Seventy-Six Chestnuts In The Big Parade…

You see, there once was this elephant, Horton, and he heard a Who. No, wait. That’s Seussical, which was supposed to have been the last show in the 2005-2006 Cabrillo Music Theatre season. So let’s try this again.

So, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman that didn’t know the territory. He sold bands, boy bands. No, not Menudo or the Backstreet Boys. Rather, he sold band instruments, uniforms, and instruction books in River City, Iowa in 1912. He was a lying, cheating, salesman, with a girl in every town. But he got his foot caught in the door, but in the end, everyone got what they wanted.

That’s right, today we saw that old chestnut, The Music Man, with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson of Mason City, Iowa. This was his first show, and many people consider it a model show for musical theatre with its construction. It has been done on numerous stages many times. On Broadway, it starred Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, and was made into a movie very close to the stage show starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. Everyone knows songs from the show, including “P is for Pool” and “Seventy-Six Trombones”.

So, how did Cabrillo do with this chestnut. Very well indeed. The production starred John Bisom* as Professor Harold Hill, and Jill Van Velzer* as Marion Paroo. Bison had a wonderful voice for Hill, but for those used to seeing Preston, he was a bit long and lanky. I don’t think this detracted from his performance, which was excellent. He’s had lots of tall and lanky roles, such as Will in The Will Rogers Follies, Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly, Lank in Crazy for You, Cliff in Caberet, etc. He would make a wonderful lead for Barnum: he has the energy and the voice. I should also note, for shutterbug93, that he was a co-lead with Misty Cotton in Anyone Can Whistle. I was even more impressed with Jill Van Velzer, who played Marion Paroo. Van Velzer has played Marion before in San Diego, but also played Guenevere in Camelot (at CMT), Abigail Adams in 1776 (winning an Ovation Award), Anna in The King and I, among other lead roles. She had a wonderful voice, but even more was the joy and ease she brought to the role. It was effortless acting and singing, and she had fun with the part. Both were excellent.

Rounding out the cast was Paul Keith* (Mayor Shinn), Rosemary Bird (Eulalie Shinn), Ron Rosen (Marcellus), Laurie Deremer (Mrs. Paroo), Trever James Berger (Winthrop), Heidi Bjorndahl (Amaryll), Joseph Marshall (Tommy Djilas), Karlee Ferreira (Zaneeta Shinn), Ronald Rezac (Charlie Cowell), Michael Downing (Ewart Dunlop), Joe Santiago (Olin Britt), Gary Saxer (Jacey Squires), Jay Weber (Oliver Hix), Tami Keaton (Mrs. Squires), Courtney Potter (Ethel Toffelmier), Randy Ryder (Maud Dunlop), Tania Storrs (Alma Hix), Tari Allgeier, Robert Bastron, Becca Cornelius, Tavis Danz, Erin Fagundes, Steven Ferezy, David Friel, Alexei Gagne-Keats, Cristie Grissmer, Christine Iobst, Mandy Korpinen, Courtenay Krieger, Matthew Alan Rawles, Catherine Ricafort, Jacob Roland, Rebecca Steinberg, Richard Storrs, James Ward, Sasha Verginia Weiss, Kevin Brown, Veronica Dunne, Hogan Fulton, Garianna Geiselman, Courtney Germann, Ethan Goldberg, Tessa Grady, Dean Hendricks, Madeline Nancy Holcombe, Quinby Kasch, Samantha Posner, Brendan Ellis Rosenthal, and Eric Austin Young. Whew. That’s a large cast. Standouts among all this group were Trevor Berger and Joseph Marshall, both of whom were accomplished dancers (and Tervor did a wonderful job on his solo). I was less impressed with Ron Rosen as Marcellus: his singing in his one number left a lot lacking (and following in the footsteps of Buddy Hackett…). As for the rest, they were good, but you could tell some of them were working on it with the obvious forced smiles. Many were veterans of previous CMT productions. The dancing was both challenging and excellent, and was designed by John Charron. Credit should also go to the orchestra which was extremely strong, under the musical direction of Darryl Archibald. The production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld.

The 2006-2007 of Cabrillo Music Theatre should be good, featuring A Chorus Line, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Of these, I’ve only seen the first, many years ago, during the first national tour at the Shubert in Century City. As for us, next up on the theatre calendar is Black Comedy and The Real Inspector Hound at the Rep East Playhouse in Santa Clarita tomorrow afternoon. After that, we take a break for vacation (although we might see something–I’ve debated about Kiss of the Spider Woman at New Conservatory Theatre, but it might be too intense for an 11½yo, given its subject matter… does anyone have other suggestions for shows 8/13-8/25 in the San Francisco Bay area or Sacramento). As soon as 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).

