🎭 Be World Class in Everything, Center Theatre Group

With the announcement of the Ahmanson Theatre season at the Center Theatre Group (FB) this week, we made the decision to resubscribe at the Ahmanson again. Doing so reminded me yet again of the differences between how the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) does the care and feeding of subscribers, vs how CTG does it (especially as we also just resubscribed at the Pantages for their 2020-2021 season). So I thought I would start the morning by writing up this summary — primarily so I could tweet it to @CTGLA and challenge them to match their world-class theatre with a world-class subscriber experience.

I’ve been attending theatre since I was 12 and attended The Rothschilds at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion as part of the LACLO season. My parents were long time LACLO season ticket holders. We’ve subscribed at numerous theatres large and small, from the Pasadena Playhouse for almost 20 years (until their bankruptcy), the Colony, small venues like REP East and Chromolume (both now gone). Currently we 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).

Most theatres make it easy for subscribers: call and change your tickets easily, get the best prices (modulo the Goldstar last-minute tickets), often the ability to pick your seats and your nights well in advance. Some of the venues have their quirks: the Thousand Oaks Plaza (home of 5-Star) insists on a change fee, for example, when rescheduling. But the comparison of the two largest theatres in town: the Pantages and the Ahmanson, is telling. Both book Broadway tours and compete for the same audiences, although the former is for-profit and the latter non-profit. Here’s a comparison:

Characteristic Pantages Ahmanson
When you subscribe, can you pick the day you attend? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you pick the date you attend (i.e., which week of the run)? Yes, online, and you can compare seats across the nights Only over the phone, and there’s no ability to compare the different seats across the nights
When you subscribe, can you pick your seat? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you set up a payment plan? Multiple payment plans are possible, up to 10 payments, all can be set up online, no additional fee You can pay online in a single payment, or set up a 2 or 4 payment plan, but only over the phone, for an additional fee.
When do you learn of your subscription dates and seats, so you can block your calendar? At the time of subscription. Months later when they resolve the seats for subscribers, unless you did a phone subscription and picked the week.
Can you improve your seats after the renewal deadline, when non-renewing subscribers have dropped off? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Do you get reminders before each show of the opportunity to purchase additional tickets (or exchange your seats) before anything opens to the public or special pre-sales? Yes, online Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Are exchanges easy? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat. Somewhat. They are online, but the system is confusing with respect to the full price vs. the exchange price. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat, especially at the lower price points.
Are there special subscriber events? Numerous evenings to see the theatre and backstage, for free, often with tastings set up from local restaurants. The occasional speaker or educational events.
Any other thank yous? We’ve occasionally gotten thank you bags … and even chocolate. Not much that I can recall.

Now I understand that goodie bags are probably a perk of being a for-profit theatre, and that might also limit the ability to do the tastings (although that’s marketing for the local restaurants, so it is in their interest). But the online ticketing and subscription system of Center Theatre Group is so antiquated and limited in its abilities. It really calls out for improvement. The Pantages is using an instance of the Ticketmaster system (also used by 5-Star, TO Civic Arts Plaza, and the Soraya), which likely means the increased fees are added silently to the ticket prices. But CTG really needs to look into getting some of these capabilities integrated into their system if they are going to successfully compete in the subscriber market. They’ve improved quite a bit from 10 years ago, when it was actually more expensive to subscribe thanks to per-ticket fees than to buy HotTix for each show. But I challenge them to improve again.

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🎭 Thoughts on a Theatre Season – Ahmanson Theatre 2020-2021

CTG/Ahmanson 2020-2021 SeasonWell, the Ahmanson has announced their 2020-2021 season and… well, it’s better than their 2019-2020 season. That season had a lot of problems, with two one-person shows and a number of shows I had no interest in seeing. For the upcoming season, at least there aren’t any one-person shows. But there are so many encores that I’m still not sure it is worth subscribing, especially with the quality of the Mezzanine seats and the availability of the AmEx Presale (as well as how poorly the Ahmanson treated their subscribers vs. the Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood)*. Here’s the season and my thoughts (🎶 indicates musical; 🎭 indicates a play; and 🔁 indicates “encore performance”):

  • Open Slot. To Be Announced. According to the formal announcement it will be announced this Spring.
  • 🎭 The Lehman Trilogy, Oct. 20–Nov. 28, 2020. Written by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power, directed by Sam Mendes.
  • 🔁 🎶 Dear Evan Hansen. Dec. 1, 2020–Jan. 23, 2021.  Book by Steven Levenson, score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed by Michael Greif
  • (🔁) 🎶 Les Misérables. Jan. 26–Feb. 28, 2021. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell. Note: Les Miz was at the Pantages in May 2019.
  • 🎶 Hadestown. March 2–April 4, 2021. Book, music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin
  • 🎭 Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. April 29–June 6, 2021. Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bartlett Sher
  • 🔁 🎶 Come From Away. June 9–July 4, 2021. Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley
  • 🎶 The Prom. July 6–Aug. 8, 2021. Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
  • 🔁 🎶 Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations. Aug. 11–Sept. 5, 2021. Book by Dominique Morisseau, music and lyrics from the Motown catalog, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, directed by Des McAnuff

Of these, the ones that I want to see are HadestownMockingbird, and The Prom. Although we saw it the last time we were at the Ahmanson, we’ll want to see Come From Away again, simply because my wife likes that musical so much. But as for the others: We weren’t that impressed with Dear Evan Hansen, despite all the buzz. We saw Les Miz when it was at the Pantages in May. Lastly, we saw Ain’t Too Proud when it had its pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson, and I don’t have the strong urge (based on that) to see the post-Broadway changes in a jukebox musical.

