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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend appears to be open, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open.

June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). I’ve begun planning my scheduling using the HFF18 information, and it looks like we’ll be seeing 19-20 shows over the weekends in June. More on that when the schedule finalizes. Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out.

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, with Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did we think of the show?

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

As for the rest of us….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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

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