Los Angeles Ovation Award Nominees

It’s been a while since I’ve done a theatre-related non-review post. The release of the Ovation Awards Nominees, as stirred a post within me, so here goes…. I won’t even comment on the political drama we’ve been seeing of late in Washington…

As I noted above, the LA Stage Alliance has released the list of Ovation Nominees. Alas, no nominations for REP East, but that’s only because trying to get the nominators out to Saugus seems impossible. Still, there’s evidence they will go to Thousand Oaks, so “think North”.

Turning back to the nominees, our favorite theatre to the West received quite a few nominations. I’m talking specifically about Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks, which received the following nominations:

  • For “Singing in the Rain”: (1) Featured Actress in a Musical (Melissa Fahn); (2) Featured Actor in a Musical (Randy Rogel); (3) Lead Actor in a Musical (David Engel); (4) Sound Design – Large Theatre (Jonathan Burke); (5) Lighting Design – Large Theatre (Jean-Yves Tessier); (6) Musical – Large Theatre; (7) Music Direction (Alby Potts); (8) Choreography (Roger Castellano); (9) Direction of a Musical (Larry Raben);
  • For “Jekyll & Hyde”: (10) Featured Actress in a Musical (Beth Obregon); (11) Featured Actor in a Musical (Aaron Phillips); (12) Lead Actress in a Musical (Lulu Lloyd); (13) Lead Actor in a Musical (Robert J. Townsend); (14) Costume Design – Large Theatre (Sharell Martin and Ambra Wakefield); (15) Lighting Design – Large Theatre (Steven Young); (16) Musical – Large Theatre; (17) Music Direction (Steven Applegate); (18) Choreography (David Engel); (19) Direction of a Musical (Nick DeGruccio)

Other theatres we frequent that received nominations were:

  • Pasadena Playhouse: Sharon Lawrence (Featured Actress in a Play; “Orsen’s Shadow”); Brandon Victor Dixon (Lead Actor in a Musical, “Ray Charles Live – A New Musical”); Allen E. Read (Lead Actor in a Musical, “Mask”); Paul Tazewell (Costume Design – Large Theatre, “Ray Charles Live – A New Musical”)
  • East West Players: Naomi Yoshida (Costume Design – Large Theatre, “Pippin”)
  • No Ho Arts Center: Scott A. Lane (Costume Design – Intimate Theatre; “Pest Control – The Musical”); Luke Moyer (Lighting Design, “Pest Control – The Musical”)
  • Actors Co-Op: A. Jeffrey Shoenberg (Costume Design – Intimate Theatre, “1776”);
  • Center Theatre Group: Robert Brill (Set Design – Large Theatre, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”); All the touring productions nominees (“Drowsy Chaperone”, “The Color Purple”, “Avenue Q”, “My Fair Lady” (we didn’t see this one), “Sweeney Todd”)

Congratulations to all the nominees. Now, if we can just get them to come to REP East….


But I Didn’t Like The Cheerleaders When I Was In High School

Last night, our theatregoing started back up with a visit to the Pasadena Playhouse to see their production of “Vanities: A New Musical” (official page). Vanities is a Broadway-bound (opening around February 2009) musical based on the 1976 Jack Heifner play of the same name.

Vanities tells the story of three Texas girls through a series of four snapshots of their lives. The first three were in the original play; the last was added for the musical. The first scene is in 1963, when the girls are cheerleaders preparing and organizing for the big high-school football game and pep rally. It is here we first learn the characters of the girls. Mary (Lauren Kennedy) is the wild one of the group. Kathy (Anneliese Van Der Pol) is the great organizer, the one who plans the best parties and is captain of the cheerleading squad. Joanne (Sarah Stiles) is the good girl: saving herself for marriage and her high school sweetheart. We also learn that these girls are fast friends. The second scene moves us forward to 1968: the girls are graduating college and planning their last semester at KKΓ. Mary (who was evidently a swinger on the pill in college) is going to Europe to experience life (and get away from her drunk mother). Joanne is getting married to her high-school boyfriend Ted, and Kathy is still trying to decide what to do with a degree in Physical Education, as well as figuring out how to deal with a broken heart. The next scene (which was the last in the play) takes place eight years later (1974) in a penthouse apartment in New York. Mary is back from Europe, running an erotic art gallery, still wild and free. Joanne is happy with her married life and children… on the surface. Kathy has given up teaching PE, and is living the life of leasure in the penthouse apartment in NYC. But this last scene shows there’s more to the story, as Kathy is a “kept woman” (the implication being it is Joanne’s hubby), and Mary has been having affairs with the same husband. The last scene, added for the musical, takes place almost 15 years (1990) later at the funeral for Mary’s mother. Still fast friends, we see how life as changed for these women: Mary is about to get married; Joanne is happy with her second husband; and Kathy is writing books, still searching for the meaning of life in Idaho.

