“Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it.” — Tallulah Bankhead

Last night we went to the Pasadena Playhouse to see their production of a new play by Matthew Lombardo called “Looped”. Just like Lombardo’s previous play, “Tea at Five” (which we saw at the playhouse in September 2005), the story is centered around an incident in the life of a famous actress, has another well-known actress in the lead role, and at times seems very shallowly written. But as with “Tea at Five”, we ultimately enjoyed the production.

Looped” tells the story of eight hours in the life of Tallulah Bankhead, a famous actress who initially made a reputation on the stage, but then went to Hollywood and became better known for her excesses of all varieties. The story is based on an incident in 1965 where it took her eight hours to rerecord one line for the film “Die! Die! My Darling!”. It is also the story of the recording studio producer, Danny Miller, who has to deal with Tallulah. The setting basically provides time for Miller to draw out the story of Tallulah’s excesses, philosophy of life, and riffs thereupon (alas, seeming more to echo the information in the Wikipedia article — for example, that she came to Hollywood to fuck Gary Cooper — than something deeper). But it also provides time for the Tallulah character to draw out the story of the producer; and it is in that aspect that the character growth that is at the heart of “Looped” is revealed. Tallulah never changes or grows: she starts out as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain, and she ends as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain (although we do have a better idea of the reason for that pain). However Miller is a different story. Miller starts out as a simple recording producer, married with a daughter, who is annoyed with Tallulah’s excesses. By the end, however, we learn that there is much more story behind Miller, and we see how he comes to realize what he really wants out of life.

As I noted above, it is the character arc that makes the play. The first act of the play left us unimpressed. It seemed to be soley with someone dealing with a drunk pill-popper, a bad actress who liked to throw off one-liners. For a few minutes I even thought of Foster Brooks. Although they were very funny one liners, the drama wasn’t drawing us in. But the second act made the play: the one-liners were less present, and served more to support the character arc of Danny Miller. This was one of those plays where the second act made the play. Stay for it.

The acting in this production is top-notch. Playing Tallulah Bankhead is Valerie Harperæ, coming across nothing like the characters we know her for from Television (Rhoda Morganstern, Valerie Hogan). She immerses herself in Bankhead, and has her down pat. You seriously think you are watching Bankhead. Harper has been receiving some well deserved accolades for the role.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The producer, Danny Miller, is played by Chad Allenæ, who is remarkable in the role. In many ways, I think Allen’s performance is more remarkable than Harper’s. Harper had a characterture to draw upon, a well known figure. Allen had a blank slate, and he did a great job of filling it in, making the producer a character of depth and emotion, of both outward and inward frustration. He did great.

The last character in the production is one we only see in a haze. Michael Karl Orensteinæ plays Steve, the sound engineer in the booth. We only hear Steve’s voice during the production.

Turning to the technical side: The stage is dressed as a modernistic recording studio, with light wood art-deco paneling and a sound booth uptop, with a microphone and table center stage. There’s a piano off to stage left, some chairs to stage right. What is amazing about the stage is its transformation when Tallulah is talking about her experiences in “A Streetcar Named Desire”: the paneling reveals itself to actually be scrims — the lighting changes and the scrims become mostly transparent revealing the wrought-iron work of New Orleans. A very effective transformation.

The production was directed very effectively by Rob Ruggiero, whose direction adds to the character of Tallulah Bankhead and brings out the person inside Danny Miller. The scenic design was by Adrian W. Jones, with lighting design by Michael Gilliam. Sound design was by Michael Hooker. Costume design was by Alex Jaeger, with wig and hair design by Charles G. Lapointe. Dialect coaching (well done) by Joel Goldes. Production Stage Management was by Lea Chazin, assisted by Hethyr Verhoef.

Looped” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until August 3, 2008.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Next up is “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm) [where we hope to meet youarebonfante, who is stage manager]. After tat is “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.

I close with this quote from Tallulah Bankhead: “If you really want to help the American theater, don’t be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.”


Finding a Culprit vs. Finding the Truth

We’re big fans of the work of Jason Robert Brown. We have seen most of the JRB oeuvre: “The Last 5 Years” (twice), “Songs from a New World”, and “13”. Last night we added one more production to the list: We saw the Neighborhood Playhouse’s production of “Parade”.

