🎭 Pure and Sweet Imagination | “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” @ Hollywood Pantages

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Hollywood Pantages)What distinguishes live theatre from the movies, when all is said and done? Think about the question closely. Go beyond the fact that movies are projected images, the same every time you view them. Both tell stories. Both have characters that grow. But movies — even animated movies — are realistic. They show you everything; they leave nothing to the imagination. Close up or far, what they present — if not real — is realistic.

But the stage. The stage. The stage is a home of real imagination. Shall we say, pure imagination. Go to any intimate theatre, and look at the worlds they create with just a few boxes and props. Even in the larger theatres, the sets are mere suggestions of realism. The world that is created is one that is in your imagination. Even  when you take a property that was once on the screen and move it to the stage, you need to adapt it for that change from a world of realism to a world of imagination. Cinema magic isn’t the same as stage magic. They are different beasts, and the story must often adapt for that change in worlds.

Keep that in mind when you read reviews, for some reviewers don’t get that fundamental aspects of the stage. Even theatre reviewers forget it.

The children’s author Roald Dahl understood imagination well. His books centered on imagination, and understood that kids don’t fear the scary or gross — they embrace it. Three of his stories have been adapted into musicals (to my knowledge), and as of last Thursday, we’ve seen all three.  The first of his stories we saw on stage was Matilda, which we saw back in 2015, and again a few weeks ago. Many compared Matilda to the movie: there were changes from the movie to the stage, and the movie was not a musical. The approach to the story was a bit different, and the stage depended much more on imagination. Then there was James and the Giant Peach, which we saw a little over a year ago. There is an animated version of the story, which I’ve never seen. I throughly enjoyed the stage version, which was much more oriented towards children, but still harnessed significant imagination in making the characters come to life with human actors. The music of Pasek and Paul didn’t hurt.

Then there’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which we saw Thursday night. The problem here is that the original 1971 movie is both iconic and a musical. Gene Wilder stamped himself on that role, and most people can’t separate his portrayal from how they imagine the story. There’s also a 2003 version with Johnny Depp, but it never achieved quite the same iconic nature, is downright creepy, and is best forgotten.  But the Wilder version: that’s so iconic that when the stage musical (with songs by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; and book by David Grieg) was transferred from London’s West End to Broadway, they had to interpolate songs from the movie, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, into the stage musical in order for it to be accepted. In many ways that’s too bad: I have only heard the London Cast Album, and enjoy it quite a lot.

So many people come into the stage musical expecting to see the equivalent of the Wilder movie on stage, and they don’t get it. I believe this is why many reviewers have walked out of this show disappointed: they don’t see the magic of the movie on stage. Well, GET OVER IT. This is a stage musical, and must be viewed on its own. Changes are made as the story is adapted to the stage; characters are updated so that children of today can related to them. The story must be designed to talk to adults (who can afford to pay for the tickets) as well as the children. Most of all, the imagination that is on stage must be uniquely theatrical.

If you can set aside your preconceived notions from the 1971 movie and watch this version of Charlie on its own terms, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. There is loads of creativity in the show. There’s lots of song and dance, and both the children in the audience and the children in the adults will entertained. There are sufficient references back to the 1971 movie to provide that modicum of comfort and familiarity, and there isn’t a single trace of Johnny Depp.

I probably don’t need to go in detail into the story. You’ve quite likely seen either or both of the movies. Basically, reclusive chocolate manufacturer and creator Willy Wonka decides to reopen his factory to five children who have found golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars. Four of them meet horrible death or injury due to repulsive habits, but the one who is pure of heart wins the grand prize: the factory. It’s just like a horror movie, but with kids.

So what has changed in this version. Let’s start with the kids: none appear to be British. Augustus is the least changed from what he was in the movie. Veruca is Russian, and the same spoiled brat she always was — except she does ballet. Violet Beauregarde still chews gum, but is now black and hip-hop-ish and from Los Angeles. Mike Tevee is more spoiled teen videogamer who hacks computer systems, vs. the TV watching kid he was. Charlie is essentially the same, except he went from having two parents in the movie, to having just a father in the London version, to having just a mother in the Broadway version. Oh, and the character of Slugworth and the whole notion of kid’s spying is gone.

Instead, there’s a new framing device added that changes the tone of the piece — a framing necessary by the theatrical demands of having your most entertaining character be on stage for both acts. This is because the first act, due to the demands of exposition, must introduce you to each of the children, and provide the background on their characters, their faults, and their ambitions. That’s a story that — if you recall the movie — is absent Willy Wonka. In the movie, Wonka doesn’t show up until the start of the factory tour. But that cannot work on stage: you want to see Wonka. So the story now opens with Wonka on-stage, explaining that he has decided it is time to pass the factory down. He then transforms into the owner of the candy shop that now sells Wonka products, and starts interacting with Charlie, encouraging him to buy a bar. He keeps encouraging him throughout the first act, as each ticket is found, being disappointed that Charlie cannot afford to buy the bar that the candy shop owner so clearly wants him to buy (and, with the audience in on the secret of who the candy shop owner is — they know Wonka really wants Charlie to get a ticket). In desperation, after the 4th ticket is found, Wonka closes the shop claiming to be sold out, but leaves a dollar on the floor for Charlie to find … and plants the bar where Charlie can purchase it. Random chance of Charlie getting the ticket? Doesn’t pass the sniff test, with the framing device.

Most reviews I have read do not like this change. Most reviews I have read complain about the first act taking so much time to introduce the characters. But the story just doesn’t work with any other structure. The framing device changes the story, yes, but in a way that works for the stage, and lets the audience in on a secret that the characters on stage don’t know. I’ll note that reviewers also complain that the only child on stage is the actor playing Charlie. All the other kids are portrayed by adults. Again, these are the demands of the stage (children, for example, can’t do that much on-pointe dancing), but the suspension of belief of the stage makes it work.

When Wonka returns to the stage as Wonka, the energy and the imagination ramps up. This is hinted at in the closing number of the first act, but even more so as the second act opens and the tour begins. The stage cannot duplicate the film, but does imagination in its own way. How they handle the fates of the children is both more violent than the movie, and much more imaginative. Violet explodes on stage. Veruca is torn limb from limb. MIke becomes an animated puppet. But I think the best sequence is before Mike’s demise: when they must walk across the marshmallows, make a u-turn into the wind tunnel, and then walk across the field of flying frying pans. Mind you: there is nothing on the stage. They are doing this with pure pantomime and sound effects, and it is magical. Pure stage magic. For me, this was the scene that made the entire show magic. No projections. No props. An empty stage with pure performance and imagination magic.

Then there are the Oompa-Loompas. When they make their entrance, the audience goes wild. They are a combination of puppetry and dance, and are magic in the imagination displayed. They are indescribably funny, and they are such a creative use of the ensemble.

Through a combination of projection effects, puppetry, and performance, this production creates a new level of stage imagination. It is different than the movie, and to compare the two is to invite disappointment. They are different, and must be judged separately. The stage Wonka provides a different type of lunacy than Wilder brought to the role, although there is a modium of the deadpan WIlder aspects that cannot stop the children from their natures.

So, yes, I enjoyed it.

Kudos to the director, Jack O’Brien (and the London director, Sam Mendes), and the choreographer, Joshua Bergasse (and the London choreographer, Peter Darling) for the creativity and movement they brought to this production.

Let’s now turn to the performance aspect of the piece.

Willy Wonka is created on stage by Noah Weisberg (FB). Weisberg does not have the same demented deadpan nature as Wilder, but he does make the role his own in his own way. Watch the joy of the character in the first act as he portrays the shop owner. Then see how his nature changes in the second act as the lunacy and the foreknowledge kicks in. He knows who the bad kids are, and knows that nothing he will do will stop them. In many ways, he is much more knowingly leading them to their demise, putting just the temptation in front of them that will pull to the problems in their nature. Note that he does this with Charlie at the end as well, but the temptation is of a different nature and in a different direction, and it is that different direction that allows Charlie to succeed. Weisberg’s Wonka succeeds well in pulling off the character. Just watch his face closely in the opening numbers, and you can see that he is making clear that his character is much more … omniscient … than perhaps he is saying with his words. He sings well, dances well, and handles the comedy spectacularly.

Charlie Bucket is played by the only children on stage — and three young men divide the role. At our performance, we had Rueby Wood (IG); the other performers are Henry Boshart (IG) and Collin Jeffery (FB, IG).  Wood captured the character well. I initially was unsure about his voice, but it got stronger throughout the evening and worked well. He was able to capture the right range of emotion and wonder for the character, and sang and moved well for someone so young.

