What America Looks and Sounds Like | “On Your Feet” @ Pantages

On Your Feet (Pantages)There’s a point during On Your Feet: The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musicalwhich we saw last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), where Emilio Estefan turns to a white record company executive, who has just dissed him for attempting to crossover with English lyrics saying that he’ll only appeal to a Latin market, and says (pointing to himself): “This is the face of America”.

If there is a significant moment in this show, that’s really it. Much as we’re seeing the last gasp of White European culture trying to retain its grip on power via the Trump administration, the future of America — and what America has always been — is the melting pot of immigrant culture. From Eastern European Jews to Africans, from Latins to Asians, from Indians — both Native and East Asian. We all bring aspects of our culture that cross over, are celebrated, and that get you — to put it bluntly — on your feet.

On Your Feet, with book by Alexander Dinelaris and featuring music produced and recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, is not a deep musical. You won’t find a deep fictional tale rich in symbolism; you won’t find a movie story on the stage; you won’t even find a force-fit of a lightweight story on the framework of a jukebox musical. On Your Feet is clearly a bio-pic on stage: it is the story of a Latin music crossover band, and how the audience reacts is the demonstration that the message about the face of America is right: it is the immigrant’s face — working harder and with more determination, determined to find the way to succeed when the culture in power keeps telling them “no.” It is a message that demands to be heard in this day and age. It is a message that resonates particularly well in Los Angeles (say that with the Spanish accent, thankyouverymuch), given our history and culture.

As an audience member, you come out of On Your Feet thoroughly entertained. The rhythm moves you, the dance (choreography by Sergio Trujillo (FB)) moves you, the presentation and story (direction by Jerry Mitchell (FB)) moves you. You just leave happy. Is there really more you need right now, given what we’re seeing on the news?

The performances in this show are top-notch.  In the lead positions are Christie Prades (FB) and Mauricio Martinez (FB) as Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The two sing strongly, dance strongly, and have a great chemistry together. Not being an expert on Estefan’s music, I can’t speak to how well they sound like the originals. But they sounded pretty good to me.

Supporting them, as Gloria’s family, were Nancy Ticotin (FB) as her mother, Gloria Fajardo; Debra Cardona (FB) as her abuela, Consuelo; Jason Martinez as her father, Jose Farjardo; and Claudia Yanez (FB) as her sister, Rebecca [also, Ensemble, Gloriau/s]. All gave strong performances, had chances to give outstanding vocal performances, and moved well. Ticotin had a particularly strong voice, as did Martinez.

Giving standout performances as the child versions of the leaders were Carmen Sanchez as Little Gloria and Jordan Vergara (FB) as Young Emilio and Nayib. Super strong voices, super strong movement — they were just astounding. Ana-Sofia Rodriguez and Carlos Carreras cover these roles at selected performances.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles as noted, as well as providing the strong dance team, were the ensemble: Anthony Alfaro (FB) [Swing]; Michelle Alves (FB); Jonathan AranaDanny Burgos (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Sarita Colon (FB); Shadia Fairuz [Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Adriel Flete (FB); Devon Goffman (FB) [Phil]; Claudia Mulet (FB[Gloria Fajardou/s, Consuelou/s]; Eddie Noel (FB) [Emiliou/s]; Marina Pires (FB) [Swing, Gloriau/s]; Jeremey Adam Rey (FB); Gabriel Reyes (FB); Joseph Rivera (FB); Maria Rodriguez; and Shani Talmor (FB). Explicit Swings were: Skizzo Arnedillo (FB) [Dance Captain]; and Ilda Mason (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain].

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra, which included a number of members of the Miami Sound Machine (indicated with *). The orchestra consisted of: Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Music Director, Keyboard1]; Emmanuel Schvartzman (FB[Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard2]; Jose Ruiz (FB[Trumpet]; Teddy Mulet* (FB[Trombone]; Mike Scaglione* (FB) [Reeds]; Stephen Flakus (FB) [Guitar]; Jorge Casas* (FB) [Bass]; Edwin Bonilla* (FB) [Percussion1]; Jean-Christophe Leroy (FB) [Percussion2]; Colin Taylor (FB) [Drums]; Serafin C. Aguilar (FB[Sub Trumpetlocal]; Denis Jiron (FB) [Sub Trombonelocal]; Sean Franz (FB) [Sub Reedlocal]; Patrick Vaccariello (FB) [Music Coordinator];  Eric Heinly (FB) [Local Contractor]. Other music-related credits: Jorge Casas* (FB) [Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Clay Ostwald* (FB) [Asst. Music Director of Miami Sound Machine]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programming]; Jeremy King and Taylor Williams [Assoc Keyboard Programmers]. Clay Ostwald* (FB) and Jorge Casas* (FB) provided additional orchestrations. Lon Hoyt (FB) did the arrangements.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative credits. David Rockwell‘s set design was simple, using a number of floating panels and various props. It also heavily used the video and projection design of Darrel Maloney. It also worked well with Kenneth Posner‘s lighting design, which used a large number of moving lights around the frame of the stage to create a concert feel for the show. SCK Sound Design [Steve Canyon Kennedy] was reasonably clear for the Pantages.  Costumes were by Emilio Sosa (FB), with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe (FB). Oscar Hernandez did the dance arrangements and orchestrations. Other production credits: Andy Señor Jr. (FB[Assoc Director]; Maria Torres [Assoc Choreographer]; Natalie Caruncho (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Prop Supervisor]; Eric Insko [Production Stage Manager]; Anthony Cefala (FB) [Stage Manager]; Saori Yokoo (FB) [Asst Stage Manager]Telsey + Company (FB[Casting]; Karen Berry [General Manager]; Susan C. Guszynski [Company Manager], Troika Entertainment [Tour Manager].

On Your Feet continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through July 29. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. This isn’t a deep show, but you’ll have a great time.

***

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 (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee 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:

Next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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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Strength Comes From Within | “The Color Purple” @ Pantages

The Color Purple (Hollywood Pantages)Saturday was a musical day, and a day for deconstruction. We started down the street from the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the The Hobgoblin Playhouse, where we saw the final production of the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״לThe Story of My Life. This was the second time we had seen the show; we saw it first in 2010. We then toddled down the street to the Pantages to see the touring company (FB) of the 2016 Revival of The Color Purple; this was another revisit, as we saw the original tour of the show back in 2008. Both of Saturday’s shows were also, essentially, deconstructed versions. Story was deconstructed out of necessity: it was part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).  Purple’s deconstruction was more of a directoral choice: this production came from the Menier Chocolate Factory (FB) in London, where director John Doyle applies a minimalist aesthetic to the production. In this case, that means no set pieces other than chairs; minimal different costumes, and suggestions for place from fabric.

I would have thought, given that this was emphasized as a deconstructed notion, that it would have been markedly different than the original. But looking back at my comments from 2008, I noted:

The sets for the show were very simple: painted scrims and simple building pieces. What was spectacular was the lighting, which provided the ability to transform the basic wood-ish floor of the Ahmanson stage into a field of crops, and African jungle, a garden. The lighting designer (Brian MacDevitt) really deserves special mention. It is rare I notice how much lighting contributes to the mood and feel of a show. This time I did.

The costumes for the show were also spectacular. Most of it was period dress of the 1910s and 1920s. Celie’s costumes, however, did a wonderful job of changing the look and sense of the actress, and conveying the sense of “ugly” that was required. I was also taken by the costumes in the African Homeland scene, which conveyed a sense of rawness without being too out in the open.

Truthfully, what I remember most about the 2008 production was the lighting: use of gobos to create wood floor effects, and the realistic and colorful costumes from the African scenes. This production was markedly different in that regard. Most of the lighting was stark; I’d say that white light was used through 75% of the show. Costumes, except for a few characters, were drab until the second act, reflecting the drab life of the characters. From what I’ve been told, the interstitial dialogue may have been cut down (although I noted back in 2008 it was mostly sung). The focus of this show was the music, and the ability of the music to tell the story. Superficialities cut away, as it were.

If you’re not familiar with the story of The Color Purple, it begins with the 1983 book of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This was made into a motion picture in 1985. It was adapted for the theatre in 2005, with a book by Marsha Norman, and  music and lyrics by Brenda RussellAllee Willis, and Stephen Bray, all of whom were new to the musical theatre. Back in 2008, I described the story thusly:

“The Color Purple” basically tells the storie of Celie, a young black girl in the south, knocked up by her step-pseudofather twice by the age of 14, and then married off soon after to a man who beats her to get her to obey. It is the story of the love between Celie and her sister Nettie, the story of the relationships in Celie’s life. In particular, it is about how Celie’s relationships with some strong black women make her realize that she is loved, that she does have value, that she can stand up for herself and accomplish something, and the power that love plays in it all.

Viewed through slightly different eyes a decade later, The Color Purple is really a story of female empowerment and taking charge of one’s life. It resonates especially well in the last couple of years: Purple was #MeToo and #TimesUp well before those entered the hashicon. It is the story of how one strong woman — Sofia — can serve as an example to others that they can say “Hell No!” when faced with abuse and mistreatment, and how seeing confident and powerful women can inspire those who have lived in fear for most of their lives to, in Hamilton-speak, grab the narrative by the balls and rewrite the story of the rest of their lives. This message clearly hit with the audience.

But Color Purple is much more. Shall we say it shades the story in a very special way. This isn’t just the story of women taking charge of their lives: it is the story of African-American women taking charge of their lives. This is a black cast telling a black story, but one with larger resonance. It also celebrates the black form, which is often a very different aesthetic than the white form: with curves and a respect for size and shape and using — and celebrating — what nature gave you. That, too, appeared to hit a nerve with the audience, judging by the applause.

In addition to the power of the story, there was the power of the music. I’ve read some reviewers that view the music of this show as pedestrian — but what do they know. I enjoyed it, and the performances were great (tempered only by the problematic sound system of the Pantages).

