🎭 How To Save Paradise | “Paradise” @ Ruskin Theatre Group

Paradise (Ruskin Theatre Group)I find the shows that we see in many different ways. Sometimes they are part of a subscription. Sometimes we’re in an area and we look for a show. Sometimes I learn about a show and find discount tickets. And sometimes a publicist mails me about a show (viewing me as a critic because I write so much about theatre), and the show sounds so interesting I just need to arrange for tickets*. This was the case with Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedywhich we saw last night at the Ruskin Theatre Group (FB) in Santa Monica. I heard the words “bluegrass” (a musical genre that I love), and “musical theatre”, and I had to see it.
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(*: Note: Publicists often arrange free tickets for critics, but I insist on paying what I would on Goldstar, because of the ethics rules I follow at work that prohibit accepting gifts above a nominal value from a supplier.)

Going in, I didn’t know much about the show other than the synopsis about a preacher coming to a small depressed town with a miracle solution to save it. As we waited for the show to start, there was music in the lobby by one of the composers of the show, Cliff Wagner (FB). I immediately made a note to get more of this guy’s music. His bluegrass was that good. After we were seated and I waited for the show to start, we were toe-tapping to the bluegrass band that was providing music for the show. They were one of the best bluegrass bands I’ve heard in a long time. I turned to my wife, and noted that I’d be happy just hearing a concert of them playing — they were that good.

Then the show started, and … and … I sat there, alternating between laughing my head off (which I rarely do during a show, even when the rest of the audience goes crazy) and being completely shocked at what was happening on the stage. Trying to characterize the show afterwards, the answer hit me with the phrase “Avenue Q meets Book of Mormon meets Trial & Error meets Elmer Gantry“. Paradise was a surreal story in a surreal setting that made specific relevant comments on the dangers of relying upon reality TV and its hucksters to bring us solutions to real life. It did so through a story that had toe-tapping bluegrass music, and songs that were incredibly outrageous.

I so want a cast album of this show. Oh, so much.

Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy (music and book by Bill Robertson (FB), Tom Sage (FB), and Cliff Wagner (★FB, FB)) is the story of depressed small small town — under 50 people — presumably somewhere in Coal Country (likely West Virginia). The town needs a miracle to survive. The “heart” of the town is Louanne Knight, who runs the corner store and post office that was started by her mama, recently deceased. She just wants to leave the town, but can’t. The mayor, a man named Gayheart, is upset that his son, “Tater”, will not take up musical comedy and that the town preacher has just up and left. Another resident, Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (called “Cyndi”, pronounced “Cindai”), has just blown up the church. There’s also Ezra, a blind man who sits on the porch and makes sardonic comments. But there is nothing to worry about. A preacher, the Reverend John Cyris Mountain, and his assistant, a former Las Vegas stripper Chastity Jones, is coming to town to save it. The preacher’s solution: Have the town star in a reality TV show produced by Peter Martinez about the most desperate downtrodden town in the nation, and use the funds to build a mega-church at the mouth of the old coal mine.

Right there, we’re in Trial and Error territory — and by this I mean the completely surreal NBC comedy about a small town in the south where everything is totally warped and weird. That’s certainly the case here, with a gay mayor who is a germaphobe who has a black son, a woman in the town that is certifiably insane, with another woman subject to virgin rage. Literally, But the songs started, and I was like … WTF? When Chasity starts singing “Jesus is deep inside me (and he won’t pull out)”, your mind just starts reeling. There are songs about hillbillies, reality TV, the importance of profit in the ministry, and more. Then it gets even stranger in the second act, with songs about flaming bags of shit, and “Tater”‘s real father, “Big Rod Brown”. Yes, they go there. This is where the Avenue Q meets Book of Mormon comes in.  But, like those shows, the offense has a point to make about society and the evangelical movements, and fits in the surrealism of the show.

That brings us to the Elmer Gantry aspect of it all: the selling of religion to small town America as salvation, with a preacher who is more than he seems, whose intentions might not be so altruistic. That’s certainly the case here — it is not a spoiler to reveal that the preacher is not doing this to save the town. He is doing it to enrich himself. This attitude of slime permits there to be many jokes that reference America’s current political leadership without being explicit, because there is similar slime using evangelical trappings to save America while leading it to its destruction. There is similar doom in place for the fictional town of Paradise, although I won’t spoil the denouement.

But of course, this is a musical, and so the town is saved … unsurprisingly, by its music. The couple find each other and the virgin is no more, and everyone gets what they wanted. Musicals, of course, must end on a happy, well, note.

This is a musical that has long been in development. It was first presented back in 2013, and was based on a reality TV experience of the authors, combined with the wonderful song about Jesus not pulling out. Times have changed, and with Trump in the White House, it was even more appropriate to revive and revisit the piece. As I noted before, I found the show hilarious and wonderful, and would love to see it again (if I could get a seat). But what is it’s future. With its’ scale, this isn’t a Broadway show. It is just too small and doesn’t have the elements that would make it work on the grand stage. But this is a wonderful musical comedy at the off-Broadway level: satirical and toe-tapping, along the lines of a Toxic Avenger or Bat Boy musical. It shocks while it comments, and the bluegrass music and genre is infectious (and rare in musical comedy — I can think of only a few musicals that use the genre, including Robber Bridegroom and Bright Star, and perhaps Big River). I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think it helped that the performances, under the direction of Michael Myers (FB), were so over the top. These actors were having fun with their roles, occasionally going above and beyond to top each other, and this was transmitted to the audience (who were transmitting the fun back). This doesn’t happen with movies, folks — it is unique to the stage and what makes live performance so magical. An amplification loop was formed, and the results were just so spectacular.  The actors also played to the audience, which meant that there were — at times — overly exaggerated dance movement and synchronization and seemingly playful amplification through positioning and movement. With this show, that worked quite well.

As the heart of the town, Kelsey Joyce (FB)’s Louanne Knight is spectacular. She’s making her debut (which I why I couldn’t find anything about her online — girl, make a website!). She has a lovely singing voice for bluegrass, and is able to maintain her small town innocence despite all the crazy around her. She’s just wonderful to watch, and I hope to see her in other shows in the future.