*: Member of Actors Equity Association


Marriage, Take 2.

Tonight, we saw the second marriage musical, The Last 5 Years, at the Pasadena Playhouse. As you may recall from Take 1, the Pasadena Playhouse is doing two two-person musicals on the subject of marriage. The first was “I Do! I Do!, and “The Last 5 Years” is the second. Whereas I Do! I Do! told the story of a traditional marriage that works, The Last 5 Years tells the story of a marriage that didn’t work. This is done with an interesting plot device: she tells the story from the breakup to the first meeting, while he tells the story from the first meeting to the breakup. She and He alternate songs, meeting only in the middle (the marriage).

The casting for The Last 5 Years was perfect. She, Cathy, was played by Misty Cotton. He, Jamie, was played by Daniel Tatar. Both were powerhouse singers and actors, and brought the house down. [I should note that we had a Misty Cotton cheering section in the row behind us–I almost thought shutterbug93 was in the audience!] As with I Do! I Do!, the show was directed by Nick Degruccio, with scenic design by Tom Buderwitz, costume design by Jean-Pierre Dorleac, lighting design by Steven Young, sound design by Frederick W. Boot, musical direction by David O, and choreography by Lee Martino. You can find some production photos for the show on this page from the playhouse’s blog.

So, the question the Playhouse asks the audience to do is to compare and contrast the two musicals. Why does Michael and Agnes have a marriage that works, whereas Jamie and Cathy have a marriage that fails? I was talking to my wife about this on the way home. Michael and Agnes (I Do! I Do!) have a traditional marriage. He works; she raises the kids. They care about each other, forget when appropriate, and are there when the other needs them. My wife calls this inter-dependency; I think cross-dependency is a better term. Jamie and Cathy, on the other hand, are independent. They both have careers, both in fields where they demand the limelight. Each wants the other to pay attention to them, at the sacrifice of their own needs. Complicating this is the interfaith aspect: my wife noted that Jewish guys often are egocentric. I don’ t know that she right. Of course, I’m the one doing the blog, so you pay attention to me :-). Anyway, both Jamie and Cathy are so focused on having the attention on them they forget the other. Add to that Jamie’s dalliances, and you have a recipe for failure.

An added plus about tonight’s show: As we were leaving, we ran into Sheldon Epps, the artistic director. We let him know how much we enjoyed both musicals. We told him we weren’t that impressed with the first two shows, but have loved the rest (he responded something like “I may not like every shirt you have”). We let him know we have been subscribers since 1986, and although there have been a few poor shows, the quality of the Playhouse overall is extremely high. It was neat meeting him.

Next up on the theatre calendar: “The Music Man” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on August 5th; Black Comedy and The Real Inspector Hound at the Rep East Playhouse in Santa Clarita on August 6; Curtains at the Ahmanson on August 26th, and 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). We might see something on vacation, depending on what is in the Sacramento or S.F. Bay area on Goldstar.


A Dog On The Stage. Make That Dogs. 101, To Be Precise.

This morning, my daughter and I went to see one of her friends in “Disneys 101 Dalmations“, an adaptation by Marcy Heisler, with music and lyrics by Mel Leven, Randy Rogel, Richard Gibbs, Brian Smith, Martin Lee Fuller, and Dan Root. It was a production of the 49th Annual TeenAge Drama Workshop at CSUN. Going into such a production, the bar is pretty low: you know there are kids doing the show, and it is aimed at the kids in the audience, based on an animated movie that wasn’t known for its songs to begin with.

So what did a think? Pleasant. The show, for the skills of those involved, was quite good. There were a number of strong performers, especially Francesca Riso, Kelsey Cottrell, and Rachel Eisner, all of whom sang quite well. Although some of the large cast were unsure about themselves, others were quite confident, and the fun they were having came through. Of course, it goes without saying that all of the teen actors playing the dogs really knew how to shake their tails [pauses for groan].

I think, of this cast, there are some who have the capacity to succeed in this field. Kudos for CSUN and this program, which combined with their excellent theatre arts program, does a wonderful job of preparing children for the stage.


Marriage, Take 1.

