One Singular Sensation

Back in 1975 (when I was 15), I was in the High School program at Wilshire Blvd. Temple. This program was run by Rabbi Larry Goldmark, and consisted of famous Jewish people coming in and speaking to high school students. That day, the speaker was Marvin Hamlisch. Near the end of his talk, I had to leave to catch the bus to the westside. As I got to up leave, he asked me where I was going. I told him I had to catch a bus. He told me to stay, that he didn’t like to lose his audience–he would give me a ride home. True to his word, he did… and on the way, we stopped at the newstand in Westwood to see if any reviews of his new show were in. The show: A Chorus Line. A year or so later, I saw A Chorus Line myself at the Shubert Theatre in Century City.

Why do I mention this? This afternoon we saw A Chorus Line at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks. The timing was good, as the show is currently on Broadway, and Cabrillo has one of the few licensed productions in California. For those unfamiliar with the story, it grew out of interviews held by Michael Bennett with the theatrical gypsies, members of the chorus. From these hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted the story of an audition, where each gypsy tells their story of why theatre and dance are a part of their life. There are all sorts in this crew: the children from abusive households to whom dance was safety and security; homosexuals; those trying for a comeback; those who can’t sing; those who can’t dance. All of these come together, through their stories, to pay homage to the unseen chorus line. Near the end of the show, one of the dancers, Paul, gets hurt in a tap number. After he’s taken away, the director asks the telling question: What would you do when you can’t dance anymore? What would you do if you couldn’t dance tomorrow? It is at this point that the show hammers the point home: We do what we do (hopefully) out of the love of the doing: “Kiss today goodbye, and point me toward tomorrow. We did what we had to do. Won’t regret, can’t forget, what I did for love.”

A Chorus Line (the “A” is part of a name in order to be first in the alphabetical listings) took Broadway by storm when it came out in 1975. It won nine Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, a New York Drama Critics Award for Best Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It ran, sold-out, for 15 years on Broadway. It was the highlight of Bennett’s careers, and of Marvin Hamlish (the composer) and Ed Kleban (the lyricist). It was also a turning point in the evolution of Broadway. The only “set” consisted of mirrors; the only costumes being workout clothes (except for the last scene). The stage was a single line, and the mirrors. It was one act, no intermission. There were no stars: the focus was the ensemble, the gypsys. There was no formal curtain call; the finale, with everyone in gold lame, was the curtain call. This was drastically different than conventional theatre at the time.

I should note that the original cast album does not capture the show completely: some songs are omitted, the order is different, and some songs are incomplete. The movie is a travesty; don’t bother. The new cast recording restores the order, but still omits the number “And…”.

It is now 30 years later. How did this cast do? Very very well indeed. There were a number of standout performances, in particular, Ayme Olivo as Diana, Kai Chubb as Cassie, and Adrianne Hampton as Val. In general, all of the performances were strong. This is a remarkable statement to make, given that a number of the performers are still in high school. I can’t quite say as much on the technical side. There were a few cases where folks were undermiced, and I think part of the orchestra could have been amplified better as well. Even more problematic was the follow spots, which were often wandering the stage in search of their target. But other than that, it was excellent. I particular enjoyed watching the faces of the line during the performance of Dance: 10; Looks: 3, in particular Connie and Kristine. This is the last weekend of the show.

The cast consisted of: Trai Allgeier (Tricia), Robert Bastron (Bobby); Kai Chubb (Cassie); Haley Clair (Lois); Renee Colvert (Bebe); Brian Conway (Tom); Drew D’Andrea (Greg); Steven Ferezy (Roy); Karlee Ferreira (Vicki); Sarah Girard (Maggie); Daniel Guzman* (Zach); Adrianne Hampton (Val); Robert Holden (Al); Jeff Longenecker (Mark); Robert Marra* (Paul); Lana McKissack (Connie); Ayme Olivo (Diana); Tracy Powell* (Sheila); Matthew Alan Rawles (Don); Travis Robertson* (Richie); Kate Roth (Kristine); Anna Schnaitter (Judy); Kelly Tatro (Larry); Daniel Thomson (Butch); and Geoffrey Voss (Mike). The production was directed and choreographed by Kay Cole, with lighting by Steven Young, sound by Jonathan Burke, wardrobe by Christine Gibson, musical direction by Darryl Archibald.