Dave Florek (FB)’s Blind Ezra Johnson is the first character we meet — he’s on the porch listening to the band as the audience is seated, and eggs on the band to do more. He has a wonderfully sardonic way about him and is a hoot to watch.

Chip Bolcik (FB)’s Mayor Gayheart is hilarious. His performance captures the character to a “T”, and his feedback loop with the audience is remarkable. He is over-the-top wonderful, completely surreal. At our performance, Jeff Rolle Jr. (FB) was playing the role of his son, “Tater” (normally played by Randy Taylor (FB), according to the program). Rolle was very strong in the role, with a great presence and interaction with Bolcik as his father. His reactions in “BIg Rod Brown” and his performance in “I Don’t Wanna Sing on Broadway” were just great.

This brings us to Paige Segal (FB)’s Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (Cyndi / Cindai). Again, a hoot who creates a feedback loop with the audience for her craziness. Her performance in the song “The Missing Link” — about leaving a flaming bag of shit on a porch for revenge — is hilarious.

Driving the story around these characters are the preacher and his assistant: Jon Root (FB) as Reverend John Cyrus Mountain and Nina Brissey (FB, resume) as Chastity Jones. Root is wonderful as the preacher — slimey and talented, manipulative and handsome, just a devil of man. Brissey is the only performer who was in the 2013 version of the show, and her familiarity with the material shows in her comfort with her role as a former stripper. She brings the sex to the role, together with wonderful singing and dancing. Both are a remarkable team.

Lastly, there is Jamie Daniels (FB)’s Peter Martinez. His character, like Joyce’s Louanne, is anchored in reality. He’s the trust fund kid who is producing the show. He captures the sane-in-a-world-of-crazy well, and has a nice chemistry’s with Joyce’s Louanne.

The listed understudies are: Jamie Daniels (FB) [Reverend Mountainu/s], Donovan Farwell (FB) [Ezra Johnsonu/s], Emily Anna Bell (FB) [Louanne Knightu/s], Charlene Rose (★FB, FB) [Chastity Jonesu/s, Dance Captain], Michael Berckart (FB) [Mayor Gayheartu/s]Jeff Rolle Jr. (FB) [Tater Gayheartu/s] (who went on at our performance), Hamilton Matthews (FB) [Cyndiu/s], and Ryan Stiffelman (FB) [Peter Martinezu/s]. I’m intrigued by Matthews casting as Cyndi. ’nuff said.

Music was provided by a wonderful bluegrass band consisting of: Jim Doyle (FB[Musical Director, Drums]; John Groover McDuffie (FB[Guitar, Banjo]; Gregory Boaz (FB) [Bass]; and Devitt Feeley (FB) [Guitar, Mandolin]. These guys need to put out a bluegrass album, and then play at McCabes — they are that good. It does appear that one of them is in a local bluegrass band.

I’ve already mentioned the movement when discussing the director, but some of that credit goes to Tor Campbell (★FB, FB)’s choreography. In general, the dance was strong, especially the group numbers. I should note that this is the only show I’ve seen with a credit for Pole Dance Choreography (Jess Hopper)

Finally, turning to the production side. Stephanie K. Schwartz‘s scenic design captures Appalachia well, with a number of nice little touches. It works well with Edward Salas‘s lighting design to establish mood and time. Chip Bolcik (FB)’s sound design was unobtrusive. Dianne K. Graebner‘s suited the characters and established them well. Other production credits: Amelia Mulkey [Graphic Design]; Paul Ruddy [Casting]; Judith Borne [Publicity]; Meagan Truxal [Stage Manager (at our performance)]; Nicole Millar [Stage Manager (in program)]; John Ruskin [Artistic Director]Michael Myers (FB) [Managing Director].

Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy continues at the Ruskin Theatre Group (FB). No end date is listed, but the ticketing website shows only one more weekend, September 21-23, which is sold out. Hopefully, they will extend — this is a great show. Update: Per a comment received, they have been extended, so please check their ticketing website.

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

Upcoming Shows:

The fourth weekend of September has the first show of the Actors Co-op (FB) 2018-2019 season: Rope, and the fifth weekend brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 The Power of the Group | “Ain’t Too Proud” @ Ahmanson

Ain't Too Proud (Ahmanson)With the passing of Labor Day, we’re out of the summer show season and into the fall theatre season. This brings the season openers for many companies, including the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The Ahmanson’s first show is an odd beast: it was essentially a replacement for Crazy for You, announced for February 2018 but later postponed. This meant that it was an addition to the previous season as well as being (due to timing) the first show in the 2018-2019 season. This made me glad I hadn’t gotten tickets to Crazy for You, because we ended up subscribing. This also meant that there was essentially double the audience fighting for seats, so that when we changed our seats due to our vacation, we ended up in the far back row (row Z; our subscription is Row S).

This is also a biographic jukebox musical, along the lines of Jersey Boys. However, the songs generally don’t serve to tell the story, but to tell the time — presented chronologically where they are in the storyline, as opposed to being used to provide the story line.

Lastly, this is also a pre-Broadway musical. It has been announced for the Imperial Theatre, although the cast or opening date is still pending. The Los Angeles production is the 3rd developmental production; there is still one to go in Toronto.

Hence, when looking at this musical, we’re not just judging it as a replacement show for a revision of an (essentially) George Gershwin jukebox (for that, really, is what Crazy for You is). It is a new musical, and it needs to meet the standards of Broadway.

Does this production, which features a book by Dominique Morisseau (FB), based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams (FB) with Patricia Romanowski, music and lyrics from “The Legendary Motown Catalog”, and direction by Des McAnuff, meet those standards? No. In many ways, it reminds me of Baby, It’s You that we saw at the Pasadena Playhouse many many years ago … and which went to Broadway and quickly disappeared. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, but in its present form, it will have problems. Luckily, these problems are primarily book-based (a major problems for shows). The Motown music catalog is always a delight, although with the recent Motown and shows like Dreamgirls, it may be a well that has been drawn from too frequently.