I have always believed that the musical I Do! I Do! would be a perfect Pasadena Playhouse musical*. There is a cast of two, and simple orchestration. The gods must have been listening. I just came back from seeing “I Do! I Do!” at the Pasadena Playhouse, part of their Marriage Musicals (the other is The Last 5 Years, which we’re seeing on July 29th). They did an absolutely perfect job.

For those unfamiliar with the story, I Do! I Do! tells the story of Michael and Agnes. It begins on their wedding day in the late 1890s, and traces their life together over a period of 50 years, until the day they leave their house to the next pair of newlyweds. In that time we watch them go through their wedding night jitters, raise a family, negotiate mid-life crises, quarrel, separate, reconcile and grow old together, all lovingly to the strains of a tuneful, charming score. It is based on the play The Four-Poster by Jan de Hartog, with Music by Harvey Schmidt, and Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones. I was pleased to see that the Playhouse used the 1996 Off-Broadway version of the show, which simplifies the orchestration to two pianos, and moves My Cup Runneth Over to the second act. [As a side note: the original Broadway version in the 1960s starred Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and had a full orchestra. The 1996 revival starred Karen Ziemba and David Garretson, and had two pianos. I much, much, much prefer the revival version–if you have to order one album, order that one.]

This production starred Julie Dixon Jackson (website by the lovely shutterbug93) as Agnes, and Tom Schmid (website by Tom Schmid) as Michael. I cannot say good enough things about these actors. It was clear they were enjoying themselves in their performances, and it came across in their acting and their singing. This is a fun show if the actors enjoy it (just like a real marriage!). Talking with Julie after the show confirmed it: they have fun with this show. Special kudos to Tom for nailing “It’s a Well Known Fact”, and for Julie for nailing “Flaming Agnes” and “What is a Women?” “Flaming Agnes” deserves additional kudos for the costume: Julie looked hot! The show was directed by Nick Degruccio, with scenic design by Tom Buderwitz, costume design by Jean-Pierre Dorleac, lighting design by Steven Young, sound design by Frederick W. Boot, musical direction by David O, and choreography by Lee Martino. You can find some production photos for the show on this page from the playhouse’s blog.

This was a delightful afternoon, made even better by being able to see shutterbug93. She arrived from tick… tick… Boom! two minutes before the show started. We spent time with her at intermission, and went with her backstage after the show to meet with Julie Dixon Jackson. This was our first time in 20 years of subscribing that we were backstage (although I seem to recall doing it once with NSS&F). This was an extra treat. After the show, we had dinner with shutterbug93 at a sushi joint around the corner, and we went home, while she went of to The Last 5 Years. The evening was also nice due to a find made at Cliff’s Books: a recording (on vinyl) of The Sap Of Life, the first off-broadway show by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr.. The show is not well known, and has never been released on CD.

Next up on the theatre calendar: The Last 5 Years at the Pasadena Playhouse on July 29th; “The Music Man” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on August 5th; Curtains at the Ahmanson on August 26th, and Fences (starting Laurence Fishburne and Angela Basset) at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sept. 23rd. I thought about tickets for Lucky Stiff at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, but we can only do a Sunday matinee on 7/23, and that’s not on Goldstar (only the 7pm performance). 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). We might see something on vacation, depending on what is in the Sacramento or S.F. Bay area on Goldstar. Is anyone aware of half-price ticket outlets for Sacramento, as Goldstar doesn’t cover that area?

* What else would be good Playhouse musicals? Baby (Maltby/Shire), which they are considering for next season. Ain’t Misbehavin’, if they could find the right talent. I’d love to see them bring back Mail. Brownstone (a cast of 5). I think I Sing! could also be interesting, but I think the language and subject matter would be too racy for Pasadena.


North vs. South

This evening we went to see Corps at the Crest II in Newbury Park. This was our first (and possibly only) Drum Corps show of the season. The corps in the show were: Santa Clara Vanguard, Blue Knights, Blue Devils, Pacific Crest, Esperanza, Mystikal, Impulse, Hawthorne Gold. What is drum corps? The best way to describe it is to take up to 135 kids, divide them roughly into thirds (color guard, percussion, brass), and put them on a football field for a competition judged on its musical quality, its coreography, and its precision. This is a large activity, with corps from all over the country.

By the way, we drove the new car there. It performed wonderfully. I’ll post pictures of it tomorrow. But on to the real performers…

Division III

The first corps up was Hawthorne Gold, a new corps from Hawthorne. They were very small. Their repertoire was The Black Widow by Joe Malone and John Leguizamon. I thought they were OK for a new corps, but didn’t strike me all that well. They got 3rd place.

