A Timeless Musical Romance

The FantasticksBack in 1960 (shortly after I was born), a musical premiered off-Broadway. It ran, and continued running, for 42 years. It was then revived, and is still running today. However, although the show is long-running in New York, it hasn’t gotten that many Los Angeles productions. Last night, we were able to catch the penultimate performance of this show, The Fantasticks“, at Theatre West in Hollywood.

The Fantasticks (book and lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt) is framed by one of the most beautiful exposition songs ever:

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

These two verses set you up for the story, which is a timeless story of love supposedly being told by a traveling group of actors. The story concerns two families: Bellomy and his 16 year old daughter Luisa, and Hucklebee and his 20 year old son, Matt. The fathers would like their children to fall in love and marry, but children never do what their parents tell them to do. So they concoct a feud between the families, and build a wall between their houses to drive the children together. To seal the deal, they hire a gallant young actor, El Gallo, to abduct the daughter (in the original version, this was referred to in the traditional sense as “rape”, but that word is no longer P/C) and permit the son to rescue her. This he does in the light of the moon, with the help of two actors, Henry and Mortimer. By the end of Act I, the lovers are together, and the fathers are happy. A perfect picture.

But what seems perfect in the moonlight often looks different in the bright sun. Act II brings the sun. El Gallo presents his bill, and the children learn of the deception. They decide they no longer are in love, and each goes their separate ways. Matt goes out into the world, where he learns the realities. Luisa has a fantasy romance with El Gallo, where they preview a series of romantic adventures through a mask of unreality, while in the background Matt is being abused and beaten by Henry and Mortimer portraying a series of unpleasant employers. Meanwhile, the parents bemoan that children are unlike gardens: with gardens, you “plant a radish, get a radish”, but with children, you never know what you are going to get. Matt eventually returns, and falls back in love with Luisa, this time for real.

Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December, our hearts should remember
And follow.

The last verse of “Try to Remember” makes the point of the story: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow”. The pure love of children is unrealistic and does not last. It is our experiences and hurts that deepen the love and affection. It is perhaps this point the clarifies why The Fantasticks is such a timeless musical.

The traditional staging ofThe Fantasticks is very simple. Actors trunks from which all props emerge. Simple stages. A mute who oversees everything and comments on the proceedings with her eyes and movements, nothing more. A piano and drum for music. It is an easy show for a theatre to stage — its success depends on the believability of the performances.

I’m pleased to say that Theatre West (FB, FB-Entity) mostly got it right. The director, Charlie Mount* (FB), assisted by Eliott Schwartz/FB, kept the focus on the simplicity of the story, and orchestrated the movement to emphasize that simplicity. He did a great job of helping the actors to develop the right expressions, which truly aided the story. As it should be, the director’s work faded into the background, so you became unaware of what was direction and what was the actor’s performance.

Serving as the narrator/El Gallo, Lukas Bailey* (FB) did a remarkable acting performance. I truly enjoyed watching his face, his movement, and his playfullness. His singing was pleasant, but not as powerful as my mind told me it should be (but then again, my mind is spoiled by the voice of the original El Gallo, Jerry Orbach).

As the fathers, Roger Kent Cruz* (FB) (Bellomy) and Steve Nevil* (FB) (Huckabee) were a perfect matched set. They had great comic moves (a number of other reviews compared the pair to Laurel and Hardy, and I think the comparison is apt, especially in terms of looks and movement). They could also sing quite well, as demonstrated in two of my favorite songs, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish”. They were just fun to watch.

The lovers were portrayed by Joey Jennings (Matt) and Molly Reynolds* (FB) (Luisa). Jennings had an easygoing charm that was infectuous. Reynolds was more graceful, but her playfulness came out in the number “This Plum is Too Ripe”. Both had beautiful singing voices.

Rounding out the cast were Lee Meriwether* as the Mute, Don Moss* (FB) as Henry, and Yancey Dunham (FB) at Mortimer. You would think a mute, whose primary role was to hand out props and hold up the wall, would be a minor role. But Meriwether actually made the show perfect. Her expressions, her movement, her wisdom that she conveyed were just perfect and served as a wonderful commentary. Lee Meriwether (who was once Catwoman — there, I said it) demonstrated that you don’t need words to do a superb acting job. Moss and Dunham portrayed the actors who helped the abduction, and then later waylaid Matt in the outside world. Moss did a wonderful portrayal of a Shakespearian actor in the decline of his career, and Dunham died beautifully. All were great.
[*: Member of Actors Equity]

The onstage musicians were not credited in the program (tsk, tsk), but the program does indicate that musical direction was by Graham Jackson. As is everything inThe Fantasticks, the music itself was simply presented: a piano and drummer on stage. It worked perfectly for the show.

Turning to the technical: The set design by Jeff G. Rack was appropriately simple: some trunks, some simple structures to serve as stages, and fabric. The lighting, by Yancey Dunham (FB), was very good. This was particularly notable in the “Round and Round” number with its effective use of red leikos. No credits are provided for sound design, props, costumes, or makeup. There likely was no sound design: I don’t recall any particular sound effects, and none of the actors required amplification. The props were well done and appeared magically. The costumes and makeup were appropriate. Eliott Schwartz/FB was the stage manager.

The last performance of “The Fantasticks” is today at 2pm. Ticketing information is available from the Theatre West website.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… our next theatre in October is “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13. This will be followed by “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing; another possibility is “Ruddigore” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Starting the look into 2013. Currently nothing is scheduled for January, but that’s sure to change as REP announces its dates for the 2013 season. February brings “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Cabrillo Music Theatre and “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at the Colony. It may also bring “Backbeat” at the Ahmanson. March will likely bring “Catch Me If You Can” at Broadway LA/Pantages. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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A Friendship for All Times

After last night’s production, I turned to my wife and said, “You know, you can just tell that those two guys are really good friends.” What’s interesting is that I was talking not only about the two lead characters in the play, but the actors playing them as well. If you hadn’t deduced it yet, I might as well reveal that I was talking not only about the two fictional best-buds, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, but two real-life best-buds, Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (“O”)/FB. These latter two are not only the co-artistic directors at Repertory East Playhouse in Saugus, but played the former two in REP’s excellent production of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure“.

We’ve seen Sherlock Holmes at the REP before. Back in 2009, REP did “Hound of the Baskervilles, which stared REP regulars Michael Levine and Kyle Kulish/FB as the sleuth and his assistant. I wrote back then that Levine and Kulish “captured the nature of these well-known characters well: the precision of Holmes, the familiarity and warmth of Watson.” I didn’t observe, however, that it captured the deep underlying friendship between the two men. That is something that Mikee and “O” caught, because it exists in real life. I’ll also note that we’ve seen this story before: way back in 2006, the Pasadena Playhouse did a production of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (which restored my faith in the Pasadena Playhouse, coming as it did after the disastrous production “As U Lyk It). That production didn’t stick in my mind (although aspects of the story itself did, especially at the end); this is quite likely because the Playhouse had actors (Mark Capri as Sherlock Holmes; Victor Talmadge as Dr. John Hamish Watson)  playing friends, not friends playing out their friendship on stage. I emphasize this friendship aspect because if you know “O” and Mikee, you think of them as a pair, just as you think of Holmes/Watson as a pair. Both pairs complement each other, seemingly would go through think and thin for each other, and have a deep affection for each other. This was the dream casting, and it paid off.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” is based on the famous Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia” intertwined with the story in “The Adventure of the Final Problem“. The play is based on the original 1899 play that adapted these stories by William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle. This adaptation was written by Steven Dietz, and was originally presented by the Arizona Theatre Company (whose 2006 world premiere production ran concurrently with the Pasadena Playhouse production). Sherlock Holmes is a powerful literary creation: The detective buddies have been the inspiration for numerous procedural detective stories (to me, the best example is Monk), and are currently a hot property on TV (where a new adaptation, Elementary, just premiered).

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” opens with the announcement that Sherlock Holmes is dead. The story of that death is then related by Dr. Watson, beginning with the time that Holmes called Watson to his study to perform the necessary exposition, uh, I mean, beginning with the time that Holmes directed Watson to sneak into his study by the back door to observe being seen. Holmes was on the verge of the capture of his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, and needed to hide on the continent for a week while the police prepared to do the capture. Before this could occur, however, the future King of Bohemia enters. He needs Holmes to retrieve a romantic photograph of the king with Irene Adler, a famous opera singer. A note has been sent to the King, threatening to release the photograph on the eve of his marriage. Holmes agrees to take the case, and as they say, “the game is afoot”. Before long, we are deeply involved not only with Holmes and Watson, the King, and Miss Adler, but with Moriarty and his gang: James Larrabee, his sister Madge, and the henchman Sid Prince. After a series of adventures, the action ends up at Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty struggle… and neither is ever heard from again.

