🎭 On Island Time | “Escape to Margaritaville” @ Dolby Theatre/Broadway in Hollywood

Escape to Margaritaville (Dolby/Broadway in Hollywood)As I mentioned in my writeup for The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Saturday was a crazy day. Due to my scheduing confusion, we ended up with two shows in Hollywood, moving from S&G at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) to the Dolby Theatre (FB) for Escape to Margaritaville, the first show for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby. Before I go into the details of the show, let’s talk about BinH at the Dolby.

The Dolby is a very different venue than the Pantages. Whereas the Pantages is old and ornate and rococo and filled with history, the Dolby is new and shiny and modern. For those familiar with the old-day in LA theatre, contrast the old Shubert Theatre in Century City with the style of the Dorothy Chandler. The Pantages staff working at the Dolby were warm and welcoming and friendly, guiding people unfamiliar with the facility to where the needed to go. As for the facility itself … good and bad. The bad is that there is no longer the same central lobby there was at the Pantages. One can enter either on the first or second floor; entering on the second bypasses much of audience services and the all important merchandise booth. Refreshments (not that I partake) are more expenses; at the Dolby they are a Wolfgang Puck enterprise, with prices to match. As for the theatre itself, the venue is narrower but taller. This means that what had been side orchestra seating has been relegated to the loge and first mezzanine, often off to the sides. In some ways, it is a better view, but it is also further from the stage. I don’t think they are using the topmost balcony. In any case, if you aren’t on the orchestra floor, bring your binoculars. Sound in the facility was good, and a bit clearer than in the Pantages.

Turning to the show itself: Escape to Margaritaville is a jukebox musical, built around the music of Jimmy Buffett and Buffett’s general theme of Island Rock, also characterized as “Gulf and Western”. This music plays up the notion of relaxing life on a tropical island. We seem to be in a jukebox musical period, where songs from a performer’s songbook are stitched together, given a few nips, tucks, and alterations, and crafted into a serviceable story of varying strength. Sometimes this story is autobiographical (think Beautiful or the upcoming Cher Show), sometimes is a somewhat fictionalized quasi-autobiography (think The Last Ship with its Sting surrogate), and sometimes the story has no connection with the artist at all, but it just works with the catalog (think Mamma Mia or Head Over Heels). Escape fits somewhere between the latter two types: it is quasi-autobiographical in that an Island-rock singer is discovered, but the rest of the story is fictional.

The story of Escape is relatively simple, and you can find the gory details on the Wikipedia page. The book was developed by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, building around the music of Jimmy Buffet (who evidently changed a few songs and lyrics a bit).  The basic notion is this: Margaritaville is a bar on an unnamed tropical island that has a dormant volcano (why do they always have volcanos, right, Spongebob?). The bar is owned by Marley; denizens of the bar include Tully (the singer), Brick (the bartender), J.D. (the crochety old tourguide who has supposedly hidden a treasure somewhere), Jamal, and Jesus (two of the staff). The life is easy: tourists come in for a week, get drunk, have island romances, and then go back to their dank winters in the northeastern US. Two such tourists are Rachel and Tammy, out on a last vacation before Tammy gets married to Chadd, who keeps wanting Tammy to lose weight. Tammy wants to have fun. Rachel is less interesting, but is going to the island to collect soil samples so she can work on her project: an energy-producing potato. Yes, I said potato. This is the opening exposition, and the rest of the first half of the story is building up the love interests: Tammy with Brick, who represents a guy who loves her for who she is, and Tully with Rachel, who gets Rachel to drop her guard and adopt the Island lifestyle. But all good things end, and Tammy and Rachel go back to Ohio and the cold. Then the Volcano blow. Cue: “Now I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m a gonna go, When the volcano blow”

The second half of the show is after. We get to see the island folks evacuating, Tully and Brick chasing J.D. who has gone off in search of his treasure — which he finds as they escape the island just in time. We see the island folks running off to Ohio to follow Tully’s love. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, the rehearsal dinner is proving a problem where Tammy wants to have a cheeseburger (cue the song), but her fiancee Chadd wants her to have vegan pasta, and Rachel is trying to find funding for her potato. In rushes the island folks and … well, this is a musical so you can probably predict the happy ending that ensures.

Before the show hit Broadway (it started out in La Jolla), reaction to it was positive. It did well in New Orleans and Houston and even Chicago. It hits New York and … gets a resounding thud from critics, as do many shows that play well outside the city (Bandstand is another example of that). What was our reaction?

This was in no sense a deep show with some sort of deeper meaning. It wears its ambitions on its sleeve: this is an island musical about slowing down and enjoying life, about not worrying about the drama. If you go in knowing that, you aren’t disappointed. But if you are cosmopolitan and want something with depth and meaning and social significance, this isn’t it. If I had to draw a parallel with respect to the depth of the story, I’d say to compare it with Mamma Mia. This isn’t a story of social import; it is just a fun time (as demonstrated by the beach balls and singing at the end).

But the presentation of this story does a number of things right in my book. First, it celebrates science. Yes, we’re talking about power from a potato, but the lead heroine is not a princess, but an environmental scientist who wants to do science. Inspire those women to do STEM! Second, the woman driving the other story (Tammy) is portrayed as not a stick-thin blond but a blond with a build of a typical American woman. That is: slightly larger than the media portrays it. Her intended, Chadd, wants the media portrayal, but the “one true love” is the one that doesn’t demand change: that sees the beauty in who she is and not what she ways. This body-positive message is echoed through the ensemble casting, which includes not only diversity in color but diversity in size: there are island cuties and tourists that are in the larger size group — and it is beautiful to see on stage. So the messages in this show are a winning combination.

So overall, I’d say this is an enjoyable story, if you aren’t looking for much depth. If Mamma Mia is your speed, and your looking for something light and laughable and fun, this is it. If you are looking for the deep messages of Hamilton or The Prom or even Dear Even Hansen … this isn’t the show for you. But for a light story, told well, with a strong cast of newcomers: this works.

As we turn to the performance, I should note that this is a non-Equity cast. This does not imply any lack of talent from the cast, only that they have not yet made their Broadway debuts. For many, this is their first tour; for a few, this is their professional debut. Director Amy Anders Corcoran (FB), building upon the original Broadway direction of Christopher Ashley (FB), does a great job of realizing the story in a tour environment (which has to fit in a truck or two), as well as molding the younger cast into a wonderfully performing whole. Movement was under the direction of Kelly Devine (FB) Choreographer, assisted by Andrew Turteltaub (FB) Assoc. Choreographer. So let’s look at those performances, couple by couple.

First up: Sarah Hinrichsen (FB) Rachel and Chris Clark (FB) Tully. Hinrichsen did a wonderful job of bringing a nice spunk and playfulness to her character, and she had strong chemistry with Clark. This was demonstrated well in the “falling in love” sequences in the first act, especially in numbers like “Three Chords” or “Son of a Son of a Sailor”. I can’t judge the “hunk” quality of Clark, but he also had a strong chemistry with Hinrichsen. Both sang and moved well.

The next couple was Shelly Lynn Walsh (FB) Tammy and Peter Michael Jordan (FB) Brick. These two were also strong, especially Walsh’s portrayal of Tammy. She brought a wonderful joy to that character, together with a great singing voice in songs such as “Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Jordan’s role was a bit more secondary, but he still brought a great performance to the role.

