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.

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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. 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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The Art of the Dance | “An American in Paris” @ Hollywood Pantages

An American in Paris (Pantages)At least Bob Fosse was honest about it.

At the beginning of Bob Fosse’s show Dancin’ many years ago, an actor came out on stage and said sometthing like: “If you are looking for any plot in this show, don’t bother. This show is about dance.” And it was. Spectacular dance.

Last night, we went to go see the tour of An American in Paris (FB) at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We went expecting to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. By this I mean that your traditional musical tells the story through the music and lyrics, with a bit of connecting dialogue. An American in Paris tells its story — spectacularly — through dance, with a bit of connecting dialogue (that was written by Craig Lucas). The actual timeless music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin? The lyrics really don’t matter to the story; the mood and the music and the rhythm — oh, that rhythm — propels the dance that gives life to the story. Paris is a city of light, of beauty, of style, of art. Substance? Have another baguette, let’s sit at the corner patisserie shop, and watch the people.

But this isn’t a bad thing.

If you’ve ever seen the 1951 MGM musical, you know the purpose of the film was not to tell a significant story, but to listen to glorious Gershwin music and watch Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance. Why should the stage show be any different? The stage adaptation of the movie plot adds a hint more of darkness, but the characters and the songs remain the same: three buddies, two Americans (Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg) and one French (Henri Baurel); one beautiful dancer (Lise Dassin); a wealthy art patron (Milo Davenport); and, well, who cares who else. The story is the scaffold on which the dance is built.

It should be no surprise, then, that the director and the choreographer of this show, Christopher Wheeldon (FB), are one and the same, and that Wheeldon is primarily a ballet artist. It should be no surprise that, reading the credits of the performers, that there is a very large emphasis on ballet skills. About the only surprise is that the program does not provide any credit to the tour medical and physical therapy team, who must be on their toes to keep these athletic dancers in tip-top shape. This is just a very physically demanding show,  8 times a week, on tour. The astounding physical skill to pull it off and not suffer stress injuries is remarkable, and the unnamed medical team who keep these professionals together behind the scenes deserves a lot of credit. [Luckily, my Google-Fu is strong, and it appears that the folks keeping these dancers together is NeuroSport (FB)]

All of the performers are strong singers and have great voices. All can emote well, and all inhabit and are having fun  with their lightly drawn characters. Remember — this isn’t a deep character drama. You have socialites, dancers, artists, and performers. Not a rocket scientist in the bunch. (Well, at least on stage. At our performance, there was at least one rocket scientist in the audience.)

In the lead positions at our show were Garen Scribner (FB) and Sara Esty (FB), as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, respectively (they alternate with Ryan Steele (FB) and Sara Esty’s twin sister, Leigh-Ann Esty (FB) (who is also a great photographer), who move from the ensemble to the leads at select Sunday performances). Both were spectacular dancers — their final ballet sequence in “An American in Paris” was truly spectacular.

Supporting our leads on the male side were Etai Benson (FB) as Adam Hochberg and Nick Spangler (FB) as Henri Baurel. Benson’s role involved a fair amount of dance, especially in “Stairway to Paradise” — but his role was more as narrator and as one of the vocal leads, which he handled quite well.  Spangler — who evidently won the Amazing Race in 2008 — who knew, but I follow Survivor — was also a strong singer and jazzy dancer, as demonstrated in the aforementioned “Stairway to Paradise” as well as the opening “I Got Rhythm”.

The secondary love interest, Milo Davenport, was played by Emily Ferranti (FB). Ferranti brought a lovely style and grace to the piece, and danced wonderfully in “Shall We Dance?”