That leaves The Lehman Trilogy, which is a maybe and depends on scheduling. I’ll note that it is during a period when both the Ahmanson and Dolby are dark.

*: The last time we subscribed to the Ahmanson, for the lowest priced tier, they shuffled us off to a Friday night claiming no subscriptions were available for Saturday nights. Friday nights were a pain to get to. I seem to recall they didn’t have the clearest system for changing seats. For 2020-2021, we’re interested in 4-5 of the 8 announced shows. If they have good prices and dates for the season, and we can get a decent side mezzanine price, subscription is a possibility, although they seem to save those seats for open sales. At that point, we might just as well wait for the Amex Pre-Sale and get the seats when they first go on sale. Their subscription plan, according to their site, is for the six season shows (Lehman, TBA, Les Miz, Hadestown, Mockingbird, and Prom) plus one encore show. That’s a possibility, although I have no desire to see Les Miz again.

ETA: Subscribing is a clear example of how the Pantages knows how to treat subscribers, and the Ahmanson does not. When you subscribe at the Pantages/Broadway in Hollywood, you can pick which week of the run you want and which night, pick your seats, and set it up with a 10 payment plan all from the web. With the Ahmanson, you can only pick the day of the week — no choice on which week of the run. You can’t pick your seat — only the seating area, and there is no seat map made available. And if you want to do something other than pay it all in one lump sum, you have to call Customer Service. Which I will do tomorrow.

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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.

🎭

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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🎭 Understanding Your Rights | “What the Constitution Means to Me” @ Taper/CTG

What the Constitution Means to Me @ TaperAnd with a return to Jr. High Debating Club, our theatrical year starts off with a bang, and a reminder of why this year is so important. The fundamentals of our nation are at stake, and this play reminds us why we must get out there and march and vote to protect our hard fought rights.

But back to Jr. High first. When I was in 8th and 9th grade, I was in Mrs. WIlliams Debate Club, and I actually enjoyed debating. Researching the premise, establishing your position, defending your thoughts. It was wonderful mental exercise and training.

The production currently at the Mark Taper ForumWhat the Constitution Means to Me, is centered around the debate that is at the heart of America. It presents the real story of the play’s author, Heidi Schreck (FB), represented here by Maria Dizzia (FB). It essentially has three acts. In the first, Shreck goes back to her days as a 15 year-old doing American Legion debates for college funds, talking about what the constitution means to her. This includes digression into areas of interest to her, such as what the constitution says about womens rights and Native American rights. The second part brings us the story of the current Shreck, her family history of violence against women and abortion, and what the constitution says about that. In the third and last part, Shreck debates a 15-year old student about whether to keep or rewrite the constitution. The production was directed by Oliver Butler.

In trying to decide how to write this up, I read McNulty’s review in the LA Times. For the general opinion on the production, I agree with McNulty:

Let me preface this review of Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” with a strong plea to every man, woman and mature teenager in the Los Angeles area to see this play, which opened Friday at the Mark Taper Forum.

At a time when the Constitution is being assailed by those who have sworn an oath to defend it, this buoyant and often-stirring civics lesson is the theatrical curriculum Americans desperately need now.

As much a play as a performance piece, “What the Constitution Means to Me” reveals with courageous poignancy the way our nation’s founding legal document intersects with the choices, opportunities, relationships and destinies of those who have had to fight for their foothold in our imperfect democracy.

I agree with McNulty’s assessment of Shreck and the subject matter. Caution is required for those who have experienced sexual violence: there is reference to it in the play, and it could be triggery for some. But, alas, how our constitutions protects or fails to protect those subject to violence should be even more reason for people to vote.

You also get a present from this production: A pocket copy of the constitution courtesy of the ACLU. Read it. It’s scary at times. For example, it only refers to the President as “he”. Could this be used by originalists to argue that women can’t be President. This is why we so need the ERA to pass. It also shows that the President could shut down Congress with a declaration of an emergency. I wouldn’t put it past this President to do so if he couldn’t get his way — again, reason to vote.

This play demonstrates that the constitution is personal, and affects everyone one of us. It is why we must fight to defend it against those who would abuse it or make it a travesty.

As I said, I agree with McNulty’s assessment of the play, and of Dizzia’s performance. They did make a change in the play for the tour: about two-thirds into the play, the artifice of Dizzia’s playing Shreck is abandoned, and she is herself, sharing some of her story and what the constitution means to her. McNulty also covers well the fellow who plays the American Legion representative (and himself): Mike Iveson (TW). McNulty also covers the student debater who performs Wed, Fri, Sat matinee, and Sunday evening, Rosdely Ciprian.

However, Rosdely’s not the only student. Tues, Thurs, Sat evening, and Sunday matinee we get a local student, Jocelyn Shek (FB). That’s who we had, and we were impressed with the young woman and her debating style. For a stage-novice, she shows the poise and quick thinking that debate training gives one.

Understudies are Jessica Savage (FB) and Gabriel Marin.

