🎭 Death on Stage, Done Right | “Les Misérables” @ Pantages

Les Misérables (Pantages)Yesterday, I wrote about Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre, and how the death at the end of that show closed the show on a down note, leaving with the audience impressed with the performances, but an ultimate “eh” for the overall feeling. Contrast that with the death that occurs at the end of Les Misérables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB): almost the entire company on stage, marching and singing and celebrating the life and glory. You walk out humming an uplifting anthem, with a completely different feeling. Now that’s how you do death!

Also as with Falsettos, this is the second time we’ve seen the show. The first was also in 2011 when it was at the Ahmanson. This was also the year we first saw Falsettos. Back then I wrote about the show:

Back in 1985, a musical juggernaut was created: Les Misérables, the musical version of the Victor Hugo novel. It hit Los Angeles in 1988, opening at a rejuivenated Shubert Theatre in Century City, where it ran for fourteen months. It returned to Los Angeles numerous times since then under Broadway/LA’s banner (2004, 2006). However, it wasn’t until the current 25th anniversary production at the Ahmanson Theatre that I finally saw the show. As my wife said as it ended last night, “Wow!”.

Les Misérables” (the musical) tells the story of Jean Valjean, also known as prisoner 24601, and his adopted daughter, Cosette. It is based on the Victor Hugo of the same name, but does cut a few elements of the story. The story, which covers 17 years, is so complicated that a synopsis needed to be published in the program (seemingly, a bad sign). Given that, I’m not going to attempt to repeat it here. You can read it yourself in the Wikipedia Page on the show. Suffice it to say that the show condenses the 1,200 page, five volume novel into two acts of 90 minutes and 65 minutes respectively. The first act covers Jean Valjean’s release from prison and the interaction with the Bishop at Digne, the mayoral years at Montreiil-Sur-Mer where Valjean meets Fantine and takes responsibility for Cosette, the visit to Montfermeil where Valjean obtains Cosette from the Thénardiers, and the years in Paris where the student revolt begins and Marius and Cosette fall in love… all of this while the police officer Javert is chasing Valjean. The second act is solely in Paris and covers the student revolt, its failure, the subsequent growth of the relationship between Marius and Cosette, the final confrontations of Valjean and Javert, and the final redemption of Valjean. That’s a lot of material to cover—trying to cover so much material and so much time is the reason many great novels, such as Gone With The Wind, never make it to the Broadway stage. It is a testament to the original authors Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Alain Boublil (a French-language libretto) that they were able to take the beast of a novel and turn it into something understandable (although, arguably, this is really a full opera presented in the guise of a “musical”—at times, the lines between the two blurs). It is also a testament to the English language adapters, Herbert Kretzmer who developed the English language libretto, and Cameron Mackintosh, the original producer, who discovered the French production in 1982 and has sheparded it ever since (I’ll note Mackintosh’s full bio in the program was: “Produces musicals.”). The production was adapted by Sir Trevor Nunn and John Caird.

The translation does have its weak parts, however, primarily in how manipulative it is for the audience. By this, I mean the show in engineered to be a pleaser, with music that builds and leaves the toes tapping; with moments designed to permit the actors to shine; and with act-ending finales designed to stir the soul. In that sense, it is truly operatic as opposed to dramatic. It it also, at times, emotionally overwrought—again, a hallmark of the more operatic side. To some that is a fatal flaw that reduces the worth of the show, but I do enjoy the general effect.

[Some story credits I missed including the first time: Claude-Michel Schönberg Music; Herbert Kretzmer English Lyrics; James Fenton Additional material]

It is now 8 years since I saw that production. What has changed, other than Cameron Mackintosh now having a full bio? Does the new touring production reach the same heights? After all, the story hasn’t changed at all.

Sad to say, the answer is decidedly mixed. The performances are soaring, and the direction and choreography makes the best use of what they have to work with. Voices are remarkable, and the audience is excited. But production decisions make the ultimate effort hard to embrace. At the Ahmanson, the tour was designed to use the entire stage, which is needed for the company to express the broadness and scope of the production. At the Pantages, the set artificially constrained the stage space, cutting the width of the Pantages stage by an estimated one-sixth on each side (that’s a one-third cut overall, for those math challenged). This limited movement, and obscured sight lines from the side. Further, the lighting was dark dark dark, and then smoke and fog effects were added. This made it hard to see. I recall that the Ahmanson staging was better lit and you could see the actors from a distance. The constrained stage and the lighting served to tone down the show. At least the sound was, for the most part, good (which can be a problem in the Pantages).

This is not to say that the production was bad or poorly executed: only that it could have been better. The performances themselves were stunning. The comic bits with the Thénardiers were hilarious (in particular, Mme. Thénardiers reprise to “Master of the House” with the bread), and there were some remarkable sustained high notes. The voices were phenominal, and the music for this show is just a delight. You can just float away on that alone. It just didn’t have the impact of the first time we saw the show.

Some of the problems with this production — at least design wise — may be the results of decisions by the directoral team of Laurence Connor and James Powell. But they did do a great job with their performers about bringing out effective and strong performances that conveyed both the story and the emotions of the characters. They helped their acting team inhabit their characters and tracks, and generally made the performances the strongest part of this show.

In the lead position of this story was Nick Cartell (⭐FB, FB) at Jan Valjean. Cartell had soaring vocals in songs such as “Bring Him Home”, and captured the angst and torment of the character well, Opposing him throughout much of the story was Josh Davis (⭐FB, FB) as Javert. Davis also had soaring vocals in songs like “Stars” and his Soliloquy — a common trait in this cast — and provided solid opposition.

This brings us to the adult women in the cast: Mary Kate Moore (FB) as Fantine; Jillian Butler (FB) as the adult Cosette; and Paige Smallwood (FB) as the adult Éponine. All were beautiful and spectacular and sang like angels — Moore in “I Dreamed a Dream”, Butler in “A Hear Full of Love”, and Smallwood in “On My Own”. They made the same casting decision that was done in the 2011 production that required a bit of suspension of disbelief (little white girl turns into stunning black singer), but this is a stage fantasy, so who really cares.

Then there are the kids: Cate Elefante (FB) as Little Cosette (alternating with Aubin Bradley), Aubin Bradley as Young Éponine (alternating with Cate Elefante (FB)), and Parker Weathersbee as Petit Gervais / Gavroche (alternating with Parker Dzuba, who came in for Jonah Mussolino (⭐FB) in August 2018, when Jonah moved to Falsettos). Elefante was spectacular in her opening scene singing “Castle on a Cloud”, and Weathersbee was strong as Gavroche in the second act in all of his numbers. All were astonishingly cute.

Joshua Grosso (⭐FB) made a strong Marius, whom we see as Cosette’s love interesting and a leader of the students in the second act.  He has a touching rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and a lovely duet with Éponine in “A Little Fall of Rain”.

Lastly, in terms of the major characters in the story, there is the comic relief duo of J. Anthony Crane (⭐FB, FB) as Thénardier and Allison Guinn (⭐FB, FB) as Mme. Thénadier. We don’t meet the characters until the wonderful “Master of the House”, and then they keep reappearing in funny situations throughout the story. The actors play off each other well and are having fun with their roles, and that comes across to the audience well.

All of the other characters are in smaller roles, often not well named on stage, or in ensemble positions: John Ambrosino (FB) – Bamatabois, Claquesous; Felipe Barbosa Bombonato (FB) – Grantaire (at our performance), Farmer, Babet (normally); Olivia Dei Cicchi (FB) – Innkeeper’s Wife; Kelsey Denae (FB) – Wigmaker; Caitlin Finnie (FB) – Ensemble; Monté J. Howell (FB) – Innkeeper, Combeferre; Stavros Koumbaros (FB) – Joly; Andrew Love (FB) – Champmathieu, Brujon; Andrew Maughan (FB) – Bishop of Digne, Lesgles, Loud Hailer; Maggie Elizabeth May (FB) – Old Woman; Darrell Morris, Jr. (FB) – Constable, Montparnasse; Ashley Dawn Mortensen (FB) – Factory Girl; Bree Murphy (FB) – Ensemble; Domonique Paton (FB) – Ensemble; Talia Simone Robinson (FB) – Ensemble; Patrick Rooney (FB) – Constable, Fauchelevent, Jean Prouvaire; Mike Schwitter (FB) – Laborer, Feuilly; Matt Shingledecker (FB) – Enjolras; Brett Stoelker (FB) – Swinging in to Babet, Major Domo (at our performance); Addison Takefman  – Ensemble; and Christopher Viljoen (FB) – Factory Foreman, Courfeyrac. Matt HillNormally, Grantaire, Major Domo was out at our performance.

Swings were Julia Ellen Carter (FB); Jillian Gray; Tim Quartier (FB); Brett Stoelker (FB); and Kyle Timson (FB).  Understudy allocations are not shown.

This show isn’t a dance show per se, but there is lots of movement. The musical staging was by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt (FB). Kyle Timson (FB) was both the Dance Captain and the Fight Captain. Given the small stage space, the movement was very effective in utilizing that space and doing its best to create the illusion of a larger space. Still, this resulted in a lot of people going in a lot of circles.

The orchestra (under the Musical Direction of Brian Eads (FB)) was larger than the typical touring orchestra, and had that wonderful large orchestral sound that this show needs. No indication was provided as to who was local and who was not, but I recognize a number of names, so my educated guess as to locals is indicated with 🌴. The orchestra consisted of: Brian Eads (FB) – Conductor; Eric Ebbenga (FB) – Assoc. Conductor, Keyboards; Tim Lenihan (FB) – Asst. Conductor, Keyboards; Danielle Giulini (FB) – Violin, Concertmaster; Karen Elaine (FB) – Viola; 🌴 Ira GlansbeekCello; 🌴 Michael Valerio (FB) – Double Bass; 🌴 Amy Tatum (FB) – Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute, Recorder; 🌴 Richard MitchellB Flat Clarinet, E Flat Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Recorder; 🌴 Laura Brenes (FB) – French Horn 1; 🌴 Allen Fogle (FB) – French Horn 2; 🌴 John Fumo (FB) – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet; Phil Keen (FB) – Bass Trombone, Tuba; Jared Soldivero (FB) – Drums, Percussion, Mallets, Timpani; Mary Ekler (⭐FB) – Keyboard Sub; Stuart AndrewsKeyboard Programming; Jean BellefeuilleAsst. keyboard Programming. Other Orchestral credits: 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) – Orchestra Contractor; John CameronOriginal Orchestrations; Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker [UK] – New Orchestrations; Stephen Brooker [UK] and James Moore (FB)  [US] – Musical Supervision; and John MillerMusical Coordinator.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative aspects: I’ve already mentioned the constrained stage space and the problems with the darkness of Paule Constable (FB)’s lighting design. Setting that aside, the rest of the production worked well. Matt Kinley‘s set and image design used a balcony on one side and archways on the other to create a wide variety of spaces, using a combination of rolled on, flown in, and projected set pieces. Some were extraordinarily effective, such as the catacomb effect in the sewers in the second act. Credit also goes to 59 Productions for the projection design, which also used images inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. This was also augmented by the Costume Design of Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland, which seemed both appropriately poor and rich depending on the scene, and seemed to fit the characters and their stations well. The wig and hair design of Campbell Young Associates also worked well. Mick Potter‘s sound design generally worked well, although there were points that it was muddled in the cavernous space that is the Pantages. Other production credits: Laura HuntAssociate Costume Designer; Nic Gray – Associate Sound Designer; Richard Pacholski – Associate Lighting Designer; David Harris and Christine Peters – Associate Set Design; Corey Agnew – Assoc. Director; Richard Barth (FB) – Resident Director; Tara Rubin CSA (FB), Kaitlin Shaw, CSA – Casting; Ryan Parliment – Company Manager; Jack McLeod (FB) – Production Stage Manager; Jess Gouker (FB) – Stage Manager; Joseph Heaton (FB) – Asst. Stage Manager; Broadway Booking Office NYC – Tour Booking &c; NETworks Presentations – Production Management; Gentry & Associates – General Management. A Cameron Mackintosh and NETworks Presentation.