The story is a good one: there is growth in the characters, and you do grow to like them. I think the show’s structure and length (under 2 hours, no intermission) works well for a theatre the size of a Pasadena Playhouse (under 1,000 seats). For a Broadway house, I’m less sure. I think the scenes need to be expanded slightly to permit an act break between college and the remainder of their lives, and there need to be some additional numbers in the last scene showing character growth of the characters, including some high energy number as in the first act. Note that the show already contains 13 numbers (music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum), with the bulk being in the early scenes (scene 1: 3; scene 2: 4; scene 3: 3; scene 4: 1). It also evidently had an intermission at one point.

One thing that shouldn’t change is the acting talent. Lauren Kennedy is a remarkable Mary: she conveys wild and free, and I can see her number “Fly Into The Future” becoming a classic song in her repertoire. Anneliese Van Der Pol breaks out of her Disney background as Kathy, the party organizer (with her chicken wire and newspaper), trying to find her life. She also is an extremely strong singer and great actress; I particularly liked her number “Cut Boys with Short Haircuts”. Lastly, Sarah Stiles is entrancing as Joanne, the virginal small-town girl marrying her high-school beau… who finds out that the facade isn’t what it is made out to be. Her signature song, “The Same Old Music”, truly showcases how she is just happy with her career goal of wife. All are great, all are strong singers and actresses, and all make the show (and have a clear friendship). Oh, and all of them are members of æ Actors Equity.

Technically, the show is amazing, perhaps because all characters are on stage at all times, including for 95% of the costume changes. The scenic design by Anna Louizos has three main vanities on the stages that rotate for different purposes, a wooden backdrop with panels that illustrate different scenes and permitting a change from a high school gym to a fancy penthouse apartment. There are also lights the drop down to create the mood, as well as the normal theatrical use of lights (the lighting design was by Paul Miller). The costumes (Joseph G. Aulisi, costume designer) and wigs (Josh Marquette) do a remarkable job of conveying the sense of time and personality, as well as adapting to the constant on-stage changing. Sound design was by Tony Meola and was quite good, although a few times I lost the illusion that the sound was coming from the actresses (I should note that it appears the Playhouse has a new speaker system). You can learn a bit more about the sound work in Vanities from Mr. Meola’s Downstage Center podcast.

With respect to program management: The production was directed by Judith Ivey, with musical staging by Dan Knechtges. Orchestrations were by Lynne Shankel, with musical direction and vocal arrangements by Carmel Dean (who also served as conductor for the 8 piece band). Richard Roland was the associate director. The Production Stage Manager was Pat Sosnow assisted by Lea Chazin. The Pasadena Playhouse is under the artistic direction of Sheldon Epps; Brian Colburn serves as Managing Director (although he is leaving soon); and Tom Ware is Producing Director.

ETA: nsshere’s review of the production is here.

For a video interview with some of the Vanities: A New Musical cast, click here. There is also a good interview with the three actresses in Episode 213 of Broadway Bullet, which includes some snippets of the music. Vanities: A New Musical continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until September 28, 2008.

As for us, I said this was the start of another theatre string of shows. Next Sunday (9/28 @ 1pm) we see another Broadway-bound musical: “9 to 5: The Musical” at the Ahamanson Theatre. The following Sunday (10/5 @ 2pm) is “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East Playhouse in Saugus. The next weekend is currently open, for I thought I was going to an event at camp. Sunday October 12 (2pm) brings “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at the Havok Theatre (Nick DeGruccio, Artistic Director). The next weekend is “The King and I at Cabrillo Music Theatre (I don’t know if youarebonfante is managing the production). The following two weekends are open, the latter originally for nsshere’s birthday. The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Still to be ticketed is “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale 10/8 — I’ll try for 11/16 @ 1pm should just be going on sale — I’ll call today for 11/23). Another show of interest is “Blood Brothers – The Musical” (Goldstar Link) at the Whitefire Theatre (which runs through November 23 — 11/2 @ 3pm is a possibility, but we need to see when greenscar is going, so I’ll have to double-book a weekend). Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.