The set design is a simple representation of the American Legion hall, designed by Rachel Hauck. The costume design of Michael Krass was similarly simple. There wasn’t that much for the lighting (Jen Schriever) and sound design (Sinan Refik Zafar) to do other than simply work, and that they did well. Other production credits: Sarah Lunnie Dramaturg; Tatiana Pandiani Assoc Director; Taylor Williams CSA Casting; Nicole Olson Production Stage Manager; Terri K. Kohler Stage Manager; Michael Camp Company Manager; Bethany Weinstein Stewert Production Management; MEP and 321 Theatrical Management General Management.

What the Constitution Means to Me continues at the Mark Taper Forum/Center Theatre Group through February 28. Tickets are available through the CTG box office; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or on TodayTix. This is a show every American — or anyone wanting to understand the Constitution — should see

🎭

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 evening brings our second show of the weekend: Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We then get busy. The last weekend of January brings Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Things heat up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend. The second 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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🎭 Schadenfreude | “The Play That Goes Wrong” @ Ahmanson

The Play That Goes Wrong (Ahmanson)The musical Avenue Q gave a word to most Americans for a concept they knew well. It was a concept that drove almost all comedy, and certainly comedic farce. It wasn’t a comedy driven by jokes or puns, or almost anything that was said. It was schadenfreude, the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.

Schadenfreude is at the heart of the final production of the Ahmanson Theatre (FB)’s 2018-2019 season: The Play That Goes Wrong, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields as a Mischief Theatre production in London. Bottom line up front: this is the funniest thing I have seen on stage since the first time I saw Noises Off in the original West End production at the Savoy.

The premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is a simple one: an amateur British theatre company, the Cornley University Drama Society, has been afforded the honour through a British-American Cultural Exchange Program of presenting a play on tour in America: The Murder at Haversham Manor, written by Susie H.K. Brideswell. Unfortunately, during the production, everything that can go wrong during the production does. Miscues. Misplaced props. Non-cooperating sets. Bad actors. Technology issues. Trying to summarize the story is pointless — the story exists only to provide a framework for the mayhem, and the mayhem is so rapid-fire that trying to describe it is (a) impossible, and (b) would destroy the humor.

Suffice it to say that your fun starts before the show when the actors are out in the audience getting things set up, and continues until the end of the curtain call.

Pulling off a well-timed farce like this requires strong direction to get the movement and blocking right — one wrong move and actors could get seriously injured. Tour director Matt DiCarlo (FB) luckily gets this right, building on his experience as the Production Stage Manager for the original Broadway production, as well as the original Broadway direction by Mark Bell. DiCarlo has honed his acting ensemble to split-second precision, while making it look completely disorganized on stage. That’s actually a skill to have order behind the comedy chaos. He is aided by Nigel Hook‘s scenic design, which supports the actors by failing in a predictable and controlled way while making it looks like chaotic failure. It really is a remarkable design, and I feel sorry for the technicians that must reset it every night, and ensure that it survives the tour scathed only in predictable ways (one can’t call a set that fails unscathed).

Similarly, the acting ensemble manages to perform precise physical and stage comedy while appearing completely amateurish. That’s not to say bad. This is ostensibly an amateur theatre company, so the first part of the acting is to make yourself look unskilled. It’s like a wonderfully talented singer intentionally singing bad without making it look intentional, which is really hard work. This company does that in a believable fashion, while precisely hitting their marks and being their to make their other company members look good. Or is that bad. With this play, you never know.

The company consisted of the following talented performers: Brandon J. Ellis (FB) Trevor Watson – Lighting and Sound Operator; Evan Alexander Smith (FB) Chris Bean – Inspector Carter & Director; Yaegel T. Welch (FB) Jonathan Harris – Charles Haversham; Peyton Crim (FB) Robert Grove – Thomas Colleymoore; Scott Cote (FB) Dennis Tyde – Perkins; Jamie Ann Romero (FB) Sandra Wilkinson – Florence Colleymoore; Ned Noyes (FB) Max Bennett – Cecil Haversham; and Angela Grovey (FB) Annie Twilloil – Stage Manager.  I’d like to highlight a few of these performances.

Ned Noyes was hilarious with his playfulness and recognition that the audience was there, dropping in and out of character to just have loads of fun. Evan Smith was similar — he kept trying to keep controlled while everything was collapsing around him, and his pleading to the audience not to laugh was just remarkable. Both of the technicians — Angelea Grovey and Brandon Ellis were hilarious both before the show, and after they got drafted to be on stage. In general, the comic playfulness was high and that joy came across to the audience.

Understudies were: Blair Baker (FB), Jacqueline Jarrold (FB), Sid Solomon (FB), and Michael Thatcher (FB). I’ll note Sid Solomon is an AEA council member who was active in the Pro99 discussions. I hope he’s had the time to see and visit the LA theatre scene while the tour has been in Los Angeles.

Turning to the production side: I’ve already mentioned the great scenic design of Nigel Hook; I’ll note there’s a great discussion of this on CTGs 30 to Curtain podcast, in an interview with Kevin McCollum, one of the producers. Credit should also go to Bay Scenery Ltd UK, which built the scenery. Roberto Surace (FB)’s costume design was believable for the nature of the show, and had the right level of playfulness. Ric Mountjoy‘s lighting design was well executed in support of the mayhem, and for the most part, Andrew Johnson‘s sound design was clear and crisp, with good sound effects (there were a few points of muddled sound). Especially for this show, the contributions of Michael Thatcher (FBFight Captain; Blair Baker (FBAsst. Stage Manager; Sharika Niles (FBStage Manager; and Jeff Norman Production Stage Manager deserve acknowledgment, as they are integral to making the mayhem happen precisely and without injury. Rounding out the production credits: Stephen Kopel CSA US Casting; Allied Touring Tour Marketing and Press; The Booking Group Tour Booking; David Benken Production Manager; Jose Solivan Company Manager; Bespoke Theatricals General Management. Producers include Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, and Ken Davenport.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through August 11, 2019. Go see it, it is hilarious. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and TodayTix.

