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Your Musical Theatre Resource for Southern California!

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    Tony Award winner Idina Menzel and original cast members James Snyder, Anthony Rapp, and LaChanze recreate their roles in the national tour of If/Then, now playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through January 3, 2016. The contemporary musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, directed by Michael Greif, follows two possible paths of a New York City woman based on whether or not she makes a single decision. Menzel's (star of Wicked and Frozen) reign as the queen of the power belt continues in this latest powerful performance. Tickets are available now at www.hollywoodpantages.com.

    Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp

    Idina Menzel and James Snyder

    La Chanze and Anthony Rapp

    Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then

    Idina Menzel

    Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then

    Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then

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    L-R: Adam Moss, Tio'ya Leatherwood, Mason Trueblood, John O'Hurley,
    Parvesh Cheena, Chris Jarosz, Ricky Jaime and Clarice Ordaz.
    Photos by Philicia Endelman


    Lythgoe Family Productions’ Peter Pan and Tinkerbell: A Pirates Christmas is the latest Panto at The Playhouse and it comes with all the excitement and fun of a traditional British panto. Starring Girl Meets World’s Sabrina Carpenter as Wendy and Kevin Quinn as Peter Pan, the interactive show features comedy, magic, dancers from So You Think You Can Dance and contemporary songs by everyone from Taylor Swift to the Bee Gees. In this holiday twist on the story, Tinker Bell, Wendy and Peter Pan must foil the pirates’ plot to kidnap Peter for Captain Hook’s Christmas present. It’s a flying, singing, swashbuckling adventure from the Lythgoe family with a topical script for parents and well-known pop songs for the kids. Now through January 3, 2016. Tickets: www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

    Sabrina Carpenter and Kevin Quinn

    L-R: Chris Jarosz, Mason Trueblood, John O'Hurley,
    Parvesh Cheena and Ricky Jaime


    Chrissie Fit

    L-R: Kevin Quinn, Corey Fogelmanis, August Maturo,
    Sabrina Carpenter and Company


    Kevin Quinn and Chrissie Fit

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    All Photos: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca
    Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

    Who hasn’t wanted to run away with the circus at some point in their lives? The ephemeral world created under the big top has always managed to entice with the glamour of its imaginary delights. Acrobats and elephants, beautiful people flying through the air, and the side show of unimaginable curiosities - they are all part of the ultimate escape from an otherwise ordinary world to a place where the extraordinary exists.

    Even as a child in my tiny town of 350 people in the Midwest, I can remember the traveling circus that would come through once a summer. They set up in the park - and even though it consisted of only a couple on a trapeze, a single bareback rider, a clown, and a sideshow (with a very fierce gorilla and a few bottled “monstrosities”) it was still like magic to my 6 year old eyes.

    Today the reigning kings and queens of the circus are the world-famous troupe, Cirque du Soleil. Hard to believe they began in the early 1980s as a small group of street performers who entertained the locals and tourists of Baie-Saint-Paul on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.

    Since then, Cirque has completely reimagined the circus, theatricalized it, and morphed it into its own magnificent art form. Each show gives us a world we’ve never seen before and, as it draws us in, we become like children all over again, ready to run away - at least in our imaginations - to the circus.


    In KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, Cirque’s latest production on display at Dodger Stadium, science meets art in a Seeker’s (Anton Valen) steampunk-like fantasy world. Here we travel to a place where imagination creates all things, bringing to life the inhabitants of his cabinet of wonders in the most whimsical of ways.

    There is the aviator (James Eulises Gonzalez Correa) whose flying machine opens up to become a platform for his rola bola cylinders and boards, stacked higher than it seems anyone could possibly balance upon. Just when you think you’ve seen him do it all, his platform lifts and begins to swing back and forth high above the stage and you are certain you’ve witnessed the impossible.

    A duo springs to life on the Chinese Pole (Maude Arseneault and Mikaël Bruyère-L’Abbé) in a series of vertical tricks and drops that would seem to defy the laws of gravity and an aerial bike is the trapeze of choice for a young woman’s athleticism (Anne Wessbeicker) high in the air.

    Contortionists (Bayarma Zodboeva, AyagmaTsybenova and Khaliuka Narankhuu) slither over and under each other atop a giant mechanical hand which is an amalgam of objects collected from the Seeker’s travels. A dinner party presents itself as the setting for one of the guests (Andreii Bondarenko) to display his chair balancing abilities to the amazement of the rest of the diners. As his stack of chairs grows taller and taller, they gasp as they realize an exact duplicate of their party is happening directly above them, only upside down.

    And the most beautiful of all, Siamese Twins (brothers Roman and Vitali Tomanov) soar through the stratosphere using aerial straps in a series of synchronized movements that are both breathtaking and dangerous. It is these kinds of feats that demonstrate what the human body is capable of that make Cirque productions so very special.

    Also overhead is a thrilling display of acrobats on an Acronet stretched across the full stage catapulting sea creatures up into an airborne underwater show filled with unexpected humor. Equally as amazing is the Banquine act, synchronized acrobatics on the floor of the stage that create human pyramids and sequences that again present feats of physical daring with astounding precision.

    To complement these extraordinary talents are two comedy acts (both featuring David-Alexandre Despres), one that pays homage to circus history with his Invisible Circus, a mechanical marvel of timing and surprise, and another that reveals his expertise with physical comedy. In this scene he brings a young lady from the audience on stage to join him for a date at home. While the not-so-smooth Romeo goes to get them drinks, his hilarious cat takes over. This one you’ve got to see to believe.

    Two other acts are wonderful examples of director Michel Laprise’s return to ideas that represent the heart of Cirque, which is to grab the audience and create an emotional connection with its invention. Yo-yos dressed up as watches are manipulated by an artist (Tomonari Ishiguro) who spins them faster than you’ve even seen before, straight up in the air, around and about as easily as if time itself stops to make it possible. The other is theatrical storytelling by a pair of hands (Nico Baixas) filmed in real-time and shown on a hot air balloon that floats overhead. Poetry in motion, it too is funny, sweet, and imaginative in its progression through its tale.

