🎭 Returning to the Rock | “Come From Away” @ Ahmanson Theatre

Come From Away (2022 - Ahmanson)One of my wife’s favorite shows is Come From Away. We first saw it at the Ahmanson back in 2018. She loves the music, she loves the message, she loves the humor. So when it appeared as a bonus show in the Ahmanson 2020-2021 season, we planned to go. Then COVID hit. Luckily, it was in the reworked Ahmanson 2021-2022 season  We saw it last night. The magic is still there.

Seeing a show for a second time is much easier for me. This is especially true when about 70% of the cast and orchestra are the same. I can just point you to the previous writeup, and provide a few updates.

The story is unchanged. For those unfamiliar, this is the story of the community of Gander Newfoundland, which doubled in size when 9/11 occurred and planes from all over the world were diverted there. Come From Away (CFA) is the story of the people of Gander, and the people on the planes. It is a remarkably uplifting story that leaves you feeling good.

[And just like last time we saw this, it is paired with Dear Even Hansen (DEH). Last time, DEH is before; this time it follows. DEH, although popular, is much more problematic. CFA is centered around a tragedy, and how people find hope and family in it. DEH is centered around a lie, and how the hope from that lie eventually comes crashing down. I much prefer CFA.

The cast is essentially the same as the 2018 touring company. Here’s a paste of my cast list then, with changes noted:

*: At our performance, we had Kilty Reidy (IG, TW) swinging into this role.

Swings were: Jenny Ashman (IG, TW); Julie Garnyé (★FBTW)Marika Aubrey (★FBTW) [Moved to Principal]; Jane Bunting (FB), Amelia Cormak (IG), Adam Halpin (TW)Michael Brian Dunn (FB), and Aaron Michael Ray (FBTW), Kilty Reidy (IG, TW), and Brandon Springman (IG, TW).

As you can see, the bulk of the cast was the same. Performances were excellent from the ensemble.

Much of the on-stage orchestra was the same as well. Again, here’s a diff from 2018:

The band consisted of: Cynthia Kortman Westphal (FB) Cameron Moncur [Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard, Accordion, Harmonium]; Isaac Alderson (FB) [Whistles, Irish Flute, Uilleann Pipes]; Kiana June Weber (★FB) [Fiddle]; Adam Stoler (FB) Billy Bivona (IG, FB) [Electric / Acoustic Guitar]; Matt Wong (FB) Martin Howley (IG) [Acoustic Guitar, Mandolins, Bouzouki]; Max Calkin (FB) Sean Rubin (FB) [Electric / Acoustic Bass]; Steve Holloway (FB) [Bodhran, Percussion]; and Ben Morrow (FB) [Drums / Percussion].

As with the actors, much of the band is the same. However, I’d say that this time the band has gotten stronger. I hadn’t realized last time that Kiana June Weber (★FB) was part of one of my favorite Celtic groups: Gaelic Storm. She’s married to orchestra-mate Martin Howley (IG), who is new for 2022 and is one of the long-time members of the Celtic band We Banjo 3 — another favorite group.  Isaac Alderson (FB) is also part of the Celtic music scene, being part of the band The Yanks. Steve Holloway (FB) also plays on loads of Celtic albums. So this touring band has loads of Celtic talent, which they show off during numbers such as “Screech In” and the jam session after the final bows. This is one of those rare shows when I can say that you should see the show not only for the great story and great performances, but for the rocking Celtic band!

Production, design, and the supporting team (stage mangers) are unchanged from 2018.

Come From Away  is at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) for only one more week (it closes June 12). Go see it — you’ll be uplifted by this show, and will love the music. 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 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. The remainder of June sees Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes. I thought we might make the Hollywood Fringe Festival , but with my ear problems and Karen being in a wheelchair — plus fuel costs — we’re missing it this year. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

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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🎭 The Road to Hell is Quite Entertaining | “Hadestown” @ Ahmanson

Hadestown (CTG / Ahmanson Theatre)There has been a trend in the theatre of late to — shall we say — play it safe. Revive that remarkably successful old chestnut with a bit name star (never mind the problematic undertone)*. Take that very successful movie property and bring it to the stage and hope that people come out of nostalgia**. Although these often make money (especially on tour, playing to the crowds in Podunk USA), they often aren’t the best musicals. The best productions are often original stories or stories adapted from unexpected sources. Their originality wins the audience over: they get to see something they’ve never seen before, instead of the same old same old.
*: e.g., Music Man. **: e.g., Tootsie, Pretty Woman, Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, …

