🎭 I Am What I Am, I Am My Own Special Creation | Everybody’s Talking About Jamie @ Ahmanson

Everybody's Talking About Jamie @ Ahmanson TheatreMen dressing as women on the theatrical stage. Originally, it wasn’t funny at all. Only men could be actors, so women’s parts were were simply played, seriously, by men. But eventually that theatrical contrivance went by the wayside, and men dressing as women became a focal point for humor. The prime example of that which comes to mind is the musical Sugarbased on the movie Some Like It Hot. But there are numerous other cases, from plays like Charley’s Aunt, to the drag sequences in shows currently on the state such as My Fair Lady or even the newer musicals Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire. These are all men dressing as women in order to get laughs. But where it might have been funny in the past when mores were a bit different, today it isn’t funny. I’ll repeat for the producers in the back: men dressing as women just to bring on the funny is not funny.

But in 1983, a new musical hit the stage: La Cage Aux Folles (based on the 1973 play). It showcased two men as leads, and featured a man dressing as a women as an alter-ego. Za Za: what we now know as drag performance thanks to the queen extraordinaire, Ru Paul. Although this musical (penned by a gay man) did play on the men-dressing-as-woman schtick, it also introduced an anthem that resonates to this day:

I am what I am
I am my own special creation.
So come take a look,
Give me the hook or the ovation.
It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.
Life’s not worth a damn,
‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”

I am what I am,
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?
Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
“Hey world, I am what I am!”

The anthem of “Be who you are, be true to yourself” is a theme that echoes throughout modern musicals, from stories like Billy Elliot to Kinky Boots to The Prom. This is also an anthem that also is echoed in the show we saw yesterday afternoon at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB): Everyone’s Talking About Jamie.

As a digression: There is also one more branch to the man dressing as woman theme: True trans- and queer characters. These are much harder to treat realistically on the stage, but it has been done. Arguably, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with a genderqueer lead) is in that canon, as are the secondary characters in Head Over Heels, which we saw recently at the Pasadena Playhouse. Also notable are some of the characters in Bring It On — The Musical, although the gay/queer friend stereotype is a bit problematic. There should be a Bechdel Test equivalent for gay sidekick characters. But I digress from the digression…

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is based on a documentary film about Jamie Campbell on the BBC called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Jamie, who came out at a young age, lived in a lower-to-middle class town in England wanted to attend his prom … dressed as a girl. As with Billy Elliot, he battled the entrenched bigotry in the town but eventually won. Unsurprisingly, the one review of the LA production I read characterized the production as Kinky Boots and Billy Elliot put through a blender. The British producers of the show saw the documentary, and saw a musical in it. The result was Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, which became a production on London’s West End, and then subsequently did a UK tour and it making its American debut at the Ahmanson.  The show features music, book, and lyrics by Dan Gillespie Sells Music and Orchestrations and Tom Macrae Book and Lyrics, based on an idea by Jonathan Butterell Director and Co-Writer, inspired by aformentioned Firecracker documentary. The musical was also filmed and is available on Amazon Prime, for those that can’t make it to LA.

So what is the story in Jamie. A lot of it is establishing the situation. Jamie is in Year 11 (US equivalent: 12th grade), and in a career assignment class. He wants to be a drag queen, but his teacher dismisses the idea and shows that his testing predicts he’ll be a forklift driver. Others in the class get similarly dismal prospects. It is in this setting that we meet the rest of the class, including his best friend, Pritti Pasha. Pritti, who excels at maths and wants to be a doctor, is told she’ll only be a secretary. Her path, in many ways, is “B” story that echoes the main journey of Jamie.

Another digression: Notable in this show is a reasonable portrayal of Muslim character in the form of his classmates, Pritti Pasha and Fatimah. The production shows them as realistic people who are just like other teens within their religious confines (as opposed to stereotypes). It also shows the hatred they face and have to battle in the real world.