Les Misérables continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through June 2, 2019. If you haven’t seen the show before, it is worth seeing. If you have seen the show before and love the show, you’ll certainly enjoy this outing. If you have seen the show and are looking for a new take, this might be hit or miss with the darker lit staging. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office.  Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), 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:

Tonight brings another tour: Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 Will We Ever Learn | “Fiddler on the Roof” @ Hollywood Pantages

Fiddler on the Roof (Hollywood Pantages)Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964. As it was being developed, and even after it opened, the production team wondered whether this show about Jews in a shetl in 1901 would be received by broader audiences. It had an incredibly long run time (just under 3 hours), and unlike most shows, had a decidedly unhappy ending. Yet the show went on to have a long run on Broadway, long runs on tour, and world-wide acceptance. The story of an oppressed people, being forced out of a country for political reasons, resonated with many for some reason. The difficulty of adapting to changing traditions was also a touchsone.

In the 55 years since, one might have hoped that the xenophobia and antisemitism seen in the show might have abated somewhat. But it hasn’t. We’ve seen antisemitism on the rise here in the US; we’ve certainly seen fear of the immigrant and their practices. In Russia, antisemitism is still rampant, and it is increasing throughout the world. More and more countries hate the immigrant, and that seems to be especially true of the Muslim. Fear of people based on their religion seems quite common (and yet, perhaps the religion we should fear due to the intolerance from its purported practitioners, is universally present in American culture … but I digress). So the story of Fiddler on the Roof is still relevant today; still that cautionary tale.

I have been familiar with Fiddler on the Roof all my life, but I can’t recall having seen it on stage before. I know I saw the 1971 movie when it came out; I might have seen it in 1974 at the LA Civic Light Opera (but I’m not sure). I know it was my wife’s first live theatre — she saw it in 1969 when it made its second visit to the LA CLO. But Fiddler has, in many ways, been part of my DNA. My grandfather came from Vitebsk in the Pale of Settlement; this is the same area about which Sholom Aleichem wrote. He came over as a poor tailor. His wife’s father was the one son in a family of 12. There are similarities in the story. So this could easily have been my family’s story.

I’ll note that we saw Fiddler on the 2nd night of Passover. This made for some cognitive dissonance,  especially as they broke and shared Challah for Shabbat. There was something odd about Jews sharing chometz on stage during Passover. I’m glad we didn’t go Friday night; just imagine how much the cast had to swing in for the first night of Passover (although perhaps they did an early Seder for the cast backstage). There should be something in the contract for Fiddler about performing on Jewish holy days.

Speaking about contracts, I should note one thing before I go into the story and my assessment of the production: There’s an interesting omission in the Playbill for the show. I suspected it when I saw the tiny merch cart; I became more suspicious when I saw no photo backdrop for the show. I was also suspicious reading the cast bios in the program: there were no callouts to AEA and precious little Broadway experience. The program confirmed: this is a non-Equity tour. I don’t personally have a problem with that: I see non-Equity talent all the time in Los Angeles and it is often superb. Talent has to get a start somewhere, and a non-Equity tour provides great experience and a stepping stone to the Equity world. But I do think audiences should go in aware. I am pleased to say that I saw no evidence of weak or poor talent in this production, although some performers were a little young for their roles. But that happens these days in Equity tours as well.

For those unfamiliar with Fiddler on the RoofHave you been living under a rock? But seriously: Fiddler is based on the “Tevye and his Daughters” stories by the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem; they were adapted for the stage by Joseph Stein, and supplemented the classic words of Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock. They tell the story of a small village in Russia in 1901 called Anatevka (probably in the Pale of Settlement, as that was the only portion of Russia where Jews were permitted to live). This was the typical town of the time with a very poor and traditional Jewish population; administered by a Russian Christian population. The town life was infused with Jewish tradition and practice. The story concerns Tevye, a milkman; Golde, his wife; and his five daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke. As the story goes on, each of the older three daughters finds a future husband — each going further and further outside of the traditional ways. Tzeitel chooses her husband without her father’s help, after a marriage was arranged for her. Hodel falls in love with a poor student who is sent to Siberia, and doesn’t ask her father’s permission at all. Chava falls in love with a Russian Christian soldier, and is married in a Church. In parallel to this, the outside world intrudes through pogrums, and the eventual edict that ejects the Jews from their homes and sends them on the path to new homes in places like Poland, Eretz Yisroel, and America. One wonders if they will find acceptance in America? Good thing this was the early 1900s and not today.

The music in Fiddler is iconic, and resulted in many tunes that entered the popular songbook: Sabbath Prayer, If I Were a Rich Man, and Sunrise Sunset, to name a few. This production added back a song that was cut during the original run: “The Rumor”.

This production was based on the 2015 Broadway Revival that starred Danny Burstein. I’ll note that production also featured Adam Kantor, who originated the role of Motel in the revival. Adam studied for his role by going on the Yiddishkayt tour of Belarus, Latvia, and Lithuania in the summer before the production. Also on that tour: my daughter, who is a Yiddish scholar working on her PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I wonder how much of the lessons learned from Yiddishkayt made it to what we saw on the Pantages stage?

So let’s start with what I didn’t like about this production, which was remarkably little (I’ll touch on the individual actors later) :

  • This production used an odd framing device: The actor playing Teyve walks onstage in a modern red puffy jacket, starts reading a book at what is ostensibly a train station in Russia. He then takes off the jacket and then become Tevye. At the end of the show, he puts back on the jacket and is modern again, and is finishing the book. That’s all the explanation there is. I didn’t see the point of it. If you are going to frame the story, do it for a purpose. Show explicitly that this is someone studying his past, and show what he learned from it. As it is now, this is meaningless and adds nothing. In fact, it takes away something, for now there is no overture.
  • The show was plagued with sound problems, in the form of crackling microphones and occasional drops of character amplification. Sound engineers: You’re supposed to test this stuff before the first run. Even with a non-Equity cast, there have been enough earlier tour stops to work out performance interactions with the microphones. This isn’t rocket science, folks.
  • I was not enamored of their conception of the dream sequence: it came across as too Kabuki for me, and the droopy breasts of the costume for Grandmother Tzeitel were comical to the point of distraction. Bad design choice.
  • In general the costumes were good, but there were a few men who were missing their tzitzit. Yes, there are those of us who notice those details. I did notice that the production did use books with Hebrew or Yiddish on their covers, and for the wedding sequence, an actual tallit (I could read the wimple).

As I said, surprisingly little on the poor side. On the other hand, there was lots to like about this production. I was particularly enamored of the female ensemble: watching their reactions during scenes such as the bottle dance was priceless. Tevye’s daughters were also very strong, and Tevye himself (modulo the Israeli accent) gave a great performance.  They seemed to get the customs right, and were believable in their practice and emotions. Kudos to the Associate Director, Sari Ketter, who implemented the vision on tour of the revival director, Bartlett Sher (FB). I’m calling her out for extra kudos because she did a wonderful job with the non-Equity cast, bringing out a spectacular performance from the entire team; Sher had the luxury of working with Equity folk. The choreography for this version of the show was by Hofesh Shechter of the Batsheva Dance Company (note that the fellow playing Tevye was also a member of that company); it was recreated by Associate Choreographer Christopher Evans. I found the dances in this show to be strong: especially those in the opening number, the “L’Chaim” sequence, and in the Wedding Sequence. Other sequences were more movement than full-on dance. It is unknown the extent to which Jerome Robbins‘ original direction and choreography remained in the show. Overall, it was a very enjoyable show.

Turning to the performances themselves: in the lead position was Yehezkel Lazarov (FB) as Tevye. In the history of Tevye’s there have been those who overshadowed the role and made their personality the focus — both Zero Mostel and Topol were guilty of this on the stage. Others made the character the center, such as Herschel Bernardi. Recent revivals have featured Alfred Molina (no, just no) and Danny Burstein. Lazarov was strong as Tevye, but at times his Israeli accent took center, which impacted the belief that we were in Russia. Other than that, his singing was strong and he had a great playfulness with the role without being overpowering. He portrayed a strong relationship with his daughters and wife, and came across believable on stage. I thought he was good in the role, but perhaps a bit young.

Maite Uzal (⭐FB, FB)’s Golde definitely came across as too young for the role, although again it would be believable for married at age 16. Still, she gave a strong performance and handled her numbers well. Watch her face, particularly during the dream sequence and the “Do You Love Me?” number. She is quite fun to watch.

Where this production shined was in the casting for the three oldest daughter of Tevye: Mel Weyn (FB) as Tzeitel, Ruthy Froch (FB) as Hodel, and Natalie Powers (FB) as Chava. They were all super strong singers with lovely voices, in particular Weyn and Froch. But their faces, oy their faces. Just watch them as they listen and react to the other actors; watch them during the wedding sequence. Their joy and delight and performances made this production really special. Tevye’s two youngest daughters: Danielle Allen (FB) as Shrprintze and Emerson “Emmy” Glick (FB) as Bielke had much smaller roles and didn’t get the chance to individually show their vocal talents, but they were equally fun to watch in the facial expression and movement department.

Jesse Weil (FB) as Motel has the advantage of playing the best characterized of the daughter’s suitors. He captures the timidness of the character well, and does a great job of portraying the character growth into a man. He does a strong job on “Miracle of Miracles”. The other suitor we get to know well is Ryne Nardecchia (FB)’s Perchik, Hodel’s suitor. He has a lovely number in “Now I Have Everything”, and he has a great interaction with Froch’s Hodel. Chava’s suitor, Joshua Logan Alexander (FB) as Fyedka, is not given the chance in the script to develop a personality other than “Russian Soldier”, nor does he get a song of his own. He does seem to interact well with Powers’ Chava.

This brings us to the two remaining characters who have someone significant personalities of their own: Carol Beaugard (FB)’s Yente, and Jonathan Von Mering (FB)’s Lazer Wolf.  Beaugard (who I hadn’t know was big in the Bluegrass community) is a bit too young for Yente, but she covers it up well and captures the character adequately. She starts one major number, but is strong in her early scene with Golde and her later scene at the end. Von Mering’s Lazer Wolf is stronger in a sense: he gets some good stage time in L’Chaim; he also has some good scenes during the wedding and at the end. He was fun to watch.