As noted before, this is a combination of two stories. The portions of the story concerning Moriarty, escaping to the continent, and the adventure at Reichenbach Falls is drawn from “The Final Problem“. The story involving the King of Bohemia, Irene Adler, and the photograph is drawn from “A Scandal in Bohemia“. Certain aspects of the story are the invention of the playwright — in particular, the implied romance/affection between Holmes and Adler. This has troubled many Holmes-purists, for Holmes is portrayed in the books as having little interest in women. For the non-purists, however, the combination of the stories and the hint of the relationship work well and help drive the story to its conclusion. In general, I think that audiences (trained as they have been by TV and the police procedural) will find the story enjoyable — Holmes and Watson were the CSI of their day, using observational evidence to solve crimes.

SH: TFA” is ostensibly a melodrama. In the hands of the wrong director, the melodramatic aspects can be overdone. Luckily, first-time director and regular REP stage manager Christina Gonzalez/FB (assisted by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB)) did a great job of keeping the characters grounded and somewhat realistic. In this task, I’m sure she was also aided and mentored by her leads, who have directed many a REP show. It will be interesting to watch Christina grow as a director, as I’m sure we’ll see her directing at REP again.

I’ve already mentioned the leads, Mikee Schwinn (FB) as Sherlock Holmes and Ovington Michael Owston (FB) as Dr. Watson. These two, who are friends in real life, translated that friendship to the stage. Mikee did a great job of capturing Holmes’ observational skills and mannerisms, and “O” provided wonderful support as Watson. Their female foil was portrayed by Tiffany Michelle (FB) as Irene Adler. The actress conveyed not only the beauty required for the role, but the steely calculated demeanor of a consummate player (likely drawing on her poker playing experience).

The criminal team was led by Douglas Rory Milliron (FB) as Professor Moriarty. Milliron’s Moriarty had a bit of a steampunk feel to him, and was well-played and appropriate malevolent. As James Larrabee, William Reinbold (FB) was suitably convincing, although his role was written a tad more melodramatic. His sister, Madge, was portrayed by Pamela Portnoy (FB). She seemed a bit off as the maid (perhaps because she wasn’t a maid), but did great in her later scenes as the evil sister. Lastly, as the safecracker and all-around thug, character actor Brent Christiansen (FB) seemed to be having fun with the role. It is interesting to note that Christiansen is the only actor who was in the previous Sherlock Holmes outing back in 2009. Rounding out the cast was J. T. Centonze (FB) in various small roles (Policeman, Father Murphy, Swiss Man).

Turning to the technical side: This production marked the debut of a new set designer for the REP, Brian Annis (FB). The style was a little different from what we have seen before, but worked very well in establishing the scenes and locations. Gag props were developed by Kevin Lunt/FB. Costumes were designed by Tonya Nelson/FB of No Strings Attached Costumes (FB), and were fabricated by Tonya Nelson/FB, Rachel Nelson/FB, and Kevin Lunt/FB. They were effective, although those expecting to see a lot of deerstalker caps and Calabash pipes will be disappointed. Make-up and hair was by Rachel Nelson/FB. The lighting was by REP regular Tim Christianson/FB: it was effective and served to frame the mood well. Sound design was by another REP regular, Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB. The production stage managers were Vicki Lightner/FB and Johnny Schwinn/FB (who cleans up real well :-)).

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” continues at REP East until October 20. It is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office and via Goldstar Events. It is also worth friending REP on Facebook, so you can learn when shows are selling out.

REP has announced their 2013 season, and big changes are in store. Gone are the two summer “81 series” short-run production, to be replaced by a second full-run summer musical. The 2013 season, pending rights approval, is: “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee“, “Boeing Boeing, “To Kill a Mockingbird“, “God of Carnage“, “9 to 5: The Musical“, and “Play it Again, Sam“. This is a wonderful season, with productions that are perfect for the REP (Spelling Bee and Carnage, in particular) and others that make you wonder how the REP will pull it off (9 to 5, especially if you saw the execution on the Ahmanson’s stage). It should be great.

While we are talking about seasons, a short sidebar on season subscriptions. I realized last night why I like the three theatres where we do subscribe, and why we have chosen to subscribe there. It comes down to one word: family. REP is like family: “O”, Mikee, Johnny, and everyone at REP don’t treat their subscribers as simple patrons: they are family and friends, and you look forward to seeing them. At the Colony, Barbara Beckley is out there greeting everyone, introducing the shows, and creating that sense of family. Out at Cabrillo, Lewis Wilkenfeld (and Carole Nussbaum before him) do the same thing: they introduce the shows, they greet the audience and become part of your life. You want to help family, to support family, and you feel guilty discounting family. At many other theatres — the Ahmanson, the Pantages, and the Playhouse under Sheldon Epps — you are a patron. You don’t know the staff and the artistic directors. You are a cog in the wheel, not part of the family. Using discounts at these theatres doesn’t feel wrong; you’re not cheating family. This is a lesson that all theatres need to learn: make your patrons part of your family, and they will be there for you.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… October will start out with The Fantasticks at Theatre West on 10/6. That will be followed by “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing; another possibility is “Ruddigore” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Starting the look into 2013. Currently nothing is scheduled for January, but that’s sure to change as REP announces its dates for the 2013 season. February brings “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Cabrillo Music Theatre and “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at the Colony. It may also bring “Backbeat” at the Ahmanson. March will likely bring “Catch Me If You Can” at Broadway LA/Pantages. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

Music: My Name is Barbra, Two (Barbra Streisand): “No More Songs for Me”

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Expectations (and Secrets) of Celebrities

People think of Hollywood as this liberal community, but is it really? There is often this image of Hollywood as accepting and full of gay actors, but is it really? Does the public accept gay actors in major action adventure roles? What would happen if a major action adventure actor (think an Arnold SchwarzeneggerTom Cruise or Bruce Willis type) were to be revealed as gay–what would happen to their career (for a clue, look at the recent kerfluffle over John Travolta)? These are the questions asked by a new musical, Justin Love (FB), we saw yesterday afternoon at The Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood. Short summary: Interesting questions, and an interesting exploration of the subject that generally worked well. You can see some pictures from the production in this article from LA Stage Times.

Justin Love” (book by Patricia Cotter (FB) and David Elzer (FB), story by David Elzer and Bret Calder) tells the story of Justin Rush (Adam Huss (FB)*), one of Hollywood’s most popular action-adventure actors. Justin is married to Amanda Bell (Carrie St. Louis (FB)+), a beautiful actress; and their 5 year marriage is constantly in the public eye. It also tells the story of Chris Andrews (Tyler Ledon (FB)), a young man newly arrived in Hollywood from Michigan; Chris came out as gay to his parents in High School, and has come to Hollywood to be a writer. In short order, Chris finds an apartment with a roommate/boyfriend, Donovan (Terrance Spencer (FB)*) and a temp job working for a publicist. In fact, he isn’t working for any publicist but for Justin’s publicist, Buck Ralston (Alet Taylor (FB)*), a demanding woman who chews through staff assistants. Having just fired the latest crop of assistants, Buck promotes Chris from Temp to Assistant.  Adding to the stress is the fact that Donovan has a new boyfriend, Syd (Grant Jordan (FB)*), and is not only having trysts in the apartment, but has convinced Chris to let both Donovan and Syd stay in the apartment.