The third couple, so to speak, was Rachel Lyn Fobbs (FB) Marley and Patrick Cogan (FB) J. D.. Fobbs is strong from the opening number where she welcomes people to Margaritaville, bringing loads of fun. Cogan’s J.D. is more one spice in the first act (“Salt, Salt”), but comes into his own with a lot of humor in the second act.

Rounding out the performance team in featured and ensemble roles are: Matthew James Sherrod (FB) Jamal; Sophie Braud (FB) Ensemble; Noah Bridgestock (FB) Chadd, Ensemble; DeVon Buchanan (FB) Ted, Ensemble; Anthony Cataldo (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Chantelle Cognevich (FB) Ensemble; Katie Davis (FB) Ensemble; Nico DiPrimio (FB) Ensemble; Fabian-Joubert Gallmeister (FB) Ensemble; Diego Alejandro Gonzalez (FB) Jesus, Ensemble; Bobby Hogan (FB) Ensemble; Aimee Lane (FB) Ensemble, Dance Captain; Michael Matthew Sakelos (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Trent Soyster (FB) Ensemble; Emma Stricker (FB) Ensemble; Jade Turner (FB) Ensemble; and Morgan Unger (FB) Ensemble. Swings were Victoria Price (FB) and Tyler Whitaker (FB).

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra under the music direction of Andrew David Sotomayor (FB), supplemented by the actor that played Tully. The orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Andrew David Sotomayor (FB) Keyboard; Claudio Raino (FB) Guitar; Jakob Smith (★FB, FB) Guitar; Joela Oliver (FB) Bass; Russ Henry (FB) Steel Drums; Taurus Lovely (★FB) Drums; Jake Boldman (FB) Trumpet; Emma Reinhart (FB) Trumpet; 🌴 Sean Franz (FB) Tenor Sax / Bari Sax / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Flute / Recorder; 🌴 Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Recorder; 🌴 Brian LaFontaine (FB) Guitar 1 (Electric / Acoustic / Ukulele / Banjo / Lap Steel), Harmonica; 🌴 Jack Majdecki (★FB) Guitar 2 (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin / 12 String / Ukulele); 🌴 Lynn Keller (FB) Bass; 🌴 Rayford Griffin (★FB) Drums / Percussion; 🌴 Jared Stein (FB) Keyboards. Other music related credits: Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Talitha Fehr (FB) Music Coordinator; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Michael Utley Orchestrations; Gary Adler Dance Music Arrangements; Mac McAnally (★FB) Music Consultant; Christopher Jahnke Music Supervision & Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. Walt Spangler‘s scenic design consisted of a space for the band that could be covered by a curtain or scrim at the back of the stage, and then scenic elements at the front that primarily represented Margaritaville, with an occasional additional prop for the volcano or Ohio. Some of the scenic elements were outstanding and super-creative, such as the snorkeling scenes or the volcano climbing scenes. This scenic design was supported by Paul Tazewell‘s costumes and Leah J. Loukas (FB)’s wigs, hair, and makeup. Howell Binkley (FB) & Amanda Zieve‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Brian Ronan & Craig Cassidy‘s sound design worked reasonably well in the Dolby space. Other production credits: Binder Casting (FB) Casting; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Emma Iacometta (FB) Assistant Stage Manager; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; The Booking Group Exclusive Tour Direction; Bond Theatrical Group Marketing and Publicity Direction; Marathon Digital Social Media; Heather Chockley Production Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Angela Rowles Executive Producer.

Escape to Margaritaville continues at the Dolby Theatre (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) through March 8. Should you go see it? If you go in with eyes wide open regarding what it is: a jukebox musical with a story at the level of Mamma Mia, with lots of great Jimmy Buffett music and wonderful body positivity messages, than yes. If you’re looking for something deep, well, perhaps there are some Mormon missionaries coming to your door. Tickets are available through the BiH box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Last Sunday afternoon brought Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great. I’m unsure if I’m writing it up, but I may.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB).

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

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🎭🎸 “Feeling Groovy” | The Simon & Garfunkel Story @ Pantages/Bwy in Hollywood

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood)Sunday was our crazy day of theatre in Hollywood, due to my forgetting to enter my 2019-2020 season tickets on my Google Calendar when I renewed my  Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) subscription. Lesson learned for 2020-2021 — they are already on my calendar. In any case, when the Pantages mailed out an announcement regarding the availability of the bonus show The Simon & Garfunkel Story, I quickly grabbed Saturday matinee tickets. It was only when I went to put the on my calendar that I realized I hadn’t entered my series tickets. So I did … and discovered we had season tickets for Escape to Margaritaville that evening. Boy, was I glad I had done a matinee for S&G! So yesterday was a double Broadway in Hollywood day: S&G at the Pantages, followed by Margaritaville at the Dolby. Whew!

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is, essentially, a Simon and Garfunkel concerts. There’s little pretense of it being much more. There’s no book writer, no fake story constructed from the songs (such as Margaritaville or All Shook Up). There isn’t acting of a bio story (along the lines of Beautiful or Summer). There isn’t even a director in the traditional theatrical sense. There are actors portraying Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, a backing band, and a snippets of biographical information and story background along the way.

Musically, the show is excellent. The actors (George Clements (★FB) Paul Simon and Andrew Wade (★FB, FB) Art Garfunkel) are great performers, and capture the harmonies well. Individually (and when not singing) they don’t quite have the same voice and personality of the originals, but the personality that does shine through it good. Clements didn’t have quite the same nasal quality as Simon (he was about 90% there), and Wade didn’t have quite the pure tenor of Garfunkel but had the power when he needed it (he was about 90% there). They were close enough that one could enjoy the music, and mostly hear the same thing as the albums (there were a few slight differences). So on the music side, you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll note that the program credits two additional actors for Simon and Garfunkel (Taylor Bloom and Ben Cooley, respectively), although it is unclear when they are actually performing the roles. A “boo” to the Pantages for not having a signboard in the lobby indicating the actors that were in each role.

On the story side, however, there could have been so much more. It is here that the lack of participation by the real Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were apparent. The audience was left wanting for more details on the backstory, for more details on the backstory of each of the songs. The projections would have been so much better with real pictures of the duo from those days, including pictures that had never been seen before. But although there were some bits of information there that might not have been well known, there just could have been so so much more.

The projections had another problem: inaccuracy and incorrectness. From the use of modern images to respresent the past (e.g., that livery for British Airways wasn’t used back then — it might even have been BOAC, or that the postcards during “America” were too modern, or that images were from the wrong era of the story), to the disconnection of the image from the song (e.g., the postcards should have corresponded to the story points in “America”, the voices of old people from Bookends had images of children, and — for whatever reason — the images in Scarborough Faire were anti-war. Folks, if you want to do an anti-war song from that era of S&G, do Silent Night/6 O’Clock News. It is far more moving.