The establishment of the story continues as we meet Jamie’s mom, Margaret and her best friend Ray. They are encouraging Jamie to live his dreams, and even get him red high heel shoes to wear. We also learn that his father wants nothing to do with him, but his mum is hiding that from him. We see Jamie decide that he wants to bring the drag side of his persona out, encouraged by Pritti. He goes to a drag shop to buy a dress, and meets a former drag queen, Hugo (who was previously the famous Loco Chanelle). Hugo gets Jamie his first dress, and arranges a drag show for Jamie. Encourage, Jamie invites his school. You can guess what happens.

Most of his friend are supportive, but there are those who aren’t The second act of the show deals with this, and the importance of finding and being true to yourself. It has some of the strongest ballads in the show, including “It Means Beautiful” and “He’s My Boy”. The ending, of course, is predetermined: Jamie eventually goes to the prom, in a dress, and finds his drag self.

Prior to the show, I had gotten the album of the West End production, and liked the music. I didn’t, however, know the story. Having now seen the production, a few observations. I’ll note that we weren’t sitting in our usual vantage point: we were off on the side in the handicapped seating (due to my wife’s recent injury). More on that in a minute.

First, the negatives. This is very much a West End production, with heavy accents, fast speech, and UK-specific terminology. This gets lost on the American audience, even with a QR code pointer that doesn’t work to explain the slang. It was made worse by being in the handicapped seats: the crispness of the lyrics and words at that location wasn’t to usual Ahmanson standards. There was a similar problem with the audio of the orchestra — for a while, I thought the orchestra might be pre-recorded, but a list of musicians in the program indicated that wasn’t the case. They were revealed to be on-stage at the end of the show, so it was just poor amplification or our location.

Now, the positives. There were some very strong performances, which I’ll get to as I talk about the actors. I did like the overall message of the show, and I also really enjoyed the secondary characters — perhaps even more so than the main character. The character of Margaret New, Jamie’s mom, was a realistic presentation of a mom that wanted everything for her son, despite the flaws and the difficulties. Her anthem in the second act, “He’s My Boy”, stole the show. Also remarkable was the character of Pritti. It was nice to see a stage portrayal that normalized the Muslim faith and showed the similarities instead of emphasizing the differences. Far too often in America we are presented with the image that the only acceptable faith to have strong religious practices is Christianity; faithful adherents of non-Christian faiths are often played stereotypically. I see this far too often with Jews on stage — ask yourself the last time you saw an Orthodox Jew portrayed as a real person. Pritti was a real teen: she had aspirations, she had desires, but she also was fine living within her faith boundaries. This was made clear both when she indicated she was wearing the hijab not because religion told her to, but because she wanted to. It was her. She also didn’t treat being called a virgin as an insult: she was proud of who she was. It was her character that gave Jamie’s character the strength to be true to himself. As such, both Margaret and Pritti really stole the show.

Another remarkable character was Hugo (Loco Chanelle). He provided the essential difference between drag and trans (which clearly a large number of people do not understand). He made clear that drag is putting on a persona — an alter-ego as a way to truly express a character. It isn’t trans (where your brain sees you as a different gender than your body), nor is it cross dressing (where you aren’t becoming a different persona — you’re yourself, but just enjoying to wear opposite gender clothing). Hugo, in his own way, encouraged Jamie to find his true voice.

The other characters — his school mates, the other drag queens — were drawn much more superficially. They had just the characteristics needed to move the story (Dean – bigotry and bullying; Miss Hedge — administrative rigidity; his dad — rejection) but not much more.

The main secondary characters, however, emphasize that the real story in Jamie wasn’t Jamie’s journey. Yes, he was the main character … but for all the effort, you never see his drag persona on stage. Only glimpses. But where you see the real acceptance of themselves is in Hugo, Margaret, and Pritti. It is their journey that fleshes out this story and makes it something that everyone can see themselves it. It isn’t just drag queens, gays, and trans-folk that need to be true to yourself despite what the world is telling you to be. That’s the message here.