This is our last show as subscribers to the Ahmanson 2018-2019 Season. Over all the shows across CTG’s three theatres in 2019-2020, there were only three of interest. We didn’t renew our subscription; we’re buying single tickets instead.

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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:

Next week brings Loose Knit at Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB). The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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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🎭 At a Loss for Words | “Indecent” @ Ahmanson Theatre

Indecent (Ahmanson)Over the last few weeks, a large number of my friends have seen the play with music Indecent at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and have raved about the show. They’ve been telling me to see it. Unfortunately, my season tickets were the penultimate Friday of the run (yet another reason we’re not renewing — the Ahmanson isn’t as friendly as the Pantages on adjusting those things or having seats available), and we just hadn’t seen it yet.

We saw it Friday night, and I’m at a loss for words.

Literally.

I was so caught up in this story, and how it was told, and the beauty of it. I was so caught up in the Yiddish theatre, and the current resurgence of Yiddish in our society (which our daughter will help, in no small part). I was so caught up in the sadness of the story, the sadness of the times, the sadness of the circumstances. And I was so caught up in the inspiration that led to the return of this show to the stage that … well, I’m at a loss for words. I have nothing to compare this to. All I can say is: If you can make it for the last week at the Ahmanson, do so. If this comes to your town, go see it. It is as simple as that.

Indecent tells the story of the play God of Vengence, written by Scholem Asch around 1907. The play was notorious for featuring a lesbian kiss, prostitutes, a brothel, and an implied desecration of the Torah. The Yiddish theatre at the time though the play might be seen as antisemitic for portraying Jews in a less-than-positive light. But Asch persevered and got the play produced: first touring around Eastern and the Western Europe, and finally, the troupe came to America. In America the play was find as long as it was running in smaller off-Broadway theatres. But when it came to Broadway, American Jews protested the obscenity they thought was there, and had the actors arrested on obscenity charges on opening night.

The remainder of the play picks up the story from there. It shows the PTSD that Asch felt after seeing what was happening to Jews in Europe in the 1930s. It shows the trial, and the results. It shows the troupe returning to perform the play in Europe, and even performing the play in the Warsaw ghetto. And it shows what invariably happened to the troupe. Lastly, it shows the attempts to revive the play in the 1950s.

All of this is done with a rotating troupe of actors and musicians playing all sorts of different characters, from the actors, to the authors, to the Yiddish intelligentsia of the time. It is supported by English and Yiddish subtitles, often indicating when characters would be speaking in Yiddish or English. It made numerous use of “A blink in time” to move time forward.

Was there a protagonist who was changed by this story? Arguably, Asch. Arguably, Lemmi, the stage manager. But arguably the entire troupe was changed in various ways because of the play.

Was there a point being made by this presentation and history lesson? Perhaps that the ideas we think are new really aren’t. Perhaps that we’ve attempted to censor theatre, but truth will out. Perhaps that nowhere is safe from the scourge of antisemitism, and perhaps the goyim only tolerate the Jewish world when we are acting safe and non-threatening. But threaten their Christian order and values, and face the consequences. Indeed, a survey out this week show that 20% of Americas still think it is acceptable to not serve Jews. Twenty percent! Is the antisemitism that Asch and his troupe faced gone from the world? Have we really learned anything?

This particular play came about when the playwright, Paula Vogel was at Cornell, and in the process of coming out, and her professor pointed her to the play. Twenty years later, the director Rebecca Taichman (FB) was at Yale, reading God of Vengence, when she gets the idea to stage the 1923 obscenity trial as her directing thesis.  The met, the ideas merged, and we have what we have on stage.

Unsurprisingly, given her history with this play, the direction by Rebecca Taichman (FB) was outstanding. Actors moved between characters and characterizations seemlessly, reactions seemed believable, and it just drew your attention. Choreography was by David Dorfman (⭐FB).

Given the nature of this show, particular actors (and the musicians, for the musicians also acted) are difficult to single out as the entire ensemble was strong. The acting team consisted of: Richard Topol (FB) Lemmi, the Stage Manager; Elizabeth A. Davis (⭐FB) Actor; Joby Earle (⭐FB; FB) Actor; Harry Groener (⭐FB) Actor; Mimi Lieber (⭐FB; FB) Actor; Steven Rattazzi Actor; Adina Verson (FBActor; Matt Darriau (⭐FB; FB) Musician: (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tin Whistle); Patrick Farrell Musician: (Accordion, Baritone Ukulele, Percussion); and Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) Musician: (Violin, Mandolin, Percussion).

Understudies were: Ben Cherry (FBfor Mr.(s) Earle, Groener, Rattazzi, Topol; Lisa Ermel (FBfor Ms.(s) Davis, Verson; Valerie Perri (FBfor Ms. Lieber; Leo Chelyapov (FBfor Mr. Darriau; Janice Mautner Markham (FBfor Ms. Gutkin; and Isaac Schankler (FBfor Mr. Farrell.