Perhaps those are nits. Certainly, if you were going for the nostalgia and the music, this fit the bill. From a few obscure songs from the Tom and Jerry era, to some (but not all) of the most popular songs, the concert aspect was great. The two leads were aided in this by their backing band: Alec Hamilton (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals; Bob Sale (FB) Drums and Background Vocals; Marc Encabo (FB) Bass Guitar and Background Vocals; Josh Vasquez (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; Josh Turner (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; and Adam Saxe (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals. Note that neither the program nor the theatre makes clear which guitarist and keyboardist are at a given performance. I know we had Hamilton at our performance, and I think we had Vasquez. The major weak point of the backing music was the lack of some horns. Electronic horns on a keyboard are a weak substitute. Simon and Garfunkel were known — in their later work and at the Concert in Central Park — for their strong horn sections backing the songs. That was missed. On the other hand, the musicians they had were great — in particular, Encabo and Vasquez, who were clearly having great fun up their on stage, rocking away and enjoying the music they were playing. The solos from Sale and Hamilton were also quite strong.

Finally, turning to the production side: There’s not much to talk about here. I’ve already noted the problems with Z Frame‘s projection design in terms of getting the period right, and timing the projections to the subjects in the songs. As for the lighting design of Mike Berger Design, it was mostly innocuous, although at times the light bar in front of the backup band was confusing. Other production credits: Dean Elliott (FB) Show Director, Musical Supervisor; Ralph Schmidtke (FB) General Manager; Brian Richard (FB) Company Manager; Adam Saxe (FB)/Alec Hamilton (FB) Music Director; Steve Beatty (FB) Sound Engineer; Steve Comer Lighting Operator, Lighting Programmer; John Tellem/Andy CoscarelliTellem Grody PR Press; Eric “Kacz” Kaczmarczyk Stage Manager.

The last performance of The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) starts in little over an hour. You might be able to get tickets at the box office. The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is on tour, however, so if you’re in Spokane WA or Canada, it’s coming your way.

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

Saturday afternoon brought Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), which is next to be written, and we just got back from Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great, but I’m probably not writing it up.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB).

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

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🎭 Be World Class in Everything, Center Theatre Group

With the announcement of the Ahmanson Theatre season at the Center Theatre Group (FB) this week, we made the decision to resubscribe at the Ahmanson again. Doing so reminded me yet again of the differences between how the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) does the care and feeding of subscribers, vs how CTG does it (especially as we also just resubscribed at the Pantages for their 2020-2021 season). So I thought I would start the morning by writing up this summary — primarily so I could tweet it to @CTGLA and challenge them to match their world-class theatre with a world-class subscriber experience.

I’ve been attending theatre since I was 12 and attended The Rothschilds at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion as part of the LACLO season. My parents were long time LACLO season ticket holders. We’ve subscribed at numerous theatres large and small, from the Pasadena Playhouse for almost 20 years (until their bankruptcy), the Colony, small venues like REP East and Chromolume (both now gone). Currently we subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB).

Most theatres make it easy for subscribers: call and change your tickets easily, get the best prices (modulo the Goldstar last-minute tickets), often the ability to pick your seats and your nights well in advance. Some of the venues have their quirks: the Thousand Oaks Plaza (home of 5-Star) insists on a change fee, for example, when rescheduling. But the comparison of the two largest theatres in town: the Pantages and the Ahmanson, is telling. Both book Broadway tours and compete for the same audiences, although the former is for-profit and the latter non-profit. Here’s a comparison:

Characteristic Pantages Ahmanson
When you subscribe, can you pick the day you attend? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you pick the date you attend (i.e., which week of the run)? Yes, online, and you can compare seats across the nights Only over the phone, and there’s no ability to compare the different seats across the nights
When you subscribe, can you pick your seat? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you set up a payment plan? Multiple payment plans are possible, up to 10 payments, all can be set up online, no additional fee You can pay online in a single payment, or set up a 2 or 4 payment plan, but only over the phone, for an additional fee.
When do you learn of your subscription dates and seats, so you can block your calendar? At the time of subscription. Months later when they resolve the seats for subscribers, unless you did a phone subscription and picked the week.
Can you improve your seats after the renewal deadline, when non-renewing subscribers have dropped off? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Do you get reminders before each show of the opportunity to purchase additional tickets (or exchange your seats) before anything opens to the public or special pre-sales? Yes, online Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Are exchanges easy? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat. Somewhat. They are online, but the system is confusing with respect to the full price vs. the exchange price. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat, especially at the lower price points.
Are there special subscriber events? Numerous evenings to see the theatre and backstage, for free, often with tastings set up from local restaurants. The occasional speaker or educational events.
Any other thank yous? We’ve occasionally gotten thank you bags … and even chocolate. Not much that I can recall.

Now I understand that goodie bags are probably a perk of being a for-profit theatre, and that might also limit the ability to do the tastings (although that’s marketing for the local restaurants, so it is in their interest). But the online ticketing and subscription system of Center Theatre Group is so antiquated and limited in its abilities. It really calls out for improvement. The Pantages is using an instance of the Ticketmaster system (also used by 5-Star, TO Civic Arts Plaza, and the Soraya), which likely means the increased fees are added silently to the ticket prices. But CTG really needs to look into getting some of these capabilities integrated into their system if they are going to successfully compete in the subscriber market. They’ve improved quite a bit from 10 years ago, when it was actually more expensive to subscribe thanks to per-ticket fees than to buy HotTix for each show. But I challenge them to improve again.

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🎭 Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Broadway in Hollywood 2020-2021

Broadway in Hollywood 2020-2021 SeasonThis morning, the Hollywood Pantages (FB), also known as Broadway in Hollywood (FB), announced their 2020-2021 season.  It consists of seven shows, although I’m sure more will be added:

  • Nov 3 – Nov 22, 2020 @ the Dolby: Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma revival.
  • Mar 23 – Apr 11, 2021 @ the Dolby: The Cher Show
  • Apr 13 – May 2, 2021 @ the Dolby: Tootsie
  • May 13 – Jun 5, 2021 @ the Dolby: Aida
  • Jun 8 – Jun 27, 2021 @ the Dolby: Pretty Woman: The Musical
  • Jun 25 – Sep 5, 2021 @ the Pantages: The Lion King
  • Oct 13, 2021 – Jan 2, 2022 @ the Pantages: Moulin Rouge! The Musical

So, here are my thoughts:

First, that’s an awfully long stretch for the Pantages and Dolby to be dark. Hamilton is scheduled to run at the Pantages from March through September November 22. But from September November 22 2020 through June 2021, there’s nothing seemingly planned for the Pantages. Either a refurbishment is in order for The Lion King, or there is more to be announced.

Similarly, the Dolby is quiet from July 26 (end of The Bands Visit) to November 3. Where are the shows that typically come in during September and October 2020. Oddly quiet. There must be more shows in the works. There are also no shows at either theatre for the lucrative Christmas 2020 season. Oklahoma closes, and the Dolby is dark until March, and the Pantages is dark through June. Really odd.

Also notable are the shows that are missing. Hadestown, of course, is going to the Ahmanson Theatre. But there are other significant shows that have announced tours: The Prom; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; The Lightning ThiefAin’t Too Proud (which started at the Ahmanson, so it is likely to return to the Pantages Going to the Ahmanson); An Officer and a Gentleman (ETA: Going to Broadway in Thousand Oaks). Then there are the musicals that are expected to tour — in particular Beetlejuice. I really expected The Prom (Ahmanson: 20-21), Ain’t Too Proud(Ahmanson: 20-21), and Beetlejuice at the Pantages. Two other tours — although more likely at the Ahmanson — are the Harry Potter play currently at the Curran, and To Kill a Mockingbird (update: Mockingbird has been announced for the Ahmanson). But Broadway in LA doesn’t do plays, although it might make an exception for Harry Potter.

