🥁 The Beat Lives On | “Step Afrika” @ The Soraya/VPAC

Setp Afrika - Drumfolk (The Soraya)As I’ve indicated before, I don’t always write up the live performances that we see at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Sometimes, this is because they are concerts (where I don’t have a set list in advance) and I don’t know the names of all the pieces. Other times, they are performance pieces, such as the recent astounding “Hotel” from Cirque Eloize, which had to be seen and just no written description could fit. But sometimes we see a piece that deserves a writeup. Step Afrika!‘s piece “Drumfolk”, which we saw Sunday afternoon, as such a piece. For those unfamiliar with Step Afrika!, is it a professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping — a dance form that uses the body as a percussive instrument. The company promotes stepping as a contemporary dance genre, using that art form to creates programs that expand on stepping’s unique place in history, and often doing a deep exploration of the African-American experience.

The heart of Drumfolk was an exploration of the Stono Rebellion of 1739, a revolt initiated by 20 enslaved Africans in the colony of South Carolina. In response to the rebellion, colonial leadership got the crown to pass the Negro Act of 1740. The act made it illegal for enslaved Africans to move abroad, assemble in groups, raise food, earn money, and learn to write (though reading was not proscribed). Additionally, owners were permitted to kill rebellious slaves if necessary. The Act remained in effect until 1865. It also singled out drumps as an illegal weapon, and took away the right for slaves to own or play the drums. However, as the program for the show noted, “They took the drums away… but they could not stop the beat.”

When I heard that line during the show, I harkened back to another production that explored the place of the beat in the African American experience: Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. That musical explored a much broader swath of history and experience, but both demonstrated the centrality of the drum and the beat, and of dance and movement, to the African American experience.

The program that we saw (which evidently was recently designed … something like 4 days before our performance) consisted of three pieces:

Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable and informative presentation.

The production featured Taylor McFerrin and the members of Step Afrika!: Kofi Agyei,Jeeda Barrington (FB), Jamaal Collier, Dionne Eleby, Matthew Evans, Conrad Kelly, Misha Michel, Vincent Montgomery, Joe Murchison, Ronnique Murray, Dustin Praylow, Anesia Sandifer, Brittny Smith, Jordan Spry, and Nicholas Stewart.

The creative and production team consisted of: C. Brian Williams Founder and Executive Director; Jakari Sherman Director; Mfoniso Akpan (FB) Artistic Director; Simone Baskerville Production Manager & Touring Stage Manager; Kenaan M. Quander Costume Designer; Erik Teague Mask Designer; Mary Rathell Wardrobe Assistant; Marianne Meadows Lighting Designer; Yannick Godts Lighting Supervisor; Steven M. Allen Composer; Kevin Alexander Sound Designer; and Jeremiah L. Davison Sound Engineer.

This was the only performance of Step Afrika! at the Soraya this year.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth and fifth weekends are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 On Island Time | “Escape to Margaritaville” @ Dolby Theatre/Broadway in Hollywood

Escape to Margaritaville (Dolby/Broadway in Hollywood)As I mentioned in my writeup for The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Saturday was a crazy day. Due to my scheduing confusion, we ended up with two shows in Hollywood, moving from S&G at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) to the Dolby Theatre (FB) for Escape to Margaritaville, the first show for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby. Before I go into the details of the show, let’s talk about BinH at the Dolby.

The Dolby is a very different venue than the Pantages. Whereas the Pantages is old and ornate and rococo and filled with history, the Dolby is new and shiny and modern. For those familiar with the old-day in LA theatre, contrast the old Shubert Theatre in Century City with the style of the Dorothy Chandler. The Pantages staff working at the Dolby were warm and welcoming and friendly, guiding people unfamiliar with the facility to where the needed to go. As for the facility itself … good and bad. The bad is that there is no longer the same central lobby there was at the Pantages. One can enter either on the first or second floor; entering on the second bypasses much of audience services and the all important merchandise booth. Refreshments (not that I partake) are more expenses; at the Dolby they are a Wolfgang Puck enterprise, with prices to match. As for the theatre itself, the venue is narrower but taller. This means that what had been side orchestra seating has been relegated to the loge and first mezzanine, often off to the sides. In some ways, it is a better view, but it is also further from the stage. I don’t think they are using the topmost balcony. In any case, if you aren’t on the orchestra floor, bring your binoculars. Sound in the facility was good, and a bit clearer than in the Pantages.

Turning to the show itself: Escape to Margaritaville is a jukebox musical, built around the music of Jimmy Buffett and Buffett’s general theme of Island Rock, also characterized as “Gulf and Western”. This music plays up the notion of relaxing life on a tropical island. We seem to be in a jukebox musical period, where songs from a performer’s songbook are stitched together, given a few nips, tucks, and alterations, and crafted into a serviceable story of varying strength. Sometimes this story is autobiographical (think Beautiful or the upcoming Cher Show), sometimes is a somewhat fictionalized quasi-autobiography (think The Last Ship with its Sting surrogate), and sometimes the story has no connection with the artist at all, but it just works with the catalog (think Mamma Mia or Head Over Heels). Escape fits somewhere between the latter two types: it is quasi-autobiographical in that an Island-rock singer is discovered, but the rest of the story is fictional.

The story of Escape is relatively simple, and you can find the gory details on the Wikipedia page. The book was developed by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, building around the music of Jimmy Buffet (who evidently changed a few songs and lyrics a bit).  The basic notion is this: Margaritaville is a bar on an unnamed tropical island that has a dormant volcano (why do they always have volcanos, right, Spongebob?). The bar is owned by Marley; denizens of the bar include Tully (the singer), Brick (the bartender), J.D. (the crochety old tourguide who has supposedly hidden a treasure somewhere), Jamal, and Jesus (two of the staff). The life is easy: tourists come in for a week, get drunk, have island romances, and then go back to their dank winters in the northeastern US. Two such tourists are Rachel and Tammy, out on a last vacation before Tammy gets married to Chadd, who keeps wanting Tammy to lose weight. Tammy wants to have fun. Rachel is less interesting, but is going to the island to collect soil samples so she can work on her project: an energy-producing potato. Yes, I said potato. This is the opening exposition, and the rest of the first half of the story is building up the love interests: Tammy with Brick, who represents a guy who loves her for who she is, and Tully with Rachel, who gets Rachel to drop her guard and adopt the Island lifestyle. But all good things end, and Tammy and Rachel go back to Ohio and the cold. Then the Volcano blow. Cue: “Now I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m a gonna go, When the volcano blow”

The second half of the show is after. We get to see the island folks evacuating, Tully and Brick chasing J.D. who has gone off in search of his treasure — which he finds as they escape the island just in time. We see the island folks running off to Ohio to follow Tully’s love. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, the rehearsal dinner is proving a problem where Tammy wants to have a cheeseburger (cue the song), but her fiancee Chadd wants her to have vegan pasta, and Rachel is trying to find funding for her potato. In rushes the island folks and … well, this is a musical so you can probably predict the happy ending that ensures.

Before the show hit Broadway (it started out in La Jolla), reaction to it was positive. It did well in New Orleans and Houston and even Chicago. It hits New York and … gets a resounding thud from critics, as do many shows that play well outside the city (Bandstand is another example of that). What was our reaction?