Parade tells the story of Leo Frank. I know many of you are going “Who?” Leo Frank was a Brooklyn-born Jew who moved to Atlanta Georgia to marry Lucille Selig and to be supervisor of the National Pencil Company. Leo was like many people today: bright, focused on his work, uncomfortable around other people and trusting only in himself, and just prefering to be left alone with his habits. This man couldn’t be a sociopath, could he?

So now picture Atlanta Georgia in 1913. It is Confederate Memorial Day, and everyone but Leo is celebrating (Leo is asking himself why there is such a celebration for a war that was lost). Leo goes to work to work on his books. A 13 year old white girl stops by his office to collect her pay. Leo doesn’t recognize her, but upon getting her employee number, pays here for the week: $1.20. Later that day, she is found crumpled in the factory basement, dead. Leo and Newt Lee, the night watchman, are brought in as suspects. The governor tells the DA they must have a swift verdict in this case. Not being able to find any evidence for the night watchman, and thinking the hanging of a black man wins few points in George, the DA lets Newt go. That leaves him with the man who must be the culprit: Leo Frank. The DA builds a case of coached stories to convince the jury, including the testimony of Jim Conley, a janitor at the factory who was an escaped convict with violent tendancies. He presents this case, and Leo’s lawyer doesn’t refute it: he just surprises Leo by having him make a statement, and then resting his case. Leo is found Guilty, and sentenced to death That’s the end of Act I. In Act II, the focus moves from Leo to his wife Lucille, who is surprising Leo with her strength and tenacity in defending his innocence. Lucille convinces the governor to commute Leo’s sentence; he does, although it is only to a life sentence. Leo is moved to an undisclosed prison, and Leo and Lucille’s love story grows. However some people in Atlanta are incensed about this “Jew” getting off, and the mob goes to the prison, drags Leo out, and hangs him. They then go off to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.

As you can see, this is not a musical comedy. It is more of a musical drama, and the choreography is not kickup your heels dancing (except where appropriate) and more appropriate movement to music. It is a powerful story, which was made even stronger by the production at the Neighborhood Playhouse (which, by the way, presents its shows in fellowship room of a beautiful church on the bluffs in Palos Verdes). Walking into the room you are transported into a Georgia courthouse, with balustrades around the edges and defendents tables. The thrust staging is used to good effect, the audience is seated around the sides of the court, just as if they were visitors during the trial. This is where the story plays out, with the balustrades moving around to establish the locations, including the jail. It was a remarkable piece of set design, well lit and well used. The designers made excellent use of a space that is normally a simple parish hall with a stage.

The acting was equally strong: the production was fully professional, with the actors becoming the characters. All inhabited their roles, down to the lowest factory girl on the street during the parade. No one can be singled out with fault, although quite a few gave truly remarkable performances: Craig D’Amicoæ as Leo Frank, Emily Olson as Lucille Frank, Michael Hovanceæ as Hugh Dorsey (the prosecuting attorney), Loren Smith as Newt Lee, and Tareek Lee Holmesæ as Jim Conley. I also note the performance of James Larsen as Britt Craig — I was truly impressed by his timing in the Big News number, where he acted both drunk but danced precisely at the same time.

Other members of this remarkable cast were: Alissa Anderegg (Lila, Mary Phagan), Michael Tushaus (Young Soldier, Starnes, Fiddlin’ John), David Fairchildæ (Old Soldier, Judge Leonard Roan), Gordon Wellsæ (Officer Ivy, Peavy), Ryan Amador (Frankie Epps), Laura Hathaway (Mrs. Hugh Dorsey), Keith Barletta (Reporter), Ian Littleworth (Reporter), Chris O’Connor (Tom Watson – Editor of The Jeffersonian), Michael Tatlockæ (Governor John Slaton), Jessica Plotin (Sallie Grant Slaton), Ross Love (Riley), Aileen-Marie Scott (Mrs. Phagan), Lizzie Jester (Lizzie Phagan), Michael Prohaskaæ (Luther Rosser – Defense Attorney), Alison Matizza (Mrs. Luther Rosser), Tawny Dolleyæ (Angela), Megan Dorn-Wallenstein (Iola Stover – a factory girl), Carly Menkin (Essie – a factory girl), Marcy Agreen (Monteen – a factory girl), Rachel Baumsten (Betty Jean), and Rashel Mareness and Leslie Morris as Slaton’s Debutantes. This was a very large cast for a very small space and small theatre, and the choreographer is to be complemented for moving them all well.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