Items for a Saturday Afternoon

  • Item The First. We Has New TV. Well, actually, we has old hotel TV. Let me explain. Our main TV was a 27″ JVC TV that we got around 1999 after our old house was burgled. In the last few months, it had an odd problem: the top of the image seemed aimed down (i.e., we had a black bar just at the top), and the real top of the image was reflected upside down over the part just below it. It’s hard to describe, but it looked sorta-like this:

    In any case, we looked at TVs from BestBuy and the like, and they were all around $400, all seemingly HDTV, and all flat-screen. We just wanted a cheap replacement. Luckily GFG is on the mailing list for a Hotel Surplus Outlet, and we were able to replace the TV with an RCA 27″ for just around $70. The DirecTV remote works it just fine. What’s interesting is all the extra plugs on the back for things like security systems.

    P.S.: Who can identify the show in the fake TV image?

  • Item The Second. My condolences go out to the families of those injured or killed in the Chatsworth Metrolink train crash, which wasn’t that far from our house (about 6 miles), and was walking distance from my inlaws. Reports are that the Metrolink engineer missed or ignored the signal. Too, too, tragic. I was pleased that Californians for Obama did send out a message for folks telling them how to help:

    Many of you have asked what you can do to help. The UCLA Blood and Platelet Center will be open Monday through Friday to accept blood donations. Healthy donors of all blood types are needed to donate blood. Appointments can be made by calling 310-794-7217 ext. 2. Contact the Red Cross at 800-RED-CROSS or visit www.redcross.org for other information about blood donation or ways you can help.

  • Item the Third. Remember when Tom Lehrer indicated that parody was dead. Well, it’s dead again. Evidently the new season and upcoming seasons on Broadway aren’t giving Gerald Alessandrini enough material, and so Forever Broadway is closing after the current incarnation. Supposedly it will still tour, but it was great while it lasted.
  • Item The Fourth. Speaking of reviews of entertainment icons, Roger Ebert has an interesting take on Sarah Palin — it looks like it is thumbs down from the balcony (and new information is coming out all the time, such as how she hired friends and fired critics). However, her 15 minutes in the limelight may be over, as the focus seems to be returning to the heads of the ticket: Obama and McCain, and what their positions are. Of course, it is getting harder and harder to determine them, especially based on the McCain ads which are stretching the truth even more than usual for a campaign (and the distortions are getting even more coverage).
  • Item The Fifth. You know how you may soon be able to use the Internet on an aircraft. All well and good. But don’t try to VOIP. They’re blocking that. Of course, folks will surely find a way to get around it (and don’t call me Shirley).

4Q08 Theatre Plans

Well, our theatre plans for September-December seem to be firming up:

Sa 9/20 @ 8pm: “Vanities” @ Pasadena Playhouse
Su 9/28 @ 1pm: “9 to 5” @ Ahmanson
Su 10/5 @ 2pm: “Of Mice and Men” @ Rep East
Su 10/12 @ 2pm: “Kiss of the Spider Woman” @ Havok (PS: to shutterbug93: Nick is directing)
Sa 10/25 @ 2pm: “The King & I” at Cabrillo
Sa 11/15 @ 8pm: “The Lady With All The Answers” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Sometime 10/29-12/7: “Spring Awakening” @ Ahmanson
Sometime 11/14-12/13: “And Then There Were None” @ Rep East

Other Things:
11/11: “Day Out With Thomas” @ OERM
11/22-11/23: nsshere’s Bday Stuff
12/7-12/13: ACSAC
12/20: CISSP Exam


Everybody Has The Right To Be Happy. Everybody Has The Right to Their Dreams.

In late 1990, a new Stephen Sondheim musical premiered on Broadway, with a book by John Weidman. It was dark, and had a very uncomfortable theme. It was a musical that highlighted the men and women who have a dream, a burning in their bellies, a driving need to do what they think is necessary to make their world a better place. They want to shoot the president. As one might expect, this musical (“Assassins”) flopped, running only 73 performances. In 2001 in one, it was about to be remounted again… and then terrorists flew planes into the WTC and the Pentagon (and wanted to hit the White House) on September 11th — echoing a would be assassin of Richard Nixon in the show, who wanted to fly a plane into the White House. The revival was scrapped again. It was finally remounted in 2004 to a bit more success… but the subject remains uncomfortable.