As just noted, the story is based on the book written by the one constant member of the Temptations, Otis Williams. As such, it does tend to present his view of the story; given the various infighting over the years, one would expect some differing views might have emerged — but they are never presented. Reading through the Wikipedia history, the version on stage seems to capture the highlights, although it glosses over many of the numerous changes and problems over the years.  All for entertainment sake, I guess. In terms of all the personnel changes and the fighting over the group’s name, it reminds me of all the changes in groups like The Kingston Trio or the Limeliters over the years. I guess folk and R&B are connected. In terms of how accurate the music was, I must confess to not having even a shallow Temptations catalog — out of the 45,000+ songs on my iPod, only 5 are from the Temptations — and 3 of those are from the Motown musical.

The main book problem with the show is that it is very narrative driven. The scenes in the show often don’t tell the story — they are performances. What tells the story is the narrator. That’s wrong for a musical. In a musical, either the scenes or (ideally) the music should tell the story. That it doesn’t here is a problem that book writers need to address before this arrives on the Great White Way.

But that’s structural, and structure is often different than entertainment. This show is entertaining, no question. The music is a collection of Motown hits — and not just from the Temptations, but from other Motown groups such as the Supremes. There is the remarkable dance and choreography of the Temptations, recreated by the choreographer Sergio Trujillo.  There is the remarkable on-stage but hidden band  under the direction of Kenny Seymour. When they rock out at the end of the show, you are just blown away. As a concert and dance performance with a Cliff Notes story, this is just great.

The performances — especially the singing and dancing performances — are exceptional. The main problem is that with so many changes in the composition of The Temptations, many of the later members become indistinguishable, especially if you are seated at a distance. This is complicated by the reuse of the ensemble in multiple roles — making it difficult to tell who is who.

Luckily, that’s less of an issue for the top tier — the main Temptations: Derrick Baskin (FB) [Otis Williams], James Harkness (★FB, FB) [Paul Williams]; Jawan M. Jackson (★FBFB) [Melvin Franklin]; Jeremy Pope (★FB, FB) [Eddie Kendricks]; and Ephraim Sykes (★FB, FB) [David Ruffin]. They are unmistakable, especially Jackson’s deep voice.

A few others have primary named roles and a few background unnamed ensemble tracks: Saint Aubyn (FB) [Dennis Edwards, Fight Captain, Ensemble]Shawn Bowers (FB[Lamont, Asst. Dance Captain, Ensemble]; E. Clayton Cornelious (★FB) [Richard Street, Ensemble]; Jahi Kearse (FB[Barry Gordy, Ensemble]; Joshua Morgan (★FBFB[Shelly Berger, Ensemble]; Rashidra Scott (★FB, FB[Josephine, Ensemble]; Christian Thompson (★FB[Smokey Robinson, Ensemble]; and Candice Marie Woods (FB[Diana Ross, Ensemble]; Note that Morgan is the easiest ensemble member to identify; he’s the only white guy in the cast.

As for the rest, the multiple casting makes them hard to tell apart: Taylor Symone Jackson (FB[Johnnie Mae, Mary Wilson, Ensemble]; Jarvins B. Manning Jr. (★FB, FB[Al Bryant, Norman Whitfield, Ensemble]; and Nasia Thomas (FB[Mama Rose, Florence Ballard, Tammi Terrell, Ensemble].

Swings were Esther Antoine [Dance Captain]; Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. (FB); and Curtis Wiley (★FB).

As I said before, the orchestra was strong, under the direction of Kenny Seymour [Keyboard1]. The other members were: Sean Kana (FB[Assoc Conductor, Keyboard2]Sal Lozano [Reed]Dan Fornero (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]Robert Payne [Trombone, Contractor]; Keith Robinson [Guitar]; George Farmer (FB[Bass]; Clayton Craddock [Drums]; Mark Cargill and Lesa Terry [Violins]; and Lance Lee (FB) and Joey de Leon [Percussion]. Other music positions were: John Miller [Music Coordinator]; Steven M. Alper [Music Preparation]; Randy Cohen (FB[Keyboard Programmer]; Tim Crook [Assoc Keyboard Programmer]. Orchestrations were by Harold Wheeler. Music was by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. The scenic design by Robert Brill was tightly integrated with the lighting design of Howell Binkley and the projection design of Peter Nigrini. It made heavy use of projections and LEDs, and was at times very busy without the traditional scenic elements. It was, perhaps, a little too busy for my tastes, but generally worked. The sound design of Steve Canyon Kennedy was clear in the back of the theatre. The costumes of Paul Tazewell worked well, as did the hair and wig designs of Charles G. LaPointe. Rounding out the production team: Steve Rankin [Fight Director]; Edgar Godineaux [Assoc Choreographer]; Molly Meg Legal [Production Stage Manager]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]. Most of the other credits are management, but two are of note: Shelly Berger, who was the original Temptations manager, was the creative consultant, and Otis Williams, the last remaining original Temptation, was an Executive Producer. 

AIn’t Too Proud continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through September 30. It was quite entertaining, even if it needs some work. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Box Office.  Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Today will bring  Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend of September has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

 

 

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🎭 A Cursed, But Great, Show | “Macbeth” at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Macbeth (Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival)A few weeks ago, we were on vacation up in Lake Tahoe. We never let a vacation stop us from our interests, and one of those interests is good theatre. So I always check the listings and see what is in the area. In this case, we were able to catch the last performance of Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB). Summer is the time for outdoor Shakespeare, and we do enjoy hitting at least one show during the summer, so this fit well. The venue itself was beautiful; I snapped the picture to the right from our original seats at the show. There are two seeing areas: formal seating on dirt rows, and less expensive seating at the top and the sides with chairs set in sand. We were in the latter.