As always, the upcoming theatre calendar: The Beastly Bombing, Fri, 11/10 @ 8pm; Sister Act, The Musical, 11/18 @ 9pm; Dirk, 11/19 @ 2pm; and A Light in the Piazza, 12/3 @ 2pm …plus I’m still working on tickets for 13 (12/30). Lastly, I should note that the userpic for this review is particularly appropros, as it is from the Pasadena Playhouse production of A Class Act, which was a musical based on the life of Ed Kleban, the lyricist for A Chorus Line.

*: Member of Actors Equity Association.


The Review of Reviews: The Review!

This afternoon, we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at The Colony Theatre. So, what did I think of the show? Songs, dances, and a story have been triumphantly blended. The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! is a jubilant and enchanting musical. The Eric Rockwell score is one of his best, and that is saying plenty. Joanne Bogard has written a dramatically imaginative libretto and a strong of catchy lyrics; Pamela Hunt has worked small miracles in devising original dances to fit the story and the tunes, as well as directing an excellent company with great taste and craftsmanship.1

This afternoon, we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at The Colony Theatre. So, what did I think of the show? It was certainly different and arguably terrific. It was not your ordinary little Broadway musical–not by any means. It was The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, and I thought it was simply great. Unusual, yes. Not only does it have the first heroine to be turned into an object d’art and covered with paper mache, but the show ends with as many odd rhymes as Into the Woods. The Musical of Musicals is indeed different.2

This afternoon, we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at The Colony Theatre. So, what did I think of the show? The Musical of Musicals is replete with lively song and dance, and exceptionally able cast, and a splendidly splashy production. Even the scenery is entertaining. This star vehicle deserves its star, and vice is very much versa. No one can be surprised to learn that Mary Gordon Murray is an accomplished actress, but not all of us may know that she has an adequate singing voice, can dance trimly, and can combine all these matters into musical performance.3

This afternoon, we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at The Colony Theatre. So, what did I think of the show? The Musical of Musicals is a stunning, exhilarating theatrical experience, especially if you don’t think about it too much. Its director Pamela Hunt has designed and developed a virtually faultless piece of Broadway fantasy that has shadow exultantly victorious over substance, and form virtually laughing at content. This pop-opera by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart is wonderfully entertaining in everything but the aftertaste of its pretensions.4

This afternoon, we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at The Colony Theatre. So, what did I think of the show? Bold, cynical, and stylish as can be, The Musical of Musicals is a musical out to kill. And if this show somehow misses the mark, applaud it for its daring and moments of brilliance.5

So, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you really think of the show. As I stated above, this afternoon we went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! at The Colony Theatre in Burbank. MoM is an interesting musical: it is a parody musical somewhat similar to Forbidden Broadway. Its basic plot is a very simple story common to melodrama: Ingenue with the heart of gold is told by the landlord that the rent is due, and she has to find a way to pay it. It then tells this story in five different musical styles:

  1. Corn!, in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
  2. A Little Complex, in the style of Stephen Sondheim.
  3. Dear Abby, in the style of Jerry Herman.
  4. Aspects of Junita, in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
  5. Speakeasy, in the style of Kander and Ebb.

As it does so, it parodies the song styling and lyrics of the indicated authors (throwing in a little bit of Hamlisch/Kleban for the Finale). The parodies all hit the mark, but if one was unfamiliar with the shows and artists targeted, then the jokes would be lost. As I was familiar with almost all the shows parodied (excepting Starlight Express and Sunset Boulevard), I enjoyed it quite a bit. I decided to model the review after the show; the first five paragraphs are adapted from reviews of shows by each composer/lyricist.

The Colony production was excellent. The four member cast consisted of Brent Schindele* as Big Willy (sic)/Billy/William/Villy; Mary Gordon Murray* as Mother Abby/Abby/Auntie Abby/Abigail Von Schtarr/Fraulein Abby; Jeffrey Rockwell* as Jidder/Jitter/Mr. Jitters/Phantom Jitter/Jitter (as well as the principle piano player); and Alli Mauzey* as June/Jeune/Junie Faye/Junita/Juny, and . All of the cast was excellent. I must also note Ms. Mauzey’s bio, which stated, “Alli Mauzey most recently appeared at the Colony in Row D Seat 211 as an audience member, wherein she was praised by her usher as “profoundly polite” and “magically attentive.” She was a delight to watch, says this attentive audience member. To complete the credits, the show boasted music by Eric Rockwell, Lyrics by Joanne Bogart, and Book by Rockwell and Bogart. Scenic design (there wasn’t much) was by James Morgan; Costumes (again, not that much) was by John Carver Sullivan; Lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger; Sound by Drew Dalzell, Stage Management by Leesa Freed. Musical direction was by Jeffrey Rockwell, and the production was directed and choreographed by Pamela Hunt. It was a recreation of the 2005 West Coast Premiere production at The Laguna Playhouse.

