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Your Musical Theatre Resource for Southern California!

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    The company of The Baker's Wife. Photos by Lindsay Schnebly

    Yes, it’s true. “Too much truth can be hard to digest.” By the time those words are spoken in the second act of The Baker’s Wife it’s been made painfully clear that everyone in this provincial French village needs a healthy dose of reality.

    It’s 1935 and the only baker in town has died. What a tragedy for these unfortunate townspeople who have been forced to exist without the comfort of their croissants and baguettes for weeks. When we meet them at the top of the show, they are squabbling incessantly over the stupidest things. In fact, two of them don’t even know why they fight, but their fathers and grandfathers did before them so they’ve continued the feud like lemmings. (Sounds like a lot of the world, right?)

    You’d think that when a new baker arrives in town they would all stop arguing and be happy to have their bread at last but even when they get what they want, they still don’t stop bickering. The moral of the story will come late in the day. Until then, get ready for a hefty dose of chauvinism among men who treat their wives like dirt and women who pretend it doesn’t matter. It’s a town that makes a poor case for marriage, but then again, if any of them actually responded to each other with honesty and respect there would be no need to tell this fable so on we go.

    When the new baker (Greg Baldwin) arrives with his pretty young wife (Chelle Denton) we see that even they have adopted a false reality to keep up appearances. We learn a little about them but not enough to really become invested in their situation. A handsome young man (Nick Echols) will convince her to run away with him but even that is a false reality she will come to regret. 

    The musical is based on Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono’s French film La Femme de Boulanger, adapted by Joseph Stein (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music & lyrics), here directed by Richard Israel, an expert in staging intimate musicals with precision and charm. He does that again with this production but because the tale is a basic one stretched out over more stage time than it really needs to tell the story, the success of the show rests with the actors’ ability to offer emotional depth that isn’t written on the page. Among this set of players that ability is inconsistent, and since more time is spent on the townspeoples irritating behavior rather than the plight of its leading players, it becomes tiresome. Still, the show does spring to life in some of its more celebratory slice of life moments where the cast comes together as one.
      
    Schwartz’s score is a true delight with musical director Jake Anthony at the helm. He leads a 5-member band consisting of piano, accordion, flute & recorder, bass, and percussion (including a washboard and spoons). The choral sound he achieves with the ensemble is heavenly and rest assured the show’s most well-known song “Meadowlark” is ably sung by Denton. Music theatre fans who have never seen the show -- and that is almost everyone since the show is not often revived -- will love hearing the score sung live (the best way to experience any musical score).

    Julie Hall’s spirited choreography incorporates traditional production number dance staging into songs like “Bread” that happily adds a measure of unexpected humor. Rich Roses picturesque set and Wendell C. Carmichaels Tuscany-inspired costume designs lend a vintage peasant charm to the visuals.

    What I have always enjoyed about Actors Co-op is that they choose musicals that require them to take a risk. Theyre often musicals you don’t see everyday – musicals with a message populated by colorful characters – musicals that make you think. Like previous productions 110 in the Shade, The World Goes Round, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and The Spitfire GrillThe Baker’s Wife fits that mission to a T.

    Chelle Denton (Genevieve) and Greg Baldwin (Aimable, the Baker)

    Rachel Hirshee, Lindsey Schuberth, Greyson Chadwick & Christopher Maikish

    Chelle Denton (Genevieve) and Nick Echols (Dominique)

    Greyson Chadwick, Lindsey Schuberth, Rachel Hirshee and Greg Baldwin

    THE BAKER’S WIFE
    Sept 16 – Oct 25, 2015
    Actors Co-op
    1760 N. Gower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90028
    --on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood
    Tickets: www.actorsco-op.org

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    Andrew Huber and Leeav Sofer. Photos by Cooper Bates

    You can tell when a theatre company cares about its audience, especially when that audience is largely made up of young people. It doesn’t talk down to them and it doesn’t assume they will only understand the obvious. Instead, its directors take the time to seek out work that is worthy of engagement, provokes thought, and gives more to the world than it takes. It serves both the child and the child in the adult. And that’s what 24th Street Theatre has done with Man Covets Bird, the follow-up to their wildly successful award-winning production of Walking the Tightrope. 

    Common denominators are evident: gentleness, simplicity, a creative spark that delights at every turn, and breathtaking moments both beautiful and poignant. I adored this production as much for its physical elements – story, music, movement, characters – as I did for the many thoughts about life that resonate within its lines: that growing up means change, love comes in all forms, risk can win you great joy, and life in the end is what you make of it. This is a wonderful, beautiful accomplishment by director Debbie Devine and company. 

    Written by leading children’s playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, Devine has taken the one-man play with music and staged it for two men (Andrew Huber as Man and Leeav Sofer as Bird) incorporating an original score by Sofer using his clarinet as the voice of the bird. That decision alone adds a profound sensitivity to the piece. 

    Huber retains a lovable sense of innocence on his adventure from boy to man to seeker of truth in a world that unfolds like an undiscovered country. Animated projections spring to life on the walls of the theater, subtly and delightfully adding dimension to the simple playing area. With Sofer taking on double duty as both composer and actor, there is always a sense of the space being filled with possibility, even in the deliberate silences. The two actors connect intimately and deeply, and because of their open-hearted commitment, we go along with them not quite knowing what to expect but realizing that by the end of the 75-minute journey we will have been part of something extraordinary.

    Share this production with those you love. It is a wonderful gift for the soul. 






    MAN COVETS BIRD
    Directed by Debbie Devine
    Starring Andrew Huber and Leeav Sofer
    Music Direction and Original Music by Leeav Sofer
    Video Design:  Matthew G. Hill
    Lighting Design:  Dan Weingarten
    Sound Design:  Cricket Myers
    Costume Design: Michael Mullen

    September 19 - November 22, 2015
    24th Street Theatre
    1117 W 24th St
    Los Angeles, CA 90007
    Tickets: (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org
    Secure parking is available for $5 in the lot on the southwest corner of 24th and Hoover
    Man Covets Bird is best enjoyed by adults and kids 7 and up.