Hadestown, which we saw last Sunday at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), is one of those original shows. It is based on the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is connected to the story of Hades and Persephone. It featured music, lyrics, and book by a non-theatre artist: Anaïs Mitchell; after a few staged performances, she released the music as a song concept album in 2010, and it was workshopped and grew from there.  The music style is not your typical Broadway musical: it is bluesy and jazzy and has that hit of New Orleans to it. It is a seedy bar joint, at times joyous and at times dark. It is light and dark. It is, well, Persephone and Hades.

The basic myth is this: Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of nature. She is the bringer of spring and summer, the bringer of the bounty of the Earth.  Hades is King of the Underworld. Hades fell in love with Persephone and kidnapped her (although this isn’t in the play). They fall in love and marry, and agree that for six months out of the year she will live with him in the Underworld. During that time we have fall and winter. She returns for six months, bringing Spring and Summer. But Hades is a jealous and possessive man, and doesn’t want her away from him. He starts keeping her longer and longer, with predictable effect  in the world above.

Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. He had a gift of song and writing. He is guided by Hermes, who has the responsibility of conducting souls to the Underground. Hermes takes Orpheus under his wing. Orpheus is writing a song; a song so powerful it will bring Persephone back to the upper world, and bring back spring. Enter Eurydice, a woman of grace, who is tired of the endless winter. Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, and she falls in love with his melodies. This is especially true when Persephone returns. But she always must return, and when she does, Eurydice despairs (especially as Orpheus ignores her as he writes his song). She is enticed by Hades to go to the Underworld (and pay the price those who take the trip must take). When Orpheus learns of this, he travels to the Underworld to rescue her.

That’s the basic story (sans the ending). As staged, there are layers upon layers of metaphor. The most obvious one is the intimation of climate change: we have been destroying the world by driving away Spring, and we must take action to bring it back. I also detected allegories of anti-immigrant phobia, concerns about poverty making the world ugly, and even intimations of Trump and his wall, although this long predates Trump. What would you think when you hear lines like: Why do we build the wall? We build the wall to keep us free, we build the wall to keep out the enemy, the enemy is poverty. There are the workers, who toil and toil and never get anywhere — until they decide to hear each other and come together. There are deep messages in this show, folks.

As I noted earlier, the music is different than most shows. There are truly joyous songs. There are haunting songs. There are dark and scary songs. There are earworms (“Way down, Hadestown, Way down under the ground”) or “Now That the Chips Are Down”. I’ve picked up three versions of the music to this show: the concept album, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. All are excellent and slightly different.

The direction of the show is also atypical. The show was developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Chavkin is best known for Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which is another very different musical. This is a different theatre sensibility, and is unlike the typical fare one sees on the stage. I can imagine the impact of the show would be much greater in a smaller venue, but touring theatres are not small venues (and don’t work well on the thrust stage, eliminating the Taper from consideration).

The performances were also strong. Let’s start with the glue that holds the show together, provides the exposition, and moves the story along: Hermes (Levi Kreis). Let’s start off by saying that Kreis is not Andre de Shields, who won a Tony for this role. de Shields is one of a kind, and you can’t duplicate that. But Kreis works well and brings a different take to the role. More soul, and less Wiz. I enjoyed his voice and his interactions, and he was fun to watch off on the side in the small moments.

The protagonist couple, who are the center of the story, is Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) and Eurydice (normally Morgan Siobhan Green, but…).  I say “but….” because we had a substitution at our show (which started late, so I’m guessing there was a last minute substitution). We had Sydney Parra as Eurydice, who swung up from her normal role as a worker. Barasch had a beautiful lilting high tenor (at least I think that’s the right term), and expressed a lovely naivete and lightness of character. As for Parra, you would never have known she was an understudy. She deftly handled the role. She captured a lovely tenuousness and had a great voice; it was also interesting to see her come to life in the underworld. I also applaud her for not bowing to convention on stage — she was distinctly herself, and it was great to see her self confidence. Those who saw her performance will know what I’m referencing.