Our location is significant because this, after all, is the Scottish Play. The curse of the play hit us before the show, while we were sitting in our seats eating the dinner we had brought. My wife took a bit of her sandwich … and got a hornet, which stung her tongue and cheek. She was worried about an allergic reaction (as was I), and I had visions of trying to get her out through the sand … whereas she was worried about a helicopter evacuation. Luckily, one of the volunteers was an RN and had Benedryl with her. This was able to damp down the reaction; they also moved us much closer to the front to the handicapped seats so they could observe her and make it easier to get out in the dark. In any case, the incident unnerved us — and let me to put off doing this writeup until I bumped into having to write up another show.

We had another show last night.

One other note on the venue. In the tickets, they advise you that it gets cold in the evening. Believe them. Even though it was hot when we arrived, as the sun went down the altitude and thinner air led it to cool off very quickly. We were glad we had brought jackets and a blanket.

So, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. Quite likely, you are familiar with the story of The Scottish King, who uses murder to achieve his position. A King who goes mad and kills his rivals. A king that sees conspiracies everywhere. A play with that famous line: “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”. I shant summarize the story as you can find it on Wikipedia.

What struck me, watching the play, was an echoing similarity to the Presidency of Donald Trump. A man who wants power. A man who wants adoration. A man who will seemingly do anything to keep that power. A man who tells a tale of sound and fury, but ultimately signifies nothing. I encourage those  familiar with the story to review it and see if they agree.

This production, which was directed by Charles Fee, was magnificent. With Shakespeare, I find that the dated language and style make it harder to get into the story at the start, but once I got into it, this presentation gripped me. There was no attempt to modernize or change the setting of the story: this was traditional Shakespeare, told in a traditional fashion. I’ll note there were a few understudy substitutions that — due to my wife’s hornet sting — I didn’t note down. There was also one player performing with what appeared to be a strained or broken ankle in a cast or boot. Live theatre, folks. The show must go on, even a cursed one.

As I’m writing this three+ weeks post show, it is a bit harder to remember the tiers of performances. But some stand out even through the mists of times.

As the Scottish Prince, the thane of Glamis, Lynn Robert Berg (FB) was spectacular. I still remember the anger and evil that radiated from him, and the power of personality that held people in his thrall. Very, well, Trump-ish. Erin Partin (FB), was not like Melanie. She portrayed the Scottish lady as the Prince’s equal in evil, someone equal in plotting, but who was literally driven mad by it.

Also strong were the three weird sisters, Sara J. Griffin (FB), Meredith Lark (FB), and Jessie Cope Miller (FB). They had a movement and style that made their performance just great .. and somewhat unworldly. Just a joy to watch.

Also sticking out in my mind for their performances (but the specifics are lost) were David Anthony Smith (FB)’s King Duncan; Jonathan Dryud (FB)’s Banquo, and Christopher Tocco (FB)’s Macduff.

Rounding out the cast (and other roles) were: Lavour Addison (FB[Ross]; Joe Atack (FB[Lennox]; Peder Benson Bate (FB[Sergeant, Murderer, Ensemble]; Remell Bowens Jr. (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Aled Davies [Seyton]; Sara J. Griffin (FB[Weird Sister, Lady Macduff]; Jeffrey C. Hawkins (FB[Malcolm]Meredith Lark (FB[Weird Sister, Gentlewoman/Lady Macbeth’s Attendant]Jessie Cope Miller (FB[Weird Sister]; Andrew Pope (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Peter Ribar (FB[Donalbain, Ensemble]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Duncan, Siward]; Mark Anthony (M.A.) Taylor (FB[Murderer, Ensemble]; Daniel Telford (FB[Young Siward, Ensemble]; and Colin Unruh [Maduff’s son, Fieance]. Understudies included the ensemble members and non-lead players, as well as Brittni Shambaugh Addison (FB), Briana Biller (FB), Adriano Cabral (FB), and Gregory J. Klino (FB) (whom I’m guessing also served as swings).

Turning to the production side: The scenic design by Russell Metheny was simple and Shakespearean, and appeared to make great use of the LTSF facility. Costumes by Kim Krumm Sorenson seemed appropriately period. The lighting design by Rick Martin I recall as being sufficient, but I think there was the occasional actor in the dark. The sound design by Matthew Webb was good during the show, but the sound used for the pre-show announcements was much weaker. Rounding out the credits were: Ken Merckx [Fight Choreography]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Text and Speech Coach]; Casey Hagwood (FB[Stage Manager]; Sarah Kelso (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]Jonathan Dryud (FB) [Fight Captain]Macbeth was a co-production of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB), the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (FB), and the Great Lakes Theatre (FB).

We caught the last summer performance of the LTSF and Macbeth at Sand Harbor. Were we back in the area, we’d look at future productions.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

This weekend brings Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 Watching a Friendship Ravel | “Merrily We Roll Along” @ 4Leaf • GPAC • Colony

Merrily We Roll Along (4Leaf/Golden Performing)When one thinks about the Second Broadway Golden Era — roughly the post-Fiddler era to the British Invasion of the 1990s, there are a few major composing teams that come to mind — teams that characterize that era. Once of these folks was Stephen Sondheim. His successes from those days are well known — shows like Sweeny Todd or Into the Woods. Other shows were only moderate successes when first performed, but have grown into legends subsequently, such as Company or Follies. Still other shows have remained problematic and are rarely produced, such as PassionsAnyone Can Whistle, or Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve had concert or revival versions of the latter two on my iPod of late, and I’ve been growing to appreciate the music, recognizing how many of the songs from these shows have gone on to a longer life, even if the show was recognized as problematic.

Enter the Colony Theatre (FB). We are former Colony subscribers. After they had a second run of financial trouble, the producing side of the company went dormant, and they focused on leasing out the space and offering classes to make the rent and to presumably keep the City of Burbank happy. The shows they have brought in have been hit or miss over the years, and we’ve skipped most of the offerings (although their guest production of Funny Girl a couple of years ago was good). But one of their guest productions this summer piqued my interest: 4Leaf Music (FB), a new producing company, together with Golden Performing Arts Center (FB), a Canoga Park-based non-profit that trains young actors, had teamed up to present Merrily We Roll Along at the Colony. As this was a Sondheim show — in particular, a Sondheim show I had only heard but never seen — plus it was one of those legendary Sondheim flops (it ran for only 52 previews and 16 performances) — I had to figure out a way to see it. Luckily, the timing worked out, and so we were back at the Colony last night for Merrily.