Robert Payne was the Orchestra Contractor. The show featured a score and original music by Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) and Aaron Halva (FB). Lisa Gutkin (⭐FB) was music supervisor.

Turning to the production and creative side: Riccardo Hernandez‘s scenic design was relatively simple: a platform some chairs, tables, and other accouterments of a travelling troupe. It was augmented to some extent by the projection design of Tal Yarden (FB), which provided context for the scene, as well as Yiddish (or Yiddish translateration) subtitles. Also supporting was Emily Rebholz (FB)’s costume design and J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova זיל (⭐FB)’s hair and wig design.  Christopher Akerlind‘s lighting was effective on establishing the mood, Matt Hubbs sound design blended into the background. Other production credits: Rick Sordelet (FBFight Direction; Joby Earle (⭐FB; FBFight Captain; Ashley Brooke Monroe (FBAsst. Director; Sara Gibbons (FBAssoc. Choreographer; Adina Verson (FBDance Captain; Tara Rubin (⭐FB) Original Casting; Alaine Alldaffer Boston Casting; Michael Donovan CSA Los Angeles Casting; Amanda Spooner (FBProduction Stage Manager; Emily F. McMullen (FBStage Manager.

Indecent continues at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through July 7. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office. It does not appear to be on Goldstar, but does appear to be on TodayTix.  Go see 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 Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 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.

Upcoming Shows:

The the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) is almost over. If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

Key: : Non-Fringe Show/Event; °: Producer/Publicist Arranged Comp or Discount

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

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 Time It Was, And What a Time It Was | “Falsettos” @ Ahmanson

Falsettos (Ahmanson Theatre)Normally, the progression of how I see major musicals is to see a regional tour first, then see the a major regional production, and then see the intimate theatre version or versions of the show. But 25 years ago I was seeing less theatre and preparing for the birth of my daughter, and so missed Falsettos when it was at the Ahmanson at the Doolittle. My first exposure to the show, instead, was back in 2011, when the YADA/Third Street Theatre mounted a production. About that show, I wrote:

Falsettos” is really two parts of a three part trilogy of one-act musicals with book by William Finn and James Lapine and Music and Lyrics by William Finn (it premiered on Broadway in 1992). The first part of the trilogy (which is not in “Falsettos“) is “In Trousers“, which introduces us to the main character, Marvin, and his discovery that he prefers men to women. The two parts of “Falsettos ” take place after this: Marvin has just divorced his wife, Trina, and has become involved with Whizzer. The first act, “March of the Falsettos“, addresses the desire of Marvin to have a tight-knit family of Marvin, his lover Whizzer, his ex-wife Trina, his son Jason (age 11), and their psychologist (and Trina’s eventual husband), Mendel. This act explores the impact of Marvin’s relationships on those around him, ending up with Trina in a somewhat happy relationship with Mendel, Jason reconciled with his dad, and Marvin and Whizzer split. The second act is the last part of the trilogy, “Falsettoland“. It deals with Jason’s Bar Mitzvah under the Marvin being reconciled with Whizzer, and the shadow of Whizzer coming down with AIDS and eventually dying.

Neither of these are the happiest of subjects, and William Finn’s sung-through music provides opportunity after opportunity to explore all the angst. Unlike “Spelling Bee” or “New Brain“, the music isn’t particularly memorable or uplifting. So overall, we walked out of the musical with an “eh” reaction to the book: it wasn’t quite as incomprehensible as “Adding Machine“, but it wasn’t particularly a wow either. That’s not to say there aren’t some good songs. I’ve always like the opening of both acts: “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”, which opens “March of the Falsettos” and “Welcome to Falsettoland” which opens “Falsettoland“. March (Act I) also contains the wonderful “I’m Breaking Down” (originally in In Trousers): this is a comic delight that Trina sings while making some god-awful baked contraption. The visual gags alone are a delight. Falsettoland” (Act II) has a few good numbers as well, in particular, “Watching Jason (Play Baseball)”, where the characters bemoan how Jewish boys can’t play baseball, and “Everyone Hates Their Parents” where Mendel and Jason sing about how teens always hate their parents as teenagers, but when they are older, they hate them less, and that when they have kids, their kids will hate them. As the father of a teen who is in this stage, all I can say is “how true!”. Lastly, Marvin’s haunting last number, “What Would I Do?”, is just wonderful: it poses the question of what Marvin’s life would be had Whizzer not been it in. It is a suitable capstone to the piece, showing the value of love and friendship.

It is now (looks at watch) 8 years later. Do I still think it is “eh”? If anything, this has become much more of a period piece: we now know how to manage AIDS/HIV, and we can essentially cure or render the disease non-detectable. That’s a good thing: we no longer have the epidemic of men and women dying of this disease. This piece, on the other hand, takes place at the start of the AIDS/HIV era, when we didn’t even know what the disease was — only that men were dying of it. Think of a continuum: this piece capturing the start, with pieces like Rent squarely capturing the middle (recall the “AZT break, referencing the cocktail that had just become common), and pieces like The Prom capturing the modern era where the disease isn’t a consideration. In that continuum, this piece has increased in importance to remind us where we were, and how a disease can rip apart families. It also reminds us that families are who we choose them to be.