This was in no sense a deep show with some sort of deeper meaning. It wears its ambitions on its sleeve: this is an island musical about slowing down and enjoying life, about not worrying about the drama. If you go in knowing that, you aren’t disappointed. But if you are cosmopolitan and want something with depth and meaning and social significance, this isn’t it. If I had to draw a parallel with respect to the depth of the story, I’d say to compare it with Mamma Mia. This isn’t a story of social import; it is just a fun time (as demonstrated by the beach balls and singing at the end).

But the presentation of this story does a number of things right in my book. First, it celebrates science. Yes, we’re talking about power from a potato, but the lead heroine is not a princess, but an environmental scientist who wants to do science. Inspire those women to do STEM! Second, the woman driving the other story (Tammy) is portrayed as not a stick-thin blond but a blond with a build of a typical American woman. That is: slightly larger than the media portrays it. Her intended, Chadd, wants the media portrayal, but the “one true love” is the one that doesn’t demand change: that sees the beauty in who she is and not what she ways. This body-positive message is echoed through the ensemble casting, which includes not only diversity in color but diversity in size: there are island cuties and tourists that are in the larger size group — and it is beautiful to see on stage. So the messages in this show are a winning combination.

So overall, I’d say this is an enjoyable story, if you aren’t looking for much depth. If Mamma Mia is your speed, and your looking for something light and laughable and fun, this is it. If you are looking for the deep messages of Hamilton or The Prom or even Dear Even Hansen … this isn’t the show for you. But for a light story, told well, with a strong cast of newcomers: this works.

As we turn to the performance, I should note that this is a non-Equity cast. This does not imply any lack of talent from the cast, only that they have not yet made their Broadway debuts. For many, this is their first tour; for a few, this is their professional debut. Director Amy Anders Corcoran (FB), building upon the original Broadway direction of Christopher Ashley (FB), does a great job of realizing the story in a tour environment (which has to fit in a truck or two), as well as molding the younger cast into a wonderfully performing whole. Movement was under the direction of Kelly Devine (FB) Choreographer, assisted by Andrew Turteltaub (FB) Assoc. Choreographer. So let’s look at those performances, couple by couple.

First up: Sarah Hinrichsen (FB) Rachel and Chris Clark (FB) Tully. Hinrichsen did a wonderful job of bringing a nice spunk and playfulness to her character, and she had strong chemistry with Clark. This was demonstrated well in the “falling in love” sequences in the first act, especially in numbers like “Three Chords” or “Son of a Son of a Sailor”. I can’t judge the “hunk” quality of Clark, but he also had a strong chemistry with Hinrichsen. Both sang and moved well.

The next couple was Shelly Lynn Walsh (FB) Tammy and Peter Michael Jordan (FB) Brick. These two were also strong, especially Walsh’s portrayal of Tammy. She brought a wonderful joy to that character, together with a great singing voice in songs such as “Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Jordan’s role was a bit more secondary, but he still brought a great performance to the role.

The third couple, so to speak, was Rachel Lyn Fobbs (FB) Marley and Patrick Cogan (FB) J. D.. Fobbs is strong from the opening number where she welcomes people to Margaritaville, bringing loads of fun. Cogan’s J.D. is more one spice in the first act (“Salt, Salt”), but comes into his own with a lot of humor in the second act.

Rounding out the performance team in featured and ensemble roles are: Matthew James Sherrod (FB) Jamal; Sophie Braud (FB) Ensemble; Noah Bridgestock (FB) Chadd, Ensemble; DeVon Buchanan (FB) Ted, Ensemble; Anthony Cataldo (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Chantelle Cognevich (FB) Ensemble; Katie Davis (FB) Ensemble; Nico DiPrimio (FB) Ensemble; Fabian-Joubert Gallmeister (FB) Ensemble; Diego Alejandro Gonzalez (FB) Jesus, Ensemble; Bobby Hogan (FB) Ensemble; Aimee Lane (FB) Ensemble, Dance Captain; Michael Matthew Sakelos (★FB, FB) Ensemble; Trent Soyster (FB) Ensemble; Emma Stricker (FB) Ensemble; Jade Turner (FB) Ensemble; and Morgan Unger (FB) Ensemble. Swings were Victoria Price (FB) and Tyler Whitaker (FB).

Music was provided by an on-stage orchestra under the music direction of Andrew David Sotomayor (FB), supplemented by the actor that played Tully. The orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Andrew David Sotomayor (FB) Keyboard; Claudio Raino (FB) Guitar; Jakob Smith (★FB, FB) Guitar; Joela Oliver (FB) Bass; Russ Henry (FB) Steel Drums; Taurus Lovely (★FB) Drums; Jake Boldman (FB) Trumpet; Emma Reinhart (FB) Trumpet; 🌴 Sean Franz (FB) Tenor Sax / Bari Sax / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Flute / Recorder; 🌴 Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Recorder; 🌴 Brian LaFontaine (FB) Guitar 1 (Electric / Acoustic / Ukulele / Banjo / Lap Steel), Harmonica; 🌴 Jack Majdecki (★FB) Guitar 2 (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin / 12 String / Ukulele); 🌴 Lynn Keller (FB) Bass; 🌴 Rayford Griffin (★FB) Drums / Percussion; 🌴 Jared Stein (FB) Keyboards. Other music related credits: Randy Cohen (FB) Keyboard Programmer; Talitha Fehr (FB) Music Coordinator; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Michael Utley Orchestrations; Gary Adler Dance Music Arrangements; Mac McAnally (★FB) Music Consultant; Christopher Jahnke Music Supervision & Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. Walt Spangler‘s scenic design consisted of a space for the band that could be covered by a curtain or scrim at the back of the stage, and then scenic elements at the front that primarily represented Margaritaville, with an occasional additional prop for the volcano or Ohio. Some of the scenic elements were outstanding and super-creative, such as the snorkeling scenes or the volcano climbing scenes. This scenic design was supported by Paul Tazewell‘s costumes and Leah J. Loukas (FB)’s wigs, hair, and makeup. Howell Binkley (FB) & Amanda Zieve‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Brian Ronan & Craig Cassidy‘s sound design worked reasonably well in the Dolby space. Other production credits: Binder Casting (FB) Casting; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Emma Iacometta (FB) Assistant Stage Manager; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; The Booking Group Exclusive Tour Direction; Bond Theatrical Group Marketing and Publicity Direction; Marathon Digital Social Media; Heather Chockley Production Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Angela Rowles Executive Producer.

Escape to Margaritaville continues at the Dolby Theatre (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) through March 8. Should you go see it? If you go in with eyes wide open regarding what it is: a jukebox musical with a story at the level of Mamma Mia, with lots of great Jimmy Buffett music and wonderful body positivity messages, than yes. If you’re looking for something deep, well, perhaps there are some Mormon missionaries coming to your door. Tickets are available through the BiH box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Last Sunday afternoon brought Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great. I’m unsure if I’m writing it up, but I may.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭🎸 “Feeling Groovy” | The Simon & Garfunkel Story @ Pantages/Bwy in Hollywood

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood)Sunday was our crazy day of theatre in Hollywood, due to my forgetting to enter my 2019-2020 season tickets on my Google Calendar when I renewed my  Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) subscription. Lesson learned for 2020-2021 — they are already on my calendar. In any case, when the Pantages mailed out an announcement regarding the availability of the bonus show The Simon & Garfunkel Story, I quickly grabbed Saturday matinee tickets. It was only when I went to put the on my calendar that I realized I hadn’t entered my series tickets. So I did … and discovered we had season tickets for Escape to Margaritaville that evening. Boy, was I glad I had done a matinee for S&G! So yesterday was a double Broadway in Hollywood day: S&G at the Pantages, followed by Margaritaville at the Dolby. Whew!