Trouble begins when Justin arrives early for an appointment with Buck, and while reading lines, begins to be attracted to Chris. The feeling is mutual, and the two begin to date. Meanwhile, Amanda has bumped into one of the paparazzi, Mitch Matthews (Ciarán McCarthy (FB)*), who turns out to have (a) been attracted to her and (b) attended the same high school. The two relationships continue to grow and mature, until one night when the two couples bump into each other at Justin’s mansion. After some awkward moments, they separate, but not before Mitch takes a picture of Justin and Chris. Justin and Chris return to Chris’ apartment, where they bump into Donovan and Syd… who also take a picture, and just send it to one friend. Of course, the picture goes viral, and the rumor mill starts. Buck attempts to damp down the rumors, which destroys two real relationships while preserving the image of Justin and Amanda that the world demands. But does it? Will true love triumph in the end? Will the pubic accept it? [You probably know the answer, given that this is a musical, after all]

Looking at the story alone, I found it very compelling. It was well-written, and quickly drew the audience into caring about the characters and the relationships. I found myself thinking that this story would be effective even without the music, which is the sign of a well-written book. The story exhibited good character growth for all the major characters, each having their own distinct obstacles and arc to deal with. The story also included many highly topical and recent references, which highlighted the fact that the story is one that could be playing out today. Although those references added to the entertainment, keeping them up to date may prove difficult as the production solidifies over its lifetime. Also entertaining was the over-the-top portrayal of the publicist, Buck. Actually, I’m not sure whether it is over-the-top or realistic, given that one of the authors of Justin Love, David Elzer, is a major publicist in the Los Angeles theatre scene. Quite likely, he knows of which he writes — which makes the publicist’s portrayal even scarier as it is realistic! I’ll also note that Elzer’s experiences as a gay member of the Hollywood community provide significant coloration and experience to the story, providing the underlying truth that makes this story so effective.

If there was any weakness in the production, it was in the musicalization. I haven’t quite put my finger on the exact problem, but I do know that part of it was technical (which is discussed below). Setting that aside, I think that a minor problem with the music (by Lori Scarlett (FB)) and the lyrics (by Lori Scarlett (FB) and David Manning) was a perceived lack of variety. I say perceived because I think the problem was more the orchestration (by John Ballinger (FB)) than the actual music and lyrics. The small number of instruments and the lack of any brass made all the songs sound similar, even though a closer listen showed that not to be the case. This was a bit more of a problem in Act I due to the technical problem. There were a number of songs that were quite good: I was particularly taken with “The Light I See In You” and “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” in Act II, the closing “Hollywood Ending” number, and “Chasing the Story” and “Downey High” in Act I. Also hilarious was the Act II opening number, “When Your Love is New”, which had more fairy wings than a day at the Ren Faire, except that these were appropriate.

The performances in “Justin Love” were top-notch. The director, Michael Matthews (FB)**, did a great job of working with the actors to bring all the characters to life. The only directoral flaw was an artifact of the performance venue, where the audiences is seated on the sides as well as in front of the actors. For those on the side, much of the action (and a fair bit of the dialogue) was lost. The production would have been superb on a proscenium stage, so some minor directorial adjustments need to be made for Celebration’s thrust-stage layout.

However, as I said, the acting was great. In the leading tier of actors were Adam Huss (FB)* as Justin Rush, Tyler Ledon (FB)  as Chris Andrews, and Alet Taylor (FB)* as Buck Ralson. This was our first time seeing Huss — he gave a wonderfully effective portrayal of Justin, making Justin believable as a normal guy in an artificial world, discovering who he wants to be, what he wants out of life, and how he wants to get there. He could sing and dance well, and was fun to watch. We’d seen Ledon before in “The Robber Bridegroom“, and he was very effective here as well. You could see that he enjoyed this role. He did a great job of bringing Chris to life — a midwestern boy new to love and the Hollywood rat race and artificiality. Again, he was a strong singer and dancer as well. We particularly get to see the strong singing of these two men in the number “The Light I See In You”. Taylor is a regular on the LA Theatre scene — we’ve seen her at ICT, NoHo Arts, and Cabrillo, and she is great in everything she is in. Her character here is very strong willed and bitchy, and she pulls that off quite well. Her singing and dancing are great, and are best seen in the “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” number.

In the supporting tier of actors were Carrie St. Louis (FB)+ as Amanda Bell, Ciarán McCarthy (FB)* as Mitch Matthews, Terrance Spencer (FB)* as Donovan (and others), and Grant Jordan (FB)* as Syd (and others).  I was particularly smitten by St. Louis’ Amanda: she was lovely and personable, and just seemed to be a normal person trapped in a world that exploded around her far too fast. She played well off of McCarthy’s Mitch, making the two a believable couple. Furthermore, you could tell these two actors were just having fun with their roles — this is something I like to see and something that the audience feeds off of. They sang well, particularly in the “Downey High” number. We haven’t seen St. Louis or McCarthy before, but I do hope to see them again on LA stages. Spencer and Jordan seemed to be more of a comic relief duo (in particular Jordan). This runs the risk of being overdone, but these two did it perfectly (at points, in fact, seeming making the other actors chuckle). A cute playful couple, especially in Jordan’s use of stereotypical and colorful phrases. We have seen Spencer before in Twist at the Pasadena Playhouse, and he put his great dancing skills to good use in this performance as well. Jordan was very good with the comedy timing.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles and ensemble positions were Afton Quast (FB)* as Sue (and others), Gina Torrecilla (FB)* as Mary Price (and others), Travis Leland (FB)+ as Lou (and others), Sabrina Miller (FB)* (Ensemble), and Adam Joseph Reich (FB)* (Ensemble). All were strong and seemed to be enjoying being in this production. Quast and Torrecilla especially seemed to be having fun as the “hosts” of ET-type programs. As I’ve been noting who we’ve seen before, we can add Miller (who we saw in Cabrillo’s Guys and Dolls), Reich (Cabaret at REP East), and Leland (Adding Machine at Odyssey).
(*: Member of Actor’s Equity; +: Member of Actor’s Equity Membership Candidate Program; **: Member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society; ***: Member of United Scenic Artists)

The choreography by Janet Roston (FB) (assisted by Jackie Hinton (FB)) used the small space quite well, and was very effective in numbers such as “Chasing the Story” and “Don’t Shit Where You Eat”. The onstage (but behind scenery) band was under the musical direction of Gregory Nabours (FB). The band consisted of Nabours on keyboard, J. J. Brown on bass, Brian Cannady/FB on drums, and David Lee on guitar. The size of the band was obviously constrained by the production limitations, but this production would be improved by a greater variety of instrumentation (in particular, brass and winds) and more variety in the orchestration. Additionally, for those seated on the side (as we were, seemingly in front of the keyboard), the volume of the band often made it difficult to hear the lyrics. This was likely a sound-balance problem and may improve over the run. Ryan Bergmann (FB) and June Carryl (FB) served as assistant directors.

As mentioned before, the sound balance needs to be improved. I’m sure that, for those sitting in front of the actors, the sound design by Cricket S. Myers (FB)*** was great. On the sides, it was often difficult to hear the actors, especially over the music. Hopefully this will be corrected by adjusting the amplification and micing during the run. Other than the balance problem, the sound design and effects worked well. The lighting by Tim Swiss (FB) (assisted by Zack Lapinski (FB)) was effective and established the mood well. Also effective were the projection designs by Jason H. Thompson (FB)*** (assisted by Kaitlyn Pietras (FB)): these did a wonderful job of establishing the mood, and I loved how they weren’t static but incorporated movement of the actors. The scenic design by Stephen Gifford (FB)*** was effective and simply, conveying the locations without being overdone (which worked well on the small stage); this was supported by the properties design of Michael O’Hara. The costumes (designed by Naila Aladdin Sanders (FB)) worked particularly well, especially those for Amanda, Justin, and Chris. The technical direction by Matthew Brian Denman (FB) held it all together, as did the stage management of Marcedes Clanton (FB), assisted by Rebecca Eisenberg (FB).

Justin Love continues at The Celebration Theatre through at least November 18. Tickets are available through the Celebration Box Office (Vendini) or by calling (393) 957-1884, and may be available through Goldstar Events, LA Stage Alliance, and Plays411 (join to get discount codes). The production is well worth seeing and I hope it has a long life.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  For the last weekend in September, we’ve decided to avoid Carmageddon II by going north to Saugus to see “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… October will start out with The Fantasticks at Theatre West on 10/6. That will be followed by “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing; another possibility is “Ruddigore” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

 

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Revisiting the 1980s — and Having Fun

XanaduCamp. Usually, when I talk about camp, I’m referring to an excellent facility in Malibu, but this time I’m referring to the theatrical meaning: “deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style, typically for humorous effect“. Now consider two “camp” musicals: one based upon a completely serious movie that won Best Picture in 1991; the other was based on a movie that was nominated for “Worst Picture” in the first year of the Razzie Awards. Very different sources… and yet both succeed. The first succeeds because it takes its material seriously and is faithful to it; the second succeeds because it goes beyond its material to construct a show that the New York Times called “simultaneously indefensible and irresistible” (which it is). How do I know this? Last week I saw the former–“Silence! The Musical. This week, I was at the DOMA Theatre group (at the Met Theatre) where I saw the latter–“Xanadu (on Broadway)“.