But still, this is not a show where you walk out of the theatre cheering. As we drove home, we were listening to an episode of The Ensemblist with Shoshana Bean, and she talked about Hairspray,  and how it ended with all the cast on stage happy and singing. Sister Act, last week, ended similarly. But this show? Let’s just say it ends on the predictable downbeat, with the teeny tiny band. As a result, you still walk out of the theatre a bit “eh”. You enjoyed the show, there were great and wonderful performances, but it left you … solemn. It’s a downbeat book. Not Mack and Mabel downbeat, but still downbeat. But the performances were great.

Before I get into the individual performances, I would like to highlight some of the great moments in this show — because although overall it was down, there were some great ups along the way:

  • I love the opening songs in each act: “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” for Act I (March of the Falsettos), and “Welcome to Falsettoland” for Act II (Falsettoland).
  • “I’m Breaking Down” is still a comic masterpiece, and one of my favorite songs overall.
  • “Everyone Hates His Parents” is an absolute truism, and was wonderfully performed.
  • “The Baseball Game” is just so true, especially as I know Jewish Men that try to play baseball.

Under the direction of James Lapine, and with choreography by Spencer Liff, the production is incredibly creative. The first act has the characters using a large cube of oddly shaped pieces to create the various scene bases, and the dance is less the “step turn step step twist turn” cheorography of a big show with lots of dancers, and more of a choreography through life. Nowhere are both better demonstrated than in “I’m Breaking Down”, where the simple act of making a cake becomes both a dance and an exercise in mental collapse. That is the perfect mess of directors getting the best out of their actors, and cheoreographers making the movement seem natural yet integral to the storytelling.

The performances in this piece were strong. It is hard to tier the first act leads, as they all have relatively equal roles (two characters get added in the second act). But let’s start with the centers of the story: Marvin and his son Jason.

Marvin is in one sense the center of the triangle in the story: He was married to Trina and divorced her; he left her for Whizzer; and his psychiatrist was Mendel, who fell in love with Trina. Playing Marvin, Max Von Essen (⭐FB, FB) captures a man who doesn’t know what he wants in life exceptionally well. He has a lovely voice, which he shows in quite a few numbers, but especially in “What Would I Do?” or his very neurotic numbers like the opening “A Tight Knit Family”.

But Marvin isn’t the only center of the story: there’s also Jason, Marvin’s son. Two actors alternate playing Jason: Thatcher Jacobs and Jonah Mussolino (⭐FB). At our performance, we had Mussolino, who appears to have moved to this tour from the Les Miserables tour (which is across town at the Pantages, if he wants to see his friends). Mussolino was spectacular. His expressions, his playfulness, his singing and performance (for example, in “Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist”) in the first act were only surpassed in the second act with his Bar Mitzvah, in “Everyone Hates His Parents”, and “Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah”. Great great performance.

However, if I had to pick a first choice in the performances, it has to be the top of the triangle, Eden Espinosa (⭐FB) as Trina. Just watching her energy, her fact, her embodiment of her character is just a delight. I noted before her performance in “I’m Breaking Down” as a comic masterpiece; but she’s strong in every number she’s in.

Trina is one point of the triangle; another point is Nick Adams (⭐FB, FB)’s Whizzer, the gay man with whom Marvin, Trina’s ex, falls in love in. Adams gets the lucky honor of not surviving the story. I think his character changes the most between the two acts: a bit more aloof and unexplored in the first act; a lot more open and loving in the second act, and with a decidedly stronger relationship with Jason, Marvin’s son. Adams captures those changing characterizations well, and moves from his initial stereotype to a warm person the audience cares about. He sings wonderfully and moves well.

The final point in the triangle was Nick Blaemire (⭐FB, FB) as Mendel, the Psychiatrist. Blaemire, who also wrote the musical Glory Days (which we saw the same year we first saw Falsettos) captures the self-effacing humor of Mendel well, and creates a very relatable  down-to-earth character who does a wonderful job of creating a new family with Trina. He sings wonderfully, is very playful in his movement (look at “Everyone Hates His Parents” or his scenes with Jason), and is quite fun to watch.

In the second act, two additional characters were introduced — the lesbians next door: Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham (⭐FB, FB)) and Cordelia, the Kosher Caterer (Audrey Cardwell (FB)). First and foremost: Ms. Parham has a voice on her — she sings, and sings wonderfully. It was a delight to hear her on all her numbers, in particular, her characterization and expression in “Something Bad is Happening”. Cardwell’s Cordelia gets less of an established personality in the writing, but Cardwell does great with what she gets, pushing her food with style :-).

Standbys and understudies were: Josh Canfield (⭐FB, FB) [who was on Survivor, cool!], Melanie Evans (FB), Megan Loughran (FB), and Darick Pead (FB).

