🎭 I Shouldn’t Be Laughing | “Tootsie” @ Broadway in Hollywood

Tootsie (Broadway in Hollywood)Whew! It’s been a week, hasn’t it. I feel more exhausted than an actor trying to juggle pretending to be someone whom I’m not who is then trying to be someone who they are not while not letting out a secret… well, more on that in a minute. But I have been really busy, so please excuse the lateness of these writeups. They took a back seat to some other projects this week — working up updates to my highway pages,  and continued new work on getting a new podcast about highways off the ground. Combine that with a full time job, caretaking for my wife who is still down after her accident, and an ear infection, and … whew!

In any case, let’s talk about Tootsie, which is the current production of  Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby Theatre. We saw it last Saturday, and I’m really conflicted in my reaction.  On the one hand, it was extremely funny with great comic timing. On the other hand, it is an attempt to bring 1980’s attitudes about men and women to a context 40 years later, and that just doesn’t work. Add to that the fact that this is a non-Equity tour (with the labor issues related thereto): yes, it gives talented actors their start, but it also treats them like second class citizens. Hmm, like women in a professional field. As I said, conflicted.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Tootsie is based on a 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, with a screenplay adapted by Larry Gelbart, Barry Levinson, Elaine May and Murray Schisgal from a story by Gelbart and Don McGuire. The basic premise is: perfectionist male actor, who is so annoying he has been blackballed by most directors, pretends to be a woman in order to get an acting job. In doing so, he takes a job away from his actress best-friend, and turns what is a crappy soap-opera into a smash success with his suggestions for improvement. He falls in love with the leading lady of the soap-opera (who is having an affair with the director), and has a male leading man fall in love with him. When the secret comes out, then (as they say) hijinks ensue.

This was really funny stuff in the 1980s folks. I mean that this was the second most profitable film of 1982, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture. In 1998, the Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. You can just imagine a producer thinking, 20 years later: This would be great on Broadway!

But the times, as Bob Dylan sang, are a changin’. The whole schtick of man dressing as women for humor isn’t as funny as it once was. Show real trans folk. That’s fine. Show real stories of drag queens, as serious drag queens (cough, Kinky Boots, cough, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie), OK. But dress as a woman for humor (as we saw in My Fair Lady or as is likely in the upcoming new version of Some Like It Hot), and it doesn’t work. I’ll note there are similar problems with playing on old and tired gay stereotypes — how well would a La Cage revival work these days. Perhaps this is why we’re hearing so little about Mrs. Doubtfire, currently on Broadway. It plays up the man dressed as woman for humor, and that just doesn’t fly. (Hmmm, he wondered, why there are so few shows that find humor in a woman dressing as a man? I can only think of two — both Shakespeare — and the humor is situational. Victor Victoria, perhaps? But I digress).

Now, add to this the problems related to #MeToo, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the growing concern about men not listening to the voices of women (as well as a man taking a woman’s job). You have to keep saying to yourself: What were these producers thinking smoking?

Yet with all these problems, Tootsie came to Broadway and found some measure of success. It was nominated for a slew of Tony awards and won two (including Best Book of a Musical). It beat out Beetlejuice, which was better and far less problematic. Yet problems remain.

To their credit, the new book by Robert Horn makes some significant changes. It moves the milieu from New York and the soap opera scene to Broadway. Now the actor (Michael Dorsey) is finding failure with Broadway directors, and so becomes an actress (Dorothy Michaels) in a successful new Broadway production. This makes it more accessible, and adds to the in-jokes that only those in the Broadway profession would get. But it works better on stage. Horn also explicitly acknowledges the problems with what Michael is doing: there is gnashing and wailing about how this is wrong, followed by jokes about how he’ll get paid less. There are scenes calling out Michael for mansplaining, while there are no remarks about the hidden-in-full-view Michael as Dorothy mansplaining away, and getting heard while women staffers are ignored.

So there are loads and loads of problems remaining in the book. And yet … I laughed. Especially in the second act, where Michael’s subterfuge is uncovered, and there are some wonderful comic timing scenes taking place. This thing is laugh out loud funny, while you’re thinking at the same time that it is so wrong. Just like Jackass. This is likely why it won best book: if the book can make you laugh at something that is patently so wrong these days.

While we’re talking book, we mustn’t forget this is a musical. In this case, the music and lyrics are by David Yazbek, The songs are very funny, but what kept bothering me is how much they sounded like Yazbek’s other work. I kept hearing hints of The Band’s Visit  or Women on the Verge and even The Full Monty. There are some particular riffs and styles that Yazbek likes, and they seem to have recycled themselves here. It was distracting, and Yazbek needs to work better on getting his musicals to not sound so much … like Yazbek-stereotypes.

The production was directed by Dave Solomon; Scott Ellis was the original Broadway director. Broadway choreography was by Denis Jones. Buried in the small print were the key local folks: Augustine Ubannwa Asst. Director and Chip Abbott Associate Choreographer. All are members of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. I always have trouble telling direction from performance (which is how it should be), but the comic aspects of the direction were strong. Dancing was a bit weaker: there wasn’t anything that particular stands out in my mind a week after the performance.