“Parade” featured a book by Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It was co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. At the Neighborhood Playhouse, the production was directed by Brady Schwind assisted by Christen Lea Jackson, with Choreography by Imara Quiñonex. Musical direction was by David Saterin, who conducted a backstage orchestra who were remarkable. The remarkable set was by Michael Tushaus (one of the actors). The period costumes were by Karen Cornejo. The lighting design was by Michael Juneau (with lighting board operation by Aileen Kamoshita, who was so kind to talk with us afterwards). Sound design was by Michael Aldapa. The stage managers were Nancy Ling and Shannon Kelly.

“Parade” continues at the Neighborhood Playhouse until July 27.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Next up is “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm). This will be followed by “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East.


A Swinging Night

Last night, we went to the Hollywood Bowl. We do this about once a year, depending on who the artists are. Last night was a night of Swing music.

The opening act was Sophie Milman, a young Canadian singer who grew up in Russia and Israel. I wasn’t that impressed with her: her stylings were off, she had odd hand movements, she seemed to slur her words, and her choice of music was just… odd. A jazz version of “Matchmaker Matchmaker”? Give me a break.

The first main act was the Manhattan Transfer. This is a group of four jazz and swing singers who do a remarkable job. Their act was swinging and very enjoyable, but not quite as energetic as the second act. There was some remarkable scat singing, however.

The second act (after the intermission) was what we came for: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Their focus for the evening was the music of Cab Calloway, although they did a number of their favorite numbers. They noted they will be releasing a new album in February 2008. In any case, this show had them dancing in the aisle (and the row in front of us, which annoyed ixixlix). But it was a great set, and left us with lots and lots of energy. I just love BBVD’s music. Their act also featured the dancing of the Hollywood Hornets.

So, all in all, a good night, although I got home way to late, especially when I had to get up at 4:45am. Somehow I made it to work, but did have a slight headache I had to beat down. But for BBVD, it was worth it.

As usual… what’s next? Next up on our theatre calendar is “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm).


A Treatment for Unspecified Sadness, What I Call The Blues

I Hate Theatre.

And with those words, we’re introduced to the world of “The Drowsy Chaperone”, the show we saw this afternoon at The Ahmanson Theatre. The National Tour production is in Los Angeles for two weeks, and we finally got a chance to see the show (I’ve been kicking myself for the longest time, as it originated in Los Angeles back in 2005).

The Drowsy Chaperone is hard show to describe, although the subtitle actually describes it best: “A Musical Within A Comedy”. As with “Curtains”, Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to musical theatre of yesteryear, told through the eyes of a character named, uhh, “Man In Chair”. To escape from his unspecific sadness, he plays his favorite musical record: The 1928 Gable-Stine Musical “The Drowsy Chaperone”, which comes to life in his living room. That musical is a silly farce about an actress leaving the stage to marry her true love, the producer who doesn’t want her to leave, and the various hijinks that lead to the wedding. After all, this is a 1920’s musical: you really expect a coherent plot? The story exists solely to connect the songs. Anyway, the characters in this musical are the ditsy Mrs. Tottendale (host of the wedding), her butler Underling, the groom Robert Martin, his best man George, the producer Feldzieg and his chorine Kitty, two gangsters, the handsome leading man Adolfo, the bride Janet Van De Graaff, her chaperone, and Trix, the Aviatrix.