I must note that every time we visit the Colony venue these days I’m filled with a sense of melancholy. What was once a great company is gone. The walls once filled to the brim with years of photos of productions are now empty. The furniture pieces in the lobby, which were leftover props from past productions, are gone. A few towers with set designs from productions are all that remains. Even the artistic director, Barbara Beckley, has gone Emerita and her spirit doesn’t permeate the halls or the stage. What went wrong? Where did this company veer off course and flounder?  When was the seed of destruction sown; when did the artistic notion that propelled them go by the wayside? As I said melancholy — and looking back now, an interesting echo of the story to be told on stage. It was like, say, presenting a production of Follies in a theatre that had been long closed and was reopening just for that show before being torn down.

Which brings us to the story of Merrily We Roll Along, which featured a book by George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.  Merrily tells the story of Franklin Shepard, a producer of Hollywood movies, chasing after fame and money. As with the original play, it starts with him at the top of his fame, after multiple divorces, with his current wife learning of his affair with the leading lady in his movie, which was to have starred her, with an estrangement from his best friends, Charlie Kringas (his lyricist) and Mary Flynn (a writer and theatre critic) who helped him get started. This is in 1976. As with the original play, it then moves backward in times, showing key moments about of where it went wrong, of where he snatched seeming victory (but really defeat) from the arms of time. 1973. 1968. 1966. 1964. 1962. 1960. Finally, 1957, where we see him move in with Charlie and meet Mary for the first time. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page; the 1994 synopsis presented there reflects the show at the Colony.

Whereas the original play was a somewhat success for its time (151 performances in 1934); the first version of the musical was a failure. The staging had lots of problems. The themes — about abandoning ones dreams for commercial success — were not well received at the time, and the reverse chronological approach made the show difficult to understand. There were also some problems with the structure of the score, which were remedied to an extent in subsequent revisions and revisals, leading to the 1994 version that was performed at the Colony.

Did they succeed in fixing the problems of the show? My wife found the show ponderous. I thought it was interesting, but that the backward time structure hindered the storytelling. It forces you to start out with people who you don’t like, and over emit (time, backwards), learn what they did to make themselves unlikable, instead of learning why you like them. The backwards structure provides the 20/20 hindsight that allows the audience to think they know better by providing “aha, that’s why” moments and “oh, no, don’t do that moment”. Using conventional time would have worked better: you would see the character arcs of how the person changed with the foreshadowing. Further, the reverse nature of the story necessitated musical transitions to take the back in time with the people on stage — and these transitions slowed the narrative without adding to the story.

In short, the book remains problematic — and problematic in a way that may never be easily resolvable. This show may be the Mack and Mabel of Sondheim’s catalog: the show that got away. The show with great music that had an incurable book. As such, it will remain a piece of fascination — a piece that will be reexamined to see what went wrong, and where were the signals that were ignored.

That brings us to the 4 Leaf/GPAC production. An LA Times piece on this production makes clear why the producers chose this show, and chose to do it now:

The impetus to stage this production started about 12 years ago, when Trevor Berger [the actor playing Franklin Shepard] was in a “Merrily” production with L.A.-based Musical Theatre Guild, playing Frank’s son, Frank Jr. “I fell in love with the show,” Trevor Berger said. His father decided to mount a production, which will have a full orchestra, as the younger Berger gets ready to move to New York City. “It’s a big send-off party for him,” Rick Berger said.

Nice father.

While the performances in this show were mostly very strong, the first production nature of the show did show through at points on the production side. More on those production problems in a bit. Under the direction of Sonny James Lira (FB), who also did the choreography, the cast brought a lot of energy onto the stage. Theatrically, they did a great job of inhabiting their characters and bringing them to life. The movement was satisfactory, but at times the dance side was a bit baffling, as I couldn’t see what story or message the movement was bringing. Movement shouldn’t just be there for movement sake, it should enhance the story.

However, the performances were, for the most part, quite strong. In the lead position, as Franklin Shepard, was Trevor James Berger (★FB, FB). I was unsure about Berger at first — he didn’t have the right look of the character for me. But his performance grew on me, and by the end I quite enjoyed his performance, He had a very pleasant singing voice, and he embodied the character quite well.

I had no such questions about the other leads: Jeremy Ethan Harris (FB) as Charlie Kringas and Tori Gresham (FB) as Mary Flynn. Harris had a lovely and strong singing voice, and a strong personality that he brought to the character making him warm and likable. Later in the show, a comparison struck me between Harris and a young Richard Kind, who worked with Sondheim on Bounce, later retitled Side Show. Greshman’s Flynn was a delight. She had a wonderfully unique and strong singing voice, and her performance had elements of both Stritch and Merman. She’s an actress I hope to see on the stage again. Her performance was that strong.

In the second tier of characters, a particularly notable performance was Sarah Ryan (FB) as Beth Spencer, Frankin’s first wife. Strong performance, strong singing, good movement, good personality — and did I mention that she had a great voice. I was less taken with Renee Cohen (FB)’s Gussie Carnegie (Franklin’s second wife). There was just something off in her characterization and performance that I couldn’t put my finger upon. Technically adept, but there was a sense of “trying too hard” in either the look or the acting that missed the mark slightly. I don’t mean to imply the performance was bad — it wasn’t. But it needed something different in the characterization that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Rounding out the second tier of characters was Brian Felker (FB) as Joe Josephson, as Franklin’s producers and Gussie’s Ex, and Vince Venia as Franklin Shepard Jr. Felker gave a strong performance within the confines of his character; I particularly liked him in “Opening Doors”. Venia did what any child actor must do: look cute while believably being a character’s kid. Both worked.