As for what they do have on the season: All are good shows, with only two real retreads. The Lion King hasn’t been around for a while, and it will be nice to see it on stage again. Aida is an interesting choice. Hasn’t been in LA since it was first done at the Ahmanson; we saw it a few years ago in Portland. Hadn’t heard it was being revived and going on tour. The other shows are good, although none bring the big sparks.

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🎭 Melting Hearts | “Frozen” @ Hollywood Pantages

Frozen (Hollywood Pantages)Q: So, when Elsa gets hungry in that Ice Palace™ of hers, what does she eat?

A:  Frozen foods.

Are we going out on that joke? No, we’ll do an overdue writeup of a Disney™ animated movie turned into a stage musical first. Will that help? Not much, no.

OK, Stan Freberg aside: Yes, we saw Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) last Sunday, and this writeup is way way overdue. But it has been a busy busy week in the evenings (which is when I have time to do the writeups), and its not as if this writeup would do much to change the trajectory of this musical, which has its expected popularity with particular audience segments.

The way I’m starting this writeup makes it appear that this was a bad musical. It wasn’t at all. It was essentially the Disney musical on stage, with some adaptations to better fit the limitations of a real, non-animated world. The story was musical to begin with, so there wasn’t the question of whether this should be musicalized. It is clear that Disney intended for this to eventually move to the stage with the structure of the story and songs. The larger question of whether this needed to be on the stage is a different one: is it making an important point or message that isn’t being made elsewhere, or is this a profit calculation. I do think this falls into the latter category — this isn’t a Dear Evan HansenCome From Away, or Hamilton. It is clearly motivated by profit and parents, as evidenced by the length of its sit-down run at the Pantages.

That, by the way, doesn’t make this a bad musical. It is just not one of lasting social importance. But it is revolutionary, in its own way, for a Disney musical. You have princesses wearing pants, for example. But more importantly, you have a princess story where the goal is NOT the princess getting the prince. In fact, the prince is a cad. The true love in this story is the one between the sisters. It is that “true loves kiss” that moves the story forward (and sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie). There are some who believe that this story even has a lesbian subtext. I don’t see that — neither sister seems to express a strong sexual desire towards anyone, so this could be asexual at best. But it is a strong story based on the sibling bond, and that’s something you don’t see in Disney that often. That could be one reason why shows like Frozen and Wicked have such a strong following from young women: they center on relationships between women that are/love each other as sisters, and that aren’t centered around the men on the periphery. That’s a message of female empowerment, something that is decidedly not the Disney of Yore.

The stage production is also a technical marvel. First and foremost is the puppetry. There are two primary puppets: Sven (the reindeer) and Olaf (the snowman). Sven is marvelous, with no real hint that there is a human actor inside. Realistic movements, playful, believable. Not at all a cartoon. Olaf, on the other hand, is intentionally cartoonish. You can see the human moving him behind him. But the attachments are such that Olaf really comes to life, and is an equally believable characters. Second and, umm, duomost, is the magic. This is a combination of projection, LED manipulation, stage magic, flying effects. They create Arendale, but more importantly, they create the ice effects and the magical ice palace. They create the magic costume transformations. This magic will make this production memorable for the youth in attendance, and may go a long way to creating lifetime theatre lovers. That’s the good thing. What’s bad? Think regional and smaller productions of this. This will be licensed at some point, and there will be regional and smaller productions of this. How will they reproduce the puppetry and stage magic, within limited budgets? That remains to be seen. Hopefully, the Disney juggernaut has planned ahead for those situations. I’m curious how the productions of Frozen Jr. handle this?

The songs are generally those of the movie, with some substitutions based on the changes in the story — primarily involving how the hidden folk that raised Kristof are presented and integrated in the story. More notably, in terms of music, this is NOT the production that is on Broadway. A new song has been integrated into Act II: “I Can’t Lose You”, which does a great job of showing and emphasizing the sisterly bond between Anna and Elsa. This helps center the story, and foreshadows the conclusion much better. This is as good a place as any to note that the music and lyrics are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, with a book by Jennifer Lee, who also wrote the Disney animated film, which was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.

Under the direction of Michael Grandage, aided by Adrian Sarple Associate Director, the cast does a great job of bringing life to their characters and making them much more than cartoons. They seem to be having a lot of fun with these roles. The director also did a great job of keeping the story moving and presenting it in a way that is entertaining to the clear audience and keeps them entranced. This is especially true with his use of the younger characters, who have to entertain while the required story exposition and setup occurs.

The performances were strong. In the lead positions at our show were Caelan Creaser (FB) as Elsa and Caroline Innerbichler (FB) as Anna. Creaser was the understudy for the role, stepping in for Caroline Bowman (⭐FB, FB). Creaser did a great job with a wonderful voice and movement, and a personality that suited the character. I phrase it that way because Elsa, as a character is an Ice Princess — she is an embodiment of a frozen personality, cold and hiding any warmth inside. Creaser did that well, only showing the required moments of warmth when interacting with her sister. Innerbichler, as the warmer sister Anna, was remarkable. Warm and playful and delightful and (dare I say it) cute and exuding joy. Innerbichler captured that all, as well as playing well with both Hans and Kristof, in addition to her sister. Top that off with a wonderful singing voice.

Beyond the princesses, the other part of the main character group are the characters that travel with Anna to find Elsa: Kristof, Sven the Reindeer, and Olaf the Snowman. At our performance, these characters were brought to life by Mason Reeves (FBKristof, Evan Strand (⭐FBSven, and F. Michael Haynie (FB) Olaf. Due to the physical demands of the role, Even gets the Sunday evening we saw (as well as Wed, Thus matinee, Fri, Sat matinee); Collin Baja gets the other performances. This is good because I got to learn about Evan on his recent West of Broadway podcast interview; Mason Reeves also has an interview on the same podcast. All of these folks were particular strong — especially when you consider their youth. Reeves, IIRC, is a rising senior at University of Michigan. He does a wonderful job with Kristof, bringing loads of personality of fun, as well as a strong singing voice to the character. You don’t get to see anything of Strand beneath the puppet, but he does a great job of bringing the puppet to life and imbuing it with a personality and a character and believability. Haynie’s Olaf is more cartoonish, but he has loads of fun with the character which is transmitted to the audience.

In the second tier are some notable recurring actors. The cutest ones of the bunch are (again, at our performance) Arwen Monzon-Sanders Young Anna W, Th-Mat, Fri, Sat-Mat, Sun-Eve and Jaiden Klein Young Elsa W, Th-Mat, Fri, Sat-Mat, Sun-Eve. They alternate with Stella R. Cobb Young Anna T, W-Mat, Th, Sat-Eve, Sun-Mat and Alyssa Kim Young Elsa T, W-Mat, Th, Sat-Eve, Sun-Mat. Monzon-Sanders (and presumably Cobb) also have notable roles in the ensemble for “Fixer Upper”. These young girls were so cute and playful, especially Monzon-Sanders. They just seemed to be loving their time in front of the audience. They sing and move well, and are just fun to watch. Further, I’m sure that their presence makes the show have a stronger connection to the children in the audience.