Next was Impulse. Now, I normally like Impulse; they are the successor corps to the Velvet Knights, and usually have a fun and crazy show. Not tonight. Their program was selections from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. They just didn’t have their crowd appeal on, yet still they came in 1st, with a 60.45.

The last Division III corps was Mystikal, the local corps for the area. Small guard (2), but strong brass. They did a program called “Deconstructing Uptopia”, with music by John Mesham (their head arranger) and Bill Garcia (head of their percussion staff), and one Aaron Copeland number. They were good musically. They got 2nd, with a score of 50.6.

Division I

The first Division I corps to play was Pacific Crest. Esperanza was scheduled before them, but their truck carrying the brass instruments and the costumes for all but the guard broke down. More later. This was a program I really liked; they did numbers from City of Angels, and the guard appears to be having real fun. They came in 4th, however, with a score of 65.1.

Next up was the Concord Blue Devils. If you have never seen these folks, you’re missing something. They are one of the top corps, and for good reason. This year, they did music from the Godfather. There was a strong guard program, and great marching. And loud. Did I say loud! They came in 1st, with a remarkable score (for this early in the season) of 80.8.

Next up was the Blue Knights from Denver CO. Alas, their show didn’t turn me on at all. The program was called Dark Knights, and consisted of Piano Concerto Op. 38 by Samuel Barber. They came in 3rd, with a score of 70.7.

The Santa Clara Vanguard came next. This is also one of the best corps around. Their program also consisted of music pritten by their brass staff, called Moto Perpetuo, with four movements: Chains of Reaction, Newton’s Cradle, Echoes of Time, and Speed of Sight. I thought I would find this dull, but this was a very strong performance. They came in 2nd, with a score of 76.6 (4.2 points off first).

Remember I mentioned Esperanza. The corps with no brass and no uniforms. They went on last. Santa Clara Vanguard loaned them their horns so they could do the show, and the players marched in shorts and T-shirts. Their program was called Chakra, and consisted of music by Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass, Nicoli Rimsky-Korsakov, and Surinder Sandhu. I thought it was a strong performance, but they came in 5th, with a score of 60.0 (below the 1st place Division III corps).

All in all, though, it was a good show. There’s another show in Newbury Park on 7/8 (Mandarins, Esperanza, Pacific Crest, Mystikal, The Academy, Vanguard Cadets, Blue Devils B, Impulse, Yamato, Hawthorne Gold, Jester, Blue Devils C, Dream, Sr., River City Regiment, Sr., Renegades, Sr.), but we’re not sure yet that we’re going. Note also that the 2007 DCI World Championships will be held in Pasadena California (August 7-11, 2007).


Hello to Shiny New Parquet Wood Floors / As Waxed as a Wealthy Girl’s Legs

This afternoon, we drove down to the Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood to see tick… tick… BOOM!, which was a local mounting of the Rubicon Theatre Production. For those unfamilar with the show, it is a show that Jonathan Larson wrote before Rent. It tells the story of Jonathan as he was approaching his 30th birthday and trying to decide what to do with his life. He was just getting to the point of workshopping Superbia, his closest friend and roommate was urging him to enter the marketing biz, as theatre wasn’t panning out, and his girlfriend was urging him to make a committment and move to New England. All of these pressures was forcing him to question his life. As he writes: “Into my hands now / The ball is passed / I want the spoils / But not too fast / The world is calling / It’s now or Neverland / Why can’t I stay a child forever?”.

The above is why the loss of Jonathan Larson was such a great loss. Here is a man who wrote such wonderful lyrics (such as the title of this post) that capture the essence of an idea or thought, without being the typical sap.

The show was originally a one-man production. Remounted, it is a three actor productions, with one character playing Jonathan consistently, and one male actor playing the other mostly male roles (primarily as Michael, Jonathan’s friend), and a female actor playing the female roles (primarily as Susan, Jonathan’s girlfriend). In the production I saw, Jonathan was played by Andrew Samonsky, Michael was played by Wilson Cruz (who played Angel in the Broadway cast of Rent), and Susan was played by Robin De Lano (who did a fantastic job). The production was directed by Scott Schwartz, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, with musical direction by Brent Crayon, Scenic and Costume design by David Farley, lighting by Jeremy Pivnic, and sound by Drew Dalzell.

I highly recommend this production; it was excellent. It will be playing at the Coronet until July 16th.