Our other couple were Persephone (Kimberly Marable) and Hades (Kevyn Morrow).  Again, don’t expect the Broadway actors to be cloned — no one can clone Patrick Page. But Morrow does have the baratone, but not quite the malevolence. Marable is clearly a jazz singer by trade, and she brings that joy and light to her performance. Again, these actors  embody the archetypes of their Greek counterparts: Morrow is dark, Marable is light and joy.

Directing the action somewhat and guiding things along are the three Fates: Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne. They sang beautifully, and even brought some instruments to the stage (accordion, fiddle).

Rounding out the production was the worker’s chorus. As we had some swings, I’m indicating the performers we saw by putting the names in bold, normal swings are indicated with §: Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams, Tyla Collier§, Ian Coulter-Buford§, Alex Lugo§, Eddie Noel Rodriguez§, J. Antonio Rodriguez§.  In other words: Out of the normal five workers, three were swings. You would have never known from the performances we saw, which were all strong. I particularly noticed the chorus in the scenes Underground: Why We Build the Wall, or the various chants.

Also on stage — essentially as part of the performers — were the musicians: Nathan Koci Conductor/Piano; Jacob Yates Cello / Asst. Conductor; Maria Im Violin; Michiko Egger Guitar; Audrey Ochoa Trombone / Glockenspiel; Calvin Jones Double Bass; and Anthony Ty Johnson Drums / Percussion. Of these folks, I’d like to single out Ochoa on Trombone. She was playful on stage and brought some wonderful jazz licks to the piece. But this entire ensemble was just great.

Before we turn to the scenic and other production aspects, let’s finish off the music and the movement. The production was choreographed by David Neumann, with help from Katie Rose McLaughlin Associate Director / Choreographer.  The movement was very jazz oriented and fit the piece well; this wasn’t your typical chorus line. Rounding out the music team was Liam Robinson Music Supervisor and Vocal Arrangements; Michael Chorney Arrangements and Orchestrations; Todd Sickafoose Arrangements and Orchestrations; Nathan Koci Music Director.  Note that none of the music team are your typical Broadway music types. Assisting in the direction was Chika V. Ike Associate Director.

The scenic design was interesting. A New Orleans type blues pub was at the center (with a small turntable); on the sides were the musicians and high-boy tables. On a balcony in the back was space for Hades and Persephone to watch. There was a circular staircase, and the back opened to be a train. This tour design was by Rachel Hauck Scenic Design. It was supported by the other design aspects: Michael Krass Costume Design; Bradley King Lighting Design; Nevin Steinberg Sound Design; Jessica Paz Sound Design; and Jennifer Mullins Hair Design. All these pieces combine to establish the mood and the characters well.  Rounding out the production team were: Ken Cerniglia Dramaturg; Stewart/Whitley Casting; Joel Rosen Production Stage Manager; Annelise Castleberry Stage Manager; Zachry J. Bailey Assistant Stage Manager; Denny Daniello Company Manager; Aurora Productions Production Management.

Hadestown is well worth seeing; we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 29, 2022. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (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 further into 2022: We’re done with our May shows. June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

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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🎭 Update: Prognostications for the 2023 Pantages/Ahmanson Seasons

Back in mid-February 2022, I posted my predictions for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) (Pantages) and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) seasons. BIH just made their announcement, so how did I do?

For the record, here’s what I wrote for Broadway in Hollywood:

  • Mean Girls. This was postponed from 2020.
  • Six.
  • Beetlejuice.
  • Tina – The Musical.
  • Ain’t Too Proud. This started out at the Ahmanson and went to Broadway. It is likely not to repeat at the Ahmanson — they want to reach a different subscriber base.
  • Wicked. On tour, currently at the Segerstrom. A likely retread that performs well and can do an extended sit-down at the Pantages.
  • Girl from the North Country (although this could end up at the Ahmanson)
  • Aladdin The Musical. This is a “newly imagined” version, and could be a draw.
  • Maybes:
    • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.
    • The Cher Show. The tour was postponed, but it might come back.
    • The Spongebob Musical. One can always hope.
    • MJ The Musical. This was just announced (3/21) as going on tour in 2023. It is the type of show that would be at the Pantages, but I think the announcement is too late for the 2023 season. But one never knows; it might make it in.

What did we get?

I got the first four right on the button:

In my maybe list, the two retreads ended up being in the season:

  • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.