Turning to Charlie’s family next: three of the four grandparents were mostly comic relief and played more as part of the ensemble. We’ll cover them there. The standalone family members were Amanda Rose (FB) as Mrs. Bucket and James Young (FB) as Grandpa Joe.  Rose’s mom was sweet and caring; you knew she knew she had a special child that she had to nurture in a hard world (and one can, perhaps, understand why they changed it from just the dad in London). She sang beautifully in her main number. Young’s Joe (I want to say Mighty Joe Young) was much more of a comic character. Unlike the movie’s Jack Albertson who was just sweet and old, this Joe had an imagination equal to young Charlie, as demonstrated by the story telling. He sang well and performed well; his character was less pushed into the dance aspects.

This brings us to the other “children”, all of whom were played by adults. Most of these performances were limited by book to be somewhat broad and stereotypical. In the required fat suit was Matt Wood (FB) as Augustus Gloop.  Wood’s Gloop was perhaps the least characterized of the kids: food gluttony is easy to portray on stage, and he didn’t do much more than stereotypically go after his food. His mother, played by Claire Neumann (FB),  was less rounded as Augustus, but more rounded as a character. She captured well the mom that couldn’t say no to her children in terms of food.

[Hmmm, as an aside, one wonders if this is a cautionary tale more for the parents than the children, for all the parents of the problematic children had one thing in common — they could not say no to their children … whereas Charlie’s parent was the only one that said “no” and stood by that decision. Would that the parents of the child in the White House have learned that lesson, and taught the meaning of “no” … but I digress]

Anyway, back to Neumann’s Mrs. Gloop. She played his mother well, and had a strong voice in her number introducing Gloop. The second child was Veruca Salt, played by Jessica Cohen (FB). She certainly had the demanding aspects of the performance down well, both in the “I want it now and my way” aspects, but even more so in the continual ballet pointe dancing. Naturally, she moved well and had a good singing voice. Her father, played by Nathanial Hackmann (FB), was a much more stereotypical Russian portrayal. It worked, for what it was. This brings us to our third child, Violet Beauregarde, played by Brynn Williams (FB). When she came on stage, I turned to my wife and said, “that girl has a voice!” She sings strongly and powerfully, and had great dance moves and was fun to watch. Again, her father on stage was much more stereotypical “professional hood dad” — for which I fault the writing — but David Samuel handled it well. Our last “child” as Daniel Quadrino (FB)’s Mike Tevee. His role was more teen brat, but he did remarkable in the wind-tunnel scene, and had a wonderful interaction with Wonka over his cell phone. It was a lesson I wished the audience members took to heart. Stealing her scenes, however, was Jennifer Jill Malenke (FB) as Mrs. Tevee. Her wonderful knowing looks and interactions with Wonka over alcohol were just priceless and delightful to watch.

This brings us, at last, to the very talented ensemble. They got to not only be dancing and acting as characters in the background, but became the Oompa Loompas in the second act. In those roles, they shone. They covered the lesser grandparents and the reporters, and made the magic happen behind the characters. They consisted of (additional named roles as noted): Sarah Bowden (FB, FB) also Cherry Sundae; Alex Dreschke (FB); Jess Fry (FB); David R. Gordon (FB); Chavon Hampton (FB); Sabrina Harper (FB); Benjamin Howes (FBalso Grandpa George; Karen Hyland (FBalso Grandma Josephine; Lily Kaufmann (FB); David Paul Kidder (FB); Joe Moeller (FB); Tanisha Moore (FB); Joel Newsome (FB) also Jerry Jubilee; Kristin Piro (FB) also Grandma Georgina; Armando Yearwood Jr. (FBalso Mrs. Green; and Borris Anthony York (FB). Of particular note here were Yearwood’s Mrs. Green, who was hilarious,  and Howes’s Grandpa, who got some wonderfully comic lines.
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[ indicates performers swung up from the ensemble or as swings]

Swings who weren’t swinging were: Colin Bradbury (FB); Elijah Dillehay (FB); and Kevin Nietzel (FB). Normal performers who weren’t on at our performance were: Madeleine Doherty (FB) normally Mrs. Teveee; Kathy Fitzgerald (FB) normally Mrs. Gloop; Clyde Voce (FB) normally Mrs. Green/Ensemble, and Caylie Rose Newcom (FB) normally Ensemble.

Music direction was by Charlie Alterman (FB), who conducted the Pantages orchestra (with John Yun (FB) [Assoc. Conductor]). The orchestra consisted of (🌴indicates local): Charlie Alterman (FB) Keyboards; John Yun (FB) Keyboards; Kelly Thomas (FB) Keyboards; Greg Germann (FB) Drums / Percussion; David White (FBBass; Jen Choi Fisher (FB) 🌴 Violins; Ira Glansbeek 🌴 Concertmaster, Cello; Richard Mitchell 🌴 Reed 1 (Flute / Piccolo / Alto Sax / Clarinet); Jeff Driskill (FB) 🌴 Reed 2 (Clarinet / Soprano Sax / Tenor Sax / Bass Clarinet); John Fumo (FB) 🌴 Trumpet / Piccolo Trumpet / Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas (FB) 🌴 Trombone; Mike Abraham (FB)  🌴 Guitar (Solid Body Electric, Jazz Electric, Banjo, Nylon Acoustic, Steel Acoustic); Alby Potts (FB) 🌴 Synth Sub. Other music support: Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 Orchestra Contractor;  Doug Besterman (FB) Orchestrations; Marc Shaiman (FBArrangements; John Miller (FBMusic Coordinator; Nicholas Skilbeck (FBMusic Supervisor; Michael Starobin (FBAdditional Orchestrations; Phij Adams (FBMusic Technology; JoAnn Kane Music Service / Russell Bartmus, Mark Graham, Josie Bearden, Charlies Savage Music Copying.

Finally, turning to the production, creative, and support side of the equation. Mark Thompson‘s scenic and costume design worked well. The main set pieces: the Wonka factory, the Chocolate Store, the Bucket Residence, and the various pieces in the factory itself — were suitably creating and worked well for the story. Similarly, the costumes worked well to establish each character in broad strokes with their personality. This was supported extensively by Jeff Sugg‘s video and projection design, which provided the amplification of the imagination. It will be interesting to see how regional productions of this adapt without the heavy video usage. More imagination, I guess. Basil Twist (FB)’s Puppetry Design was spectacularly — not only for the Oompa Loompas, but for the miniaturized Mike Tevee who was believably shrunk. Also supporting these on-stage design aspects was Campbell Young Associates‘s hair and makeup design, as Buist Buckley (FB)’s production properties. Andrew Keister (FB)’s sound was reasonably clear and had good sound effects; Japhy Weideman‘s lighting established place, time, and mood well. Other creative and support were: Kristin Piro (FBDance Captain; Kevin Nietzel (FB) Asst. Dance Captain; Matt Lenz (FBAssoc. Director; Alison Solomon (FBAssoc Choreographer; Andrew Bacigalupo (FBProd. Stage Manager; Alan D. Knight (FBStage Manager; Cate Agis Asst. Stage Manager;  Telsey + Company (FB) Casting; Juniper Street Productions Production Manager; Foresight Theatrical General Management.

Due to our having to shift seeing this production due to a wedding, we saw it much later in the run than normal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory closes at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Sunday, April 14. If you can get tickets, go see it.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings us to the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is interesting, as my wife is having a small procedure during the week. Thursday may bring Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), but this is looking less likely. Saturday will bring In The Heights at the LA Pierce College Theater (FB) (featuring a performer we saw at REP), but for me alone. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m just starting to wade through the list of 306 shows, but I already see some I want to see, including The Seven Year Itch[title of show], and the return of Tabletop: The Musical. As for July, it is already starting to fill, with Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB).

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

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🎭 In Good Company | “Steel Magnolias” @ Actors Co-Op

Steel Magnolias (Actors Co-Op)The first thing I noticed when I read through the program for Steel Magnolias, which we saw Saturday night (early bird subscription) at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, is that we had seen all of the actresses before. In fact, we had see them all on the Actors Co-Op stages. We’d seen Ivy in the recent Anna Karenina; Lori most notably in Ruthie and Me;  Deborah is practically everything; Nan in A Walk in the Woods and 33 Variations; Heidi in Rope; and Treva in Man for all Seasons and 33 Variations. It reminded me of the glory days of REP East, where there was an actors ensemble that fit well and worked well together, and were like a family.

This casting, and this family, meshed perfectly with the themes written by Robert Harling of Steel Magnolias, which deals with the family you have, and the family you create. We last saw the show back in 2008 at the aforementioned REP East; before that, we saw the original Los Angeles production at the Pasadena Playhouse way back in 1988.