Actingwise, the cast was excellent. Jonathan Crombie was an excellent “Man In Chair” — he played the role with the right humor, emotion, and playfulness required. Georgia Engel continued to play the wonderful ditzy Mrs. Tottendale (she plays such roles to perfection). Andrea Chamberlain was a remarkable Janet Van De Graaff, singing and dancing up a storm. Another strong singer and dancer was Nancy Opel as the Drowsy Chaperone. Other notables in the cast were Dale Hensley as Adolfo, Robert Dorfman as Underling — both of whom gave suitably comic perfmances. Other cast members were Mark Ledbetter as Robert Martin, Richard Vida as George, Cliff Bemis as Feldzig, Marla Mindelle as Kitty, Paul and Peter Riopelle as the two Gangsters, and Fran Jaye as Trix. Rounding out the ensemble were Kevin Crewell, Jen Taylor Farrell, Tiffany Haas, Chuck Rea, and Jennifer Swiderski.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity]

If you look at the reviews out there, they will agree that the acting is excellent. Some, however, will fault the show for being a bad musical. Those that do are missing the point. Yes, the internal musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a bad musical — as were most musicals of the 1920s. They were excuses for escapism, they were excuses to tie together existing vaudeville acts and novelty pieces. But they had great music to go with those throway characters — and this musical is a celebration of how musicals used to be a way to escape. Today we are faced with realism and heavy stories, from In The Heights to Rent to even Avenue Q. I think many reviewers have lost the perspective of just enjoying the show, and as you watch Man in Chair, you can see how much the world of the musical is his escape, his way of coping with the world. As a musical lover myself, I know the feeling well.

There are somethings you can’t escape. In this musical, it was sound problems. Early on, the sound was a bit tinny. Even worse, at the final number, Trix’s mic failed. Luckily she could belt to the back of the house, and the sound man quickly rebalanced other mics so that all performers were on an even keel, and still could be heard. The Ahmanson’s good accoustics helped here, but I’m sure there was panic in the tech booth. This was the first matinee of a show that just moved in, so I’m sure they will work it out. As for other technical aspects: the set was interesting, being Man In Chair’s apartment. I was impressed at the Murphy Bed that kept changing bedclothes (while folded up), and even got loaded with actors and actresses before being lowered. There were also numerous seemless costume changes on stage, executed flawlessly. There were a few lighting things that were innovated (such as using a table lamp as a follow spot), but otherwise it was typical 1920 lighting.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” features music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. The production was directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Scenic design was by David Gallo. Costume design was by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design was by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan. Sound design was by Acme Sound Partners. Hair was by Josh Marquette, with Makeup by Justen M. Brosnan.

The musical quality of the production was excellent. Orchestrations were by Larry Blank, with dance and incidental music arrangements by Glen Kelly. Music supervision and vocal arrangements were by Phil Reno. Music direction was by Robert Billig, assisted by Tom Whiddon.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” continues at the Ahmanson Theatre until July 20, 2008.

Next up on our theatre calendar is a concert: “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” at the Hollywood Bowl ((Wed 7/16 @ 8pm). Next Saturday evening theatre resumes with “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm).


Singing a Song, Alone

This afternoon we escaped the heat to see another entry in The Festival of New American Musicals: “Songs From An Unmade Bed” at The Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood. The location was very appropriate, because the mission of Celebration Theatre is creating a dynamic outlet for progressive gay and lesbian voices in contemporary theater and performance in Los Angeles… and “Songs from an Unmade Bed” is a song-cycle exploring various aspects of gay relationships. There really is no plot; the songs are linked by through the notion of exploring such relationships.

As such, one can only judge this musical by the songs. The songs all share a common lyricist, Mark Campbell, although they have a variety of composers, including Debra Barsha, Mark Bennett, Peter Foley, Jenny Giering, Peter Golub, Jake Heggie, Stephen Hoffman, Lance Horne, Gihieh Lee, Steve Marzullo, Brendan Milburn, Chris Miller, Greg Pliska, Duncan Sheik, Jeffrey Stock, Steven Lutvak, Kim Sherman and Joseph Thalken. Some songs are upbeat and quite funny, such as “The Other Other Woman” or “He Never Did That Before”, where others are much slower. Still, they all are enjoyable, especially when sung by a strong singer.

Luckily, Celebration did provide a strong singer in the person of Frank Lawsonæ. He had a strong and clear voice, which combined with a playful style made him a delight to watch. Also on stage were Jake Anthony on Piano and Stephen Green on Cello, with Dylan Campbell hiding in back on percussion.
[æ denotes member of æ Actors Equity]

Technically, the production was simple. A bed, a footlocker, a piano, and a cello. This stage design was by Kurt Boetcher, with lighting by Tim Swiss. Costumers were by Mizzy Matches. Stage Management was by Devid Reynolds. The production was directed by Patrick Pearson, and choreographed by Robin Ray Eller. The artistic director of Celebration Theatre is Michael Matthews.