So would I recommend this. If you’re in Los Angeles and are up to being in a large indoor theatre for 3 hours, yes. The theatre was perhaps half full, and companies cannot come back without full audiences. We need to demonstrate that theatre is safe. So wear your N95 mask, get your vaccine and booster shot (which will be required), and go to the theatre. But if you can’t: watch this on Amazon Prime.

One last night, before I go to the individuals: 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Kudos to the Ahmanson Theatre for their handicapped services. My wife is temporarily in a wheelchair due to a fall, and is non-weight bearing on her leg until at least March. The Ahmanson made it easy. She called ahead of time, and I had already arranged for wheelchair accessible box seats (in the balcony, vs. the mezzanine, but one does what one can with the seats available). CTG had someone meet us at valet parking (which was only $9). They helped her get to our seats and run the vaccine proof gauntlet. They were there with her walker to help her to the restroom. They helped us back to the car. They made this easy.

So let’s turn to the individual performances:

In the lead position was Layton Williams Jamie New. Williams captured Jamie well and moved well. Whether he was believable as his drag persona Mimi is unknown, as we never really see him as Mimi. But he sang beautifully and seemed to be having quite a bit of fun with the role.

My favorite two performers, if you haven’t figured it out by now, were Melissa Jacques Margaret New and Hiba Elchikhe Pritti Pasha. Jacques just brought down the house with her number “He’s My Boy” as well as “If I Met Myself Again”. Elchikhe’s “It Means Beautiful” was haunting. I thought both performances were strong.

The other strong back character was a dual role by a single actor: Roy Haylock Hugo  and his alter ego, Bianca Del Rio Loco Chanelle.  We really get to know more about Hugo than we do Del Rio — we just see her briefly as near the drag show. But Haylock brings a reality to Hugo that allows you to see what drag is: an escape from a harsh world, a world where the glitter and the glamour allows one to become something better, something more. That’s an amazing transformation to see. Haylock does a wonderful job in “The Legend of Loco Chanelle”

Among the tertiary characters, there are few standouts. Shabna Gulati Ray provides some good comic moments as Margaret’s best friend; similarly, the three drag queens Leon Craig Sandra Bollock, James Gillan Tray Sophisticay, and David O’Reilly Laika Virgin provide comic relief as they give advice to Jamie. George Sampson Dean Paxton and Cameron Johnson Jamie’s Dad are the catalysts for the conflict: the former as the bully who hates gays, drag queens, and foreigners; the latter as a father who is disappointed in what his son turned out to be. The last standout was Gillian Ford Miss Hedge, who portrayed the inflexible schoolteacher and administrator who didn’t believe in Jamie or his right to be himself in this town.  Rounding out the cast were Richard Appiah-Sarpong Cy; Zion Battles Levi; Kazmin Borrer Vicki; Ryan Hughes Mickey; Jodie Knight Fatimah; Harriet Payne Bex; Talia Palamathanan Becca; and Adam Taylor Sayid. Swings (who are vitally important in these days of COVID) are: Rachel Seirian, Simeon Beckett, and Emma Robotham-Hunt. Adam Taylor was the understudy for Jamie.

Wow. That’s the first time I’ve done an actor list without a single reference to AboutTheArtists. This is a 100% imported cast.

Less imported was the on-stage but hidden band (🌴 indicates local; 👑 indicates UK): 👑 Theo Jamieson Musical Supervisor /Director; 👑 Gareth Lieske (FB) Guitars and Cover MD; Dan Hall Bass Guitar and Bass Synth; 🌴 Keith Fiddmont Tenor Sax; 🌴 James Ford III Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Piccolo; 👑 Ali Van Ryne Drums; 👑 Matthew West PercussionRounding out the music department was: Dan Gillespie Sells Music and Orchestrations; 🌴 Robert Payne Contractor.

Turning to the production and design team. The production was directed by Jonathan Butterell and choreographed by Katie Prince. Supporting them were Cameron Johnson Resident Director; Simeon Beckett Dance Captain; and Emma Robotham-Hunt Asst. Dance Captain. The direction was good in that the characters were believable as who they were. The dances were strong but not particularly memorable.