Today, we saw “Assassins” in its production at West Coast Ensemble. Assassins tells the story of all the successful and unsuccessful presidential assassins: John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln), Charles Guiteau (Garfield), Leon Czolgosz (McKinley), Giuseppe Zangara (FDR, unsuccessful), Lee Harvey Oswald (Kennedy), Samuel Byck (Nixon, unsuccessful), Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore (Ford, unsuccessful), and John W. Hinkley Jr (Reagan, unsuccessful). They are egged on by a character called the Proprietior, who is really more of a carnival barker, urging them to “Shoot a President, Win a Prize”. A more sardonic view of the proceedings comes from the Balladeer. What’s hard to figure out is the point of the show. One underlying theme is captured in the title of this post: “Everyone has the right to be happy, everybody has the right to their dreams”. Part of the American dream is the right to take action for what you believe in. Does that include the right to shoot the president? Is that a form of free speech? But the play shows that folks had a variety of reasons behind their actions: to ease their pains, to make a statement, to please someone or to get attention for their cause, or because they were just nuts. But it doesn’t work. They aren’t remembered for their cause, they are remembered because they attempted to shoot the president. Perhaps some lines from the Balladeer’s first number make the point best:

Every now and then
A madman’s
Bound to come along
Doesn’t stop the story —
Story’s pretty strong
Doesn’t change the song…

Listen to the stories
Hear it in the songs
Angry men don’t write the rules
And guns don’t right the wrongs

Hurts a while
But soon the country’s
Back where it belongs
And that’s the truth

So, “Assassins”, in the end, isn’t a musical about the right to dreams. It is more a musical on the strength of the American dream — that even though there are madmen out there who do mad things, these angry men don’t write the rules, and America ultimately will right itself. We now have madmen who are using more than guns, and we have leaders who are tilting the ship strongly in reaction. But the system is strong, and we have the ability to right it. Pretty good message in a dark musical, I must say.

So how did West Coast Ensemble do? I think they did a very good job (only one substantive complaint, which you’ll find near the end). The acting was supurb. The whole cast was remarkable, not only in their singing but in their acting and their nuances. This is one of Sondheim’s most dramatic plays (I think the second half would rival most dramas), and it was just astounding. Some actors deserve some special praise. From the set of assassins, I was particularly impressed with Christopher Davis Carlisle as John Wilkes Booth, the first man to show it was possible to shoot a president; Steven Connoræ at Charles J. Guiteau, who lots of life and energy; Johanna Kent as Sara Jane Moore, who had loads of confused playfullness; Darrin Revitzæ as Lynnette “Squeeky” Fromme, who portrayed the crazy devotion one would expect from a Manson followerer. Even more of note were Dana Reynolds as the Balladeer, who seemed to take glee in interacting and commenting on the assassins. Even stronger was Shannon Stoeke in the dual role of the Proprietor/Lee Harvey Oswald, who was the evil counterpart to the Balladeer, encouraging our protagonists that they had the right, if not a duty, to shoot the president.

The remainder of the company were supurb, but their performances just didn’t “pop” as the folks named above. Rounding out the assassins were Jim Holdridgeæ as Guiseppe Zangara; Larry Ledermanæ as Leon Czolgosz, David Nadeau at John Hinckley, and John O’Brien at Samuel Byck. Others in the ensemble, playing various roles, were Sterling Beaumonæ and Andrea Covell.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Technically, the crew did a remarkable job with the small space they had. The current WCE location was Sydney Chaplin’s first theatre. The stage is very small, with no wing space. But somehow the crew made it work with remarkable sets, remarkable lighting, remarkable costumes (with really fast changes), and remarkable direction. Credit goes to Richard Israel (Director), Carla Barnett (Producing Director), Suzanne Doss (Assistant Director), Lisa D. Katz (Lighting Design), Stephen Gifford (Set Design), Johanna Kent (Music Director), Richard Berent (Orchestral Realizations), A. Jeffrey Schoenberg (Costume Design), and Cricket S. Myers (Sound Design). Stage management was by Erin Bedinger, and produced by Michelle Exarhos and Flip Laffoon. The artistic director for WCE is Les Hanson.