There were a few other named characters, but they all dropped back into the ensemble at points (with the exception of Gayton Scott [Madame Baurel]) and were very lightly drawn. As usual, it is hard to single out the ensemble members, but I do want to note their wonderful athleticism and fluid movement was on display throughout, and that this is one show in particular that depends on the dancing ensemble: it is their talent, in group numbers like “An American In Paris”, that make this show the spectacular dance show that it is. This splendid dancing team consisted of the aforementioned Ryan Steele (FB) and Leigh-Ann Esty (FB); as well as Karolina Blonski (FB); Brittany Bohn (FB); Stephen Brower (FB); Randy Castillo (FB); Jessica Cohen (FB); Barton Cowperthwaite (FB) [also Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner]; Alexa De Barr (FB); Caitlin Meighan (FB) [also Returning Soldier’s Wife]; Alida Michal (FB); Don Noble (FB) [also Monsieur Baurel, Store Manager]; Alexandra Pernice (FB); David Prottas (FB); Lucas Segovia; Kyle Vaughn (FB) [also Mr. Z]; Laurie Wells (FB) [also Olga]; Dana Winkle (FB); Erica Wong (FB); and Blake Zelesnikar (FB). Swings were Jace Coronado (FB); Ashlee Dupre (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Erika Hebron (FB); Christopher M. Howard (FB) [Dance Captain]; Colby Q. Lindeman (FB); Nathalie Marrable (FB); Tom Mattingly (FB); Sayiga Eugene Peabody (FB); and Danielle Santos (FB). There were far too many understudy allocations to list them all here. The one thing that comes from hunting down the links of all these actors/dancers is the immense amount of dance and ballet talent in this group. This is why these dancers are so good — they have been working hard at it.

The orchestra was under the direction of music director and conductor David Andrews Rogers (FB). The other members were Brad Gardner (FB) (Assoc. Music Director, Keys); Ray Wong (FB) (Key 1, Piano); Henry Palkes (FB) (Keys 2); Katherine Fink (FB) (Reed 1); Tansie Mayer (FB) (Reed 2); Tom Colclough (FB) (Reed 3); Sam Oatts (FB) (Trumpet 1); Anthony DiMauro/FB (Trumpet 2); Dave Grott (FB) (Trombone); Susan French (FB) (Violin 1); Adrian Walker (FB) (Violin 2); Nick Donatelle (FB) (Cello); and Paul Hannah (Drums/Percussion). These were augmented by local performers Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin, Concertmaster); Adriana Zoppo (FB) (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach (FB) (Cello); Steve Kujala (FB) (Flute, Piccolo); Dick Mitchell (Flute, Clarinet); John Yoakum (FB) (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet); Marissa Benedict (FB) (Trumpet 2, Flugelhorn); Andy Martin (FB) (Trombone); Wade Culbreath (Percussion); David Witham (FB) (Keyboard Sub). Other music credits: Emily Grishman (Copying / Preparation); Seymour Red Press (Music Coordinator); Brian Miller (Orchestra Contractor). Orchestrations were by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott. Dance arrangements were by Sam Davis. Todd Ellison was the music supervisor. The Musical Score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rod Fisher.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative team. I’m going to combine the set and costume design of Bob Crowley and the Projection Design of 59 Productions together because they truly worked as a singular whole (hmmm, both are UK based, as is the director — odd for an AMERICAN in Paris 🙂 ). Anyway, this was another show that depended quite heavily on projections — the main scenic design elements, other than props and such, were various flats and mirrored surfaces upon which the projections were placed. These were animated and changing and extremely creative and .. well, in many ways, they were vital set elements of the overall design. This went to the costumes as well, especially as in the block-patterned American in Paris dance sequences, where the Mondrian-style color scheme of the set was repeated in the block primary color scheme of the ensemble’s costumes. This was all augmented by the lighting design of Natasha Katz (FB), which used scaffolds around the stage behind the proscenium, combined with two movers one on each side of the balcony (in other words, there wasn’t the universal array of Lekos and movers midway above the orchestra, and the follow-spot was by programming). The sound design of Jon Weston (FB) was unnoticeable, as a good sound design should be.  Rounding out the production credits were: Kenneth J. Davis (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Rick Steiger (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Troika Entertainment / Laura Dieli (FB) [Production Manager]; Telsey + Company (FB) / Rachel Hoffman C.S.A. [Casting]; Dontee Kiehn (FB) [Associate Director / Choreographer]; Sean Maurice Kelly (FB) [Associate Choreographer / Resident Manager]; Donvan Dolan (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Lori Byars [Asst. Stage Manager]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Props Supervisor]; Unkledave’s Fight House (FB) [Fight Direction]. The Executive Producer was 101 Productions Ltd. The list of producers and associate producers is far too long.