As always, the upcoming theatre calendar: A Chorus Line, Sat 11/4 @ 2pm; The Beastly Bombing, Fri, 11/10 @ 8pm; Sister Act, The Musical, 11/18 @ 9pm; Dirk, 11/19 @ 2pm; and A Light in the Piazza, 12/3 @ 2pm …plus I’m still working on tickets for 13 (12/30).

1 Adapted from the Howard Barnes review of Oklahoma!, March 31, 1943.
2 Adapted from the Clive Barnes review of Sweeney Todd, March 1, 1979.
3 Adapted from the Stanley Kauffmann review of Mame, May 24, 1966.
4 Adapted from the Clive Barnes review of Evita, September 25, 1979.
5 Adapted from the Douglas Watt review of Chicago, June 3, 1975.
*: Member of Actors Equity Association.


Mahvalous Mahvalous, Wunnerful Wunnerful

This afternoon, we went out to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see The Marvelous Wonderettes. Going in, I was a bit out of it, as I had been fighting a bad headache all morning. We had wonderful seats, partially due to our being in shutterbug93‘s group, which was up in the front row.

The Marvelous Wonderettes is initially set in 1958, and bears many similiarites to Forever Plaid. Both musicals tell the stories of harmonizing groups: girl groups in Wonderettes, boy groups in Plaid. Both groups have distinct characters, and do popular songs from the era. Plaid, however, is clear fantasy: it focuses on a group that was permitted to come back after death for one last show. The plot in Wonderettes is much stronger. The show focues on the lives and loves of the Wonderettes: Cindy Lou (Kristen Chandler*), Missy (Kim Huber*), Betty Jean (Julie Dixon Jackson*), and Suzy (Bets Malone*). Act I opens on the Wonderettes as they are the featured entertainment at the 1958 Springfield Prom. You learn about their lives, loves, and distinct personalities during the act. Act II is 10 years later, at the high school reunion. Here you learn how the story turned out, together with the power of friendship. You can get a good idea of the characters in the show by visiting the show’s MySpace account.

What did I think of the show? First, for a show using so much popular music, the plot was extremely well integrated. The actors were excellent, for they became their characters and the personalites. Part of this is because many of the actors originated the roles they were playing. I was particularly enamored with the performances of Kim Huber, Julie Dixon Jackson, and Bets Malone. I should also note that all of the actors are powerhouse singers. It was a very very good show (and had the side effect of making me forget about the headache, always a good thing). I should note that the show has been receiving great reviews.

After the show, we had the opportunity to meet lindasings, as well as all of the actors. This is always nice when it happens.

Production Credits: Roger Bean (Author/Director); David Elzer, Marvelous Dreams LLC, and Peter Schneider (Producers); Janet Miller (Choreographer); Kurt Boetcher (Scenic Design); Brian Baker (Orchestrator); Jeremy Pivnick (Lighting Designer); Sharell Martin (Costume Designer); Cricket S. Myers (Sound Designer); Pat Loeb (Production Stage Manager); Machael Sanfillippo (General Manager); Brian Svoboda (Sound Engineer); and Michael Spellman and Joseph Wisniewski (Production Assistants). I should note that both Mr. Elzer and Mr. Schneider are also involved with the upcoming Sister Act at the Pasadena Playhouse.

As always, the upcoming theatre calendar: The Musical Of Musicals, Sat 10/28 @ 3pm; A Chorus Line, Sat 11/4 @ 2pm; The Beastly Bombing, Fri, 11/10 @ 8pm; Sister Act, The Musical, 11/18 @ 9pm; and Dirk, 11/19 @ 2pm …plus I’m still working on tickets for A Light in the Piazza (11/25, 11/26, 12/2, or 12/3), and 13 (12/30). A busy theatre season coming up. Note: Those of you on my friends list that might be interested in joining us to see Dirk, which is based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, for information, see this journal entry (which is friends-only).