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is, essentially, a Simon and Garfunkel concerts. There’s little pretense of it being much more. There’s no book writer, no fake story constructed from the songs (such as Margaritaville or All Shook Up). There isn’t acting of a bio story (along the lines of Beautiful or Summer). There isn’t even a director in the traditional theatrical sense. There are actors portraying Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, a backing band, and a snippets of biographical information and story background along the way.

Musically, the show is excellent. The actors (George Clements (★FB) Paul Simon and Andrew Wade (★FB, FB) Art Garfunkel) are great performers, and capture the harmonies well. Individually (and when not singing) they don’t quite have the same voice and personality of the originals, but the personality that does shine through it good. Clements didn’t have quite the same nasal quality as Simon (he was about 90% there), and Wade didn’t have quite the pure tenor of Garfunkel but had the power when he needed it (he was about 90% there). They were close enough that one could enjoy the music, and mostly hear the same thing as the albums (there were a few slight differences). So on the music side, you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll note that the program credits two additional actors for Simon and Garfunkel (Taylor Bloom and Ben Cooley, respectively), although it is unclear when they are actually performing the roles. A “boo” to the Pantages for not having a signboard in the lobby indicating the actors that were in each role.

On the story side, however, there could have been so much more. It is here that the lack of participation by the real Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were apparent. The audience was left wanting for more details on the backstory, for more details on the backstory of each of the songs. The projections would have been so much better with real pictures of the duo from those days, including pictures that had never been seen before. But although there were some bits of information there that might not have been well known, there just could have been so so much more.

The projections had another problem: inaccuracy and incorrectness. From the use of modern images to respresent the past (e.g., that livery for British Airways wasn’t used back then — it might even have been BOAC, or that the postcards during “America” were too modern, or that images were from the wrong era of the story), to the disconnection of the image from the song (e.g., the postcards should have corresponded to the story points in “America”, the voices of old people from Bookends had images of children, and — for whatever reason — the images in Scarborough Faire were anti-war. Folks, if you want to do an anti-war song from that era of S&G, do Silent Night/6 O’Clock News. It is far more moving.

Perhaps those are nits. Certainly, if you were going for the nostalgia and the music, this fit the bill. From a few obscure songs from the Tom and Jerry era, to some (but not all) of the most popular songs, the concert aspect was great. The two leads were aided in this by their backing band: Alec Hamilton (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals; Bob Sale (FB) Drums and Background Vocals; Marc Encabo (FB) Bass Guitar and Background Vocals; Josh Vasquez (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; Josh Turner (FB) Guitars and Background Vocals; and Adam Saxe (FB) Keyboards and Background Vocals. Note that neither the program nor the theatre makes clear which guitarist and keyboardist are at a given performance. I know we had Hamilton at our performance, and I think we had Vasquez. The major weak point of the backing music was the lack of some horns. Electronic horns on a keyboard are a weak substitute. Simon and Garfunkel were known — in their later work and at the Concert in Central Park — for their strong horn sections backing the songs. That was missed. On the other hand, the musicians they had were great — in particular, Encabo and Vasquez, who were clearly having great fun up their on stage, rocking away and enjoying the music they were playing. The solos from Sale and Hamilton were also quite strong.

Finally, turning to the production side: There’s not much to talk about here. I’ve already noted the problems with Z Frame‘s projection design in terms of getting the period right, and timing the projections to the subjects in the songs. As for the lighting design of Mike Berger Design, it was mostly innocuous, although at times the light bar in front of the backup band was confusing. Other production credits: Dean Elliott (FB) Show Director, Musical Supervisor; Ralph Schmidtke (FB) General Manager; Brian Richard (FB) Company Manager; Adam Saxe (FB)/Alec Hamilton (FB) Music Director; Steve Beatty (FB) Sound Engineer; Steve Comer Lighting Operator, Lighting Programmer; John Tellem/Andy CoscarelliTellem Grody PR Press; Eric “Kacz” Kaczmarczyk Stage Manager.

The last performance of The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) starts in little over an hour. You might be able to get tickets at the box office. The Simon & Garfunkel Story (FB) is on tour, however, so if you’re in Spokane WA or Canada, it’s coming your way.

🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Saturday afternoon brought Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), which is next to be written, and we just got back from Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) … which was great, but I’m probably not writing it up.

As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 A Warped Interfaith Shakespearean Comedy | “It Shoulda Been You” @ MTG

It Shoulda Been You (MTG)MTG UserpicTrust me, you’ll understand the title by the time I’m done explaining things. Just as with Saturday’s show, A Body of Water, there was confusion in the show we saw Sunday night: It Shoulda Been You at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). But this confusion was a good confusion, and the story progressed in a clear manner from Point A to Point B. But the path along the way was, shall we say, a bit warped. Point A starts with an Interfaith Wedding. Point B is the ending every Shakespearean comedy has. Ah, but the journey… the journey…

Warning: This writeup does contain spoilers. Given the age of the show, the availability of the cast album, and the fact that this was a single night performance, I’m not worried. But you’ve been forewarned.

It Shoulda Been You is a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi. It opened on Broadway in August 2015, and ran for 31 previews and 135 performances. I still remember the humor in the number they did at the Tony Awards. But it didn’t last, and it never went on tour. Luckily,  the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) brought it back for a one-night, staged reading performance. This means: 25 hours of rehearsals, minimal costumes and scenery, actors have their scripts in their hands per AEA rules, and a focus on the score and the story.

So what’s the story. It starts with an interfaith wedding, being told from the point of view of the oldest daughter, Jenny Steinberg. She’s a little bit zaftig, and her mother, Judy, has been pressuring her with the wedding planning, and guilting her for not being married or even having a relationship — as only a Jewish mother can do. Criticizing everything, butting in everywhere. Luckily, there is an all-knowing, all-seeing wedding planner to save the day. So what about the bride and groom. The bride, Rebecca, is having cold feet about the wedding, but the best man (Greg Madison) and maid of honor (Annie Sheperd) are holding that together. The groom, Brian Howard, is the reason for the culture clash. Coming from a nice WASP upper-class family, his parents, Georgette and George Howard, don’t want this marriage — for obvious WASPish reasons, if you get my drift. This whole mix is complicated when Jenny accidentally calls Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty, who rushes over to stop the wedding.

As I said, crazy comedy, but it gets worse. Insert all the expected Jewish and WASPish jokes. Insert all the jokes about drinking. Insert all the typical self-worth issues any wedding brings out. Insert last minute prenuptial contracts to protect the trust fund, and all that stress.

But, eventually, things get worked out and the wedding happens. But then Jenny walks into the room with the Bride and Groom after the wedding… to find the Bride busily kissing the Maid of Honor, and the Groom kissing the Best Man. You see, it turns out that her sister and her fiancee are both gay. The wedding was a scheme to split the trust fund, so they could be with their real loves. Oh, and the sister is pregnant by her gay groom, thanks to one night with too much drinking. Now comes the next part: how to tell the parents, and will they be cool with it?