An American in Paris (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through April 9. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online or by calling (323) 468-1770. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. 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: April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend 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). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

 

 

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Finding the Child Within | “Finding Neverland” @ Pantages

Finding Neverland (Hollywood Pantages)From where does inspiration arise? What gives the author the impetus to write a story, particularly an imaginative story? These are the questions that underlie the musical Finding Neverland (FB), currently at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. The original production opened on Broadway in March 2015, closing in August 2016 after 565 performances — a respectable run. I discovered the production through the cast album, which I found enjoyable. The musical, with book by James Graham, and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (FB) and Eliot Kennedy,  was based on the 2004 Miramax movie of the same name by David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.

It is clear that the story of this boy that would never grow up, and his creation by J. M. Barrie, has fascinated people for generations (especially as the original story has gone in and out of copyright protection). It has spawned both prequel (Pan (2015)) and sequel (Hook (1991)) movies, as well as various reinterpretations and origin stories for the stage (Peter and the Starcatcher, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers), the latter being based on Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy.

The version of the story on the stage at the Pantages, as in the movie, is a fictionalized version of the real story. There are a number of elements in common, but there is rearrangement of both the relationships and the timeline. One wonders if the fascination with the story is because society inherently distrusts any relationship of an adult man with boys not his own. I’d hazard a guess that this is a preoccupation of the modern era; it may have been more common and innocent in the past. In any case, that intimation of creepy relationships that I raised in some biographical descriptions of Barrie are not present in this musical; rather, it expands on the notion of Neverland coming from a rediscovery of the author’s imagination.

Before I go further into giving my thoughts on the piece, perhaps a plot summary is in order. Here’s the summary from Musical Heaven:

After a less than successful opening of his latest play Little Mary, J. M. Barrie meets widowed Sylvia and her sons in Kensington Gardens and they all soon develop a strong bond. J. M. Barrie proves to be a great friend and father figure to the boys, and his antics with the children quickly begin to inspire him to write a play about boys who never wish to grow up, with youngest son Peter provides particular inspiration. Soon, people begin to question his relationship with Sylvia, although it remains fiercely platonic. His wife Mary divorces him and Sylvia’s mother starts to object at the amount of time Barrie spends with the family. Sylvia becomes increasingly weak after an illness, but Barrie continues to play with the boys, taking the adventures they experience and turning them into Peter Pan. Presenting his idea to Producer Charles Frohman, Frohman reluctantly agrees to put on the play, despite believing that it will not appeal to his upper-class theatregoers. Barrie takes it on himself to disperse children from a local orphanage throughout the audience, which causes the surrounding adults to delight in the play. Proving a huge success, Peter Llewelyn Davies arrives to watch the show and realizes that it is about him and his brothers; George, Michael and Jack. Too ill to attend the theatre, Barrie puts on a production for Sylvia in her home, gathering the actors, props and musicians in her house. At the end, Peter Pan points to the doors to signify that she should go to Neverland. She takes the hand of her boys and walks into Neverland, implying her death. At Sylvia’s funeral, Barrie discovers that her will reads that he should take care of the Llewelyn Davies boys, which he is overjoyed at. Barrie and Peter form a bond unlike any other.

Reviews of the show that I read before seeing it criticized this plot, arguing that it had no antagonist. One gets the feeling that they were looking for a conventional theatrical structure: protagonists, antagonists, charm songs, 11 o’clock numbers, “I want” songs, and so forth. That’s not here. If there was any antagonist, it might have been Barrie against itself; however, more than anything, I think this was just an attempt to tell a story. Stories do not always have good guys and bad guys — sometimes they just are. This is especially true in an origin story about something well known. One knows the ending in advance — the question is how they got there.