Let’s turn to the performances, but before we do: When this production was originally booked for Broadway in Hollywood (back in the pre-pandemic days), it was to be an Equity tour, with Equity actors, and Equity pay scales, and Equity health insurance and such. But, on the verge of going out, it was recast and went out as a non-Equity tour. So note: Union directors and choreographers, union scenic artists, union back and front of house, but non-union actors. This is not meant as a disparagement of the actors, who do a remarkable job (as I’ll describe below). But it is a ding to the producers, who are getting away with paying them less and providing fewer benefits (pay breakdown) and worse working conditions. This has led to increased efforts from Equity to go after the non-Union tours. In particular, they are going after the touring companies that often have union and non-union versions, feeding back into the same pockets. If you ever want a key difference between Broadway in Hollywood and Center Theatre Group: CTG only does Equity productions on the main stages (and CTG does show production, not just booking). BIH books both Equity and non-Equity productions. Rant over, and I will say that I do still love Broadway in Hollywood — their subscriber support folks are the greatest (more on that later). I just wish the talent got treated as well, and part of that is encouraging the industry to do Equity tours.

Despite being young, the cast was excellent — drawing heavily from other non-Equity tours and the strong regional theatre markets. In the lead position was Drew Becker Michael Dorsey / Dorothy Michaels . Becker was remarkable in the role, with great comic timing and performing chops. He captured both the masculine and the feminine sides well, and had a strong singing voice. But as I noted, what really impressed me was his comedy. There were times where he said everything with a simple facial expression, a pause, or a simple reaction. To this untrained eye, that goes beyond the direction to bringing the actor’s chops to the role. I hope others see it.

The other key people in Michael’s direct sphere of influence were Payton Reilly Sandy Lester and Jared David Michael Grant Jeff Slater. Reilly’s role is really written more as comic relief, and we don’t see as much of her as we would like. She has a recurring song motif that is extremely funny and self-deprecating (even if it sounds like it could be plopped down in Women on the Verge). Reilly handles this well with great comic timing. Grant gets to play the lovable schlub friend — and you wouldn’t expect such a strong performance for that character. But Grant excels at the comedy — again, he’s a master of the timing and the look and the reaction. The scenes with him, Reilly, and Becker are just masterpieces. Watching their performances, you wouldn’t realize that these are relatively new actors — they are that strong in their roles.

Next we have the key people in Dorothy Michael’s stage life: Ashley Alexander Julie Nichols and Lukas James Miller Max Van Horn.  Alexander (who also appears to go by Ashley Seldon) has a remarkably strong voice and come across as a credible actor in her role. She gets less opportunity to play the role for the comic side. Miller, on the other hand, is heavily comedy — especially in the second act. The scene where he comes and hits on Dorothy is priceless, but his introductory scenes are strong as well.

In supporting roles we have Kathy Halenda Rita Marshall; Steve Brustien Stan Fields and Adam du Plessis Ron Carlisle.  All are written and played with appropriate stereotypes in mind. Halenda is the aging woman producer who wants to champion other women; Brustien is the typical agent; and du Plessis is the over-egoed director. The actors play them well.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller named parts as noted are: Leyla Ali Gone Female Trio, Connor Allston Stuart, Darius Aushay, Michael Bingham, Kyra Christopher, Delaney Gold Gone Female Trio, Maverick Hu, Dominique Kempf Suzie, Gone Female Trio, Marquez Linder, Lucy Panush, Alec Ruiz Carl, and Stefanie Renee Salyers. Swings are Lexi Baldachino Dance Captain, and Ashton Lambert Asst. Dance Captain. The ensemble was strong, performing with spirit and energy, and seeming to enjoy what they were doing.

Music was provided by an orchestra under Andrea Grody Supervising Music Director and Andrew David Sotomayor Music Director The orchestra consisted of: Richard Mitchell Alto Sax, Flute, Piccolo, Recorder; Sean Franz Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Soprano Sax; Aaron Smith and Javier Gonzalez Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas Trombone; Chris Thigpen Bass (Acoustic/Electric); Brian LaFontaine Guitar (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin); Carl Thomson Drums / Percussion; Adam McDonald Keyboard 1; and Mary Ekler Keyboard 2. Other music credits: Dean Sharenow Music Supervisor; Talitha Fehr Music Coordinator; Eric Heinly Music Contractor; Billy Jay Stein and Iro Iida (for Strange Cranium Productions Inc) Electronic Music Design; David Chase Dance Arrangements; and Simon Hale Orchestrations.