In the lead position was Adrianna Hicks (FB) as Celie. Hicks was at the center of the action; onstage for most of the show. She carried most of the story; she was also the character that had the greatest transformation from beginning to end. Hicks captured well the change from frightened young girl to self-confident woman who know what she wanted and how to get it. Hicks had a strong voice and sang spectacularly; she ovation she got at the end was well deserved.

In the second tier of strong women were Carrie Compere (FB) as Sofia and Carla R. Stewart (FB) as Shug Avery. Both were the catalysts for Celie’s transformation. Both were exemplars for size, beauty and strength on stage — and the audience ate all of those attributes up. Strong performers, strong singers, strong movement, strong style.

In the third tier of women who found their strength were Erica Durham (FB) as Nettie and Gabrielle Reid (FB) as Squeak (we had understudies at our performance; the roles are normally played by N’Jameh Camara (FB) and Erica Durham (FB), respectfully). Both captured their characters well and sang strongly.

Turning to the main named male roles, who have in many ways a secondary, although key, role in the story. Gavin Gregory (FB)’s Mister was a strong performance: violent and mean at the beginning, transformed at the end. J. Daughtry (FB) was an ebullent Harbo who worked well with Compere’s Sofia.

The remaining characters were portrayed by members of the ensemble, strongly and with feeling. Ensemble members were (named characters noted, grey indicates a normal role but not at our performance): Darnell Abraham (FB) [Adam], Amar Atkins (FB) [Guard], Kyle E. Baird (FB) [Bobby / Buster], Angela Birchett (FB) [Church Lady], Bianca Horn (FB) [Church Lady], Mekhai Lee (FB) [Grady], C. E. Smith (FB) [Preacher / Ol’ Mister], Clyde Voce (FB) [Adam / Swing], Nyla Watson (FB) [Olivia / Swing], J. D. Webster (FB) [Pa], Brit West (FB) [Church Lady]. Swings were Nikisha Williams (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager] and Michael Wordly.

Music was provided by a nine-piece orchestra conducted by Darryl Archibald (FB) [Keys 1], with Wayne Green [Keys 2] as Associate Conductor. The remaining members of the orchestra ( indicates local) were: Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar (Electric, Acoustic, Dobro, Harmonica, 12 String)]; Chris Thigpen (FB) [Bass (Electric, Acoustic)]; Trevor Holder [Drums], Frank Fontaine (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Richard Mitchell [Bari Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Aaron Smith (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other music credits: Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programming]; Talitha Fehr (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Eric Heinly [Orchestra Contractor]. Production music credits: Catherine Jayes (FB) [Music Supervisor], Joseph Joubert (FB) [Orchestrations].

Turning to the production and creative credits: In addition to serving as director, John Doyle did the set design and musical staging. This design was augmented by Ann Hould-Ward‘s costume design and Charles G. LaPointe (FB)’s wig and hair design. Although minimal, they worked well to establish place and time. Jane Cox (FB)’s lighting design was also minimal, but it established mood well. The biggest weakness was Dan Moses Schreier (FB)’s sound design: although it worked well for a touring company, it was swallowed by the Pantages. Amplification was obvious and a bit tinny, and the actual words often got lost for the muddiness of the sound. The Pantages facility is a hard one to amplify in a clean manner — it is perhaps its biggest drawback with so many hard surfaces bouncing the sound in many ways. The Pantages really needs a local sound designer to tweak tour sound, but that never happens. Rounding out the production credits: Matt DiCarlo (FB) [Associate Director];  Telsey + Company (FB) [Casting]; Thomas Schall [Fight Coordinator]; Brian Schrader [General Manager]; Jose Solivan (FB) [Company Manager]; Melissa Chacón (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh (FB) [Stage Manager]. There were loads of producers, touring producers, executive producers, and such that I’m not going to list.

The Color Purple continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through June 17, 2018. Tickets are available through the Pantages Website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. I found the show worth seeing and quite enjoyable.

***

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 (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee 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:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

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 appears to be open, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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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What a Difference a Plot Makes | “School of Rock” @ Hollywood Pantages

School of Rock (Hollywood Pantages)About a month ago, we sat in the darkened theatre that is the Hollywood Pantages (FB) to see a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB), lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB). It was ponderous, and overblown — yes, it was Love Never Dies, the sequel to  Phantom of the Opera (based on a book by Ben Elton, which in turn was based on the book The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth). Last night, we sat in that same darkened theatre to see yet another musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB), lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB). This one, however, was glorious and energetic, and one of better musicals we’ve seen this touring season. This one was School of Rock – The Musical (with a book by Julian Fellowes, based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White), and it was a clear demonstration of how a clear and coherent book, combined with different forms and a different sensibility can lead artists in a different and better direction. It was a 180° turn from Love Never Dies, and had music so infectious (in a good way) that I saw 6-year olds, who attended the show, singing the songs on the way out. This is a good thing — it instills a love of live theatre and live performance early, and keeps the artform alive. Which is a notion that School of Rock would love, because its thematic goal is similar — to instill a love of rock as the artform, and to keep art alive.

The story of School of Rock roughly follows the outline of the original movie. Rocker Dewey Finn is stuck in the era of rock. He has a job he doesn’t care about, and lives to play (or overplay) electric guitar in a burgeoning rock band, living with but not paying rent to his high school friend and former bandmate, Ned. The collapse of all of this — being kicked out of the band, losing his job, and demands for the rent from his roommate, Ned Schneebly and Ned’s girlfriend, Patty — prove the catalyzing incident for the rest of the story (hmmm, just as demands for rent are the catalying incident in the musical Rent… but I digress). When the principal of a prestigious prep school, Rosalie Mullins, calls Ned to see if he can substitute teach, Dewey intercepts the call — and hearing what it pays, decides to impersonate Ned so he can get to the Battle of the Bands. Nevermind the fact that Dewey is unqualified to be a teacher — rock and winning the battle is what is most important.

Once ensconced in the Horace Green Prep School, Dewey (now Ned) figures he can skate though by letting the kids have continual recess. But he soon discovers that the kids can play music. The idea is born: Form a band from these kids, get them to the Battle of the Bands, and win the prize. The next step is never clear (other than paying the rent), but that’s not a surprise for Dewey. The remainder of the story is just that: forming the kids into the band, outsmarting the other faculty who are not enamored of Dewey’s teaching method, and dealing with the inevitable discovery and near collapse of the scheme at the end.

Unlike Love Never Dies, which had muddied character arcs and little character growth, what makes School of Rock work is precisely the character growth and arc in the story. Almost every character grows and changes in some way through the story: Dewey learns from the kids about himself and what he can be (including being a better version of himself); the kids learn that they do have a unique voice and talent that makes them more than nerds and misfits; Rosalie Mullins finds the rocker that was insider her all the time, and becomes a better principal for it; Ned finds his backbone and learns to speak up for himself. The plot, in essence, is a testament to the transformative power of Rock to empower and change, and to channel anger and rage at the system into good.

School of Rock is also a very different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. If you think of ALW, you think of sung-through pieces, whether they be rock like Jesus Christ Superstar or Evita, melodramatic like Phantom, or dance and movement like Cats or Starlight Express. But School of Rock is a traditional-style book musical, with dramatic spoken scenes between the songs, and use of the songs to propel the narrative and transformation forward. In an excellent interview with Glenn Slater on Broadway Bullet, Slater writes how Webber was hesitant to do School of Rock because of its American voice, and didn’t want to do the music until Slater reminded him of his rock roots of Evita and JCS. I think it is this hesitancy that pushed Webber out of his comfort envelope, and led to some of the best music that Webber has written in ages.

But what makes School of Rock succeed, and what wins over audiences every night, are the kids. Jesse Schwinn did a series of rehearsal reports (alas, there’s no good single link) during the pre-opening phase of School of Rock where he talked about the discovery of the original cast of kids in the show, and how these kids were so remarkable because they were playing their own instruments on stage. That’s true on the tour as well: there is a remarkable bunch of kids on stage that win audiences over nightly with there talent: kids that not only have been acting, but playing the piano since age 5, playing guitar since age 6, and exhibiting similar targets that just astounds. They make this show ROCK!

A number of the songs in this show standout for their melodies and their ability to serve as pop-ish numbers, These range from the rocker “Stick It To The Man” (which is an earworm) to the beautiful “If Only You Would Listen” and the closing “School of Rock”. I’ll note that the score does exhibit a few ALW-isms in that particular songs have their themes keep reappearing.

The elements in this show combine in an almost perfect way: kids, a transformative story, great music. It probably would have won more Tony awards, but it was up against Hamilton. One does not win against a steamroller. I think this is a distinctly different ALW musical; do not let the fact that ALW is involved prevent you from seeing this.

Laurence Conner‘s direction and JoAnn M. Hunter‘s choreography work reasonably well in this show — moreso for the kids than for the adults. In some ways, that’s because the original story paints the adults with a broad stroke with broad characterizations. I particularly enjoyed a number of the little touches — facial expressions, reactions, and so forth, as well as the energy of the dance numbers. I didn’t notice when I read the program that Conner has been involved with some of the more melodramatic sung-through shows of late: PhantomLes Miserables, and Miss Saigon, and Hunter was involved with a new show at the Ahmanson quite a few years ago, Harmony.

In the lead position at our show was Jameson Moss (★FB, FB). You’re probably going, “who?”. Moss was the understudy who, according to his Twitter feed, found out at 4:30 PM that he was going to be going on the first Saturday evening performance at 8:00 PM. He’s a relatively new actor, with a few TV and film credits and only one theatre credit I could find (this show appears to be his debut), whose rock band was invited to perform at the Whisky A Go Go when he was only 18.  This is a long-winded way of saying that, for an understudy, he did a damn fine job. He had some sound problems and wasn’t as clear to hear as he could have been, but he handled his songs well and seemed to have a good interaction with the kids. Oh, and the normal players for the role are Rob Colletti (FB), with Merritt David Janes (FB) doing the role at selected performances. Liam Fennecken (★FB) is the other understudy; more on an oddity with him later.
[★ indicates their professional FB page]

The adult female lead (not quite a love interest; more of an obstacle) was Lexie Dorsett Sharp (★FB, FB) as Rosalie Mullins. I quite enjoyed her performance, especially her facial expressions and movement. She brought down the house with her performance of “Where Did The Rock Go?” in the second act.