The production continues at the Celebration Theatre until August 10.

Dining Notes: For lunch (before the show), we hit Zeke’s Smokehouse just down the street on Santa Monica. It is owned by the parents of one of my daughter’s friends. Yummy BBQ, but more California Southern than real Southern. After the show, we hit Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream, a Persian Ice Cream palace (I still remember it’s predecessor, Clancy Malone’s). I had a yummy Rosewater Saffron ice cream, nsshere had Lavender and Creamy Saffron, and I forget what gf_guruilla had, but I think it was Orange Blossom. Highly recommended.

Next up on our theatre calendar is “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” at the Hollywood Bowl ((Wed 7/16 @ 8pm), “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm).


But Where Was Bruce Willis?

This evening we went out to Hart Park to see “Taming of the Shrew”, a joint production of Repertory East Playhouse and Canyon Theatre Guild. It was a perfect evening, and Hart Park was the perfect location: lots of shade trees, the sun setting behind the hills, in an nice bowl area.

I presume everyone knows the story of “Taming of the Shrew. You’ve either seen it at a Renaissance Faire, or watched the musical “Kiss Me Kate”, or for those of my generation, watched the “Atomic Shakespeare” episodes of Moonlighting. I must say, in reference to the latter, that throughout tonight’s production that episode of Moonlighting just kept coming into my head. Where was the BMW Horse? Where were the sunglasses? Where were the slamming doors?

Anyway, being Shakespeare in the Park, the staging was simple: a basic static set, a few props carried on and off, and static lights for twilight. What shown about the production was the acting, which (except for one or two minor roles) was spot on and excellent. In the lead roles of Katherina and Petrucio were Rebekah Dunnæ and Stephan Whelan. Both were strong in the roles, personified their characters, projected strongly and clearly, and were just perfect. Jenna Eberberger played Bianca, Kate’s sister, and David Wisehart, Baptista, Kate and Bianca’s father. Again, both were very good (although the Moonlighting episode colored my perception of Baptista. Lucento (Cambio) [Bianca’s eventual husband] was Brandon Pugmire, and his servent, Tranio, was Lachlan McKinney. Hortensio, one of Bianca’s suitors, was B. D. Christensenæ. Bianca’s other suitor was Pete Laughlin as Gremio–I was less impressed with his aging makup, but after all, this is Shakespeare. The ever beat upon Gumio was Dasch Shenberger. One remaining actor of particular mention was Myrna Velasco, who played a very mirthful Biondello. Others in the cast were: Chloe Watterson (Curtis), Chriss Nicholas (Pedant), Jay Potter (Servant/Tailor), Erik Klein (Nathaniel/Scribe), Richard McNallyæ (Vincentio), Mariana Muzzi (Widow), and Lindalee Rose (Baby Grumia). [Oh, and Spencer Greenberg (Nicholas/Servant)… I inadvertently missed his name when I first typed this up]
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity]

As I noted, I really enjoyed the acting in this production. With the exception of the actress playing the Widow, all of the players were really into the production and having fun with it (I especially enjoyed when Grumio tossed the apple… and made a perfect basket into one of the park trashcans, over the corner of the set… he got a round of applause for that one).

Technical credits: Director: David Ian Stears, Stage Manager: Shannon Bivens, Costume Designers: Flo Loring and Lynn McQuown, Technical Director: Rayn Masey, Choreography: Rebekah Dunn, Scenic Painters: Chloe Watterson and Caron Clancey. The production was produced by Timben Boydston and Ovington Michael Owston (better known as “O”). I should that “O” was there tonight, together with Mikee Schwinn and Bill Quinn, all of Rep East. It was great to be able to see them — they are just really nice people.

Lastly, I should note: for all the theatre I’ve seen, this was actually the first time I’ve seen a full Shakespeare play on stage.

Next up on our theatre calendar is “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). I may still ticket “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (perhaps 7/5). We’re also looking into “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” at the Hollywood Bowl on 7/16.