Two of the shows I thought for the Ahmanson are coming into BIH instead:

I didn’t see a remounting of The Lion King; I wasn’t even aware they were still on tour. The Playbill article on current and upcoming tours indicates the Lion King tour ends in October 2022, and the BIH announcement indicates it is coming in 2023.

So where does this leave the other traditional touring house: The Ahmanson. There’s a push at CTG for more diversity and there’s a new managing director, so there could be some changes in direction. CTG/Ahmanson also does more local stuff, and stuff moving up. So what will we see from the Ahmanson? Here’s the revised prediction.

Ahmanson Theatre

The Ahmanson Theatre, in Downtown LA,  is a large venue that in the past has programmed both National tours, shows it has locally produced or produced pre-tours, or select touring productions from elsewhere, such as the West End. It has smaller capacity than the Pantages/Dolby, can accommodate mid-size runs but not long sit downs. There has been a recent strong push for diversity and local productions at CTG, and there is new artistic leadership, so I expect to see more diverse playwrights and local productions as opposed to only the tours we’ve seen of late.

My prediction:

    • To Kill a Mockingbird (Tour). This was postponed from 2021.
    • 1776 (Musical). This was postponed from 2021.
    • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This could be a local mounting as a tour hasn’t been announced, but there has been a sister production at the Curran in SF. This isn’t a formal tour, so it would require a local mounting of the show — which means it would require the Ahmanson, as Broadway in Hollywood doesn’t locally mount stuff.
    • Jagged Little Pill. This just seems a bit more like an Ahmanson show.
    • Girl from the North Country
    • MJ: The Musical
    • Diversity author slot.
    • Pre-Broadway or West-End Musical

I still believe that Ain’t Too Proud will NOT come back to the Ahmanson, but I could be wrong. The Ahmanson did bring back both Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, which they presented before. Other tours are shows that are retready enough they don’t fit CTG, such as Aladdin The Musical or Wicked, and although a new production of 9 to 5: The Musical is going on tour, I don’t think it would be a sufficient draw for CTG.  I still don’t think Emojiland: The Musical  will end up at the Ahmanson either.

And still no Spongebob Musical. But one can always hope.

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🎭 That Last Step is a Doozy | “The Lehman Trilogy” @ Ahmanson

The Lehman Trilogy (Ahmanson)Well, that was unexpected.

Yesterday, we went to go see The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Unlike the musicals we see (where I generally know the music and perhaps the plot ahead of time), I knew nothing about this show other than the awards it had won. I was expecting, perhaps, a conventional play that focused heavily of the fall of Lehman Brothers: that is, focusing on the circumstances that led to the fall. I thought it might be similar to Enron, the play that told the downfall of Enron. It wasn’t.

I also expected, perhaps because it is the current trend in the theatre, a play that was pretty realistic in its staging and presentation. Conventional sets, multiple locations, good old flying scenery.

Instead, I got a play that I wanted to recommend to my synagogue’s live theatre group; a play that was very Jewish in content. I got a play that had a single modernistic advanced office set, with the basic props being tables, (transparent) white boards, and loads of moving boxes. I got three actors portraying a multitude of characters.

This wasn’t at all what I expected. Yet I was engrossed in the story from the minute that it started, and the 3 hour 20 minute running time (3 acts, 2 15-minute intermissions) just flew by.

The Lehman Trilogy, with story by Stefano Massini adapted by Ben Power, tells the story of the Lehman Brothers Investment Bank, from the origin to the fall. The first act (“Three Brothers”) focuses on the first going into the second generation, beginning with the establishing of first a fabric store (and then a cotton trading concern) by three brothers in Montgomery Alabama: Henry Lehman (Simon Russell Beale), Emanuel Lehman (Howard W. Overshown), and Mayer Lehman  (Adam Godley). The family emigrated from Bavaria to find a better world before the Civil War — a common path for Jews at the time (my family was similar, coming from Eastern Europe to Tennessee). Throughout this act, the Judaism was emphasized, and how it dictated their behaviors, how they celebrated, how the cycle the governed their lives was Jewish, and how they sat Shiva and closed their business for a week when one of the brothers died.  This act also shows the origins of the financial firm, moving from selling cotton goods to selling the raw cotton from the south to the north, and finding profit in being the middleman. This continued as the family started the move to New York, and the branching into other commodities such as coffee. It was also when we saw the first foreys into Lehman Brothers being a bank.