Lastly, we turn to the production team, starting with the lead designers. Overall, the scenic design was suitable, although there were sound problems that left the distinct impression that some speakers were not working (because the music sounded off to one side). The set was relatively compact, with elements that opened up to create Michael Dorsey’s apartment, and that when closed became a generic New York skyline. My biggest complaint with the set design was more of a tour set design issue: there was a large frame around the set that would create site line problems for anyone sitting off to the far side. That’s bad design: even for a tour, sets should be designed to be clear and visible to all. The scenic design team consisted of: David Rockwell Original Scenic Design; Christine Peters Tour Scenic Design; William Ivey Long Costume Design; Christopher Vergara Costume Coordinator; Donald Holder Lighting Design; Brian Ronan Sound Design; Paul Huntley Hair & Wig Design; and Angelina Avallone Make-Up Design.  One costume/make-up note: The quick changes for Drew Becker (Michael Dorsey) were impressive, including changing the nail polish!

Rounding out the production team were: Binder Casting Casting; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Brianna Thompson Asst Stage Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Heather Chockley Production Management. The tour manager was Troika Entertainment.

I mentioned earlier about the superb customer service from the Broadway in Hollywood subscription team. My wife currently is in a wheelchair, which requires handicapped seating. When I booked the show we were not in accessible seats; I had changed the tickets, but hadn’t realized they weren’t accessible either. Day of the show, the subscription folks in the box office got us changed to wheelchair accessible seats (in the orchestra, no less) without any muss. They may book non-union tours, but I still think Broadway in Hollywood is great!

Tootsie continues at the Dolby Theatre for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) until May 15. Tickets are available through the BIH box office (they have specials for $39). Discount tickets may be available through GoldstarTootsie goes next to the Segerstrom in Orange County.

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

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🎭 Update: Prognostications for the 2023 Pantages/Ahmanson Seasons

Back in mid-February 2022, I posted my predictions for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) (Pantages) and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) seasons. BIH just made their announcement, so how did I do?

For the record, here’s what I wrote for Broadway in Hollywood:

  • Mean Girls. This was postponed from 2020.
  • Six.
  • Beetlejuice.
  • Tina – The Musical.
  • Ain’t Too Proud. This started out at the Ahmanson and went to Broadway. It is likely not to repeat at the Ahmanson — they want to reach a different subscriber base.
  • Wicked. On tour, currently at the Segerstrom. A likely retread that performs well and can do an extended sit-down at the Pantages.
  • Girl from the North Country (although this could end up at the Ahmanson)
  • Aladdin The Musical. This is a “newly imagined” version, and could be a draw.
  • Maybes:
    • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.
    • The Cher Show. The tour was postponed, but it might come back.
    • The Spongebob Musical. One can always hope.
    • MJ The Musical. This was just announced (3/21) as going on tour in 2023. It is the type of show that would be at the Pantages, but I think the announcement is too late for the 2023 season. But one never knows; it might make it in.

What did we get?

I got the first four right on the button:

In my maybe list, the two retreads ended up being in the season:

  • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.

Two of the shows I thought for the Ahmanson are coming into BIH instead:

I didn’t see a remounting of The Lion King; I wasn’t even aware they were still on tour. The Playbill article on current and upcoming tours indicates the Lion King tour ends in October 2022, and the BIH announcement indicates it is coming in 2023.

So where does this leave the other traditional touring house: The Ahmanson. There’s a push at CTG for more diversity and there’s a new managing director, so there could be some changes in direction. CTG/Ahmanson also does more local stuff, and stuff moving up. So what will we see from the Ahmanson? Here’s the revised prediction.

Ahmanson Theatre

The Ahmanson Theatre, in Downtown LA,  is a large venue that in the past has programmed both National tours, shows it has locally produced or produced pre-tours, or select touring productions from elsewhere, such as the West End. It has smaller capacity than the Pantages/Dolby, can accommodate mid-size runs but not long sit downs. There has been a recent strong push for diversity and local productions at CTG, and there is new artistic leadership, so I expect to see more diverse playwrights and local productions as opposed to only the tours we’ve seen of late.

My prediction:

    • To Kill a Mockingbird (Tour). This was postponed from 2021.
    • 1776 (Musical). This was postponed from 2021.
    • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This could be a local mounting as a tour hasn’t been announced, but there has been a sister production at the Curran in SF. This isn’t a formal tour, so it would require a local mounting of the show — which means it would require the Ahmanson, as Broadway in Hollywood doesn’t locally mount stuff.
    • Jagged Little Pill. This just seems a bit more like an Ahmanson show.
    • Girl from the North Country
    • MJ: The Musical
    • Diversity author slot.
    • Pre-Broadway or West-End Musical

I still believe that Ain’t Too Proud will NOT come back to the Ahmanson, but I could be wrong. The Ahmanson did bring back both Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, which they presented before. Other tours are shows that are retready enough they don’t fit CTG, such as Aladdin The Musical or Wicked, and although a new production of 9 to 5: The Musical is going on tour, I don’t think it would be a sufficient draw for CTG.  I still don’t think Emojiland: The Musical  will end up at the Ahmanson either.