The other main characters are perhaps the villains of the story: Austin Colby (FB) Hans of the Southern Isles and Jeremy Morse (FB) Weselton.  Colby, who is in real life married to the actress that normally plays Elsa, does a wonderful duplicitous job of being the charmer that Anna falls in love with, and later the cad that refuses her “loves true kiss” and leaves her to freeze to death. His is strong at capturing the duality of the character. Morse’s character, on the other hand, is much more comically drawn, along the lines of a Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. But Morse captures the aspect of that character well.

The remainder of the cast serves as the ensemble, with a few folks moving up to featured positions for a moment or two. Note that, due to Caelan Creaser (FB)’s move to Elsa for our show, swing Natalie Wisdom swung into the ensemble and into the featured role of the head handmaiden. The ensemble at our show consisted of the following folk (featured roles noted): C. K. Edwards (FB); Michael Everett (FB); Berklea Going; Michael Allan Haggerty (⭐FB, FB); Tyler Jimenez Pabbie; Hannah Jewel Kohn (FB); Marina Kondo (FB) Queen Iduna; Nika Lindsay (FB); Tatyana Lubov (FB); Adrianna Rose Lyons (⭐FB, FB); Kelly Methven (⭐FB, FB); Michael Milkanin (FB) Bishop, Oaken; Kyle Lamar Mitchell (FB) King Agnarr; Naomi Rodgers (FB); Daniel Switzer (⭐FB, FB); Zach Trimmer (FB); Brit West (FB) Bulda; and Natalie Wisdom (FB) Head Handmaiden.

Other swings were: Dustin Layton (FB), Ralph Meitzler (FB), and Jessie Peltier (FB). Natalie Wisdom (FB) is also a swing, but swung into the ensemble for this performance.

On-stage movement was choreographed by Rob Ashford; aided by Sarah O’Gleby (FB) and Charlie Williams (FB) Associate Choreographers. In general, it was enjoyable, but not that much of the choreography sticks out in the mind a week after the performance … except for two numbers. The “Hygge” number was cute for its well-placed use of body-suits and humor, and the “Fixer Upper” number also had memorable and cute movement from the ensemble. Supporting the movement was Dustin Layton (FB) Dance Captain and Jessie Peltier (FB) Assistant Dance Captain and Fight Captain.

The music was under the direction of Faith Seetoo (FB) Music Director, Conductor. The Frozen orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Cathy Venable (FB) Assoc. Conductor; Nancy Whelan (FB) Keyboard 1; Josh Cullen (FB) Keyboard 2; 🌴 Jeff Driskill (FB) Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / Alto Sax / Soprano Sax; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Oboe / English Horn / Flute / Clarinet / Tenor Sax; 🌴 John Fumo (FB) and Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn; 🌴 Charlie Morillas (FB) Trombone; 🌴 Laura Brenes (FB) French Horn; 🌴 Dan Lutz (FB) Bass / Electric Bass; 🌴 Chris Jago (FB) Drums / Percussion. Other music support: Michael Keller and Michael Aarons Music Coordinators; Anixter Rice Music Service (FB) Music Preparation; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Dave Metzger Orchestrations; Chris Montan Executive Music Producer; and Stephen Oremus Music Supervision and Arrangements. In general, the music was strong, although I feel for the musicians having to deal with all of that theatrical fog rolling into the pit.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. I’ve already commented on the artistry of Michael Curry‘s puppet design for Sven and Olaf. Also worthy of mention is Christopher Oram‘s Scenic and Costume Design work in establishing the kingdom and its environs in an effective way for the tour, and for creating the beautiful costumes. This combined with the work of Natasha Katz Lighting Design, Finn Ross Video Design, and Jeremy Chernick Special Effects Design to create the stage magic that makes everything work and astonish the audience. Additional creative and production credits: Peter Hylenski Sound Design; David Brian Brown Hair Design; Anne Ford-Coates (FBMakeup Design; David Chase Additional Dance Arranger; Christoph Buskies Electronic Music Programming; Telsey + Company Casting; Aurora Productions Production Management; Clifford Schwartz (FB) Senior Production Supervisor; Lisa Dawn Cave Production Supervisor; Melissa Chacón Production Stage Manager; Patricia L. Grabb Stage Manager; Theron Alexander Assistant Stage Manager; Brae Singleton Assistant Stage Manager; and Neuro Tour Physical Therapy. This was a production of Disney Theatrical Productions.

Frozen continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through February 2. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office; discount tickets are sold out in Goldstar, but may be available through TodayTix.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Tomorrow brings our last production for January: Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Things heat up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend. The second weekend brings West Adams at Skylight Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 on Sunday. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)

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

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🎭 What Hath Maltby Wrought? | “Summer” @ Hollywood Pantages

Summer - The Donna Summer Musical (Hollywood Pantages)Back in 1978, Richard Maltby Jr. unleashed onto the world a little musical called Ain’t Misbehavin’. This was perhaps the first really successful biographical jukebox musical — a musical that used the catalog of a particular artist to tell the lifestory of that artist. Shortly after that musical hit there were similar shows, from Jelly’s Last Jam to Eubie to … you get the idea. In the modern era, the biographical jukebox has seen a resurgence with successful shows such as Jersey Boys. Almost every pop star out there is seeing their catalog mined for a potential show. Some end up as fictional stories with the pop catalog grafted on, such as the recent Head Over Heels which mined the catalog of the Go-Gos. But the biographical jukebox remains a steady contender. A number of been recently on Broadway, such as The Cher Show or the just opened Tina … and one of the more recent instances has ended up at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (until November 24) — Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Guess where we were last night?

If you are of my generation, you know Donna Summer well. Her music hit the airwaves in the US in 1975 — when I was in high school. I couldn’t go to a high school dance of that era (not that I went to many) where it didn’t close with “The Last Dance”. It was ubiquitous. So it was clear that mixing her music with a Broadway show would hit clearly at the heart of the current theatregoers: those adults aged 55 to 65. It was a no-brainer. Nostalgia is a strong pull at the box office, and judging by the audience we saw at the Pantages we saw last night it works. Older primarily white women in spandex glitter abounded.

And the mention of no-brainers brings us back to the biographic jukebox, and their greatest problem: the underlying book. For while the music may be popular and the show wonderful when viewed as a nostalgic dance concert, the real question is whether it stands up a musical theatre. That success depends on the book writers — in this case, Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff. In this case: it really doesn’t stands up as theatre. It is a mile wide and an inch deep: it doesn’t really give you any deep insight into its main characters, and the other characters in the life of Donna Summer that shaped who she is are only superficially drawn and brought to life.

Part of the problem here is the conceit used to tell the story. As is often done, the main subject is divided into three individual: child, young adult, and adult — or as they are called here, Duckling Donna, DIsco Donna, and Diva Donna. A similar approach, from what I understand, was taken in The Cher Show. The problem is: the adjectives here capture the superficial nature of the division: instead of looking at the whole character, they have amplified aspects of her life for the sake of storytelling. In doing this, and in making the story centered in that way, any character growth that might fuel the story is either lost, or boiled to the top where it is just skimmed away.