Let’s add one more complication: the ex-boyfriend of the bride, Rebecca? He wanted to stop the wedding not because he was in love with Rebecca, but because he knew she was gay. He’s been in love with Jenny since school days, but never told her. Insert proposal.

As I said: A Shakespearean comedy, as everyone ends up married and in love at the end. One might easily draw some parallels to Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night.

As for what I thought of the show: I had heard the music before (I have the album), so I knew what was going on going in. In fact, we even used this as an event for the live theatre group at our synagogue. But the show was much much funnier than the cast album made it out to be. Just like with $5 Shakespeare (last Sunday’s show), this one was laugh out loud funny. Many of the jokes were extra funny if you knew the stereotypes or tropes behind them. So I really, really enjoyed this show.

I also liked quite a few of the songs, but they were much more contextual — not songs you would walk out the theatre humming or as an earworm. Nope, this is not a The Last Ship. But some songs, such as “A Little Bit Less Then” or “Jenny’s Blues” are just beautiful, and convey touching messages. Many of the other songs are just extremely funny, going from the opening number to the “That’s Family” number at the end.

So why did this show fail? I think, in some ways, it didn’t find its audience. The liberal Jewish audience would have no problem with a gay wedding, and the more conservative Orthodox audience wouldn’t have the interfaith aspects occurring. Some of the jokes may have fallen flat. But, I think, just as with the recent The Prom, much as we think audiences are ready to look at the humor in a particular subject, sometimes they just surprise us by not being ready. So why does something like The Book of Mormon work? One could say it was the message at the heart of it, but this is a Shakespearean comedy at its heart and that is timeless. Perhaps people were ready to laugh at Mormons? Perhaps this just needs to be rediscovered. I still think this should have toured.

Those who were able to make it out to the Alex Sunday night were treated to a wonderful show with wonderful performances, and only a few sound problems. Unlike Encores in NYC, these shows don’t have the possibility of extending. But if you see a production of It Shoulda Been You pop up near you, give it a try. I think you’ll find it a very fun evening.

One of the things that made this production so good was the performances. As I noted earlier: the cast gets a total of 25 hours to pull this together. They have scripts in hand. They haven’t had the time to polish and shine their musical numbers. So when performances are outstanding, that indicates a particular level of skill.

At the top of the performance chart was Julie Garnyé (★FB, FB) Jenny. She just hit it out of the ballpark with humor and character and fun. Her performances in both “Beautiful” and “Jenny’s Blues” were outstanding. Also strong was the actor playing her younger sister, Ashley Fox Linton (FB) Rebecca.  She also brought a load of humor to the role, and gave a touching performance in her main number, “A Little Bit Less Then”.

This brings us to the actors playing the Steinberg parents: Eileen Barnett (FBJudy and Anthony Gruppuso (FBMurry. Barnett, as in any Jewish family, had the larger role. She got to play some wonderfully humorous numbers, such as “Nice”, but also got the touching number “What They Never Tell You”.  Gruppuso got a smaller role in terms of songs, but handled the humor well as he always does.

Turning to the groom’s side of the equation, there was Zachary Ford (FBBrian Howard.  Ford is quite adept at playing comical characters, and he handled this quite well. His soft shoe with his father, “Back in the Day”, was spectacular.

Playing a larger role were the groom’s parents: Barbara Carlton Heart (FBGeorgette and Bryan Chesters (FBGeorge. Heart did a great job of the humor in Georgette, especially in numbers like “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the closing “That’s Family”. As noted above, Chesters did a great job with Ford in “Back in the Day”.

But if you want the real humor in the story, that credit goes to one of my favorite performers, Jason Graae (★FBAlbert, the wedding planner. He upped the humor an order of magnitude with the performance he brought to the role, and made every scene he was in. Graae is just a delight to watch.

The remaining members of the wedding party were Travis Leland (FBMarty Kaufman, the ex-boyfriend; Helen Jane Planchet (FBAnnie Shepard, the maid of honor; and Adam Lendermon (FBGreg Madison, the best man.  Leland did a spectacular job, especially in numbers like “Whatever”. He also had a delightful chemistry with Garnye’s Jenny. Planchet and Lendermon had more comic supporting roles, but they did wonderfully with them.

Rounding out the cast were Thomas W. Ashworth (FBWalt/Uncle Morty and Pamela Hamill (FBAunt Sheila/Mimsy.

Music was provided by a small on-stage band consisting of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB) Music Director / Piano; Steve Dress (FBBass; and Albie Berk (FBPercussion.  Although small, they had a wonderful sound.

The production was pulled together in the famous 25 hours by Josh Grisetti (FBDirector and Mackenzie Perpich (FB) Choreographer. Adding to the stress for this duo is that they just got married… to each other… less than 2 weeks ago and cut their honeymoon short to do this show. No pressure there, but it certainly meant that they understood the stress that is involved with planning a wedding and having things go wrong. That experience was demonstrated on the stage as they perfectly choreographed both the humor and the movement, and worked with the talented acting team to bring off the production with few hitches.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side: Set Design … none. Well, a few tables, a few boxes. Lighting design … minimal, with no credit. Sound design … minimal, which is a bad thing because microphone problems invariably happen in these productions. The one thing they did have were costumes, including two beautiful wedding dresses, that were coordinated by  A Jeffrey Schoenberg / AJS Costumes (FB). Other production credits: Paul Wong (★FBFB) Production Coordinator;  Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager, Production Manager; Stacey Cortez and Debra Miller (FB) Assistant Stage Managers.

This was a one-time only performance. The next Musical Theatre Guild (FB) performance is May 3, 2020 for the musical Kismet, which actually started here in Los Angeles at the LA Civic Light Opera. Tickets are available through the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) website. MTG announced much of their next season, which includes Mack and Mabel, The Wedding Singer, and Brigadoon, together with a show to be announced.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 What Was That? | “A Body of Water” @ Actors Co-Op

A Body of Water (Actors Co-Op)Irritating.

That’s the one-word description of Lee Blessing*’s play “A Body of Water“, currently at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, that I’ve seen most often in other write-ups of the show. That’s certainly how we felt as we left the performance, scratching our heads along with other audience members, as we tried to figure out exactly what it was that we just saw transpire over 90 minutes (no intermission).
(*: And a note to Mr. Blessing: Your personal website, leeblessing (dot) com, which comes up on a Google search, is infected with drive-by loading malware that my malware scanner caught. You need to fix that ASAP. Non-technical folks: Check your websites regularly.)

Here’s the teaser that Actors Co-Op uses to describe the show:

What if you awoke to find yourself married to someone you didn’t know? With a daughter you’ve never met? And what if you spent each day re-learning things about your past that only proved you never really knew what your life was like?

Going through a number of other reviews and combining things, here’s a bit better of a synopsis:

An attractive fifty-ish couple, after waking up in the same bed, are having coffee in the living room facing spectacular views of hills and a lake. The trouble is, that neither the man or the woman know who they are and how they got here. They don’t know their names, whether or not they’re married or whose house this is. The mystery about who’s who and what it all might mean mean unravels or, to be more precise, deepens, with the arrival of a third character — a young woman named Wren who could be their daughter, the lawyer defending them against accusations that they’ve murdered their daughter, or their long time caretaker. Telling them she’s been conducting this grilling and drilling for weeks and years, she hands him a wallet and her a handbag, as well as couple of possible answers as to who they are. One is that she is, as they suspected, their daughter; the other is that she is a defense lawyer trying to get to the bottom of a young girl’s murder and Avis and Moss (as we learn are the names of the man and the women, perhaps) are the girl’s parents and also the prime suspects. Wren has a couple other questionable revelations up her sleeve that leave Avis and Moss even more befuddled  Over the course of what could be multiple days, Wren presents various scenarios for why Avis and Moss are trapped in their state of living without memory. But we never seem to learn the definite answer as to what the truth is and why they are there.