*: Member of Actors Equity Association


The {proof} is in the Acting: A Younger Perspective

As NSS&F is taking a drama class this year, her teacher asked her to write a review of the show last night. Here is her review:



Robert: Michael Levine
Catherine: Kristen Paige
Harold Dobbs: Phillip Peck
Claire: Rebekah Dunn
All were members of Actors Equity


Proof is about a mathematician’s daughter, and what happens after the death of the mathematician (Robert). Robert was what you may call a insane mathematician and he was terribly ill, at least mentally. After his death, one of his students, who is now a Professor (Harold) wants to sort through his items. His daughter who took care of him (Catherine) doesn’t want his help, or anyone’s help, even her sister from New York, Claire, who flies out to help after the death of her father, for one weekend. Scene 4 of Act I is when Catherine gives Harold a key to a drawer. This drawer contains a notebook, upon which holds a much longed for, proof, to an equation. Harold believes that the notebook was Robert’s work, and so does Claire. Catherine says, that the proof was hers, not her fathers. After every one being in denial of Catherine, she goes, well, insane, like her father. Claire wants Catherine to move to New York with her, while Claire resists. The conclusion, is that the notebook was Catherine’s, and the proof, was in fact, written by her.


For me this was the first actual drama I have seen. I have seen musicals and comedies before and they are all so different from each other. Proof was very engaging and had a strong message. All of the actors did a wonderful job, and really brought this show to life. Proof was quite the opposite of any comedy I have seen. Though there were some funny parts to it, it had a serious plot line. I also thought that the actors pulled off a very good geek impression, which can be hard to do. I know that Proof was a movie, and you can’t just compare the live performance to a movie. To me a movie and a theatrical performance are two different monsters. When you see something live on stage, you are really pulled into it, and you feel as if you are there. And no matter how wonderful the movie is, you still know, that it is on a screen, and playing from some sort of tape. When it is live, you feel live. This was a wonderful performance and the cast did an excellent job of portraying the story.


The {proof} Is In The Acting

This evening we went out to the Santa Clarita Rep East Playhouse (REP) to see {proof}. For those unfamiliar with the play (which was recently made into a major motion picture), it is a four-character drama written by David Auburn, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It tells the story of Catherine, a young woman who has dropped out of college to take care of her brilliant mathematician father, who has been losing it. She’s at the age where he started to lose it, and fears she is heading down the same path. The entire first act takes place right after her father has died, and has her dealing with both her sister (in from New York), and a young mathematics professor who has been going through her father’s work looking for any brilliance in the choas. This professor was previously the father’s last doctoral student. At the end of the first act a notebook is revealed with a brilliant proof–everyone things it is her father’s, but Catherine claims she did it. The second act moves back in forth in time: we see the father both lucid and insane inbetween the aftermath of the first act. By the end of the play, the young professor is convinced Catherine has inherited her father’s gifts. As for the madness, that’s an open question…

I thought the play was excellently done. The actors truly came across as math geeks (and trust me, I know math geeks). Some of the lines, in fact, made me flash on folks I know, especially when there was mention of how math geeks party on through the night (made me think of Dr. Dick Kemmerer at UCSB). There were some funny parts of the play, such as the band made up of math geeks who play a song called “i“, where all they do is stand on stage holding their instruments for 5 minutes (after all, it is an imaginary number). But the drama was the remarkable part: they brought up the fear that comes with being afraid you’ve reached or passed your peak at 25. They also captured the madness and joy of mathematics, and the blossoming of people. I saw a lot of folks I know in the actors. About the only problem I saw in the play was a little hesitancy on lines… but the play has only been open a week, so I expect this will get better. It didn’t distract at all from our enjoyment of the show.

The play starred (cast bios) Kristen Paige* as Catherine, Michael Levine* at Robert, Phillip Peck* as Harold Dobbs, and Rebekah Dunn* as Claire. It was produced and directed by Ovington Michael Owston, with directorial assistance from Bill Quinn and Nanook. Nanook also served as sound desinger, with Kelly Hardy as Stage Manager, Jeff Hyde as Set Designer, and Tim Christianson as Lighting Designer.

This continues our streak of good plays at REP — not a bad one in the bunch. We’ve heard good things about the upcoming Santaland Diaries & Season’s Greetings, so we might just go to that. Their 2007 season also looks quite good: A Few Good Men (Aaron Sorkin) [Jan-Feb]; Hank Williams: Lost Highway [March/April]; Driving Miss Daisy (Alfred Uhry) [May/June]; All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten [September/October]; and The Unexpected Guest (Agatha Christie) [Sep/Oct].