“Story” is a key word here. Musicals succeed where there is a story that demands the music in its retelling. The music, which is a key factor in telling the story, bursts out with story. It isn’t incidental or superficially related. But, for the most part, the music used in Summer is only lightly connected with the story on the stage. It rarely comes from the time; it rarely moves the story forward by itself. If you could delete all the jukebox songs (leaving just the spoken book) and the show still makes sense, that music isn’t integral. In this case, the music is rarely integral. In fact, I think the only integral song in the show is “She Works Hard for the Money”.

Ultimately, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, while entertaining, is (in the parlance of [title of show]), very “donuts for dinner” — entertaining in the moment, but the fulfillment is not very long lasting. There’s lots of fluffy sweet carbohydrates, but very little meat.

That doesn’t mean the author’s don’t try to provide that meat. There is a strong emphasis, especially in the middle of the show, on the notion of empowerment of women — in particular the fact that women artists should be paid the same as male artists. There’s also a sharp commentary on the #metoo aspects of Donna Summer’s story: sexual abuse or harassment both at the hands of her childhood pastor and by executives at Casablanca records. But it, like the supporting characters, is superficial. It is mentioned once briefly, and how it shaped Donna Summer into the artist that she was is never explored.

Ruminating on the superficiality a bit more: The show presents Donna Summer’s life as being much like the music that made her famous: a catchy dance tune that was fun in the moment, but doesn’t have long lasting significance. It is popular and light and frothy, but is ultimately cotton candy.

The show is notable in one other aspect: it’s ensemble. More than any other show that I’ve seen, this show has made the effort to emphasize the women. Most of the tertiary male roles (there are no primary male roles) are played by ensemble members, and for the most part, those members are women. I’ve commented before on the problems I have with men dressing as women to play women’s roles for the broad laugh. Here, the women stepped into play the men’s roles, but not for laughs but in an androgynous sense. As a man watching this, this spoke to female empowerment and as the central notion of the story, as well as the fact that for much of her career, Summer’s music spoke to that audience (and the incident that broke that connection is specifically — and rightly — addressed). I’m curious how women watching the show perceived that ensemble emphasis. It was certainly different.

Two additional performance notes: (1) There are points at times where the ensemble is supposedly playing music, and even (at one point) Diva Donna is playing. For the most part, it is clear they are not: they are holding the violins wrong, there is no key movement on the piano although finger gestures appear right, there is no movement on the guitar necks and no connection of electric guitars to the speakers, there is no finger movement on the valves of the saxes. Prop instruments on stage are annoying. It did appear, however, that at point they did have the real keyboardist on stage, as well as the drummer and perhaps the guitar. That was good to see. (2) There is one point where Neil Bogart’s funeral occurs, supposedly at Hillside. They were carrying calla lilies, which is a flower that is not used at Jewish cemeteries due to its Christian symbolism; they also portrayed mourners in white with no cria ribbons. Again, not something one would see at a Jewish cemetery. Given that the writers weren’t Jewish, one can understand the mistake; surely someone on the production or design team would have caught that.

Des McAnuff‘s direction kept the show moving at a brisk pace — one might say with a disco beat. The show moved from incident to incident with little space to catch your breath in between. His direction of the scenic was similar, with view traditional set pieces or props, and heavy use of screens and projections (although in a very different sense than in Anastasia — here they were much more abstracted, as befits the 1970s). He worked with the acting team to bring out strong concert style performance; but with a superficial book, there was very little depth to bring out in the story. The movement, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, was similarly brisk and had a strong disco feel. As to its accuracy as real disco moves I cannot say. There are some things about my youth that I either never learned or have blocked out. But it was entertaining.

In the lead performance positions were the Donnas: Dan’yelle Williamson (⭐FB, FB) Diva Donna / Mary Gaines, Alex Hairston (FB) Disco Donna; and Olivia Elease Hardy (FB) Duckling Donna / Mimi. All give strong performance and sing beautifully. Perhaps the most notable is Hardy, given her lack of experience. She’s a rising senior at U Michigan, and I couldn’t really find any local or other credits for her. For such a young and new performer to be giving such a strong performance is quite noteworthy.  As for the others, Hairston gets the bulk of the disco moves and handles those well, although her visual resemblance to the other Donnas is slight. Williamson is very strong of voice and dance.

The male roles in this cast are primarily secondary and tertiary. At the secondary level are: John Gardiner (FB) Neil Bogart / Sommelier / Gunther; Erick Pinnick (FB) Andrew Gaines / Doctor; and Steven Grant Douglas (⭐FB, FB) Bruce Sudano. The tertiary men (because they are also in the ensemble) are: Jay Garcia (FB) Brian / Helmuth Sommer / Ensemble and Sir Brock Warren (FB) Pastor / Ensemble. None of these characters are drawn that deeply; unsurprisingly, none of them also have featured vocal tracks.  Thinking back, the ones that left the greatest impressions were Warren due to his unique look and bearing, and Douglas for the way he was able to project some tenderness in what was a lightly written role.

This brings us to the remainder of the ensemble — or should I say female ensemble — as they were all women: Jennifer Byrne (FB) Pete Bellotte / Don Engel / Ensemble, Tamrin Goldberg (FB) Norman Brokaw / Ensemble, Cameron Anika Hill (FB) Young Dara / Amanda / Ensemble, Brooke Lacy (FB) Detective / David Geffen / Bob / Ensemble, Trish Lindström (FB) Joyce Bogart / Ensemble, Dequina Moore (⭐FB, FB) Adult Mary Ellen / Ensemble, Kyli Rae (FB) out at our performance – normally Giorgio Moroder / Ensemble, Crystal Sha’nae (FB) Adult Dara / Ensemble, De’ja Simone (FB) Young Mary Ellen / Brooklyn / Ensemble, Candace J. Washington (FB) Michael / Ensemble, Brittany Nicole Williams Maid / “To Turn the Stone” Soloist / Ensemble. In general, the ensemble provided strong dancing in the background. The actors portraying Donna’s sisters and children were fun to watch and clearly enjoying their roles. I particularly liked Moore and Simone (at least I think that’s who they were — the one in the yellow sweater).

Swings were Mara Lucas (FB), Jo’nathan Michael (FB), and Jennifer Wolfe (FB) Giorgio Moroder, at our performance / Dance Captain.