The play itself is fascinating to watch as an audience member, as you’re constantly with the characters in trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The problem is that, again, just like the characters, you never do. You walk out of the play as puzzled as you were when is started. Did they kill their daughter? Were there auto accidents? Was it just dementia? Was this purgatory? Were they political prisoners (after all, they were outside the village)? Who is Number Six? You are Number One. Oh, right.

I can certainly see why Actors Co-Op wanted to do this piece. Under the direction of Nan McNamara (FB), this is an actor’s and director’s dream. You get to imagine what you want and create a memory piece. You have character with lots of emotion, and a wonderful acting exercise. You just don’t have a story that goes anywhere, or that leaves you in a different place from where you started. But performance-wise, it’s wonderful.

So, focusing solely on the story aspect of this piece, my response is… eh. I hope that Blessing doesn’t subject the new writers over in the Skylight program to this. This has a supposed new ending, but that makes me only question the original ending, which must have been equally worse. This is not a play I can particularly recommend for the story. But it is also a clear demonstration of why I do subscribe to theatres: to see the plays that I might not normally pick for myself. Often, you get a winner you might never have discovered. Sometimes, you get one that is a klunker for you, but perhaps others like it. At least we got to see some excellent performances.

As our befuddled couple, Treva Tegtmeier (FB) Avis and Bruce Ladd (FBMoss are believably a couple, and portray the sense of confusion well. They capture well the range of emotions one would expect in such a situation: anger, confusion, loneliness, fear, and so forth. They believably fall into the various situations proposed or set up by the (supposed) (daughter or lawyer) Wren. As for Wren, Ivy Beech (FB) also does a good job of capturing the range of emotions one would expect in that character from anger to exasperation to care and concern. Absent the totally confusing story, the characters are played well.

Rich Rose (FB), assisted by Mateo Rudich,  has created an elegant scenic design that adds plausibility to the background story of Avis and Moss in terms of their social and economic position in society. It is a beautiful household setting with lovely modern furniture. This design is supported by the properties design of Lori Berg (FB).  Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s projection design seemed primarily to be a rippling water effect that didn’t add much to the design; more annoyingly, the light from the projector shone right into our eyes. A similar problem existed with  Andrew Schmedake (⭐FB)’s lighting design: the leikos across the stage from the seats behind the box office had a tendancy to shine into the eyes of the audience. So although the lights established the mood well, they made it hard to watch the action. Warren Davis (FB) ‘s sound design established the woods and exterior items well, although some of the insect sounds were a bit towards the audio feedback level.  Paula Higgins (FB)’s costumes were appropriate for the character’s station. Other production credits: Francesca Patrón (FBDirector’s Apprentice; Richard Soto (FB) Fight Direction; Nora Feldman Publicist; Kay Bess (⭐FB) Production Manager; Shawna Voragen (FB) Stage Manager; Katie Lee Merritt Asst. Stage Manager; Crystal Jackson (FB) Producer; and Heather Chesley (FB) Artistic Chairwomen.

A Body of Water continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 15. TIckets are available through the Actor Co-Op website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. We’re Actors Co-Op subscribers, and normally I would recommend their shows. This show has great acting — and is worth seeing if you want to see some quality actors from the Actors Co-Op acting company. But the story itself is irritating and confusing, and you’ll walk out a bit befuddled. If you enjoy the thought questions that go with something like that, you’ll enjoy this. But if you are looking for something that goes from Point A to Point B in some form of logical progress — in particular, if you want that Point B to be different than your starting Point A, then this likely isn’t the show for you. Get tickets to Man of No Importance, which Actors Co-Op is doing later in the season, instead. That should be a great show.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 Is There A Reason Behind The Intimate Insanity? | The $5 Shakespeare Company @ 6th Act/Theatre 68

The $5 Shakespeare Company (6th Act @ Theatre 68)Often, when I have two theatre shows in a weekend, there’s some common theme between them — some sort of connecting through line that I can ruminate on. In this case, that through line is Los Angeles, and some of the unique things that we find in the city. One is the West Adams district, which was the subject of our play on Saturday night. West Adams was also the home of an intimate theatre that, alas, is no more, Chromolume, that used to do remarkable productions held together with love, talent, and I think lots of duct tape. Chromolume made miracles out of a little, and the people kept doing what they were doing for some unknown reason, until their landlord figured they could make more money with a tenant that could pay more.

The play we saw Sunday afternoon, The $5 Shakespeare Company, explores intimate theatre in Los Angeles, This World Premiere from The 6th Act at Theatre 68 in NoHo, written by Matthew Leavitt, tells the story of one of the shoestring companies, The $5 Shakespeare Company, whose mission is to present Shakespeare plays on no budget for $5 in a storefront theatre (implied to be on Theatre Row on Santa Monica Blvd). You’ve all been in these theatres during Fringe: a black box stage and perhaps 50 seats. The action, which reminded me a bit of Noises Off without the full-on farcical elements, alternated between the back-stage story of the company and the on-stage presentation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream (in February). This allowed you to meet all the characters, learn their stories, see both how they were invested in the company and why they were there, as well as seeing the quality of the performance. The Noises Off comparison is apt, as just as in Noises Off, there is deterioration of the relationships backstage as well as the performances to the audience.

I’ll do my best to describe the characters in the story, although alas I was dealing with a slight headache that gave me microbursts of drowsiness beyond my control. The head of the company was Jacob (Adam J. Smith (FB)), an actor who was fired from a sitcom for pushing a camera into a wall in an outburst, now serving as the Artistic Director of the company trying to hold it together and move it forward. Lillian (Liza Seneca (FB)) is another long-time company member, who had aspirations to run the company until Jacob was selected by the membership. She remains because it allows her to play roles that she would never get to normally play. Working closely with Lillian is Elena (Carolina Espiro (⭐FB)), who has been in the business a long time, and is introduced to the audience requiring liquid fortification to go on with the show. She’s also having an affair with Randall (Kenajuan Bentley (FB)), an actor who enjoys his Shakespeare … but also enjoys torturing the understudy in the show, Louis (Luke McClure (FB)). Louis, a recent graduate of RADA … in Riverside CA … thinks he knows everything about theatre professionalism.

Also in the $5 Shakespeare Company is Everett (Emerson Collins (⭐FB)), the stereotypical gay character who longs to play Tatiana. He’s tortured Noel (Jamie Zwick (⭐FB, FB)), the type of actor so proud of his body he takes off his shirt and oils up at the slightest opportunity. The elder actor in the community is Chester (Andy Robinson (FB)), who has basically done it all and seen it all, and is cynical about it all, and wants to play King Lear before he is too old to remember the lines. The two youngest members of the company are Camille (Cindy Nguyen (FB)), whose doesn’t have the greatest amount of talent but whose father is bankrolling the company, and Spencer (Sami Kolko Zwick (FB) at our performance, normally Natalie Lander (⭐FB)) a young actress who is expecting her big break any moment (and who thus must have her cell phone with her at all times … all times).