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    Tickets go on sale November 11 for the Troubies’ holiday show, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown, coming to the Falcon Theatre. Show runs Dec 2 – Jan 17 with opening night on Friday, Dec 11. The fan-favorite is directed by Matt Walker and is the story of Kris Kringle’s (aka Santa Claus) origin as The Troubies take the jolly old man himself and send him to the land of Smokey Miracles and Supreme Temptations. The Falcon Theatre will host Talkbacks with members of Troubadour Theater Company after the show on Jan 6, 7, 13 & 14. www.FalconTheatre.com

    Lythgoe Family Productions is expanding their family-friendly pantos this holiday season with two productions playing concurrently in Southern California - A Snow White Christmas, directed by Chris Baldock, Dec 2-27 at Laguna Playhouse, and Peter Pan and Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas, directed by Bonnie Lythgoe, Dec 9-Jan 3 at Pasadena Playhouse. American Idol’s Michael Orland will serve as musical director and Spencer Liff of So You Think You Can Dance and the current Broadway revival of Spring Awakening will choreograph both productions. Auditions for children to play the dwarves in A Snow White Christmas will be held at Westfield Main Place shopping Mall in Santa Ana on Sunday, Oct 4. For more info go to www.americanpanto.com/casting. Tickets: www.lagunaplayhouse.comwww.pasadenaplayhouse.org

    World premiere musical Breaking Through begins previews Oct 27 at Pasadena Playhouse. Directed by Sheldon Epps and choreographed by Tyce Diorio, it stars Alison Luff, Constantine Maroulis, and Kacee Clanton. The cast will also include Robert W. Arbogast, David Atkinson, Will Collyer, Teya Patt, Katherine Tokarz, and Nita Whitaker, Fatima El-Bashir, Jessica Jaunich, Reed Kelly, Christopher Marcos, Dominic Pierson, Andrew Pirozzi, Terrance Spencer, Laura L. Thomas and Samantha Zack. Breaking Through features book by Kirsten Guenther, and music & lyrics by Cliff Downs and Katie Kahanovitz. Show runs Oct 27 – Nov 1 (opening night 11/1). www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

    Performances of Afros & Ass Whoopins continue Friday nights through Dec 18 at Second City in Hollywood. The original musical comedy is the story of a son who is at odds with his father’s old-world views. Timely as ever, tickets are available for all performances now at www.SecondCity.com or call (323) 464-8542.
    There’s still time to catch California Repertory Company’s premiere of S/He & Me: A Theatrical Cabaret, written by Alexandra Billings, and conceived and directed by Joanne Gordon. The show explores the evolving relationship between Alexandra Billings and Scott – the boy she once was. Performances run through October 11. S/He & Me: A Theatrical Cabaret is a non-linear story of love and reconciliation blending spoken word and Broadway musical numbers that celebrates the journey of transgender actress Alexandra Billings as she examines her relationships with her parents, her wife Chrisanne, and herself. www.calrep.org

    A Feast of Snacks makes its west coast premiere as part of the Theatre Unleashed Late Night Series, Oct 23 – Nov 21. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm from at The Belfry in NoHo. The show is an anthology of four bite-sized comedic musicals, of  different styles that create an hour-long show. 

    In The Alleged Adventures of Blenderman, an ambitious young psychiatrist tries to convince a hospital review board that his patient is fit for release. His work is complicated by his patient's insistence that hes a superhero named Blenderman who fights to save the world from poor nutritional habits. In The Charmed Life (Co-written with Mark Harvey Levine), Margie has experienced unnaturally good luck her entire life. One afternoon she discovers the source of her good luck: a secret admirer, who for years has been covertly making her life better. In Climb the Smallest Mountain, miniature golf legend Darius “Duke” McGovern seems poised to win his seventh world championship until a competitor finds a loophole in the rules that allows him to disrupt Duke’s game. In HMS Headwind, the merry crewmembers of an 18th century British frigate have one problem: their failure to capture a single enemy vessel. www.theatreunleashed.org

    Theatre West’s Storybook Theatre presents The Emperor’s New Clothes, an audience participation musical for children and their families, Oct 10 – Feb 27, 2016 at Theatre West. Featuring book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter, and music by Phil Orem, the show is directed by David P. Johnson and stars Julie McKay, Ashley Kane, Lukas Bailey, Matthew Hoffman, Kathy Garrick and James Patrick Cronin. www.theatrewest.org
    The Wallis will celebrate the holidays with a series of cabaret performances. Schedule includes:
    Amanda McBroom: Let’s Fall in Love (Dec 9)
    Christine Andreas: Love is Good (Dec 10)
    Alice Ripley: All Sondheim (Dec 11) 
    Freda Payne: A Tribute to the Ladies of the Great American Jazz Songbook (Dec 12) 
    Melissa Manchester: Joy (Dec 16) 
    Ute Lemper: Last Tango in Berlin (Dec 17)
    Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra: Holidays. No Ice (Dec 19)
    Christine Ebersole: Big Noice From Winnetka (Jan 25-28) 
    Tickets are available at www.thewallis.org.

    Kristin Towers-Rowles will present A Lovely Lineage in the El Portal Theatre’s Monroe Forum one-night-only on Sunday, Oct 18. The show is directed by Cate Caplin with musical direction by Katie Clark. A Lovely Lineage captures the singer’s historic Broadway and Hollywood lineage, beginning with her grandmother, the legendary Kathryn Grayson, who appeared in beloved movie musicals of the 1950s like Kiss Me, Kate and Show Boat. Opera and musical theatre singer Jahmal Bakare joins Kristin as well. www.elportaltheatre.com


    LA-based singing group The Filharmonic will perform at Valley Performing Arts Center Nov 21. Featured in NBC’s The Sing-Off and Universal Pictures hit movie, Pitch Perfect 2, the group consists of VJ Rosales, Joe Caigoy, Trace Gaynor, Barry Fortgang, vocal bass Jules Cruz, and beat boxer Niko Del Rey who blend an urban hip hop sound with 90’s nostalgia. www.valleyperformingartscenter.org


    From the creator of the award-winning musical spoof Not Les Mis comes Not Phantom, The Musical, an interactive musical specifically created for the legendary Cicada Restaurant. With an original script and music by David Ruben & Nicholas Rubando, directed by David Ruben, you can be sure is not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera. Instead, the show incorporates parody lyrics and in-your-face comedy. Even the audience gets to play along. Opening Oct 28. notphantomthemusical.com

    Step into The Experiment, A Rockin’ Frank + Wighead Insane Cabaret now through Oct 31 at Creating Arts Studio in Santa Monica. Here Dr. Bradley and Nurse Janice welcome you into their private asylum that turns into a sexy, eerie 360 degree immersive parody cabaret. Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm. www.cacstudios.com

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    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment will open RENT by Jonathan Larson on October 23. Directed by Richard Israel with musical direction by John Glaudini and choreography by Dana Solimando, it will run through Nov 15. This all-new production of the inspiring musical about friends and artists struggling with addiction, poverty, AIDS and love is set in New York’s East Village and follows how these young bohemians negotiate their dreams, loves, and conflicts. Cast includes Mark Whitten (Mark), Devin Archer (Roger), Cassie Simone as Mimi, Lawrence Cummings (Angel), John Devereaux (Collins), Emily Goglia (Maureen), Amber Mercomes (Joanne) and Cooper Howell (Benny), with Chassey Bennett , Daniel Dawson, Chanel Edwards-Frederick, Aaron Gordon, Craig Michael Lucas, Luke Monday, John Pinto, Jr. and Alyssa Simmons. www.lamiradatheatre.com

    Coming to The Wallis April 8-9, 2016 is Lightning Thief, a lively musical adaptation of the best-selling young adult novel of the same name. It is the story of Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old boy who journeys into a world of mythological monsters and Greek Gods as he struggles with dyslexia and ADHD, all while solving the mystery of Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. www.thewallis.org.