One advantage of having seen a show before is that I can steal the synopsis. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:

This play was written in 1987 by Robert Harling. It is set in a beauty salon in rural Louisiana, and tells the story of six southern women: Truvy, Annell, M’Lynn, Shelby, Ouiser, and Clairee. The play begins on the morning of Shelby’s wedding to Jackson (an unseen character) and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby’s decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. Over these years, we see the friendships grow between the women, see the relationships mature. We see people change as self-confidence is gained and life moves on. But what underlies it all is friendship and strength. The title refers to that strength: “magolias” are a reference to southern women, and as for the steel, M’Lynn says it best when she indicates that men are supposed to be made of steel, but women are actually stronger. In 1989, the play was made into a movie (with additional characters) starring Dolly Parton (Truvy), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser), Sally Field (M’Lynn), Julia Roberts (Shelby) and Daryl Hannah (Annelle).

Basically, the play is a very funny ensemble piece about a group of women that have become like a family based around a shared beauty shop in small town Louisiana, just as men bond in barber shops. The story, as noted above, revolves around Shelby — her marriage, her having a child, and the subsequent decline in her health leading to her death. Through this character’s transition, we see how it changes the women around her: the shop owner Truvy and her assistant, Annelle; Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn; the wife of the former mayor, Claree, and the town grouch, Ouiser. The casting and direction by director Cameron Watson (FB) plays to the strengths of each actress, making the production seem effortless. Our production was marred by just a few line hesitations, but that seems to be common with this show.

As noted above, the ensemble was excellent. The center of everything was Nan McNamara (FB)’s Truvy, the beauty shop owner who knew about, as most importantly, cared about, all her clientele. As opposed to the more no-nonsense portrayals we’ve seen from McNamara in the past, this characterization was playful and for the most part happy and upbeat, and fun to watch. Her assistant, Annelle, was played by Heidi Palomino (FB). Whereas her characterization in Rope was bubbly and upbeat, her performance here was much more subdued, capturing a quiet soul dealing with a troubled marriage and attempting to restart her life, and growing and coming out of her shell — and finding herself — around this group of women. Palomino captured that path well, and you could see her character change over the years portrayed in the show.

As Shelby, Ivy Beech (FB) brought a joyful and youthful energy to the stage, capturing that characters’ positive nature and love for life. Her energy here was very different than in Anna; there was a transition from the controlled Russian nature to a much more youthful and joyful exuberance, and this fit Shelby well. Her mother, M’Lynn, was played by Treva Tegtmeier (FB). We’d seen Tegtmeier in more stern roles before in 33 and Seasons. Here, she captured a more motherly role: concerned that everything was right with her daughter and her family, and that her family was seen right in the community.

That brings us to the remaining, shall we say, comic relief characters. Lori Berg (FB) captures older women well, as we saw in both Ruthie and Violet. Here, she provided a more senior authority figure as the wife of the pre-deceased mayor. That experience gave her the ability to dish back as well as she received.  Deborah Marlowe (FB) has wonderful character roles in almost every Co-Op production that we have seen, and appears to have loads of fun finding the comedy and humor in each character, bringing what appears to be an irascible nature to each. Her Ouiser here was no different: she was clearly having fun with this character and her attitude, and it came across in the performance.

Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design did a great job of recreating a beauty shop inhabiting a former car-port, down to the metal trellis used to support the carport roof, and the flaky electricity.  It had the right Southern character and feel to it. It was supported well by Abe Luke Rodriguez (FB)’s properties. Terri A. Lewis (FB)’s costumes seemed period-appropriate and worked well. This is a production that depends heavily on hair and wig designs, and Jessica Mills (FB) (whose bio didn’t mention she did the recent Matilda at 5-Star) work was up to the task. There were a few points where one could tell they were wigs (and I worried about the hair styling impacting the wigs), but for the most part the hair seemed natural, to fit the characters, and to stand up to the damage a beauty salon inflicts. Mills clearly has her work cut out for her repairing things after each show. Cameron Combe (FB)’s sound effects worked well — notably the opening booms — and Andrew Schmedake (FB) worked well to establish time and place. Adam Michael Rose (FB) did a great job of making the characters sound suitably Southern. Ellen Mandel (FB) provided the original music. Other production credits: Emma Rempel (FB) [Asst. Director]; Shawna Voragen (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jaime “Jai” Mills (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicist]; Selah Victor(FB) [Production Manager]; Lauren Thompson (FB[Producer].

Steel Magnolias continues at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood through May 5. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. The show is very funny and very well performed, and well worth seeing.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings us to the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

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🎭 Has It Gotten Easier for Women in STEM? | “Ada and the Engine” @ Theatre Unleashed

Ada and the Engine (Theatre Unleashed)I’ve written before how, when I see multiple shows in a weekend, there tends to be a connecting thru-line that I never realized when I scheduled these shows. That was certainly true last weekend, and it hit me during the closing scenes of Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage), which we saw Sunday evening. Earlier that morning I had been at our synagogue’s Purim Carnival, celebrating the agency of Queen Esther in saving her people, and Saturday evening we had seen Matilda Wormwood using her agency — and the power of her mind — to rewrite her story. What hit me as the story of Ada drew to its conclusion was that Lady Ada Lovelace had also used her agency — and the power of her mind — to rewrite her legacy and reputation as the daughter of Lord Byron to become a mathematician. She also overcame her mother’s desire for her to be a distinguished socialite. She became what was (in essence) the first computer programmer. Never mind that the computer didn’t really exist. The computer industry has a long history of promoting vaporware.

I first became familiar with Ada Lovelace as I was finishing up graduate school in Computer Science, with a specialty in programming language. I had been following development of the Steelman programming language competition, of which the eventual winner was the Steelman Green language. Steelman Green was eventually standardized and released as the programming language Ada, MIL-STD-1815A. The language has been updated since 1983 when it first came out, but I still have the MIL-STD on my bookshelf. It was named Ada, of course, in honor of Ada Lovelace, the first programmer.

This brings us back to Ada and the Engine, written by Lauren Gunderson, who has written a number of science-themed plays. Ada tells the story of Lady Lovelace. It covers her life from when she was an 18 year old mathematician and socialite looking for a husband, through her marriage to Lord Lovelace, up to her eventual death. It focuses, however, on her relationship with Charles Babbage and the work he was doing on the Difference Engine, later the Analytical Engine. Ada is remembered as the first person to see the broad potential of the Babbage’s Analytic Engine, and the developer of the first algorithm for the engine — essentially the first program.

But what struck me during the show was how things have changed so little. Ada fought to be seen as more than just a daughter of her famous father, or wife of her famous husband. She was forced into a role, and not seen at the time for the mathematical talents and insight that she had. In a world where women engineers have to still fight for recognition parity and pay parity, can we really say we’ve improved all that much. As Gene Spafford has written: We are out of balance with respect to women in technologyAda and the Engine reminds us that this has been a long battle. But Ada, and Esther, and Matilda remind us that we have the power to rewrite the story — we have the power to increase the visibility and parity of women in STEM fields (and I would be remiss if, at this point, I didn’t mention my long-term involvement with the sponsors of the Scholarships for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS), which everyone should support). PS: You want proof that there’s discrimination against women in STEM? NASA just cancelled the first all-women spacewalk because they didn’t have two suits of the right size for women.

Back to Ada and the Engine: Knowing my background and my history, it is probably not a surprise that I really enjoyed the show. So did my wife, who is also an engineer. We felt that the story captured well the history and excitement of Ada, and brought her to life with a wonderful energy and … for us … the correct math and science. It was also helped by the fact that, under the direction of Heidi Powers (FB), the cast brings the story to life with exuberance and joy.

In the lead position is Jessie Sherman (FB)  as Ada Lovelace . We saw Sherman last summer in Beauty and the Beast at 5-Star Theatricals, and she brought the same energy and giddyness to Lovelace. I think the best way to characterize her performance is that the mathematics were bursting out of her in excitement, and that joy made her performance special for the audience. She also had a few singing moments in the show that were quite beautiful, using musical arrangement from Jennifer Lin, who is the musical director of Matilda. Connections, folks, connections! The music and lyrics for those songs were by The Kilbanes.