This brings us to the ensemble, which covers the dancers, background performers, and those whose ensemble tracks also cover smaller character roles. I’d like to start with the female ensemble first (character tracks as noted): Eloise Deluca (FBVillager, Co-Dance Captain; Olivia Gjurich (FBVillager, Fruma-Sarah; Carolyn Keller (FBVillager, Grandma Tzeitel, Shaindel; Kelly Gabrielle Murphy (FBVillager, Rivka; Lynda Senisi (FBVillager; Britte Steele (FBVillager, Mirala. Let’s start out by saying I love this ensemble. I don’t normally highlight the ensemble, because often their personality does not shine through. But watch these young women in the background during the wedding sequence: their joy and fun is infectious, and you don’t know whether to watch the dancers or the ensemble. They were spectacular. In terms of character highlights: I wasn’t that enamored of the dream sequence in terms of its design and the kabuki-style masks, although Keller’s Tzeitel had a wonderfully strong voice.

The male ensemble got the stronger side of the dance equation, both in the L’Chaim sequence and in the Wedding sequence. The male ensemble consisted of: Danny Arnold (⭐FB, FB) Villager, Mordcha; Eric Mitchell Berey (FBVillager, Nachum, Yussel; Derek Ege (FBVillager; Michael Hegarty (FBVillager, Rabbi; Paul Morland (FBVillager, Fiddler; Jacob Nahor (FB) Villager; Jack O’Brien (FBVillager, Sasha; Honza Pelichovsky (FBVillager; Nick Siccone (FB) Villager, Mendel; and Brian Silver (FB) Villager, AvrumThe male ensemble is less focused on the acting side of the equation, and much more so on the dance side. Their acting is stereotypical Jewish prayer behavior, shuking and such. They don’t have as much to react to, given the nature of the story. But where they excel is in dance. The bottle dancers were particularly spectacular, but the Russian dancers in the L’Chaim sequence were also quite strong. In terms of character roles, there are a few worth noting: Morland’s Fiddler was strong musically, and fun to watch in the background. I also liked Hegarty’s Rabbi, particularly in the Wedding Dance and closing sequences.

Swings were: Allegra Herman (FB);  Leah Platt (FB); Nicholas Berke (FB); and David Ferguson (FB) Co-Dance Captain, Fight Captain.

Before I turn to the members of the orchestra, I must highlight the excellent orchestrations, incidental music, and dance arrangements. These are things you don’t notice in the movie version, and they were really really good. Kudos to Ted Sperling (FBMusic Supervisor and New Orchestrations; and Oran Eldor (FBDance Arrangements. Michael Uselmann (FB) served as Music Director and Conductor of the orchestra, assisted by Jonathan Marro (FB). The orchestra consisted of (there was no indication of whom in the orchestra was local or not, but some folks are local regulars indicated by 🌴): 🌴 Paul Cartwright (FB) Violin, Concertmaster; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute, Clarinet; 🌴 Jeff Driskill (FBClarinet, Bass Clarinet, E-Flat Clarinet; 🌴 Michael Stever (FB) Trumpet; 🌴 Charlie Morillas (FBTrombone, Euphonium; 🌴 Mike Bolger (FBAccordion, Synth; 🌴 Brian LaFontaine (FB) Guitars (Acoustin, Mandolin, Hollow Body Archtop Electric); 🌴 Nate Light (FB) String Bass; 🌴 Bruce Carver Drums, Percussion; 🌴 Alby Potts (FBKeyboard. Other music related positions: 🌴 Eric Heinly (FBOrchestra ContractorJohn Mezzio (FB) Music Coordinator.; Balint Varga (FBMusic Copying. Note that this is the first time, at the Pantages, that I’ve seen the entire orchestra be local talent. They were great, but we have great local talent in Los Angeles. That means I cannot vouch for the quality of the music in other cities.

Finally, the production and other creative aspects of the show. This, in some ways, is where is non-Equity tour is likely to show its bones. Although elements from the Broadway production can be obtained, the desire to cut costs cuts the number of trucks that can carry scenery. Michael Yeargan (FB)’s scenic design was good for the scenes at Tevye’s home and barn, and for Motel’s shop. The opening scene was a bit more devoid of scenery than I might like, and it lacked the most important thing: there was no roof for the Fiddler! Overall, although the scenery worked, it could use a tad more oomph. I particularly did not like the scenic design for the dream sequence. Catherine Zuber‘s costumes worked for the most part, modulo the dream sequence masks, except some tzitzit were missing from the undergarments. Kathy Fabian‘s props were good, and I particularly liked the realistic touches of using Yiddish books, real tallit with wimpels, and a seemingly real Torah at the end (although I’m sure there were no actual scrolls — if there are, their insurance and practices better be good). Tom Watson‘s hair and wig design worked well and was believable; Tommy Kurzman‘s makeup was not overdone (except for the noted dream sequence problems). Scott Lehrer‘s sound design was mostly great in the design, but there was some execution crackling. Donald Holder‘s lighting worked well to establish mood and place. Lastly, Kristin Flanders‘s dialect coaching mostly worked, but she needs to work with the lead a bit more to transform the Israeli accent into a more Russian or Yiddish accent. Rounding out the production team: Jason Styres, CSA (FB) Casting; BH Barry (FBFight Director; Shelby Stark (FBProduction Stage Manager; Kelsey Clark (FBAsst. Stage Manager; Christopher T.P. Holman (FBCompany Manager; Mackenzie Douglas (FBAsst. Company Manager; Networks Presentations (FB) General Manager.

Fiddler on the Roof continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through May 5, 2019. Even though this was a non-Equity tour, the performances were strong and we enjoyed the production quite a bit. It is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar (it visits San Jose next) or 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), 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 is interesting, as my wife is having a small procedure during the week. Saturday will bring In The Heights at the LA Pierce College Theater (FB) (featuring a performer we saw at REP), but for me alone. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring!

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m just starting to wade through the list of 343 shows, but I already see some I want to see, including The Seven Year Itch[title of show], and the return of Tabletop: The Musical. Right now, I’ve got about 30 shows in the schedule, so I expect to pair things down as I see ticket prices and the schedule shapes up. If you are producing or in a show and you want me to see it, now is the time to get me your information — especially any discount codes. I hope to post a preliminary schedule in the next week or so.

As for July, it is already starting to fill, with Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB).

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

 

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🎭 Pure and Sweet Imagination | “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” @ Hollywood Pantages

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Hollywood Pantages)What distinguishes live theatre from the movies, when all is said and done? Think about the question closely. Go beyond the fact that movies are projected images, the same every time you view them. Both tell stories. Both have characters that grow. But movies — even animated movies — are realistic. They show you everything; they leave nothing to the imagination. Close up or far, what they present — if not real — is realistic.

But the stage. The stage. The stage is a home of real imagination. Shall we say, pure imagination. Go to any intimate theatre, and look at the worlds they create with just a few boxes and props. Even in the larger theatres, the sets are mere suggestions of realism. The world that is created is one that is in your imagination. Even  when you take a property that was once on the screen and move it to the stage, you need to adapt it for that change from a world of realism to a world of imagination. Cinema magic isn’t the same as stage magic. They are different beasts, and the story must often adapt for that change in worlds.

Keep that in mind when you read reviews, for some reviewers don’t get that fundamental aspects of the stage. Even theatre reviewers forget it.

The children’s author Roald Dahl understood imagination well. His books centered on imagination, and understood that kids don’t fear the scary or gross — they embrace it. Three of his stories have been adapted into musicals (to my knowledge), and as of last Thursday, we’ve seen all three.  The first of his stories we saw on stage was Matilda, which we saw back in 2015, and again a few weeks ago. Many compared Matilda to the movie: there were changes from the movie to the stage, and the movie was not a musical. The approach to the story was a bit different, and the stage depended much more on imagination. Then there was James and the Giant Peach, which we saw a little over a year ago. There is an animated version of the story, which I’ve never seen. I throughly enjoyed the stage version, which was much more oriented towards children, but still harnessed significant imagination in making the characters come to life with human actors. The music of Pasek and Paul didn’t hurt.

Then there’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which we saw Thursday night. The problem here is that the original 1971 movie is both iconic and a musical. Gene Wilder stamped himself on that role, and most people can’t separate his portrayal from how they imagine the story. There’s also a 2003 version with Johnny Depp, but it never achieved quite the same iconic nature, is downright creepy, and is best forgotten.  But the Wilder version: that’s so iconic that when the stage musical (with songs by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; and book by David Grieg) was transferred from London’s West End to Broadway, they had to interpolate songs from the movie, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, into the stage musical in order for it to be accepted. In many ways that’s too bad: I have only heard the London Cast Album, and enjoy it quite a lot.

So many people come into the stage musical expecting to see the equivalent of the Wilder movie on stage, and they don’t get it. I believe this is why many reviewers have walked out of this show disappointed: they don’t see the magic of the movie on stage. Well, GET OVER IT. This is a stage musical, and must be viewed on its own. Changes are made as the story is adapted to the stage; characters are updated so that children of today can related to them. The story must be designed to talk to adults (who can afford to pay for the tickets) as well as the children. Most of all, the imagination that is on stage must be uniquely theatrical.

If you can set aside your preconceived notions from the 1971 movie and watch this version of Charlie on its own terms, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. There is loads of creativity in the show. There’s lots of song and dance, and both the children in the audience and the children in the adults will entertained. There are sufficient references back to the 1971 movie to provide that modicum of comfort and familiarity, and there isn’t a single trace of Johnny Depp.

I probably don’t need to go in detail into the story. You’ve quite likely seen either or both of the movies. Basically, reclusive chocolate manufacturer and creator Willy Wonka decides to reopen his factory to five children who have found golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars. Four of them meet horrible death or injury due to repulsive habits, but the one who is pure of heart wins the grand prize: the factory. It’s just like a horror movie, but with kids.

So what has changed in this version. Let’s start with the kids: none appear to be British. Augustus is the least changed from what he was in the movie. Veruca is Russian, and the same spoiled brat she always was — except she does ballet. Violet Beauregarde still chews gum, but is now black and hip-hop-ish and from Los Angeles. Mike Tevee is more spoiled teen videogamer who hacks computer systems, vs. the TV watching kid he was. Charlie is essentially the same, except he went from having two parents in the movie, to having just a father in the London version, to having just a mother in the Broadway version. Oh, and the character of Slugworth and the whole notion of kid’s spying is gone.