This brings us to the ensemble. There are a few performances of members of the ensemble worth particularly noting:  Taylor Bass (FB) [Meg, Ensemble] was a particular standout: there was something about her look, her voice, and her performance that just drew my eye to her. Also strong was Shaunte Nickels (FB) [Scotty, Evelyn, Ensemble] — she had a very strong voice and brought a nice character to her track. I also liked the look of Ashley Knaak (FB) [TV Newswoman, Mrs. Spencer, Ensemble] and her voice, although the wardrobe her track had problems. Rounding out the ensemble (named roles indicated) was: Logan Allison (FB) [Terry, TV Newsman, Mr. Spencer], Riley Boronkey (FB) [Dory, Jerome], Aaron Camitses (FB) [Make Up Artist, Photographer], Donna Kim (FB) [KT], Josiah Lucas (FB) [Tyler, Judge], and Christopher J. Thume (FB) [Ru, Minister].

[A side note to the young actors in this production: If you notice, I attempt to link to your actor page — this is to help people find you if they like your performance. Most of you didn’t have such pages. Get them. Create yourself a web page, and remember to keep your domain registration paid. Create a resume on Backstage or an equivalent site. Enter your credits at abouttheartists.com. Link your page to your Facebook. Make sure the pages you want come up if someone searches your name + “actor”. This is to help people who like your performance find you for future performances.]

Music was provided by a live orchestra, under the musical direction of Jan Roper (FB) [Conductor, Keyboards]. In addition to Roper, the orchestra consisted of Ann Kerr [Woodwinds], Peter Miller [Woodwinds], Anne King (FB[Trumpet], Andrew Lippman (FB[Trombone], Christian Klikovits (FB[Synthesizer], Steve Billman (FB[Bass], and Alan Peck [Drums / Percussion].

This brings us to the remaining production aspects of the show, which is where most of the problems revealed themselves. Effy Yang (FB)’s set design was simple — perhaps too simple — consisting of a number of movable platformy-stagey things and simple projections that were drowned out by the lighting. Two problems here. First, the stage pieces didn’t convey that much of a sense of place, so it was difficult to distinguish where something was happening. The projections didn’t help all that much in that regard; they also had some jerky motions that served to distract. The sense of place — and more importantly, time — can also be conveyed through the costume design, and the hair and makeup design. This was the second place that was problematic. Michael Mullen (FB)’s Costume Design was sometimes period-right and sometimes period-wrong, and it was often paired with the wrong hairstyle for the period, providing chronic-dissonance. There were also distracting costume failures (my wife noted a seam on a suit), odd gaps, and outfits that appeared to be too tight or misfitted. Some of this might come with the financial constraints of a production such as this for a new company, but they remained distractions from the show. Even if you must compromise, you must do so in a way that doesn’t unduly distract the audience. Slightly less problematic was the Zachary Titterington (FB)’s lighting design. Here, the problem was that the occasional actor on the side of the stage was not lit, so they were performing in darkness. Not in darkness, however, were the upper wings. The orchestra, of course, can’t be dark, but the curtain can be adjusted to minimize their operating lights. On the stage left upper wing, there was no reason for the work light to be on when the actors weren’t up there. Again — distractions. Rounding out the production team was Riley Boronkey (FB) [Asst. Choreographer]Manichanh Kham (FB[Stage Manager]. Rounding out the creative credits: Jonathan Tunick [Original Orchestrations]; Harold Prince [Original Direction].

There is one more weekend of performance of 4 Leaf/GPAC’s Merrily We Roll Along. Tickets are available through Brown Paper TIckets. Although there are some flaws on the production side, and the book of the show remains problematic, the energy and enthusiasm of these performers does elevate the production and makes this rarer show worth seeing.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭 Cross-Dressing, Strange Attractions, and Love in Hollywood | “Twelfth Night” @ Actors Co-Op

Twelfth Night (or What You Will) (Actors Co-Op)What is summer without Shakespeare.  Shakespeare in the park. Shakespeare in the woods. Shakespeare as summer festivals. Last year, our Shakespeare fix came in the form of one of my favorite musicals, Two Gentlemen of Verona at FPAC (and as a PS, they’re about to do The Theory of Relativity, which we saw last year at CSHP, but you should definitely go see as it is a great song cycle), and a new musical that was Shakespeare-adjacent, Something Rotten. This year, our first Shakespeare production comes from Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, as part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.  Their selection: Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

I don’t recall seeing this particular play before, but I have seen two of the musical adaptations: The Sheldon Epps / Duke Ellington jukebox-er version, Play On!, at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) back in 1999, and the Joe DiPietro / Elvis jukebox-er All Shook Up! at the Morgan-Wixson in 2016. Going in, I was a bit unsure: The iambic-pentameter always takes me a while to get into, and sometimes I find myself missing much of the story because of it.

I’m pleased to say that this was a delightful adaptation of the show. Although I did find the iambic pentameter a bit unsettling at the start, I got into it relatively quickly and was caught up in the story. For as much as you might think Shakespeare was stodgy, this was playful, at times raunchy in Elizabethan language, and just fun to watch as the actors had great fun with their roles. This was one of Shakespeare’s comedies, which means that everyone falls in love by the end of the show (as opposed to being dead, a hallmark of his tragedies). I just had a great time.

For those unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, here’s a slightly edited summation of the story from Wikipedia:

As the play starts, Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria and she comes ashore with the help of a Captain. She has lost contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, who she believes to be drowned. With the aid of the Captain, she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. She refuses to see entertainments, be in the company of men, or accept love or marriage proposals from anyone, the Duke included, until seven years have passed. Duke Orsino then uses ‘Cesario’ as an intermediary to profess his passionate love before Olivia. Olivia, however, falls in love with ‘Cesario’, setting her at odds with her professed duty. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with the Duke Orsino, creating a love triangle among Duke Orsino, Olivia and Viola: Viola loves Duke Orsino, Duke Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Viola disguised as Cesario.