Of course, the real stars of the show (as least in the eyes of the audience) were the kids, eclipsing the smaller adult roles. The kids consisted of Olivia Bucknor (★FB) [Shonelle – Backup Vocals]; Theodora Silverman [Katie – Bass]; Cameron Trueblood [James – Security]; Alyssa Emily Marvin (★FB) [Marcy – Backup Vocals]; Carson Hodges (★FB) [Mason – Tech]; Grier Burke [Tomika – Vocals]; Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (★FB) [Freddy – Drums]; Vincent Molden [Zack – Guitar]; Huxley Westemeier [Billy – Stylist]; Theo Mitchell-Penner [Lawrence – Keyboard]; Iara Nemirovsky [Summer – Manager]; and Gabriella Uhl [Sophie – Roadie]. All of these kids are talented, but quite a few deserve special recognition. Let’s start with the musicians: Silverman, Moretti-Hamilton, Molden, and Mitchell-Penner are great on their instruments, and really really shine in their solo moments. It reminds one of how much talent there is in the kids of this world — be it science or music or performance. Burke blows the audience away with her solo of “Amazing Grace”, and Nemirovsky has some great comic and leadership moves as summer. Lastly, Westemeier’s a hoot as Billy.

Turning back to the adults, the remaining non-ensemble named characters are Matt Bittner‘s Ned and Emily Borromeo (★FB)’s Patty. Both find the humor in their lightly drawn roles as foils to Drew; Borromeo captures the authority aspects of her characters quite well, and Bittner is great as a nerd rocker.

The remaining on-stage team serve as ensemble members and cover smaller named roles as indicated: Patrick Clanton (FB) [Gabe Brown, Mr. Hamilton, Jeff Sanderson]; Kristian Espiritu (★FB); Melanie Evans (FB); Liam Fennecken (★FB) [Bob, Mr. Sanford, Cop]; Elysia Jordan (FB) [Mrs. Hathaway]; Deidre Lang (FB) [Ms. Sheinkopf]; Sinclair Mitchell (FB) [Snake, Mr. Mooneyham]Jameson Moss (★FB, FB) [Stanley, Mr. Williams] (note: at our performance, he went on as Dewey); Tim Shea (FB) [Doug, Mr. Spencer]; and Hernando Umana (FB) [Theo]. At our performance, John Campione (FB) swung into the ensemble, but not as one would expect into Jameson’s role; rather, he swung into Liam’s Bob/Mr. Sanford/Cop for some reason. Did Liam swing into Jameson’s ensemble roles? It isn’t clear. Note: There are so many understudies here, I’m not noting who understudies whom.

The swings (◬ indicates kids) were John Campione (FB); Christopher DeAngelis (FB) [Dance Captain]; ◬ Rayna Farr; ◬ Bella Fraker (★FB); Kara Haller (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; ◬ Jack Suarez Kimmel; and ◬ Jesse Sparks.

In addition to the kids onstage, music was provided by the local and touring orchestra, under the musical direction of Martyn Axe (FB) [Keyboards]; the touring orchestra was much larger than usual; there was minimal local supplementation (♪). The pit orchestra consisted of: Julie Homi (FB) [Asst Music Director, Keyboards]; Anthony Rubbo (FB) [Guitar 1]; Diego Rojas (FB) [Guitar 2]; Oscar Bautista (FB) [Guitar 3]; Lynn Keller (FB) [Bass]; Taurus Lovely (FB) [Drums]; ♪ Mike Abraham (FB) [Guitar 3]; and ♪ William Malpede [Keyboard 2 Sub]. Other music positions were: Benjamin Zoleski (FB) [Childrens Music Director; Band Tech]Lynn Keller (FB) [Librarian]; Talitha Fehr (FB)/TL Music International [Music Coordinator]; Stuart Andrews [Keyboard Programming]; and ♪ Eric Heinly [Local Contractor]. John Rigby was the music supervisor.

Note that, regarding the music in the show, it was all by the aforementioned ALW and Glenn Slater, except for the following: “The Queen of the Night” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “You’re in the Band” by ALW/Slater with quotes from Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ian Anderson Paice, Lou Reed, and Ludwig Van Beethoven; “In the End of Time” by Jack Black and Warren Fitzgerald; “Math is a Wonderful Thing” by Jack Black and Mike White; “School of Rock” by Mike White and Sammy James Jr,; “Amazing grace” by John Newton; and “Edge of Seventeen” by Stephanie Nicks, with kind permission. If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear a bit from ALW’s Song/Variations, as well as, of course, Cats.

Finally, turning to the production and creative team. The scenic and costume design by Anna Louizos worked well — I especially liked the rotating doors used for the Horace Green school and the way the blackboard was constructed; the rock outfits were also a hoot. Josh Marquette‘s hair design supported the costumes well.  Natasha Katz‘s lighting design worked well and established both mood and emotion, but she gets a “tsk, tsk” for letting her website expire. Mick Potter‘s sound design was defeated, alas, by the cavernous Pantages house: there were times that the lead could not be heard clearly, and there were other times that other characters words got lost. Part of that could be written off to understudy mic placement, but I missed the subtitles from Love Never Dies (about the only thing I missed about that show). Other production credits: David Ruttura [Associate Director]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Allied Touring [Tour Marketing/Press]; The Booking Group [Tour Direction]; Troika Entertainment LLC [Tour Management]; Brian Schrader [General Manager]; Maia Sutton [Company Manager]; Larry Smiglewski (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Amanda Kosack [Stage Manager]; Abby L. Powers [Asst. Stage Manager]; and Neuro Tour [Physical Therapy].

School of Rock continues at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) through May 27. Tickets are available through the Pantages Website/Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar Events or TodayTix. This is a really fun show; go see it.

***

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:

Next weekend brings 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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Definitely, This is #2 – “Love Never Dies” @ Pantages

Love Never Dies (Pantages)When you go to theatre as much as I, you learn there are a number of adages. The first is that the perfect subscription season is rare. There is typically one clunker that you need to endure because you’re that interested in the rest of the season (and, admit it, watching a well-orchestrated train wreck can be quite entertaining). Another is that, with musicals, sequels never work. From Annie 2/Annie Warbucks to Bring Back Birdie to The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public to even A Doll’s Life — they seem to be doomed to failure (there’s only one successful musical trilogy, of which the latter two-thirds became one musical, Falsettos, also this is a little less true for actual plays, where sequels (Clybourne Park), trilogies (the Eugene Trilogy), and even longer sequences are successful). These two adages came together Saturday night at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), when we had our series subscription tickets to Love Never Dies, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB), lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB) (and additional lyrics by Charles Hart), based on a book by Ben Elton, which in turn was based on the book The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick ForsythLove Never Dies is the sequel to the blockbuster Phantom of the Opera, taking place in 1908, ten years after the events in Phantom (which occurred in 1881). Don’t sweat the math. They didn’t.

As usual, this writeup will go in my usual order: my thoughts on the plot and the book (including a synopsis), then we’ll look at the acting and the production/creative teams and aspects. Hint: Those latter two aspects were good. As for the first, let’s just say you can use the number two in a different context.

Love Never Dies moves the action to America and the carnival that was Coney Island at the turn of the 20th Century. The Phantom, having escaped/faked his death in Paris, has been smuggled to the US by Madame Giry (the balletmistress in Phantom), and set up in a Phantasm carnival together with Mme. Giry’s daughter, Meg. Meg is hoping to get the Phantom’s attention and affection, but he is still pining for Christine Daaé (his object d’obsession in Paris). But — surprise of surprise — he learns Christine and her husband, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny are coming to the US to sing at the request of Oscar Hammerstein. So guess what happens? Yup, he arrives first, squirrels them off to Phantasma at Coney Island, and then begins to haunt and pine. Christine and Raoul have brought along their son, Gustave, who is just about 10 years old (you do the math — see the first paragraph), who wants to see Coney Island. I think you can see the various triangles that have been set up. I will note that at the end, I turned to my wife and said: Part III – My Two Dads, as the Phantom and Raoul raise Gustave. It’s just so — today.

If you want a more detailed synopsis, read the Wikipedia synopsis of the 2010 Australian version, as that’s the version on tour. This production has not been on Broadway. It was about to go when it first left London, but critical reaction there led to a retooling. This led to the Australian version, which as marginally more successful. That’s what’s on tour, and rumor has it that it won’t be going to New York. As for cast albums, what is on Amazon is the Original CONCEPT Album, and many songs there have been tossed or rearranged (per a great interview with Glenn Slater on Broadway Bullet). The tour is selling the Australian Cast album for $35 (ouch), and it isn’t available elsewhere.

So what did we think of the show?

First, if you are a Phantom lover, what we think doesn’t matter. Phantom lovers will ignore the story, love the performances, love the romance (and no, you can’ use that as your pull quote) and be completely teary eyed at the end.  They will be happy, as will much of the blithely unaware Pantages audience that only knows the spectacle and doesn’t think much further.

As for the rest of us….

I tried to look at this show from a number of levels: First, how well did it stand-alone (i.e., how much context was required)? Second, did I enjoy the show? I’ll note that I’m not an ALW fan, but I’m not an ALW hater either. I quite like Evita, and I’m looking forward to School of Rock, which is from the same team. I think Cats is a spectacular dance show. I don’t like Jesus Christ Superstar, but that’s because I’m Jewish and it just gives of an antisemitic vibe. But I could never get into Phantom. I saw it ages ago. I never saw the romance in the show; the memory it left was something deep and ponderous, with a few songs that become earworms and a few good novelty songs. I truthfully didn’t remember the characters.