Instead, there’s a new framing device added that changes the tone of the piece — a framing necessary by the theatrical demands of having your most entertaining character be on stage for both acts. This is because the first act, due to the demands of exposition, must introduce you to each of the children, and provide the background on their characters, their faults, and their ambitions. That’s a story that — if you recall the movie — is absent Willy Wonka. In the movie, Wonka doesn’t show up until the start of the factory tour. But that cannot work on stage: you want to see Wonka. So the story now opens with Wonka on-stage, explaining that he has decided it is time to pass the factory down. He then transforms into the owner of the candy shop that now sells Wonka products, and starts interacting with Charlie, encouraging him to buy a bar. He keeps encouraging him throughout the first act, as each ticket is found, being disappointed that Charlie cannot afford to buy the bar that the candy shop owner so clearly wants him to buy (and, with the audience in on the secret of who the candy shop owner is — they know Wonka really wants Charlie to get a ticket). In desperation, after the 4th ticket is found, Wonka closes the shop claiming to be sold out, but leaves a dollar on the floor for Charlie to find … and plants the bar where Charlie can purchase it. Random chance of Charlie getting the ticket? Doesn’t pass the sniff test, with the framing device.

Most reviews I have read do not like this change. Most reviews I have read complain about the first act taking so much time to introduce the characters. But the story just doesn’t work with any other structure. The framing device changes the story, yes, but in a way that works for the stage, and lets the audience in on a secret that the characters on stage don’t know. I’ll note that reviewers also complain that the only child on stage is the actor playing Charlie. All the other kids are portrayed by adults. Again, these are the demands of the stage (children, for example, can’t do that much on-pointe dancing), but the suspension of belief of the stage makes it work.

When Wonka returns to the stage as Wonka, the energy and the imagination ramps up. This is hinted at in the closing number of the first act, but even more so as the second act opens and the tour begins. The stage cannot duplicate the film, but does imagination in its own way. How they handle the fates of the children is both more violent than the movie, and much more imaginative. Violet explodes on stage. Veruca is torn limb from limb. MIke becomes an animated puppet. But I think the best sequence is before Mike’s demise: when they must walk across the marshmallows, make a u-turn into the wind tunnel, and then walk across the field of flying frying pans. Mind you: there is nothing on the stage. They are doing this with pure pantomime and sound effects, and it is magical. Pure stage magic. For me, this was the scene that made the entire show magic. No projections. No props. An empty stage with pure performance and imagination magic.

Then there are the Oompa-Loompas. When they make their entrance, the audience goes wild. They are a combination of puppetry and dance, and are magic in the imagination displayed. They are indescribably funny, and they are such a creative use of the ensemble.

Through a combination of projection effects, puppetry, and performance, this production creates a new level of stage imagination. It is different than the movie, and to compare the two is to invite disappointment. They are different, and must be judged separately. The stage Wonka provides a different type of lunacy than Wilder brought to the role, although there is a modium of the deadpan WIlder aspects that cannot stop the children from their natures.

So, yes, I enjoyed it.

Kudos to the director, Jack O’Brien (and the London director, Sam Mendes), and the choreographer, Joshua Bergasse (and the London choreographer, Peter Darling) for the creativity and movement they brought to this production.

Let’s now turn to the performance aspect of the piece.

Willy Wonka is created on stage by Noah Weisberg (FB). Weisberg does not have the same demented deadpan nature as Wilder, but he does make the role his own in his own way. Watch the joy of the character in the first act as he portrays the shop owner. Then see how his nature changes in the second act as the lunacy and the foreknowledge kicks in. He knows who the bad kids are, and knows that nothing he will do will stop them. In many ways, he is much more knowingly leading them to their demise, putting just the temptation in front of them that will pull to the problems in their nature. Note that he does this with Charlie at the end as well, but the temptation is of a different nature and in a different direction, and it is that different direction that allows Charlie to succeed. Weisberg’s Wonka succeeds well in pulling off the character. Just watch his face closely in the opening numbers, and you can see that he is making clear that his character is much more … omniscient … than perhaps he is saying with his words. He sings well, dances well, and handles the comedy spectacularly.

Charlie Bucket is played by the only children on stage — and three young men divide the role. At our performance, we had Rueby Wood (IG); the other performers are Henry Boshart (IG) and Collin Jeffery (FB, IG).  Wood captured the character well. I initially was unsure about his voice, but it got stronger throughout the evening and worked well. He was able to capture the right range of emotion and wonder for the character, and sang and moved well for someone so young.

Turning to Charlie’s family next: three of the four grandparents were mostly comic relief and played more as part of the ensemble. We’ll cover them there. The standalone family members were Amanda Rose (FB) as Mrs. Bucket and James Young (FB) as Grandpa Joe.  Rose’s mom was sweet and caring; you knew she knew she had a special child that she had to nurture in a hard world (and one can, perhaps, understand why they changed it from just the dad in London). She sang beautifully in her main number. Young’s Joe (I want to say Mighty Joe Young) was much more of a comic character. Unlike the movie’s Jack Albertson who was just sweet and old, this Joe had an imagination equal to young Charlie, as demonstrated by the story telling. He sang well and performed well; his character was less pushed into the dance aspects.

This brings us to the other “children”, all of whom were played by adults. Most of these performances were limited by book to be somewhat broad and stereotypical. In the required fat suit was Matt Wood (FB) as Augustus Gloop.  Wood’s Gloop was perhaps the least characterized of the kids: food gluttony is easy to portray on stage, and he didn’t do much more than stereotypically go after his food. His mother, played by Claire Neumann (FB),  was less rounded as Augustus, but more rounded as a character. She captured well the mom that couldn’t say no to her children in terms of food.

[Hmmm, as an aside, one wonders if this is a cautionary tale more for the parents than the children, for all the parents of the problematic children had one thing in common — they could not say no to their children … whereas Charlie’s parent was the only one that said “no” and stood by that decision. Would that the parents of the child in the White House have learned that lesson, and taught the meaning of “no” … but I digress]

Anyway, back to Neumann’s Mrs. Gloop. She played his mother well, and had a strong voice in her number introducing Gloop. The second child was Veruca Salt, played by Jessica Cohen (FB). She certainly had the demanding aspects of the performance down well, both in the “I want it now and my way” aspects, but even more so in the continual ballet pointe dancing. Naturally, she moved well and had a good singing voice. Her father, played by Nathanial Hackmann (FB), was a much more stereotypical Russian portrayal. It worked, for what it was. This brings us to our third child, Violet Beauregarde, played by Brynn Williams (FB). When she came on stage, I turned to my wife and said, “that girl has a voice!” She sings strongly and powerfully, and had great dance moves and was fun to watch. Again, her father on stage was much more stereotypical “professional hood dad” — for which I fault the writing — but David Samuel handled it well. Our last “child” as Daniel Quadrino (FB)’s Mike Tevee. His role was more teen brat, but he did remarkable in the wind-tunnel scene, and had a wonderful interaction with Wonka over his cell phone. It was a lesson I wished the audience members took to heart. Stealing her scenes, however, was Jennifer Jill Malenke (FB) as Mrs. Tevee. Her wonderful knowing looks and interactions with Wonka over alcohol were just priceless and delightful to watch.

This brings us, at last, to the very talented ensemble. They got to not only be dancing and acting as characters in the background, but became the Oompa Loompas in the second act. In those roles, they shone. They covered the lesser grandparents and the reporters, and made the magic happen behind the characters. They consisted of (additional named roles as noted): Sarah Bowden (FB, FB) also Cherry Sundae; Alex Dreschke (FB); Jess Fry (FB); David R. Gordon (FB); Chavon Hampton (FB); Sabrina Harper (FB); Benjamin Howes (FBalso Grandpa George; Karen Hyland (FBalso Grandma Josephine; Lily Kaufmann (FB); David Paul Kidder (FB); Joe Moeller (FB); Tanisha Moore (FB); Joel Newsome (FB) also Jerry Jubilee; Kristin Piro (FB) also Grandma Georgina; Armando Yearwood Jr. (FBalso Mrs. Green; and Borris Anthony York (FB). Of particular note here were Yearwood’s Mrs. Green, who was hilarious,  and Howes’s Grandpa, who got some wonderfully comic lines.
————
[ indicates performers swung up from the ensemble or as swings]

Swings who weren’t swinging were: Colin Bradbury (FB); Elijah Dillehay (FB); and Kevin Nietzel (FB). Normal performers who weren’t on at our performance were: Madeleine Doherty (FB) normally Mrs. Teveee; Kathy Fitzgerald (FB) normally Mrs. Gloop; Clyde Voce (FB) normally Mrs. Green/Ensemble, and Caylie Rose Newcom (FB) normally Ensemble.

Music direction was by Charlie Alterman (FB), who conducted the Pantages orchestra (with John Yun (FB) [Assoc. Conductor]). The orchestra consisted of (🌴indicates local): Charlie Alterman (FB) Keyboards; John Yun (FB) Keyboards; Kelly Thomas (FB) Keyboards; Greg Germann (FB) Drums / Percussion; David White (FBBass; Jen Choi Fisher (FB) 🌴 Violins; Ira Glansbeek 🌴 Concertmaster, Cello; Richard Mitchell 🌴 Reed 1 (Flute / Piccolo / Alto Sax / Clarinet); Jeff Driskill (FB) 🌴 Reed 2 (Clarinet / Soprano Sax / Tenor Sax / Bass Clarinet); John Fumo (FB) 🌴 Trumpet / Piccolo Trumpet / Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas (FB) 🌴 Trombone; Mike Abraham (FB)  🌴 Guitar (Solid Body Electric, Jazz Electric, Banjo, Nylon Acoustic, Steel Acoustic); Alby Potts (FB) 🌴 Synth Sub. Other music support: Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 Orchestra Contractor;  Doug Besterman (FB) Orchestrations; Marc Shaiman (FBArrangements; John Miller (FBMusic Coordinator; Nicholas Skilbeck (FBMusic Supervisor; Michael Starobin (FBAdditional Orchestrations; Phij Adams (FBMusic Technology; JoAnn Kane Music Service / Russell Bartmus, Mark Graham, Josie Bearden, Charlies Savage Music Copying.

Finally, turning to the production, creative, and support side of the equation. Mark Thompson‘s scenic and costume design worked well. The main set pieces: the Wonka factory, the Chocolate Store, the Bucket Residence, and the various pieces in the factory itself — were suitably creating and worked well for the story. Similarly, the costumes worked well to establish each character in broad strokes with their personality. This was supported extensively by Jeff Sugg‘s video and projection design, which provided the amplification of the imagination. It will be interesting to see how regional productions of this adapt without the heavy video usage. More imagination, I guess. Basil Twist (FB)’s Puppetry Design was spectacularly — not only for the Oompa Loompas, but for the miniaturized Mike Tevee who was believably shrunk. Also supporting these on-stage design aspects was Campbell Young Associates‘s hair and makeup design, as Buist Buckley (FB)’s production properties. Andrew Keister (FB)’s sound was reasonably clear and had good sound effects; Japhy Weideman‘s lighting established place, time, and mood well. Other creative and support were: Kristin Piro (FBDance Captain; Kevin Nietzel (FB) Asst. Dance Captain; Matt Lenz (FBAssoc. Director; Alison Solomon (FBAssoc Choreographer; Andrew Bacigalupo (FBProd. Stage Manager; Alan D. Knight (FBStage Manager; Cate Agis Asst. Stage Manager;  Telsey + Company (FB) Casting; Juniper Street Productions Production Manager; Foresight Theatrical General Management.