Playing the main men in her life were Alex Knox as Charles Babbage and Gregory Crafts (FB) as Lord Lovelace. Both literally towered above Sherman — I think they had at least a foot and a half of height on Sherman, providing a metaphorical demonstration of the difference in stature. Knox’s Babbage captured the excitement of an engineer and scientist of the age — as well as the arrogance. His performance presented an interesting relationship between the quasi-romantic (but perhaps only in the mind) and the business relationship, and demonstrated well the power dynamics that often come into play with women in the professional technical world. Crafts had a different role: the husband of someone who didn’t understand his wife having a technical relationship and friendship, but who learned how satisfaction of that aspect of his wife’s nature made her whole. Anyone who is married to an intellectual or a scientist understand that well, and I think Crafts portrayed it right. I must also acknowledge all the work that Crafts has done outside this show for the LA Theatre community and the #Pro99 efforts (I was one of the audience members speaking up on behalf of that effort).

As Ada’s moether, Anabella Byron, Denise Nicholson (FB) brought the right level of sternness and disapproval and authority to the role. Watching her facial expressions while Ada was interacting with Babbage said multitudes about her attitudes on the matter.

Rounding out the cast was Casey Hunter (FB) as Lord Byron and Michelle Holmes (FB) as Mary Somerville. Hunter’s Byron is really only seen (as Byron) in the opening and in the final scenes, but he does a great job with those closing scenes. Holmes role is even smaller, showing up introducing Ada to Byron at a few parties.

The scenic aspects of the show — set, props, and hair design — were handled well by Jenn Scuderi Crafts (FB), who did a really great job with a small budget.  Costumes were designed by Denise Barrett (FB), and worked well. Movement was choreographed by Roger Fojas (FB). This went beyond the few dance numbers; there was some really interesting choreography as the actors portrayed the analytic engine and the gears and cogs that made it work. The sound design of Graydon Schlichter (FB) provided the appropriate ambient sound effects, and Gregory Crafts (FB) lighting established time and place well. It also worked well with Kevin Hilton (FB)’s projection design, which provided context and the background mathematics. Other production credits: Tanya Nancy Telson (FB) — Stage Manager; Tom Moore (FB) — Dramaturg; Rosie Bryne (FB) — Dialect Coach; Jim Martyka (FB) & Gregory Crafts (FB) — Publicity; Matt Kamimura (FB) — Production Photography.

Ada and the Engine, continuing the parallelism with Matilda the Musical, also runs through March 31, 2019. Tickets are available through the Theatre Unleashed website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. As an engineer, programmer, and mathematician (really, my Bachelors degree from UCLA is in Math/Computer Science; my Masters in in Computer Science), I found this to be a wonderful show. The science is right, the story is right, and the performances were great. It is well worth seeing.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

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🎭 Taking Back the Power | “Matilda” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Matilda (5-Star Theatricals)Last Saturday night we saw Matilda (with a book by Dennis Kelly and Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin (FB) based on the novel by Roald Dahl (FB)) at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). I had seen Matilda before at the Ahmanson almost four years ago, and I was at a loss how to describe the show last time. Back then, I had riffed off the bullying theme in the show (perhaps because I had just seen the La Mirada production of Carrie, and was making the connection). But this time that theme didn’t hit me, and so I was stuck. In fact, it wasn’t until near the end of the show we were seeing on Sunday, Ada and the Engine,  by Lauren Gunderson, that it hit me: The two shows were linked with a common theme. In fact, it was a theme common with my third event of the weekend: A Purim Carnival. Purim, after all, tells the story of Queen Esther, who saved her people by speaking up.

What was this common message, you might ask. Simple: It is up to you to change your story. It is a message I highlighted in the lyrics I quoted in my previous post:

If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Won’t change a thing.
Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it’s OK.
And that’s not right.
And if it’s not right, you have to put it right.

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Matilda overcame the bullying by her parents and by the Trunchbull to take charge of her story, and to change the ending.

Esther overcame the existential threat from Hamen, and changed the ending to save her people.

Ada overcame the legacy and reputation of her father, the overbearance of her mother, and her participation in a field that wasn’t particularly welcoming of women to change the nature of computing (more on that in the next post).

All changed their story. All overcame parents who were bullies. This was the uniting them of the shows over the weekend: Finding your agency. Overcoming your circumstances to write the end to your story, the way your want it to be. Not being powerless; taking the power into your own hands. Using the power of your mind. Being a little naughty along the way.

I just realized I’ve been blathering on without providing you a short synopsis.. After all, you might never have read the novel; you might not have seen the wonderful 1996 movie with Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman, and Mara Wilson. Luckily, I can copy what I wrote back in 2015: As opposed to trying to detail it all here, I’ll point you to the Wikipedia page. The “TL;DR” version is: Matilda is a precocious and intelligent little girl born to parents who didn’t want her, and who value stupidity and the messages that TV teaches over reason. Unable to control her (Matilda loves to play pranks on her parents), then enroll her in a school run by an evil headmistress who delights in torturing children. One teacher sees Matilda’s value, and working together they fight the headmistress, and return the school to a place of love and learning. Oh, and Matilda gets a happy ending as well.

Back then, I also noted that in adapting this story to the stage, the authors imbued it with an additional message that was not the novel or the movie — a message that is a commentary on parents today. In the opening scenes, there is a birthday party where every parent is talking about how their child is a precious little miracle and something special. This, of course, creates a contrast with Matilda’s parents who see her not as a miracle and as something not special. The point that is being made is that if everyone is special, then no one is. Special becomes the norm, and the truly special become invisible. The reality must be that we, as parents, must not predefine our children with labels, but must encourage them to grow up and be whatever they are destined to be (and be the best at that).

Today, there was one other additional message that I noted: At the top of Act II, there is a number called “All I Know” (which is known to most folks as “Telly”). In it, Matilda’s father and her brother sing of the joys of getting all your information from television, and making fun of people that believe in facts and getting information by reading. Back then, the number was a novelty number. But that was 2015. It is now 2019 — and Donald Trump is President. All I could think of watching that number was that it described perfectly Donald and Eric Trump.

My one complaint with the show from the first time I saw it, alas, was not resolved as the version was adapted for licensing and regional productions. The Act I ending is still too abrupt. You want Act I to end with a rousing number to get you talking during intermission and wanting to come back. Instead, you get Matilda alone on stage going “But That’s Not Right”. There are a few points where the story seems to drag a bit, or at least move away from the interesting. But overall, the structuring of the story is fun and well-paced, and the songs are more than just entertaining patter. In particular, the songs did a great job of illustrating the wants and motives of the characters; they illustrated and illuminated personalities and drives. This is what the songs in musicals should do.

I also want to note that, unlike the production at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) back in 2015, this production was not a tour. 5-Star Theatricals, formerly Cabrillo Music Theatre, is Broadway in Your Backyard, and they pride themselves in not booking tours. They cast using a mix of local and new-to-local top talent. They pride themselves on finding newcomers (such as Katharine McPhee (FB), who was in CMT’s Annie Get Your Gun) who excel. They do this all in an environment of community outreach and giving back. As an example for this production, they made an effort to honor local teachers, and collect used books for school libraries and children. Next year will be 5-Star/Cabrillo’s 25th Anniversary. They have just announced their season: The Music ManMamma Mia, and Newsies.

Matilda @ 5-Star Photo StripThis production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), the former artistic director of 5-Star, and choreographed by Heather Castillo (FB), who has choreographed a number of productions at 5-Star. Both know how to work well with kids and ensure that they are having fun with the show, and this was evident in how the children and adult performers were having loads of fun with the show. This is one reason why we keep coming back to 5-Star, even with seasons (such as the upcoming season) where we’ve seen the shows before.

The lead position in Matilda is quite demanding, and as a result is dual-cast. The 5-Star Matildas are Lucy Bollier and Olivia Marcum. At our production, we had Lucy, and she did a spectacular job. She had a very strong singing voice, and a wonderfully mischievous and expressive face. She moved well, was suitably playful, and was just fun to watch. If you are up in the balconies, bring your binoculars because you’re going to want to watch her face.

On the other hand, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (FB)’s Miss Trunchbull is best seen at a distance. His performance itself was quite strong and hilarious; it is more that a closeup of his/her makeup was a bit off-putting, with the exaggerated cheekbone and moles. That might have been the intent, but it was a bit distracting through the binoculars. But, again, that doesn’t make the performance bad. Performance-wise, Mongiardo-Cooper is perfect, capturing the overbearing and bullying nature of Trunchbull perfectly, and handing Trunchbull’s few songs well and with strong humor.

Even more humorous moments come from Matilda’s parents: Janna Cardia (FB) as Mrs. Wormwood, and James Larsen (FB) as Mr. Wormwood. Cardia was hilarious during the opening “birth” number, as well as in her dancing number with John Paul Batista (FB) as Rudolfo (who was side-splitting in the background). Larsen — who research shows we saw over 10 years ago in Parade, where I noted the strength of his performance even then — was just great. His comic movements with the hat were just great, and his performance in “All I Know” was very very strong.

