities made it clear this was Gunderson’s voice. She was having these historical characters using modern idioms and slang, and referencing modern events. She even had Marianne Angell using a dialect of a form of Jive, which I found problematic in a number of ways (it always seems to be a problem when a white author attempts to make characters sound like people of color). The modern phrasing was jarring and just added to the confusion. It also didn’t help that the personalities of the figures were also broadly drawn: Marie Antoinette had a distinctly grating, whining, and overly-privileged personality; Olympe couldn’t make up her mind and was indecisive; Corday was strident and angry. Perhaps the best drawn was the composite, Marianne, who showed both emotion and concern for the others.

But by the second half of the show, the characters began to coalesce and find their voices in a better way. Perhaps they became more comfortable with themselves. Whatever the reason, we began to see their stories more, and their fragility. We began to learn that the point of the play had two key aspects: not only having your story told to future generations, but having control over who tells the story. The conventional story we hear about the three real characters — de Gouges, Corday, and Marie Antoinette — was ultimately told by the white men that had killed them. How different would their stories had been if they had been told from the point of view of women, and they were presented as women trying to do the best women could do in the society they were in. We ultimately see that the center of the play was less de Gouges, and more Angell. It is Angell that ultimately is the one telling this story, as it is Angell who is the one that survived.

So, considering the story aspect, this show is at the 70% level. Ultimately, it redeems itself, but the self-referential aspect, the modern jargon, and the meta aspects of the play ultimately hurt the point that is being tried to be made.

As I noted before, I had been unsure whether the problems with the modern dialog were just an affectation from the director, Sean Langenecker. It turns out they weren’t, but there are some dialogue issues that the director does need to address. Specifically, in the opening scenes, the actors seem to be talking very fast. This seems to slow down slightly as the production goes on, so I think it was just opening scene coldness (a problem common with speakers). That’s something that can be addressed through practice and notes. Otherwise, I think Langenecker did a good job of bringing the different characters to life, although at times there seemed a touch of overdrawing them (although that could have been in the script). Movements and such seemed realistic, although that is not an inkwell. It was much too wide.

Looking at the specific performances: All were strong, especially considering the regional nature of the cast. Stephanie Monday Olympe de Gouges captured the indecisiveness of de Gouges well, and presented a wonderful range of emotions over the show while dealing with all the characters. Jessica Jane Witham (FB) Marie Antoinette did a great job of capturing the annoying aspects of the Queen’s personality, as well as presenting the touching side. Perhaps the smallest portion went to Mikayla Mrocheck Charlotte Corday, who received less stage time, but still did a great job of capturing the anger behind Corday.

That leaves Laura Jo McMillan Marianne Angell. who I’m singling out not only for her strong performance, but for her lovely voice on the one song that she had. I was less enamored with the slight accent and jivish voice she gave to the character, but that might have been directed by the script. It gave the impression of trying to convey race through accent and voice — something I’m finding increasingly problematic — and something that was less than historically accurate.

On the production side: the set was a simple one: a table, a sofa, a platform, and some curtains. It provided just enough context to provide a sense of where and when one was. The costumes provided more of a sense of time for the most part, although the visible tattoos at the end (although understandable in today’s society) were a reminder that these were modern actresses, not historical figures. Given they could have been easily addressed via a simple shift (also historically accurate)… The sound effects were reasonable, although the timing was a bit off at times. Production credits: Kat Thompson Stage Manager; Spike Garrett (FB) Lighting Design; Lizzie Opperman (FB) Asst. Lighting Design; Marie Schulte Costume Design; Laura Yoccum Marie Antoinette Wig; Dawn Marie Svanoe (FB) Marie Antoinette Headpiece; Cassie Carney Hair and Makeup Assistant; Evan Lange and Erin McConnell Sound Design; Sean Langenecker Set Design; Sean Langenecker Properties Design; Jeff Godsey Dramaturg; Sean Langenecker and Megan McGlone Producers.