Due to our having to shift seeing this production due to a wedding, we saw it much later in the run than normal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory closes at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Sunday, April 14. If you can get tickets, go see it.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (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), 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:

Tonight brings us to the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is interesting, as my wife is having a small procedure during the week. Thursday may bring Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), but this is looking less likely. Saturday will bring In The Heights at the LA Pierce College Theater (FB) (featuring a performer we saw at REP), but for me alone. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m just starting to wade through the list of 306 shows, but I already see some I want to see, including The Seven Year Itch[title of show], and the return of Tabletop: The Musical. As for July, it is already starting to fill, with Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB).

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

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🎭 Think Of It As a Dance Show | “Cats” @ Hollywood Pantages

Cats (Hollywood Pantages)The most important thing to remember, when thinking about the production Cats (currently at the Hollywood Pantages (FB)), with music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics (mostly) by T. S. Eliot* (supplemental lyrics by Trevor Nunn), is that it is not a musical, despite everything you hear. It is a dance show, pure and simple. Go in thinking that, and you won’t be disappointed by the paper thin plot, the lack of real characters, the absence of character growth, or any silly musical theatre notions like that. If you read reviews of Cats and you find they are disappointed with the show, 9 times out of 10, you’ll find that they were going in expecting a traditional musical.

So, I’ll say it again: Cats is a dance show. And as a dance show, it is a spectacular one, with catchy if simplistic tunes that exist solely to support the dance, wonderful movement, and some lovely character vignettes that showcase characters you don’t see again as their characters. This shouldn’t be surprise, as this show was based on a collection of children’s poems, not any sort of story or novel with a through line.

I”ll repeat it a third time, because if you say it three times it must be true: Cats is a dance show. It only lacks the introduction that Bob Fosse put on his show Dancin’: “This show has no plot; it is a dance show.”.

I’m a big fan of comparing and contrasting shows, and ignoring my sojourn into Silly Symphonies at the Soraya the weekend between,  I had two dance shows in a row: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson,  and Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). Both celebrated and were centered around dance. One told a story without words, showing character growth. One used words to accompany the dance, but really didn’t tell a story. One used the classical repertoire; the other used more pop and rock stylings. One shows up only periodically; the other was one of the longest running shows on Broadway. Ultimately, I think I found Cats more satisfying. Perhaps it is the whole issue of accessibility. Using more modern music, and having songs to accompany the dance, ultimately made the dance itself more satisfying. The paper thin story went by the wayside, and one could enjoy the dance for what it was. With Cinderella, one had to focus on the dance and the language of the dance in order to figure out the more substantial story — and in doing so, the enjoyment of the dance itself was lost.

We last saw Cats in 2009 at Cabrillo Music Theatre (now 5 Star Theatricals (FB)); before that, it was the original production in 1985 at the Shubert Theatre in Century City.

There are those who somehow believe there is a story line in Cats. They think it has something to do with cats auditioning to go to the Heavyside layer, and ultimately Grizabella the Glamour Cat being chosen for no reason other than she has the one new song in the show. But given you really only see the other cats do their numbers and disappear (only three remain really visible in the ensemble dancing — Mungojerrie, Rumpleteaser, and Rum-Tum-Tugger), that story isn’t really there. It is grafted on to give an excuse for the song “Memory”. Don’t think about it. This is a dance show. Enjoy the spectacle.

I must, however, note some interesting story changes in this version. At the top of Act II, we have Gus the Theatre Cat’s number. Normally, this has been “Growltiger’s Last Stand”, with the whole number with the Siamese cats that was borderline offensive when the show premiered in the 1980s (with the use of stereotypes and such — not surprising, given when and where the poems were written). The 2016 revival on Broadway replaced that number with a different poem, “The Pekes and the Pollicles”, using some but not all of the original music. The new number works, but it creates an interesting discontinuity in the “McCavity” number where a mention is made of Griddlebone — who is now no longer in the show. Some other numbers have had their tempos changed or adjusted. I believe some of these adjustments derived from the 2015 London revival.

It is also important to understand the role productions such as Cats play in the musical ecosystem. Cats is not a star vehicle. Sure, there can be a star turn for the actor playing Grizabella — they get to shamble on, sing a spectacular number, shamble off, and then in the second act, shamble back in, sing a reprise of that number, and then die on stage. But for all the other actors in the show: this is ensemble heaven. It is a training ground for dancing, singing, and background characterization. When you go into the show, look for that. Watch each individual cat and how they succeed or fail in making each cat their own character. Look at their movement. Note who they are. This is how they get their exposure: doing this show with a paper-thin plot but spectacular movement and characterization exercises. For many of them, you’ll see them grow over the years into musical or dance mainstays.

But there is that one problem of identifying the performers. The individual cats are not all named in the show, so how do you know who is who? These answer is that the Wikipedia page provides a list of all the cats, their names, and a description of their costumes. This is a must, and should be in every program, because the individual cats are never introduced in the show — and other than the actors, the audience has no way of knowing who is performing whom (unless they happen to have done the show before). I think providing this listing would be a courtesy to the actors/dancers, as then they can be properly credited for their outstanding work.

I’ll note that this production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne. I’ll also note that the entire performance team was strong, and the dancing was just a joy to behold. Writing this the night after the show, there are a few performances I’d like to highlight:

  • Caitlin Bond (FB)’s Victoria (the white kitten) is just amazing. Her moves and her talent are just wonderful. I really enjoyed watching her.
  • Rose Iannaccone (FB)’s Rumpelteazer was also fun to watch. Small, lithe, and with some spectacular moves — as well as great facial expressions. My eyes kept being drawn to her.
  • Emily Jeanne Phillips (FB)’s Jennyanydots did a spectacular tap number. I tried to recognize her elsewhere in the show, but couldn’t.
  • PJ DiGaetano (FB)’s swung into Mr. Mistoffelees, and did an outstanding job with it. DiGaetano normally portrays Coricopat.
  • Keri Rene Fuller (FB)’s has essentially a “walk-on” as Grizabella — she doesn’t really do all that much dancing. She does, however, get the powerhouse number in the show: “Memory”, and she does wonderful with that number.
  • Timothy Gulan (FB)’s does good as Asparagus, the Theatre Cat — I liked his characterizations and facial expression. I was a bit less taken with his Bustopher Jones.
  • Erin Chupinsky (FB) swinging in as Demeter, and Charlotte O’Dowd (FB) swinging in as Bombalurina, did a wonderful job on “McCavity” with some spectacular dancing.
  • McGee Maddox (FB)  gave a strong turn as Rum Tum Tugger/Bill Bailey. A different swagger in the characterization than I’ve seen before, but fun to watch.
  • Marian Rieves (FB)’s Cassandra is one of the ensemble cats that catches your eye. A seemingly Siamese shorthair (at least she has a more slinky costume than the other cats), she has wonderfully lithe movement. Her tumbling runs were incredible.
  • Ahren Victory (FB)’s Sillabub is the cat that sings with Fuller’s Grizabella, and does a spectacular job of it.

The other performers were strong dancers, but other aspects of their performances either didn’t stick out in my mind, or I couldn’t identify their character well enough to comment. Other cast members were: Phillip Deceus (FB) [Alonzo]; Lexie Plath (FB) [normally Bombalurina, but out last night]; Justin W. Geiss (FB) [Swing, who I’m guessing swung in for Coricocat]; Liz Schmitz (FB) [normally Demeter, but out last night]; Kaitlyn Davidson (FB) [Jellylorum]; Tion Gaston (FB) [normally Mistoffelees, but out last night]; Tony d’Alelio (FB) [Mungojerrie]; Dan Hoy (FB) [normally Munkustrap, but out last night]; Tyler John Logan (FB) [Plato / McCavity]; Anthony Michael Zas (FB) [Pouncival]; Ethan Saviet (FB) [Skimbleshanks]; Halli Toland (FB) [Tantomile]; Devin Neilson (FB) [Tumblebrutus]; Brandon Michael Nase (FB) [Victor / Old Deuteronomy]; Maria Failla (FB), Adam Richardson (FB), Tricia Tanguy (FB), Andy Michael Zimmermann (FB[Cat’s Chorus]; Zachary S. Berger (FB) [swinging in as Munkustrap]; Nick Burrage (FB) [Swing]; and Laura Katherine Kaufman (FB) [Swing].

The Cats orchestra was conducted by Eric Kang (FB), who was also musical director. Other members of the orchestra (🌴 indicates local) were: Evan Roider (FB) [Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard3]; Luke Flood (FB) [Keyboard1]; David Robison (FB) [Keyboard2]; Garrett Hack (FB) [Reed1]; Dave Stambaugh (FB) [Reed2]; Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar]; John Toney (FB) [Bass]; Aaron Nix (FB) [Drums / Percussion]; Jeff Driskill (FB) 🌴 [Flute / Clarinet / Tenor Sax]; Sean Franz (FB) 🌴 [Clarinet/Soprano Sax/Bari Sax]; Mike Abraham (FB) 🌴 [Guitar (Electric, Steel String Acoustic, Banjo, Nylon String Acoustic)]; Dan Lutz (FB) 🌴[Bass (Electric, Fretless)]; William Malpede 🌴 [Keyboard Sub]. Orchestra support: Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 [Orchestra Contractor]; Kristen Blodgette [Music Supervisor]; Brian Taylor (FB) [Assoc. Music Supervisor]; Stuart Andrews [Keyboard Programmer]; and Talitha Fehr [Music Coordinator].

Turning to the production and creative side of the equation: Alas, nothing can top the original scenic design in the Century City Shubert theatre, where the entire theatre was transformed into a larger-than-life junkyard. This is a tour, which constrained John Napier‘s scenic design primarily to stage, with a few rows of lights. It was still a junkyard; just not as immersive. The audience did, however, get to see Napier’s design in another area — the costumes — when the actors came into the audience. Still, even here he was constrained by the original, as he had to keep the character designs within the constraints of the original design. Still, the impact of the actors going in the audience should not be discounted; Marian Rieves relates the story of going into the audience in the Pantages and making a little black girls day by showing what she could be when she grows up. Theatre does change lives. Where there has been a significant change since the original production is in the technology, and that is no where more apparent than in Natasha Katz‘s lighting design. Lightweight LEDs have transformed the theatre, from the eyes on stage, to Mr. Mistoffelees’ spectacular costume, to the changing colors of the light strands, to the on-stage flashlights. Katz’s design makes use of this well. Victoria Tinsman (FB)’s hair and makeup design is a key part of these characters, and what I’m sure was a time-consuming job paid off well in their looks. About the only weakness was Mick Potter‘s sound design: one of the characters had a very muffled microphone (I want to say Alonzo), and my wife noticed a number of balance problems. As an aside, I’m so looking forward to productions at the Dolby Theatre, because it should not be plagued with the muffled sound that is endemic to the Pantages’ rococo design. Knitting by Jo Thompson (Leg and Arm warmers) and Marian Grealish (Skimbleshanks / Victor). One other key creative credit for this show: Neuro Tour provided the physical therapy, which I’m sure these dancers depend upon. Other production and creative credits: Chrissie Cartwright (FB) [Assoc. Director / Choreographer]; Kim Craven (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Ellenore Scott (FB) and Lili Froehlich (FB) [Asst. Choreographers]; John Clancy [New Dance Sequences for selected numbers]; Nick Burrage (FB) and Erin Chupinsky (FB) [Dance Captains];  Tara Rubin Casting (FB) [Casting]; Abigail Hahn (FB) [Assoc. Costume Designer]; Donovan Dolan (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; J. Andrew Blevins (FB) [Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Aaron Quintana (FB) [Company Manager]; Justin Coffman (FB) [Asst. Company Manager]; Troika Entertainment LLC [Tour Manager].