And still no Spongebob Musical. But one can always hope.

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🎭 Prognostications for the 2023 Pantages/Ahmanson Seasons

It’s that time of year again. I’ve received email from Broadway in Hollywood (FB) (Pantages) that it is time to advance renew our subscriptions and that their season announcement was coming soon; I expect to hear something similar from the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). So I though I would go through the list of shows I know to be setting up tours, and predict what the seasons will look like. Let’s see how close I am once the announcements come out. My basis for show information is the Tours to You site, and the Playbill article on current and upcoming tours.

Ahmanson Theatre

The Ahmanson Theatre, in Downtown LA,  is a large venue that in the past has programmed both National tours, shows it has locally produced or produced pre-tours, or select touring productions from elsewhere, such as the West End. It has smaller capacity than the Pantages/Dolby, can accommodate mid-size runs but not long sit downs. There has been a recent strong push for diversity and local productions at CTG, and there is new artistic leadership, so I expect to see more diverse playwrights and local productions as opposed to only the tours we’ve seen of late.

My prediction:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Tour). This was postponed from 2021.
  • 1776 (Musical). This was postponed from 2021.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This could be a local mounting as a tour hasn’t been announced, but there has been a sister production at the Curran in SF. This isn’t a formal tour, so it would require a local mounting of the show — which means it would require the Ahmanson, as Broadway in Hollywood doesn’t locally mount stuff.
  • Jagged Little Pill. This just seems a bit more like an Ahmanson show.
  • Diversity author slot.
  • Pre-Broadway or West-End Musical

Broadway In Hollywood

Broadway in Hollywood, booking at the Pantages and the Dolby, has to fill large venues. They book only tours and such; no locally produced or unknown quantitites here. They also bring in a small number of retreads — shows that have done well before that might be worth another sit-down.

My prediction:

  • Mean Girls. This was postponed from 2020.
  • Six.
  • Beetlejuice.
  • Tina – The Musical.
  • Ain’t Too Proud. This started out at the Ahmanson and went to Broadway. It is likely not to repeat at the Ahmanson — they want to reach a different subscriber base.
  • Wicked. On tour, currently at the Segerstrom. A likely retread that performs well and can do an extended sit-down at the Pantages.
  • Girl from the North Country (although this could end up at the Ahmanson)
  • Aladdin The Musical. This is a “newly imagined” version, and could be a draw.
  • Maybes:
    • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.
    • The Cher Show. The tour was postponed, but it might come back.
    • The Spongebob Musical. One can always hope.
    • MJ The Musical. This was just announced (3/21) as going on tour in 2023. It is the type of show that would be at the Pantages, but I think the announcement is too late for the 2023 season. But one never knows; it might make it in.

Emojiland: The Musical is also going on tour. However, it doesn’t seem like either Pantages or Ahmanson fare, being an off-Broadway production to start with. My guess, if it comes to the LA Area, is that it might end up at Broadway in Thousand Oaks or the Pasadena Playhouse.

So those are my predictions. Your thoughts? I could also see, if the new Music Man announces a tour this early, that it could end up at the Pantages.

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🎭 Beauty in the Inconsequential | “The Band’s Visit” @ Broadway In Hollywood/Dolby

The Band's Visit @ Broadway in Hollywood (Dolby)Silence. Calm. Space. Relaxation.

Those are not things you associate with a Tony-award winning Broadway musical. When you think of Broadway, you think of high kicking dance numbers. Lots of energy. Lots of volume. Something happening in every minute. Long leggy dancers. Big bands.

That’s not The Band’s Visit, which we saw last night at the Dolby Theatre as part of Broadway in Hollywood.

The Band’s Visit is best summarized by the opening projection, which is also said at the end of the show: “Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” What distinguishes this show is the quiet. The show is not afraid of silence; there’s quite a lot said in the pauses. That particular message is very important right now. We are all going crazy with the ongoing stress and fatigue of COVID, of politics, of conflict, of hostility, of partisanship. What we need to do is appreciate the quiet, to get the most out of our pauses.

This musical tells the story of The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, which was invited to perform at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tiqva. However, when getting their bus tickets, they get tickets for Beit Hatikva. This is a speck of concrete in the middle of the desert.  They spend the night with the villagers, and then go on their way and perform their concert.

That’s it. That’s the story. Two groups of strangers getting to know each other, and then moving on.

There are no big dance numbers. There are, instead, insightful chamber numbers. There are songs in English. There are songs in Hebrew. There are songs in Arabic. People who speak different languages, somehow finding out how to see past the differences and get along. Calmly. By listening to the pauses.

As the musical unfolded, I found myself enveloped by the difference of this musical. It relaxed me; it pulled out the stress in a different way than Head over Heels had the week before. Yet I found myself leaning forward and smiling (under my mask). I was also enthralled by the portrayal of the people. When we think of the conflict in the Middle East, we often think stereotypically of the strongly religious. That’s not present here. We see people. Secular folks, running cafes, going out to eat, playing music, taking care of families, dealing with family issues. The only hint of religion is the mezuzah on the cafe door. The story forces us to see people as people, and not through the lens of religion and politics. In these polarized times, perhaps that’s worth remembering.