Where I believe the critics did have a valid complaint is the music. The reviews I read called it pedestrian. I wouldn’t go that far. This is the first score from a team that had previously done pop music. The pop music can successfully develop musicals given the right coaching, guidance, and skill. Good examples of this Sir Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and Sara Bareilles. But they can also go bad, as demonstrated by Paul Simon and Sting, both of whom had musicals that underwhelmed. The problem with much of the score in this show is that is sounded like pop music; they moved the story along but something was missing. This didn’t make them bad, mind you. They were more…. calculated for the pop ear, if I had to say anything. I think this is best exemplified by the fact that there is a companion album to the cast album that presents pop music stars performing these songs. There is one exception, however: the song “Play”, which is one of the ones very theatrical in its nature.

Irrespective of any story issues, the execution and presentation of the story were great (not surprising for a Broadway Equity tour). As directed by Diane Paulus, with choreography by Mia Michaels (FB), the characters come to life — in particular, the leads — with playfulness and movement as befits the story.

In the lead positions were Billy Harrigan Tighe (FB) as J. M. Barrie and Christine Dwyer (FB) as Sylvia Llewelyn Davis. Both gave great performances, with displays of the impishness and childishness needed for the characters. They also had very pleasant and strong singing voices — in particular, Dwyer at times reminded me of Allison Fraser with the touch of a really interesting vocal nuance to her voice. Tighe did a beautiful job on numbers such as “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground”, with Dwyer excelling in numbers like “What You Mean to Me”.

As Charles Frohman, Barrie’s producer, Tom Hewitt was strong and very funny. He came into his own, however, when portraying Barrie’s alter-ego, Captain Hook. Playful and maniacal, he was just a joy to watch. In terms of singing, I found him very strong in songs such as “Circus of Your Mind”, “Hook”, and in particular, “Play”.

The Llewelyn Davies children are portrayed by multiple actors; the actors we saw at this performance are italicized: George – Finn Faulconer, Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler; Peter – Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; Jack: Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; and Michael – Jordan Cole, Tyler Patrick Hennessy. All were cute and fun to watch and sang well. I was particularly impressed with them in the second act where one plays ukulele (and considering they rotate, this means that most play uke).

Although there was no formal bio in the program, stealing the hearts of the audience as Porthos was Sammy, in what appears to be his debut performance. Seriously, this dog was very cute and very well behaved — especially notable for his reaction to the other “dog” in the second act. Surprisingly, Sammy has an understudy, Bailey. Note: There is no connection to the other famous dog named Porthos.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Karen Murphy [Mrs. du Maurier]; Christina Belinsky (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan u/s]; Cameron Bond (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Turpin, Acting Troupe Captain Hook, u/s J. M. Barre]; Sarah Marie Charles (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Sylvia, u/s Mary]; Adrianne Chu (FB) [Ensemble, Acting Troupe Wendy]; Calvin L. Cooper (FB) [Ensemble]; Dwelvan David (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Henshaw]; Nathan Duszny (FB) [Ensemble]; Victoria Huston-Elem (FB) [Ensemble; Miss Bassett, u/s Mrs. du Maurier]; Crystal Kellogg (FB) [Mary Barrie, u/s Sylvia]; Thomas Miller (FB) [Ensemble, Elliot]; Noah Plomgren (FB) [Ensemble, Lord Cannan, u/s J. M. Barrie]; Corey Rives (FB) [Ensemble, Albert]; Dee Tomasetta (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan]; Lael Van Keuren (FB) [Ensemble, Miss Jones, Emily, u/s Mrs. du Maurier, u/s Mary]; and Matt Wolpe (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Cromer, u/s Frohman/Hook]. I particularly enjoyed Dwelvan David’s ensemble performance — very expressive. Somebody cast this guy as the Genie in Aladdin — he has the right look and fun. Swings were Melissa Hunter McCann (FB) [Swing]; Connor McRory (FB) [Swing]; and Matthew Quinn (FB) [Swing, u/s Frohman/Hook].