The design was interesting. There were three major set pieces: a collection of desks that could be moved around and lighted, almost reminding me of the set of A Christmas Carol; a piece that opened up to provide the New’s apartment (which seemed remarkably easy to move), and a back piece that used projects to provide place –which worked so-so, as the coloring (or should I say colouring) often swallowed the projections. This was all designed by the team of: Anna Fleischle Designer; Lucy Carter Lighting Designer; Luke Halls Video Designer; and executed by Patrick Molony Production Manager. The sound design by Paul Groothuis was generally good, but could use a bit more oomph in the crispness department. Rounding out the production team was: Will Burton CDG Casting Director; Maggie Swing US Production Stage Manager. I’m not listing producers or the tour info. I do, however, give credit to the COVID teamwhich is not enumerated for the tour. On the CTG side, this is Niki Armato Facilities Assistant / COVID Compliance Officer; and a large team of supporting COVID compliance officers: Chase Anderson-Shaw, Monica Greene, Dean Grosbard, Henry Kelly, and Denise Reynoso.

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), COVID permitting, until February 20. Tickets are available through the CTG website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking at the first half of 2022: February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) and Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group); and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). April brings the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). 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 (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

 

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🎭 No Humbugs For This New Interpretation of an Old Story | “A Christmas Carol” @ Ahmanson

A Christmas Carol (Ahmanson Theatre)Charles McNulty said he might be cast as the Scrooge of Drama Critics, and I’ll gladly cast him as such. How he let a technical problem at his performance mar his enjoyment of this delightful version of A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) is beyond me. “Bah Humbug” to you sir; this is a very Happy Christmas Carol indeed.

Now, I’m a Jewish boy. I’m not a big fan of the heavy emphasis that Christmas gets (I tend to agree with Stan Freberg’s Green Chri$tma$). I used to be tired of A Christmas Carol; indeed, some versions are very tiresome. My favorite production of the story is still A Mulholland Christmas Carol (which needs to be brought back), and I’m partial to the audio version of the Christmas Carol concert by Alisa Houser and Bob Christianson. It was that version from which I learned the fuller version of the story; previously, it was just remembered snippets from the various TV movie versions.

So what about the version of A Christmas Carol that is currently playing at the Ahmanson. The Old Vic production that was on Broadway just before the pandemic shut everything down. The one where Jack Thorne adapted Charles Dickens‘ version of the story (although Mr. Dickens doesn’t get a credit in the program — the man needs a new agent). The one that was originally conceived and directed by Matthew Warchus. The one that won 5 Tony Award in the Tony Award Season with an Asterisk. You know, that Christmas Carol.

Well, despite what McNulty said, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The stage craft was astounding, the performances delightful. At was at times dark, at times joyous, and at times laugh out loud funny. This wasn’t one of those dour versions of the story, where the actors are tired and the story comes across the same. The actors behind this production were clearly having fun with the story, and that fun came through in the performances. They, in the words of the play, had Christmas in their hearts.

Thorne took some liberties with the story. He played up the roles of Fan and Belle, bringing them much more into the latter parts of the story than is traditional. He dropped some elements that still remain in my head: the dances at Fezziwigs, the children that accompany the Ghost of Christmas Present. He gave a face to the Ghost of Christmas Future when it was just a spectre before (which made for better theatre). He made Scrooge’s father a more pivotal figure, perhaps to provide more of a backstory. He brought the party to the Cratchett’s in a way I haven’t seen before. But you know what? It worked. I remarked to my daughter afterwards that A Christmas Carol is a lot like a Passover Seder. There are elements that absolutely must be in the story, and there is a trajectory to the main characters that must achieve the same resolution. But the surrounding elements can be adjusted slightly, and symbols can be adapted, to emphasize points relevant to the audience. That’s what this Carol did: the emphasize was a clear message that although the past can shape our behavior, it is we who have the free will to change our destiny. We can choose joy and caring about others; or we can only care about ourselves and what is in it for (as Paul Stookey might say), “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

Although this adaptation was done before the pandemic, that message—the importance of caring about others and doing things to make their lives better, and not being self-centered—clearly resonates even more in the first production at the Ahmanson after COVID. As Bradley Whitford notes at the ending bows, this production is possible thanks to those who listened, cared about others, and took the steps necessary to make theatre safe again. That means they go their shots. What better way to have Christmas in your heart, and carry Jesus’ message about caring for the least, than making sure you protect them by getting vaccinated.  It’s a great gift, and it’s free as well. Scrooge would approve.