One post show musing I had regarded the subsequent life of this musical. On the surface, it is deceptively appealing: a small cast, not a lot of technological tricks. Few curse words. But will it success in the regional and school circuit? It requires actors that can speak not only English but Hebrew and Arabic. It requires folks that can play some odd instruments. It has that odd sort of quirky draw similar to another Tony award winner, Once. I’m not sure this will make it on the regional circuit. Translation: See this now while it is on tour, or you may be waiting a while.

The Band’s Visit is based on the 2007 screenplay by Eran Kolirin, with a book for the stage by Itamar Moses. Music and lyrics are by David Yazbek, and sound very different than other shows of his such as The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

The performances were uniformly strong, let by Janet Dacal Dina and Sasson Gabay Teqfiq. I had heard Dacal before on the Wonderland album, and I have the recording of her solo album. She has a lovely voice, and brought a nice depth to the performance. Gabay played the role in the original screenplay, and brought a night level of formality and warmth to the role. But the cast, as a whole, was an ensemble. Other than the leads, it was difficult to single out any performance. The remainder of the cast at our performance was: Joe Joseph Haled; Clay SInger Itzik; Yoni Avi Battat Camal, 🎼 Violin; Coby Getzug Papi; Joshua Grosso Telephone Guy; Kendal Hartse Iris; David Studwell Avrum; Billy Cohen Zelger; Layan Elwazani Julia; Nick Sacks (in for Marc GinsburgSammy; James Rana Simon; Hannah Shankman (in for Ariel Reich) Anna; Roger Kashou 🎼 Darbouka/Riq; Brian Krock 🎼 Clarinet / Saxophone / Flute; Kane Mathis 🎼 Oud / Guitar; Wick Simmons 🎼 Cello. Other standbys were Ali Louis Bourzgui, Loren Lester, and Dana Saleh Omar. 🎼 indicates on-stage band members. I’ll note I was a bid sad not to see Marc Ginsberg; we’ve seen him in numerous 5-Star/Cabrillo productions and the in LA Premier of Levi – The Musical. Also interesting is the large number of Los Angeles locals in the cast (such as Dacal, Getzug,  Ginsberg, Lester, Omar) and CMU alumni (Singer, Grosso, Sacks).

The remainder of the band, offstage, were Adrian Ries Conductor / Keyboard; Kelly Thomas Assoc. Conductor / Keyboard; David White Electric & Acoustic Bass; Shai Wetzer Drums / Arabic Percussion. Other members of the music team were: Jamshied Sharifi Orchestrations; Andrea Grody Music Supervisor / Additional Arrangements; Alex Farha Musician Swing; Dean Sharenow Music Coordinator; Peter Foley Music Preparation; Billy Jay Stein and Hiro Iida for Strange Cranium Inc Electronic Music Design.

Turning to the production and creative side: In terms of performance design, the production was directed by David Cromer, and choreographed by Patrick McCollum. Of course, they don’t go on the tour, so credit for keeping the tour fresh goes to Seth Sikes Associate Director; Jesse Kovarsky Associate Choreographer; and Hannah Shankman Dance Captain.  Also pretty significant was Zohar Tirosh-Polk Israeli Dramaturg / Dialect Coach and Lamia Bensouda Arabic Dialect Coach. The stage design team consisted of Scott Pask Scenic Design; Sarah Laux Costume Design; Tyler Micoleau Lighting Design; Kai Harada Sound Design; Charles G. LaPointe Hair and Wig Design. As with the story, the stage design was similarly understated. There were well worn buildings, well worn living rooms, a well worn cafe. The costumes were well-worn for the residents, the band was in uniform. Lighting was often subdued. Sound was clear; this was a show that benefitted from being in the Dolby with its clear and crisp sound (it would have suffered in the Pantages, which swallows sound). The scenic design elements worked well. Rounding out the production team were: John M. Atherlay Production Stage Manager; Nikki Lint Stage Manager; Sean Francis Patrick Asst. Stage Manager; Tara Rubin Casting Casting; Foresight Theatrical Management Consultant; Chris Danner Company Manager; Justin T. Scholl Asst. Company Manager; Bond Theatrical Marketing and Publicity Direction; The Road Company Tour Booking. There were loads and loads of producers. I always give credit to the COVID Safety Team: Toni Ostini Tour COVID Safety Manager; and … well … the Broadway in Hollywood staff directory does not give a credit for their COVID safety team. They should. They are what keeps the theatre open.

One last thing, if the Broadway in Hollywood (FB) staff read this: The show needs a pre-show announcement about keeping your masks on during the show, and keeping any light emitting and sound emitting devices off. Audiences have been out of the live theatres for so long they have clearly forgotten the protocols, and mask reminders keep everyone safe.