Now for the complaint. Although the page for the theatre says there are 46 seats, I heard there were 99 in there — and they were the narrowest, most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever been in. Hopefully WCE will soon find themselves a venue that is equal to their outstanding productions.

Dining Notes: Dinner was that old standby, Canter’s Deli. Although good, I think either Weiler’s or Brent’s is better. Still, the one on Fairfax is a classic.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? We have a bit of a break until the end of September, when we are seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 9/20 @ 8pm. I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson in September (HotTix go on sale on Wednesday). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/25 @ 2pm.


Theatre News Chum

I haven’t done a theatre related news chum in a while, so here are some tidbits of interest noted during lunchtime reading to stir the waters:

  • From the “Inspired Casting” Department: Folks may know that work is afoot to develop “The Addams Family” into a stage musical, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party”). Well, the casting for an industry reading has just been announced, and it is truly inspired: Nathan Lane as Gomez, and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. Also on the reading cast is Kevin Chamberlain (who would make a great Fester) and Jeff McCarthy (Officer Lockstock from Urinetown). Although this is just a reading cast and might change, I could just see these folks doing this in my head. In other interesting casting news, Henry Winkler (“The Fonz”) will be playing Captain Hook in a UK production of “Peter Pan”.
  • From the “Prequels, Sequels, and Remakes” Department: And speaking of “Peter Pan”, La Jolla Playhouse and Disney Theatricals are working on a new-Peter Pan play (not musical) based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson novel “Peter and the Starcatchers”. The new play, written by Rick Elice, directed by Roger Rees and co-directed by Alex Timbers, will play the La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, in California, from Feb. 13-March 8, 2009. “Peter and the Starcatchers” was also in the news today because of the little impcess Tinker Bell, who is launching a new marketing line. Going back to our theme and moving from prequels to sequels, John Waters is writing a sequel to “Hairspray”, which looks to be a followup movie musical. Will this be “Grease 2” or “Bring Back Birdie”? One thing that may surely be a disaster is MTV’s effort to remake “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as a TV Movie. Why tamper with perfection?
  • From the “Los Angeles is the New Boston” Department*: A number of new stage musicals are moving from Los Angeles to the Great White Way. A while back, “13” played the Ahmanson… and now it is opening on Broadway on October 5th. Also planning the move are the upcoming musical “Vanities”, which has tryouts at the Pasadena Playhouse before moving to Broadway (supposedly in late 2008 or early 2009). “9 to 5”, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, is premiering next month at the Ahmanson, and plans a move to Broadway after that. Of course, there are some musicals that premiered in LA that still haven’t made it to NYC: in particular, we had high hopes for “Sister Act” when we saw it, but it hasn’t made it there yet. We also hope that “Mask” makes it there one day — it had great music. As a PS: One musical coming to Broadway whose score I highly recommend is “Billy Elliot: The Musical”: Give it a listen (it is available through Amazon) and you’ll enjoy.
    *: This title was chosen just for talonvaki.

“Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”

Yesterday afternoon (I would have written this last night, but a headache intervened) we went out to Thousand Oaks to see “Singin’ In The Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. This is the stage version of the theatrical musical “Singin’ in the Rain”. This musical, with book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed, is pretty much the 1952 movie on stage. Although the movie is described as one of the best musicals ever made, topping the AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranking fifth in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007, as a stage musical… it creaks. By this I mean that it doesn’t fit the concept of modern musical, where modern refers to the post-“Oklahoma” musicals. Although the story is reasonable for what it is, the songs rarely serve to move the story forward or to illustrate the inner emotions of the characters (with the notable exception of the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain” and Cosmo’s signature number, “Make ‘Em Laugh”). Instead, most of the songs are more novelty songs, inserted in the action to highlight the singing and dancing talents of the cast. This is not a fault of Cabrillo but of Brown & Freed, and the problem dates back to the original movie. It may come from the fact that many of these songs were reused, having been written originally for movies in the 1920s and 1930s. I hazard a guess that if this were to appear today as a new musical on Broadway, the book and lyrics would be faulted for being horribly out of date.