    DOMA Theatre Company’s remount of Green Day’s American Idiot – RELOADED! will run Oct 2 -Nov 8 at the Met Theatre.  Three lifelong friends are forced to choose between their dreams and the safety of suburbia in this musical featuring music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and book by Bille Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. The show is directed by Marco Gomez and features musical direction by Christopher Raymond and choreography by Angela Todaro. www.domatheatre.com

    The world premiere of pop musical Reunion, A Musical Comedy by Marc Ellis (book, music & lyrics) and Michael Lange (book & lyrics) opens at NoHo Arts Center on November 7. For Elliot, a neurotic but very successful novelist, the searing recollection of his night at the school dance when he lacked the courage to tell that special girl exactly how he felt about her, still haunts him. Years later, a twist of fate has sent Elliot to his high school reunion, for a second chance. Cast includes Sharon Catherine Brown, Christopher Youngsman, Janna Cardia, Ali Axelrod, David Babich, Julia Marie Buis, Michael Gabiano, Bradley Kuykendall, Suzanne Myers, Kim Reed, Jeffrey Rockwell, and Marc Cedric Smith. Kay Cole directs and choreographs. Plays411.com/REUNION

    Out of the Box Theatre Company opens its sixth season with an intimate black box production of Heathers: The Musical. Directed by Jenny Mercein, the limited engagement will run Nov 5-15 at Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara. Heathers is the darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer (Samantha Eve), a brainy misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers (Madelyn Adams as Heather Chandler, Katherine Bottoms as Heather McNamara & Courtney Daniels as Heather Duke). The cast also includes Alex Allen, Hailee Clover, Daniel Jared Hersh, Terry Li, Austin Robert Miller, Janelle Phaneuf, Timothy Reese, Julie Anne Ruggieri, Trevor Shor, Zachary Thompson, Todd Tickner, Sydney Wesson, and Jon Zuber. www.outoftheboxtheatre.org 

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    Emily Lopez as Carrie White. All photos by Jason Niedle

    Where you sit will make a big difference in the kind of experience you will have at Carrie the Killer Musical Experience. Aptly renamed from its earlier revival at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts where it was known as Carrie the Musical, it has now been adapted for a larger space with added seats and a pre-show opportunity to wander the historic Los Angeles Theatre for spooky photo ops in various locations extracted from the show. The shower stall with blood-stained graffiti, a distressed locker room, and deserted prom auditorium with remnants of decorations all add to the creep factor of staging a horror musical in a worn, but still stunning, 1930s movie palace. You can almost feel the ghosts peering out of the corners.

    Much like it was configured at La Mirada, the audience is seated on bleacher-style benches that surround the stage on three sides. Four pods of movable bleachers at the front of those sections rotate in various ways throughout the performance giving audience members the intimate immersive experience everyone is raving about. And it’s true. While the seats are pricey, they are entirely worth it for how involved you’ll be with the characters. It’s always the experience you remember later anyway, not the souvenirs or things that end up shoved into a drawer.

    We go to the theater to have an experience. THIS is the Los Angeles theatre experience of a lifetime. 

    Misty Cotton and Emily Lopez

    Sit here and you’ll feel Carrie’s pain and embarrassment as your own. You’ll feel how Chris’s atrocious behavior will make your blood boil. And you’ll feel the dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter with a horror that sits in the pit of your stomach.

    By contrast, the stationary bleachers do not allow you to feel like part of the experience in the same way. If you sit in the first two rows of the side sections you’ll have sight line issues and won’t be able to see over the pods when they close in on the actors in several critical scenes, including the opening shower scene. (Plus, on the house left section you’ll have to contend with generator noise). Choose seats higher up on the sides or anywhere in the middle section for a better overall view.

    This is also one show for which youll want to arrive early because that’s where you’ll get the other half of the immersive experience. Wandering around the Los Angeles Theatre is one of the great perks of buying a ticket. Plus, you’ll be part of history. This is the first time a live theatre production has been staged in what was once a lavish film venue that premiered the likes of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. It’s creepy and wonderful, unsettling and fantastic, just like Carrie.

    The well-cast ensemble – most of them returning from the La Mirada production – continues to throw everything they have into their performances. Emily Lopez’s (Carrie) evolution from mousy outcast to winsome prom queen to raging retaliator has grown and expanded much like the production itself, and Misty Cotton, as her mother Margaret, owns every inch of that 499 seat theater. Alone on the stage singing “When There’s No One,” she focuses enough energy in the intense stillness to compel every eye with only the sound of her voice, and she holds it for an entire song. I dare you to look away.

    In expanding the production for the larger space, director Brady Schwind has added effects, enhanced the supernatural element, and continued to evolve its many moving parts. Since this was not my first experience with Carrie, some of the audacious staging didn’t have the same element of surprise as it did initially, but no matter. The work is still astonishing and, if this is your first time seeing Carrie, you’ll be blown away.

    Even the design team has moved in to the Los Angeles Theatre and adapted to the unusual space with considerable ingenuity (Stephen Giffordscenic design, Cricket S. Myers - sound design, Jim Steinmeyer - illusions, Paul Ruben - flying sequences, Adriana Lambarri - costumes and Brian Gale - lighting & projections).

    In fact, Gale’s lighting reveal in the second Act is the stunner of the night. Capitalizing on the theater’s cavernous upper reaches, he spills glitter ball splendor over the entire audience in a single breathtaking moment. It caught me completely off guard and was absolutely stunning. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

    As for the rest, my previous review still applies so I have included it below the photos. There’s nothing else to say but go!

    Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton

    Garrett Marshall and Valerie Rose Curiel

    The Company of CARRIE the Musical

    Jon Robert Hall (center) and Kayla Parker (balcony)

    CARRIE the Killer Musical Experience
    October 1 - November 22, 2015
    Los Angeles Theatre

    615 S. Broadway
    Los Angeles, CA 90014
    Tickets: (888) 596-1027 or
    www.ExperienceCarrie.com

    Thursday, March 19, 2015
    Review: Third Time's a Charm for CARRIE THE MUSICAL

    Twice before, producers have attempted to bring Stephen King’s horror novel, Carrie, to the stage but were met with less than positive results. The musical’s first U.S. production played an embarrassing16 previews and 5 performances on Broadway before it was shuttered and a 2012 revival Off-Broadway closed early after only a month of performances and disappointing sales.

    But, as they say, third time’s a charm, and director Brady Schwind’s immersive vision of Lawrence D. Cohen (book), Dean Pitchford (lyrics), and Michael Gore’s (music) musical has resurrected this phoenix from the dead in a way that will thrill audiences and finally give it the life the creators always hoped it would have. Yes, in La Mirada Theatre’s production, blood drops, Jesus flies, and an electric cast brings the fires of hell to life in an unforgettable intimately experiential setting.You’ll be sorry if you miss it so get your tickets now.

    That setting (creatively envisioned by Stephen Gifford) is one in which the audience is placed on stage right up against the action. There are stationary bleacher units as well as movable pods that continually revolve to create a changeable playing area. We were seated in one of the four moving sections that put us very close to the actors and I highly suggest choosing those if you can. (They are the red A Level sections when you go to buy tickets). They give you a unique perspective on the story, especially when the space closes in around the students in an almost stifling way.