The music was under the direction of Ryan Cantwell (FB), with music supervision by Fred Lassen (FB) and Orchestrations by Simon Hale (FB). The orchestra consisted of Ryan Cantwell (FB) (Conductor / Keyboard), Valerie Gebert (FB) (Associate Conductor / Keyboard), Greg Germann (FB) (Drums), Laraine Kaizer (FB) (Violin), Ryan Claus/FB (Reeds), Sean Murphy (FB) (Bass), Nicholas Difabbio (FB) (Guitar), David Manning (FB) (Synth / Acoustic Guitar / Mandolin), Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin), Ken Wild (Bass / Electric Bass), John Yoakum (FB) (Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / F# Wood Flute). The keyboard sub was David Witham (FB), and the orchestra contractor was Brian Miller. The orchestra had a good sound to it, but beware there is loads of bass at the end of Act I. The original music supervisor and dance and incidental music arranger was David Chase.

Lastly, the production creative team: The scenic design by Scott Pask was relatively simple with a framing scrim (that blocked the view from the side, but narrowed the stage to a standard size for the tour 😞 ). The bulk of the scenic aspects were provided by the projection design of Jon Driscoll. This worked with the lighting design of Kenneth Posner to create most of the magic. I was particularly taken by a scene in the second act that made wonderful use of shadow effects of the actors on stage created by a single white light projecting on the actors from upstage. Speaking of magic, the real magic in this show came from the illusions of Paul Kieve, the air sculpture of Daniel Wurtzel, and the flying effects of Production Resource Group.  The effects these folks created near the finale are spectacular. The sound design by Jonathan Deans was reasonably good, but shows need to remember when booking the Pantages that all the lovely art deco flourishes in the auditorium, while great to look at, bounce the sound everywhere (and require special tuning). The costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb and the hair and makeup by Richard Mawbey looked good and worked well. Rounding out the production credits are: AnnMarie Milazzo – Vocal Designer; William Berloni – Animal Trainer; Stewart/Whitley – Casting; The Booking Group – Tour Booking; Mia Walker – Associate Director; Gregory Vander Ploeg – General Manager; Jose Solivan – Company Manager; Seth F. Barker – Production Stage Manager.

Finding Neverland continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. Tickets are available through the Pantages website/box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although this isn’t a perfect show, I found it quite enjoyable.

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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. 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: March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend 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). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was this week, and here’s what I thought of it.

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Pantages Theatre | Tabard Theatre Company

Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. Today, the Pantages made the announcement about its 2018 season (or most of it; there were no shows announced after September 2018). Curious about how I did? Read on! Additionally, I’d like to share some thoughts on a season announcement for a great Northern California theatre.

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Back in December, I summarized the shows that I thought were going on tour based on the announcements that I had seen, and I predicted the following:

There are numerous other shows currently coming to Broadway that I expect to tour, but I think they would be 2018-2019 at best. So how do I predict the seasons to work out? Here are my predictions:

  • Ahmanson 2017-2018 Season: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, The Humans, Something Rotten, Waitress, and possibly the Fiddler revival, Allegiance, or a pre-Broadway musical.
  • Pantages 2017-2018 Season: Disney’s Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, Bright Star, Matilda, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Color Purple, and possibly On Your Feet.

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list. So I think I did pretty good. Here’s what was announced for the Pantages season. I’m sure they will have some fill-in shows to announce, but those might be more retreads:

  • Disney’s Aladdin, The Musical. January 10 – March 31, 2018. What is there to say? This is the upsized full-Broadway version. It is clearly a Pantages show that they expect to be a hit, given a 3 month run.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies. April 3-22, 2018. This is the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I wasn’t that crazy about. It has not played Broadway yet. I will admit I’m curious on this one, so I’ll give it a try. I was expecting they might program the long running tour of Phantom before this production, but they barely have time to do the load-out/load-in after Aladdin. They can’t even squeeze it in before Aladdin, as Hamilton ends on December 30, 2017, and Aladdin starts January 10.
  • School of Rock: The Musical. May 3 – 27, 2018. Currently on Broadway, and I enjoy the music quite a bit (and that is even with the knowledge that this is an Andrew Lloyd Webber show).
  • The Color Purple: The Musical. May 29 – June 17, 2018. This is the deconstructed and re-conceived revival that received such good reviews on Broadway; I haven’t listened to the album of this version yet. I’m looking forward to this.
  • On Your Feet: The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical. July 6 – 29, 2018. Surely to be a crowd-pleaser in Los Angeles. I’ve heard the music, and this should be good.
  • Waitress. August 2-26, 2018. This is the one show I had predicted for the Ahamanson instead, but I can see why the Pantages grabbed it — given it is the first musical by Sara Bareilles, it will bring in the kids. I’ve heard the music, and I’m looking forward to it.