    Other assorted oddball characters emerge to further create the colorful life of this cabinet of curiosities in motion. Costume designer Philippe Guillotel incorporates a myriad of elements culled from the industrial era into his fanciful creations while Stéphane Roy’s retro-mechanized set design of gears and recycled parts gives new life to repurposed outdated items. The score, written by composers Raphaël Beau and Bob & Bill and sung by Eirini Tornesaki is as haunting as ever.

    KURIOS is an astonishing adventure into a world without limits where you’ll fall in love with every one of its curious characters. It is an emotionally rich experience - one that is sure to stimulate your own imagination and make you believe the impossible is possible.


    Additional artists:
    Acronet: Mathieu Hubener, Karl L’Ecuyer, Ryan Shinji Murray, Victor Degtyarev, Arnaud Caizergues, Jack Helme, Nathan Dennis

    Banquine artists: Igor Strizhanov, Elena Kolesnikova, Roman Polishchuk, Serguei Okhai, Nikolay Atashkin, Sergey Kudryavstev, Roman Kenzhayev, Alexey Starodubsev, Ekaterina Evdokimova, Anton Lyapunov, Dimitri Parmenov.

    Characters: Ekaterina Pirogovskaya (Klara), Nico Baixas (The Accordion Man), Karl L’Ecuyer (Mr. Microcosmos), Antanina Satsura (Mini Lilli)

    Chaos Synchro 1900 Opening: Gabriel Beaudoin, Christa Mercey, and Kit Chatham

    Musicians: Marc Sohier (band leader, bass, double bass), Kit Chatham (drums), Christa Mercey (percussions), Michael Levin (cello, keyboard), Lydia Kaminska (accordion, keyboard), Paul Lazar (violins), Patrick Kelly (guitars)

    KURIOS: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
    Dec. 9, 2015 - Feb. 7, 2016
    Dodger Stadium
    1000 Elysian Park Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
    Tickets: www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios or 1-877-924-7783

    Photos: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil














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    Reindeer: Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Mike Sulprizio, Lisa Valenzuela,
    Joey Keane, and Andy Lopez w/ Darrin Revitz and Matt Walker.
    All photos by Jill Mamey.

    Matt “Mashup” Walker and his trusty Troubies are skewering Santa Claus 5 or 6 times a week at the Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake and nobody minds a bit. In fact, the more groan-worthy the jokes the more the audience loves them. And that’s exactly how this company of clowns likes it. 

    Regulars such as Rick Batalla, Beth Kennedy, Lisa Valenzuela, and Walker know their stock in trade is their ability to put it all out there each time they perform and rely on the others to bail them out, send them up, or let them die. And truthfully, when they’re dying it is usually funnier than what they originally intended.

    For example, in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown, their latest Christmas show resurrected from the Troubie archives and dusted off with a bright new tongue-in-cheek finish, Batalla [right] inherits an audience member who can’t stop snorting with laughter at everything he says and so begins a running gag the sarcastic mailman can’t let go of (and he doesn’t); Valenzuela loses her beehive wig while cavorting in the audience but keeps on smiling and singing while she attempts to cover her wig cap front and center (it takes several tries); and Walker calls out Kennedy by asking her if she’s breaking character with a character she’s barely had time to establish (she is).

    Their commitment to the ad-lib is unwavering. Even a 5-second sight gag is worthy of a full costume and choreography, like Walker playing an animal in black parachute pants spoofing MC Hammer. That costume is never seen again but Sharon McGunigle trots out a wonderful series of crayon-colored finery that includes a sequined lollipop girl group, reindeer reimagined as UPS delivery men, a bevy of happy forest creatures walking upright, and German military uniforms with short pants.

    All that to say it’s the kind of show that proudly wears its puns on its sleeve, and always looks good doing it. Eric Heinly’s band gives the Motown sound plenty of kick on songs like The Jackson 5’s “ABC,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” all reworked with quirky new lyrics to fit the seasonal story.

    Plus, any Troubie show that gives Suzanne Jolie Narbonne a chance to break out her toe shoes and add a little unexpected sophistication with a ballet sequence gets a thumbs up from me. They may be a company of crazies but they do know how to play to their strengths. And who knew she could be so absolutely adorable as a penguin? A woman of many talents, she is also responsible for recreating Nadine Ellis original choreography.

    One other note - Santa Claus is Coming To Town is where the Winter Warlock was originally introduced to the world. Since Kennedy first played the androgynous stilt-walker, it has become a stock character who makes an appearance in every Troubie Christmas show, without fail. Kind of like your crazy uncle Charlie whose magic tricks never seem to work but you love him anyway.

    This is one holiday tradition that comes with a lot of laughs, a lot of optimism, and a lot of fun. Nothing tired here - just a bunch of cutups entertaining the heck out of a holiday crowd and succeeding in the best way possible.

    If you dont have a ticket by now youre most likely out of luck. Regular seats are sold out for the entire run but you might score a cancellation so give the theatre a call just in case (818) 955-8101.

    SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN TO MOTOWN
    December 2, 2015 - January 17, 2016
    Troubadour Theatre Company at the Falcon Theatre
    4252 Riverside Drive
    Burbank, CA 91505
    Tickets: (818) 955-8101 or www.FalconTheatre.com

    Andy Lopez, Lisa Valenzuela, Darrin Revitz, Beth Kennedy,
    Mike Sulprizio, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, and Joey Keane

    Leah Sprecher, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Darrin Revitz, and Lisa Valenzuela 

    Tyler King, Mike Sulprizio, and Andy Lopez

    Andy Lopez, Darrin Revitz, Rick Batalla, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne,
    and Tyler King

    Darrin Revitz and Matt Walker

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    Wishing You a MERRY CHRISTMAS 
    and the HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS as we close out 2015!
    Thank you for an amazing year of
    Musical Theatre.
    See you in 2016!