Representing the good in the show was Matilda’s teacher, Miss Jenny Honey, played by Katie DeShan (FB). DeShan captured the innocence of the character well, as well as the pathos in the later scenes. She had a strong singing voice and a wonderfully expressive personality on stage. A slight PS: She needs to update her personal website as it still uses Flash, which has security risks and has been deprecated.

Then there are the kids. Cabrillo/5-Star loves kids, and works with them as performers to bring out something special. The youngsters in Matilda are no exception. Strong singers and strong dancers, they had delightful performances, with special acknowledgements for the kids playing Lavender and Bruce. The kids consisted of: Drew Rosen — Nigel; Luke Pryor — Tommy; Olivia Zenetzis — Lavender; Marcello SilvaBruce; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) — Amanda; Nico Ridino — Eric; Glory Rose — Alice; and Iyana Hannans — Hortensia.

This brings us to the adults who had the smaller roles, and the members of the adult ensemble (many of whom also played kids). The most notable performance here was Deanna Anthony (★FBFBIG)’s Mrs. Phelps, who brought a wonderfully comic touch to her scenes. She’s been in a number of 5-Star roles and always brings a great humorous character touch to her roles. We also recently saw her singing and dancing her way through Cupcake Theatre’s Mamma Mia — who knows, perhaps she’ll reprise the role for 5-Star in their next season. Also notable (as I noted earlier) was John Paul Batista (FB)’s Rudolfo, who was hilarious in “Loud”.

Anyway, the other adults on stage were: John Paul Batista (FB) — Rudolfo, Ensemble; Ben Carroll (FB) — Escape Artist, Doctor; Monica Ricketts (FB) — Acrobat, Ensemble; Joah Ditto (FB) — Ensemble; Maya Galipeau (FB) — Ensemble; Tyler Luff — Ensemble; Julia Marley (FB) — Ensemble; Jared Cardiel (FB) — Ensemble; Renee Cohen (FB) — Ensemble; Josh Golombek (FB) — Ensemble; Carolyn Lupin (FB) — Ensemble; and Tyler Marie Watkins (FB) — Ensemble. I’ll note that, as a former Rep East subscriber, that we saw Ms. Cohen many years ago in Rep East production.

This brings us to the musicians, under the direction of Jennifer Lin, musical director and conductor. The excellent 5-Star Theatricals orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) — Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) — Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax; Chris Maurer (FB)  — Trumpet 1, Flugelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet; Michael Fortunato (FB) Trumpet II; June Satton (FB) — Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone; Brian LaFontaine (FB) — Acoustic & Electric Guitar; Bang Eunn Lee (FB) — CelloChris Kimbler (FB) — Keyboard I;  Jennifer OikawaKeyboard II; Shane Harry (FB) — Double String & Electric Bass; and Alan Peck — Set Drums & Percussion. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Finally, we turn to the production team. Unlike recent productions, where 5-Star had moved from the days of Cabrillo building its own sets to renting sets from other productions, this production has no credits for set rental, meaning that the excellent sets were the sole work of Stephen Gifford (FB) and his construction team. Gifford is a busy man; we saw his sets a few weeks ago for Anna Karenina. I had memories of the Ahmanson tour sets: swings and letter blocks everywhere. Gifford’s unifying motif was books and more books, library bookcases around the stage, with other pieces that came in for the school, Trunchbull’s office, and a large blackboard that made good use of projections. It worked well, and was augmented by properties design of Kevin Williams (FB) — who, in an interesting coincidence, did the properties for 1776 at the Saroya (together with Gifford‘s scenic design), which we saw the same day as Karenina. Also supporting this design was Noelle Raffy (FB)’s costume design, Jessica Mills (FB)’s hair and wig design, and Debby Bryan (FB)’s makeup design (modulo my comments on Miss Trunchbull’s makeup, which I thought was a bit overdone).  Jonathan Burke (FB)’s was reasonable, although the first few numbers had the same problem as the Ahmanson — clearly making out the lyrics that were being sung. Always test the sound quality in the balconies!  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well in establishing time and mood. Other production credits: Alex Choate (FB) — Asst. Props Design; David Elzer/Demand PR — Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) — Marketing; Tal Fox (FB)— Assoc Producer; Jack Allaway (FB) — Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB) — Production Stage Manager; Patrick Cassidy (FB)— Artistic Director. The original Broadway production was directed by Matthew Warchus and choreographed by Peter Darling.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda – The Musical has one more weekend at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). Overall, I thought it was a very strong production with good performances and a great message. It is well worth seeing; you’ll enjoy it. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Theatrical’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The last performance of Matilda is March 31, 2019.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The day after Matilda, we saw Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage). March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

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🎭 Think Of It As a Dance Show | “Cats” @ Hollywood Pantages

Cats (Hollywood Pantages)The most important thing to remember, when thinking about the production Cats (currently at the Hollywood Pantages (FB)), with music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics (mostly) by T. S. Eliot* (supplemental lyrics by Trevor Nunn), is that it is not a musical, despite everything you hear. It is a dance show, pure and simple. Go in thinking that, and you won’t be disappointed by the paper thin plot, the lack of real characters, the absence of character growth, or any silly musical theatre notions like that. If you read reviews of Cats and you find they are disappointed with the show, 9 times out of 10, you’ll find that they were going in expecting a traditional musical.

So, I’ll say it again: Cats is a dance show. And as a dance show, it is a spectacular one, with catchy if simplistic tunes that exist solely to support the dance, wonderful movement, and some lovely character vignettes that showcase characters you don’t see again as their characters. This shouldn’t be surprise, as this show was based on a collection of children’s poems, not any sort of story or novel with a through line.

I”ll repeat it a third time, because if you say it three times it must be true: Cats is a dance show. It only lacks the introduction that Bob Fosse put on his show Dancin’: “This show has no plot; it is a dance show.”.

I’m a big fan of comparing and contrasting shows, and ignoring my sojourn into Silly Symphonies at the Soraya the weekend between,  I had two dance shows in a row: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson,  and Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). Both celebrated and were centered around dance. One told a story without words, showing character growth. One used words to accompany the dance, but really didn’t tell a story. One used the classical repertoire; the other used more pop and rock stylings. One shows up only periodically; the other was one of the longest running shows on Broadway. Ultimately, I think I found Cats more satisfying. Perhaps it is the whole issue of accessibility. Using more modern music, and having songs to accompany the dance, ultimately made the dance itself more satisfying. The paper thin story went by the wayside, and one could enjoy the dance for what it was. With Cinderella, one had to focus on the dance and the language of the dance in order to figure out the more substantial story — and in doing so, the enjoyment of the dance itself was lost.

We last saw Cats in 2009 at Cabrillo Music Theatre (now 5 Star Theatricals (FB)); before that, it was the original production in 1985 at the Shubert Theatre in Century City.

There are those who somehow believe there is a story line in Cats. They think it has something to do with cats auditioning to go to the Heavyside layer, and ultimately Grizabella the Glamour Cat being chosen for no reason other than she has the one new song in the show. But given you really only see the other cats do their numbers and disappear (only three remain really visible in the ensemble dancing — Mungojerrie, Rumpleteaser, and Rum-Tum-Tugger), that story isn’t really there. It is grafted on to give an excuse for the song “Memory”. Don’t think about it. This is a dance show. Enjoy the spectacle.

I must, however, note some interesting story changes in this version. At the top of Act II, we have Gus the Theatre Cat’s number. Normally, this has been “Growltiger’s Last Stand”, with the whole number with the Siamese cats that was borderline offensive when the show premiered in the 1980s (with the use of stereotypes and such — not surprising, given when and where the poems were written). The 2016 revival on Broadway replaced that number with a different poem, “The Pekes and the Pollicles”, using some but not all of the original music. The new number works, but it creates an interesting discontinuity in the “McCavity” number where a mention is made of Griddlebone — who is now no longer in the show. Some other numbers have had their tempos changed or adjusted. I believe some of these adjustments derived from the 2015 London revival.

It is also important to understand the role productions such as Cats play in the musical ecosystem. Cats is not a star vehicle. Sure, there can be a star turn for the actor playing Grizabella — they get to shamble on, sing a spectacular number, shamble off, and then in the second act, shamble back in, sing a reprise of that number, and then die on stage. But for all the other actors in the show: this is ensemble heaven. It is a training ground for dancing, singing, and background characterization. When you go into the show, look for that. Watch each individual cat and how they succeed or fail in making each cat their own character. Look at their movement. Note who they are. This is how they get their exposure: doing this show with a paper-thin plot but spectacular movement and characterization exercises. For many of them, you’ll see them grow over the years into musical or dance mainstays.