    You’re there in the shower with Carrie huddled naked on the floor, and you’re there in the gym when Chris refuses to apologize for her actions. You can feel the slap before Margaret throws her daughter in the closet, and when Carrie begins to experiment with her telekinetic abilities, you can feel the power surge in the shadowy room. Gifford’s a problem-solver from the word go and this show certainly presented logistical challenges. His big reveal at the prom is so effective the audience around me gasped.

    It’s also a brave production, thanks to the glorious debut performance of Emily Lopez as Carrie and that of music theatre veteran Misty Cotton as her mother, Margaret. Neither one shies away from the vulnerability required of them, nor do they tiptoe around their dysfunctional relationship. Lopez has a lovely lyrical singing voice and a naïve subtlety that works beautifully for her socially disadvantaged character while Cotton poignantly reveals the obsessions of a bible-thumping mother deathly afraid of being alone. Few can do a song like “When There’s No One” true justice and Cotton’s tour de force performance turns it into a visceral showstopper.

    Kayla Parker, excellent as good girl Sue Snell, narrates the events leading up to the fatal prom and realizes too late that “Once You See” you can never un-see what your actions have done. A brash Valerie Rose Curiel leads the charge for revenge as the vicious Chris whose taunts show how damaging bullying can be (and how damaged many teens really are). Her motto is to strike first before you’re struck and with her jerk of a boyfriend Billy in tow (played by a physically intimidating Garrett Marshall) she plots her payback. Jenelle Lynn Randall nails the humor and attitude of PE teacher Miss Gardner.

    Vibrant choreography by Lee Martino captures the angst of youth with its percussive moves and sharp energy. Musically the production has real impact due to the way music director Brian P. Kennedy matches the specificity of a character’s personality to his or her musical style. Miniature speakers mounted in front of the movable audience pods are a great solution to making the sound work and designer Cricket Myers also pulls a few surprises out of her bag of tricks to accompany the special effects designed by illusionist Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Rubin (responsible for the flying sequences).

    From the cast to the creative team to the cult status previously established, this is a show with so much going for it yet its success really begins and ends with the director. Were it not for Brady Schwind and his vision, this wouldn’t be nearly the exciting event that it is and colleagues from around the country wouldn’t be calling and emailing me to see what it was like. I kid you not – this IS an event…and the rest of the country wants it. If you’re in LA, get in on it now.

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    Gilgamesh Taggett and Issie Swickle. Photos by Joan Marcus

    As I was waiting for my theatre guest to arrive at the Pantages Tuesday night for the opening of Annie, a school bus pulled up. Within seconds, a gaggle of little girls spilled out onto the sidewalk shrieking in anticipation while taking pictures of the sparkly marquee on their smart phones. They were only minutes away from seeing her – that spunky little red-haired orphan, Annie, and they could barely contain themselves. 

    Their excitement was infectious, their joy real, and in that moment I realized something fairly obvious. It doesn’t matter how much the world has changed, Annie is a musical that will always have an audience. There will always be little girls and little boys breathlessly waiting to hear that much loved (and often reviled) anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow” sung by a plucky adolescent who never loses her ability to look on the bright side.

    I would bet that part of the appeal is most of those little girls see themselves as Annie, or see themselves as the Annie they would aspire to be: smart, honest, kind-hearted, and resilient regardless of the challenges life throws in her path. It was comforting to see their innocence.

    Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin’s (lyrics) Tony Award-winning Broadway musical has been around since 1977. It has had multiple national and international tours, and its regional and school productions must number in the tens of thousands by now. Optimism sells and this is one musical that wears its label “family-friendly” with pride. 

    Charnin has directed the show 18 times previously, including two of its Broadway iterations – the original which starred Andrea McArdle and Dorothy Loudon, and its first revival in 1997 with Brittny Kissinger and Nell Carter. The most recent touring production playing through November 1st at the Hollywood Pantages marks his 19th time at the helm.

    Issie Swickle and Lilly Mae Stewart

    For this tour, 10-year old Issie Swickle dons the red wig as Annie and Lynn Andrews steps into the comic shoes of Miss Hannigan. At her young age, Swickle has yet to develop her acting chops but there’s no way you’ll miss her singing voice. Like all of the urchins, her vocal placement is laser-focused right through the nasal cavities and the sound is bright and resonant. The volume is always forte, and the diction is crisper than crisp.

    Of course, what is sacrificed in order to accomplish that precision is anything that comes close to nuance, so don’t expect any. This is a straightforward, stand-and-smile-your-way-through-the-song-no-matter-what style of direction from beginning to end. Prepare for that and you’ll be able to appreciate the show’s presentational wholesomeness in the spirit in which Charnin offers it. It’s hokey and cheesy and full of the stuff that makes the younger set scream to the rafters all night long. Musical sugar on steroids – that’s Annie.

    Andrews’ Miss Hannigan (my guest and I decided) is a combination of Melissa McCarthy and Nell Carter giving a Mama Rose performance like her life depended on it. She’s a ballsy singer and funny with the shtick. Plus, she can dance like nobody’s business. But playing to the audience so broadly keeps her in superficial territory, even if she is the crowd favorite.

    Garrett Deagon (Rooster) can get away with broad for funny’s sake because that’s all the character is. He’s a loosey goosey con man with a vacuous bleached blonde as a sidekick (Lucy Werner as Lily). You don’t expect more so he easily delivers. Gilgamesh Taggett is a likeable, if somewhat predictable, Oliver Warbucks.

    Issie Swickle and the Company of Annie

    What was unpredictable -- and quite beautiful -- were Beowulf Boritt’s floor to ceiling backdrops of New York City. Like three-dimensional vintage photographs in an antique viewfinder, their intricate detail and vast perspective gave this touring production a much more elegant rendering than I would have thought possible.

    So grab a kid or two and dress yourself up in your best smile. Annie is the kind of classic musical that doesnt apologize for its saccharine sweetness. It embraces it with everything its got. And if you need one more reason to go, it has a built-in heart-melter. Sandy, the dog. And you cant go wrong on stage with a dog. Ever.

    L-R: Isabel Wallach, Lilly Mae Stewart, LillyBea Ireland, Issie Swickle,
    Angelina Carballo, Sydney Shuck and Adia Dant

    Lynn Andrews

    Lucy Werner, Garrett Deagon, and Lynn Andrews 

    The Company of ANNIE

    ANNIE
    October 13 – November 1, 2015
    Hollywood Pantages
    6233 Hollywood Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90028
    Tickets: (323) 468-1768 or www.hollywoodpantages.com

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    Cabrillo Music Theatre’s season opens with Damn Yankees, directed by Kirsten Chandler, playing now through October 25, 2015 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Aging, die-hard Washington Senators baseball fan Joe Boyd will do anything for the Senators to beat the New York “damn” Yankees and win the pennant...even make a deal with the devil. See what happens in the baseball musical that will have you singing and dancing right along with it. Tickets are available at www.cabrillomusictheatre.com. Batter up!