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    Vanessa Claire Stewart and Anthony Crivello as Louis and Keely
    Photos by Eighty-Eight Entertainment

    Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara returns to the Geffen Playhouse this month in a revamped production produced by the award-winning Hershey Felder. Written by Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford and Jake Broder and directed by Taylor Hackford, it is the story of Louis Prima and Keely Smith whose larger-than-life marriage and groundbreaking Las Vegas act featured an amazing cavalcade of hits that would forever secure their place in American musical history.

    The show stars Anthony Crivello, Tony Award-winner for his performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Ovation Award winner Vanessa Claire Stewart, who originated the role of Keely Smith. This is part of a new national tour based on the recent hit Chicago production featuring Crivello and Stewart. It originated here in LA and it was terrific the first time around where I saw it in the Geffen’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. Now it will play the main stage at the Geffen through January 17 before continuing on to the Laguna Playhouse where it will open February 24. 

    I asked Stewart and Crivello about the show’s return and what we can expect to see this time around. From the sound of it, the energy is higher than ever and should make for one great night out.


    Vanessa, as a writer, how has the show changed since it was first seen at the Geffen?

    Since the Geffen, the show has grown in many ways! We really wanted Louis and Keely to “live” at the Sahara, so we put more of their personal moments on stage. We really tried to bring more of the act into the storytelling by adding more of their comedic bits and three additional new songs.

    The point of view of the piece has changed quite a bit as we needed the piece to fill a bigger space. When we were previously at the Geffen, the space was more intimate (135 seats). We learned in Chicago that the story had to be told in a different way because the space had expanded. We also added an intermission, which helps our patrons. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people think.

    Has your performance of Keely developed in any surprising ways?

    A lot has happened since our initial run here! I got married and had a baby! So the push and pull that Keely experiences balancing family and work really tugs at me now in a way that it didn’t before. Also, I feel that my voice has grown a lot since my initial run here. While we were on hiatus, I wanted to grow as a musician so I did a few gigs around town as a jazz vocalist to really understand that side of things. It was a great learning experience for me.

    Script wise, we really tried to develop the love story even more and make Keely more assertive than she was before. I’m enjoying her strength in this one. I’ve found that as I’ve grown up, so has the character.

    Anthony, what has been your experience bringing such a big personality as Louis Prima to life? Tell us about the challenges and the fun of it.

    Louis Prima is indeed a challenging role – both physically and emotionally. 118 pages of text and song to portray Louis is a challenge in and of itself: massive research, reading biographies, studying video of their act, watching documentary…it’s all part of the building process. Mr. Prima’s larger than life personality demands 110%. To give the subject matter his full due, there is no other way.

    Our director Taylor Hackford and our choreographer Vernel Bagneris have paid acute attention to the movement, the style, ‘the delivery’ of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. The show has the indelible earmarks of a Hershey Felder Presents production in its classy presentation.

    And the piece is constructed in such a wonderful way to replicate their energy and charisma, as well as Louis and Keely’s humor. Not as an impersonation but rather, to recreate the essence, the sound, the humor, the inspired madness, the human vulnerability, and the flaws.

    The Pygmalion story of mentor and pupil, and the love story between Louis and Keely is wonderful fodder for an actor. Add to that our kick-ass band, and “Lazzes Les Bon Temps Rouler” is the appropriate axiom for this play/musical.

    It sounds like you’re having a blast.

    To sing these unforgettable songs: “Just a Gigalo,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “Hey Boy, Hey Girl,” “That Old Black Magic,” “My Sweet Embraceable You,” “Angelina, Zooma-Zooma”... what more can an actor/singer/comic ask for? We can hear the audiences singing along. We see their smiles and hear their laughter. We see their tears. That is gold. 

    Most importantly, there is exhilaration in interacting with the audience. Breaking the ‘fourth wall’ to create a night club atmosphere, to improvise and play the crowd nightly, is such fun. There is spontaneity that Vanessa and I share with them each performance. I believe that is the most rewarding part for us both.

    The joy of portraying these legends of Las Vegas, these giants of the music and entertainment industry – it’s a delight. And to be able to introduce Louis Prima (and Keely Smith) to a new generation ... to bring them to ‘life’ ... is a benchmark in my career as an actor... and an unmitigated, gratifying ‘romp.’


    Hershey Felder Presents Taylor Hackford’s
    LOUIS & KEELY: ‘LIVE’ AT THE SAHARA
    Written by Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford and Jake Broder
    Directed by Taylor Hackford
    Now through January 17, 2016
    Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
    10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
    Tickets: www.geffenplayhouse.com or (310) 208-5454.

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    Jeff Brooks (center) and the men of Bullets Over Broadway
    All photos by Matthew Murphy

    Gangsters, gams, and Broadway dreams are the stuff Woody Allen hilariously spoofed in his 1994 film, Bullets Over Broadway, co-written with Douglas McGrath. Full of smart dialogue and zippy one-liners, it scored an Oscar for Dianne Wiest and proved that audiences will always be interested in the backstage antics of the biz, especially when given the Woody Allen treatment.  

    It would be another twenty years before Allen would adapt the film for Broadway and though it took its best shot on the Great White Way in 2014, it didn’t do particularly well, running for only five months before closing to mixed reviews.

    Now the show is out on the road in a touring production that packs a three-way punch in its sit-down at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre – but not necessarily in the way one might hope.

    The cast of Bullets Over Broadway

    Sporting Susan Stroman’s Tony Award-nominated choreography (recreated here by Clare Cook), William Ivey Long’s dazzling 1920’s costumes, and a standout performance by Jeff Brooks as thug-turned-dramaturg, Cheech, it does manage to deliver enough of a rousing good time to make it worth the trip. Where it falls short is in the inauthentic and completely over-the-top (not in a good way) campy performances by the majority of its cast.