But there is that one problem of identifying the performers. The individual cats are not all named in the show, so how do you know who is who? These answer is that the Wikipedia page provides a list of all the cats, their names, and a description of their costumes. This is a must, and should be in every program, because the individual cats are never introduced in the show — and other than the actors, the audience has no way of knowing who is performing whom (unless they happen to have done the show before). I think providing this listing would be a courtesy to the actors/dancers, as then they can be properly credited for their outstanding work.

I’ll note that this production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne. I’ll also note that the entire performance team was strong, and the dancing was just a joy to behold. Writing this the night after the show, there are a few performances I’d like to highlight:

  • Caitlin Bond (FB)’s Victoria (the white kitten) is just amazing. Her moves and her talent are just wonderful. I really enjoyed watching her.
  • Rose Iannaccone (FB)’s Rumpelteazer was also fun to watch. Small, lithe, and with some spectacular moves — as well as great facial expressions. My eyes kept being drawn to her.
  • Emily Jeanne Phillips (FB)’s Jennyanydots did a spectacular tap number. I tried to recognize her elsewhere in the show, but couldn’t.
  • PJ DiGaetano (FB)’s swung into Mr. Mistoffelees, and did an outstanding job with it. DiGaetano normally portrays Coricopat.
  • Keri Rene Fuller (FB)’s has essentially a “walk-on” as Grizabella — she doesn’t really do all that much dancing. She does, however, get the powerhouse number in the show: “Memory”, and she does wonderful with that number.
  • Timothy Gulan (FB)’s does good as Asparagus, the Theatre Cat — I liked his characterizations and facial expression. I was a bit less taken with his Bustopher Jones.
  • Erin Chupinsky (FB) swinging in as Demeter, and Charlotte O’Dowd (FB) swinging in as Bombalurina, did a wonderful job on “McCavity” with some spectacular dancing.
  • McGee Maddox (FB)  gave a strong turn as Rum Tum Tugger/Bill Bailey. A different swagger in the characterization than I’ve seen before, but fun to watch.
  • Marian Rieves (FB)’s Cassandra is one of the ensemble cats that catches your eye. A seemingly Siamese shorthair (at least she has a more slinky costume than the other cats), she has wonderfully lithe movement. Her tumbling runs were incredible.
  • Ahren Victory (FB)’s Sillabub is the cat that sings with Fuller’s Grizabella, and does a spectacular job of it.

The other performers were strong dancers, but other aspects of their performances either didn’t stick out in my mind, or I couldn’t identify their character well enough to comment. Other cast members were: Phillip Deceus (FB) [Alonzo]; Lexie Plath (FB) [normally Bombalurina, but out last night]; Justin W. Geiss (FB) [Swing, who I’m guessing swung in for Coricocat]; Liz Schmitz (FB) [normally Demeter, but out last night]; Kaitlyn Davidson (FB) [Jellylorum]; Tion Gaston (FB) [normally Mistoffelees, but out last night]; Tony d’Alelio (FB) [Mungojerrie]; Dan Hoy (FB) [normally Munkustrap, but out last night]; Tyler John Logan (FB) [Plato / McCavity]; Anthony Michael Zas (FB) [Pouncival]; Ethan Saviet (FB) [Skimbleshanks]; Halli Toland (FB) [Tantomile]; Devin Neilson (FB) [Tumblebrutus]; Brandon Michael Nase (FB) [Victor / Old Deuteronomy]; Maria Failla (FB), Adam Richardson (FB), Tricia Tanguy (FB), Andy Michael Zimmermann (FB[Cat’s Chorus]; Zachary S. Berger (FB) [swinging in as Munkustrap]; Nick Burrage (FB) [Swing]; and Laura Katherine Kaufman (FB) [Swing].

The Cats orchestra was conducted by Eric Kang (FB), who was also musical director. Other members of the orchestra (🌴 indicates local) were: Evan Roider (FB) [Assoc. Music Director, Keyboard3]; Luke Flood (FB) [Keyboard1]; David Robison (FB) [Keyboard2]; Garrett Hack (FB) [Reed1]; Dave Stambaugh (FB) [Reed2]; Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar]; John Toney (FB) [Bass]; Aaron Nix (FB) [Drums / Percussion]; Jeff Driskill (FB) 🌴 [Flute / Clarinet / Tenor Sax]; Sean Franz (FB) 🌴 [Clarinet/Soprano Sax/Bari Sax]; Mike Abraham (FB) 🌴 [Guitar (Electric, Steel String Acoustic, Banjo, Nylon String Acoustic)]; Dan Lutz (FB) 🌴[Bass (Electric, Fretless)]; William Malpede 🌴 [Keyboard Sub]. Orchestra support: Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 [Orchestra Contractor]; Kristen Blodgette [Music Supervisor]; Brian Taylor (FB) [Assoc. Music Supervisor]; Stuart Andrews [Keyboard Programmer]; and Talitha Fehr [Music Coordinator].

Turning to the production and creative side of the equation: Alas, nothing can top the original scenic design in the Century City Shubert theatre, where the entire theatre was transformed into a larger-than-life junkyard. This is a tour, which constrained John Napier‘s scenic design primarily to stage, with a few rows of lights. It was still a junkyard; just not as immersive. The audience did, however, get to see Napier’s design in another area — the costumes — when the actors came into the audience. Still, even here he was constrained by the original, as he had to keep the character designs within the constraints of the original design. Still, the impact of the actors going in the audience should not be discounted; Marian Rieves relates the story of going into the audience in the Pantages and making a little black girls day by showing what she could be when she grows up. Theatre does change lives. Where there has been a significant change since the original production is in the technology, and that is no where more apparent than in Natasha Katz‘s lighting design. Lightweight LEDs have transformed the theatre, from the eyes on stage, to Mr. Mistoffelees’ spectacular costume, to the changing colors of the light strands, to the on-stage flashlights. Katz’s design makes use of this well. Victoria Tinsman (FB)’s hair and makeup design is a key part of these characters, and what I’m sure was a time-consuming job paid off well in their looks. About the only weakness was Mick Potter‘s sound design: one of the characters had a very muffled microphone (I want to say Alonzo), and my wife noticed a number of balance problems. As an aside, I’m so looking forward to productions at the Dolby Theatre, because it should not be plagued with the muffled sound that is endemic to the Pantages’ rococo design. Knitting by Jo Thompson (Leg and Arm warmers) and Marian Grealish (Skimbleshanks / Victor). One other key creative credit for this show: Neuro Tour provided the physical therapy, which I’m sure these dancers depend upon. Other production and creative credits: Chrissie Cartwright (FB) [Assoc. Director / Choreographer]; Kim Craven (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Ellenore Scott (FB) and Lili Froehlich (FB) [Asst. Choreographers]; John Clancy [New Dance Sequences for selected numbers]; Nick Burrage (FB) and Erin Chupinsky (FB) [Dance Captains];  Tara Rubin Casting (FB) [Casting]; Abigail Hahn (FB) [Assoc. Costume Designer]; Donovan Dolan (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; J. Andrew Blevins (FB) [Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Aaron Quintana (FB) [Company Manager]; Justin Coffman (FB) [Asst. Company Manager]; Troika Entertainment LLC [Tour Manager].

Cats continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 24. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. After Los Angeles, the Cats tour moves on to Seattle WA. If you like theatrical dance, it is worth seeing. If you are looking for a real musical with a plot and deep characterizations, and a storyline that means something, pass. Cats is a dance show, as I’ve said before.

PS: Let’s start the rumor: Cats in Yiddish. Ketz anyone?

ETA: Something I never knew: T.S. Eliot was antisemitic. Luckily, I don’t think he is making the big bucks off the musical, nor do I think there are any such references in this work, but it does make “Growltiger’s Last Stand” even more problematic.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

 

 

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🎭 Oh, You Can’t Chop Your Momma Up in Massachusetts | “Lizzie – The Musical” @ Chance

Lizzie - The Musical (Chance Theatre)Our society has a fascination with horrific, grisly murders, especially if there is seemingly an element of revenge or retribution involved. They become part of the popular culture. Just think about the case of Evelyn Nesbit and the murder of Harry Thaw, which figures in the musical Ragtime; the case of accused murders Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner who were the models for the characters in the musical Chicago; or the fascination around the accused murderer Lizzie Andrew Borden. What’s next? A musical about O. J. Simpson? They tried a movie, but it failed.  Perhaps it is too soon.