So what is the story. Well, it’s a common one of the late 1920s. The stock market crashes, everyone is turned out on the street, and is forced to busker during downpours in order to make a living. No, wait, that’s what’s happening today. This is another story common in the late 1920s. Don Lockwood (David Engel) is one of Monumental Picture’s leading stars. Together with his leading lady (and rumored fiancee) Lina Lamont (Melissa Fahn), they are attending the successful opening of their most recent silent swashbuckler. Walking home, Don runs into Kathy Selden (Shanon Mari Mills) who appears not to be a fawning fan, and thus Don is attracted to her. When later Don runs into her at a party, she gets upset at him and throws a pie at him… missing him, but hitting Lena. Lena gets her fired, and Don is now searching to find his love. Don also has bigger problems: “The Jazz Singer” has hit the street, and everyone is demanding talkies…. but have you heard Lena’s voice? Nails on a chalkboard. Like many actors, she just isn’t right for the talkies, and as a result, the new picture, “The Dueling Cavalier”, is going to flop. Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (Randy Rogel) comes up with the solution: turn it into a musical. But just as Lena can’t talk, she can’t sing or dance. Cosmo’s solution: dub her voice (no, this isn’t “Looped”)… and the actress doing the dubbing… Kathy Seldon. The results from there are predictable.

So, given this lightweight material, the well-known (and well-loved) songs, and the heavy dance influence of the movie (a Gene Kelly special), how did Cabrillo do? Very well. David Engelæ (playing Don Lockwood) is a consummate song and dance man–he channels Kelly and does the dancing numbers with ease and grace, and was a delight to watch. He also served as choreographer, and enticed the entire cast to dance up a storm. His cohort, Randy Rogelæ (playing Cosmo Brown) equally channels Donald O’Conner: he sings, he dances, and he has excellent physical comic timing. Shanon Mari Mills (playing Kathy Selden), who we’ve seen previously in “Mask” and “They’re Playing Our Song”, is a delightful ingénue, a superb singer and a strong dancer. Lastly, Melissa Fahnæ (playing Lena Lamont) is wonderfully comic and has the voice down pat (although the particular role doesn’t allow us to hear her real voice). So the production was well cast, well sung, and well danced.

The remaining cast members were strong in their roles, although not as standout as the leads. These members were: Gary Gordon (R. F. Simpson, owner of Monumental Pictures), Rita Tarin (Dora Bailey), Terry Fishman (Roscoe Dexter), Gene Bernath (Diction Teacher), Farley Cadena (Miss Dinsmore), Linda Neel (the Girl in the Green Dress, a dance role made famous by Cyd Charisse), Rocky Lynch (Young Don), Jacob Tobias (Young Cosmo), Ann Myers (Zelda Zanders, friend of Lena), Chris Ramirez (Rod), and Richard Storrs (Sid Phillips). Other members of the ensemble were Neal Bakke, Chris Acuff, Kasey Alfonso, Layne Baker, Christopher Bray, Cory Bretsch, Amanda Brown, Drew D’Andrea, Jasmine Ejan, Jennifer Foster, Brandon Heitkamp, Erik Kline, Holly Long, Lindsay McDonald, Carly Pippin, Jonalyn Saxer, Deborah Shulman, Marni Zaifert, Delany Miner, Riley Miner, and Sami Staitman.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Technically, the production stretched the Cabrillo resources, with a number of extremely large set pieces that had to be moved in and out, including a full-sized unit that permitted the titular song to be performed in actual rain. These pieces also required a few numbers to be performed in front of a backdrop so that the scenery could be changed beind the scenes. The scenery overall worked well, although it surely gave our favorite production stage manager, youarebonfante, lots of work to do coordinating everything. The production was directed by Larry Rabenæ. Lighting design was by Jean-Yves Tessier and was a bit spot heavy, but otherwise good. Sound design was by Jonathan Burke, who got the wonderful job of designing a sound system that could work under water. Wardrobe supervision was by Christine Gibson, with hair and wig design by Karen Zanki. The sets were provided by 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle Washington and were designed by Michael Anania. The production manager and prop designer was T. Theresa Scarano. The Production Stage Manager was the ever capable™ Lindsay Martensæ (who we thank for meeting us afterwards, and we hope to meet again) assisted by Rachel Samuels. Musical direction was by Alby Potts, who conducted the excellent 17-member orchestra. CMT is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld.