    Granted, that appears to be a directorial choice by Stroman – who also directed the show on Broadway and whose staging is recreated here by Jeff Whiting– however the stereotypes are so shallow that they end up off-putting rather than endearing.

    Headstrong young playwright David Shayn (Michael Williams) finally gets his big break on Broadway but must immediately compromise his principles when the backer (Michael Corvino as Nick Valenti) insists that his talentless tart of a girlfriend (Jemma Jane as Olive) be cast. Since he also happens to be a member of the mob, Shayne has little choice but to go along.

    As the shrewish Olive pushes to make her part larger, David falls under the spell of egotistical leading lady Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton - right), an aging diva with a drinking problem and a penchant for the melodramatic, causing him to step out on his longtime girlfriend, Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri). Stratton’s singsong vocal pattern too soon becomes tiresome but she looks stunning in Long’s period costumes, quite like an Erté brought to life. DeFlumeri’s mostly thankless part doesn’t give her much opportunity to strut her stuff but for a late in the second act duet with Williams, “I’ve Found a New Baby,” that finally lets her shine. 

    Other than DeFlumeri and Brooks, the most engaging stage time belongs to the chorus who breeze through Stroman’s cheeky and delicious dance moves with enough brio to make this Broadway baby bearable. Even Brooks gets his turn on the dance floor with a muscular display of athletics with the men in “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” following a hit. Indeed, that number alone stopped the show on opening night accompanied by well-deserved thunderous applause.

    It’s a shame too because with such a high level of pure, unadulterated joy in the musical’s dance numbers this show should have been a real winner.

    Rather than write original songs for Bullets Over Broadway, Allen instead opted to use existing songs from the 1920s for his score with musical adaptation and additional parody lyrics by Glen Kelly. The fun is in seeing how Kelly tweaks them to connect moments in the story that result in some unexpected comic twists. “Up a Lazy River” and the aforementioned “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” pull the biggest laughs but there are others that run the gamut from charming to crazy to crass. 

    Go for the dancing, the costumes, and the thug and you won’t be disappointed. But whatever you do, steer clear of the canal.


    The Red Caps

    Michael Williams and Hannah Rose DeFlumeri

    Kaylee Olson, Carissa Fiorillo and Elizabeth Dugas
    (The Atta- Girls)

    Jemma Jane (Olive Neal) and cast


    BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
    January 5 – 24, 2016
    Hollywood Pantages Theatre
    6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
    Tickets: 1-800-982-2787 or www.HollywoodPantages.com
    Official show site: www.bulletsoverbroadwayontour.com  

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    Check out all the latest Musical News in Southern California and get ready to see some great shows!

    Marcia Milgrom Dodge will direct and choreograph Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull’s Empire the Musical in its pre-Broadway engagement at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Previews begin Jan 22 and the show will run through Valentine’s Day. Empire is an original musical about those who bravely embodied the American spirit during the dark days of the Great Depression by building what was then the tallest structure in the world, the Empire State Building. It is a celebration of the American spirit with big dance numbers, pop-driven melodies, and captivating spectacle that puts a contemporary spin on the classic musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The cast includes Michael Baxter, Chassey Bennett, Tommy Bracco, Ricky Bulda, Juan Caballer, Caitlyn Calfas, Kevin Earley, Fatima El-Bashir, Tory Freeth, Stephanie Gibson, Joe Hart, Charlotte Maltby, Tony Sheldon, Michael McCormick, Katharine McDonough, Gabriel Navarro, Rachel Osting, Caleb Shaw, Cooper Stanton, Michael Starr, Christine Tucker, Rodrigo Varandas, Josh Walden and Justin Michael Wilcox. www.lamiradatheatre.com

    Ryan Scott Oliver’s song cycle 35MM: A Musical Exhibition will get a 4-week run at the Dorie Theatre at The Complex beginning Feb 25. The show is based on photographs by Matthew Murphy with music & lyrics by Oliver and is a collection of ‘snapshot stories’ woven together with each of the original songs performed in combination with immersive projections of the photography that inspired it. Produced by The Unknown Artists, its cast includes Jeff Scot Carey, Cody Clark, Emily Clark, Vincent Perez, Dana Shaw, and Katherine Washington.  ua35mm.eventbrite.com

    An expanded version of the Hollywood Fringe hit My Sister will play the Odyssey Theatre beginning January 16. Ron Sossi and Paul David Story co-direct identical twins Elizabeth Hinkler and Emily Hinkler in Janet Schlapkohl’s poignant tale of two sisters in pre-war Germany. “Elizabeth and Emily are talented, charming and extremely charismatic,” says Sossi who was so taken at the Fringe that he wanted to mount a full production. “This new version features additional cabaret sequences, songs and humor, and delves more deeply into the characters.” Original music is by Christopher Gene Okiishi, with lyrics by Janet Schlapkohl. Incidental music is by Barbara Rottman, who accompanies live during performances, and choreography is by Maureen Robinson. www.odysseytheatre.com

    International City Theatre opens its 2016 season with a recently updated version of Maltby & Shire’s Closer Than Ever directed by Todd Nielsen opening Feb 12 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The musical “how-to” manual for life features two dozen wise and witty “songs of experience” with charming melodies and smartly crafted lyrics. “This is such a personal and human piece,” says Nielsen. “It’s all about who we are – where we’ve come from, what we’re going through and what’s still to come. Doors, opportunities and ‘what ifs.’ Hopes, regrets, musings… I’ve always wanted to direct it, and am thrilled to be doing it at ICT.” Musical direction is by Gerald Sternbach and the cast includes Kevin Bailey, Valerie Perri, Adam von Almen and Katheryne Penny. ictlongbeach.org