    Katheryne Penny and the Ballplayers

    Renée Marino (Lola) and the Boys

    John Sloman (Applegate), John Atkins and Sarah Tattersall (Meg Boyd)

    Renée Marino (Lola) and John Sloman (Applegate)

    Travis Leland (Joe Hardy) and Renée Marino (Lola)

    Katheryne Penny and the Ballplayers

    The Ballplayers

    Sarah Tattersall (Meg) and Travis Leland (Joe)

    Renée Marino (Lola) and the Boys

    Katheryne Penny and the Ballplayers

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    Rachel York (Morticia) and Bronson Pinchot (Gomez)

    3-D Theatricals revival of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s The Addams Family (music & lyrics by Andrew Lippa) starring Bronson Pinchot and Rachel York as Gomez and Morticia Addams, directed by TJ Dawsonruns through Oct 25 at Fullertons Plummer Auditorium, followed by a second run Oct 31 – Nov 8 at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets for both locations are avaialable at www.3dtshows.com. All photos by Isaac James Creative.

    The Cast of The Addams Family

    Micaela Martinez and Dante Marenco

    Anthony Gruppuso and the Cast of The Addams Family

    Candi Milo and the Cast of The Addams Family

    Micaela Martinez and Dino Nicandros

    Bronson Pinchot and Rachel York

    Tracy Rowe Mutz and the Cast of The Addams Family

    The Cast of The Addams Family

    Tracy Rowe Mutz, Robert Yacko, Dino Nicandros and Dustin Ceithamer

    Rachel York and Micaela Martinez

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    Barbara Carlton Heart, Kevin McMahon, Josh Wise, Stephanie Fredricks, J
    ake Novak, and Shaina Knox. All photo by Suzanne Mapes

    He has been studied, copied, emulated, and lauded but one fact is indisputable. Stephen Sondheim is American Musical Theatre royalty. And rightfully so. All of his efforts have been in pursuit of making the work better. Where other writers would bring 20 or 30 options for a word or idea to a meeting with his collaborators, Sondheim would bring 150. That’s one of the things we learn about the man in Sondheim on Sondheim playing at International City Theatre.

    The show is a revue that intersperses archival photographs, video clips, and interviews with songs from musicals like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (along with stories of how difficult it was to find the right opening number), Company (and it’s early alternate endings), Gypsy, Follies, Passion, Sweeney Todd, Do I Hear a Waltz (the one he felt was a waste of time) and Sunday in the Park with George (his favorite) sung by a cast of six. 


    He is the master of crafting a simple lyric or writing a sophisticated harmonic progression, and can suspend a moment in time just long enough for it to land with finesse before moving on. In Sondheim on Sondheim we hear him talk about his process and share stories – some sweet, some poignant, and a few, downright hilarious. It is an enchanting evening that will make every Sondheim lover feel like they have had a personal conversation with Sondheim himself.


    Despite much speculation, Sondheim says he only wrote one autobiographical song in his career – “Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along. It’s a song that represents the dreams and determination of three young creative artists trying to make it in show business – a writer, a lyricist and a composer (based on Mary Rodgers, Hal Prince, Sondheim and every other struggling artist he knew at the time). In it, he encapsulates their plight with remarkable specificity and weaves together the lyric and melody so compactly that the form itself tells the story as much as the words and music do.


    And that’s what is missing from International City Theatre’s LA premiere. Theirs is a perfectly respectable musical revue nicely staged by director DJ Gray in a very general kind of way. That’s the problem. Sondheim is famous for exploring the underbelly of our emotions. Behind every “normal” looking person is a complicated set of issues and neuroses that play into the decisions a person makes. He is the king of subtext, the master of nuance, and always wrote for specific characters and specific situations.

    For a song to work, it requires that the singers be able to reach deep within and, not only find what the song is really saying, but be able to communicate it to the audience with clarity. Translation: you can’t just sing the notes and make them pretty. You have to do the internal work and that takes time. Young singers who haven’t had much life experience are at a distinct disadvantage and must compensate by doing the work.


    By the same token, a singer cannot take a song like “Loving You” from Passion, written with long beautiful phrases and specific punctuation, and not honor that phrasing. To breathe every few notes, presumably for effect or because breath support isn’t there, chops up the line and does the song a disservice. Likewise, a comic masterpiece like “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” that has so many changes of thought and rhythm should have the audience in stitches until the bitter undertone takes over the song. But the actor needs to be up to the task to be successful.


    Intonation was also an issue on opening night for both solos and ensemble numbers. Everything sticks out when you’re working with these kinds of close harmonies and in only a few of the numbers did the cast really jell. “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and the second half of “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George where gorgeous.

    L-R: Jake Novak, Kevin McMahon, Stephanie Fredrics, and Josh Wise

    On the flip side, there are songs in this production that do work, and quite beautifully. Stephanie Fredricks and Josh Wise’s “So Many People in the World” is a lovely example of simplicity that serves the song. The arrangement features Jennifer Li on cello and Roman Solazinka on violin in the accompaniment and, if you listen closely, the strings literally sing in the background. The orchestrations are by Michael Starobin and the arrangements are by David Loud and they are some of the most beautiful and unexpected you’ll hear. Musicians, you’ll find a lot to love.

    Fredricks also does a rich and poignant version of “Good Thing Going” and a seductive turn with the boys in “Ah, But Underneath” that are highlights. Kevin McMahon’s emotional evolution in “Being Alive” was heartfelt and brilliantly effective, as was his moving “Finishing the Hat.” 


    But even if every song had been on point, the star of this show is still Sondheim himself, as well it should be. James Lapine, Sondheim’s longtime collaborator, with whom he wrote some of his best work, conceived the revue as a gift for Sondheim’s 80th birthday. To see how charming he was as a young man, to see the sparkle in his eyes captured in the photographs and hear what he has to say about himself is more than enough reason to not miss the show.


    “Art is the other way to have children,” Sondheim says late in the second act. His kind of art will continue as a legacy for musical theatre generations to come. And happily, we will continue to roll along and reap the benefits.

    The Cast of Sondheim on Sondheim

    L-R: Kevin McMahon, Stephanie Fredricks, Josh Wise,
    Jake Novak, and Shaina Knox

    SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM
    October 14 - November 8, 2015

    International City Theatre
    Long Beach Performing Arts Center

    300 East Ocean Blvd.
    Long Beach, CA 90802
    Tickets: (562) 436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

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    Matt Magnusson replaces the previously announced Constantine Maroulis as Scorpio in the company of Breaking Through at Pasadena Playhouse. The world premiere musical is choreographed by Tyce Diorio and directed by Sheldon Epps. Maroulis has left the company due to personal matters. Epps says, “I am so happy that Matt will be joining our cast and enhancing our wonderful company of actors. Along with several others involved in the production, I have had the pleasure of working with him before and we are all pleased to have him with us for this world premiere musical. I know that his very special talents will be an exciting and inspiring addition to a production which is already giving me great pride and causing anticipation.” The company also includes Alison Luff, Kacee Clanton, Robert W. Arbogast, Will Collyer, Teya Patt, Katherine Tokarz, and Nita Whitaker. Preview performances begin October 27, with the official press opening on November 1st. Show runs through Nov 22. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