So as to the first question: Not remembering the characters, I found that I was lacking the backstory that would make Love Never Dies instantly accessible. There were relationships and clues and passions that I just couldn’t glom onto because I didn’t know them. The opening exposition was inadequate to draw the audience into that context; there wasn’t anything in the program to provide that context. For a sequel to work, this is a problem. The show must not require seeing something else first in order to understand what is on stage.

As to the story: The first thought I had watching it was: This seems entirely inappropriate for the #MeToo world of today. Here you have someone who has mentally and physically abused and tormented a woman, where the central point of the show is his getting back with that woman for a second chance. Come again? How does that play in today’s world, unless the show is just her standing up to him and making him wear a mask somewhat lower on his physique as rips something off his body. But that’s not the show — instead we have intimated abuse and gaslighting. It just comes off wrong and dark and ponderous. I’m pleased to see I’m not the only one with that view, as the LA Times wrote:

The storytelling twists itself into knots trying to make the Phantom less icky, most notably by attempting to convince us that Christine was more enamored of him in the first musical than we might have suspected. Still, with the tale barely underway, the Phantom not only abducts Christine once again, but her family as well. He later flies into a rage with Christine, then begs forgiveness. And once he meets the musically precocious Gustave, he develops a worrisome fixation on the boy as well.

The Phantom’s behavior is exactly what #MeToo is calling out right now.

Moving past the wrong direction of the storyline, there is the basic Phantom style itself, which comes across as melodrama: overplayed for the sympathy, perhaps to hide that there’s really nothing there. If you think in terms of character changes from the events in the story, who has changed? The Phantom? Hardly. His behavior hasn’t indicated he learned anything at all from his behavior during the show. Christine? Nope. Raoul? Again, he’s not a better dad, and there’s no evidence he gambles less. Meg? Unclear. No one really changes. They are the same wretches we saw at the beginning. I’m not sure there was a particular point being made through this story.

Further, after rereading the synopsis of the original show, the central catalyst incident for this entire show might not even have happened at all. You need to suspend your disbelief in that one incident. If you’re a romantic Phantom fan, you can. The rest of us?

So the book, in general, just does not work, and probably cannot be made to work…. unless they decide to focus on the portion of the story that is of interest: a story that takes place in a circus in Coney Island in 1908, and just jettison the characters from Phantom. Create new characters that we care about, and let the story change them from living in this environment. Perhaps that was done already with Side Show?

As with Phantom, the music consists of a number of melodies, repeated and repeated (and repeated and repeated (and repeated and repeated (and repeated and …)))). There are a few good novelty musical numbers, but it is telling when the circus sideshow numbers and circus leaders are much more interesting than the primary leads. I know that ALW and Slater can do better — I’ve heard the cast album of “School of Rock”, and it is great — and from ALW and Slater. This was written in the ponderous and dark style of the original Phantom. Luckily, we were at an open-captioned performance, so I could actually read what that characters were saying.

So, besides the book and the music, did I enjoy the show?

I’m pleased to say that, aside from the story, the performances themselves were great. I’d like to start not with the leads but the first three performers we see on the stage: Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch, portrayed by Katrina Kemp (FB), Stephen Petrovich (FB), and Richard Koons (FB), respectively. These were extremely unique performers (particularly Kemp, who is a little person), unlike what you see on the stage today — more appropriate to Cirque de Soleil. As such, your eyes were drawn to them whenever they were on stage. They sang strong from the opening “Coney Island Waltz”, and moved strong, but most importantly, they created the sideshow environment that characterized this show. As the rest of the ensemble joined them, you were drawn to the wide variety of shapes and portrayals and talents. It was this troupe that actually made the show as spectacular as it was.

Of course, that’s not what the Phantom Romantics will say. For them, it was Gardar Thor Cortes (FB)’s Phantom, and Meghan Picerno (FB)’s Christine that were the stars. It is true they had spectacular, operatic voices that were a joy to close your eyes and listen to. Their execution on their numbers such as “‘Til I Hear You Sing” or “Love Never Dies” — the first time you hear them — is lovely. They showed romance and passion. But to me, the Phantom was cape and flash, a two-dimensional and wooden portrayal. I don’t think that is the actor — I think that’s the writing and the idea, and yes, an extension of how the Phantom was in the original. Picerno’s Christine had more flashes of spirit and light, but was ultimately too operatic in her performance to capture the character as fluid.

The next tier of characters, Sean Thompson (FB)’s Raoul, Mary Michael Patterson‘s Meg, and Karen Mason (FB)’s Mme Giry, were much more spirited. Thompson captured Raoul’s cad aspects quite well, and Patterson’s Meg was just a delight to watch (especially in the Bathing Beauty scene).  Mason captured the evil expression of Mme Giry, while not turning her into quite a caricature villain. All sang strongly. I particularly enjoyed Thompson in “Devil Take The Hindmost” and Patterson in “Bathing Beauty”.

A big surprise was Jake Heston Miller (FB)’s  Gustave (he alternates with Casey Lyons (FB)).  Miller was a very strong performer, with a lovely voice and great expression.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble: Chelsey Arce [Asst. Dance Captain], Diana DiMarzio (FB[u/s Mme Giry], Tyler Donahue (FB[u/s Gangle], Yesy Garcia (FB[u/s Fleck], Tamar Greene (FB), Natalia LePore Hagan (FB), Lauren Lukacek (FB[u/s Mme Giry], Alyssa McAnany (FB[u/s Meg Giry], Rachel Anne Moore (FB[Christine-Alternate], Bronson Norris Murphy (FB[Phantom-Alternate], Dave Schoonover (FB[u/s Phantom, u/s Raoul, u/s Gangle], John Swapshire IV (FB), Kelly Swint (FB[u/s Meg Giry, u/s Fleck], Lucas Thompson (FB[u/s Squelch], and Arthur Wise (FB[u/s Squelch]. Swings were Erin Chupinsky (FB[Dance Captain], Alyssa Giannetti (FB[u/s Christine], Adam Soniak (FB), and Correy West (FB). Additional understudies were: Michael Gillis (FB[u/s Phantom, u/s Raoul]. As I noted earlier, the ensemble was strong and a joy to watch. If you are close enough (or brought your binoculars), watch their wonderfully expressive faces.

The production was directed by Simon Philips, and choreographed by Graeme Murphy AO. Together, these two are responsible for the second great part of this show: the staging and movement. Irrespective of the weak book, the movement and spectacle on the stage was a joy to watch. From magical movement and circuses to mermaids in a box, from the large and the small, the visual aspects were quite strong and distracting from the weak book. But not quite enough.

Thirdly, the music of the show, as one would expect, was quite lush. Credit here goes to the music director, Dale Rieling (FB), and his orchestra: Eric Kang (FB[Asst. Conductor, Keys 3]; Dominic Raffa (FB[Keys 1]; David Robinson (FB[Keys 2]; Dmitriy Milkumov (FB[Concertmaster]; Hector J. Rodriguez (FB[French Horn]Gary Cordell (FB[Trumpet]; Ric Becker (FB[Bass Trombone, Tuba]; Aaron Nix (FB[Percussion];  Grace Oh (FB), Jen Choi Fisher (FB), Lesa Terry (FB), Ina Veli [Local-Violins]; Karen Elaine, Jody Rubin [Local-Violas]; Ira Glansbeek [Local-Cello]; Sara Andon [Local-Reed 1]; Richard Mitchell [Local-Reed 2]; Jeff Driskill [Local-Reed 3]; Judith Farmer [Local-Bassoon]; Michael Valerio [Local-Contra Bass]; and Steve Becknell [Local-French Horn]. Other music credits: Stuart Andrews [Keyboard Programmer]; Eric Heinly [Local Music Contractor]; Kristen Blodgette [Music Supervisor]; David Lai and Talitha Fehr [Music Coordinator]; David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) [Orchestrations].

Lastly, there is the creative and production team, and the miraculous sets by Gabriela Tylesova (who also designed the costumes). Again, here the circus aspects win out. The leads costumes were what you would expect, suits ties and fancy dresses. The circus performers, and the world they lived in, was just magical. This was assisted by the wig and hair design of Backstage Artistry. Nick Schlieper‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Mick Potter‘s sound design was adequate in the cavernous space that is the Pantages (although the open captions helped quite a bit). Other production credits: Edward Pierce [Design Supervisor]; Randy Moreland (FB[Technical Direction]; Tara Rubin Casting and Lindsay Levine CSA [Casting]; Anna E. Bate [Production Manager]; Karen Berry [General Manager]; Aaron Quintana [Company Manager]; Daniel S. Rosokoff [Production Stage Manager]; Gavin Mitford [Associate Director]; Simon Sault [Associate Choreographer]; Eric H. Mayer [Stage Manager]; and Lauren Cavanaugh [Assistant Stage Manager].

Love Never Dies continues at the Hollywood Pantages through April 22. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar and other outlets. If you love Phantom or are an ALW completeist, this is worth seeing. As for the rest of you, save your funds for School of Rock.

Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (VPAC/Soraya)Note: Two days before this, we saw the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at  the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). This was a concert of big band jazz, and I didn’t write down a set list. So there’s isn’t a formal review, other than to note that this is another great big band jazz group with CSUN alumni (others include Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Big Phat Band). We enjoyed the show quite a lot.