    Direct from a critically acclaimed off-Broadway run, HAM: A Musical Memoir will make its west coast debut at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre with previews beginning January 21. Based on Sam Harris’s book HAM: Slices of a Life and starring original Star Search winner Harris, it takes the audience from a conflicted childhood in Bible-Belt Oklahoma to the dizzying roller coaster ride of a life in show business to the fulfillment of the impossible dream of fatherhood, culminating in the lessons of a life well lived. Well . . . lived. Directed by Tony Award-winner Billy Porter and featuring musical direction by Todd Schroeder. lalgbtcenter.org/theatre

    Previews begin Feb 5 for Chance Theater’s production of Dogfight directed by Matthew McCray, featuring music & lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Smash, A Christmas Story) and book by Peter Duchan. “It’s the beautiful story of a Vietnam vet returning home to San Francisco where on the eve of his departure he met a woman that he never stopped thinking about,” says McCray, who makes his Chance debut with this production. “But it’s really about the way a person can change and the impact of a single individual on another individual if you’re willing to be open to that person. These characters are young people really doing the best that they can and learning who they are as people.” Dogfight stars Andrew Puente, Ashley Arlene Nelson, Jonathan Rosario, James McHale, Kim Dalton and more, with choreography by Angeline Mirenda and musical direction by Bill Strongin. Use code “DINER” for $15 off general admission tickets for performances before Feb 22 (limited availability). www.chancetheater.com 

    Musical Theatre West has announced its cast of West Side Story playing Feb 12 – 28 at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts. The show stars Ashley Marie as Maria, Michael Spaziani as Tony, Lauren Boyd as Anita and Cooper Howell as Bernardo, and is directed by Joe Langworth. Musical direction is by David Lamoureux and choreography by Hector Guerrero. Opening weekend is already sold out however an additional performance has been added at 7pm on Feb 28. www.musical.org

    3-D Theatricals presents Beauty and the Beast at Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium (Feb 5 – 21) and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center (Feb 26 – 28). Afton Quast will star as Belle with Alexander Mendoza as the Beast and Cameron Bond as Gaston, plus Norman Large (Maurice), Tracy Lore (Mrs. Potts), Joey D’Auria (Cogsworth), Dennis Kyle (Lumiere), Melina Kalomas (Babette), Bree Murphy (Madame de la Grande Bouche), and a company of 21. T.J. Dawson directs, choreography is by Billy Sprague, Jr. and musical director/conductor is Julie Lamoureaux. www.3dtshows.com

    Up in Thousand Oaks, Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum makes its Civic Arts Plaza debut January 29 in a Cabrillo Music Theatre production starring Nick Santa Maria as Pseudolus. The slapstick musical comedy with a zany script by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove is directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld and will also star David Ruprecht as Senex, Larry Raben as Hysterium, and Matt Merchant as Miles Gloriosus. Choreography is by John Charron and musical director by Lloyd Cooper. cabrillomusictheatre.com

    Pillars of New York is a new musical opening Jan 23 at Write Act Rep that follows the story of four couples and the struggles they have surrounding the events of 9-11. Written by Michael Antin, directed by Jim Blanchette, and featuring musical direction and arrangements by Rob Bowers, the cast of ten includes Eloise Coopersmith, Michael Cortez, Molly Gilman, Julian Goza, Bobby McGlynn, Wayne Moore, Elizabeth Sekora, Suzan Solomon, Marza Warsinske, and Gary Mortimer. Tickets and Info

    ZJU’s annual 50 Hour Drive-By Theatre Festival is back for the 15th year Jan 23, 24 & 25 at 8:30 pm. The festival will present four all-new mini-plays written, directed and performed in a speedy 2 days with a live musical score by Kevin Van Cott. Writers: Steven W. Alloway, Vanessa Cate, Colin Mitchell, and John Semper, Jr. – Directors: Amir Khalighi, Roger K. Weiss, Angela Weitzman, and Jana Wimer – Actors: Charlotte Bjornbak, Jason Britt, Jahel Corbán Caldera, Nicole A. Craig, Matthan Harris, Ian Heath, Magnus MacDomhnaill, Gerald McGrory, Sebastian Muñoz, Daniel Palma, Jonica Patella, Danielle Reverman, John Santo, Elif Savas, and Rachel Scorpio. For reservations call 818-202-4120 or go to ZombieJoes.com.

    Next up at the Echo Theater Company is the world premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s newest play – a funny, sexy and unconventional romance with music. Jennifer Chambers directs Kate Morgan Chadwick, TW Leshner and Johnathan McClain in BED, opening Feb 6 at Atwater Village Theatre. Witty, raw, racy, spanning 10 years in less than 90 minutes and featuring original songs by Sophocles Papavasilopoulos and Maxwell Gualtieri, BED explores issues of love, abandonment and betrayal. According to Callaghan, this “little bomb of a relationship play” is her most personal work to date. echotheatercompany.com

    Theatre of NOTE’s 21st Annual Hollywood Performance Marathon will take place Saturday, January 16 beginning at 3pm and continuing until dawn, at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. The marathon celebrates the company’s twenty-first year with over 50 performers who will donate their time and talent. This highly anticipated local tradition is an all-day-all-night extravaganza of eclectic performances including comedy, pancake juggling, poetry, puppets, performance art, dance, music, monologues and more. Performances by Kirsten Vangsness, Paul Dooley, Bill Brochtrup, John Fleck, Two Headed Dog will be part of the schedule. www.theatreofnote.com

    Doc and Stumpy present Banned In Burbank: Uncle Eddy’s Big Time Burlesque, an adult show with exotic dancers, musical acts and baggy pants comic routines Jan 29 & 30 at the Mayflower Club located at 11110 Victory Blvd. (near Vineland) in North Hollywood. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets and Info