Lastly, I’ll note I’ll be posting another review of this play tomorrow. Our daughter, NSS&F, attended the play this evening with us and has written her own review for her drama class. I’ll be posting it as well.

As always, the upcoming theatre calendar: The Marvelous Wonderettes, Sun 10/8 @ 2pm; A Chorus Line, Sat 11/4 @ 2pm; Sister Act, The Musical, 11/18 @ 9pm; and Dirk, 11/19 @ 2pm …plus I’m still working on tickets for The Musical of Musicals (10/21 or 10/28); A Light in the Piazza (11/25, 11/26, 12/2, or 12/3), and 13 (12/30). A busy theatre season coming up. Note: Those of you on my friends list that might be interested in joining us to see Dirk, which is based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, for information, see this journal entry (which is friends-only).

*: Member of Actors Equity Association


Some People Build Fences to Keep People Out and Other People Build Fences to Keep People In

Last night we went to see the August Wilson play “Fences” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Wow! Theatre at its best.

How to describe the play? My wife suggested “The story of a flawed man, in 9 scenes.” That is an apt description. Fences is part of Augst Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle“, a series of 10 plays (nine set in Pittsburgh) that chronicle the African-American Experience in the 20th Century. The 6th play in the cycle, and one of the most popular to perform, is Fences, set in the 1950s (1957, to be exact). Fences won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, among other honors.

Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, a garbage collector and former Negro League player; his best friend Jim Bono, whom he met in jail; his wife of 17 years, Rose; his brother, Gabriel, who was left addled after a wartime head injury; his oldest son Lyons, from before he went to Jail, and his yougest son, Cory, who he had with Rose. The play starts with Tory and Jim discussing why it is that Negros can work the back of the truck and collect garbage, but not drive. The play begins on payday, with Troy and Bono drinking and talking. Troy’s character is revealed through his speech about how he (Troy) went up to Mr. Rand (their boss) and asked why black men aren’ allowed to drive the garbage trucks (they are garbage men). Rose and Lyons join in the conversation. Lyons, a musician, has come to ask for money, confident he will receive it. A few days later, Cory tells Troy that a man from North Carolina will come to talk about Cory’s future in football, and that he will be offered a scholarship. Troy was also a sports star when younger: a baseball player in the Negro Leagues, disheartened that the major leagues began to accept black players only when Troy was too old to play. Troy allows Cory to play football only on the condition that Cory keep his after-school job at the A&P supermarket. Cory, although knowing that this is impossible, accepts Troy’s offer. By the next scene, we learn that Troy has won his case and is the first black man to drive a garbage truck in Pittsburgh. As he is boasting to Bono about his past struggles with his father, Cory comes in enraged, because Troy has told the football coach that Cory cannot play football anymore because he didn’t keep his job at the A&P. Troy views Cory’s insubordination as “strike one.” Two more strikes, and Troy will kick him out. In the next scene, Troy bails Gabriel out of jail after Gabriel was arrested for disturbing the peace. Bono warns Troy about not “messing” with Alberta and sticking with Rose. Troy says he realizes Rose’s value, but then admits to her that he is having an affair with Alberta, and she is pregnant. Rose is distraught that she put all her faith in Troy and yet he betrayed her. When Troy grabs her arm, Cory comes from behind him and shoves Troy down. Troy admonishes Cory that this act is “strike two” and tells him not to strike out. For the next few months, all Troy does is come home, change, and go to Alberta’s house. No one in the family talks to him. Six months later, Rose receives a call from the hospital. Troy’s baby is a girl, and Alberta has died in childbirth. When Troy comes home with the baby, Raynell, he asks Rose to act as the mother. She agrees to this for the sake of the child, but tells Troy that he is now a “womanless man.” Rose leaves, and Troy sits in the entrance to the house. When Cory tries to push his way past him, Troy is enraged and demands that Cory say “excuse me.” Cory then points out that the house is not really Troy’s but rather is Gabriel’s. The two men fight, trying to hit one another with a baseball bat. Troy wins and kicks Cory out, and tells him to provide for himself. The next scene is set eight years later, at Troy’s funeral. Cory returns, now a Marine. At first he refuses to come to Troy’s funeral, but after Rose admonishes his rebellion and after he and Raynell sing an old song of Troy’s, he concedes. Gabriel comes and tries to open the gates of heaven, by blowing on his horn. This fails, and the gates only open when Gabriel does a traditional African dance.
[The plot summary was snarfed from Wikipedia]