The 1980s were an interesting time. I know — I was there, in college, at UCLA. Olivia Newton John was at the top of the pop charts, and was coming off her success in the film version of the musical “Grease. Her next film, however, was a box office disaster (although the album went double platinum): “Xanadu“. Xanadu, which also starred Gene Kelly in his last non-documentary performance, told the improbable story of Sonny,  a record jacket artist. Sonny thinks his art is going nowhere and is about to give up when he is to paint an album cover for a group called The Nine Sisters. The cover features a beautiful woman passing in front of an art deco auditorium; this same woman collided with him earlier that day, kissed him, then roller-skated away, and Malone becomes obsessed with finding her. He finds her at the same (but now abandoned) auditorium. The woman is Kira, and she inspires him to revive the theatre and turn it into a roller disco. Kira is, in reality, Terpsichore, a greek muse, come to Earth disguised with roller skates and an Australian accent. She also inspired Danny Maguire, who originally built the threatre. The story goes on from there — you can read the full synopsis on Wikipedia — but it gets sillier. The only redeeming aspect of the movie was the music — all Olivia Newton John and Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). For the stage production, the music is credited to Jeff Lynne (who wrote the ELO songs) and John Farrar (who wrote the Newton-John songs). There were a few additional songs interpolated into the stage production.

In the mid-2000s, original producer Rob Ahrens came to book-writer Douglas Carter Beane with an idea.. an idea to take the film Xanadu and put it on stage. After a number of drafts and rewritings (all detailed in the liner notes to the CD) they came up with a book that kept the basic plot of the movie, but added elements of Clash of the Titans and more Greek mythology. The end result was a story whose goal was just to have fun: it could be self-referential and break the fourth wall; it could be a commentary on the state of the arts in the 1980s (a year that saw Barnum and Evita nominated as the best musicals), as well as a commentary on the state of society. In other words, it was fluff that knew it was fluff, and decided that since it was fluff, it was going to have fun.

The end story was as follows (edited down from Wikipedia): Chalk artist Sonny Malone is dissatisfied with his sidewalk mural of the Greek Muses and determines to kill himself. On Mount Olympus, Clio (the muse of history) convinces her eight sisters to travel to Venice Beach (rising out of the sidewalk mural) to inspire Sonny. Zeus’s rules require that Muses must always be disguised from mortals, so Clio wears roller skates and leg warmers, sports an Australian accent, and changes her name to Kira. Kira inspires Sonny to combine all the arts and “something athletic” all into one spectacular entertainment: a roller disco. Two of Clio’s sisters, Melpomene (the oldest sister, and the muse of tragedy) and Calliope (the muse of epics), are jealous that Clio is the leader of the Muses and that Zeus had promised “Xanadu” to her. . So they plot to discredit Clio and cause her banishment by tricking her into breaking one of Zeus’s rules: a Muse must not fall in love with a mortal, so they will curse “Kira” and Sonny to fall in love. Sonny finds a good location for the roller disco–a long-abandoned theater in Los Angeles called “Xanadu.” Inspired to locate the owner, he sets up a meeting with real estate mogul Danny Maguire. At the meeting, Sonny tries to convince Danny to donate the theater for the roller disco, because it would bring the arts to the district and drive up real estate values (yeah, like theatre does good things for a neighborhood :-)). But Danny scoffs, even though he had plans to open the theater himself, once upon a time, when he was inspired by an old love and dance partner of his, who looked suspiciously like “Kira,” named Kitty. But a flashback convinces him to redeem himself now by opening the roller disco with Sonny. Danny finds Sonny and tells him that if he can get the disco up and running in one day, he’ll give him 25% of the take from the Disco. Sonny finds “Kira” and tells her the good news. She is not impressed with the deal that he has cut. The evil sisters work their curse, and the winged Eros, along with “Mama Cupid”, shoots “Kira” and Sonny with the arrows of love. “Kira” is soon overwhelmed with guilt over her loving feelings and of having created her own art (a hand-drawn picture) alongside Sonny – both violations of Zeus’s restrictions on the Muses. With the help of some of the muses, “Kira” and Sonny fix up the old theater, and Danny agrees to go ahead with the opening. Clio realizes that she is falling in love with Sonny and tells him that she must leave. To make it worse for Clio, the evil sisters offer Danny piles of money if he will tear down the theater and build condos. Danny can’t resist and tells Sonny that the deal is off. “Kira” comes back to tell Sonny that she loves him, but the evil sisters tell her that she has broken Zeus’s rules, and that she must tell Sonny the truth. So “Kira” reveals all to Sonny, including that her name is Clio, but he does not believe her and is upset. He suggests that she is a crackpot. He also doubts that she really loves him, and she is angry and hurt. The evil sisters have triumphed, and Kira sets off for Mount Olympus to receive her punishment from Zeus. Meanwhile, Sonny and Danny discuss “Kira” and after seeing her in the sky, it all makes sense. Danny tells Sonny not to let go of his muse because of foolish pride as he once did back in the 1940s. Sonny, realizing that he really loves “Kira,” decides to find her – even if it means climbing Mount Olympus. I’ll leave the actual end open.

A silly story. As you can see, there were a number of changes from the movie. The mural aspect was brought back and the record album cover stuff was dropped (along with some stupid subplots). The Greek mythology aspects were strengthened, and the notion of evil sisters wanting to get even (common in Greek stories) was brought in. Further, the story built up the comedy, as two of the muses (comedy and dance) are actually played by men. Doma expanded on this a bit more, adding in references to current Los Angeles and the current weather, as well as amping up the commentary on the state of the theatre. It worked, and worked well. The story itself ended up being a fun-filled romp. The credit for keeping this a success probably goes to the director, Hallie Baran (FB), who make successful tweaks and kept the environment fun.

But the story isn’t everything. It takes a talented performance team to bring it to life. For this, DOMA’s team was about 95% there. They were strong in the acting and fun department, great in the roller skating, and just a tad weaker at points in the singing and dancing (although perfection is not the goal of this musical). In the lead positions were Lovlee Carroll* (FB) as Clio/Kira and Matt O’Neill* (FB) as Sonny Malone. Carroll was great as Clio/Kira, although at times the Australian accent overtook her. She was good at singing and movement, and had the comic moves down well. Her look wasn’t quite what I expected (she’s not an ONJ-clone), but it worked. O’Neill had strong comic timing, acting chops and moved well, although at a few points his singing voice was a bit off. But that was minor and really didn’t detract from the show.

In the second tier of named characters we had David Michael Treviño* (FB) as Danny Maguire/Zeus, Veronica Scheyving (FB) as Melpomene (muse of tragedy)/Medusa, and Brittany Rodin/FB as Calliope (muse of epic poetry)/Aphrodite. Treviño was very impressive — a strong singer, a strong dancer, and a strong actor who drew your attention whenever he was on stage. Scheyving was a hoot as Melpomene — she obviously grew up in the 1980s and didn’t need a choreographer to teach her the moves; she moved as if she knew them from “back in the day”. She was also extremely strong in her comic abilities, and played the comedy well. Alas, she was one of the others who had a few weak singing points, but again this didn’t detract overall as it worked with the comic effect. Lastly, Rodin was effective as Melpomene’s evil underling (isn’t there always one), playing, singing and dancing well.

Rounding out the ensemble in various roles were Bradley Sattler (FB) (Thalia – muse of comedy, Siren, Young Danny, Tubes Singer, Cyclops), Taji Coleman* (FB) (Euterpe – muse of song and elegiac poetry, Siren, Andrews Sister, Thetis), Lindsay Zana (FB) (Erato – muse of love poetry, Siren, Andrews Sister, Eros, Hera), Alan Lee (FB) (Terpsichore – muse of dance, Siren, Tubes Singer, Hermes), and Allyson Blackstone (FB) and Morgan Gallant (FB) as Dancers. Sattler and Lee were great as the male muses: Sattler played up the comedy quite well, and Lee’s dancing was spectacular (most guys can’t do splits like that). Coleman and Zana were also good in their various roles, although at a few points there movements felt more like choreography and less fluid, but hopefully that will go away as they do this more. Blackstone and Gallant were mostly in the background, but moved quite well especially when their movements were mirroring each other.
[* denotes members of Actors Equity]

Also up on stage was the band. This was the first time I’ve seen an almost completely female band, and to see full credits for the band members in the program. Bravo, or should I say Brava, for doing that. The band was also dressed (at least the female members) as muses, and were introduced as Polyhymnia, the muse of music and Urania, the muse of astronomy. The band, under the musical direction of Chris Raymond (FB) (keyboards 1) consisted of Emily Cohn (FB) (keyboards 2), Molly Miller (FB) (guitar), Anna Stadlman (FB) (bass), and Anjilla Piazza (FB) (drums). They were great, and the sound was wonderful.