    The Colony Theatre is bringing the wildly successful, El Grande de Coca-Cola by Ron House, directed by Alan Shearman and based on El Grande de Coca-Cola by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman, and John Neville-Andrews to its stage beginning Nov 5. Originally produced by Skylight Theatre Company & Flying Cucumber Productions, it ran 14 sold-out weeks at the Skylight Theatre. Meet Pepe Hernandez (Marcelo Tubert), over-ambitious patriarch of the world’s most dubious family of entertainers (Paul Baird, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Lila Depree & Aaron Miller), whose unflagging confidence cobbled from decades spent touring the bottom-rung nightclub circuit south-of-the-border, has inspired him to ascend into big-top territory and head north to…Burbank, legendary home of Walt Disney, IKEA, and now Pepe Hernandez! The family-friendly multi-cultural show will run through December 13 before heading to London. There will be question-and-answer talkbacks after the performances on Friday, Nov 13, and Thursday, Dec 3rd. www.colonytheatre.org

    Lindsay Pearce and Marina Sirtis will star in the Laguna Playhouse production of Lythgoe Family Productions’ A Snow White Christmas, with Neil Patrick Harris Onscreen as the Magic Mirror. This Panto at The Playhouse production is directed by Chris Baldock with choreography by Spencer Liff and musical supervision by Michael Orland. The cast also includes Jonathan Meza (Muddles), Neil Dale (Herman the Huntsman), James Royce Edwards (Prince Harry), and 7 local children as the Seven Dwarfs. This updated version of the classic tale features family-friendly magic, comedy, dancing, a live miniature pony and contemporary music from Katy Perry’s Firework to Huey Lewis and the News’ Power of Love to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and more. Panto’s interactive style and humor appeals to everyone from ages 2 – 102 so mark your calendar now for the show’s run, December 2-27. www.lagunaplayhouse.com

    The Pasadena Playhouse and Lythgoe Family Productions have also announced the cast for this year’s Panto at the Playhouse, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas. Sabrina Carpenter as will star as Wendy with Kevin Quinn as Peter Pan, Nikki SooHoo as Tiger Lily, Corey Fogelmanis as John, and August Maturo as Michael. Show opens Dec 9 and runs through Jan 3, 2016. One hour before every performance, guests and their families are also invited to enjoy Winter Wonderland in The Playhouse’s Courtyard, complete with holiday crafts and activities, including Santa photo opportunities (Dec 9-24). www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

    Musical Theatre Guild presents a one-night-only concert staging of Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents 1965 musical Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Alex Theatre on Sunday, November 15. Based on Laurents’ play The Time of the Cuckoo, the musical follows American spinster Leona Samish (Kim Huber) on her journey to Venice, Italy where she finds that romance doesn’t always turn out as planned. The cast also includes MTG members Lindsey Alley, Eileen Barnett, Doug Carfrae, Zachary Ford, Marsha Kramer, Ashley Fox Linton and guest artists David Crane, Jude Mason and Robert Yacko, directed by Richard Israel with musical direction by Jennifer Lin, choreography by John Todd. www.musicaltheatreguild.com

    A Christmas Memory opens Nov 27 at Sierra Madre Playhouse and will run through Dec 27. Based on the short story by Truman Capote it features book by Duane Poole, music by Larry Grossman, lyrics by Carol Hall and will be directed and choreographed by Alison Eliel Kalmus. The cast includes Charlo Crossley, Ian Branch, Jeff Scot Carey, Lucy Ferrante, Patrick Geringer, Jean Kauffman, Diane Kelber,. Kevin Michael Moran, Samantha Salamoff and Christopher Showerman. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

    The world premiere of Love, Locs, and Liberation written and performed by Ella Turenne continues through Oct 29 at The Speakeasy in the Atwater Village Theatre complex. Blending poetry, song and humor, Ella Turenne unlocks the history of “locs” experienced by Black women, revealing mishaps and triumphs. Through the eyes of 21 different characters, including a 5th grade bully and Madam CJ Walker, she exposes the hair connection - to politics, identity and culture, illustrating why hair is an intimate and essential part of Black life. The show weaves together stories of struggles with identity and beauty. From rituals that Black women hold in relation with their hair, to Ella’s experience as an American woman with strong ties to her Haitian culture. lovelocsliberation.com

    The director and designers behind Rubicon Theatre Company’s acclaimed environmental productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha have reunited for a two-piano chamber version of Lerner and Loewe’s classic My Fair Lady. Show runs Oct 21 – Nov 15, with opening night scheduled for Saturday, Oct 24. The 17-member cast stars Joseph Fuqua as Henry Higgins and newcomer Kimberly Hessler as Eliza Doolittle, with Rudolph Willrich (Colonel Pickering), Patrick DeSantis (Alfred P. Doolittle), and Will Sevedge (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Christopher Carothers (Harry), Michael Stone Forrest (Jamie), Susan Denaker (Mrs. Higgins), Linda Kerns (Mrs. Pearce), Jahmaul Bakare, Amber Petty, Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal, Lila Bassior, and Jenaha McLearn. www.rubicontheatre.org

    J. Bernard Calloway makes his Old Globe debut as The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! at The Old Globe in San Diego. The 18th annual production runs Nov 7 – Dec 26, with opening night on Nov 12 at 8pm. The Grinch is directed by James Vásquez with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin. The original production was conceived and directed by Jack O’Brien with additional lyrics by Theodor S. Geisel, additional music by Albert Hague, and original choreography by John DeLuca. Taylor Coleman and Mikee Castillo will alternate in the role of Cindy-Lou Who. Among the cast members are Robert J. Townsend (Papa Who), Bets Malone (Mama Who), Geno Carr (Grandpa Who), and Nancy Snow Carr (Grandma Who). www.theoldglobe.org 

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    John Devereaux, Mark Whitten and Devin Archer.
    All photos by Jason Niedle

    Jonathan Larson
    s RENT, directed by Richard Israel, runs through November 15 at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. This all-new production of the inspiring musical about friends and artists struggling with addiction, poverty, AIDS and love is set in New York’s East Village and follows how these young bohemians negotiate their dreams, loves, and conflicts. Tickets: www.lamiradatheatre.com.

    Mark Whitten and the Company of RENT

    Devin Archer and Cassie Simone

    The Company of Rent

    The Company of Rent

    Mark Whitten and the Company of RENT

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    Rubicon Theatre Company presents a two-piano chamber version of the legendary Lerner and Loewe classic My Fair Lady, directed by James O’Neil. The 17-member cast features Ovation and Indy Award-winner Joseph Fuqua as Henry Higgins, newcomer Kimberly Hessler as Eliza Doolittle, Rubicon veteran Rudolph Willrich as Colonel Pickering, Patrick DeSantis as Alfred P. Doolittle, and Will Sevedge as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Tickets: www.rubicontheatre.org

    Joseph Fuqua (Henry Higgins) and Kimberly Hessler (Eliza Doolittle)
    All photos by Jeanne Tanner


    The Company of My Fair Lady

    Rudolph Willrich (Colonel Pickering), Joseph Fuqua (Henry Higgins)
    and Kimberly Hessler (Eliza Doolittle)

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    Alison Luff and Matt Magnusson

    The world premiere musical Breaking Through starring Alison Luff and Matt Magnusson at Pasadena Playhouse is choreographed by Tyce Diorio and directed by Sheldon Epps. The company also includes Kacee Clanton, Robert W. Arbogast, Will Collyer, Teya Patt, Katherine Tokarz, and Nita Whitaker. Now through Nov 22. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. All photos by Jim Cox Photography.