What We Do, And Do, And Do, For Love

Recently, there was a meme going around of three things only you have done. One item I could have put on that list was that in 1975, Marvin Hamlisch gave me a ride home from Wilshire Blvd. Temple. During the ride home, Mr. Hamlisch stopped at the newstand in Westwood to pick up the reviews of his new musical, “A Chorus Line”.

I mention this because this afternoon, we saw the Center Theatre Group production of “A Chorus Line”. This is the third time I’ve seen the show: we saw it back in November 2006 at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and I saw it on its original Los Angeles tour in 1976 at the Shubert Theatre. The story hasn’t changed: The show 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.

As this is my third rendition of the show, the inevitable question is how did it compare with the original, and the more regional version at Cabrillo. For the most part, the Ahmanson production can be described as workmanlike. It told the story. It was well acted, danced and sung. The sets and costumes were the standard sets and costumes. The actors that stood out (the ones that played Paul and Sheila, in particular) were good, but not to the level of exceptional (i.e., that person will be a star). This is unlike Cabrillo, where some performances did stand out in their excellence. The Ahmanson production also had some problems–in particular, the casting of Cassie (Nikki Snelson). The actress herself was a strong singer and dancer–that wasn’t the problem. Rather, the issue is that Cassie is supposed to be someone who left the chorus, attempted to be an actress in Hollywood and to be a lead, failed, and hasn’t worked for at least two year. She should be the director’s contemporary in age, i.e., at least late 30s, early 40s. This Cassie looked 25 at best. There were also some sound problems (which should have been worked out by now).

One of the ways to assess a production of A Chorus Line is to watch the reactions of the other actors to each story. There were some reactions, and some were quite good. But again, except perhaps those of Bebe (Pilar Millhollen), they were what would be expected. There were also times the sound engineer had things misbalanced, and the orchestra slightly overpowered the actors.

In short, if you haven’t seen A Chorus Line, this is probably a good production to see. But it is not at the level of exceptional.

Cast: Clyde Alves (Mike), John Carroll (Larry), Emily Fletcher (Sheila), Stephanie Gibson (Judy), Michael Gruber (Zach), Natalie Hall (Val), Hollie Howard (Maggie), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Mark), Denis Lambert (Greg), Jessica Latshaw (Kristine), Ian Liberto (Bobby), Pilar Millhollen (Bebe), Colt Pratties (Al), Gabrielle Ruiz (Diana), Kevin Santos (Paul), Nikki Snelson (Cassie), Anthony Wayne (Richie), Jessica Wu (Connie), Alex Ringler (Don), Venny Carranza (Roy), Julie Kotarides (Vicki), Stephanie Martignetti (Tricia), Sterling Masters (Lois), Clifton Samuels (Tom), Brandon Tyler (Frank), and J. R. Whittington (Butch). All actors are member of æ Actors Equity.

Technical Crew: Michael Bennit (Original Director/Choreographer), Bob Avian (Director, Original Co-Choreographer) assisted by Peter Pileski, James Kirkwood (Book), Nicholas Dante (Book), Marvin Hamlisch (Music), Edward Kleban (Lyrics), Baayork Lee (Choreography Re-Staging) assisted by Michael Gorman, Robin Wagner (Scenic Design), Theoni V. Aldredge (Costume Design), Tharon Musser and Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Acme Sound Partners (Sound Design), Patrick Vaccariello (Music Supervision), John O’Neill (Music Direction), Michael Keller (Music Coordinator), Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrator), Ray Gin (Production Stage Manager), Gregory R. Covert (Stage Manager) assisted by Anna R. Kaltenbach.

A Chorus Line continues through July 6, 2008. Note that the cast they show in the advertising is the New York cast, not the touring cast (Sheila is a dead givaway).

Next up on our theatre calendar is “The Taming of the Shew” (Shakespeare in the Park) on Sun, 6/29 @ 6pm in Hart Park in Santa Clarita. July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm), and “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). I may still ticket “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (perhaps 7/5). We’re also looking into “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” at the Hollywood Bowl on 7/16.