As you can see, this company captures most of the archetypes of actors in Los Angeles, from the experienced to the not, from the stage professionals to the TV actors. The script is loaded with references that LA natives, and LA folk that love theatre will get. I think there were also quite a few inside references that I didn’t get (being a cybersecurity guy) that others in the audience (who were clearly in the industry) got. But that’s good — that makes this a play that works at all levels.

The play, under the direction of Joel Zwick (FB), moves briskly (90 minutes, no intermission), and the actor capture and are clearly having fun with their character types. I can’t necessarily say they are realistic portrayals, because I think the characters were written to exaggerate the behaviors. Stylistically, they capture well what I expect the backstage of an bare-bones theatre would be like — one shared dressing room for all, with threadbare decor and no privacy for changing except standing behind something. But I think Zwick also does a great job of turning what could be a bunch of stereotypes into a believable family that cares about each other — foibles and all.

Overall, I found the play entertaining and quite funny — and one that even made me laugh out loud (which is rare). The performances were strong, and the story was in essence a love letter to the people that do intimate theatre for rewards that are certainly not monetary, but are more spiritual. I think it is well worth seeing, especially if you (like me) are an audience member that loves the creativity that only small theatres can bring. My wife (who brought the show to my attention) found it rolling-on-the-floor funny. It really was a great show.

I’ve cited the performers before. I’d like to highlight a few that particularly caught my eye. The first was our understudy put-in, Sami Kolko Zwick (FB), who was a delight to watch as Spencer. Also fun to watch was the other young actress, Cindy Nguyen (FB). I really liked Adam J. Smith (FB)’s Jacob — you could just sense the exasperation. I thought Andy Robinson (FB)’s name was familiar, but I never even recognized Gareck in Chester, his portrayal of Chester was that strong. I also enjoyed the easy familiarity of Kenajuan Bentley (FB)’s Randall. But all of the actors were great.

Chris Winfield (FB)’s scenice design was suitably dilapidated for a company doing thing on the cheap, as were Ashphord Jacoway‘s costumes. Nick Neidorf (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Chu-hsuan Chang‘s lighting design blended into the background, quietly establishing the mood. Other production credits: Nick Neidorf (FBComposer; David Elzer, DEMAND PR Publicity; Michelle Hanzelova (FB) Graphic Design; MacKenzie Smith Stage Manager; Sami Kolko Zwick (FB) Assistant Director; Megan Donahue (FB) Assistant Stage Manager.

The $5 Shakespeare Company continues at Theatre 68 in NoHo through March 8. Tickets are available through Eventbrite. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar (which even gets a mention of the show, about the importance of getting a good review on Goldstar).

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🎭 The Dark Side of Gentrification | “West Adams” @ Skylight Theatre

West Adams (Skylight Theatre)Gentrification. Wikipedia defines it as “a process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses.” Merriam Webster defines it as “a process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses.” The key factor that these definitions have in common is that affluent residents move in, and the poorer people get pushed out. In the 1960s, this process was called “urban renewal”, and (back then) you saw poorer people get pushed out for businesses and civic monuments — such as Dodger Stadium and the Music Center.

In Los Angeles, there have only been a handful of plays that have explored the subject of gentrification. In This Land, presented by Company of Angels in 2017, the story of gentrification was told by focusing on a single plot of land in Watts, showing how the land passed from family to family: Gabrielino tribal land to the Spanish, from the Spanish to the (white) Americans, from the whites to the blacks, from the blacks to the Hispanics, until the whites started moving back in, gentrifying, pushing out the Hispanics in the name of progress.  That play emphasized the commonalities in the cultures, but it also showed some of the hatred that came when new and different people moved in. The play Remembering Boyle Heights, presented by Casa 0101, presented the history of Boyle Heights — a community that often faced redlining and became a melting pot of immigrants and minorities because it was the only place they could live… and a community that is also seeing its poorer residents being pushed out as the white investors come in with their art galleries and trendy restaurants.

This brings us to West Adams, a new play developed by SkyLab, the resident playwright’s program (directed by Lee Blessing) and written by Penelope Lowder, currently being presented by the Skylight Theatre Company (FB). West Adams explores another gentrification story in Los Angeles, this time in the Historic West Adams community. Once a trendy white community, this community in the post WWII era became increasingly black and hispanic. Recently, it has been a prime area for investors and the folks who chase the trends to move into for the beautiful 1920s houses. If you want an easy example, look at the sitcom The Neighborhood. Based on the houses, this likely takes place in West Adams — and yes, the white couple there, while comically portrayed, are gentrifying the neighborhood.

This play concerns some different couples, perhaps with different motives. Michael Hills (Clayton Farris (⭐FB)) and his wife Jullie Cho Hills (Jenny Soo (FB)) have moved from a crappy Santa Monica apartment to West Adams, and own a bouncy castle business. They operate this business with the help of their friends Edward (Andres M. Bagg) and Sarah Apaza (Allison Blaize (FB)). Michael sponsored Edward for his green card and brought him over from Peru. They are attempting to get their performance of the Star Spangled Banner into the West Adams Block Party (they must audition), and Michael has donated a number of bouncy houses to the party. Then new neighbors move in across the street, renovating the dilapidated house into a palace. The Hills and Apaza’s are happy about this, as they appear to be white and wealthy. Later they learn that the actual buyer is a black ENT with a practice in Beverly Hills, who knows lots of stars. But they are still happy, because these connections mean more visibility and upward mobility.

But when the new family starts being liked more by the neighborhood council, and getting exemptions from the rules, things start to simmer. When a trip to the African American Museum turns into a tirade on the problems with white privilege, they heat up more. And when the Hills and Apaza’s lose the privilege they had, and start to see the neighborhood not wanting the improvements they want to bring… let’s just say that it gets real ugly. Really, really, ugly.

West Adams shows a much darker (if that’s the right word to use) motive behind gentrification: overt racism and classism. In the play, the motives for moving to West Adams is not the overt “buying the best house for the least money” (which is often stated as the reason for gentrification), or the fact that it is “a good investment”, but for the betterment of the neighborhood. This betterment is not defined as making the neighborhood better for the people that live there, and preserving the culture of the people that live there, but rather bringing in the culture that we (i.e., the white gentrifiers) think is the better culture, and pushing out the lower class and poorer minorities that live in these houses (often giving them pennies on the dollars, while making money on the investments). The play posits that, for at least some people, gentrification is just another form of purification — of making portions of the city over into the culture that they think is the better culture.

[ETA: An interesting thought hit me this morning regarding this: When non-whites have moved into traditionally white neighborhoods, this hasn’t been viewed as gentrification and there haven’t been claims that these non-white have been attempting to treat their culture as superior and impose it (in fact, from the white point of view, the opposite has been said: these folks moving in are lowering values). Yet when we have the gentrification situation, the white moving in attempt to impose their values to “improve” the neighborhood. I see some parallels in my head of Christians moving in and imposing Christian values to “improve” societies. What does this say, overall, about the implied privilege, and why that implied privilege leads people to view one culture, religion, or values as superior — when in reality, there is often no such weighting and judging the value of a culture is itself bias. See, this is what plays do — they make you think.]