    Matt Magnusson and the ensemble

    Alison Luff and the ensemble

    Alison Luff and Will Collyer

    Alison Luff

    Matt Magnusson

    Alison Luff, Kacee Clanton and Matt Magnusson

    Nita Whitaker, Alison Luff and Teya Patt

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    The Holidays are coming and that means two Christmas favorites will open in San Diego this month. At The Old Globe, everyone’s favorite green meanie is about to make his appearance in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This year J. Bernard Calloway takes on the role of the Grinch in the family-friendly musical beginning November 7 (opening night 11/14). The Annual Tree Lighting on the Old Globe Plaza is Sunday, Nov 15 at 6:00 pm and includes a special performance by the cast. This is a free event so come one, come all for a fun, festive way to kick off your holiday. For all of the holiday events associated with the show visit their website at www.theoldglobe.org


    San Diego Musical Theatre also brings back its latest family holiday tradition, the charming stage version of the beloved movie classic, White Christmas. Featuring a cast of 30, and an onstage 21-piece orchestra, White Christmas runs Nov 27 - Dec 6 at the historic Spreckels Theatre. The show stars David Engel and Jeffrey Scott Parsons as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, with Allison Spratt Pearce and Tro Shaw as the Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy. www.sdmt.org


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    L-R: Lila Dupree, Aaron Miller, Marcelo Tubert, Olivia Cristina Delgado,
    and Paul Baird on accordian. Photos by Ed Krieger

    Whenever a production transfers from the humble beginnings of a 99-seat theatre house to a mid-size legit equity theatre in Los Angeles, there is cause for celebration. That’s the story of El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola, originally produced by Skylight Theatre Company & Flying Cucumber Productions, which ran 14 weeks at the Skylight, and now continues its journey at the Colony Theatre (amid rumors it will move on to London next).

    Based on the original 1970’s El Grande de Coca-Cola, from Ron House & company, the latest production builds on the antics of the outrageous Papa Pepe Hernandez (Marcelo Tubert) and his Mexican circus family. The ever-optimistic brood of no-talent entertainers offers up circus acts and a family back story that reinvents the definition of lowbrow humor.

    Their series of skits includes everything from a comedy aerial silk routine to cheesy magic tricks to death-defying acts of bravery like shooting a giant cannonball out of a giant cannon and throwing knives at an audience member volunteer. (Oh, yes, there is a great deal of audience interaction.) They can’t dance or sing (but do so, without apology to Swan Lake, and some familiar Mexican pop songs), can’t act (but present an over-the-top telenovela that is the reigning favorite of the show), yet their confidence overcomes.

    Marcelo Tubert and Paul Baird

    It takes a lot of talent to be able to look this untalented and the cast is a game bunch, each with such a random set of skills you’ll wonder where they found them. Paul Baird is the Don Juan of the family, possessing talents like playing the piano and accordion, unicycle, sleight of hand, and gymnastics while Aaron Miller, the goofy greaseball brother, plays drums and excels at physical comedy and strength. His take on Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the funniest segments of the 90-minute show.

    Daughters, Olivia Cristina Delgado and Lila Dupree add youth & beauty and plenty of gags of their own, always with a wink and a smile. All have an incredible amount of control over their bodies and use them to pad the comedy every chance possible. Ringmaster Tubert orchestrates it all in Spanish with the delicious demeanor of a man who is certain he is only a blink away from celebrity.

    The show trades in a specific kind of humor (not my particular brand of choice) so don’t expect sophistication of any kind. Rather, be prepared for a night of topical jokes that will make you groan and sight gags that are meant to leave you shaking your head. It’s a little like a technicolor version of the Ed Sullivan Show gone wrong, but set in a Big Top. No Topo Gigio or plate-spinning but plenty of kooky variety. And hey, there’s even a flamenco flea circus.

    Paul Baird, Lila Dupree, Marcelo Tubert, Olivia
    Cristina Delgado, and Aaron Miller
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    Jake Broder, Devereau Chumrau and Will Bradley.

    It’s a story that takes too long to tell but the jazz sizzles and Miravel definitely has potential. Billed as a jazz musical by Jake Broder, co-author of the hit musical Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara, it really falls under the ‘play with songs’ category, currently more talk than music. Broder’s compositions are expertly written, easily capturing the improvisational style of Monk and the sophistication of Ellington. They are, at the moment, one of the few places where passion authentically ignites in this spin on the Cyrano tale. 

    That’s a surprise too, considering that both Broder (Alphonso Bloch) and his fellow actors – Will Bradley (Henry Brooks) and Devereau Chumrau (Miravel) – are all talented individuals. But the stakes feel weak and Chumrau, though beautiful, fails to ignite sparks with either of her co-stars.

    Looking at her fellow actors would help but director Shaunessy Quinn instead has Chumrau play out to the audience or across the room rather than engage with her leading men and Broder naturally avoids eye contact because his character has so little self-confidence. That leaves Bradley fighting to connect. Even if the choice is intentional, it doesn’t make for interesting theatre. Without Bradley’s energy to stir the pot, the pacing in the dialogue scenes lags and we lose any momentum gained by the music. 

    The story is told in hindsight, introduced by Bloch in his mature years, and consists of a series of scenes from the trio’s past – their accidental meeting in a practice room, musical sets in the jazz club where Bloch played piano and Henry sang, and others that reveal a moody jazz singer, introverted composer, and the woman who will unknowingly come between them.


    Bradley’s unraveling is a detailed and, at times, explosive portrait of a man searching to be loved for who he is or not at all but so damaged he doesn’t trust it is possible. Bloch knows that Miravel loves his music and offers to write songs that Henry can sing for her and claim as his own to win her love but the consequences of that act will eventually hurt them all.

    Compelling in theory, two hours is too long to tell this story. There isnt enough jazz to overcome the drag in the non-musical scenes with its repetitive dialogue and resolution we know is coming. Its a lot like what we want on the radio - more music, less talk. Unless the talk is compelling. Then were willing to listen.

    A sparse but elegant set design by Alex M. Calle’s Entertainment Design Corporation and jewel-toned lighting by R. Christopher Stokes add depth to the intimate space, which boasts a baby grand piano and an excellent jazz combo on stage (Kenny Elliott on drums, Colin Kupka on sax, and Michael Alvidrez on bass).

    Will Bradley and Jake Broder

    Jake Broder and Will Bradley

    Jake Broder and Will Bradley

    Jake Broder and Devereau Chumrau

    Will Bradley and Jake Broder

    Devereau Chumrau and Jake Broder

    MIRAVEL
    November 6 – December 19, 2015
    Sacred Fools Theatre Company
    Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm
    Tickets: (310) 281-8337 or www.sacredfools.org

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    Chance Theater's holiday production Anne of Green Gables directed by Casey Long, with musical direction by Bill Strongin, runs through December 27, 2015. Photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio.