The large music for this show was provided by a small band — again, mostly female. Leading the band was Amanda Morton Music Director / Conductor / Keyboards. Assisting her were Lisa Le May (FB) Assoc. Conductor / Keyboard; Makeena Lee Brick (FB) Keyboard; Larry Esparza (FB) Guitar; and Jesse-Ray Leich (FB) Drums. Other music credits were: Randy Cohen (FB) Synthesizer Programmer; Anixter Rice Music Services (FB) Music Preparation; John Miller (FBMusic Coordinator; Bill Brendle and Ron Melrose Orchestrations; and Ron Melrose Music Supervision and Arrangements. Songs in the show were written by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara, and the following folks detailed in the back of the program: Joseph Esposito, Edward Hokenson, Bruce Sudano, Pete Bellotte, Keith Diamond, Anthony Smith, Vanessa Robbie Smith, Greg Mathieson, Jim Webb, Bruce Roberts, Harold Faltermeyer, Gregory Allen Kurstin, Danielle A. Brisebois, Evan Kidd Bogart, Jonathan Rotem, Michael Omartian, and from the musical Hair, Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni. I am sure that some of the musicians were on stage in a few scenes — in particular, Morton and possibly LeMay or Brick, as well as Leich. I was pleased to see them show pictures of the musicians at the end.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. The scenic design of Robert Brill (FB) depended heavily on the Projection Design of Sean Nieuwenhuis, as there were lots of moving screens and projections, and very little in the way of traditional scenery. Perhaps greater scenic aspects were provided by Paul Tazewell (FB)’s costume design and Charles G. LaPointe (FB)’s hair and wig design. There was only real one costuming flaw, which only someone growing up in that era would catch: back in the 1970s, bra straps and undergarments were not intentionally visible — according to my wife, one would go without first. Howell Binkley (FB)’s lighting generally was good, but I felt there was an overuse of strobe lights — be forewarned if you are strobe sensitive. Gareth Owen (FB)’s sound wasn’t overpowering — a fear that I had; however, there were two or three songs where the bass beat shook the cough out of me. Other production credits: Steve Rankin Fight Director; Charley Layton Dialect Coach; David S. Cohen Stage Manager / Fight Captain; Jenifer A. Shenker Asst Stage Manager; Michael Bello Assoc Director; Jennifer Laroche Assoc. Choreographer; Bruce Sudano Story Consultant; NETworks Presentations Production Management; Michael Sanfilippo Company Manager; Ralph Stan Lee (FB) Production Stage Management; Dodger Management Group General Management; Tara Rubin CastingFelicia Rudolph CSA Casting.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until November 24. If you are nostalgic for the disco era, and want a fun musical that will help you relive those times, this is the musical for you. If you can’t stand disco, or want a story with a stronger book, consider skipping this one. Go see Miracle on 34th Street up the street instead.

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  Next weekend is open due to Stiches SoCal, although I might still book a show. November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

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

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

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

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🎭 Rumors are like Feather Pillowcases | “Anastasia” @ Hollywood Pantages

Anastasia (Hollywood Pantages)The music from Anastasia (and by this, I mean the 1997 animated movie musical) has a special place in my heart, for it was the first movie to which we took our daughter. I remember when we saw it: I liked the music, but the villain in the story was far too comical, and I always felt guilty watching it because it made you cheer for the Czar and his family, when … well, remember those Jews being kicked out of their home in Fiddler on the Roof? That was happening at the request of the Czar. Anastasia was also the musical that introduced me to the music of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (FB). From there, I found Once on this Island, and Ragtime and Suessical and Lucky Stiff and …

So when I learned they were adapting Anastasia into a musical for the stage, I was intrigued. It opened to mixed reviews, but I was sure it was going to tour. I got the album, and found the songs a bit slower than the animated feature. But still, I wanted to see it. Luckily, it was the first show of the 2019-2020 Hollywood Pantages (FB) Season… and so you know where we were last night.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is based on the true story of Czar Nicholas II, who was executed in the Russian Revolution of 1918. After the execution, rumors persisted that his daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived. The entire musical is based on that rumor: after establishing the basis of the story and the Czar (and the execution), the action moves to St. Petersburg (Leningrad), where the rumor is circulating. Two schemes plot to find an Anastasia impersonator and sell her to her grandmother living in Paris. They find this young women, Anya, who has no memory of her past but conveniently seems to have snippets that suggest she might be the real thing. Enough practice, and …. off to Paris they go.

But every scheme needs a foil to create drama, and to put difficulties in the way of our protagonists.

In the animated movie, which featured a screenplay by Susan Gauthier, Bruce Graham, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, with story by Eric Tuchman (animation adaptation), based on Anastasia by Arthur Laurents and Anastasia by Marcelle Maurette, that foil was Grigori Rasputin, recreated as comically magic and evil, and his anthropomorphic bat assistant, Bartok. But this isn’t Disney, and silly foils like that don’t work. So when the story was reworked by Terrence McNally, he changed the antagonist to a Bolshevik officer, General Gleb Vaganov: a man who both has a crush on Anya, as well as being the son of the guards that shot the Romanov family. His superiors want all traces of the Russian family gone (yet, for some reason, they don’t go after the Dowager Empress in Paris), and order him after them. So he’s torn between carrying out his father’s destiny, and his affection for the girl.

This being a musical, and being a fairy tale, you can guess what happens. Is Anastasia dead? Not so long as she lives in our hearts, right?

The stage musical also keeps some of the elements related to the two men who help Anya become Anastasia: Dmitry still has a connection as a boy to the younger Anastasia; “Count” Vlad Popov still has a connection and past relationship to Countess Lily (Sophie in the movie), the lady-in-waiting of the Dowager Empress in Paris. In fact, Vlad provides some of the best comic relief in the story, both in his interactions with the main trio of Dmitry and Anya, and especially in his interactions with Lily.

The movie was also very fast paced, with a total of 8 songs. They kept 4-5 of those, and added loads of new songs, although many of them use the same underscoring as the original 4-5. This, along with the pace, makes the show feel a bit slower paced.

This is an expansive story, going back and forth in time constantly, and moving from Russia to Paris. It took a creative director to address that, and director Darko Tresnjak (FB) it in a creative way: he eschewed loads of traditional sets, and working closely with scenic designer Alexander Dodge and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne, leaned heavily into the projection approach to scenic design. The main background and side pillars were HD projection systems, and these were constantly changing, creating beautiful 3-D scenic locals, moving landscapes, even background expositions. Sometimes they were a bit too cartoonish, and at times were a bit too much in motion. A larger concern I have with the projection approach is the limitations this creates for the long life of the show. Regional theatres might have the needed projection technology, but this limits their creativity in the realization of the show. Smaller theatres and high schools? They won’t have it, and will they be able to create the backdrops for the story? I’m unsure, and this could be a problem for the life of this property. Perhaps one day the musical Anastasia will also be  rumor.

The performances were mostly good. In the lead positions were Lila Coogan (FBAnya / Anastasia and Jake Levy (FB) Dmitry. Both are newish actors, and did wonderfully bringing that youthful joy to the roles. We’ve seen Levy before back in the UCLA production of Steel Pier, and enjoyed him then. Coogan brought loads of spunk and fun to the role; in her pixie haircut at the top of Act II, I could just see her doing a great Kathy Seldon in Singing in the Rain. These two were loads of fun.

Also strong was the comic second bananas: Edward Staudenmayer (FB) Vlad and Tari Kelly (FBCountess Lily. Staudenmayer was strong in all his numbers: funny, and with a great voice, great moves, and wonderful comic timing. Kelly also had that comic touch, especially in “Land of Yesterday” and her duet with Staudenmayer, “The Countess and the Comic Man”. The show is almost worth their performances along.

If there was a weak point in the casting, it was Jason Michael Evans (FB) Gleb. He just didn’t have the strength of voice or project the right gravitas to be villainous. He did OK in his main number, “The Neva Flows” and “Still”, but it wasn’t the powerhouse it needs to be.

Rounding out the major roles was Joy Franz (FBDowager Empress. She had a lovely voice, and captured the conflicting emotions of the Dowager Empress wonderfully.