Rounding out the creative side of the team was Angela Todaro (FB) as Choreographer. I wasn’t much of a dancer ever, let alone in the 1980s, so I can’t attest to how true the moves were to the 1980s. In general, the moves looked good, and everyone was having fun. At a few points the dancers came off a bit more mechanical (i.e., as if they were still thinking about the moves). This may go away as the production matures; it might also reflect the youth of the team (most of whom were probably infants during the era in question). Todaro did do remarkable things with the skates, and throughout the production the movement was just fun to watch.

A few notes before I turn to the technical. There were a number of points where the production was either updated or ad-libbed, and that worked quite well. I really liked the reaction when there were a few folks that arrived late (hint: not a good thing to do), and I liked how they placed the Xanadu theatre at the exact location of the Met. There were also some great comments about the state of the arts — in particular theatre — in the 1980s. The execution of the script was a hoot, and you’ll just have a good time seeing this despite the occasional minor weakness.

Turning now to the technical. The set by Amanda Lawson (FB) had its strong and weak points. It placed the band well and established the action good, and the prop pieces (in particular the telephone booth) worked well. However, I never got the sense of the muses emerging from the original mural — that aspect could be improved and would help the story. The lighting by Johnny Ryman/FB and Dean Wright (FB) was very effective and contributed well to the atmosphere of the piece. The sound (by David Crawford) was very good, particularly the vocal effects. The costumes by Michael Mullen (FB) were effective and worked well (with one exception: I didn’t realize that characters were meant to be either The Tubes or the Andrews Sisters), and captured the 1980s quite well. Jennifer Bendik (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Ilia Kemble (who was also prop mistress). Cesar Martinez/FB was the house manager. Danielle DeMasters/FB was the production manager, assisted by Timothy Miller/FB. Jason Henderson/FB was the technical director.

A few last notes. The A/C at the Met Theatre was overtaxed by the heat we had yesterday, and it was quite warm at the top of the risers. Parking near the Met is tight, so arrive early if you want to get a good parking space. Lastly, handing out tickets for free admission at Skateland in Northridge is a nice touch!

Xanadu continues at DOMA Theatre Group (at the Met) through October 7. You can get tickets through the DOMA Online Box office, and you may be able to find them on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, or Plays411.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: The penultimate weekend in September takes us to the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood for the musical Justin Love. The month ends with  “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… October will start out with The Fantasticks at Theatre West on 10/6. That will be followed by “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing; another possibility is “Ruddigore” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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Dining Before The Show: Liver with some Fava beans and a nice Chianti

Silence! The MusicalBack in college, I had a girlfriend that loved to go to horror movies. After that relationship ended, I never really went to horror movies again. Thus, I’ve never seen the movie “Silence of the Lambs. If I had, perhaps I would have understand today’s show a bit more.

Perhaps I should start over…  When musicals are made from properties in another medium, there are two ways the project can go. The first is serious: a serious musical translation of the story to the stage, discarding what doesn’t work on the stage and adapting the production for what does. I’m sure you can think of many examples of this (my first thought was A Color Purple). The second type is the parody, where the stage production is an overly faithful translation, playing up the camp aspects of the production for humor. Again, I’ve seen many examples of this (such as A Very Brady Musical), and there are many I want to see (Toxic Avenger – The Musical). I saw one of the better ones today: “Silence! The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre. The subtitle of the production is “The unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs“, so now you should understand my opening paragraph.

Story-wise, Silence! is a very faithful presentation of the movie’s story, preserving key iconic scenes, voices, mannerisms, and such. In fact, these characteristics are often overplayed, such as Agent Starling’s accent, which turns ever “s” into an “sh”. Thish can make the dialogue difficult to undershtand shometimesh. This was done for all the characters: Lecter, Buffalo Bill, Dr. Chilton, Jack Crawford, Catherine Martin and so forth. So I shouldn’t need to give you all the details of the story: you can get that from the Wikipedia page. Oh well, if you inshisht, I’ll give you a shynopshish. Clarice Starling, an FBI Behavioral Science trainee, is pulled by Agt. Jack Crawford to try and get information from Hannibal Lecter, a convicted psychopath and cannibal. The hope is that he will help them find another psychopath called Buffalo Bill, who is capturing fat girls, killing them, and using pieces of their skin to make clothing.

But this is a parody, meaning that the authors (Hunter Bell, book; Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, music and lyrics) amped up the absurdity. This starts at the get-go, when the opening exposition is done by… you guessed it, a chorus of actors dressed as lambs. Everything was absurd (so absurd, at points, you can see the actors on the edge of cracking up). Some examples. When Lecter is flow to Tennessee, this is portrayed by…. Jack Crawford going around the stage with a paper airplane. When another character is dealing with the weather, the sequence is rain (squirt bottles on mist), snow (paper confetti), and … bubbles. When drawers don’t open, people hand things around the set. When they need smoke for a flashback, the lambs come out and clap erasers together. For the song “If I Could Smell Her C*nt”, there are ballet dancers on stage where the female dancer is conspicuously spreading her legs wide to the audience. You get the idea. Completely absurd… even to the level of mentioning sequels and future Jodie Foster movies. In addition to the book, credit for the absurdity goes to the director and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who won the 2012 Tony award for the choreography of Newsies! (and yes, there were some Newsies! in-jokes as well). The choreography absurdities includes having the lambs use their hoofs to simulate tap dancing, or use of a doll around the neck to simulate young Clarice.

During this show, the audience was cracking up. Most of them, I am sure, had seen the movie and were riffing on the in-jokes. But even for someone who hadn’t seen the movie and had only a passing familiarity with the story, the absurdity was quite funny sometimes. One would think that the movie would have been low on the “Rotten Tomatoes” scale (and yes, before you ask, there is a “Showgirls! The Musical” that just got funded on Kickstarter), but this was a serious movie that won serious awards (including Best Picture). It is almost as if someone had done Ghandi, The Musical (don’t think about it… someone did). So I think all audiences (if you can get past the language and misogyny in the original story) will enjoy it somewhat. Just don’t go in expecting a serious musical translation. You’ll be seriously disappointed.

The acting in this was top notch, which isn’t a surprise given the cast. In the lead position, as Hannibal Lecter, was Davis Gaines, who played the lead in Phantom of the Opera. Yes, there were times this was parodied as well, especially when he commented about being half man and half monster. Gaines, of course, sang and acted well, but you can tell he was just having fun with the parody and the character. Opposite Gaines was Christine Lakin, who many remember from Step by Step, but who is also doing mockumentaries. Lakin is a very good comic actress (who also had fun with the humor). Perhaps not surprisingly, she was also very strong in the singing and dancing department. The two worked very well together. Rounding out the leads was Stephen Bienskie, who originated the role of Buffalo Bill/Jaime Gumb off-Broadway and has the performance down to a “T”. Overplaying as appropriate, he was at his wildest in the number “I’d F*ck Me”.

Rounding out the cast in various roles (including, when appropriate, as lambs) were Kathy Dietch (Catherine Martin, &c), Jeff Hiller (Sgt. Pembry, &c), John Kassir (Jack Crawford, &c), Latoya London (Ardelia Mapp, &c), Melissa Sandvig (Dream Clarice), Jeff Skowron (Dr. Chilton, &c), and Karl Warden (Dream Hannibal) [Alaine Kashian and Jesse Merlin (who we saw a long time ago in Beastly Bombing) were the standbys]. All of them were great and overacted, where appropriate, well.
[All actors are members of Actors Equity]

The music in the production was quite good, under the direction of Nate Patten, who conducted an amazing 3 piece ensemble (David Manning on keyboards, Alby Potts on keyboards, and Terry Schonig on percussion). They sounded like a much larger orchestra.