***

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:

Next weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of April brings Bad Jews at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Friday, followed by The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)) on Saturday. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: 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). 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. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Pantages 2018-2019

This morning, the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2018/2019 season. My predictions were pretty damn close. Here’s what I was predicting, from my last review post:

Speaking of show mixes: The Ahmanson has added Ain’t Too Proud, a musical on the Temptations, to their 2018/2019 season, and they still have two shows to announce (see the end of the paragraph). It is looking even more likely that we’ll add that subscription, if we can get the cheap seats. As for the Pantages, they announce on Tuesday. As I wrote in my Aladdin writeup: We already know that Dear Even HansenCome From AwayFalsettos, and The Play That Goes Wrong will be going to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). What does that leave for the Pantages, as they don’t produce their own. Here are my guesses: BandstandAnastasia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are highly likely; so is the Miss Saigon revival. So would Groundhog Day, except they just cancelled their tour. If A Bronx Tale had announced a tour, it would also be likely. Ditto for Hello Dolly. Lesser possibilities are Amazing Grace, or A Night with Janis Joplin. In terms of potential retreads, I could see them bringing in the current Les Miz tour, and possibly the Fiddler on the Roof,  Lion King or Wicked tours, if they are still on the road. Also known to be going on tour/on tour, and thus possibilities for retreads, are Cats and Phantom, as they will draw in crowds and haven’t been in LA recently. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has announced a tour, but I think the Pantages is too large for them. I could see them doing the Ahmanson. As for the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), which has two slots to announce, I predict that one will be a show in development, and the other will either be Natasha, Pierre, … , or some form of dance or ballet, like the Matthew Bourne stuff that they’ve done recently.

2018-2019 Pantages Season AnnouncementSo, what did the Pantages announce? You can see their graphic to the right. Here are my thoughts on the shows:

  • 👍 Hello Dolly. I hadn’t heard this was going on tour, but I thought that if it did, it would end up here. I haven’t seen this on the big stage; I think I saw a regional production in Atascadero once. So I’m looking forward to this. It will be interesting to see who they get to headline the tour, as this tends to be a star vehicle.
  • 👍 A Bronx Tale. Again, I hadn’t seen a tour announcement, but if it did, the Pantages was a likely home. I’ve heard the music from this and it is quite good.
  • 👍 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I predicted this one. Looking forward to seeing it, even though it got weak reviews in New York.
  • 👍 Miss Saigon. Again, I predicted this one. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this on the stage, so I’m looking forward to this.
  • 👍 Fiddler on the Roof. I predicted this was a possibility, so again, I got it right. On the original Broadway production, my daughter actually toured Eastern Europe on Yiddishkeyt with the actor performing Mottel. I haven’t seen Fiddler on the stage in ages, so I’m looking forward to this.
  • 😐 Cats. Again, I indicated this was on tour and a possibility for a retread. I saw it when it was at the Shubert in Century City ages ago, as well as a good regional mounting at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) quite a few years ago. I don’t mind seeing this again — it’s a great dance show.
  • 😐 Les Miserables. Another show that I indicated was a possibility. I saw this quite a few years ago when a tour hit the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, but I’m somewhat lukewarm.

What I found interesting was that neither Anastasia or Bandstand ended up at the Pantages; I really thought Anastasia would be a Pantages show. Either of these could end up in one of the unannounced slots at the Ahmanson; it is less likely that both would (but one never knows). Additionally, reflecting on things, I think that if Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 does go on tour, it would end up either at the Mark Taper Forum or another theatre that would be willing to adapt to their immersive staging (perhaps the Pasadena Playhouse, or a theatre on Broadway). For the following season, there are a number of shows from the current Broadway season that are likely to show up: Escape to MargaritavilleThe Band’s VisitSpongebob Squarepants, and many others.

 

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Wishing for More | “Aladdin” @ Hollywood Pantages

Aladdin - A New Musical (Pantages)Ah, the new  Hollywood Pantages (FB) season. We are finally past the juggernaut that is and was Hamilton, and we’re back into a more conventional subscription season. First up: Aladdin v4.0, otherwise known as Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical. This is to distinguish it from Aladdin: The Animated Movie Musical, and from the Aladdin stage show that was once down the street at Disneyland, and from the licensed version of Aladdin that you’ll find on the small stages of regional intimate theatres and school stages.* In fact, it was just a year ago that we saw one of these other Aladdins: a great bi-lingual production at Casa 0101 in East LA. All these pre-4.0 (Broadway) versions hewed relatively close to the original animated version (1.0); the great bi-lingual production added the conceit that the folks in the village spoke English while the people in the palace spoke only Spanish, and only the animals (Raja, Iago) could translate between the two. You can read my writeup of that show here; it truly added something, but can’t fit well in what we saw last night.
(*: Although this does note that it is based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed and produced by John Musker and Ron Clements.)

Last night, we saw the “Broadway” version of Aladdin. This version expands Aladdin from the original 90 minute animated story to a 2½ hour version. It does this by bringing back original ideas of the development team that were dropped as the animated feature was developed: Aladdin’s backstory, Aladdin’s friend. It eliminates the cartoonish aspects of the story: gone are any talking animals (or any animals at all). In fact, the only thing cartoonish that remains is the characterization of the Evil Vazir, and his comic-relief assistant, Iago. The Genie? He’s no longer a cartoon, and he’s no longer Robin Williams. Instead, he’s a manic Cab Calloway, a manic Queer Eye host — he’s still down to earth, but with more sequels and less shape-shifting.

There’s also a change in attitude. First, there’s tons of self-referential stuff and commentary that gives a wink and an eye to the fact that these people on stage are in on the joke that this is a Broadway musical. But more significantly, the Disney Princess problem is addressed. As Disney moved from its original suite of animated classic into the era of The Little Mermaid, the heroines became longing for more independence. They were less the passive princess. In the Broadway version (I forget how much this was in the animated version), Jasmine is feisty. The audience cheers with a wink and a nod when the Sultan proclaims that perhaps now is the time that we had a women leader; there’s a point being made at the end when it is made clear that Aladdin and Jasmine will be ruling as partners, not the traditional woman subservient approach.

These are all great changes, and they make the expanded show flow well and the timing not seem to drag. But still, you wish for more. In particular, you wish that Howard Ashman had not passed during the development of this show. The strongest songs in this show — the songs with the most clever lyrics — are Ashman’s. “Friend Like Me” is clearly designed to be an earworm, and is the song that comes into my head when I think of this show. Together with his writing partner Alan Menken, the songs they developed are the heart and soul of this show. The lungs of the show — what lifts it up — are the additional songs that Menken went on to write with Tim Rice. This particularly includes the ballad “A Whole New World”, which is executed in an amazing fashion in the stage version. The remaining songs, which are less memorable, are from book writer Chad Beguelin. It is not that they are bad — Beguelin is a strong writer and I love his work on Wedding Singer and Elf; however, compared to Menkin and Rice there is a level of difference and experience.

And thus, the wish: that Howard Ashman hadn’t past, and that we continued to have his genius enriching stage and screen. But alas, the Genie can’t bring back the dead (it’s in the rulebook), and in any case, he’s far too busy helping Ken Davenport with his podcast.

By this point, you’re probably saying: But he hasn’t told us the story of what Aladdin is about. That’s true, but you’ve probably seen the animated movie and thus know the basics. Your principles are Aladdin, a street rat in a mythical Arabian city, together with his three friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Meanwhile, in the palace is the Sultan, Princess Jasmine, the Grand Vazir Jafar, and Jafar’s assistant/toady, Iago. Jafar wants to be Sultan, but Princess Jasmine is standing in his way. If she finds a Prince she likes and marries, that prince becomes Sultan. Luckily, she’s not the prince type; she prefers honest street rats. So Jafar cooks up a plan to win, by getting a magic lamp from a cave. However, a spooky voice tells us that this lamp can only be gotten by a “Diamond in the Rough”, who is, you guessed it, Aladdin (who incidentally, is the street rat that Jasmine prefers). From that setup, much of the rest is predictable, and one is ingenious is the execution, not the story. By the end of the story — what else? — Aladdin and Jasmine are together, Jafar is banished to a prison, and Aladdin’s friends are elevated to positions they deserve. The Genie? He’s packing his bags, presumably to find a job on the stage somewhere.

As one might imagine, there is a lot of frenetic activity on the stage, which is all coordinated through the direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw. Nicholaw had the same role on the last Ahmanson musical we saw, Something Rotten, and he has a talent for bringing out humor through movement, and having organization on stage that seems chaotic. He did a good job here with loads of enjoyable dancing and dance numbers, quick changes, and fun. He worked with his acting ensemble to bring out characters well, although I do think that Jafar and Iago were a bit overplayed, but that may be more of the fault of the writing and their basis in the animated movie (although Iago was changed into a stooge-like sidekick ala Lafou in Beauty and the Beast, he kept much of the bird-like writing and characterization). Nicholaw was assisted by Associate Director Scotty Taylor (FB), Associate Resident Director Casey Hushion, and Dance Supervisor Michael Mindlin (FB).

Turning to the actors who are implementing Nicholaw’s direction: In the lead position — at least in the eyes of the audience — is Michael James Scott (★FB, FB) as the Genie. For those who remember the performance of the originator of the role at the Tony Awards — this guy is as good. He is having loads and loads of fun with this role, and that playfulness comes out in the performance — which is vital to this track. He’s a hoot to watch in his main number, “Friend Like Me” (which is one of my favorite numbers in the show), but he’s equally strong in the opening number as well as in “Prince Ali”. He fits in well with the glitz, glitter, and sequins. Oh, so many sequins.

The titular leads of the show are the happy couple, ostensibly Adam Jacobs (★FB), FB) as Aladdin and Courtney Reed (★FB, FB) as Jasmine. I say ostensibly because at our performance, Jacobs was out and replaced by his understudy, Clinton Greenspan (FB). Greenspan did admirably in the role with no obvious gaffes (although his voice could be a little stronger in “A Whole New World”. He executed the dances well, sang the songs reasonably well, handled the humor well, and had great chemistry with both the actress playing Jasmine, the Genie, and his trio of friends. Likely, this is because he has been the understudy since the start of the tour, and has presumably played the role before. Speaking of Jasmine, I enjoyed her performance. I saw a few writeups that commented on her voice, but I had no such problem with it (other than the two folks behind us who insisted in talking loudly in Russian during her main duet, “A Whole New World”). Reed danced well, sang well, and had a lovely charm and feisty-ness about her. Reed was new to the tour, having moved from the Broadway production to the tour for Los Angeles (I don’t know about beyond LA; Isabelle McCalla (FB) was Jasmine before Los Angeles) [ETA: Reed is Jasmine for 6 weeks — Per Broadway World: ” Courtney Reed will play the role of Jasmine from Saturday, January 13, through Sunday, February 18, 2018. Isabelle McCalla, original Jasmine in the ALADDIN North American tour company, will play performances in Los Angeles from Wednesday, January 10, through Friday, January 12, and then will return Tuesday, February 20, to Saturday, March 31, 2018.”]