The second act (“Fathers and Sons”) focuses on the next generation, where we get to meet Emanuel’s son Philip Lehman and Mayer’s son, Herbert Lehman. We get a deep exploration of the relationship of each son with their father, and in turn we get introduced to the next generation, Robert “Bobbie” Lehman, Philip’s son. We see the commodity traders start to broaden the investment portfolio, and become more of an investment bank. We also see them move further from Judaism — it is explicitly noted they move into Reform (mistakenly called “Reformed” — tsk, tsk), and mourning periods become shorter. The emphasis is that this is the American generation, bringing American values and American greed. The move away from investments that can be seen and touched and traded becomes increasingly foreign to the older generations. Values are lost.\

The last act (“The Immortal”) focuses on the last generation of Lehman to run the bank, Bobbie Lehman. It also focuses on how times were changing in the 1950s and 1960s, and how increasingly modern ideas were reshaping banking. This included an upstart trading division run by Lewis Glucksman, a new Presidency under Pete Peterson, and the successor, Richard Fuld. It is in this act we see the loss of the family from the leadership, and perhaps the loss of the family values and the Jewish values. But the actual end comes very abruptly with only a few minutes focusing on how the company was divided up, and then went bankrupt. It doesn’t provide a lot of understanding of the fall, other than the notion that things went off the rails when the family left.

The storytelling was done in an interesting way. The actors, in addition to performing a multitude of characters, also served to narrate the story. There’s a lot of exposition in this one, folks. This is very much a “tell you the story”, vs “show you the story” form of play. The set was simple: a modern office, desks, lamps, loads of moving boxes that were stacked and restacked to form things, and clear Plexiglas walls used as whiteboards. It was effective, although the ceiling of the set limited sightlines from the balcony seats (where we were).

The performances themselves were very strong. Beale, Godley, and Overshown captured all their different characters well, and really brought acting to the fore in how one actor can be multiple people.

So what is the verdict? First, this show is definitely worth seeing. The story is engrossing, and you learn things about the Lehman family you probably never knew. The performances are strong and the staging is amazing. However, you do walk about wondering if the fall of the firm was ever adequately explained. But perhaps that’s the point: to stimulate that discussion, as opposed to whacking you over the head with a moral.

Rounding out the cast were: Aaron Krohn Janitor, Mayer Lehman Standby; Tony Carlin Henry Lehman Standby; R. J. Foster Emanuel Lehman Standby; and the individuals whose sole job is to be extras in the closing scene (I hope they have something fun to do while they are waiting): EJ Assi, Mark Jacob Chaitin, Lee Cohen, Sumeet Dang, Sabah El-Amin, Bo Foxworth, John Massey, Jalon Matthews, Elaine Rivkin, Scott Roberts, Kyla Schoer, Sean Smith, Heather L. Tyler, and Tom Waters.

Music was provided by Rebekah Bruce and Em Goldman Pianists.

The production was directed by Sam Mendes Director assisted by Zoé Ford Burnett Associate Director and Rory McGregor Assistant Director. Movement was coordinated by Polly Bennett. The design team was Es Devlin Scenic Design; Katrina Lindsay Costume Design; Luke Halls Video Design; Jon Clark Lighting Design; Nick Powell Composer and Sound Design; Dominic Bilkey Co Sound Design; and Candida Caldicot Music Director.  I’ve already commented on the scenic design; I’ll note additionally that a number of design elements were not visible from the balcony due to the “ceiling” of the office. There’s no need for that ceiling dramatically; it is a flaw of the scenic design. I also want to note the sound design: there were excellent sound effects throughout the show. Rounding out the production team: Wendy Spon CDG Casting; Jim Carnahan CSA Casting; Aurora Productions Production Management; Jim Leaver UK Production Manager; David Lober Production Stage Manager; Cynthia Cahill Stage Manager; Danielle Ranno Stage Manager Megan Curren Associate General Manager; and Deirdre Murphy Company Manager. I always make a point of crediting the COVID Safety Team: Uriel Trepman Covid Safety Manager – The Lehman Trilogy; Niki Armato Facilities Asst./COVID Compliance Officer; and Nicki Heskin Temporary COVID Communications Manager.

The Lehman Trilogy continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 10. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Theatre; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (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. As for the remainder of the first half of 2022: Next up in March Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group). April brings Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB), 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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🎭 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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