The story, as you can see, raises a number of questions. First of all, how “african-american” is this story. I discussed this with my wife on the drive home. We felt that certain aspects were: certainly the notion of the Negro Leagues, the easy acceptance of place and position in the 1950s, the easy acceptance of infidelity and fostering of a child. Other aspects we felt were universal: the impact that one’s parents have on you. Fathers that both raise you to be like them, and have trouble when you try to be something better. The importance of family. The power of a mother’s love. None of the characters in this play isn’t damaged by life in some way, and it is these flaws that create the interest. So to what does the title refer? In many ways, the father’s (Troy’s) attitudes: He is buildng fences around himself and his family, to attempt to keep what hurt him out, and to keep his family together no matter what he does or how hard he behaves. Do these fences work? Yes and no. His family still gets hurt by his behaviour, but by the end of the play, you also see how his sons have been shaped by him. In some ways, it is about how we have to work to escape our personal fences. I definately want to see some of the other plays in this cycle.

As you can see from the summary, this is powerful stuff, the makings of powerful drama. With the right cast, it is gold. They had the right cast! The production headlined Laurence Fishburne as Troy Maxson and Angela Bassett as Rose Maxson. Supporting them were Bryan Clark as Cory, Kadeem Hardison as Lyons, Orlando Jones as Gabriel, Wendell Pierce as Jim Bono, and Vinctoria Matthews as Raynell. Powerful actors, powerful roles. I particularly noted the performance of Orlando Jones, who nailed the portrayal of Gabriel and his disability. Unlike some other reviewers, I had no problems with the performances of both Angeles Bassett and Bryan Clark. Basically, you couldn’t tell these actors were acting: they became their roles.

I should note the other production credits. The production was directed by Sheldon Epps, artistic director of the Playhouse. Scenic design was by Gary L. Wissmann, Costume design by Dana Rebecca Woods, Lighting by Paulie Jenkins, Sound by Pierre Dupree, Casting by Michael Donovan, and Stage Management by Conwell S. Worthington III and Lea Chazin (asst.). Managing Directory was Brian Colburn, Producing Director was Tom Ware, and the Executive Director of the Playhouse, for two more shows, is Lyla L. White.

A few other observations. The Pasadena Playhouse does a mix of shows, with a few of them trumpeting diversity or minority themes. This is good, and Sheldon Epps, the artistic director, is to be applauded for doing this. I have noticed, however, that when there is an “African American Play” (and I cringe just saying that, as we don’t say “Jewish” or “White” play), the audience mix changes. I would estimate that the audience last night was about 70% “people of color”. This says both good and bad things. First, I think it does of wonderful job of destroying the stereotype that African Americans do not partake of culture. The turnout for this play demonstrated this: put out the right material, and you have diverse audiences. But, as Cleavon Little once said, “Where the white folks at?” Why was the mix so radically changed? Why isn’t (for the most part) play attendance color-blind, with people judging plays based on the quality of the performance, and not the skin color of the actors or the playwrite? Why can’t we get this African-American turnout for musicals such as I Do! I Do! or plays such as Sherlock Holmes; why didn’t the caucasian population of Pasadena and LA turn out for Fences, Purlie!, Blue, and other similar plays Sheldon has brought in? Sigh.

Secondly, this performance is Sold Out for the entire run. In fact, it is so sold out they are offering Standby Seating. What is this? According to the Playhouse, a stand-by pass will allow an attending to fill a “no-show” seat a few minutes prior to show time. Stand-by passes may only be purchased the day of the performance one hour before show time, are cash only, and appear to be more than the ticket price ($60; $25 for students). If you are not seated, your money is refunded… that night only. This really bothers me; it is a sneaky airline practice that doesn’t belong at the theatre. If I, as a subscriber, pay for a seat, am unable to attend, and the seat is sold a second time, my ticket price should be refunded. The theatre should not be selling seats twice, especially subscriber seats. Poor form, in my view.