In comic opposition to Aladdin and Jasmine were Jonathan Weir (FB) as Jafar and Reggie de Leon (FB) as Iago. Both were very comically drawn in their performances — and by that I mean that they took on the behavior of animated film villains as opposed to just realistic evil. Luckily, they were a bit self-aware of that (shall we do the evil laugh now?), which helped to offset the overdrawn. Still, they were clearly  having loads of fun with their roles, and they executed them well. I wasn’t that enamored of their makeup, however; Jafar’s tended to look like it was a mask, although the binoculars made clear that it was not.

Aladdin’s friends were Babkak (Zach Bencal (FB)), Omar (Philippe Arroyo (FB)), and Kassim (Mike Longo (FB)). Less than 24 hours later, it is hard to remember which character was which characterization — so guys, you get lumped together. All were strong and comic in their characterizations, and I particularly enjoyed their choreography in the “High Adventure” number with the well-timed sword-clashes and clinks and the comic moments. They were also strong in their titular number “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim”, as well as in “Prince Ali”. They all exhibited great comic timing and movement, and were fun to watch.

The last major named role was JC Montgomery (FB)’s Sultan. His role gets the least character development (not a surprise for Disney and their attitude towards fathers — it is about the same level of characterization as Ariel’s father or Belle’s father): a father who comically cares about his daughter, blind to what is around him, growing a form of a spine at the end to proclaim true love. Still, Montgomery carries the role well.

Rounding out the production was the ensemble and the swings. We had two swings onstage during our show (indicated with §), but I do not know which ensemble members they subbed for, other than the aforementioned Clinton Greenspan (FB). The ensemble and supporting players consisted of (u/s and featured positions noted): Mary Antonini (FB) [Attendant]; Michael Bullard§ (FB) [Swing, Omaru/s, Iagou/s]; Michael Callahan (FB) [Swing, Dance Captain, Iagou/s]; Cornelius Davis (FB); Bobby Daye (FB) [Razoul, Jafaru/s, Sultanu/s]; Lissa DeGuzman (FB) [Swing, Jasmineu/s]; Mathew DeGuzman§ (FB) [Swing]; Olivia Donalson (FB) [Attendant, Fortune Teller]; Michael Everett (FB); Karlee Ferreira (FB) [Swing]; Michael Graceffa (FB) [Shop Owner]; Adrienne Howard (FB); Albert Jennings (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Omaru/s]; Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua (FB); Jason Scott MacDonald (FB); Angelina Mullins (FB); Celina Nightengale (FB); Jaz Sealey (FB) [Prince Abdullah, Fight Captain, Kassimu/s]; Charles South (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Babkaku/s]; Manny Stark (FB) [Aladdinu/s]; Annie Wallace (FB) [Attendant, Jasmineu/s]; and Michelle West (FB). Standbys were Korie Lee Blossey (FB) [Genie/Sultan]; Ellis C. Dawson III (FB) [Genie/Babkak]; and Adam Stevenson (FB) [Jafar/Sultan]. In general, the ensemble showed strong dance skills, the ability to change costumes quickly, and seemed to be having a great deal of fun with their roles. I particularly remember Michelle West and Olivia Donalson as having looks that I could match up later. I’ll note that the ensemble has an extremely athletic dance job, so they well deserved the applause.

Brandon O’Neill (FB) was the generic spooky voice. Interestingly, he was the original Kassim on Broadway. Yes, it gets a credit.

Moving from voices to music. Music Supervision was by  Michael Kosarin (FB), who also did the incidental music and vocal arrangements.  Danny Troob (FB) did the Orchestrations. Glen Kelly did the Dance Music Arrangements. Music was provided by the Aladdin Touring Orchestra combined with local contractors. This orchestra consisted of (T indicates touring): Brent-Alan HuffmanT (FB) [Music Director / Conductor]; Faith SeetooT  (FB[Keyboard2, Asst. Conductor]; Danny TaylorT (FB) [Drums / 2nd Asst. Conductor]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Larry Greenfield [Concertmaster]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]Trey Henry (FB[Bass, Electric Bass]; Dick Mitchell[Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax];  John Yoakum (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]Greg Huckins (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Bari Sax]; Wayne Bergeron (FB), Paul Baron (FB), and Rob Schaer (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; Andy Martin (FB[Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Bruce Carver  [Percussion]David Witham (FB[Keyboard1]; and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard2 Sub]. Music support was provided by: Howard Joines (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Anixter Rice Music Services (FB) [Music Preparation]Jeff Marder (FB) [Electronic Music Programming]. Brian Miller was the Orchestra Contractor. The music had a great brassy sound to it and was quite enjoyable. People should read the music credits — these are some top notch studio musicians; we saw many of them playing with Doc Severensen at VPAC.

Finally, we come to the production credits. The scenic design was by Bob Crowley, and was over the top — especially the scenic design during “Friends Like Me”, but the other designs were no slouch either. This was assisted by Jim Steinmeyer (FB)’s Illusion Design and Jeremy Chernick‘s Special Effects Design. This was the first time I’ve seen magnesium based fireworks used IN a theatre — spectacular (and dangerous). Gregg Barnes (FB) did the Costume Design, which was also sequined and spectacular, and at quite a few points, daring in a family way. Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (FB) did the Makeup Design, which was also very strong, although both Jafar and the Sultan looked like they were wearing masks. The sound design by Ken Travis was as clear as it could be for the Pantages; Natasha Katz (FB)’s lighting design established the mood well. Rounding out the production credits were: J. Allen Suddeth (FB) [Original Fight Direction]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Neuro Tour Physical Therapy Inc [PT]; Geoffrey Quart (FB) / Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision / Production Management]; Clifford Schwartz (FB) [Senior Production Supervisor]; Jason Trubitt (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Kate McDoniel [Stage Manager]; Trisha Henson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; and Vanessa Coakley (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager].

Disney’s Aladdin: The Broadway Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 31. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. This is a fun diversion of time with great singing and dancing; the story is Aladdin, so no big surprises there, but it is well fleshed out for a full-length musical.

Pantages 2018-2019 Season. The Pantages will be announcing their 2018-2019 season on January 30th, so what might it be. We already know that Dear Even HansenCome From AwayFalsettos, and The Play That Goes Wrong will be going to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). What does that leave for the Pantages, as they don’t produce their own. Here are my guesses: BandstandAnastasia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are highly likely; so is the Miss Saigon revival. So would Groundhog Day, except they just cancelled their tour. If A Bronx Tale had announced a tour, it would also be likely. Ditto for Hello Dolly or . Lesser possibilities are Amazing Grace, or A Night with Janis Joplin. In terms of potential retreads, I could see them bringing in the current Les Miz tour, and possibly the Fiddler on the Roof,  Lion King or Wicked tours, if they are still on the road. Also known to be going on tour/on tour, and thus possibilities for retreads, are Cats and Phantom, as they will draw in crowds and haven’t been in LA recently. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has announced a tour, but I think the Pantages is too large for them. I could see them doing the Ahmanson. As for the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), which has two slots to announce, I predict that one will be a show in development, and the other will either be Natasha, Pierre, … , or some form of dance or ballet, like the Matthew Bourne stuff that they’ve done recently.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

This afternoon brought an interesting production of Heathers The Musical at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, produced by YA4Ever  (FB). It closed today; expect that writeup tomorrow. Next weekend currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to). The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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

 

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Imperfect Men, a Perfect Union | “Hamilton” @ Pantages

Hamilton (Pantages)Singing and dancing founding fathers. They’ve trod the Great White Way slightly more times than professional sports have. Some — like 1776 — have been spectacularly successful. Others — like Mr. President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Ben Franklin in Paris — have been less so. All have portrayed our leaders as ultimately human, as flawed men that have worked towards a more perfect union.

Two years ago, another musical in this genre burst upon the scene. In doing so, it did what few musicals have done since the Golden Age of Musicals. It entered the vernacular. It spoke a musical language that moved from the stage to the airwaves, with an album that has gone triple platinum. It spoke and moved the hearts not just of the greyhairs that typically attend musicals, but of the everyday people. It spoke to the people of today — the immigrants that works as hard as they can and give more than 100% to make this nation great, to the women who have worked equally hard and been equally smart but have often blended into the background. It demonstrated that the storybook history is fantasy, that the real sausage-making is only seen by those in the room where it happened, and that those who tell the story are just as important in coloring it — or removing the color — as those who were there. This musical, like West Side Story, Hair, and Rent, spoke to the people and conflicts of today while couching it in the language of the stage. This musical demonstrated to a generation the power of the stage, the ability of live performance to move hearts, tell a story, and change the world.

I am speaking, of course, of Hamiliton (FB), the Broadway blockbuster with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) (based on the book by Ron Chernow (FB)) that just arrived in Los Angeles, officially opening on Wednesday, August 16, with previews starting August 11. We were at the second preview last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), thankful for our season tickets that enabled us to see the show for a mere $46, when people are paying multiple hundreds and thousands of dollars for a seat (although the people sitting next to us paid only $10 thanks to the Hamilton Lottery). There is a reason to buy season tickets sometimes. There is a reason that one has to sit through The Bodyguard sometimes.