A few additional notes: The Pantages has left very few holes for fill-in programming — really only the last week of April, and the latter half of June. There will be perhaps some pop-up concerts there, but a three-week run is unlikely. Expect them to add shows from September 2018 on, but that may be in their next season announcement. Regarding my predictions (which I’ll update), I think Bright Star might go to the Ahmanson. Matilda, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserables will likely wait for the 2018-2019 Pantages season instead — the first because it was already at the Ahmanson; the latter two because they are really more Pantages shows (plus Les Miz was already at the Ahmanson).

More details, and information on subscription packages, is here.

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Back in 2014, we saw an excellent production of The Immigrant from Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose. A few weeks ago, I received their announcement of their 17th season, and all I can say is that if I lived in the area, it would be worthy of subscription. We may even drive up for one of the shows (Adrift in Macao), it’s that good. Here’s their season:

  • PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. September 15 – October 8, 2017. Written by Rick Elice. Music by Wayne Barker. Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers”. Tony Award-winning play! Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 engaging and unforgettable characters, through this play with music we learn how Peter Pan earned his flight credentials and how a mustachioed pirate became Captain Hook. — We saw the tour of this when it was at the Ahmanson, and it was great. This should be a smaller production, but this is a show well suited to that.
  • MOM’S GIFT. October 27 – November 19, 2017. Written by Phil Olson. Northern California Premiere! In this comedy with a heart, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. — We saw the world premiere of this at Group Rep, and it was excellent.
  • HOLIDAY AT THE SAVOY. December 1 – December 17, 2017 Created by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta & Gus Kambeitz. World Premiere! It’s December 1945, New York City — the first post-war holiday season at the famous Savoy ballroom in Harlem where singers, dancers, and musicians put on an exciting floor show filled with the swinging sounds and steps of the day in Savoy style. — I haven’t heard of this, but it sounds quite interesting with good music.
  • EVELYN IN PURGATORY. January 12 – January 28, 2018. Written by Topher Payne. West Coast Premiere! When a complaint is filed against one of the 70,000 teachers in New York’s public schools, they’re sent to a Reassignment Center. There, they sit and wait for their case to be reviewed. Based on real teacher “rubber rooms” in New York City, this surprising and engaging dramatic comedy follows five teachers one school year while they await their hearing. — Sounds like an interesting play. One of the reasons to subscribe to seasons is to see plays you might not normally go to on your own. This sounds like one of those.
  • THE MIRACLE WORKER. February 16 – March 11, 2018. Tony Award winner by William Gibson based on Helen Keller’s biography “The Story of My Life”. 20-year old Annie Sullivan embarked on a journey that would change the life of her charge, Helen Keller, who would, in turn, change the lives of others for generations. The Miracle Worker reveals the power of commitment and strength when the choice is made to reach beyond the understandable and tangible. — This is the play that made Patty Duke’s career. A classic. I haven’t see it in years, but it is a great story.
  • ADRIFT IN MACAO. April 13 – May 6, 2018. Book and Lyrics by Christopher Durang; Music by Peter Melnick. Bay Area Premiere! With a drop-dead funny book and shamefully silly lyrics and lethally catchy music, this fast-paced musical, set in 1952 Macao, China, lovingly parodies the Hollywood film noir classics of the 1940s and ’50s. — I have heard the music from this, and truly want to see the show. It hasn’t been done in LA, at least that I’m aware of. I may work a visit to the Bay Area in my schedule to go see this.

As I noted before, I’d subscribe for this season, it looks that good. They are just too far away for me. But perhaps not for you. Tabard is in San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. Tabard’s pricing for Early Bird tickets (until May 17, 2017) isn’t that bad: between $69 for students to $205 for their “caberet” seating; $159 is the basic adult ticket, meaning about $26.50 a ticket. Subscription information is here.

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