The Band’s Visit continues at The Dolby Theatre through December 19, 2021. Tickets are available through Broadway in Hollywood (Ticketmaster). Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. We have one more show in December: A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) and Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group); and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). April brings the Southern California Renaissance FaireHadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (although that may get pushed to May); and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May is otherwise empty, but June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🎭 Please Don’t Explain – Show Me | “My Fair Lady” @ Broadway In Hollywood/Dolby

My Fair Lady Poster - Broadway in Hollywood👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼 (tap) (tap) (tap). Is this thing on? I’m so out of practice. I mean, I haven’t written a theatre review since March 8, 2020, when I saw Passion at Boston Court. We haven’t been to a Broadway in Hollywood show since Escape to Margaritaville at the end of February 2020. I mean it seems like forever since I’ve been, to quote a favorite show, “in a large building in a central part of town in a dark room as part of a play with a lot of people listening, who have all paid a great deal to get it in”.

If you haven’t figured it out, last night I was in such a dark room. With a mask on. Having shown proof of vaccination to get in. Feeling somewhat safe. Could it have been better? Sure. They needed a pre-show announcement reminding people to turn off their cell phones and keep off any device that generates light or noise (as people are out of practice). They needed an announcement to remind people to keep their masks on at all times unless actively eating or drinking (which you shouldn’t do during a show anyway). But still. 🎉 WE WERE AT LIVE THEATRE AGAIN.

Yes, we’re taking it slow. For now, it is pretty much our existing subscriptions and our prior subscriptions when they come back to life. Perhaps more as we get deeper into 2022 and the number of cases continues to drop. But we were at our first show in a long time, and it felt good. As the first notes of the overture drifted over us, the anxiety floated away.

But I ramble. On to the write up.

Last night we saw the Lincoln Center revival of the musical My Fair Lady at Broadway in Hollywood (BIH)/The Dolby Theatre (Program). This was the first BIH show at the Dolby post-COVID, and their second show overall post-COVID (Hamilton started at the Pantages Theatre back in August). As noted above, they have a number of protocols to make patrons feel safer; there’s also comfort in the fact that there have been no reported breakthrough incidents throughout the Hamilton run so far, meaning they are doing something right.

My Fair Lady is, in many ways, a creaky musical that is showing its age. It premiered in March 1956 (meaning it is older than I am), and ran for 2,717 performance. It is well known (especially due to the movie’s success) and for a long time was a staple for regional theatre. Loads of people know the bones of the story, but few have likely seen it on stage recently. Prior to the LCT revival, it was last revived on Broadway in 1994 (1977 and 1981 before that) — a 24 year span. LACLO last did it in 1969; the last big production in Los Angeles was the Downey CLO in 2009. It’s been a while, and truth be told, I don’t think I’d ever seen it on stage.

For those not familiar with the story, the basic premise is a man who studies dialect and English (Henry Higgins), and who thinks the only way to succeed is to speak the Queen’s English, runs into a lower-class flower seller (Eliza Doolittle). He makes a bet that in 6 months he can teach her proper English and pass her off as a member of upper class society. He succeeds at his bet, but at what price?

With these bones, you’ll think it doesn’t fit well in the society of today. Here you have a white man, using the power of his class, to try to take advantage of and rehabilitate a woman from a poorer class. Boy, are those class issues, with a touch of “we’re smarter, we know better”, problematic. Then their is the side of the woman, who is essentially a pawn to the men in her life (at least that’s how it was presented in the 1950s). How does that fit with today’s woman who has agency?

But that’s what memory tells one about the show. Watching the show, those themes aren’t quite there in such a start way. But there are some that are both worse and more familiar.  So let me frame the story in a different way.

Let me tell you the story of a man. This man is so full of himself he thinks he knows everything, and can solve the problems of the world. He certainly thinks he can change people into being what he thinks they should be. How does he plan to do this? By bullying them and torturing them. Further, when these people succeed, he’s there to take all the credit and claim he was the only reason things work out well. When the person who changed wants some acknowledgement of their role in the transformation, they are ignored and told they are ridiculous. They are in essence, no more than a trained monkey. A monkey that is useful to keep around, because they make him laugh and bring him his slippers. This man never acknowledges his own flaws; in fact, he projects his flaws upon others absolving himself of any part of a failure.

Now, does that man sound familiar? Have we run into anyone like that recently? But I’m not talking about a recent politician. I’m talking about one of the two main characters in this show: Professor Henry Higgins. The word we use to describe the recent politician fits Higgins to a T: “Narcissist”. Higgins in a narcissist. He believes the world revolves around him, that he can do no wrong, and those in lower positions are there to serve him. He treats anyone below him like crap, and is proud of the fact. So, point in fact, today’s eyes show us that My Fair Lady is, at its heart, a show about a narcissist.