    Corky Loupe as Matthew and Angela Griswold as Anne

    Nicole Schlitt (Diana) and Angela Griswold (Anne)

    Marina Coffee (Marilla) and Angela Griswold (Anne)

    Brian Wiegel (Charlie), Wil Anderson (Moody) and the company

    Maddie Bourgeois (Prissy) , Emma Nossal (Josie) and Angela Griswold (Anne)

    Abby Lutes (Minnie May), Rachel Oliveros Catalano (Mrs. Barry)
    and Nicole Schlitt (Diana)


    Angela Griswold
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    The national tour of The Bridges of Madison County opens at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 8pm, with previews beginning December 8. The two-time Tony Award-winning musical will continue through January 17, 2016. It stars Elizabeth Stanley as Francesca and Andrew Samonsky as Robert Kincaid, and Cullen R. Titmas, Mary Callanan, David Hess, Dave Thomas Brown, Caitlin Houlahan and Katie Klaus. Tickets: www.centertheatregroup.org.

    Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley. All photos by Mattew Murphy

    Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley

    Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley

    Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley

    Dave Thomas Brown, Tom Treadwell, Cole Burden, Cullen R. Titmas,
    Elizabeth Stanley, David Hess, Mary Callanan, Caitlin Houlahan and Matt Stokes


    Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley

    Mary Callanan and David Hess

    Dave Thomas Brown, Elizabeth Stanley, Cullen R. Titmas and Caitlin Houlahan

    Elizabeth Stanley

    Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky

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    The Group Rep presents the west coast premiere of That Lovin’ Feelin’ written by James A. Zimmerman, directed by Jules Aaron, celebrating the history and hits of the Righteous Brothers, Dec 11 - Jan 24, 2016. The play follows the struggles of two young white boys breaking into R&B, as well as illuminates the challenging and amazing relationship they had for more than forty years. Tickets: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. 

    L-R: Morgan Lauff and Brendan MacDonald. Photos by Doug Engalla

    Brooke Van Grinsven, Nicole Chapman, Amadna Harrison,
    Morgan Lauff, and Brendan MacDonald

    Sarah Karpeles and Paul Cady

    Brendan MacDonald and Nicole Chapman

    Brendan MacDonald and Morgan Lauff

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    Jeremy Peter Johnson, Richard Howard, and Kate Hurster.
    All photos by Kevin Parry

    Luck has nothing to do with it. Mary Zimmerman’s Guys and Dolls is a well thought out, surprisingly fresh reinvention of one of the best golden age musicals ever written. The charming production just concluded a 9-month run at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and can now be seen on stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through December 20. It is the second musical to make such a transition following last December’s enchanting Into the Woods, also directed by Zimmerman. Let us hope the tradition will continue.

    The show itself is darn near bullet-proof. Based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, with a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and music & lyrics by Frank Loesser, it is a world of wisecracking gangsters and starry-eyed dames. At its core it sparkles with hope – of love, of success, and of beating the odds, especially when they aren’t in your favor. It is also a glorious escape, one whose getaway plot is propelled forward by Nathan Detroit’s (Rodney Gardiner) floating crap game in search of a home.

    Everyone roots for an underdog and this Detroit is one lovable mug. Between trying to come up with 1000 bucks to move his game to Joey Biltmore’s (Eugene Ma) garage and dodging the altar where his fiancé of 14 years, Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli) is ready and waiting, he’s got his hands full. A sure-fire bet with Sky Masterson (Jeremy Peter Johnson) should bring him the dough for the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” but he hasn’t calculated for risk…especially risk named Sgt. Sarah Brown (Kate Hurster) who runs the Save a Soul Mission.

    Every musical theatre fan of the classics knows the story but this retelling first and foremost puts character above all. Many a legit singer has sung Loesser’s songs beautifully but with only a general understanding of their real motivation. Not so under Zimmerman’s direction. Create the world and fill it with actors who know how to reveal their character’s wants and flaws while letting their humanity shine through and you have two of the hallmarks of her method of directing. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Here it works like a dream.

    Robin Goodrin Nordli and Rodney Gardiner

    Detroit is the pivot point for everything that happens and Gardiner is a constantly moving target with so many balls in the air that a great deal of the fun is in seeing how he spins events in his favor, however temporarily. His chemistry with Goodrin Nordli sets up an endless succession of laughs and her character choices are so original you’ll marvel that no one has ever found what she has in the text before. She is a revelation.

    Robin Goodrin Nordli

    Johnson also finds the twinkle in Sky Masterson’s eye that other leading men often overlook. He’s smooth alright, and he takes great joy in being a gambler. But when it becomes clear that he has finally met his match and sings “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” to Sarah, it is the kind of tender moment that is a complete tonal change from what has happened previously in the story. Johnson’s vulnerability under that streetlamp is a showstopper, largely because of what it doesn’t do. Even Hurster reinvents the typical straight-laced mission doll by going all out on her drunken spree in Cuba. Her commitment to bringing out the lioness within is hilarious and a welcome change to her earlier buttoned-up behavior.

    Kate Hurster and Jeremy Peter Johnson

    A large part of the show’s energy is brought to life by Daniel Pelzig’s choreography which runs the gamut from full-on Michael Kidd-inspired production numbers like “The Crap Shooter’s Ballet” to cheeky burlesque Hot Box dances by Adelaide and the girls.

    Doug Peck’s musical direction mimics the feverish pace of Runyon’s 1930’s New York City and his singers deliver Loesser’s lyrics with skillful precision. You always get a clue what you’re in for in the vocal department when Benny Southstreet (David Kelly), Rusty Charlie (Joe Wegner), and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Daniel T. Parker) reach the harmonies at the end of “Fugue for Tinhorns.” If they lock in and Johnson’s high notes lift, you know it’s going to be a good night. At the Wallis, it is indeed a good night.

    Miniature skyscrapers are moved about by the actors as if pulled from a diorama and lightly plopped down on a table top to await its miniature people. Scenic designer Daniel Ostling continues the miniature theme with a tiny plane on a high wire zooming overhead to signify the trip to Havana where colorful beach balls bounce across the stage as Cuban breezes blow.

    Zimmerman’s Guys and Dolls is such a joy. It seems to remind us of a less jaded world where innocence can triumph over the toughest odds, love comes with an equal measure of patience and persistence, and somehow things always work out in the end. It is also one terrifically written musical. Just what you need to get you through the holidays.

    Jonathan Luke Stevens (center) and the cast of Guys and Dolls

    L-R: Jonathan Luke Stevens, Al Espinosa, Richard Elmore, Joe Wegner,
    Rodney Gardiner, Christopher Henry Young, and David Kelly 

    Daniel T. Parker and the cast of Guys and Dolls

    Daniel T. Parker and cast

    Rodney Gardiner and Robin Goodrin Nordli

    GUYS AND DOLLS
    December 1-20, 2015
    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    9390 N Santa Monica Blvd
    Beverly Hills, CA 90210
    Tickets: www.thewallis.org

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