Turning to the technical side. The uncredited set design was relatively simple: four panels that were wheeled around to hide actors movements, a desk or two on wheels, and various props to establish locals. The set was supported by videos by Richard H. DiBella that were reasonably effective. The costumes by David Kaley were effectively and presumably truthful to the movie based on audience reaction (from the clips I’ve seen, I know that Starling (I keep wanting to type Shtarling) and Lecter’s were); these were supported by great wigs from Byron J. Batista. The sound by Carl Casella was excellent — both the actor amplification and the sound effects. The lighting by Jeff Croiter did a great job of establishing the mood and setting the scene. Ritchard Druther was Production Stage Manger, with Peter R. Feuchtwanger serving as Production Supervisor. Now, I normally don’t mention publicity, advertising, and producer credits, but there’s one additional credit worth mentioning. This is the first show where I’ve seen a specific credit for Social Media – Camron Cooke. So, for those of you wasting your time on astudiously studying social media, there is hope.

Silence! The Musical” runs until October 12 at the Hayworth Theatre. Tickets are available online, through the box office, and may be available through Goldstar or Plays411.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Next weekend brings Xanadu–The Musical” at DOMA; I’ve heard the music, and again this is a great parody. The penultimate weekend in September takes us to the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood for the musical Justin Love. The month ends with  “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… October will start out with The Fantasticks at Theatre West on 10/6. That will be followed by “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing; another possibility is “Ruddigore” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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So What Is A Dramaturg Anyway, and Why Are They Funny

Dramaturgy. Most of us haven’t even heard the word, let alone do we know what a dramaturg does? Now imagine a play about a dramaturg. You would expect it to be boring, right? Wrong. How do we know this? Last night, we were at the Colony Theatre in Burbank seeing an incredibly funny backstage comedy about a dramaturg, “Blame It on Beckett“. (I”ll note that the Beckett in the title refers not to the play Becket or the Honor of God by Jean Anouilh, but the problems in the theatre created by Samuel Beckett and his play Waiting for Godot)

So what does a dramaturg do? According to Wikipedia, “A dramaturge or dramaturg is a professional position within a theatre or opera company that deals mainly with research and development of plays or operas.” It expands on this, noting “One of the dramaturg’s contributions is to categorize and discuss the various types and kinds of plays or operas, their interconnectedness and their styles. The responsibilities of dramaturg vary from one theatre or opera company to the next. They might include the hiring of actors, the development of a season of plays or operas with a sense of coherence among them, assistance with and editing of new plays or operas by resident or guest playwrights or composers/librettists, the creation of programs or accompanying educational services, helping the director with rehearsals, and serving as elucidator of history or spokesperson for deceased or otherwise absent playwrights or composers. At larger theaters or opera houses, the dramaturg works on the historical and cultural research into the play or opera and its setting. In theater companies, a dramaturg will create a workbook for the director and actors (usually these are different) and work extensively with the director prior to the first rehearsal.”

In “Blame It On Becket“, the story revolves around Jim Foley, a dramaturg at a small theatre company whose mission is to originate new works. Heidi Bishop is a recently graduated MFG desiring a career in dramaturg, but currently working in the box office. She convinces Jim to take her on as a reader for free, and then works the general manager, Mike Brasci, into a part-time intern position. Jim’s responsibilities primarily involve reading through the submission pile to determine what plays the theatre will produce; he also has the responsibility to shape the selected new play for presentation. The play this year is the latest from the noted playwright Tina Fike, who has worked with Jim for years. The general manager is hoping that this play will move to Broadway, both because the theatre needs the money, and because he wants to move with it and get out of the small theatre world.

You can see the various situations this sets up. To put it in dramaturgical terms, for each character you can see both the character’s goals and the obstacles in the way of the goal. This setup also permits the author and the other characters to voice all their frustration with the backstage processes at the theatre, which is hilarious. I can’t remember all the lines, but I do remember the wonderful comparison between theatre and the Catholic church, where the playwright is the author of the Gospels, the director is the priest, the actors are the alter boys fulfilling the work of the priest, and the dramaturg is the prophet shouting against the wind who is usually ignored and martyred. The author takes every opportunity presented to skewer those involved backstage, including himself (who is dismissed by the dramaturg character as a hack playwright!). He also made a comment, which I agree with, that no one really understands what the director does. I’ve had that problem as someone who writes up productions: how do I distinguish the work of the director, the work of the actor, and the directions from the author?

This is a relatively unique backstage story, at least that I’ve seen. The ones of which I’m aware are either musicals (think Kiss Me Kate, Juliet and I, and such, which focus on the relationships of the actors) or pure farces (think Noises Off!). This looked at the lives of the other people backstage in a way that I actually learned something. It was also a telling social commentary, dealing with issues of sexual harassment, the hunger for advancement, and the continuing war between productions that are successful financially vs. successful artistically. Although not explicit, it was also a commentary on gays in the theatre and the AIDS epidemic.  But mostly what this was a very funny comedy. Credit for this should go to the writer, John Morogiello, and the unnamed dramaturgs who worked with him on this play. There’s a good summary of the backstage aspects of the play in a recent LA STAGE TIMES article.

The Colony performance of Blame It on Beckett was excellent. Much of this was due to the excellent acting team, including some contribution that I’ve never been able to figure out (:-)) from the director, Andrew Barnicle. The team was led by Louis Lotorto as Jim Foley, the dramaturg. Lotorto’s Foley was pompous and pedantic, never shy to express an opinion. Lortorto pulled off this characterization well, as well as capturing the more human side of Foley as well. Playing off of him was Blythe Auffarth as Heidi Bishop, the green dramaturg-to-be. She captured the strident character well, exposing her sexy side when appropriate but primarily being extensively earnest and effusive about the theatre. Both Auffarth and Lotorto’s performances were delightful to watch: you could see them as people and just wanted to spend more time with them.

Also fun to watch was Brian Ibsen as Mike Braschi, the general manager. Ibsen did a wonderful job of capturing the ambitious side of Braschi, and I especially appreciated his playful smile and his light banter. Rounding out the cast was Peggy Goss as Tina Fike, the playwright. This character was more foil, but acquired some depth in Act II.
[Note: All actors are members of Actors Equity.]

The scenic design by Stephen Gifford, combined with the props by MacAndME, captured the overworked office well. From the Steel Case desks to the stacks of scripts everywhere (with hilarious titles such as “Whodunit? The Musical” — I wonder if they were real) — it was just great. This was augmented by Kate Bergh‘s great costume design, which captured not only the elbow-patched dramaturg well, but the young college graduate, the business executive, and the rumpled playwright. Drew Dalzell‘s sound design provided appropriate sound effects and voiceovers, and the lighting by Paulie Jenkins and Ilya Mindlin was unobtrusive and established the scene wele. The production was stage managed by Ricky Moreno.

Blame It On Beckett” has one more performance, today at 2pm. Tickets are available at the Colony Box Office online or by calling (818) 558-7000 x15. Next weekend, the Colony is hosting a special performance by Jane Kean, who has a long history on stage and screen, including playing Trixie in the Honeymooners. Although it wasn’t mentioned in the handout they gave us, I remember her from the musical Ankles Aweigh, which was a noted failure in the 1950s. Again, tickets are available through the Colony Box Office.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Next weekend sees me in the Westlake District for “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre. This is a musical version of Silence of the Lambs, and is supposedly quite funny. The following weekend brings Xanadu–The Musical” at DOMA; I’ve heard the music, and again this is a great parody. The penultimate weekend in September takes us to the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood for the musical Justin Love. The month ends with  “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. It may also see us in Berkeley for UCB Homecoming.  Still, what’s a month without theatre, so… October will start out with The Fantasticks at Theatre West on 10/6. That will be followed by “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre on 10/13, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages on 10/27, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/28. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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Looking for a Good Relationship

Playdates at Repertory East PlayhouseRelationships are hard, and finding the perfect relationship is even harder. We start searching early, and keep on looking and looking. Even when we find a good one, we keep thinking it is dying and we need to more to keep it alive. These notions are at the heart of “Playdates“, a recent play (premiered in 2010) by Sam Wolfson, co-author of “Jewtopia“. The current production of Playdates is at REP East Playhouse in Saugus, which is where we saw the penultimate performance last night. REP, as usual, did an excellent job with the production–which is no surprise. In fact, researching this writeup, I learned that the playwright, Sam Wolfson was so impressed by the first REP take on Jewtopia that he asked them to mount this production personally.