One additional note: This is one of the few shows I’ve seen that had absolutely no pre-show announcement: no pointing out of the exits, no reminder to unwrap those noisy hard candies (a point that is made during the show itself), and most importantly: no reminder to turn off your cell phones and things that might create light or noise. They need the reminder.

There is one more performance of The Revolutionists at the Bartell Theatre in downtown Madison WI: today at 2pm. Tickets available at the door, or through the Bartell website. I don’t think Goldstar covers Madison WI. If you are closer to my home (in Southern California), and the show sounds of interest, the Santa Paula Theatre Center has just opened a production of it. It runs through March 15, and tickets are available through the SPTC website. For the Santa Paula show, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight, the plans are to go see the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company, with Sunday being MST 3000 at the Overture downtown. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes, who are performing tonight, due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth and fifth weekends are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 A Band of Veterans | “Bandstand” @ ATG/Broadway in Thousand Oaks

Bandstand (American Theatre Guild/Broadway in Thousand Oaks)When you think about Broadway Tours coming to Los Angeles, where do they go first? If you said the Hollywood Pantages (FB) or the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), you would probably be right … and if the tour was a non-Equity tour, the Pantages / Dolby complex would pretty much be the only choice. Depending on the tour, it might hit the Segerstrom in Orange County first, but a non-Equity tour would end up at the Pantages.

Unless, of course, the Pantages’ schedule was full. And the Pantages’ schedule was full in 2019-2020, especially with longer sit-down engagements for Frozen and Hamilton at the Pantages, and having to fit programs around the Dolby’s concert schedule. What’s a touring show to do?

Go to Thousand Oaks.

And so, rarity of rarities, the premiere of the tour of the Broadway musical Bandstand in Southern California found itself part of the Broadway in Thousand Oaks/American Theatre Guild 2019-2020 schedule, together with secondary market tour visits of shows that had been at the Pantages in previous seasons: Finding Neverland, BeautifulJersey BoysAn American in Paris, and Riverdance. An extremely rare sighting. The American Theatre Guild rarely gets the first edition of a tour in the area.

Now, you might not have heard of Bandstand. It didn’t last long on Broadway: 24 previews, 166 performances. The authors and composing team (Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor) were new on Broadway, although they did score with a hot choreographer — Andy Blankenbuehler, known for Hamilton among other shows. The title of the show was misleading, evoking images of Dick Clark and the 1950s, as opposed to WWII and the Big Band era. In its execution, it touched on subjects of current relevance — the treatment of veterans, survivors guilt, PTSD. In fact, the show is 6 Certified, approved by an effort to show veterans in entertainment accurately. Still, the Broadway run was a failure, then why tour? The answer is the show is very good, and the producers obviously felt it would touch a nerve in America’s heartland with its message. I could see that easily in Thousand Oaks, for Ventura County is a strong pro-military county with the Naval Base nearby. There are no fancy projections or stage tricks in this show: it will do much better touring and in regional productions than in the jaded environment that is Broadway and New York. And that’s OK.

Of course, I’m writing this up because I saw the show last night. I learned about the show shortly after the cast album came out in 2017, and I fell in love with the music and the story. So when I learned the tour was coming to Thousand Oaks … after getting over my shock of the first appearance of the tour being in T.O. … I put the date on my calendar and a reminder to get tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Here’s the summary of the show as written up on the ATG website:

1945: As America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, each an astonishing musician. Together, they form a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

Essentially, the through line is this: Donny Novitski comes back from WWII wanting to pick up the life he had — playing piano and accordion. But he can’t find any jobs, and he’s advised to do something before the nightmares from the war starts. Hearing about the NBC contest, he decides to build up a band of veterans. He does, going on recommendations from his buddies. But each, like Donny, are damaged goods in their own way: shell-shocked from the war, dealing with stress through the bottle or retreating from people or … . Part of Donny’s stress comes from an obligation to his war buddy, Michael, to take care of his widow, Julia. The problem: Michael was killed by friendly-fire, and Donny has survivors guilt. But he recruits Julia to be the band’s singer, and the competition starts. What happens then is somewhat predicable: they win contests, there’s a spark between Donny and Julia, they eventually get to New York after some trials and tribulations. But with their gimmick, they get on the show … but Donny inadvertently signs away the rights to their big song (if they perform it). So instead, they change the song they are performing to one that tells the truth of what happens to vets when they return — how the “Welcome Home” isn’t quite what is expected. They lose the battle, but win the war.