Next up on our theatre calendar: Corps at the Crest II in Newbury Park on 6/28; I Do! I Do! at the Pasadena Playhouse on 7/15, The Last 5 Years at the Pasadena Playhouse on 7/29, The Music Man at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/5, and Curtains at the Ahmanson on 8/26.


That’s a lot of man you’re carrying in those boots

This evening, we joined shutterbug93 at the evening performance of Johnny Guitar: The Musical at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center. For those unfamiliar with the musical, it is based off a 1954 “D” movie called Johnny Guitar starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. A full synopsis of the show can be found here, but to summarize: The show tells the story of a tall stranger, Johnny Guitar (twang!) and Vienna, the owner of Vienna’s Saloon. Vienna’s nemasis is Emma Small, who owns half the town, and is in cahoots with McIvers (who owns the other half of the town). It goes on from there, as a very melodramatic spoof of westerns. A good summary of the plot can also be found in the Orange County Register review.

The producton we saw starred Michelle Duffy as Vienna, Kevin Earley as Johnny Guitar, Alan Campbell as the Dancin’ Kid, Valerie Perri as Emma, Ed Sala as McIvers, Keith A Bearden, David, Sinkus, Michael Butler Murray, and James Leo Ryan. The production was directed by Joel Higgins. Many of these folks were in the original off-Broadway productions.

A few cast members deserve particular praise. It is always a special production when the cast enjoys the show, and this cast seemed to have particular fun with the show. The leads were most noticable, particular Michelle Duffy who had a very strong singing voice and presence, and Kevin Earley who combined his wonderful singing voice with remarkable comic timing. Also notable was Valerie Perri, who I think would make a great Mrs. Strong in Urinetown.

I’d recommend you see this show, but alas, it was the last night. If this comes to your town, see it.

Next up on the theatre calendar: Tick, Tick, Boom next Saturday; Corps at the Crest II on Wednesday July 28th, and I Do I Do and The Last 5 Years at the Pasadena Playhouse.


Elementary, My Dear Playgoer

Last night, we went to see Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure at the Pasadena Playhouse. Wow. I think the previous show was an abberation. This production was excellent!

So what was the play about? Let’s look at the evidence. We have a man in a deerstalker cap with a pipe. We have a doctor who is his best friend. You guessed it: We had a play about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. What other facts do we know? We have a story involving the King of Bohemia, a photo, and Irene Adler. We also have a story about Holmes’ final attempt to incarcerate Professor Moriarty, including a train trip and a visit to Reichenbach Falls. From this, the story is elementary: The plot is based on the famous Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia” intertwined with the story in “The Adventure of the Final Problem“. The play is based on the original 1899 play that adapted these stories by William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a classic evening of Holmes, well done and flawlessly performed.

The play starred Mark Capri as Sherlock Holmes; Victor Talmadge as Dr. John Hamish Watson; Laurence Ballard as Professor Moriarty; Libby West as Irene Adler; Preston Maybank as the King of Bohemia; Kenneth Merckx Jr. as James Larrabee; Erin Bennett as Madgle Larrabee, Roberto Guajardo as Sid Prince, and H. Michael Croner and Jonathan Hicks as members of the ensemble. The play was written by Steven Dietz, directed by David Ira Goldstein, and produced in conjunction with the Arizona Theatre Company (which has a production of the play running concurrently in Arizona). You can find the entire playbill (in PDF) here.

This play has restored our faith in the quality of playhouse productions. This is a good thing, because season ticket prices have gone up, from $38.50/ticket to $49.50/ticket (an increase of over 28%!). Still, the next season looks good: there will be six plays chosen from the following: Defiance (John Patrick Shanley); Cuttin Up (Charles Randolph Wright); The Constant Wife (Somerset Maugham); Baby (Book by Sybille Perason, Music and Lyrics by Maltby and Shire); Third (Windy Wasserstein); The Lady with all the Answers (David Rambo); a play from the Hothouse Play Reading Series; or Othello (William Shakespeare).

What’s next on the play calendar: Shakespeare in the Park: Hamlet at Central Park of Santa Clarita on Saturday June 17. After that is “I Do! I Do!” at the Pasadena Playhouse on July 15th (where we’ll be meeting shutterbug93) and “The Last 5 Years” at the Pasadena Playhouse on July 29th. Following that is “The Music Man” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on August 5th. shutterbug93 is trying to talk us into Johnny Guitar on June 18 at the La Mirada Theatre; we’re also watching for tickets for “Curtains” at the Ahmanson.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]