    The new musical comedy Freaky Friday, book by Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (If/Then, Next to Normal), based on the novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and the Walt Disney motion pictures, has been added to La Jolla Playhouse’s 2016-17 season. It will be directed by artistic director Christopher Ashley and will run January/February 2017. lajollaplayhouse.org

    And finally, San Diego Musical Theatre announces its cast of Ragtime which will star Jay Donnell as Coalhouse, Nicole Pryor as Sarah, Carolyn Agan as Mother, Cris O’Bryon as Father, and Louis Pardo as Tateh. It will be directed and choreographed by Paul David Bryant and feature musical direction by Don Le Master. This version of the Flaherty and Ahrens musical will be worth a road trip. www.sdmt.org

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    Emily Hinkler and Elizabeth Hinkler
    Photos by Enci Box

    Janet Schlapkohl’s play with songs, My Sister, began as a vehicle for twin sisters Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler while they were attending the University of Iowa where Schlapkohl was an adjunct professor. Since then, it has received a number of developmental runs, most recently one that garnered it “The DUENDE Distinction” sponsored by The Vagrancy for “irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical” at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

    Now it plays the Odyssey Theatre in what is being described as an expanded production directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story. Not having seen it at the fringe, I can’t speak to how the story has been expanded, other than to say it now runs 95 minutes without intermission, up from its original 65 minutes.

    Adding half an hour’s worth of material is a significant leap in the way a play tells its story and it is a process that requires careful consideration. While My Sister certainly has merit, in this version it also suffers from redundancy.

    The Hinklers play twin sisters Magda (Elizabeth) and Matilde (Emily) who move to Berlin in search of a dream. By day, Magda is a hospital worker but, by night, she performs in a lesbian club with material written by her sister. Politically-minded Matilde, who also has cerebral palsy, spends her days in their apartment listening to the radio and devising new stories and jokes for the act she knows will make her sister famous.

    It would seem to be a perfect scenario for two young women looking to spread their wings and make something of themselves in the world. But this is 1930’s Germany at the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party and a dangerous time to be different. As the chaos around them surges, it becomes more and more difficult to keep reality from knocking on their door. 

    A shadowy prologue reminiscent of Sondheim’s Follies sets up an intriguing air of mystery which pays off nicely in the epilogue but Magda’s club act can’t help but be compared to another musical theatre classic, Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. This one is a pale imitation that feels forced, complete with a canned laugh track that blasts intrusively.

    Remaining scenes all take place in the sisters’ apartment when Magda comes home to change clothes between jobs. She tells Matilde about hospital business, repeats her performance for her sister, and leaves for her next job. Tilde writes and listens to the radio. Outside the conflict escalates. Rinse, repeat.

    By the time the crisis comes to a head, we know where the story is going. Unfortunately, its climactic moment happens off stage and, like almost everything else in the play, we are left to hear about it after the fact.

    The addition of a threadbare set design by Pete Hickok adds authenticity to time and place as do fraying period costumes by Audrey Eisner. But taking the play out of a smaller fringe venue and putting it on a larger stage means the playwright must keep the story compelling, especially if she is adding 30 minutes of dialogue and action. At the moment, scenes are largely repetitive and the actors are working harder than they should to tell this story, which still feels like a senior class project.

    Few moments are as poignantly effective as the one in which Elizabeth silently exercises her sister’s atrophying muscles. The emotional core of the piece lies in their bond. And, while the real-life sisters share a bright future ahead, the play itself could look to its past for help in the editing department.



    MY SISTER
    January 16 - March 6, 2016

    Odyssey Theatre
    2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
    Los Angeles CA 90025
    Tickets: (310) 477-2055 x 2 or www.odysseytheatre.com

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    Kevin Earley (far left) and Stephanie Gibson (center) with the workers.
    All photos by Michael Lamont

    Empire the Musical has been knocking around in the wings ever since Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull began writing it in 1999. Its first fully-staged production took place at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood in 2003 and it has had periodic readings through the years in both Los Angeles and New York. Now the story of how the Empire State Building came to be is enjoying a lavish pre-Broadway run at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, produced in partnership with McCoy Rigby Entertainment, Sue Vaccaro, Ricky Stevens and The Rivet Gang. 

    A splashy 1920’s Charleston opening to “Heydey” sets the tone of director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s determinedly optimistic production as it follows the 14-month task of building the tallest skyscraper in New York. By taking the obligatory dance style of the period and reinventing its character with unique moves Dodge ratchets up the energy from the very beginning and then spins it to capture the fading spirit of the Great Depression. 

    Each subsequent number builds upon her vision in inventive ways, from highlighting the winking vaudevillian duo of ex-governor Al Smith (Michael McCormick) and financier John J. Raskob (Tony Sheldon) in “Moxie,” to showcasing can-do girl Frankie’s (Stephanie Gibson) secret to getting results in “Patch in Pittsburgh,” to featuring construction workers dancing up on steel beams to impress the ladies below in a muscularly athletic “Lunch Time” showstopper.

    Kevin Early, Tony Sheldon, Michael McCormick and Stephanie Gibson

    Equally as impressive are the intimate moments such as Irish immigrants Ethan (Caleb Shaw) and Emily O’Dowd (Katharine McDonough) sharing a wistful vision of the future in “Castles in the Air” and architect Michael Shaw’s (Kevin Earley) idealistic ‘want’ song, “Man of Destiny.” Earley is an appealing leading man whose chemistry with Gibson is reminiscent of the old screwball comedies starring Gable and Lombard or Hepburn and Tracy. The rapid-fire repartee between this reluctant romantic pair speeds along in true 1930’s fashion even when the storytelling makes leaps that don’t always track. 

    Empire is an effervescent homage to a time when the girl Friday had gumption, the dreamers had vision, and everyone came together to make the impossible possible.

    The crowning glory of the musical is, of course, the method by which the cast builds the building on stage. Co-projection designers Brad Peterson and David Gallo (who also designed the striking set) give life to the towering construction process, and New York itself, by using vintage black and white moving images that are both breathtaking and a marvel of shifting perspectives. 