I knew the outlines of the story going in from the cast album. But I was touched by how much the story moved me — and clearly, from the reaction, how much it moved the veterans and active duty service in the audience. It is the first accurate portrayal on stage, in a musical, of how war impacts the veterans. This isn’t a South Pacific. This shows war as doing ugly things to good people, and how a handshake and $25 doesn’t make up for it.

But I can also see why the Pantages might have hesitated on the show. This wasn’t a mediocre show built around the jukebox of a name star (SummerBodyguard) that has a built in audience of the fans of that music. It wasn’t a blockbuster that won major awards and is well known, and wasn’t built around a known property. It was a hard show to sell to those unfamiliar with it. It is also unclear how well it might play in the larger LA market, where the playing to active duty might be a lot harder. This show needs to build its word of mouth from the cities near bases first. But for the American Theatre Guild, it was a chance to get the premiere of a show in Southern California.

If you know veterans or active duty folks, or care about our military (even if you don’t necessarily agree with their actions), see this. It presents a great portrayal of how calling these men and women’s “heroes” is a gloss over what they’ve been through. I think the show accurately addresses how those who haven’t been through military service don’t understand the adjustment back to civilian life, and how veterans cope. I think it can spark a wonderful discussion to that affect. I also think its important to encourage new authors and new music and original books for Broadway. One can get tired of “screen-to-stage” musicals or the minimal-book jukebox shows.

As I noted before, this is a non-Equity tour. This means the performers are often much younger. They haven’t been on Broadway yet — this is often getting them the experience they need to make that leap. They may be long established in regional markets, or in other union efforts (e.g., theatrical, variety, or music). We found the cast of this show to be extremely talented.

This show was “based on” the original direction and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler. Tour direction was by Gina Rattan, with restaging and additional choreography by Marc Heitzman. The movement from the original direction and dance teams was likely due to the short Broadway run and the interval between closing and the set up of the tour. The team did a good job with their young actors, inspiring and leading a very professional production in its execution. The actors were clearly having fun with this show, were inhabiting and believing in their characters (even in the smallest ensemble roles), and did a great job in creating a believable story for the audience.

In the lead positions were Zack Zaromatidis (FBDonny Novitski and Jennifer Elizabeth Smith (⭐FB, FB) Julia Trojan. Zaromatidis did a great job capturing both the enthusiasm and sadness of Novitski, as well as playing mean piano. He had a strong chemistry with Smith’s Julia. Smith had a lovely singing voice and had such a glow about her showing a wonderful inner strength. The two were quite fun to watch. Smith also did a great job of capturing the damage on the other side of the war: how the loss of a loved one, and the lack of knowledge of how it happened, can create trauma as well.

Supporting Zaromatidis’s Novitski as the other members of the band were Rob Clove (⭐FB, FB) Jimmy Campbell – Saxophone; Benjamin Powell (FBDavy Zlatic – Upright Bass; Scott Bell (FBNick Radel – Trumpet; Louis Jannuzzi III (FB) Wayne Wright – Trombone; and Jonmichael Tarleton (FBJohnny Simpson – Drums. All were extremely strong musicians, and they made great music as a group. I particularly appreciated, on the music front, the creativity — such as Tarleton playing percussion off the bridge of Powell’s bass. But these young men were also strong actors, capturing well the nuances of the individual character’s isolations — be it Powell capturing Zlatic’s descent into the bottle; Tarleton capturing the damage from the Jeep rollover to Simpson; Bell capturing the pent up anger in Radel. All were just wonderful.

The last major supporting performer was Roxy York (FBMrs. June Adams. I found her character to be a bit much, but I think that’s how the character was written — and was yet another coping mechanism.