So, what’s next on the theatre calendar? Well, I’ve done a long post on this, but in short: {proof}, Sat 9/30 @ 8pm; The Marvelous Wonderettes, Sun 10/8 @ 2pm; A Chorus Line, Sat 11/4 @ 2pm; Sister Act, The Musical, 11/18 @ 9pm; and Dirk, 11/19 @ 2pm …plus I’m still working on tickets for The Musical of Musicals (10/21, 10/28, or 10/29); A Light in the Piazza (11/25, 11/26, 12/2, or 12/3), and 13 (12/30). A busy theatre season coming up. Note: Those of you on my friends list that might be interested in joining us to see Dirk, which is based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, for information, see this journal entry (which is friends-only).



In the panoply of the 2nd generation of composers and lyricists for the musical theatre, there are some names that stand out. One of those sets of names is John Kander and Fred Ebb, who between them wrote the music and lyrics for musicals as diverse as Flora: The Red Menace, Cabaret, The Happy Time, Chicago, 70 Girls 70, Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, The Act, The Rink, Woman of the Year, and Funny Lady. They also are responsible for New York, New York. Unfortunately, Fred Ebb died in 2004, ending the string.

Well, as they say in New York, New York, start spreadin’ the word. There’s a new Kander-Ebb musical out there called Curtains, which is currently in a pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson Theatre, and it is spectacular. The show is based on a concept in development for almost 20 years by Kander, Ebb, and Peter Stone (1776). After Stone’s death in 2003 and Ebb’s death in 2004, Rupert Holmes (Mystery of Edwin Drood) was called in. Holmes revised the book and wrote some additional lyrics, resulting in what is on stage today.

Curtains is a musical comedy back-stage murder mystery. At the opening night of the Boston tryout of “Robbin’ Hood”, a western musical, the leading lady is killed. The play bombs (primarily due to this leading lady) and the cast is sequestered. A hard-nosed Boston detective (David Hyde-Pierce as Lt. Frank Cioffi), who is also a musicals aficianado, is brought in to solve the crime. While the cast attempts to remount the show with a new leading lady (the lyricist), Cioffi attempts to solve the crime, all the while offering suggestions to the director on how to improve the show. The show is a mix of numbers in the context of Robbin’ Hood, and numbers in the context of the crime scene. I found the music quite good, and am looking forward to the cast album. The show is incredibly funny — one of the funniest musicals I’ve seen in years.

Given the context it is in, the show makes many comments about the theatre scene, including the quality of producers, directors, actors, and the dalliances thereof. Some of the songs might even be viewed as a final love letter to Fred Ebb.

This is a show I predict will do well on Broadway when it makes it there.

The show stars David Hyde Pierce (Spamalot, Frasier) as Lt. Frank Cioffi. Pierce is remarkable in the role, showing not only incredible comment timing, but great vocal and dance skills. Debra Monk (Steel Pier, Pump Boys and Dinettes) plays Carmen Bernstein, the wife of the producer who is determined to have the show open. Karen Ziemba (Steel Pier, I Do! I Do!) plays Georgia Hendricks, the lyricist who becomes a star. Other significant players include Jason Danieley at Aaron Fox, Jill Paice at Niki Harris, Edward Hibbert as the director, Christopher Belling, John Bolton at Daryl Grady, Michael X. Martin at Johnny Harmon, Michael McCormick as Oscar Shapiro, Megan Sikora (a remarkable dancer) as Bambi (Elaine) Bernstein, and Robert Walden as Sidnye Bernstein. Others in the case include Nili Bassman, Ward Billeisen, Jennifer Dunne, David Eggers, J. Austin Eyer, Matt Fransworth, Patty Gobel, Mary Ann Lamb, Brittany Marcin, Jim Newman, Jessica Lea Patty, Joe Aaron Rei, Darcie Roberts, and Christopher Spaulding.

The book was originally by Peter Stone, with the updated book and additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes. Most of the music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb. The production was directed by Scott Ellis, with choreography by Rob Ashford, sets by Anna Louizos, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, sound by Brian Ronan, Music by David Loud, orchestrations by William David Brohn, and hair by Paul Huntley.

Next up on our theatre calendar is Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse (pasadenaplayhse). After that, things are quiet until November, when we are seeing A Chorus Line at Cabrillo, Dirk Gently at Road, and Sister Act: The Musical at the Playhouse. There are also some other shows I’m planning on seeing: proof at REP, and possibly 13 at the Taper.


Farce. n. A light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot.