Cabrillo has announced their 2008-2009 season, and the first production of the 2009-2010 season. The 2008-2009 season will be “The King and I” (October 17-26, 2008); “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” [The Neal Sedaka Musical] (January 9-18, 2009); “42nd Street” (March 27-April 5 2009); and “Cats” (July 24-August 2 2009). The first production of the 2009-2010 season will be “Dreamgirls” in October 2009.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Our last play ticketed for August is “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


“Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it.” — Tallulah Bankhead

Last night we went to the Pasadena Playhouse to see their production of a new play by Matthew Lombardo called “Looped”. Just like Lombardo’s previous play, “Tea at Five” (which we saw at the playhouse in September 2005), the story is centered around an incident in the life of a famous actress, has another well-known actress in the lead role, and at times seems very shallowly written. But as with “Tea at Five”, we ultimately enjoyed the production.

Looped” tells the story of eight hours in the life of Tallulah Bankhead, a famous actress who initially made a reputation on the stage, but then went to Hollywood and became better known for her excesses of all varieties. The story is based on an incident in 1965 where it took her eight hours to rerecord one line for the film “Die! Die! My Darling!”. It is also the story of the recording studio producer, Danny Miller, who has to deal with Tallulah. The setting basically provides time for Miller to draw out the story of Tallulah’s excesses, philosophy of life, and riffs thereupon (alas, seeming more to echo the information in the Wikipedia article — for example, that she came to Hollywood to fuck Gary Cooper — than something deeper). But it also provides time for the Tallulah character to draw out the story of the producer; and it is in that aspect that the character growth that is at the heart of “Looped” is revealed. Tallulah never changes or grows: she starts out as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain, and she ends as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain (although we do have a better idea of the reason for that pain). However Miller is a different story. Miller starts out as a simple recording producer, married with a daughter, who is annoyed with Tallulah’s excesses. By the end, however, we learn that there is much more story behind Miller, and we see how he comes to realize what he really wants out of life.

As I noted above, it is the character arc that makes the play. The first act of the play left us unimpressed. It seemed to be soley with someone dealing with a drunk pill-popper, a bad actress who liked to throw off one-liners. For a few minutes I even thought of Foster Brooks. Although they were very funny one liners, the drama wasn’t drawing us in. But the second act made the play: the one-liners were less present, and served more to support the character arc of Danny Miller. This was one of those plays where the second act made the play. Stay for it.

The acting in this production is top-notch. Playing Tallulah Bankhead is Valerie Harperæ, coming across nothing like the characters we know her for from Television (Rhoda Morganstern, Valerie Hogan). She immerses herself in Bankhead, and has her down pat. You seriously think you are watching Bankhead. Harper has been receiving some well deserved accolades for the role.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The producer, Danny Miller, is played by Chad Allenæ, who is remarkable in the role. In many ways, I think Allen’s performance is more remarkable than Harper’s. Harper had a characterture to draw upon, a well known figure. Allen had a blank slate, and he did a great job of filling it in, making the producer a character of depth and emotion, of both outward and inward frustration. He did great.

The last character in the production is one we only see in a haze. Michael Karl Orensteinæ plays Steve, the sound engineer in the booth. We only hear Steve’s voice during the production.

Turning to the technical side: The stage is dressed as a modernistic recording studio, with light wood art-deco paneling and a sound booth uptop, with a microphone and table center stage. There’s a piano off to stage left, some chairs to stage right. What is amazing about the stage is its transformation when Tallulah is talking about her experiences in “A Streetcar Named Desire”: the paneling reveals itself to actually be scrims — the lighting changes and the scrims become mostly transparent revealing the wrought-iron work of New Orleans. A very effective transformation.

The production was directed very effectively by Rob Ruggiero, whose direction adds to the character of Tallulah Bankhead and brings out the person inside Danny Miller. The scenic design was by Adrian W. Jones, with lighting design by Michael Gilliam. Sound design was by Michael Hooker. Costume design was by Alex Jaeger, with wig and hair design by Charles G. Lapointe. Dialect coaching (well done) by Joel Goldes. Production Stage Management was by Lea Chazin, assisted by Hethyr Verhoef.

Looped” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until August 3, 2008.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Next up is “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm) [where we hope to meet youarebonfante, who is stage manager]. After tat is “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.

I close with this quote from Tallulah Bankhead: “If you really want to help the American theater, don’t be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.”