The on-stage “teeny, tiny, band” was conducted by P. Jason Yarcho (FB), and consisted of: P. Jason Yarcho (FB) Conductor, Piano; Max Grossman (FBAssoc. Conductor, Keyboard; Philip Varricchio (FBReeds; Jeremy Lowe (FBDrums/Percussion. Other music credits: Michael Keller (FB) Music Coordinator; Taylor Williams (FB) / Randy Cohen Keyboards Keyboard Programmer; Vadim Feichtner (FBMusic Supervisor; Michael Starobin (FB) Orchestrations.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative credits: David Rockwell (FB)’s set was extremely clever. Starting out as a cube on stage with a backdrop of New York (presumably), the cube came apart to form walls, houses, chairs, desks, and you name it. This was extremely clever, but we replaced by more realistic elements, such as hospital beds and walls, in the second act. Still, the set was an extremely clever conception to execute. It was augmented by Jeff Croiter (FB)’s lighting which mostly worked well, but which also left some characters in the dark or at the edges thereof when they were still the focus of attention. Jennifer Caprio‘s costumes seemed appropriately period, as did Tom Watson‘s hair and wigs. Dan Moses Schreier‘s sound was clear. Rounding out the production credits: Eric Santagata Assoc. Director; Ellenore Scott (⭐FBAssoc. Choreographer; Tara Rubin CSA (FB), Eric Woodall, CSA, and Kaitlin Shaw, CSA Casting; Broadway Booking Office NYC Tour Booking &c; Gregory R. Covert (FBProduction Stage Manager; Amber Dickerson (FB) Stage Manager; Hollace Jeffords (FB) Asst. Stage Manager; Joel T. Herbst Company Manager; Gentry & Associates General Manager.

Falsettos continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 19, 2019. Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

🎭

The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) has announced their 2019-2020 season, and coming off of their 2018-2019 season, my reaction is much like my reaction to Falsettos: eh. There are only two shows I’m interested in seeing out of the seven: Once on This Island and The Last Ship. Further, the Ahmanson does not understand care and feeding of season patrons (especially the feeding, as we saw at the Pantages subscriber backstage events at the Pantages and Dolby, where local restaurants brought their wares). When I recently had to exchange tickets, I was forced into a higher priced tier because of the paucity of seats available on any date — even weekdays — at my price point. The website was unclear and I needed to call customer service to confirm whether the price was before or after the exchange. Add to that the fact that, when we subscribed originally, they forced us to subscribe on a weeknight (as there were no tickets in the lowest price tier available for subscribers on weekends), and didn’t let us pick the week. Basically, they don’t make me want to go out of the way to be a subscriber even if there is a show or two I don’t like. Good treatment of subscribers is something I’ve seen the Pantages demonstrate. So I think for 2019-2020, it is single tickets. Similarly, there’s only one show in the Taper season of interest: What the Constitution Means to Me. Again, single-tickets. I am, however, considering the Musical Theatre Guide (MTG) season, if it isn’t too expensive: BarnumThe Goodbye GirlIt Shoulda’ Been You, and Kismet.

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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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings another tour: Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

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

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🎭👠 What Is It With the UK and Shoes? | “Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella” @ Ahamanson

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella (Ahmanson)Quick: Think of something musical on stage that takes place in the UK, has dance, and is focused on shoes. Got it?

If you said, “Kinky Boots” — no, that was last month, when the tour stopped by the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for a week. Try again.

Perhaps you meant Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, which is currently on-stage at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). That, after all, is musical, although not a Musical. Bourne’s staging does set the story in London during the Blitz, and that’s in the UK. It is Cinderella, so there has to be a shoe involved. Lastly, it is Matthew Bourne (FB)’s New/Adventures (FB) company, meaning it is an updated ballet, and thus dance on stage. The only difference is that this has recorded music, vs. the live musicians at Kinky Boots.

That, and Kinky Boots has a voice. Bourne’s Cinderella is wordless, although it still tells a story, just through a different medium.

We saw Cinderella last night at the Ahmanson, and my reaction was decidedly mixed. It was part of the subscription season, and as such, fulfilled that which a season subscription is supposed to do: expose me to things that I might not go see on my own. I am first and foremost a theatre person: I haven’t really seen other stage forms such as traditional opera, ballet, or modern dance. This version of Cinderella is from the modern ballet world. Bourne’s approach to ballet and dance is to combine a level of theatrical storytelling with the movement. I can appreciate that effort.

But this is also ballet, which has its own conventions and style. Most significantly: it is wordless storytelling. Consider: In theatre and in opera, the story is often told through words (with the exception of the occasional ballet insert). But in ballet, the entire story — exposition, character development, interactions, hopes, desires, fears — that would normally be told through dialogue and song are instead told through movement to a score. If you are coming from a theatrical background, this is something that can be disconcerting.

As a result, I found it difficult to get into the story of Cinderella, and I identify who the myriad of characters were. The dance itself was beautiful, and the dancers were highly skilled, and much emotion was conveyed. But what who did what? I wasn’t always sure. Which of the Pilot’s friends was Tom and which was Dick — I have absolutely no idea. In fact, other than seeing the characters as their “role” (pilot, stepmother, child), I couldn’t tell you who was which name. Although there was theatricality, the notion of conveying more than the gist of the story to the audience was lost.

So what was the story? You get some from the title itself: Cinderella. We all know that classic story: There’s a family with a stepmother, a father who has withdrawn in some way, some stepchildren, and a natural daughter who is treated badly. Invitiation to some form of party arrives, and the family goes off to enjoy themselves. Daughter is left behind in the ashes. Magical creature arrives to save the day and get the girl to the party (presumably to meet the man of her dreams), with one caveat: she only has until midnight. Girl arrives at party in fancy gown, and even her relatives don’t recognize her. She wins the guy, only to rush off at midnight, leaving a shoe. He hunts for the girl. Many pretend. He eventually finds her, and they marry and live happily ever after. Because they always do.