Cats continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 24. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. After Los Angeles, the Cats tour moves on to Seattle WA. If you like theatrical dance, it is worth seeing. If you are looking for a real musical with a plot and deep characterizations, and a storyline that means something, pass. Cats is a dance show, as I’ve said before.

PS: Let’s start the rumor: Cats in Yiddish. Ketz anyone?

ETA: Something I never knew: T.S. Eliot was antisemitic. Luckily, I don’t think he is making the big bucks off the musical, nor do I think there are any such references in this work, but it does make “Growltiger’s Last Stand” even more problematic.

***

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), 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 Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Looking to May, only four shows are currently programmed: Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB); and Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Because some of those shows are mid-week, two weekends are currently open (but will likely be programmed as press announcements are received). June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

 

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🎭 How To Combat Depression | “Hello, Dolly!” @ Hollywood Pantages

Hello Dolly (Hollywood Pantages)If you’re like me, you always thought you had seen Hello, Dolly!. Sure, you listened to the cast album zillions of times. Sure, you’ve seen the movie … well, sometime in the past, and you thought Barbra Streisand was too young for the part, and why would she want Walter Matthau anyway? But you didn’t remember it that well. But when did you last see Hello, Dolly!, well done, on an actual stage?

If you’re like me, it was, well, I can’t remember if I have.

Seeing Betty Buckley (FB) in Hello, Dolly! Sunday evening at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) was a revelation. It was a reminder of what theatre was in the golden age — the days of Gower Champion and David Merrick. It was also a reminder about how what you might remember as a fluff of a show — a star vehicle — has surprising relevance over 50 years after it first premiered.

For those who don’t remember the story, it is based on Thornton Wilder‘s 1938 comedy The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. In 1964, it was adapted into a musical by producer David Merrick, with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. It tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow whose business since her husband died is “meddling” — matchmaking, among numerous other businesses. She has recently arranged a match for Horace Vandergelder, a half-a-millionaire in Yonkers, but aims to get him to change his mind and marry her. She’s also helping Ambrose Kemper to marry Vandergelder’s niece, Ermengarde … but to do so she’s got to overcome Horace’s reluctance because the young man has no income. Vandergelder is planning to propose to Irene Molloy, a hatmaker in New York. In parallel, Vandergelder’s clerks also engineer a trip to New York for adventure. They run into Molloy’s shop, where they get involved with Molloy and her assistant, Minnie Fay. That gives you the basics: you can find a detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

The story itself — unsurprisingly — is silly and a bit dated. The behavior reflects the attitudes of the 1890s, not today. But there are some really important messages in the story that I never realized, and that are really, really important. First and foremost is Dolly’s message, best captured in “Before the Parade Passes By”. Dolly had been in a deep funk after her husband died, and that become clear as the musical progresses. But what is clear is that the incidents shown in the musical reflect a turning point for her: a decision to get out of her depression and jump back into life. That’s a very important message — perhaps one that wasn’t as strongly recognized in the 1960s. Far too many people are depressed, and the best way out of that depression is to go out and live. To return to life. To do it before the parade — and life — passes you by.

The second message comes out at the end, and seems even more relevant in the days of Donald Trump. The goal of money is not to hoard it; it is not to be like a dragon pinching every penny (even that one in your pocket). Money is like manure, as Dolly notes: it works best when you treat it like fertilizer and spread it around, enabling those around you to grow. This is such an important lesson — and one that our current administration could well learn.

The messages in Dolly are made stronger with the right casting. Having seen Dolly now, I can say that Streisand was clearly too young for the part. So was Channing in 1964. So were many of the other actresses playing the role then. Dolly needs to be an older woman who is clearly returning to life, not a younger women with her life before her. This is one reason why this revival has worked so well. The women playing the role on Broadway — Midler, Peters — were the right age. Betty Buckley is the right age — and is an example of how older women are coming into their own, as the LA Times noted.

So before we get into the nuances of the performances of this cast, let me say again: Go see this show. This isn’t your father’s or grandfather’s creaky musical. If you watch closely, you’ll see a message that is truly relevant today.

Under the direction of Jerry Zaks and the choreography of Warren Carlyle (with Stephen Edlund (FB) [Assoc. Director]; and Sara Edwards (FB[Assoc. Choreographer], and David Chase [Dance Arrangements]), the production scintillates, shines, and entertains tremendously. This team seemingly permitted the cast and ensemble to explicitly have fun, to play the characters as characters (i.e., not hyper-realistic), and to just go with it. I have no idea whether the original director and choreographer Gower Champion permitted this, but it made this staging just a real joy to watch. I was just smiling through the entire show — it was that much fun.

In the lead position was Betty Buckley (FB). Before I saw the show, I was unsure whether she would be able to make this show her own, but from the moment of her entry — she did. She played to and with the audience; she was clearly having fun and was bringing the audience along for the ride. Buckley’s Dolly seemed to have two sides: the side that was the acknowledged character in the story, and the side that was the character in the show, knowing it was the show. Other characters did this as well (at times), encouraging the audience to go along with the gag — a “we know this is silly, but let’s have fun together”. Buckley’s voice handled the music well — although truth be told, this isn’t a show that requires a spectacular singing voice for Dolly, just a loud one. After all, Channing’s voice during her (shall we say) extended run was never the greatest (her voice was better in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds), but the character made up for it. Buckley had the voice, and the character. Buckley also had the age, which gave her character the right gravitas and experience for the role to actually make sense. I don’t think this was the case in the 1960s original, when Channing or Streisand were in their 20s and 30s (Merman and some of the others did have the right age, at that point). But in this revival, the age worked to the advantage of the character.

Also super-strong was Lewis J. Stadlen (FB)’s Horance Vandergelder. I was never enamored of David Hyde Pierce in the role — he didn’t have the age, and the curmudgeon-ness was forced. Stadlen, on the other hand, brings that in spades. It’s like Pangloss was on stage (which he was). He has the comic timing, the playfulness, and the experience to do the role right. In many ways, he harkens back to the original Vandergelder, David Burns, who was an old man at the time. He also makes a believable couple with Buckley’s Dolly; not something you could say for all the various Dolly/Vandergelder actor pairings.

In the supporting male positions were Nic Rouleau (🌟FB, FB) [Corneilius Hackl] and Jess LeProtto (FB) [Barnaby Tucker]; the corresponding ladies were Analisa Leaming (FB) [Irene Molloy] and Kristen Hahn (FB) [Minnie Fay]. All had wonderful comic timing and expressions, and were strong singers and dancers. In particular, the comic playfulness of Rouleau was just a delight, and he seemed to take great joy in going above and beyond in the comedy department. Leaming found the right balance between being prim and proper and letting her hair down and letting the girl out. As for the other pairing of LeProtto and Hahn: LeProtto got the comedy and timidness of Barnaby well, and was an outstanding dancer in “Dancing”. Hahn caught my eye from the first moment she came on stage. She had the right aura of naive and nerd that made her pairing with LeProtto’s Barnaby work. All were strong.

The third tier of characters were Garett Hawe (FB) [Ambrose Kemper] and Morgan Kirner (FB) [Ermengarde]. This were almost literally one-note characters — certainly for Kirner, who seemed to only screech as a character. But they were strong in their dancing during the contest, and provided the necessary humor.

Rounding out the cast were the minor named characters (who were also part of the ensemble), as well as the unnamed ensemble members: Jessica Sheridan (FB) [Ernestina Money, Dolly Leviu/s]; Wally Dunn (FB) [Rudolph, Horace Vandergelderu/s]; Maddy Apple (FB) [Irene Molloyu/s]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [Court Clerk, Cornelius Hacklu/s]; Giovanni Bonaventura (FB) [Ambrose Kemperu/s]; Elizabeth Broadhurst (FB) [Irene Molloyu/s, Ernestinau/s]; Julian DeGuzman (FB) [Barnaby Tuckeru/s]; Alexandra Frohlinger (FB) [Ermengardeu/s, Minnie Fayu/s]; Dan Horn (FB); Corey Hummerston (FB) [Ambrose Kemperu/s]; Madison Johnson (FB) [Minnie Fayu/s]; Beth Kirkpatrick (FB) [Mrs. Rose, Dolly Leviu/s, Ernestinau/s]; Ben Lanham (FB); Kyle Samuel (FB); Scott Shedenhelm (FB) [Barnaby Tuckeru/s]; Timothy Shew  [Judge, Horace Vandergelderu/s]; Maria Cristina Slye (FB); Cassie Austin Taylor (FB); Davis Wayne (FB); Brandon L. Whitmore (🌟FB, FB); and Connor Wince (FB). Swings were: Brittany Bohn (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain, Ermengardeu/s]; Whitney Cooper (FB); Nathan Keen (FB); and Ian Liberto (FB) [Dance Captain, Cornelius Hacklu/s]. Of these, a few stand out: Jessica Sheridan, not only for her comic playfulness as Ernestina, but her joy as she moved in the ensemble; and Wally Dunn for the fun he had as Rudolph during the waiter’s gallop. Additionally, all of the ensemble should be commended for the fun they were having, and how that fun was conveyed to the audience.

Musically, Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics were supplemented by the orchestrations of Larry Hochman. Music was realized under the music direction of Robert Billig (FB). The remaining members of the orchestra were ( indicates local musicans): Tim Laciano (FB) [Keyboard2, Assoc. Conductor]; Max Mamon (FB) [Keyboard1]; Rich Rosenzweig (FB) [Percussionist]; Jeffrey Wilfore (FB) [Trumpet1]; Jen Choi Fischer (FB) [Violin, Concertmaster]; Grace Oh (FB), Ina Veli (FB) [Violin]; Ira Glansbeek [Cello]; Michael Valerio (FB) [Acoustic Bass]; Richard Mitchell [Clarinet / Flute / Piccolo / Alto Sax]; Jeff Driskill (FB) [Flute / Clarinet / Alto Sax]; Sean Franz (FB) [Clarinet / Flute / Bass Clarinet / Tenor Sax]; Chad Smith [Clarinet / Baritone Sax / Bassoon];  John Fumo (FB) [Trumpet2]; Aaron Smith (FB) [Trumpet3]; Charlie Morillas (FB) [Trombone]; Juliane Gralle (FB) [Bass Tombone]; and Mary Ekler (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other music credits:  Eric Heinly (FB) [Orchestra Contractor];  Seymour Red Press [Music Coordinator]; Kimberlee Wertz [Assoc. Music Coordinator]; Emily Grishman Music Preparation [Music Copying].