In presenting this story, West Adams does what theatre is supposed to do: make you think, and make you confront something that makes you uncomfortable. Theatre isn’t always a story with a light and happy ending, with song and dance and laughter in your heart. Sometimes it is the darker stories, such as last week’s The Last Ship about the death of a community when the wealthy shipyard owners close a business for economic reasons, or West Adams where we see the unspoken racism in this country as a factor in gentrification. The shows I’ve cited here from Company of Angels, Casa 0101, and Skylight also do what is very important in Los Angeles: Having theatre that is not only presented in Los Angeles, but is about Los Angeles, and tells stories that make Los Angeles think about its place and what it is doing. West Adams is also a significant show in juxtaposition with the larger story of what is happening in this country under the Trump administration, where white supremacy is increasingly out in the open and accepted by the administration. How would President Trump feel about the family in this story? Would he be giving them the President Medal of Freedom for what they are doing. All these factors make this show something that should really be seen.

Lastly, an it is in some sense a spoiler, there is reference to rape in this show, and of possibly false #MeToo like accusations being weaponized. If that is a sensitive subject for your, be forewarned. The N-word is also used once.

Under the direction of Michael A. Shepperd (FB), the family is quickly believable and their behavior makes sense. This feels not like a stereotypical group, but a group you could imagine being friends with. In other words, Shepperd does a great job of making them be (insert emphasis and pauses) just (pause) like (pause) you. In doing so, he makes us confront whether this form of racism and behavior is within us. Shepperd does a great job of working with the actors and crafting a presentation that is believable, and that flies by in a short 85 minutes. About the only thing I didn’t like was the mechanical choreography between scenes.

I’ve mentioned the cast above (unlike my usual approach), but I’d like to highlight how much I liked them and how well they worked as an emsemble. I read one review that liked the story but didn’t think the cast had jelled. They saw it opening night, which is perhaps not the best time to see a show. I saw it a week after opening, and the cast has really jelled into believable and likable couples. This makes the ugly in the latter half of the play even more shocking. All of the cast — Clayton Farris (⭐FB), Jenny Soo (FB), Andres M. Bagg and Allison Blaize (FB) — are just great.

Turning to the production and creative side. Stephen Gifford (FB)’s set design presents the basic front room of a house, in which all the action takes place. This design works well with the direction to believably create the new family’s house across the street. This imaginative solution is aided by the inventive sound design of Jesse Madapat, which creates the moving trucks and the parties sonicly placed behind the audience. David Murakami (FB)’s projection design augments the location providing movement and maps between the scenes. Mylette Nora‘s costume design seemed appropriate up-scale for the aspirations of these couples, and Donny Jackson‘s lighting design established time and mood well. Rounding out the production credits: Michael O’Hara (FB) Props; Michael Teoli (FB) Original Music; Judith Borne Publicist; Guillermo Perez Graphic Design; Raul Clayton Staggs Casting; Garrett Crouch Rehearsal Stage Manager; Christopher Hoffman Production Stage Manager; Jen Albert Fight Coordinator; Amy Pelch Associate Producer; Andrew Brian Carter Assistant Director; Gary Grossman and Michael Kearns Producers.

West Adams continues at the Skylight Theatre Company (FB) in Los Feliz through March 8. Tickets are available through the Skyline box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. If you are a student of Los Angeles or the impacts of gentrification — or just like good theatre — go see this.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 brought the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 — writeup coming up in a day or three. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 A Pipefitter’s Dream | “The Last Ship” @ Ahmanson Theatre

The Last Ship (Ahmanson Theatre)Last Saturday night, we saw the musical The Last Ship at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), with music and lyrics by Sting (FB), and new book by Lorne Campbell, based on the original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write up this puzzler of a show (and, to be honest, I’ve been trying to find the time to finish the writeup, once started — crazy week).

The Last Ship tells the story of a shipyard in Wallsend UK, and the workers who work in the yard. They’ve built many ships over the generations, passing jobs down from father to son. They see them sail off, and wonder about the next job. They are about 90% done with the current ship when the owner comes in and says they cannot find a buyer for it. They are going to dismantle it for scrap. He wants to stop work, higher a smaller number of workers for less pay for less skilled work. He will then close the yard. The workers, naturally, are against this for a number of reasons: they build ships, they don’t take them apart; the good pay is going away; the jobs are going away. At the heart of the matter is the question: What are they without the shipyard, and what is the meaning of their lives without the building of a ship?

At this point, the leaders of the workers what to have a strike. But it is soon discovered that doesn’t make a difference and their hand is forced: The company that owned them is being dissolved, and a new entity is purchasing the yard to dismantle the ship and close it. So who is there to strike against?

Parallel to this is the story of Gideon Fletcher, the son of one of the shipbuilders. He doesn’t want to inherit the tradition. After his father is injured in an industrial accident, he decides to leave for Her Majesties Navy. He doesn’t just leave his family, he leaves his girl Meg. But he promises he’ll be back soon. Seventeen years later he returns and tries to rekindle the relationship. There are two things standing in the way: the whole 17 year thing, and the fact that he left Meg “in the family way” — and now has a daughter. This daughter, Ellen, wants to go off with her rock band to London, which her mom doesn’t want.

These stories come together in the resolution of the shipyard story, when the shop foreman (Jackie White) and the shop steward (BIlly Thompson) decide they are going to occupy the shipyard, and complete the last ship. This is after Jackie White breaks the news to his wife that he has mesothelioma and will die soon (and does). Gideon decides his destiny is to captain the ship down the slip, and so he (predictably) sails off into the sunset … with Meg … and the casket of Jackie White … on the ship Utopia.

This show, famously, has been a pet project of Sting (who has lots of pet projects). It is quasi-autobiographical — Sting grew up in such a working class community. The show failed on Broadway, where it played 29 previews and 109 performances. It was subsequently retooled for the UK and Toronto, and the retooled and rewritten version is what is going on tour, starting with this production in Los Angeles. From what I’m given to understand, the story was retooled to focus a bit more on the women standing by their men. Originally, a priest character was the one who encouraged them to finish the ship, and Meg had to decide between her current husband and Gideon. Those aspects of the plot have gone away, The abandoned daughter is intended to be the representation of Sting, and after protest, Gideon and Meg allow her to go to find her destiny.

I could stop here, and just go on to the performances. But the show demands more analysis. But what to say?

This isn’t one of those great shows that you’ll see again and again (unless you are a Sting fan). But it’s not a disaster either. It’s … problematic. The accents, initially, are hard to get used to. But you do. The score is good, if a bit of a downer at times. Still, there are songs that are quite energetic, with a bit of a feel of Once.  But the story is also a bit of a downer. In a musical, you often want a happy ending. Yes, the guy gets the girl, but the main focus of the story, the shipbuilders, are in for a sorrier lot. Once that last ship sails, their way of life sails away as well. It’s a commentary on our times: the yards in the other countries can build it faster and cheaper (who knows about better, but faster and cheaper are what matters). And so, the jobs go away, as they have in so many industries. As they say in Urinetown: who wants to be told their way of life is unsustainable. This play does that, but the music isn’t as pretty.