So does Hamilton live up to the hype? Is it the musical of this generation? We have to agree with Charles McNulty of the LA Times: Yes. Although there are some flaws, it speaks to an audience the way no other musical has since perhaps Rent. It energizes people not only about America but about the theatre. It is, at its heart, theatrical. It is something that hopefully will live on in its execution and its message. It will hopefully energize a younger generation on that unique American form that is the “Broadway Musical”, and it has already sparked / continued a move of popular composers back to the theatrical stage — and both popular and “Broadway” music will be the better for it. It already is.

I’m not sure I need to tell you the actual story of Hamilton. By now, you’ve likely listened to the album. You know it is the story of an immigrant that created the modern financial system. It is the story of a man that rose from nothing to be a Founding Father, but one whose imperfections ultimately brought him down. It is a demonstration that our founding wasn’t easy. It is the story of founders such as Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. It is not the story of John Adams or Benjamin Franklin — they already have their own musicals. It is the story of Alexander Hamilton. You still want the synopsis. Read Wikipedia.

The musical presents incredible performance. It has incredible choreography. It has an incredible ensemble (it is worth seeing a second time if only to focus on watching the ensemble as opposed to the principals). McNulty opines that it has a flawed book: “I have quibbles with the book, which suffers a few minor dips in its retreading of Alexander Hamilton’s revolutionary life story. And I’ve questioned the relative gentleness of Miranda’s take on Hamilton’s complicated economic legacy and the founding fathers’ personal relationship to slavery. “Hamilton” could probably have done more to connect the framers’ partisan squabbles with our own.” I, on the other hand, see the flaws of Hamilton in a more technical fashion. For a show to become a show of the ages, it must be reproducible for the masses. We know of West Side Story and Hair and Rent because they have been performed on stages from the amateur to the professional. On the other hand, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark? Yeah, a tour is promised, but we’re not going to see it in high schools? Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which we saw last week, may not do well on the intimate or regional stage just because of the technical demands. I’m unsure if whether the double-turntable staging of Hamilton will be possible on the high school, intimate, or regional stage. Will Hamilton move from the Broadway and Touring stage to the stages of the heartland of America? I’m not sure we know that yet. Some past blockbusters — Producers, Spamalot, and Rent have. Others haven’t. Et tu, Wicked?

But that just makes it more imperative that you go see Hamilton while you can. If you miss it this go around — either due to schedule, cost, or bad luck in the lottery — I can guarantee you that it will be back. This will be another Wicked, reappearing every few years to empty pocketbooks and win hearts — and everyone should see it at least once. Director Thomas Kail and Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler  have crafted an remarkable “whole”: a harmonization of the leads and the ensemble that tell a story in a way that hasn’t really been done on the stage before, except, perhaps, In The Heights (which was from the same team). This is worth seeing, and seeing again.

Describing the performance — in a review sense — is difficult. Gone are the days LA Civic Light Opera days where Los Angeles got the original Broadway cast. We have a cast trained on Broadway, but we don’t have Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) or Phillipa Soo. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. All of the leads are spectacular, demonstrating that this not a star dependent show. Just like some of the greatest television shows, the strength of this show is its its entire cast, the synthesis of talent and performance and energy that makes all it difficult to separate performances, for all are great — from Hamilton, Burr, and the other leads to the nameless background dancer.

Our top protagonists are Michael Luwoye (FB) as Alexander Hamilton and Joshua Henry (FB) as Aaron Burr. Luwoye brings a different intensity and style to Hamilton (at least audibly, as I only know Miranda’s performance from the album), but it is one that works well. Henry is just spectacular in his intensity as Burr. The two men — perhaps one of the most famous frenemies duos — have a great chemistry together on stage, and work well in the roles.

The Schuyler Sisters are the most prominent female roles in the story — Emmy Raver-Lampman (FB) as Angelica, Solea Pfeiffer (FB) as Eliza, and Amber Iman (FB★, FB) as both Peggy and Hamilton’s later lover, Maria Reynolds. They have perhaps some of the most complicated vocal harmonies and blendings in the score, and they handle them well. Each brings a unique look and style to the role, and provide both a touching softness and strength to the leads. They are a joy to watch.

The revolutionary team of compadres that form around Hamilton — Jordan Donica (FB) as Marquis de Lafayette, Mathenee Treco (FB) as Hercules Mulligan, and Rubén J. Carbajal (FB) as John Laurens — capture the headstrong nature of youth well. They reappear in the second act — Donica as Jefferson, Treco as Madison, and Carbajal as Hamilton’s son, Phillip. It is here where Donica shines as the effusive dandy Jefferson, primping and preening as he contrasts and battles with Hamilton. Treco’s Madison is a lot quieter, behind the scenes as Jefferson’s right-hand man. Carbajal — a local boy, having done In The Heights at the Chance Theatre (FB) — has some wonderful scenes as Phillip — especially in his duel.

Rory O’Malley (FB★, FB)’s King George is a spectacular dandy — someone whose “da da da da” refrain will stick in your head. He tends to appear on-stage by himself, in a world of his own — capturing the separation of King George from his subjects well. As a side note: When O’Malley as the King sang of John Adams, I noted that Adams does not appear at all in this show. Why? Because he’s the center of his own show and story, someone else tells his story. Similarly, Ben Franklin has no voice at all in this show (referenced in just one song); again, he’s not only in Adams’ show, but has his own show as well. Hamilton focuses on the founding fathers whose stories haven’t been told.

The other main founding father presented in the show is George Washington, portrayed by Isaiah Johnson (FB). Looking nothing like the be-wigged father on the postage stamps, he does a great job of leadership and mentorship in his portrayl.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble are (other named characters as noted): Raymond Baynard (FB) [also George Eacker], Dan Belnavis (FB), Daniel Ching (FB) [also Charles Lee], Jeffery Duffy (FB), Jennifer Geller (FB), Afra Hines (FB★, FB), Sabrina Imamura (FB), Lauren Kias (FB), Raven Thomas (FB), Ryan Vasquez (FB) [also Philip Schuyler, James Reynolds, and Doctor], and Andrew Wojtal (FB) [also Samuel Seabury] . This ensemble is spectacular: in constant motion, as wonderful background characters, as strong dancers, and people floating in and out. As you can, focus your attention and watch them closely, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

I’m not going to detail who understudies who, but there are a fair number of standbys [SB], swings [SW], and universal swings [USW]: Ryan Alvarado (FB) [SB], Julia K. Harriman (FB★, FB) [SB], Josh Andrés Rivera (FB) [SB], Amanda Braun (FB) [SW], Karli Dinardo (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Jacob Guzman (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Alex Larson (FB) [SW], Yvette Lu (FB) [SW], Desmond Newson (FB) [SW], Desmond Nunn (FB) [SW], Keenan D. Washington (FB) [SW], Hope Endrenyi (FB) [USW], Eliza Ohman (FB★, FB) [USW], Antuan Magic Raimone (FB) [USW], and Willie Smith III [USW].

The music in the show was sharp and clear, with the Hamilton Orchestra conducted by Julian Reeve (FB) [also Keyboard 1] and Andre Cerullo (FB) [also Keyboard 2]. The other orchestra members were: John Mader (FB) [Drums]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Adriana Zoppo (FB) [Concertmaster]; Jody Rubin (FB) [Viola / Violin]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Trey Henry (FB) [Bass / Electric Bass / Key Bass]; Paul Viapiano (FB) [Electric Guitar / Acoustic Guitar / Banjo];, and Wade Culbreath [Percussion / Keyboards]. Other music related credits: Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Synthesizer and Drum Programmer]; Matt Gallagher [Universal Music Associate]. Larger creative music credits: Alex Lacamoire (FB) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) [Arrangements]; Michael Keller (FB) and Michael Aarons (FB) [Music Coordinators]; Julian Reeve (FB) [Music Director]; Alex Lacamoire (FB) [Music Supervision and Orchestrations].

Finally, turning to the creative and production credits. The scenic design by David Korins (FB) was spectacular: a large brick background with scaffolding that some how transports well, including a deck with a double turntable. This was augmented by Howell Binkley (FB)’s lighting design, which not only impacted the actors but the back of the scenic designed, and used a type of LED mover I hadn’t seen before. Nevin Steinberg (FB)‘s sound design, as noted before, was quite clear; I noted they added additional speakers to improve the sound in the mezzanine and balcony of the Pantages. The costume design of Paul Tazewell and the hair and wig design of the very busy Charles G. LaPointe worked well for the movement and dance, and to establish the nature of the characters. Rounding out the production credits: J. Philip Bassett [Production Supervisor]; Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision]; Kimberly Fisk (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Telsey & Company (FB) and Bethany Knox CSA (FB) [Casting]; Roeya Banuazizi [Company Manager]; Patrick Vassel (FB) [Associate and Supervising Director]; Stephanie Klemons (FB★, FB) [Associate and Supervising Choreographer]; Derek Mitchell (FB) [Resident Choreographer].

Hamiliton (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through December 30th. Tickets might be available through the Pantages website, but they might be expensive. Orchestra tickets start at $650, and resale prices vary widely. There is a $10 ticket lottery: either through the Hamilton App, or through the Hamilton Lottery Website. If you like the voice of Aaron Burr, Joshua Henry (FB), you might also look into the final production of the Muse/ique (FB) 2017 “Summer of Sound”: Glow/Town, on August 26,  featuring Savion Glover (FB) and, from the Hamilton tour, Joshua Henry (FB). Tickets are available from the Muse/ique website; discount tickets may be available from Goldstar. I find the Festival Seating just fine: general admission tables and chairs to see the show, and you bring your own picnic to enjoy. A perfect summer evening. Summer events take on the lawn in front of the Beckmann Auditorium at CalTech in Pasadena.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

For the remainder of August, we’ve got a little theatre vacation. I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have only The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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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The Price We Pay | “The Bodyguard” @ Pantages

The Bodyguard (Pantages)Oh, the prices we pay to get tickets to Hamilton. For some, it is overpriced tickets and waiting in long lines, physically or virtually. For Hollywood Pantages (FB) Season Subscribers, it was The Bodyguard, which we saw last night.