Rounding out the background in various roles was the extremely talented ensemble and swings: Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr (FB) Ensemble; Ashlee Dupré (FB) Ensemble, Olga Romanov, Odette in Swan Lake; Kylie Victoria Edwards (FB) Ensemble, Maria Romanov, Marfa; Alison Ewing (FB) Ensemble, Countess Gregory; Hannah Florence (FB) Swing; Peter Garza (FB) Ensemble, Russian Doorman; Fred Inkley (FB) / Jeremiah Ginn (FB)¤ Ensemble, Gorlinsky, Count Leopold; Brett-Marco Glauser (FB) Ensemble; Brad Greer (FB) Ensemble, Tzar Nicholas II, Count Ipolitov, Count Gregory; Tamra Hayden (⭐FB, FB) Ensemble; Lucy Horton (FB) Ensemble, Tzarina Alexandra; Kourtney Keitt (FB) / Sareen Tchekmedyian (FB)¤ Ensemble, Tatiana Romanov, Dunya; Mark MacKillop (⭐FB, FB) / Kenneth Michael Murray (⭐FB, FB)¤ Ensemble, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake; Ryan Mac (⭐FB, FB) EnsembleDelilah Rose Pillow / Eloise Vaynshtokº Little Anastasia, Alexei Romanov; Taylor Quick (FB) Ensemble, Young Anastasia, Paulina; Matt Rosell (FB) Ensemble;  and Lyrica Woodruff (FB) Ensemble, Olga Romanov, Odette in Swan Lake. All were strong dancers, and had great facial expressions and movement for their characters.
¤ indicates swing who swung into this role at our performance; ° indicates performs Saturday matinee and Sunday evening.

Dance and movement in the show, which was choreographed by Peggy Hickey (FB), was in general strong, especially in the palace dance numbers and the ballet numbers. Other dance related credits: David Chase Dance Arrangements; Bill Burns (FB) Assoc Choreographer; Jeff Barry Fight DirectorKenneth Michael Murray (⭐FB, FBDance Captainand Rachel E. Winfield (FB) Fight Captain.

As noted earlier, the show featured music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, with orchestrations by Doug Besterman and vocal arrangements by Stephen Flaherty. Tom Murray was the Music Supervisor. Lawrence Goldberg served as music director and conductor of the orchestra, which consisted of (🌴 indicates LA local): Valerie Gebert Asst Conductor, Keyboard 2; Ryan Sigurdson (FB) Keyboard I; 🌴 Jen Choi Fischer (FB) Violin / Concertmistress; 🌴 Grace Oh (FB) Violin/Viola; 🌴 Ira Glansbeek Cello; 🌴 Ian Walker (FB) Bass; 🌴 Jeff Driskill (FB) Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / Alto Sax; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Clarinet / Flute / Tenor Sax / Oboe / English Horn; 🌴 Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn; 🌴 Laura Brenes (FB) French Horn; 🌴 Charlie Morillas (FB) Tenor Trombone; and 🌴 Bruce Carver PercussionOther music credits: Mary Ekler (🎼FB, FB) Keyboard Sub; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Michael Aarons (FB) Music Coordinator; Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer.  Overall, the orchestra had a very lush sound and sounded great.

Finally, turning to production and creative side. I’ve already talked about the scenic and projection design of scenic designer Alexander Dodge and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne, and how it was both creative, and may prove to be a hindrance when this gets to the regional and local production level. Peter Hylenski (FB)’s sound design was reasonably clear for the Pantages, although some words in the songs were lost in the cavernous space. Donald Holder‘s lighting design established mood and such well, but at times was in competition with the projections. Linda Cho‘s costume design, Charles G. LaPointe‘s Wig/Hair Designs, and Joe Dulude II‘s makeup designs combined to make the actors into the characters they needed to be. Other production credits: Telsey + Company (FB) Casting; Richard A. Leigh (FBProduction Stage Manager; Rachel E. Winfield (FB) Stage Manager; Ellen Goldberg (FB) Asst Stage Manager; Denny Daniello Company Manager; Aurora Productions Production Management; RCI Theatricals General Manager; Bond Theatrical Group Tour Marketing and Publicity Direction; The Booking Group Tour Booking Agency; and Dmitry Bogachev Commissioned By. That last credit is perhaps the most interesting: Bogachev is CEO of the theatre company “Moscow Broadway LLC”, founder of the Russian division of the international live entertainment company Stage Entertainment, member of The Broadway League, initiator of the Broadway business model in Russian theatre. Could Anastasia be big in the post-Bolshevik Russian market?

Anastasia: The New Broadway Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through October 27.  Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and TodayTix. The musical is entertaining, although with the young touring cast a few performances can be a bit stronger. Overall the show was entertaining, although not that intellectually deep or historically accurate. Don’t think about it too much, and you’ll be OK.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

The third weekend of October brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), followed by In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The first weekend (before ACSAC) may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB).  I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for mid-January for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date. January will also bring Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB). I’m already booking well into 2020.

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

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🎭 Speechless | “Blue Man Group” @ Hollywood Pantages

Blue Man Group (Pantages)Last night, we the Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We last saw the Blue Man Group in 2014 at the Monte Carlo is Las Vegas, before the Monte Carlo became Park MGM, and before BMG was purchased by Cirque Du Soleil.

I’m not sure either change was for the better, but we’ll talk about the Monte Carlo later 🙂

In general, the Blue Man Group was, well, the Blue Man Group. Strange. Silly. Wordless. Playful and curious. Childlike and childish. There were sequences that were great (such as the paint marshmallows). Audience participation was fun. But there was something off. The energy and madness was toned down a notch. It wasn’t the craziness I remembered from Vegas.

I can’t quite pinpoint the problem. Was it the significantly larger house? Was it a seeming over reliance on technology, including a massive technological set? Was it the safety for the audience a tour provides? I’m not sure. I just know the show didn’t “wow” me as it did the first time I saw them on stage.

I do not mean to imply they were bad. I thoroughly enjoyed the show. But Blue Man Group brings a certain imprimatur, a certain cachet, a certain expectation. They didn’t quite live up to that expectation; they hit the 85-90% mark.

The cast consisted of Blue Man, Blue Man, and Blue Man, with a Blue Man in reserve. They were played by Meridian, Mike Brown, Steven Wendt, and Adam Zuick. Pick any three of four, because we have no idea who was whom. The show was written by Jonathan Knight, Michael Dahlen, and the Blue Man Group.

They are supported on stage by musicians Corky Gainsford (FB) Drums, Robert Gomez Resident Music Director, Band Captain; and Jerry Kops Musician/Strings, playing music composed by Andrew Schneider and Jeff Turlik.

Turning to the production and creatives: Jason Ardizzone-West Set Designer; Jen Schriever Lighting Designer; Emilio Sosa Costume Designer; Patricia Murphy Blue Man Character Costumes; Crest Factor Sound Design; Lucy Mackinnon Video Designer; Bill Swartz SFX Designer; Johnathan Knight Creative Director; Richard Herrick Production Stage Manager; Byron Estep Music Director; Stacy Myers Company Manager; Anna K. Rains Production Stage Manager; Zachary Feivou Head Carpenter; Gentry & Associates General Management; Bond Theatrical Group Tour booking, Marketing, and Publicity Direction; and Networks Presentations Production Management. The production was directed by Jenny Koons. The original creators of Blue Man Group were Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink.

The Blue Man Group Speechless Tour continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through October 6. Tickets are available through the Pantages web page, as well as numerous other places.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

Saturday night brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting really busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), followed by In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  The third weekend is open, but may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB). November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for January 4 for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date.

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

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