In the comic subplot, several characters conspire to make Olivia’s pompous steward, Malvolio, believe that Olivia has fallen for him. This involves Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch; a silly squire and would-be suitor named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; her servants Maria and Fabian; and her melancholy fool, Feste. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew engage themselves in drinking and revelry, thus disturbing the peace of Olivia’s household until late into the night, prompting Malvolio to chastise them. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria plan revenge on Malvolio. They convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a love letter, written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. It asks Malvolio to wear yellow stockings cross-gartered, to be rude to the rest of the servants, and to smile constantly in the presence of Olivia. Malvolio finds the letter and reacts in surprised delight. He starts acting out the contents of the letter to show Olivia his positive response. Olivia is shocked by the changes in Malvolio and agreeing that he seems mad, leaves him to be cared for by his tormentors. Pretending that Malvolio is insane, they lock him up in a dark chamber. Feste visits him to mock his insanity, both disguised as a priest and as himself.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin, Sebastian, has been rescued by Antonio, a sea captain who previously fought against Orsino, yet who accompanies Sebastian to Illyria, despite the danger, because of his affection for Sebastian. Taking Sebastian for ‘Cesario’, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly married in a church. Finally, when ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian appear in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino, the fact that they are twins creates more issues. At this point, Viola reveals her identity and is reunited with her twin brother. The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Duke Orsino and Viola, and it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Orsino sends Fabian to placate him.

Convoluted and contrived plot, but this is Shakespeare from the turn of the 17th century. You were expecting August Wilson or Tennessee Williams? Styles of plots have changed.

Under the direction of Jesse Corti (FB), and the production efforts of Avrielle Corti (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) (both in the cast), this was a  fun show. The actors handled the language well, and the direction made the characters seem as realistic as any Shakespearean characters might be.  More importantly, the actors didn’t let the language get in the way. They were clearly having fun with their characters; when actors do that, that fun is broadcast to the audience. The resulting feedback loop just amplifies the joy in the production.

In the lead position was Avrielle Corti (FB) as Viola/Cesario. She brought a cuteness and spunk and playfulness to the character that just made her a delight to watch; there was joy when she was on-stage. Her expressions and emotions, especially in the second act during the fight scenes with Sir Andrew and the final scenes, were just so fun.

Rounding out the love triangle was Jade Patteri (★FB, FB) as Olivia and Roman Guastaferro (FB) as Orsino. I truly enjoyed Patteri’s performance. Although she started out a little stiff, her delight when she was around Corti’s Cesario was just so expressive. Her squeals and joy in the second act with Sebastian were wonderful. We saw a bit less of Guastaferro’s Orsino, and as a Shakespearean male, he was a bit more restrained. Still, he conveyed well his obsession with Olivia.

Adding to the fog of humor around this was the comic subplot, primarily featuring Michael Beattie (FB) as Sir Toby Belch, Renato Biribin Jr as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Julietta Corti (FB) as Maria, Deborah Marlowe (FB) (filling in for Zachary Poole (FB)) as the fool Feste, David Crowley (FB) as Fabian, and Dan Hazel (FB) as Malvolio. Beattie was having the time of his life playing the drunk at Belch — and he did it well — and I particularly enjoyed his joy with the humor around Belch passing gass. Biribin was also having fun with his portrayal of Aguecheeck as the traditional whitefaced milquetoast (I’m not sure of the right word, but it was a character common in Shakespeare — I’m recalling Thurio in TGOV). Perhaps he overplayed him a little, but this was a Shakespeare comedy and that’s how those characters were done. Corti’s Maria was similarly playful and plotting, and seemed to be having great fun once the comic subplot hit full steam. Marlowe is someone we’ve seen many times at Co-op, most recently on the same set in A Man for All Seasons. She excels at roles like this — the fool commenting on society. Crowley’s Fabian was a bit more in the background. I don’t recall him in the first act at all; in the second, he was more of a playful co-conspirator than a distinctly unique character. Lastly, there was Hazel’s Malvolio. Again, he was having fun with his role — playing him intentionally overbearing at first, and loosening up as the love subplot came to the fore.

Rounding out the cast were Shane Weikel (FB) as Sebastian, Kyle Morr (FB) as the Captain / First Officer, Andrew Nowak (FB) as Antonio, Mikie Beatty (FB) as Curio / 2nd Officer, Maurice McGraw as the Priest, and Christopher Gilstrap (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) as attendants and servants. All were strong. My only quibble here isn’t performance but casting: if Sebastian and Viola were supposed to be twins, it would have helped had they been a bit closer in facial features. There was a bit of suspension of disbelief required to make the twin argument work in this production.

Turning to the production side. Set design was credited to Karen Hodgin, athough she was building on Rich Rose‘s Scenic Design from A Man for All Seasons. What little additional design there was came from added props and such. Costume design was by Elisabeth Van Stralen (FB) and seemed suitable; Krys Fehervari (FB) did the hair and makeup. The Finale Jig choreography was by Julietta Corti (FB) and was fun to watch; Jesse David Corti (FB) composed the music for “Come Away Death” and the Finale Jig. Other production credits: Christopher Keene [Swords and Props]; Diane Venora [Text Coach]; Charles Gray [Special Effects]; Warren Davis [Sound Design]; Zachary Poole (FB) [Poster and Playbill]; Elizabeth Eichler [Stage Manager]. There was no credit for lighting design.

There is one more weekend for Twelfth Night. Reservations may be made through Actors Co-Op. This is essentially pay-what-you-can, as there is no charge for the performance, but donations may be made at the door.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB). The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

 

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🎭 A Harmonious Production | “Always Andrews” @ Actors Co-Op

Always Andrews (Actors Co-Op)Our second show of the weekend was a much simpler production (in fact, I was thinking it could have been mounted at the Fringe Festival — it was that simple): Always Andrews, part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series at  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members. In this case, company member Jorie Janeway (FB) brought in a production she had been developing with two friends, Carlyn Connolly (FB) and Katharine Quinn (FB) that was essentially a showcase of the music and history of The Andrews Sisters, a sibling group (Patty, Laverne, Maxine) that was popular during World War II. They were known for their tight harmonies, their humor, and there unique musical stylings and approaches to songs.