The object of Higgins’ obsession is the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. Throughout much of the show, she shows precious little character but does stand up for herself a few times. She’s generally bullied and broken down by Higgins — in fact, much of the first act is devoted to breaking her down like a Marine drill sergeant. In the second half, after Eliza finally comes to see the narcissism in Prof. Higgins she attempts to get away but is drawn back. The ending of the show is ambiguous as to whether she succeeds in doing so, but it clear that her attempt to make Higgins see his problematic behavior fails on deaf ears.

The conscience of the show — or at least what passes for one — comes in the form of Colonel Pickering, a colleague of Prof Higgins and one of the lone voices reminding him to keep Eliza’s feelings in mind during the process. But he is, in general, a background character and generally ignored.

The other major fleshed out character is that of Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. He generally shows up to provide boisterous barroom dance numbers to balance the ballads that are fun to watch but don’t advance the plot all that much. But Mr. Doolittle is the source of additional show problems: He essentially offers to sell his daughter, disparages the middle class. When he is dragged into the middle class and has a well-known second act number “I’m Getting Married In The Morning”, he also introduces what I felt to be an unnecessary problem: characters dressed as the opposite sex just for the joke of it all. We have a woman dressed as groom, and men dressed at the bride and bar dancers, all in bustiers. Perhaps in the last millennium men dressed as women were funny. Nowadays it just seems wrong, and there was no context set up that a bar in London in 1912 would have such dancers or a wedding. It was a poor directorial choice for 2018.

As the above makes clear, story-wise, this adaptation of the 1913 play Pygmalion may have worked well in 1956, but feels dated and creaky in 2021. It somehow needs a bit more tweaks to fit with modern sensibilities, or at least more contextualization in the program to put it in the context of its time. But that doesn’t mean the show is bad. The show is grand, glorious, and glittering, under the direction of Bartlett Sher. What saves it are the well-known tunes by Alan Jay Lerner (Book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe, as well as the wonderful performances by the touring troupe.

Everyone knows the music from this show. From the opening “Why Can’t The English?” to the ear-worm “I Could Have Danced All Night”; from the dance numbers of “With a Little Bit Of Luck” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”; from touching songs like “I’ve Gown Accustomed to Her Face” or “On The Street Where You Live” — essentially every song is at the top of the form. About the only problem is you listen to some of them, such as “Show Me”, and think it was from their later show Camelot… but it wasn’t

The performances were also quite strong. Shereen Ahmed Eliza Doolittle had a lovely spirit and look, and had a remarkably beautiful voice. Ahmed is also noticeable for the diversity she brings to the cast, being Arab-American (as well as having a BS in Criminal Justice, so I sense a career for the restart of Law and Order in her future). Playing opposite her was Laird Mackintosh Prof. Henry Higgins. He bio makes clear that he has the chops to sing well (having been involved with an opera company); alas, he’s in a role that was designed for the sing-speaking Rex Harrison. He makes the best of it, and does bring a good fire to the role.

In the supporting positions are Adam Grupper Alfred P. Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau Col. Hugh Pickering, and to a lesser extent, Leslie Alexander Mrs. Higgins. I’ve noted earlier that Grupper’s role is more one of comic relief. He handles that quite well and is very playful in his numbers and his scenes.  Pariseau’s Pickering is also present in the traditional side-kick and reaction role, which he does well. Alexander blends in during the first act, but shines in the second act where she stands up to her son’s narcissism and takes Eliza’s side. There she is wonderful.

In the Tertiary supporting character category were Sam Simahk Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Gayton Scott (at our performance, Sarah Quinn Taylor was substituting) Mrs. Pearce.  Simahk captured the character as written well — a man with the personality of an infatuated puppy. Taylor’s Pearce had a bit more meat. Although she didn’t have many lines, she was able to capture through her actions and her face her disapproval of how Higgins was treating Eliza.

Rounding out the cast in various small and ensemble roles were: Lee Zarrett Professor Zoltan Karpathy / Selsey Man; Rajeer Alford Ensemble; Colin Anderson The “Loverly” Quartet, Higgin’s Butler, Ensemble; Mark Banik Frank the Bartender, Ensemble; Michael Biren Steward, Constable, Ensemble, Asst. Dance Captain; Mary Callanan Mrs. Hopkins, Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Elena Camp Queen of Transylvania, Ensemble; Christopher Faison The “Loverly” Quartet, Higgins’ Butler, Lord Boxington, Footman, Ensemble; Nicole Ferguson Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Juliane Godfrey (FB) Higgins’ Maid, Ensemble; Colleen Grate Flower Girl, Higgins’ Maid, EnsemblePatrick Kerr Harry, EnsembleBrandon Leffler Charles, Mrs. Higgins’ Servant, Ensemble; Nathalie Marrable EnsembleWilliam Michals Hoxton Man, The “Loverly” Quartet, Jamie, Footman, Ensemble; Aisha Mitchell (FB) Ms. Clara Eynsford-Hill, Ensemble; Rommel Pierre O’Choa Mrs Higgins’ Servant, Ensemble; Kevin Quillon Ensemble; JoAnna Rhinehart Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Ensemble; Samantha Sturm Lady Boxington, Hostess, Ensemble; Gerard M. Williams The “Loverly” Quartet, Steward, Constable, Ensemble; and Minami Yusui Ensemble, Dance Captain, Fight Captain. Swings were Kaitlyn Frank, George Psomas, Sarah Quinn Taylor, and Richard Riaz Yoder.