Santo Loquasto did the Scenic and Costume Design. The scenic design was heavily traditional scrims and flats — no abuse of technology and projections here — with larger sets for Feed and Grain Shop, the Hat Shop, and the Harmonium Gardens. More spectacular were the costumes, with a remarkable use of color and bustles to provide a scenic rainbow on stage. In general, the scenic use of color in this show as something special. This was all supported by the hair, wigs, and makeup design of Campbell Young Associates. The sound design of Scott Lehrer was unusually clear in the Pantages space; it will be interesting to see how show sound evolves as musicals move to the Dolby. Natasha Katz (FB)’s lighting established time and mood well. Rounding out the production and creative credits were: Don Pippin [Vocal Arrangements];  Telsey + Company [Casting]; William Joseph Barnes [Production Supervisor]; Brian J. L’ecuyer (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Karyn Meek (FB) [Stage Manager]; Amy Ramsdell (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Allied Touring [Tour Marketing and Press]; Aurora Productions [Production Manager]; Neurosport [Physical Therapy]; and far too many producers and executive producers.

If I haven’t made it clear by now, go see Hello Dolly! You’ll be glad to be back where you belong. Hello, Dolly! continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) theatre through February 17, 2019. Get your tickets through the Pantages online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. The Pantages has announced their 2019-2020 season, and it’s a good one. You can read my thoughts on the season here.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This coming weekend is busy, with 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and then running over to Hollywood for Anna Karenina at Actors Co-op (FB).  Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB). March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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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🎭 Where We Come From | “A Bronx Tale” @ Pantages

A Bronx Tale (Pantages)This has been a hard week, and the circumstances of why the week was so hard have contributed to why this write-up is so late. They also thematically dovetail nicely with the show that we saw last Saturday at the Hollywood Pantages (FB): A Bronx Tale (FB).

Why has the week been so hard? The camps that I grew up at as a child — Camp Hess Kramer and GIndling Hilltop Camp — were essentially destroyed by the Woolsey Fire. Camp will rebuild of course (and they were insured, although you can contribute and help as well), but it has been a week filled with memories of how my 10 years at camp — 1969 through 1978 — shaped me into what I became today. Events and places that occur in a child’s formative years can have profound impacts on what they become. This is especially true when what shapes that path is love.

The notion of how our past can shape our present is at the heart of A Bronx Tale. When he was 9 (the same age that I started camp), Calogero Lorenzo (“Chazz”) Palminteri witnessed a murder in front of his house in the Bronx, where he lived on Belmont Avenue with his parents Lorenzo and Rose. What happened next drew him into the orbit of the local mob, and shaped his life when he had to ultimately make the decision about whether he was going to live a life where he achieved his goals through fear, or he followed the path of love. He chose the latter, and after a number of struggles, wrote up his childhood experiences as a one man play. He premiered this play (where he played 31 roles) through one of Los Angeles’ intimate theatre companies, West Coast Ensemble (FB) [a company that, alas, has gone dark, although we saw their last production] at Theatre West (FB), and the play was a success. The play was polished, moved to an Off-Broadway house, and won a number of awards. Robert DeNiro saw it, and offered to buy the film rights. After some back and forth, that happened, with Palminteri both writing the story and having a part in the movie. The movie premiered and was a reasonable success. This led to Palminteri bringing back the one-man show, this time as a play on Broadway itself, which later went on a national tour. That then led to a musical adaptation, directed by Jerry Zaks (who directed the stage play) and Robert De Niro (who directed the movie), written by Palminteri, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB) [who was recently represented on the Pantages stage with both 👎 Love Never Dies and 👍 School of Rock). That opened on Broadway in December 2016, ran through August 2018, and then moved to a national tour.

Although the show is marketed as “Jersey Boys meets West Side Story”, that’s really just marketing. If it were me, I’d use the line: “Those who influence our youth influence their future.”. For just like my adulthood was not only influenced by my parents, but by what happened to me at camp, Palminteri’s adulthood was influenced by the dual values of what his parents taught him as well as the lessons he learned at the camp of hard knocks, under the mob leader Little Johnny (renamed in later versions of the story).

Perhaps now is the time to summarize the story (this was adapted from the Wikipedia summary of the movie, which has been the plot of all the different versions):

In 1960, Lorenzo lives in Belmont, an Italian-American neighborhood in The Bronx, with his wife Rosina and his 9-year-old son Calogero, who is fascinated by the local mobsters led by Sonny. One day, Calogero witnesses a murder committed by Sonny in defense of an assaulted friend in his neighborhood. When Calogero chooses to keep quiet when questioned by the NYPD, Sonny takes a liking to him. The two start working together, and Sonny gives him the nickname “C”. Calogero starts working at Sonny’s bar, throwing dice and getting paid. When his bus driver father finds out, he admonishes the boy and words him about the life.  Eight years later, Calogero has grown into a young man who has been visiting Sonny regularly without his father’s knowledge. Calogero is also part of a gang of local Italian-American boys At school, Calogero meets a black girl, Jane, and is smitten. Despite the high level of racial tension and dislike between Italian Americans and African Americans, Calogero arranges a date with Jane. He asks for advice from both his father and Sonny, with the latter lending Calogero his car so he can make a good impression. Before the date happens, however, the neighborhood gang beat up some blacks who cut through their neighborhood, including Jane’s brother. There is some confusion, an argument with Jane, and a fight with Sonny (who thinks Calogero put a bomb in Sonny’s car). The tensions continue to rise, and the Italian gang makes plans to bomb the blacks, but end up bombing themselves instead. Luckily, Calogero is alive because Sonny kept him from going with that gang (and thus, Sonny saved his life). Calogero rushes back to his neighborhood and makes his way through the crowded bar to thank Sonny and inform him of what happened, but an unnamed assailant shoots Sonny in the back of the head before Calogero can warn him. Calogero later learns that the assailant was the son of the man Sonny killed in front of Calogero’s house eight years earlier. At Sonny’s funeral, countless people come to pay their respects. When the crowd disperses, a lone man, Carmine, visits the funeral, claiming that Sonny once saved his life as well. Carmine tells Calogero that he will be taking care of the neighborhood for the time being, and promises Calogero help should he ever need anything. Carmine leaves just as Calogero’s father unexpectedly arrives to pay his respects to Sonny, thanking him for saving his son’s life and admitting that he had never hated Sonny, but merely resented him for making Calogero grow up so quickly.

Our reactions to the show? I thought it was a good show. Not great, not game changing, but good. It was clearly in the mold of existing musicals. The music was quite enjoyable, and a number of the songs easily stuck in your head. The individual performances were strong. But overall, as a piece, it was … good. Part of that the interracial plot line, which could have been good had it gone somewhere (for a while, I was thinking of the musical Memphis), but it just fizzed away. In terms of long term impact, I felt that Friday night’s show, Dear Evan Hansen, had much more staying power and a much stronger overall message. I liked the message of A Bronx Tale, especially the tag line of “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.” But I think in terms of today’s generation, the former message of “No one deserves to be forgotten, no one deserves to fade away.” has more resonance.  So, in my eyes, A Bronx Tale (The Musical) was good and enjoyable, but didn’t rise to the level of great.

On the other hand, my wife enjoyed A Bronx Tale immensely. She liked the music, she liked the story, she liked the performances. She had been troubled by the fact that Dear Evan Hansen, ultimately, was built around a lie, and when those walls came crashing down, a lot of people were hurt by the lie. She found that A Bronx Tale had a better message for her: a message about making the right choices, about choosing to do the right thing and growing and benefiting from it.

Thinking about it, both shows on the main stages of LA have to do with choices: Evan makes a choice out of anxiety, and chooses to lie, making up a story to get people to like him. In doing so, he hurts a lot of people, but imparts a good message along the way. “C” also makes a choice: after seeing the damage that can occur by building a life of making people fear someone, he chooses instead to build a life around love: doing what he loves, living life in a way that make people love him. He matures, but with his integrity intact.

Who made the better choice? Evan or “C”?

My wife might have it right after all. I should always listen to her (at least in terms of the messages of the show).

So why did Dear Evan Hansen get all the fame and glory? There are a few reasons, I think. First, I think, was the fact that DEH was a new story for the stage, whereas ABT was first a play, than a movie, than a musical — and the stage of late has been littered with movies-to-musicals. Second was the music: DEH was in the modern sound idiom, and appeals to youth; ABT was more a traditional older-rock sound. Third was the performances: Whereas some of the performances in ABT were strong, all of the performances in DEH were outstanding, particularly Evan and Heidi. Fourth was technology: ABT was a conventional story with conventional staging; DEH utilized technology in a new way in its staging. Last was message: ABT was more of an old fashioned mob story with a good message, but DEH touched upon topical issues: people feeling alienated because they are forgotten, the mental illness of teens, and the broader impact of anxiety and teen suicide.

Both, however, are worth seeing and worth contrasting.

Writing this up almost a week after seeing the show, there are a few performances that still stick in my head. First and foremost are the Calogeros — both the young and the old. The “young” was either Frankie Leoni (FB) or Shane Pry (at some performances); I think we had Frankie, but I’m not sure, The “old” was Joey Barreiro (FB). Frankie/Shane (whomever it was on Sat night) gave a remarkable performance: strong singing, strong dancing, strong voice, strong characterization. He was also a lot of fun to watch. Barreiro’s older Caolgero was also strong — good movement, good singing, good performance.

Brianna-Marie Bell (FB)’s Jane demonstrated a knockout voice and a strong characterization in a character, alas, that is only a catalyst and does not bring the meaningful relationship her character should bring.

Joe Barbara (FB)’s Sonny had the right old Sicilian feel about him, and had good mobster moves and a nice voice, although his stage fighting could use a bit more work to come across as realistic.

In the last of the named memorable roles, Richard H. Blake (FB)’s Lorenzo had a nice mix of paternalism and strength, with a good singing voice.

The remaining performances, alas, faded together into the cloud of memory: good dancing, good singing, but no particularly standout characterizations. I think this is more the fault of the script and the story than that actors themselves. The remaining performance team was: Michelle Aravena (FB) [Rosina]; Antonio Beverly (FB) [Tyrone]; Mike Backes [Ensemble, Eddie Mush]; Michael Barra (FB) [Ensemble, Joseph the Whale]; Sean Bell (FB) [Ensemble, Sally Slick]; Joshua Michael Burrage (FB) [Ensemble]; Joey Calveri (FB) [Ensemble, Carmine]; Giovanni DiGabriele (FB) [Ensemble, Handsome Nick]; John Gardiner (FB) [Ensemble, Rudy the Voice]; Haley Hannah (FB) [Ensemble, Asst. Dance Captain]; Kirk Lydell (FB) [Ensemble]; Ashley McManus (FB) [Ensemble, Dancer]; Robert Pieranunzi (FB) [Ensemble, Frankie Coffeecake]; Brandi Porter (FB) [Ensemble, Frieda]; Kyli Rae (FB) [Ensemble]; Paul Salvatoriello (FB) [Ensemble, Tony Ten-to-Two]; Joseph Sammour [Ensemble, Crazy Mario]; and Jason Williams (FB) [Ensemble, Jesse]. Swings were: Peter Gregus (FB), Christopher Messina (FB) [Dance Captain]; and Brittany Williams. I’m not noting who was understudying whom.