As the poster for the show illustrates, Bourne places his version in London during the Blitz. Cinderella is evidently living with her invalid father, her step-mother, and her step-family in some large house in London. The family consists of two step-sisters, and three step brothers — one of whom is normal, one of whom is fey (in the stereotypical sense), and one of whom is an overgrown child. Yes, they have names, but they are never spoken. An invitation to something arrives, but it is clear that Cinderella isn’t invited. After a bombing, a handsome pilot shows up injured. Cinderella hides him and tends to him, while her family entertains their boy and girl friends. They discover the pilot, and make fun of Cinderella, driving the pilot away. They then head off to the party, leaving Cinderella alone. Cinderella runs away, and the Angel shows up, getting Cinderella an invitation to the party and other magical stuff.

In Act II the party occurs, and we see all the characters having fun. The pilot and his friends show up and start socializing and winning over the girls. Cinderella shows up and the pilot is smitten. Cue loads of romantic dance, with characters trying to break them up. Eventually Cinderella and the Pilot go to his flat, but when midnight comes, she runs away again. She reappears as her drab self as the bombs drop, and she is taken away to hospital.

In the last Act, the Pilot hunts for the girl. He eventually finds her, with predictable results. So does the Stepmother, who tries to kill her, but is eventually carted off to jail. The Pilot and Cinderella marry, and go off to live happily ever after.

You can find a bit more detailed of a synopsis here.

That’s the story, at least as I could figure it out. There were some good comic bits in the background, most involving a servicewoman chasing someone, the overgrown child. There were also some interesting bits involving a gay couple, but in many ways those were both stereotypical and they didn’t fit the period. There was also a nagging #DancersSoWhite problem. Yes, I understand that a majority of ballet dancers are white, but it would have been nice to see a better effort made towards diversity, especially as this was a fantasy story that wasn’t dogmatic about accuracy to the time period mores.

In essence, story-wise, I was … meh. I’m glad I saw it, but it is not a medium that I would go out of my way to see again. It certainly didn’t make me want to go see more of Matthew Bourne’s stuff — and more on why that is important at the end of this all.

Dance-wise, the movement was beautiful. Although I missed how effectively dialogue and songs can concisely move a story along, I did appreciate the dance language to tell the story. It was moving and interesting to watch. I found it enlightening how essentially pantomime can be used to convey the story, with dance for the emotions. However, for two-and-a-half hours (with 2 intermissions), it can be exhausting to translate the visual into story. Although beautiful, it doesn’t make me want to go out of my way to see this style of dance. Theatrical dance, yes. Modern dance, maybe. But this form of ballet … meh.

The dancers were all strong. I’m going to list them here, but it is hard to know who was dancing what, for most roles were multiple cast, but the players board only listed the five principals (💃 indicates who was dancing at our performance):

Because I don’t know who actually was doing what, especially in the minor roles, I can’t complement the minor roles or the ones doing great stuff and movement in the background. So it goes.

This production (alas) used recorded music, playing Cinderella, Op. 87, by Sergei Prokofiev, recorded by the 82 piece Cinderella UK Orchestra at Air Studios, 2010.

Turning to the production and creative credits: The set and costume designs were by Lez Brotherston (FB), and they accurately represented the era well and were suitably creative. Neil Austin‘s lighting design suitably established the mood, and Paul Groothuis‘s sound design took you back to the war-torn UK with its ambient air and bomb sounds. Duncan McLean‘s projections augmented the set design well in establishing place. Other production credits: Etta Murfitt (FB) [Assoc. Artistic Director]; Neil Westmoreland (FB) [Resident Director]; Shae Valley [Production Supervisor]; Nicole Gehring (FB) [Company Manager]; Heather Wilson (FB) [Stage Manager]. Other company information can be found on the New Adventures page.

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through March 10, 2019. If you are into ballet and dance, by all means go and see it. If you are more the musical theatre type, it could be a good exposure to the world of ballet — but be forwarned — this is not musical theatre and there is no song or spoken story to go with the dance. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Theatre; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

***

On the day we saw Cinderella, the Ahmanson announced their 2019-2020 season. We knew about one show (Once on This Island), and I had attempted to predict the rest of the season when the Pantages announced their season. Needless to say, I got it completely wrong. Here’s the Ahmanson season:

  • Latin History for Morons. SEP 5 – OCT 20, 2019. Written and performed by John Leguizamo.
  • The New One.  OCT 23 – NOV 24, 2019. Written and performed by Mike Birbiglia.
  • New Adventures: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.  DEC 3, 2019 – JAN 5, 2020. Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne.
  • The Last Ship. JAN 14 – FEB 16, 2020. Starring Sting (in all performances). Music and lyrics by Sting.
  • The Book of Mormon.  FEB 18 – MAR 29, 2020. Book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
  • Once on This Island.  APR 7 – MAY 10, 2020. Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; music by Stephen Flaherty.
  • One show to be announced.

My reaction: Meh. There’s not a lot here for the musical theatre fan: Mormon is in the area regularly, and The Last Ship got poor reviews. One gets the impression that the Ahmanson spent its funds on the current season, and just couldn’t afford to bring in the good stuff. Not a way to keep your subscribers. Certainly not this one. We’ll get single tickets for the shows of interest, but right now this isn’t saying “subscribe” to me.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Looking to May, only four shows are currently programmed: Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB); and Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Because some of those shows are mid-week, two weekends are currently open (but will likely be programmed as press announcements are received). June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

 

 

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