Music was provided by the My Fair Lady Orchestra (🌴 designates local orchestra): John Bell Music Director, Conductor; Luke Flood Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard; Dmitriy Melkumov Violin, Concertmaster; Mark O’Kain Percussion; 🌴 Elizabeth Johnson Violin 2; 🌴 Erik Rynearson Viola; 🌴 Ginger Murphy Cello; 🌴 Ian Walker Bass; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet; 🌴 Michele Forrest Oboe, English Horn; 🌴 Jeff Driskill Clarinet; 🌴 William May Bassoon; 🌴 John Fumo Trumpet 1; 🌴 Aaron Smith Trumpet 2; 🌴 Katie Faraudo French Horn 1; 🌴 Lizzie Upton French Horn 2; 🌴 Denis Jiron Trombone; 🌴 Amy Wilkins Harp; and 🌴 Mary Ekler Keyboard Sub.  Music support and development was provided by Robert Russell Bennett Orchestrations 1894-1981; Philip J. Lang Orchestrations 1911-1986; Trude Rittmann Dance & Incidental Music Arrangements, 1908-2005Ted Sperling Additional Arrangements; Talitha Fehr and David Lai Music Coordination; Josh Clayton Tour Orchestrations, Music Copying; and 🌴 Eric Heinly Orchestra Contractor. Orchestras in Los Angeles are always superb due to the talent in the city. Notable about this orchestra is that I didn’t recognize a lot of the names. In the past, there was a revolving group of artist that showed up in the local component of theatre orchestras. This time, there were a bunch of new faces. That’s always great to see.

Turning to the production side: The production was directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, assisted by Sari Ketter Assoc. Director and Mark Myars Assoc. Choreographer.  Generally the direction was good and helped the actors bring the characters to life. There were some questionable choices, such as the aforementioned drag actors during “Get Me To The Church on Time”. The choreography was also generally good, but one really got the sense of the confines of the stage: endless circling back and forth that, when combined with the set design, left one a little dizzy. But My Fair Lady is not a strong dance show except in the ancillary Alfred P. Doolittle numbers and the formality of the Ascot Gavotte. Again, this probably goes back to Rex Harrison.

Michael Yeargan Sets provided a scenic design that both worked and was confining. The principle piece was Higgins’ study / front room / door and was set on a turntable. When it was rotating it tended to be a bit dizzying and disconcerting, especially if you were watching the actors close through binoculars. I understand the confines of a tour, but wondered if more traditional pieces might have worked better. At least there were no projections. Catherine Zuber Costumes were, to put it simply, sumptuous. From the dowdy looks of the lower class, to the beautiful gowns for Eliza, they were lovely. The atmosphere was set well by Donald Holder‘s lighting design and Marc Salzberg‘s sound. There were also no obvious microphone or amplification problems — often the curse of a touring company. Rounding out the production team were The Telsey Office Casting; Tom Watson Hair and Wigs; Elizabeth Smith Dialect Consultant; Donavan Dolan Production Stage Manager; Aaron Heeter Stage Manager; James Ogden II Asst Stage Manager; Jeff Mensch Company Manager; Kiara Bryant Asst. Company Manager; Karen Berry General Manager; and Troika Entertainment Tour Management. Notable absent from the program was any credit (either at the tour level or the BIH level) for a COVID Safety Officer. Nowadays, that’s a vital role and deserves acknowledgement and applause. Luckily, I found it on the travel page of the company website: Kudos to Jody Bogner Covid Safety Manager Workplace Compliance and Amy Katz COVID-19 Communications Director, Policies/Venue Relations/Testing for keeping the My Fair Lady company safe and healthy, and in turn, keeping the audience healthy.

One last thing, if the Broadway in Hollywood (FB) staff read this: The show needs a pre-show announcement about keeping your masks on during the show, and keeping any light emitting and sound emitting devices off. Audiences have been out of the live theatres for so long they have clearly forgotten the protocols, and mask reminders keep everyone safe.

The Broadway in Hollywood engagement of My Fair Lady continues until October 31, 2021. Tickets are available through Broadway in Hollywood (Ticketmaster). Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar (Los Angeles, MFL Tour in General) or other ticketing agencies.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Wow. I haven’t done this in a while. (rummages through the calendar)

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Later in October we will have Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). November brings Hamilton at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and Head over Heels at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). December brings The Bands Visit at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) and A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Turning to 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); lastly, March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, On Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🎭

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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🎭 Be World Class in Everything, Center Theatre Group

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

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

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

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

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

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