Music was provided by a mix of travelling and local musicians, conducted by Brian P. Kennedy (FB), who was also on the keyboards. Working with him were: Noah Landis (FB) [Assoc. Conductor, Keyboards]; Lisa LeMay (FB) [Asst. Conductor, Keyboards]; Theodore Hogarth (FB) and Jordan Standlee (FB) [Woodwinds]; Jeff Ostroski (FB) [Trumpet / Flugel]; Craig Watson (FB) [Trombone]; Brian LaFontaine (FB) [Guitar]; Paul Davis (FB) [Drums]; Frank Canino (FB) [Acoustic and Electric Bass]; Richard Mitchell [Flute, Alto Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax]; John Fumo (FB) [Trumpet / Flugel]; Charlie Morillas (FB) [Trombone]; Alby Potts (FB) [Keyboard 3]; Jennifer Oikawa [Keyboard 2 Sub]; Eric Heinly [Orchestra Contractor]. Other music credits: Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programmer];  John Miller (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Doug Besterman [Orchestrations]; Johnny Gale [Period Music Consultant]; Ron Melrose [Music Supervision and Arrangements].

Choreography was by Sergio Trujillo (FB), Marc Kimelman (FB) was the Assoc. Choreographer. The movement seemed sufficiently period, but none of the dance sequences stick in my head a week afterward.

Lastly, we turn to the production credits. Beowulf Boritt (FB)’s Scenic Design was relatively traditional, with a nice Bronx backdrop that served for most of the story. It integrated well with the other scenic aspects: William Ivey Long‘s costume design, Paul Huntley‘s hair and wigs, and Anne Ford-Coates‘s makeup. Howell Binkley‘s lighting and Gareth Owen‘s sound sufficed. Other production credits: Robert Westley [Fight Coordinator]; Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision]; Stephen Edlund [Assoc. Director]; Jeff Mensch [Company Manager — bet he gets a lot of jokes]; Kelsey Tippins [Production Stage Manager]; Networks Presentations / Walker White [Production Manager]; Tara Rubin Casting / Merri Sugarman CSA [Casting].

A Bronx Tale continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until November 25, 2018. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

Note: As always, we seem to hit at least one Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS performance every year. Saturday was our night with the actors and their red buckets. So, we’ll hit you up as well. Donate to BC/EFA here.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The upcoming weekend brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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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🎭 Sugar, Butter, Flour … Sweet | “Waitress” @ Hollywood Pantages

Waitress (Pantages)Let’s get this out of the way: I hate cake (well, except cheesecake, which may not be a cake). Given my choice, at a birthday party, I’d much rather have pie. Fruit pie. Ice cream pie. Chocolate silk pie. Lemon Meringue. Just not coconut. But I’m a pie guy.

So, just perhaps, I was predisposed towards Waitress, a new musical by Jessie Nelson (book) and pop artist Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics), which we saw last night at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) theatre. But I seemed not only to be the only one. The audience was full — and (unlike many shows), it was full of younger adults. It seems that if you want to get younger, non-theatre folks into the theatre, you simply need to do shows by younger artists they know and like. Who knew?

In all seriousness, last night we saw Waitress, which was based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly. Now I’d never see that picture, which isn’t a surprise because I see very few motion pictures. So I wasn’t familiar with the story of Waitress at all, other than reading the liner notes to the cast album once. But the music? That I know. I have both the album by Sara Bareillies and the cast album, and I enjoy both of them quite a bit. So going it — on top of the pie theme — I was looking forward to seeing this show.

Sitting through the show — I’ll summarize the plot in a minute — I found myself smiling. This was a story that was funny and touching, realistic and empowering, and just likable. Then it hit me during the intermission: the best way to describe this show was sweet — just like the pies it discusses. There are a lot of different flavors touched upon in this show: from unwanted pregnancy to abusive relationships, to the questions of why we stay in relationships and why we don’t, to the power of friendships and the support of friends, to the power of love and accepting people for who they are, and it all just simmers and blends and comes together for a result that is … sweet.

So this is a musical that will leave you with a good taste in your mouth. I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

I’ve gotten this far without summarizing the story, and one advantage of online reviews is I can cut and paste. Here’s the synopsis from StageAgent:

Waitress, based on the 2007 movie of the same title, follows the story of Jenna, a woman who is pregnant without any desire to be, trapped in an abusive relationship in a small town with no hope for a future outside of fear and false positivity. She escapes from her trauma through the baking of pies, creations of her own that she names after their uniquely combined themed ingredients and the events that inspired them, and recipes of her mother’s that once instructed her own baking. She sells her goods at Joe’s Pie Diner, where she’s also a waitress, and this job and the friends she has there exist as her only world outside her husband. The two other waitresses at the diner, Becky and Dawn, are Jenna’s best friends and closest confidantes, women with their own nuances and quirks, but like Jenna, harboring fantasies of better love than they’ve seen and lives that aren’t so sheltered and full of drudgery. When Jenna meets her new male gynecologist and sparks of lust start to fly between them, she’s forced to face up to all the things inside her that are hurting, and take action to change them. What begins as a story of a romantic love that helps to free Jenna from all the things chaining her to a miserable life becomes a story of love in so many other contexts. Jenna finds her happiness by accepting the kinds of love she truly deserves, especially the love that will be there for her the longest, and rejecting those who compromise her potential to feel powerful in her own life.

What this synopsis fails to mention are the interesting relationships formed by the other waitresses in the diner (which is somewhere near Richmond IN — if you look at the background, there’s a US 27 sign, and a “To I-70” sign. The only place the two meet is near Richmond IN — and now you know I’m a roadgeek as well). It fails to mention the curmudgeonly owner of the diner, Joe. As I said, this is a fun show.

Under the direction of Diane Paulus and the choreography of Lorin Latarro, this show seems easy as pie. By that, I mean that the characters seem believable, and the movement is remarkable. There aren’t really large dance numbers, but there is a fluid motion and transitions that make things appear out of nowhere, and make things just be right where they need to be when they need to be there. If that’s not choreography, then what is? In other words, the direction and choreography is so well integrated it just disappears into the story and doesn’t call attention to itself, and that is a good thing.

Desi Oakley (★FB, FB) plays the lead position as Jenna, the pie-baking waitress who finds herself pregnant. She brings a wonderfully strong pop voice to the role, and embodies the role with a gentle humor that is fun to watch. She is onstage for much of the show, and give a remarkable performance.

Supporting Jenna at the diner are Lenne Klingaman (★FB, FB) as Dawn and Charity Angél Dawson (FB) as Becky. Each are unique in their own way. Klingaman’s Dawn is lovely neurotic and looking for love, while being scared about finding it. She captures this well, but also has a remarkable singing voice. Her numbers with Ogie are remakable. Dawson’s Becky is the wisecracking waitress that one finds in every diner. She brings a lot of the humor and the sass to the role, and is just a hoot to watch. Lastly, playing off of them in more of a straight-man role (which makes his humorous moments even funnier) is Ryan G. Dunkin (FB) as Cal, the manager of the diner. Also in the diner is Larry Marshall as Joe, who is just marvelous as a cantankerous old man, with quite the erotic history, who just seems to enjoy making trouble … and eating Jenna’s pie.

Moving out of the diner, there are the men who intersect with the women in the diner. There’s Nick Bailey (FB) as Earl, Jenna’s husband and father of her baby, who now forms the abusive center of Jenna’s life. There’s Bryan Fenkart (★FB, FB) as Dr. Pomatter, the new Ob/Gyn in touch who rapidly falls in lust with Jenna’s pie (and yes, the double entendre there is intentional). Lastly, there’s Jeremy Morse (FB) as Ogie, who meets Dawn online and rapidly become her love interest — their numbers together are just hilarous.

Most of the remaining cast members serve as the ensemble in the background in the diner, as well as portraying other named characters in the show, as indicated: Grace Stockdale (FB[Mother, ◊], Jim Hogan (FB[Father, ♥, ♦, ⊗], Majesha McQueen (★FB, FB[Nurse Norma, ♠]; Kyra Kennedy (FB[Francine, ◊, ♣], Mark Christine (★FB[⊗, Θ], Max Kumangai [Dance Captain, ⊕], and Gerianne Pérez (FB[♣]. Swings were Chante Carmel (★FB, FB[♠], David Hughey [⊕, Θ], Emily Koch (★FB, FB[◊, ♣], and Brad Standley (FB[♥, ♦]. For understudies: ◊ Jenna; ♠ Becky; ♣ Dawn; ♥ Dr. Pomatter; ♦ Earl; ⊕ Joe; ⊗ Ogie; Θ Cal.

The remaining two cast members were Elizabeth and Catherine Last, who play Jenna’s daughter, Lulu, in the last scene. They alternate the role; we had Elizabeth at our performance. Their main job is to come on stage and be cute, and that they do.

Continuing the theme of women-power was the on-stage band, led by Lilli Wosk (★FB, FB[Conductor, Piano]. Working with her were Ryan Cantwell (FB[Music Director, Keyboard]; Elena Bonomo (FB[Drums]; Lexi Bodick (FB[Bass]; Nick Anton (FB[Cello/Guitar]; and Ed Hamilton (FB[Guitar]. Other music team members were: John Miller (FB[Music Coordinator]Alby Potts (FB[Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miler [Local Contractor]; Nadia DiGiallonardo [Music Supervision and Arrangements]; and Sara Bareilles and the Watress Band [Orchestrations].

Next, turning to the production and creative credits, we start with the most important, which were buried in the back: Prop Pies by KSM Creations; and perishable pies (misspelled in the program as “perichables”) by Whole Foods. Sara Lee® is the official pie partner for pies used on stage in the production.

Moving past the pies — if one can — we have the rest of the production and creative credits: Scott Pask did the scenic design, which worked quite well with the diner set, the projection of the road in the back, and the wonderful integration of the metro baking racks and movements. It also integrated well with Ken Billington‘s Lighting Design. I’m also pleased to say that Jonathan Deans‘ Sound Design was very clear for the Pantages (a remarkable feat), modulo the couple two rows behind us that used a hearing aid with an assisted listening device, which as Barbara Beckley often pointed out, means that you’re loudly broadcasting to everyone around you without you realizing it. For shame! Suttirat Anne Larlarb‘s costumes, and Richard Mawbey‘s hair and makeup design worked well to give that diner look everyone expects. Other production credits: Thomas Schall [Movement Coordinator]; Jason Juenker [Production Management]; Nicole Olson [Production Stage Manager]; Sarah Garrett [Stage Manager]; Raynelle Wright (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]; Telsey + Company [Casting]; B. J. Holt [General Manager]; Nancy Harrington [Assoc. Director]; Susanna Wolk [Asst. Director]; and Abbey O’Brien [Assoc. Choreographer]. As usual these days, there were loads of producers and executive producers.

Waitress continues at the Hollywood Pantage through August 26, 2018. I truly enjoyed it and found it well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Pantages; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Today we had the the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters at Actors Co-op (FB); writeup sometime during the week. Next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is still open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

 

 

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