This afternoon we went out to the Rep East Playhouse (REP) in Saugus, CA to see two one-act farces. As usual, REP did a wonderful job with the plays.

The first, The Real Inspector Hound is a short play by Tom Stoppard. The play starts as you watch two pretentious and semi-prestigious theatre critics watching one play, who seem to be more taken up with their own agendas than with the play. What they are watching is a spoofy, by-the-numbers, overacted murder mystery onstage. The critics are the second-string critic for a London newspaper, Moon, who is obsessed with his position in the journalistic hierarchy, while Birdboot, who works for a different paper, chews chocolates and proclaims his famed objectivity as he prepares to praise to the skies the performance of the actress playing Felicity, who is young beauty he just happened to have supped with the night before. He later become enamored of Lady Cynthia Muldoon, a drama queen extraordinaire with a body to match. Neither critic is exactly taken with the routine drama, which touches all the usual bases and includes all the usual suspects generally employed in the genre, which doesn’t prevent them from uttering high-flown, patently meaningless critiques. At one point, however, the stage phone keeps ringing, unanswered. This unnerves the critics, and one of them answers the phone. This then draws them into the play, which suddendly make real life both a stage and a farce.

The second play was Black Comedy by British dramatist Peter Shaffer (Equus). The play is more of a traditional farce set in a London flat during an electrical blackout, and is written to be staged under a reversed lighting scheme: that is, the play opens with a dinner party beginning on a darkened stage, then a few minutes into the show “a fuse blows”, the stage lights come up, and the characters are seen shambling around apparently invisible to one another. The plot is well described in the cited Wikipedia entry: suffice it to say that it has all the elements of a farce: split-second timing, a pretty lady running around only in lingerie, mistaken identities, odd accents, and broad physical comedy. It was really the stronger of the two pieces.

The cast featured Amber Clark (Felicity/Carol Meklert), George D. Cummings* (Birdboot/Harold Gorringe), Damian d’Entremont* (Simon/Schuppanzigh), Gaynor Kelly* (Mrs. Drudge/Miss Furnival), Tervor Kimball* (Moon/Brindsley Miller), Daniel Lench* (Magnus/Colonel Melkett), Mikee Schwinn (Inspector Hound/Georg Bamberger), and Nicole White (Cynthia/Clea). The production was directed by Barbara Hungtinton (a Pasadena Playhouse alumni), assisted by Car0line Morgan. Nanook did the sound design, and Katie Mitchell did the set design.

What did I think of the show. First, I thought that Nicole White looked a lot like what kuni_izumi will look like in a few years. In terms of acting, I thought they all did an excellent job. Farce is tricky to pull off, as it takes a lot of split-second timing, and the ability not to crack up while you’re doing what you’re doing. It is not the type of acting that requires nuances of facial expressions (as one sees in musicals): it calls for broad physical comedy, often overplayed. This is what they did, and did very well.

For more pictures and another assessment of the performance, here’s the review from the Santa Clarita Signal.

Next up at the REP is the drama Proof by David Auburn. This play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play. The play concerns Catherine, the daughter of Robert, a recently deceased mathematical genius and professor at the University of Chicago, and her struggle with mathematical genius and mental illness. Upon her father’s death, his ex-graduate student discovers a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers in his office. The title refers both to that proof and to the play’s central question: Can Catherine prove the proof’s authorship? Along with proving the proof, the daughter also finds herself in a relationship with 26-year-old graduate student. Throughout, the play explores Catherine’s fear of following in her father’s footsteps, both mathematically and mentally. It should be quite good. It runs September 22 through October 28.

For us, it is a break for vacation in the San Francisco/Sacramento area. If you’re on my friends list, you can see our planning–if not, give a shout here because we’d love to meet you. I’m not sure about theatre on the trip: Kiss of the Spider Woman is at New Conservatory Theatre, but it might be too intense for an 11½yo, given its subject matter. I don’t see anything else of interest on the Goldstar Listings, but if you have a suggestion, let us know.

When we return, it is Curtains at the Ahmanson on August 26th; followed by Fences (starting Laurence Fishburne and Angela Basset) at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sept. 23rd. I also am thinking about tickets to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Orange County in early September, but that might not pan out either (it depends if Goldstar puts them up). As noted above, we’re also planning to see proof at the REP, but we haven’t purchased tickets yet.

*: Member of Actors Equity Association