As I indicated earlier, Playdates is a story of relationships and the search for a good relationship. This, at its heart, is the same quest that we saw in Jewtopia, although the approach taken is very different (but equally funny). As the story opens, we meet Sam and Stacey, two 5 year olds on the playground. Even at this age, these two are looking for a relationship that will last more than two hours. They hit it off, and soon Sam has asked Stacey to be his girlfriend. Through a number of scenes we see the arc of the relationship: the tentative start, the growth, the period of learning about each other, the breakup, and the reunion. This is also shown through a wonderful video montage of the growth of the relationship (made even more impressive when you realized that it was specific to the Sam and Stacey in this performance — for the Sam of the last two performances of the show was the understudy). Although expressed in kids terms, many of the jokes and humorous insights have adult resonance that are wonderful. After this is another video montage showing that time has passed (using a wonderful sequence of morphs of Charlie Sheen — always a sage when it comes to relationships). The final scene in Act I shows how this quest has affected Sam as he grew up: he has become “Dr. Love” — a love expert who advises others on their relationships while still hurting from Stacey dumping him at age 5. The “Dr. Love” scene is hilarious and touching and a wonderful commentary on how our youthful relationships shape the adult we become.

In Act II, we are introduced to another couple: Mike and Katie. Mike and Katie have been married for 5 years, and are afraid that the honeymoon period has departed from their relationship. This is demonstrated in the hilarious first two scenes, starting with an elaborate bathroom ballet where they do all sorts of bathroom activities unselfconsciously together — a dance that any long-married couple will both completely understand and find completely absurd…. followed by a post-bathroom bedroom sequence where they realize they haven’t had sex, and attempt to do the deed. To address the problem, they call (who else) Dr. Love, who advises them to do various things to bring back the Honeymoon Period. This includes actually talking to each other, where the seed of an idea of having a threesome is borne. So they go to TGI Fridays to pick up the third, and… well you can guess where it goes from there. Let’s just say that Dr. Love comes back into the picture to save the day, but not in the way you expect. By the end of the production, we learn that an ideal relationship is not necessarily the “Honeymoon” phase, but the phase where you are both loving and comfortable with each other.

In general, this is a very cute take on the story (and very well told). There were a few portions of scenes that could be tightened a little (mostly in Act II, where there was a little bit of cringe-worthy dialogue in the threesome scenes), but overall these didn’t detract from what was a really wonderful and funny show. Looking back, I even think this is a show that could be turned into a small, off-Broadway level musical with simple but cute music (Marcy and Zina would be perfect). The direction at the REP (by Michael C. Kelly) was natural and relaxed, and gave the impression (without being overdone) that these actors were the people who they were playing.

The performances were also top-notch, made even more impressive when you realize that the actor playing Sam at our performance, Nathan T. Inzerillo (FB),  was the understudy, who had only had a little rehearsal and was only doing our show (Friday) and the last performance (Saturday – tonight). Nathan’s characterization of the 5-yo Sam was spot on, and I think many of the men in the audience could see themselves in Nathan’s everyboy. I don’t know what the original actor (Ryan Calberg) was like, but I just loved Nathan in the role. I also found it impressive that you didn’t realize Nathan was an understudy — all the video montages, book covers, and such were made to feature Nathan’s face. That attention to detail is one of the things that makes REP such a wonderful theatre.

As I said, Nathan was great as Sam. Playing off of Nathan was Katie Hall (FB), who was wonderful both as a playful 5-yo girl as well as a grown-up woman. You could tell she was just having fun with the role; it seemed to fit her well.

The other couple, Mike and Katie (who we meet in the second act) were portrayed by Wes Murphy (FB) and Heidi Appe (FB), respectively. These two created a wonderfully believable couple–realistic and loving and playful and hesitant and just a delight to watch. As I noted above, they were particularly wonderful in the bathroom ballet and the subsequent bedroom scene, where they comic timing abilities were brought to the fore — but they were just wonderful on stage.

Rounding out the cast, in various smaller roles, were Kyra Schwartz (FB) (Lisa, Miss Preston, Woman Caller, Wendy), Dennis Hadley (FB) (Timmy, Bill, Jeff), and Dan Fowble (FB) (Paul Pruett, Gym Coach, Walter). Schwartz and Hadley deserve a special mention for their great comic roles as Wendy and Jeff in Act II when they talk about their approach to marriage. It was a joy to watch.

Technically, the production was at the usual “81 series” level, which means there wasn’t as full blown set as is seen in the main production. Still, the set and props (by Mikee Schwinn/FB (set) and Kyra Schwartz (FB) / Christina Gonzalez/FB (props) were effective, especially the wonderful bathroom and bed set pieces in Act II. Augmenting these all were Mikee’s wonderful videos that served both a storytelling devices as well as set establishment tools. Lighting was by REP regular Tim Christianson/FB, assisted by Tom Lund (who also served as stage manager). Sound was by the always-excellent Steven “Nanook” Burkholder. Playdates was produced by Ovington Michael Owston and Mikee Schwinn.

The last performance of Playdates is tonight at 8pm at REP East. The performance may be sold out, but you can see if space is available by calling REP at (661) 288-0000 or purchasing your tickets online. This is also the last performance ever in the “81 Series”; O informed me that starting next season, all performances will be “mainstage” performance. This is wonderful, and shows how REP has grown in reputation and attendence in the community.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Tomorrow night sees us at the theatre again — specifically, we’re seeing “Blame It On Beckett” at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. The next weekend sees me in the Westlake District for “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre. This is a musical version of Silence of the Lambs, and is supposedly quite funny. The following weekend brings Xanadu–The Musical” at DOMA; I’ve heard the music, and again this is a great parody. The penultimate weekend in September takes us to the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood for the musical Justin Love. The month ends with  “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno, and Karen will be travelling for the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara. It may also see us in Berkeley for UCB Homecoming.   Still, what’s a month without theatre, so October will also bring “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and may bring a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

Music: The Very Best of the Drifters (The Drifters): On Broadway

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You Would Have To Be Insane…

New plays and new musicals are a risk. If you look over the productions I’ve seen, brand new productions are a rarity — I’ve generally seen them only as part of a subscription or if some other party has brought them to my attention for one reason or another. Sometimes they work spectacularly, such as the great production of Pest Control at the NoHo Arts Center. Sometimes they don’t, such as a disastrous production of  As U Lyk It: A California Concoction at the Pasadena Playhouse back in 2006. I mention this because last night saw me at a new production: I Caligula – An Insanity Musical at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. Irene Bleiweiss, a long time friend from USENET days was an investor in a new musical, I Caligula — An Insanity Musical. For her investment, she received two tickets; as she was in DC and couldn’t attend, she offered them to me. The weekend was open, and so my daughter and I (a daddy-daughter day before she heads off to UCB) saw the show last night.  I thought she might like I, Caligula, as the synopsis talked about it being an allegory to fascism in the 1930s.

Alas, this was one of the productions that didn’t work. There were two primary problems: the music and the story.

As background, here’s a synopsis of the production. The story takes place in a mental institution. The staff uses drama therapy to help the patents, and in this case, the “musical” they are doing is Caligula, the story of the insane Roman emperor. This musical version, which is based off of the play Caligula by Albert Camus, has as its lead a narcissist. The story is what you would expect: Caligula is in love with his sister, and so to have her he offs his grandfather to become Emperor. One he gets the job, he publicly loves his sister, which causes his wife to poison her. Caligula goes insane, starts having orgies everywhere, and then starts killing everyone while they plot to kill him.

Great subject for a musical right?

Let’s tackle the musical problems first. The music and orchestrations were by Cody T. Gillette, who has mostly operatic experience. This led to this really not being a musical but being an opera. So what is the difference? Operas are sung-through (or mostly sung-through) with musical dialog. The music often doesn’t serve the story or to amplify character growth; rather, it is the carrier for the story. Musicals, on the other hand, have clearly discrete songs in a variety of styles; these songs typically serve to amplify the story and expose the inner thoughts of the characters. Think about characters singing about what they want, what they feel, their hopes, their desires. You can have sung-through musicals (EvitaLes Miserables, and Sweeney Todd being great examples); what makes them musicals is how the songs serve the story. You can have musicals about insanity that have entertaining music (Anyone Can Whistle and Dear World are examples, although neither were successful). You can even have musicals about insane killers (Sweeney Todd and Assassins are examples) that work. Looking at these examples makes clear what didn’t work here. First, the music was monotonous: there was no variety in the style, no distinct songs that you walked out of the production humming. It was operatic in style (both music and vocal), but advertised as a musical, confusing the audience (and I’ll note that an operatic take on Camus’ play was already done by Detlev Glanert in 1960, first performed in 2006). The music needed variety, it needed to be accessible to modern musical audiences. This simply wasn’t.