Just Make Sure You Get The Right Exterminator

This afternoon we joined ixixlix and crew at the final performance of “Pest Control: The Musical” at the NoHo Arts Center. “Pest Control” tells the story of Bob Dillon (yes, that’s his name), the mild mannered head of Pest Control, an extermination service, whose passion is killing…. bugs. We first meet Bob in a dream sequence when the roaches of his nightmares are crawling out and threatening him. We also meet Marcella, who also runs an extermination service… of a (shall we say) different kind. Her top “exterminator” (her borther Klaus) is retiring, and she is in worried about finding an equally capable replacement. When Bob stumbles into Klaus’ retirement party, two things happen: first, his type of extermination is misunderstood by the clientele there, and Bob falls in love with the waitress (who is in reality, CIA Agent Parker). Marcella hires Bob to rub out Mr. Roach. When Mr. Roach dies of a bee sting, Bob is considered responsible… and is suddenly believed to be legendary “Vanished Killer”. Soon the CIA is hiring him to rub out the leader of a small South American company, which will permit them to embrace capitalize, and open up a chain of high-priced coffee stores with a green and white logo to sell their coffee. Will Bob takes the job? Will he succeed? What happens afterwards? Was Bob really a normal pest control exterminator to begin with, or was he really the legend just pulling off an act?

In many ways, this was a perfect show. There was strong singing and dancing. The actors were spot on, enjoying their roles and being a delight to watch. The rock/rap score worked perfectly. The lighting was effective. The sets were strong and made great use of the space. The micing (sound) was perfect. The costumes were spot on (include one song where the lead actress changed costume about 10 times during the song). It was just great. I’m sorry we caught the last show so more folks couldn’t be recommended to see it.

So, who was responsible for making this work? In the lead role of Bob, the seemingly nieve nerdish exterminator, was Darren Ritchieæ. This young man exuded charism and charm, could dance and sing strongly, and even accompanied himself on guitar. Opposite him as CIA Agent Parker was Beth Maloneæ, who we last saw in Sister Act. Another strong singer, actor, and dancer, Malone was a delight to watch. Assisting Bob at the Pest Control service were Alex Robert Holmesæ as Jon and Karesa McElhenyæ as Jean. Of course, every CIA agent needs a boss: Agent Parker’s was Agent Wolfe, played by Cleavant Derricksæ. As for the other extermination agency, it was headed by Joanna Glushakæ as Marcella, Jay Willickæ as Klaus, Dana Melleræ as Chantelle, and Paul Dennistonæ as Mr. Maxwell. In the role as the lead menacing bug (who did a great job of it) was John Allsoppæ. Rounding out the ensemble were Suzanne Carltonæ, Megan S. Densmore, Janet Fontaineæ, J. R. Mangels, Sabrina Miller, Billie Puyear, Erik Sorensenæ, and Jonathan Zenzæ. All of these actors were extremely talented and amazing.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity]

Technically, the set design was by Eugene Caine-Epstein (assisted by Dana Moran Williams), with costumes by Scott A. Lane, hair by Diane Martinous, lighting by Luke Moyer, and sound by Jonathan Burke. This show was a technical marvel, with a multilevel stage, fabulous lights that did wonderful mood establishment, great visuals, and stunning costumes (especially the roaches).

Turning to the basics of the production: This is a new musical, with book by John Jay Moores Jr., music by Vladimir Shainskiy, and lyrics by Scott DeTurk, who also supervised the music. Additional music was by Joseph Church and tea & tonik. It is inspired by the novel by L.A. crime writer Bill Fitzhugh. The production was directed by James J. Mellonæ (who also did the choreography), assisted by Christopher Brownæ (who also was production stage manager). Amy Oh was executive producer.

This was the last performance of “Pest Control.”

Next up on our theatre calendar (in two weeks) is “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm), and “The Taming of the Shew” (Shakespeare in the Park) on Sun, 6/29 @ 6pm in Hart Park in Santa Clarita. July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (Sat 7/19 @ 8pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 7/26 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm). I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (perhaps 7/5), as well as the Cal Phil production of the music of Rogers and Hammerstein featuring Suzanna Guzman as mezzo soprano and Kevin Earley as tenor on Sunday July 27 at 2:00p at the Disney Concert Hall.