Janeway, Connolly, and Quinn had developed the notion for this show while working together on a different show in Virginia; they had been honing it over the years. Quinn was unavailable for this run, so Adrian Mustain (FB) jumped in with only a week or two of preparation.  The performers did two sets of Andrews Sisters songs:

 

Set 1 Set 2
Sing, Sing, Sing! Hold Tight
Well, All Right! European Medley
Gimme Some Skin Love Medley
In The Mood Straighten Up and Fly Right
Shoo-Shoo Baby Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four
Accentuaate the Positive Rhumboogie
I’ve Got a Guy in Kalamazoo Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar
Tropics Medley
Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

 

I thought the selection of songs was good, although they should look to included one of the Andrews Sisters’ “injected patter” songs — listen to something like their version of “Sonny Boy” for an example. I also thought a bit more history would be good: they didn’t mention the sisters by name. One person during the talkback noted they should indicated how they got their start. I think it would also be worth noting what happened after the war: they continued during the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sherman Brothers of Disney-fame developed a Broadway show around them.

Each performer did not assume the role of a particular sister, although Jorie did most of the humorous bits. I thought that both Jorie and Carlyn had strong singing voices. Adrian’s was a bit weaker, but she noted during the talkback that it was stronger the week before, so it could have just been a touch of strain. I thought they had the movement down well, and had a good interaction with each other.

If they are still in town when next June rolls around, I suggest that they do this at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. They could easily do it within the confines of the festival — 15 minutes in, 15 minutes out — as they have no particular set and no costume changes, and it could give them some very strong exposure.

Music was provided by Chadwick Harmon on Piano and Kyle Dombroski (FB) on Drums.

We caught the last performance of this show. Next week we catch the last Actors Co-Op Too! show, Twelfth Night.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

 

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🎭 Perhaps Tinder Might Have Better Odds | “The Golden Lasso” @ Operaworks

Golden Lasso (Operaworks)One of the more interesting shows we go to every year is the culmination of the Advanced Artists summer session at OperaWorks (FB). We saw this year’s show last Sunday; the writeup has been delayed due to my preoccupation with the “map project” for my highway pages (this is where I’m adding maps for each highway to that highway’s pages; I’m up to Route 228, as of the time of posting).

Back to Operaworks. Operaworks is a program for up and coming opera singers. They all know how to sing, but being a successful performer in the world of Opera involves much more. Operaworks teaches them that “much more”. It teaches them the business of opera; it also teach them how to perform and interact as a character on the stage. The program that we see is the culmination of that teaching. The class works together to pick a theme for the show. They then create their characters, determine their interactions, and select arias that convey the message of that interaction. These arias are rarely from the same show or the same composer. The result is a new 3-act opera crafted from a mish-mash of arias, with a plot that is often some pastiche of current culture. The performers seem to be having great fun with this creation; it is far from your normal staid opera.

I am certain that the theme for this year’s show was crafted around the class makeup: 24 girls, 1 guy. What better to parody than “The Bachelor”. In this case, it was a web series called “Cow Country Bachelor”, where a single guy, Vinnie Mahal, was the target for a lot of wannabees. The three acts all related to the show: The first act was at the regional auditions for the show; the second act was at a training facility for drag queens being used by the show; the third act was at Vinnie’s mansion where he was making the final selections. As for the title? Instead of a rose, he gives a “golden lasso”.

The characters reflected the creativity of the artists. Here’s a typical character bio to give you an idea:

Gwendolyn Gray is a thirty year old woman in mid-life crisis. She is klutzy, chatty, and unobservant. Her occupation as a chicken sexer is quite demanding, yet she finds time to attend every speed dating event in town. Her biggest fear is matching her clothing day to day.

This year’s show was quite entertaining.

In the first act, we are introduced to a number of different characters who want to be on the show, as well as the producer and wrangler, and a videographer. Memorable characters were Lou Ann, a character who entered the competition drunk; Kathy “Honey” Fayette, who keeps trying to get on the show; and Chastity Bliss White, who had the most unique look of the various characters. Memorable performers, a week out, were Alexandra Logue, Julia Gmeiner, and Suzanne Ramo. Best bios were Harvey Wendell and Angelina Bacciagalupe. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follows (in performance order); the pianist was Douglas Sumi (FB) (Harvey Wendell):

In the second act, we are at a boot camp for another set of contestants. Memorable characters were Myra Francis Walker, who kept needing higher and higher shoes until she was on stilts; Gwendolyn Gray, who has a hilarious sequence involving waxing; and Dorie Galford, who keeps going after the shoes. Memorable performers were: Gemma Balinbin, Olivia Hacker, and Nina Polachek. Best bios were Linda and Myra Francis Walker. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follow (in performance order); the pianist was Michelle Alexander (FB) (Sergeant Senta):

In the third and final act, we get to meet the bachelor. We also meet a bunch of injured and bruised contestants, as well as the one woman that our bachelor was hoping would show up. Memorable characters were Clara Belle, who had anger management problems; Nina Mae, the woman of Vinnie’s desire; and Charlotte Ann Weathersby, who had the freedom to speak up. Memorable performers were Vinell Mahal, and Nicole Anderson. Best bios were Charlotte Ann Weathersby and Clara Belle. Performers, their characters, and their arias were as follows; the pianist was again Michelle Alexander (FB) (Sergeant Senta):

Overall, these summer Operaworks shows are entertaining, and you get to see singers learning the business of being characters. It is remarkable to watch. It is also a great way to get a taste of Opera without paying the big bucks for a 3 hour show. I look foward to next year.

Production credits: Eli Vinnaneuva (FB, ★FB[Director / Co-creator];  Ann Baltz (FB), Laura Parker (FB[Co-Creators]; Michelle Alexander (FB), Kevin Bylsma (FB), and Douglas Sumi (FB[Music Directors].  Ann Baltz (FB) is the founder and artistic director of Operaworks.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of July is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, but the weekend itself is open. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth is currently open. Looks like I need to book some dates in September! October is equally open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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

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