    Computer-generated steel beams swing into place “pulled down” by flesh-and-blood workers while projected store fronts and brownstones become larger and smaller to accompany a virtual walk through the city. The technical effects are quite beautiful in the way they communicate the grittiness of the surroundings and the images are so convincing you feel you could reach out and touch them. As a living, breathing presence it is unparalleled in its scope.

    Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design adds to the brilliant three-dimensional illusion with hard edges, floating squares, and shadows that pop against the squared edges of Gallo’s platforms and decks.

    But when the story’s focus switches from the building to Frankie getting fired after an accident on the construction site and a mysterious worker named Bill Johnson, we lose the momentum gained in the first half of the show and it never quite recovers its stride.

    The hardships of the immigrants and Mohawk workers who gave their blood, sweat – and in some cases, their lives – to raise the iconic structure are lightly touched on but the full measure of danger is never really a tangible presence. More practical than poetic, they stand for the many that believed in a dream but needed the paycheck and were willing to put their lives at risk to earn a living in the dark days following the Depression. How much richer might Empire be if the underbelly of such a venture could be explored in greater detail? Then the contrast between its energetic ‘let’s raise the triumphant American spirit’ and the sobering reality of what it cost would give this story an even truer picture of the grit and guts that went into the making of a landmark.

    One final musical note - La Mirada Theatres orchestra, led by music director Sariva Goetz, has never sounded better than they do here playing Michael Starobins cheeky arrangements. His charts are full of bright, jazz-infused novelty accents that lend a unique character to even the most contemporary pop songs in the show. You’ll hear a great mix of old and new, plus a few surprises if you keep your ear attuned.

    Kevin Earley (center) and the company of Empire

    The company of Empire the Musical

    Kevin Earley,Tony Sheldon, Stephanie Gibson (center), Joe Hart, Michael
    McCormick and the company of EMPIRE. Photos by Michael Lamont


    Caleb Shaw and Katharine McDonough

    EMPIRE THE MUSICAL
    Jan 22 – Feb 14, 2016
    La Mirada Theatre
    14900 La Mirada Blvd.
    La Mirada, CA 90638
    Tickets: (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com
    Parking is free

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    Want to see inside the historic movie palaces in downtown LA for free? Head over to Broadway on Saturday, Jan. 30 for Bringing Back Broadway, a free event (5 – 11pm) led by Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar. It’s part of a revitalization plan for the Historic Broadway corridor meant to encourage historic preservation, provide economic development, and bring new life to historic theaters like the Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre, the Palace, the Orpheum, the Tower, the Globe, and the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Performances of all kinds will take place inside and outside on the street, with Broadway closed to traffic. Many area restaurants will also be offering discounts. For more information, go to http://nightonbroadway.la/.

    Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and
    Lin-Manuel Miranda in the original Broadway Cast of Hamilton.
    Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

    There has been a lot of exciting news from the Hollywood Pantages Theatre this week as they announce their 2016-17 season – mainly because the current darling of Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is coming (Aug. 11 – Dec. 20, 2017). The season opens with Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Nov. 1 – 27, 2016), followed by the Lincoln Center production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I (Dec.13, 2016 – Jan. 21, 2017), Finding Neverland (Feb. 21 – March 12, 2017), An American in Paris (March 22 – April 9, 2017), The Bodyguard starring Deborah Cox (May 2 – 21, 2017), and the return of The Book of Mormon (May 30 – July 9, 2017).

    Up next for the Hollywood Pantages is Dirty Dancing, based on the classic movie starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, which runs Feb. 2 – 21. www.HollywoodPantages.com

    Celebrate Black History Month at Chromolume Theatre with the world premiere of Prez, a play with music about jazz legend Lester Young, written by Willard Manus, directed by Daniel Edward Keough and starring Leslie A. Jones (Feb. 5 – 28). Lester Young was a unique jazzman whose deceptively simple style – laid back, low key, relaxed yet earthy and swinging – brought him fame, first with the Count Basie Orchestra, then with the likes of Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Teddy Wilson, and his best friend and alter ego, Billie Holiday. Born in the Jim Crow south to a showbiz family, Young was a non-conformist who fought against racism and intolerance all his life, climaxed by his battle against the segregated army in WW II, an experience that affected his attitude toward life but not his playing, which never lost its creative spirit. Tickets are available at www.crtheatre.com/prez.html. For 30% off enter the code PZ30.

    Musical Theatre Guild presents on a one-night-only concert reading of A Class Act at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale on Sunday, Feb. 21(7pm). Loosely based on the life of A Chorus Line composer/lyricist Edward Kleban, it stars Joshua Finkel as Kleban along with Melissa Fahn, Zachary Ford, Julie Garnye, John Massey, Jeffrey Christopher Todd, Melody Butiu and Monica Quinn directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera with musical direction by Brent Crayon. Choreography is by original A Chorus Line cast member Kay Cole. www.musicaltheatreguild.com

    Four exciting new original musical works have been chosen for the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop, a co-partnership with DreamWorks and The Wallis that will be presented at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Feb 16 – 18. During the three-day event, selected composers and lyricists will present their original works-in-progress for professional critique with accompanying expert panel discussions composed of prominent musical theatre producers, directors, performers and composers. A special Musical Theater Songwriting Master Class with ASCAP Workshop Artistic Director Stephen Schwartz will conclude the workshop on Thurs., Feb. 18. Tickets for the workshop are FREE and open to the public. For reservations call 310-746-4000 or go to www.thewallis.org. The musicals to be presented are:

    Joe Schmoe Saves The World: Book, Music & Lyrics by Brett Rybeck
    Set amidst the 2011 Arab Spring, the musical tells the parallel stories of an indie rock duo in America and a pair of Iranian students in Tehran. Raging against conformity, fear and the status quo, the two young women at the center risk everything in an attempt to change the world through their art (25 min). Tuesday, February 16 at 7:30pm.