The second problem with the music is that the songs didn’t serve the story, nor did the music serve as a framing device. The latter is what made Sweeney Todd and Assassins work: they had a framing device the clarified the larger moral lesson the production was teaching (e.g., “To seek revenge may lead to hell / But everyone does it, but seldom as well” from Sweeney, or the songs “Another National Anthem” and “Everybody’s Got The Right” from Assassins). In I Caligula the story was sung but there was no point made. What should the audience learn from the saga of Caligula: he’s unrepentant, so what is the point to teach? The answer, of course, is the perils of narcissism and the focus on just what you want. Ideally, this could have been provided by a chorus of the hospital staff with a framing device… but it wasn’t.  The framing device simply didn’t work here,  or wasn’t utilized as it should have been to make the underlying point. In addition to improving the variety of the score, the setting needs to be utilized to create an allegory about the dangers of narcissism and too much focus on the self. Such an allegory could be very useful in today’s society, which is often focused more on meeeeeee than improving society as a whole.

Next, let’s look at the problems with the story. The first is the selection of subject matter itself. As I’ve noted above, you can do musicals about unsympathetic people. Sondheim has this down to an art, with successful musicals about a barber that kills customers for revenge, or people that shoot the president. Usually such musicals are very difficult — witness the public failure of the recent Wildhorn Bonnie and Clyde. Caligula is a particularly problematic piece. The primary subject is an early Roman emperor who supposedly offed his grandfather to get the throne, had depraved sexual orgies, and in the face of bad financial times offed his citizens to get their estates and build palaces for himself. Camus adapted this story for his play; he described his play in 1957 as follows:

“Caligula, a relatively kind prince so far, realizes on the death of Drusilla, his sister and his mistress, that “men die and they are not happy.” Therefore, obsessed by the quest for the Absolute and poisoned by contempt and horror, he tries to exercise, through murder and systematic perversion of all values, a freedom which he discovers in the end is no good. He rejects friendship and love, simple human solidarity, good and evil. He takes the word of those around him, he forces them to logic, he levels all around him by force of his refusal and by the rage of destruction which drives his passion for life.

But if his truth is to rebel against fate, his error is to deny men. One cannot destroy without destroying oneself. This is why Caligula depopulates the world around him and, true to his logic, makes arrangements to arm those who will eventually kill him. Caligula is the story of a superior suicide. It is the story of the most human and the most tragic of errors. Unfaithful to man, loyal to himself, Caligula consents to die for having understood that no one can save himself all alone and that one cannot be free in opposition to other men.”

In general, this is a story that doesn’t lend itself to a musical treatment too well. The author and lyricist Kai Cofer indicated he chose this story because he wanted he wanted to write something about facism, and Camus’ play was supposedly a metaphor for fascism. His first attempt at adapting the Camus play was too big. His second attempt downsized the production and resulted in it being set in a mental institution. Specifically, he indicated it was supposedly in a modern day mental hospital where the patients were putting on a production of Caligula set in the 1930s. The problem is that none of these goals came across in the final production. The minimalist set never gave the impression of this being a modern mental institution; the production of Caligula itself seemed more Roman than anything connected with the 1930s; the music certainly didn’t reflect the 1930s (which would have had big band numbers, not opera); and most importantly, none of the underlying themes of fascism came clearly across in the final production. The focus seemed to be more on the insanity and narcissism of Caligula than anything else.

There were also problems in the writing itself — some of the songs were rather pedestrian (i.e., seeming lists of synonyms or antonyms), and there were points where the fourth wall was broken in an odd manner, involving the audience to provide support and applause for the characters. Weird.

The connection between the mental institution and the play was also poor. The primary echo was that the inmate playing Caligula was also a narcissist. The inmate personalities of the other characters were never well established. They were briefly mentioned in the opening scene and never seen again. Instead, at the end, we see them coming at the audience to find another Caligula to off. In plays and musicals, one looks for growth in characters. I really saw nothing that showed the inmates learned anything from doing the play; this is necessary to offset the lack of growth in Caligula himself. This is a writing defect; perhaps it is something that could be corrected through proper dramaturgy.

In short, the story problems were this: the wrong story was chosen to musicalize, the transformation of the story failed to bring out the underlying theme the author wanted, and at times the writing was weak.

So setting aside the story now, how were the performances. For the most part, they were reasonable albeit a bit overplayed (I suspended disbelief in the overplay, simply because these were supposedly insane asylum patients who would tend to overplay). In the lead was Dory Schultz (FB) as Caligula. Schultz’s tenor voice was nice, although at points he seemed to be not quite reaching what was intended. He captured the narcissism of Caligula well, although his costuming was distracting (especially those gold shorts). Supporting Schultz were Kevin Dalbey as The Director/Tiberious and Elizabeth Harmetz (FB) as Cesonia. Dalbey had a beautiful baritone voice and worked well as the director, providing more reaction shots than anything else. Harmetz’s soprano was also quite nice, but she came across as cold and didn’t quite seem to be inhabiting her character. Inhabiting characters was a common problem in the cast; I find shows work best when the actors were having fun and enjoying their characters, and this cast didn’t seem to have that joy.

One of the actors who did seem to be having fun with her role was Kelly Derouin (FB) as Drucilla. As the sister of Caligula who is offed early in the first act, she was more eye candy, but seemed to be just having fun with the character (and this came across to the audience). Alas, she had one of those fourth-wall problematic songs, clearly added just so the actor had a song. It didn’t work. Another actor who was having fun was Meredith Overcash as Halicon. Hers was less a singing role and more a supporting role, but she had a number of moments that made clear she was enjoying herself that were quite fun to watch. Josh Shaw (FB) (Skipio) and E. Scott Levin (FB) (Marco) served as the supporting senators — I was particularly impressed with Levin’s lovely bass/baritone voice and performance as Marco. Carissa Lynn Gipprich (FB) played the nurse.

There was one last on-stage cast member: Cody Gillette (FB), the composer. He was in the corner, conducting the program — which was prerecorded and on a Mac. He was also mouthing the words of the production. I couldn’t see the point of his being on stage if there was no live music other than to add to the madness.

The production was directed by the author, Kai Cofer (FB), and I’ve already commented on the style. Choreography was by Heather Lipson Bell (FB) and was probably the best that could be done given the music wasn’t really dance music. Kelly Derouin was the dance captain.

Turning to the technical side of things, for which there were few credits. Kai Cofer, credited as production designer as well, designed a minimalist set: a chaise lounge, some columns, tables and chairs. Much as I understand the intent here, they didn’t do a satisfactory job of conveying either the location or the time period intended. The costuming didn’t help, with bright gold shorts with an obvious “package” for Caligula, a silver bikini for Drucilla, tuxedos for the senators, and odd red and black lingerie for Cesonia. None of this did a good job of establishing the time or the place. The lighting was stark and didn’t serve to create the mood in support of the story. In other words, where the technical might have supported the story, it didn’t.

I Caligula – An Insanity Musical continues at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood through August 26. Tickets are available online via Ovation Tix or via Goldstar.I Caligula might be interesting if you are into opera or the operatic style and desire to see a study of insanity; it will not satisfy you if you go expecting traditional musical forms.

Dining Notes: It was a daddy-daughter day. Lunch was at Umani Burger on Hollywood Blvd and was yummy; I’ll definitely try the one in Thousand Oaks now. Dinner was at Pitfire Pizza across the street from the Secret Rose, and was also yum (although seating was a bit tight, which they corrected). The day together made up for the weak production, although we did have fun dissecting what went wrong.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: The remainder of August is quiet until Play Dates” at REP East at the end of the month. This is due to a planned vacation to Palm Springs (as well as moving our daughter to UC Berkeley); while in Palm Springs we might go to Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines. In September theatre activity resumes, beginning with “Blame It On Beckett” at the Colony Theatre on September 1. Mid-September brings Xanadu–The Musical” at DOMA, and the month ends with  “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. I”m also looking into “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre, which starts September 8 and runs through December, and the musical Justin Love  which starts at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood on September 8. October brings some traveling for family with the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno. It will also bring “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

 

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