But let’s go back to Lizzie Border. There is a morbid fascination with this young woman, perhaps inspired by the well-known rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe / and gave her mother forty whacks / and when she saw what she had done / she gave her father forty-one”. The story inspired a song in New Faces of 1952; it led to a popular song by the Chad Mitchell Trio (used in the title of this post, although the same phrase is in the New Faces song). There have been ballets, operas, plays, movies, and short stories. I’m old enough to even remember the 1975 movie. There have also been musicals, notably Lizzie Borden, with music by Christopher McGovern and book and lyrics by Christopher McGovern and Amy Powers, which premiered in New Jersey in 1998, and had a 2014 cast album. There was also Spindle City: The Lizzie Borden Musical by Katrina Wood, which had its premiere at the Secret Rose Theatre in 2016. Then there is the most recent take on the show, Lizzie: The Musical, which also has a studio cast album.

According to the show’s webpage, this version of the telling began life a four-song experimental theater/rock show hybrid created by writer/director Tim Maner and songwriter Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer for tiny mythic theater company’s American Living Room festival in 1990. After some early productions, it sat for a number of years until 2007, when the rights were purchased and a new production started. This culminated in a production that ran for six weeks in fall 2009 at The Living Theatre on New York’s Lower East Side. This resulted in more productions and more development, resulting in a 2013 studio album. Albums help sell shows. Many more productions followed; I learned about the show from an Amazon recommendation. There was also some additional music and additional lyrics from Alan Stevens Hewitt. Most recently, there was a well-received production in downtown Los Angeles starting in September 2018 running intermittently into January 2019. Alas, due to the venue and timing, I was unable to work this production into my schedule. Luckily (for me), the Chance Theatre (FB) opted to produce the show for the opening of their 21st season, thus providing the occasion for our annual trip to the Anaheim Hills (and an always delightful dinner at True Seasons across the street).

Back to Lizzie Borden: the person. If you are only familiar with the story of Lizzie Borden from the nursery rhyme, the Chad Mitchell Trio song, or New Faces, you don’t know the real story. There are some good summations of the story on both the Wikipedia Page on Lizzie Borden and the Famous Trials page. Both make it clear that the authors of Lizzie: The Musical did their homework with respect to the facts. I recall numerous factoids mentioned in the musical that are detailed in the articles I linked. One would think, given the nursery rhyme, that Lizzie clearly did the crime and was convicted. However, there was never enough information to convince a jury. There were holes in the story, and plausible other suspects and holes in the timeline. In the end, Lizzie was found innocent, and there were no subsequent retrials. Did Lizzie do it? History can only guess.

The version of the story presented in Lizzie: The Musical focuses on the four primary women involved in the aftermath of the story: Lizzie Andrew Borden and her older sister Emma; Lizzie’s neighbor and friend Alice Russell; and their maid Bridget Sullivan. The parental generation for the girls (their father, their step-mother, and their mother) are only referenced; John Morse, their uncle, who was visiting the house at the time of the murder, is not mentioned at all. Neither is their other neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, who helped investigate afterwards. The focus of the story is more the relationships between the girls and their parents. There is an (implied) relationship between Lizzie and Alice (this was mentioned in some versions of the story, as well as implied relationships between Lizzie and Bridget). There is the hint of sexual abuse from Lizzie’s father toward’s Lizzie. It is also made clear that both girls hated their step-mother, and that they saw her as only going after their father’s money (which they considered theirs as well). There was also clear resentment from Bridget towards the girls and her employer. Lastly, the story made clear the fact that Lizzie was somewhat strange in her behavior and attachments.

The music in the story had a strong rock tinge — whether punk or not I cannot say, only that it wasn’t as loud as I expected. The show is essentially sung through, and the dialogue captures quite a few of the nuances from the story, such as their eating food until it became rotten and made them sick, the heat wave, the cheapness of the senior Bordens. The rock music allowed for a strong impression of the anger of the situation, and the raw emotion that was certainly there. I think it also is the reason why this version of the story — as opposed to a more traditional musical approach — is growing in popularity. In a number of ways, it reminded me of the raw emotion of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Lizzie - The Musical (Chance): Production PhotosOverall, story-wise and music-wise, what is my outgoing impression? That’s hard to say. This wasn’t my favorite musical, but it was quite interesting. It presented an interesting take on the story, and used the medium of music to capture the strength of the anger and emotion quite well. It was a reasonably accurate retelling of the story, and I could easily see the music of this show growing on me. Although there is violence in the story, it isn’t pictured in a strongly graphic or gratuitous nature. There is strong language. It’s not a subject you would think would work well, but it does.

This is a musical that touches on some very strong subject matter — sexual abuse, incest, lesbian relationships, murder, and anger. It captures the rawness of the resulting emotions through the emotional release of hard punkish rock musical. If you can deal with that, I think you’ll enjoy this show. The performances are strong, and the story is interesting and compelling. It also has a resonance to today, with the echos of early empowerment of women choosing to take back their lives. If you are unsure, I suggest you sample the concept album available for the show — it provides a good taste of what you will be seeing. As I think about it more and more, I’m really liking it.

Under the direction of Jocelyn A. Brown (FB), with choreography by Hazel Clarke (FB) and musical direction by Robyn Manion (FB), the show, well, rocks with a strong energy and rock vibe. The set itself is very abstractionist, so the creation of the characters comes from the performances, costumes, and properties. Brown did a good job of establishing the four women as very different personals: Emma is hard, Lizzie is strange and oddly withdrawn, Alice is emotional, and Bridget is an observer and sardonic. It is harder to judge the dance as I am not an aficionado of the punk scene, but there are moves that feel punkish. In fact, in many ways they seem a bit overdone punkish, with a lot of head swinging and hair flinging during the harder rock scenes. Whether that was an accurate expression of the inner rage, or a caricature of punk movement, I cannot say. The music was strong and hard and loud … but not too loud.

The actors were all strong. In the lead position was Monika Peña (FB) as Lizzie Andrew Borden, who we had last seen in Claudio Quest, but who is a Chance regular. Peña again brought an inner strength to the character: one felt there was something behind her anger and attitude, and she conveyed that not only through what she said but through her motion and attitude. Peña had a strong rock voice, and handled her numbers well.

As Lizzie’s friend Alice Russell, Jisel Soleil Ayon (FB) was also extremely strong in her performance. This is no surprise; she blew us away when we saw her in Edges at CSUN. She was great in her vocals; she also brought loads of emotion of her role and provided just the right nuances of the relationship with Lizzie.

Nicole Gentile (FB) was fun to watch as Bridget Sullivan (Maggie to Lizzie and Emma). Perhaps it is because I’m a sucker for an Irish accent. In any case, she was essentially the narrator and outside observer, having the burden of providing the necessary exposition and sardonic commentary and implications of the story. This she did well, as well as rocking her numbers with a clear attitude that shone through her performance.

Lastly, Alli Rose Schynert (FB) played Lizzie’s sister, Emma Borden. She has a smaller role, as in real life Emma left before the murders occurred and returned just afterwards. Schynert’s portrayal captures Emma as a angry older young woman (she was likely in her mid-20s at the time) with a very short fuse. Initially, I thought her portrayal might have been a bit over the top; thinking more, it seemed to fit what I read about the character. She had a strong rock singing voice and attitude.

Providing the music was an on-stage band under the direction of the aforementioned Robyn Manion (FB) who was on the keyboard. Working with her was Jimmy Beall (FB) [Bass]; Lorianne Frelly (FB) [Cello]; Jorge Zuniga (FB) [Drums], and Jacob Gonzalez (FB) [Guitar]. Notable here were Manion and Gonzalez. Manion was notable for her conducting attitude and the way she got into the music — watching her lead the other musicians was a clear testament to the enjoyment of this music. Gonzalez had some notable solos during the show during which he just rocked out.

Turning to the production and creative side: Note that the current version of the show credits music to Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer (FB) and Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB); lyrics to Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer (FB) and Tim Maner (FB); and book to Tim Maner (FB). Additional music by Tim Maner (FB); additional lyrics by Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (so everyone does everything). Orchestrations by Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB). Based on an original concept by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer (FB) and Tim Maner (FB).