This production also has some wonderful localized humor. After Scrooge’s transformation, when he’s gathering food for the eventual feast, the writers throw in a number of local references and lots of ad-libbing. It’s delightful, and brings the audience in on the action. There are a number of other wonderfully immersive elements, from the actors tossing fruit to the audience before the show, to the lighting of the piece, to the snow in the theatre, to the actors showing up not just around the orchestra level, but up in the Mezzanine and the Balcony. It’s hard not to walk out of this production with a smile on your face (well, unless your Charles McNulty).

Would I recommend this production? Wholeheartedly yes.  It was a load of fun.

One thing that made this production special is that it is clear that the actors are enjoying themselves, and are having fun with their role. No where is that seen better than with the lead, Bradley Whitford Ebenezer Scrooge . Typically, Scrooge comes across as dour. Whitford starts out that way, but there’s a glimmer of something mischievous in him. Not in the way he is with money, but in the quick-witted responses he makes. It is clear he finds himself funny, even if no one else does. The other thing I noted about Whitford is how he disappeared into his character. I watched the recent Annie Live! on NBC, and everyone was praising Ann Dowd‘s performance as Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Garret. But when I saw it, I kept seeing mannerisms that made me think of Aunt Lydia.  Bradley Whitford is also in Handmaid’s Tale, but there was no trace of Commander Lawrence in his portray of Scrooge. Whitford was a believable Scrooge.

Another notable performance—and one I was looking forward to—was that of Alex Newell Ghost of Christmas Present / Mrs. Fezziwig.* Newell has a wonderful voice, and they got the opportunity to use it at various points in the program. But what made Newell’s performance wasn’t the singing—it was their smile. From the opening playfulness with the audience to the end, whenever Newell would smile the world would light up in joy. That joy fed back into the performance, with Newell being a wonderful Ghost of Christmas Present, as well as numerous other characters. They were having loads of fun, and it showed.
*: Newell used he/him in the program, but has indicated they don’t really have a preference. They are gender non-conforming, and has indicated that people should use whatever is comforatable. My mind says she/her, so I’m going with they/them as a middle ground.

Also notable was Kate Burton Ghost of Christmas Past. She had a bit more of a reserved role with an odd face mask, although she seemed to loosen up in the post-transformation sequences.

Completing the ghosts, the adaptation placed Glory Yepassis-Zembrou Little Fan as the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Future. This changed worked in the revised story, and she made a believable sister to Scrooge.

The other characters, although having named roles, served more as a supporting ensemble to the leads: Chante Carmel Mrs. Cratchit; Dashiell Eaves Bob Cratchit; Brandon Gill Fred; Evan Harrington Fezziwig; Chris Hoch Father / Marley; Sarah Hunt Belle; Alex Nee Ferdy / Nicholas; Cade Robertson Tiny Tim; Brett Ryback George; Harry Thornton Young Ebenezer; Grace Yoo Jess. Sebastian Ortiz Alternating as Tiny Tim. Standbys were Andrew Mayer and Celia Mei Rubin. Some notes on the supporting ensemble: Gill was actually up near us in the Mezzanine during the food gathering sequence, and he was fun to watch as he reacted to Whitford’s seeming ad-libs. I liked Hunt’s Belle, who had a nice inner spirit, and Hoch had a spectacular voice. Cade Robertson was incredibly cute as Tiny Tim; more notable is that the casting notice specifically cast disabled performer in the Tiny Tim role. Representation is everything, especially when you’re blessing everyone.