Rounding out the cast were the ensemble members and the swings (and as there was no board, we must assume there were no swings on-stage in our performance). It is important to note the extreme talent in this bunch of people, as all were understudying leads to some extent — meaning that all were capable of playing one or more musical instruments as well as their singing and dancing capabilities. The ensemble is also to be complemented for the characters they created. Particularly in the dance and band numbers, I was watching the ensemble in the background, and they were creating such wonderfully rounded characters and performances. You were seen! The ensemble and swings consisted of Shaunice Alexander (FB) Jean Ann Ryan, Ensemble; Beth Anderson (FBEnsemble; Milena J. Comeau (FBEnsemble; Ryan P. Cyr (FBEnsemble; Michael Hardenberg (FBEnsemble; Andre Malcolm (FBEnsemble; Kaitlyn Mayse (FBEnsemble; Matthew Mucha (⭐FB, FB) Andre, Ensemble; Mallory Nolting (FBEnsemble; Taylor Okey (FBOliver, Ensemble; and Cameron Turner (FBEnsemble. Swings were: Michael Bingham (FBSwing; Sarah Dearstyne (FBSwing; Katie Pohlman (⭐FB, FB) Swing, Dance Captain; and Oz Shoshan (FB) Swing, Dance Captain.

Supporting the on-stage actor/musicans in the pit, under the music direction of Miles Plant, were Miles Plant Keyboard; Brian Victor (FBAssistant Music Director / Keyboard 2 / Guitar / Ukulele; Michael Brinzer (⭐FB, FB) Reeds; Ross Kratter (⭐FB, FB) Bass; and Brian Ganch (FBDrums. Other music credits: Fred Lassen (FB) Music Supervisor; Christopher Gurr (FBAssoc Music Supervisor; Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Emily Grishman Music Preparation/Alden Terry Music Copying; Greg Anthony Rassen (FB) Music Arranger. The Tony-Award winning orchestrations were by Bill Elliott (🎷FB) & Greg Anthony Rassen (FB) Co-Orchestrators.

Turning to the production and creative side of things: The scenic design for the show was surprisingly simple, especially when compared to the projection-laden and special-effect laden extravaganzas that have shown up at the Pantages and Ahmanson of late. Credit to David Korins (🖼FB) for a simple nightclub set that, when combined with effective props, provided the locations needed, and was easily adaptable to radio studios. It is nice to see a scenic design that will be within the means of a regional or amateur production in the future … this ensures the life of the show. Paloma Young (FB)’s costume design seemed appropriately period, with only a little more stocking instruction needed of the ensemble. Similarly, J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova (FB)’s makeup, hair, and wig design seemed appropriately period. Jeff Croiter (FB)’s lighting design established mood well. Nevin Steinberg (FB)’s original sound design appeared to hold up in the Kavli, but that Kavli (unlike the Pantages) has good sound bones to begin with. Rounding out the production credits: Kate Lumpkin (🎭FB) Casting; David Kreppel Vocal Music Arranger; Alice Renier (⭐FBActing Coach; Elizabeth Allen (FBProduction Stage Manager; Emily Pathman (FBAssistant Stage Manager; Michael Coglan (FB) Company Manager; Mark Stuart (FB) Original Assoc. Choreographer; Jaime Verazin Original Asst. Choreographer; Work Light Productions Producers; Port City Technical Production Management; Allied Touring Tour Marketing & Press; The Road Company Tour Booking.

Unfortunately, one of the bad aspects of Broadway in Thousand Oaks is that it is there for only one weekend, unlike the longer runs at the Pantages. That means that by the time you read this, the final productions of Bandstand at the American Theatre Guild will be over. All I can suggest is that you visit the Bandstand website, and catch the show at its next stops in Colorado Springs on Dec 3-4 (hmmm, I’ll have to tell my COS colleagues) or in Phoenix AZ Dec 6-8. For those California folks, it looks like it will hit Modesto Mar 30-31, 2020 and Sacramento April 7-12, 2020.

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  We will also be seeing Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild on December 21.

Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!)  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 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.*
——————
*: 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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