The Bodyguard is ostensibly a transfer to the legit musical stage of the movie The Bodyguard from 1992, a movie that received a rating of 6.2/10 on Yelp, and which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston (or, as I view it in my worldview, the 1992 movie was a premake of the stage show, because the stage show always comes first). It also featured a number of Whitney Houston songs. You can just imagine the movie executives going, “Gee, we could make a great Whitney Houston tribute musical out of this.” However, the starting point was a movie with very mixed reception — 32% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 64% from the audience — and that doesn’t make a good basis for a musical.  Especially one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.

So what makes a good musical? If we go back to the formula established by Rodgers and Hammerstein, you have musical movements that propel and move the story forward. When one looks that movies that have moved from screen to stage, rarely does the original soundtrack music make the transfer. Look at Sister Act or High Fidelity or most you can think of. The popular music soundtrack is replaced by something similar that serves the story better, with perhaps the exception of one or two best-known songs (The Wedding Singer is a good example of that).

So, perhaps this is a jukebox musical — a musical designed to showcase the music of a particular artist. After all, we need a good Whitney Houston musical. Jukebox musicals take three forms: pure retrospective concerts (think Smokey Joe’s Cafe); new stories crafted around an existing catalog where the catalog songs move the story forward (think All Shook Up or Mamma Mia); or books crafted to tell the history of the artist, using the catalog songs as representative samples along the line of the bio story (think Jersey Boys or Ain’t Misbehavin’).

The major fundamental problem with The Bodyguard — the problem that doomed it to be a West-End Tour, and will kill it if it makes it to Broadway — is that it is neither fish nor fowl (although, the story smells a bit fishy and may be foul). By that I mean that this clearly isn’t a musical where the music propels the story forward at all. There are no real book related songs; there are numerous pure concert moments. But it isn’t a good jukebox musical either — it isn’t a pure concert, it isn’t a fake story crafted to use the songs of the catalog right, nor does it tell the story of the artist. It is an attempt to move a movie to the stage stuffing it full of the catalog of one pop star’s songs, with an ill-fitting book that barely provides the excuse to move from song to song. It could have been a very successful (OK, moderately successful) concert and dance show, but the producers didn’t let it go there.

So, besides that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Setting aside the problems of this musical as a musical, the book remained weak. Admittedly, there were some very cute scenes in the book. The karaoke scene in Act I was a hoot, well performed and funny. A few other scenes had funny moments here and there. But you never really got to know the characters and their relationships. The bad guy? His character was “The Stalker”. The male love interest had not a single song telling you his feelings.  You had no idea about the motivations of the stalker other than what the police told you.  You didn’t feel invested in these characters; the book seemed to be there solely so they could tie it to the movie, and move from song to song.

Now, admittedly, that’s what we had with An American in Paris, with a very light storyline, used as an excuse for dance and song. So why did that work, and this doesn’t. Well, part of the problem is that it didn’t work with An American in Paris — it really was a dance show clothed in a weak book, and it didn’t have a long Broadway run even though it toured. But the movie it was based on was the same way, and there was an attempt to work the songs into the story. Further, the characters were less caricatures than they were here. So, essentially, both were flawed.

Um, so Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the performance?

Sheer performance, that’s where this cast excelled — at least the singers and dancers. In the lead position as Rachel Marron was Deborah Cox (FB). Not being a Whitney Houston expert, I can’t really assess whether she successfully channed Ms. Houston. I do know that she sang and danced well, and seemed reasonable in her scenes with the other players (in particular, the cabin scene). Playing off her as her bodyguard was Judson Mills (FB) as Frank Farmer. It is telling that his Playbill bio is his IMDB bio, with no real musical credits. His role involves neither singing (he didn’t really have one sole solo song) or dancing in a heavily singing and dancing musical (even in the final dance montage, he doesn’t sing or dance). Essentially, his performance, like the character he was playing, was relatively wooden — only showing sparks of life not when interacting with his love interest, but when interacting with the young kid in the cast.

Rounding out the Merron family was Jasmin Richardson (FB) as Nikki Marron and Douglas Baldeo (FB) as Fletcher (alternating with Kevelin B. Jones III (FB)). Both were powerhouse performers — great singers, great dancers, and as good a performance as this show allows. Baldeo was particularly remarkable in the closing montage.

The other main named characters — at least those who weren’t part of the ensemble as well — were eminently forgettable. There characters were lightly drawn and tended to disappear in the background. Notable here was “The Stalker” (Jorge Paniagua (FB)) , whose sole role was to look menacing in blackouts, and had perhaps 4 lines. Others in similar small roles were: Charles Gray (FB) [Bill Devaney], Alex Corrado (FB) [Tony Scibelli]; Jonathan Hadley (FB) [Sy Spector]; and Jarid Faubel [Ray Court].

What did shine? The ensemble: Brendon Chan (FB), Megan Elyse Fulmer (FB) [+College Girl], Alejandra Matos (FB), DeQuina Moore (FB) [+Backup Vocalist, +College Girl, u/s Nicki / Rachel Marron], Bradford Rahmlow (FB) [+Assassin, +Rory, u/s Tony Scibelli, u/s Ray Court], Benjamin Rivera (FB) [+Dance Captain, u/s Stalker],  Matthew Schmidt (FB) [+Klingman, +Douglas, +DJ, +Jimmy, +Stage Manager, +Oscar Host, u/s Bill Devaney, u/s The Stalker, U/s Sy Spector, u/s Ray Court], Jaquez André Sims (FB) [u/s Bill Devaney, u/s Tony Scibelli], Nicole Spencer (FB), and Naomi C. Walley (FB) [+College Girl, u/s Rachel / Nicki Marron]. [Swings were Willie Dee (FB), Sean Rozanski (FB) [+Fight Captain], Maria Cristina Slye (FB), and Lauren Tanner (FB)]. The ensemble shone in the background in the few book scenes, silently playing characters. They shone during the main dance numbers and especially during the dance reminx finale. They provided wonderful facial expressions and reaction shots. They were just great.

The production was directed, somewhat mechanically, by Thea Sharrock, using a book by Alexander Dinelaris (FB) that adapted the Warner Brothers (FB) film that had a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Frank Thompson (FB) was the associate director.  You want music and lyrics credit — they were all songs made famous by Whitney Houston (FB), although she didn’t write them. To me, the two most notable songs were also notable covers: “I Will Always Love You“, originally written and performed by Dolly Parton (FB) in 1974; and “The Greatest Love Of All“, written by composers Michael Masser (music) and Linda Creed (lyrics) (no, not the Marron sisters as portrayed in the Musical), originally written and recorded by George Benson (FB) to be the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of the boxer Muhammad Ali (which I actually have on LP).

Although the direction was weak and didn’t improve the weak book, the dance was strong. Credit here goes to choreographer Karen Bruce (FB) and Assistant Choreographer Amy Thornton (FB), assisted by Dance Captain Benjamin Rivera (FB). I had a cousin with me who is more into the vernacular of modern concerts and such, and she indicated the dance was extremely strong. Perhaps “lit” was the term she used.

By the way, for those attempting to look up credits (as I have), note that much of the creative team has a UK / West End pedigree, not Broadway. This musical is not a Broadway musical — yet. It started in London’s West End, toured the UK, and is now touring the US hoping for Broadway. Telling is the fact that tour has not been authorized by the estate of Whitney Houston. For good reason? Perhaps.

The orchestra for the show was strong, under the direction of Matthew Smedal (FB), who we’ve seen a number of times on stages ranging from Cabrillo to national tours. He led an orchestra consisting of: Wendell Vaughn/FB [Associate Music Director / Keys], Owen Broder (FB) [Woodwinds], David D. Torres (FB) [Trumpet], Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar], Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar], John Toney (FB) [Bass], Joe McCarthy (FB) [Drums], plus local orchestra members John Yoakum (FB) [Clarinet, Flute, Tenor Sax, EWI], Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet / Flugelhorn], Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitar 2 / Acoustic Guitar / Electric Guitar], and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other orchestra credits: Talitha Fehr (FB) / TL Music International [Music Coordinator]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor], Mike Dixon [Production Music Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements], Chris Egan (FB) [Orchestrations, Additional Music], and Richard Beadle [Music Supervisor]. The Orchestra was also hidden not in the orchestra pit, but under the stage, to make space for the hydraulic lift used for one scene. This is notable solely for the fact that the screens showing the conductor to the actors was a bit bright, distracting the audience.

Finally, the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design by Tim Hatley made use of these odd framing devices with integrated lighting that shrunk or expanded the visual stage. They worked, but were also quite distracting at times. The set design worked better during the concert numbers, where it combined with Mark Henderson‘s lighting design to create a real concert atmosphere. Note: for those with problems with strobes or lights shining in your face, this isn’t the concert for you. There is heavy use of movers and LEDs aimed at the audience. This also isn’t a good show for the faint of heart: the sound design of Richard Brooker has a number of startling moments with gunshots and the like. Other than that, the sound was generally crisp and clear — unusual for the Pantages. Tim Hatley also designed the costumes (Leon Dobkowski (FB) was the associate costume designer for the US tour), working with hair, wigs, and makeup of Campbell Young Associates. They seemed era-appropriate for me; I noticed no glaring problems and they were suitably sparkly. The video designs of Duncan McLean worked well, although at times they seemed more movie-like than a stage production. Rounding out the production credits: Paul Hardt (FB) [Casting Director]; Jim Lanahan / Troika Entertainment (FB) [General Manager]; Melissa Chacón [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh [Stage Manager]; Stacy N. Taylor [Assistant Stage Manager].

The Bodyguard – The Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until May 21. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets are 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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend takes us to a dance performance that proudly admits it is a dance show (unlike our past two Pantages musicals): Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend of May brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB), as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing.

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. Expect this list to be pared down. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance° at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open. The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Naomi° at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years° at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. The second weekend of August? What makes sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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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