Although this wasn’t a musical, there was a fair amount of music. This was  mix of background and mood setting instrumentals, traditional Christmas music with some modified arrangements, and some new pieces composed and orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale. Music was provided by a mix of on-stage and off-stage performer, a number of whom were part of the acting ensemble (🎻). The musician team consisted of Remy Kurs Music Director / Keyboard; Alonso Pirio Assoc. Music Director; 🎻 Evan Harrington  Drum; 🎻 Brett Ryback  Whistles / Accordion; Hillary Smith Cello; 🎻 Harry Thornton  Cello / Bass; Mona Tian Violin; Micah Wright Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Whistles; 🎻 Grace Yoo Ukulele. The rest of the music staff consisted of Howard Jones Music Coordinator; Emily Grishman Music Preparation Music Copying; Paul Staroba Music Supervision; Randy Cohen / Randy Cohen Keyboards Synthesizer Technician.

Turning to the production side: The performance was originally directed by Matthew Warchus; with Thomas Caruso being responsible for tour direction.  Lizzi Gee coordinated the movement. A few thoughts on the production design. This cast consisted of about 40% veterans of the Broadway production, and the rest who were new to the show for Los Angeles and a few other cities. The director did a great job of making this a unified team, and bringing out remarkable performances in the Los Angeles local team (who do a lot of work for cameras, not large rooms of people). Additionally, although A Christmas Carol may be technically a straight play, there is lots of movement and choreography, and Gee made it poetic and seamless and delightful to watch.

The most remarkable aspect of the production, however, was on the stagecraft side. Let’s start with what hits you when you walk to your seats: Hugh Vanstone‘s lighting design. Thousands of lanterns throughout the theatre; lanterns that you learn are programmed and not just mere lights (and so credit should go to Craig Steizenmuller US Assoc Lighting Designer; Sam Waddington UK Assoc Lighting Designer; Joe Beumer Asst Lighting Designer, and the Moving Light programmers Alyssa Eilbott and Mo Epps). Combine this with the other remarkable lighting that sets the mood, and you’ll be blown away (and this includes lighting the audience at times). The second remarkable aspect of the program is the sound design.  Rob Howell‘s set is simple: a basic wooden cross, some boxes that can be moved around, and four doorframes that rise up and down. It is Simon Baker‘s sound design that brings this to life. The actors pretend to open the door; and the sound makes it real. They slam the door; sound makes it real. The sound becomes the props, and you see the difference between the imagination that stagecraft can create vs the realism that film demands. The remainder of the scene was set by Rob Howell‘s costumes and the work of the team from Campbell Young Associates Wigs, Hair, & Makeup Design.  The principle designers were augmented by Michael Carnahan US Assoc Scenic Designer; Nancy A. Palmatier US Assoc Costume Designer; Andrew Wade Voice and Dialect Director; and Kathy Fabian / Propstar LLC Props Supervisor.

Rounding out the production team were: Jim Carnahan CSA Casting; Jason Thinger Casting; David S. Franklin Production Stage Manager; Michelle Blair Stage Manager; Amy Ramsdell Stage Manager; Showtown Theatricals General Manager; Aurora Productions Production Management.  I always give credit to the COVID Safety Teams, for without their work we would not be in the theatre. On the A Christmas Carol side, this was Swif Testing / Jeff Whiting COVID-19 Management; Sheree Devereaux COVID-19 Officer; and Krystal Nelson COVID-19 Medical Technician. On the CTG side, this is Niki Armato Facilities Assistant / COVID Compliance Officer; and a large team of supporting COVID compliance officers: Chase Anderson-Shaw, Monica Greene, Dean Grosbard, Henry Kelly, and Denise Reynoso.

A Christmas Carol continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 1, 2022. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking at the first half of 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) and Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group); and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). April brings the Southern California Renaissance FaireHadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (although that may get pushed to May); and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May is otherwise empty, but June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). 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 (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🎭 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

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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 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.

🎭

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.

🎭

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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