Then there is the union aspect of the show. This is why my wife liked the show — she comes from a family of union organizers and rabble-rousers. But the union story has been told before — look at the backstory in Billy Elliott, for example, for a strike that was around the same time and ended equally poorly.  We see unions at the center of Pins and Needles, of The Pajama Game, and in other shows. The union fight is a good story and an honorable story. You want the laborers and the unions to win. But their fight, in this case, is a pipe dream. Who knows if it isn’t a dream in total: the ship is, after all, called Utopia. Give me a union fight where the union wins it, and makes life better for the workers. Give me Norma Jean: The Musical. That’s what we need these days: stories that show the value of the union.

As for the love story at the center of it: You never really know if there is love there at all, or just a different form of a sense of duty. Would Gideon have stayed with Meg without the question of Ellen? The setup of their relationship isn’t as strong as it could be. You don’t become invested in their story. In many ways, I think that the Gideon/Meg story could be easily jettisoned without impacting the main story that is being told. After all, the earworm you walk away with is not any love song between Gideon and Meg, but “the only life we’ve known is in the shipyard.” But then again, where would the future Sting-but-not-Sting be in the show if that happened?

In the end, am I glad I saw the show? Yes (and not only because I discovered that the Mezzanine seats in the Ahmanson aren’t bad at all). The music has grown on me, and now I understand the story. Perhaps some years down the road a revival of the show may figure out how to adjust the stories to strengthen it. It wasn’t bad. Just not great. It is clearly moving in the right direction.

That said, when you look at the performance side independent of the material, there are strong performances indeed. Under the direction of Lorne Campbell, the characters come off real and believable. The actors inhabit the characters, as you can see by watching the characters that are in the background. The performances evoke real emotion, and the conception and execution make space believably multiple spaces.

In the 🌟 “Star” position, billing-wise, is Sting (FB) Jackie White. We all know Sting can sing well, and because he wrote the music he knows the intent of the author. But he also handles the dramatic side strongly. In particular, his scenes with his wife, Peggy (Jackie Morrison) after he finally goes to the doctor are extremely touching. It is also interesting to note that Sting, being the “star”, actually doesn’t get the bulk of the song — or in fact any real solos. He has some touching featured moments in “Shipyard” and “Last Ship”, and a great duet with Morrison, but that’s about it.

In the real lead positions are the love interests: Frances McNamee (FBMeg Dawson and Oliver Savile (FB, IG) Gideon Fletcher. Both are strong singers, and inhabit their characters well and believably. McNamee has a wonderful song in “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor” and “August Winds”, and Savile does a great job on “When the Pubilist Learned to Dance” and “Dead Mans Boots”.  I’m less sure whether they capture the spark that needs to be between the characters — is the love believable in “What Say You Meg”, although McNamee captures the anger and bathos quite well. As their daughter, Sophie Reid (IG, FB) Ellen Dawson captures the teen anger quite well, and does a great job with her songs, especially “All This Time”.

Other notable performers are Jackie Morrison Peggy White, the wife of Sting’s character, and Joe Caffrey (FBBilly Thompson, the shop steward. Both give strong and touching performances and sing well. Caffrey gets her moment to shine in “Women at the Gate”, and Caffrey gets to shing in “Underground River”.

Rounding out the cast were Tom Parsons (IG) Adrian Sanderson (normally played by Marc Akinfolarin (FB)); Matt Corner (IG) Davey Harrison; Susan Fay (FB) Maureen Summerson; Orla Gormley (FB, IG) Mrs. Dees; Annie Grace Baroness Tynedale; Oliver Kearney Kev Dickinson; Sean Kearns (FB) Freddy Newlands, Old Joe Fletcher, Ferryman; David Muscat (⭐FB, FB) Thomas Ashburner; James Berkery (IG) Eric Ford (normally Tom Parsons); Joseph Peacock (IG) Young Gideon; Hannah Richardson Cathleen Fleming, and Jade Sophia Vertannes (IG) Young Meg. James Berkery and Jullia Locascio were the understudies. It is in this ensemble that the power of the women is shown, especially with all the numbers that put the women front and center. There are quite a few numbers that do this explicitly, from “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor”, to “Mrs. Dees’ Rant”, and ending with the strong women of “Women at the Gate”. I should note the strong performance of Gormley as Mrs. Dees in the rant that opens Act II (although for a minute I expected it to be an oddly times BC/EFA appeal)

PS to artists writing their bios for a program: Please proof your links, and if you link to a website, make sure it is working. At least half of the Instagram links in the bios were bad or went to someone elses page. This is especially true if you are repeating letters in your Instagram handle (Jave Vertannes is an example of this: there is a difference between @jadesophia_ (in the program) and @jadeesophia_ (the actual handle, with two “e”s) or don’t proof (there is a difference between thom.parsons.com (in the program) and thom-parsons.com (the actual URL). You put the links there so folks can find you. They should work.

Movement in this show isn’t choreographed (as there is no choreographer), but there is a movement director (Lucy Hind) and an associate movement director (James Berkery).  There were points in the show where I was watching the actors and going “that was clearly a ballet move”, so that movement types weren’t as believably seamlessly integrated in the story as they could be. But in general, the movement was more along the lines of Irish dance or folk dance than a traditional dance, to my eyes.

Music was provided by a small on-stage band, under the musical direction of Richard John (LI). The orchestra consisted of: Richard John (LI) Musical Director, Keyboards; Mick McAuley (🎼FB) Melodeon; Ben Butler (🎼FB, FB) Guitar; Scott Goldbaum (FB) Guitar; Kaveh Rastegar (🎼FB, FB) Acoustic Bass; Nathaniel Laguzza (FB) Drums/Percussion; Molly Rogers (🎼FB, FB) Violin. Other musical credits: Rob Mathes (🎼FB) Music Supervisor and Orchestrator; Sam Sommerfeld Associate Musical DirectorEncompass Music Partners (FB) Music Contractor.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. Overall designer 59 Productions deserves lots of credit for the outstanding scenic design which combined a roughly steel-ish structural set with scrims and projection surfaces to create an incredibly malleable set piece that could transform from a shipyard to a church to a pub to a house to a … you name it, just with some seamless projections and the dropping of a scrim or three. It was astounding to watch the transformations, and they gave a wonderful sense of space. This was augmented by the lighting designs of Matt Daw, which highlighted the sense of time and mood. Molly Einchcomb (TW)’s costumes, supervised by Verity Sadler (FB), seemed appropriate for the characters. Sebastian Frost‘s sound design worked reasonably well, although the accents were initially muddied in the mezzanine. Other production credits:  Jullia Locascio Associate DirectorBethan Clark of Rc-Annie Ltd Fight Director; Helen Jane Simmons (FB) Voice Coach; Beth Eden Casting Director, US Tour; Selma Dimitrijevic Dramaturg; Russ Spencer Company Stage Manager; Maggie Swing Production Stage Manager; Lorraine Kearin (FB) Deputy Stage Manager; Christian Bawtree Assistant Stage Manager; Broadway Booking Office NYC Tour Booking, Engagement Management, Press & Marketing; PW Productions General Management; Pemberley Productions General Management; Iain Gillie (FB) Associate Producer; Ivan MacTaggart Associate Producer; Karl Sydow Producer.

When I started writing this review, you had two weeks to see The Last Ship at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). You now only have one. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. While not a perfect show, the music is beautiful and the show moderately interesting. I enjoyed it.

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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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 West Adams at Skylight Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 on Sunday. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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