Back to this production: Kristin Campbell (FB)’s scenic design was dark and abstract, almost scaffold like, but with sufficient arches and spaces to hide various devices. It was not realistic. As such it was augmented by the lighting and projection design of KC Wilkerson (FB), which worked well to establish the mood — especially the lights out into the audience space and the projections. This can be seen in the production photos to the right. Rachael Lorenzetti‘s costume design was an interesting mix of the clothing of the era and a sexy-punk vibe, and worked well. Ryan Brodkin (FB)’s sound design did not overpower (as I feared it might). Additional production credits: Jessica Johnson (FB) [Dramaturg]; Kelsey Somerville (FB) [Stage Manager]; Casey Long (FB) [Managing Director]; Erika C. Miller (FB) [Development Director]; Masako Tobaru (FB) [Technical Director]; Bebe Herrera (FB) [Production Manager], and many more Chance staff and production team members. Oanh Nguyen (FB) is the Executive Artistic Director of the Chance Theatre (FB).

Lizzie: The Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) through March 3, 2019. It is well worth the drive down to the Anaheim Hills to see the show, especially if you wanted to see it in Los Angeles but couldn’t work it into your schedule. I’ll note that running parallel to Lizzie at the Chance is their youth production of James and the Giant Peach. We saw this last year, and it was a joy. It features music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the team behind DogfightDear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman. That is also a production worth seeing. Tickets for Lizzie and James are available through the Chance website; discount tickets for both may be available on Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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

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

 

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🎭 Finding Your Center | “The Joy Wheel” @ Ruskin Group Theatre

The Joy Wheel (Ruskin Group Theatre)I recently passed the 30 year milestone at my place of employ (what, you think I write up theatre for a living‽). Unsurprisingly, questions of retirement have started to cross my head, although I’ve still got a good 10 years to go). For many men, the sense of identity you get through your job is central to your life, and when you retire, that identity goes “poof”. What then? What do you hold on to? What anchors you?

I think that’s the question at the heart of the world premiere play, The Joy Wheel, by Ian McRae (FB), which just opened at the Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica (and which we saw Sunday afternoon). The play explores the relationship between Stella and Frank Conlin. As the play opens, Frank is in the process of retiring from a 45 year career at some unnamed plant or factory, getting the retirement party, the de rigueur gold watch, and presumably the hearty handshake. This momentous occasion has unsettled Frank: he’s nervous about his future, and nervous about having to give the speech, and desperately needs his wife to hang on to. But Stella has been talked out of the house to participate in a community play — a mounting of a show very similar to The Vagina Monologuesand in doing so is getting in touch with parts of herself that she had long neglected or fogotten. Frank had been neglecting those parts as well, leaving the two of them to grow apart.

So where did Frank grab instead? His friend, Stew. Stew used to work with Frank at the factory but had been laid off for some unspecified reason (although there was an implication that he had gone at little batshit at work); he grew close to Frank after that, and after Stew’s wife left him. Stew is a prepper, a survivalist who believes that the government and society is out to get him, and who must establish elaborate bunkers and facilities in order to survive the coming apocalypse and repopulate the world. Stew has convinced Frank to drain his pool, and turn the space into an underground bunker, and to buy into his survivalist beliefs (which Frank does, a little half-heartedly).

Frank’s retirement brings everything to a head, however. Stella isn’t there for him, and he screws up his speech. Stella is drawn into the show, and the sphere of influence of her wisecracking liberal and liberated friend Margie, whose attitudes bring her into direct conflict to the toxic masculinity and attitudes of the prepper, Stew. It doesn’t help that Stella is upset about the pool conversion and the change in Frank.

With this setup, the play explores how Frank regains his anchor, and what happens to Stew when he loses his. The title of the play, The Joy Wheel, relates to an old-time spinning amusement park ride. If you’re at the edges, the centripetal force will spin you off. But if you can make it to that pole in the center and hold on, you’re stable. But if someone else grabs you along the way, you can lose your stability and go spinning off to the void.

The Joy Wheel (Ruskin Group) - Publicity PhotosThis is the second show we’ve seen at Ruskin (the first was Paradise), and they are two for two. This production was funny and touching and just a joy to watch. As usual, there are many factors that contributed towards this.

Ian McRae’s story, under the direction of Jason Alexander, hit a realistic nerve. Although I do not understand the prepper mentality, I can understand your identity being closely tied to a long-held job (as I’ve been doing cybersecurity for 33 years), and being adrift when that identity goes away. I can also understand the couple in the show, growing apart as different interests, friends, and hobbies pull and tug at you, and try to get you to the edge of that wheel. I recognize the struggle shown in the show of holding onto that center: of figuring out what really keeps you stable in your life.

The point the show makes by its conclusion is a strong one: what keeps us centered isn’t our work, and it isn’t our hobbies. It is our closest relationships: the family we are born with, or the family we choose to make. That’s a good point.

The journey the show makes to get to that point — the journey that allows the central characters to find that pole and hold on (to use the metaphor of the title) — is an interesting one. Each character has something trying to pull them out of the central relationship. Stew is trying to pull Frank into the prepper world: questioning and trusting no one, believing that the world is out to get him. Margie is similarly tugging at Stella to get out into the liberated world, to pull away from Frank and his craziness and to explore the wild side of herself. Each are strong pulls, but the central relationship is like a novelty finger toy, tugging back the harder one tries to escape it. It makes for good theatre.

This brings us to the second factor that makes the show so good: the performances. I recall reading somewhere that the essence of performance for an actor is listening: listening to the audience, and listening to the other actors. This is one of the first shows where I really noticed the listening going on, and it made a big difference. If you see the show (and I suggest you should), watch the actors in the background as they listen and react to the performers in the foreground — especially in the final scenes. These performers are communicating the story non-verbally through their attention. It is fascinating to watch.

Portraying the central characters are Dann Florek (FB) as Frank Conlin and Gina Hecht (FB) as Stella Conlin. My wife likes to refer to LA Theatre as an actor’s playground — it is where actors from TV and film go out to play and exercise their acting muscles — and where we the audience benefit from their having fun. This was a prime example of these: these are two name actors primarily from the film and TV side who give remarkable performances, having loads of fun inhabiting these characters and playing off the other actors, and amplifying the audience. Further, as any audience member will tell you, when the actors are having fun, the audience has fun, and a performance feedback loop is created making the show even better.

Florek and Hecht make these characters come alive, and turn the potential caricatures into real people you might enjoy knowing in real life. You feel they have been married for 45+ years, that they know each other’s foibles and truly care about each others. It was fun to watch.

Supporting the central characters are Lee Garlington (FB) as Margie and Maury Sterling (FB) as Stew.  Garlington’s Margie is a wise-cracking gem. As written by McRae, she has the words to fight back against the attitudes of Sterling’s Stew. What Garlington is able to add, however, is the perfect attitude to go with the lines. That attitude also shows is her interactions with Hecht’s Stella, subtly encouraging subversion through the wordless interaction on top of the written words. She is just a joy to watch. Sterling’s performance brings the appropriate level of paranoid and BSC to Stew (and what is it with folks named Stew being BSC — I know one from work as well). Yes, Stew is more of caricature, but the performance brings a nice depth to it.

Understudies (who we did not see) are: Christine Kaplan (FB) [Margie]; Jim Stapleton (FB) [Frank]; and Mercer Boffey (FB) [Stew].

This brings us to the third factor that makes the show work: creativity. The Ruskin is a tiny tiny space. Think of a rectangle with seating on two of the four sides. Around the rest they have to fit the set. Set designer John Iacovelli (FB) somehow figured out how to get both the inside of the house as well as the prepper’s pool into all of this. The figures to the right will give you an idea of the house set; for the prepper pool, they brought in rolling carts with all the prepper supplies, and arranged it so that the normal door in the back up a small flight of stairs was tilted at perhaps a 50° angle, increasing the perception you were going down into a pool. This necessitated complicated scenery changes, which the director, Jason Alexander, addressed by having a single character give their dialogue (essentially a brief monologue) with a single light on them, allowing the scene change to go on behind in the dark while the audience was distracted. It all worked well. This scenery was supported by the property design of Props Master David Saewert (FB). The lighting and sound design of Edward Salas worked well to establish time, place, and mood. Sarah Figoten‘s costumes seemed appropriate for the place and era, and worked to establish the characters well. Other production credits: Nicole Millar (FB) [Stage Manager]; Hamilton Matthews (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Laura McRae (FB) [Asst. Director]Amelia Mulkey Anderson [Graphic Design]Paul Ruddy [Casting]Judith Borne [Publicity]; Nina Brissey [Videographer].  The Joy Wheel was produced by John Ruskin [Artistic Director, RGT] and Michael Myers (FB) [Managing Director, RGT].

The Joy Wheel continues at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) through March 24, 2019. It is a fun and enjoyable show; well-worth seeing. Tickets are available online through Ruskin; they do not appear to be listed on Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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

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