    Gold Mountain: Book, Music & Lyrics by Jason Ma
    Set against the backdrop of a key moment in California and America’s history, the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, Gold Mountain celebrates the striving immigrant spirit, the redemptive power of love and the ultimate nobility of self-sacrifice (25 min). Tuesday, February 16 at 7:30pm.

    Comic-Con the Musical: Book by Nicholas David Brandt, Music & Lyrics by Laura Watkins
    The lives of three Comic-Con attendees change forever when a film icon pulls a ‘Willy Wonka’ and offers to make one special person’s dream come true. Of course, they also have to contend with an egotistical idea thief, a run on nachos, and oh yeah, actual aliens. What did you expect from Comic-Con the Musical? (25 min). Wednesday, February 17 at 7:30pm.

    Legendale: Book & Lyrics by Jeff Bienstock, Music by Andrea Daly
    Legendale is an original, contemporary comedy about the power of fantasy. Andy’s favorite way to escape his humdrum life is the online game “Legendale.” He dreams of victory in the game’s tournament, but is stuck competing as a lowly milkmaid. When the fantasy becomes real, Andy and his avatar must both discover their inner warrior. Legendale blends romance, adventure and virtual reality with a pop-infused score (25 min). Wednesday, February 17 at 7:30pm.

    A Jewish-American reporter in Japan uncovers a conspiracy to cover up the government-sanctioned sale of HIV-contaminated blood products in a new political thriller with music inspired by true events. Written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, the world premiere of BLOOD, based on the real-life “Japanese Tainted Blood Scandal,” will play The Complex in Hollywood (Feb. 26 – April 3). Original music and songs are by “The Virgins” bassist Nick Ackerman and “Jet” drummer/vocalist Chris Cester, BLOOD marks the debut production of L.A.’s newest theater company, The Garage. The cast includes Gena Shaw, Sohee Park, Takuma Anzai, and Kazumi Aihara, Toshi Toda, Miho Ando, Saki Miata and others. www.plays411.com/blood.

    Ciarán McCarthy will star as Billy Bigelow in the Barn Stage Company and Temecula Presents’Carousel in Concert March 3, 5 & 6, directed by J. Scott Lapp. Accompanied by the Temecula Valley Symphony’s 32 piece orchestra, the concert will take place at Old Town Temecula Community Theater in Old Town Temecula. Musical direction is by John Mario Di Costanzo and choreography is by Gary Iversen. Also featured in the cast are Heather Lundstedt O’Neill (Julie Jordan), Emily Lopez (Carrie Pipperidge), Jason Webb (Enoch Snow), and Vonetta Mixson (Nettie Fowler), with Tracy Ray Reynolds, John Campbell, James C. Mulligan, Grandison M. Phelps III, Randy Ingram, Miranda Rose, Jonathan Sharp, Nicholas Alexander, Jerry Alexander III, Courtney Daniels, Johnny Fletcher, Ally Lawton, Luke Monday, Maureen Russell, Emily Chelsea, Leif Corbeil, Karin Gittins, Jack Taylor French, Lori Eve Marinacci and Ethan Park. www.TheBarnStageCompany.com or www.TemeculaTheater.org.

    San Diego Musical Theatre is holding AEA and non-AEA auditions for 42nd Street directed by James Vasquez on March 6 & 7. All roles are open. For information and how to schedule an audition, go to  www.sdmt.org/auditions. Show runs May 27 – June 12, 2016.

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    Jonathan Rosario, Andrew Puente, Joseph Ott and James McHale.
    All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

    Chance Theater presents the Los Angeles and Orange County premiere of Dogfight. Book by Peter Duchan, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed by Matthew McCray, music direction by Taylor Stephenson, and choreographed by Angeline Mirenda. In this 2013 Lucille Lortel Outstanding Musical Award winner, a plain young woman not accustomed to men’s attention is approached by a young Marine the night before he ships out for Vietnam. Little does she know why he’s really invited her to a party, and little does he know that this “common girl” is going to change him in ways he could never imagine. Tickets: www.chancetheater.com

    Ashley Arlene Nelson and Andrew Puente

    Jonathan Rosario, John Wells III, James McHale and Andrew Puente

    Kim Dalton and James McHale

    Andrew Puente, Jonathan Rosario and James McHale

    Andrew Puente and Ashley Arlene Nelson

    Kim Dalton and Ashley Arlene Nelson

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    3-D Theatricals leads the news this week with a major announcement. After a 3-year residency at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, they will be moving to the Cerritos Performing Arts Center as the new resident theater company for CCPA’s Broadway Series. The transition takes place this fall following the completion of their current 3-show season at Plummer Auditorium (Beauty and the Beast, The Full Monty, Hello, Dolly!). Features of the new space include excellent acoustics and sound equipment, free parking, and other improved amenities. We can’t wait to see what they program in their first year in this beautiful theater. www.3dtshows.com

    The Old Globe in San Diego is gearing up for a highly-anticipated world premiere musical. This one is by the singularly wonderful team of composer & lyricist Michael John LaChiusa (The Wild Party, Giant) and book writer Sybille Pearson (Giant). Rain is based on the short story of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham and will run March 24 – May 31 (opening night 4/1). Another first, artistic director Barry Edelstein makes his musical directing debut with this production.

    Somerset Maugham’s classic story of the explosive nature of repressed desire was adapted as a movie three times, his iconic character Sadie Thompson played successively by Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth. Now Eden Espinosa steps into the role. The year is 1924, the setting a boarding hotel on the island of Western Samoa, where a missionary, a doctor, and their wives are scandalized by Sadie’s arrival, particularly when they learn what she does for a living. But the missionary has secrets of his own, and when he tries to shut down Sadie’s business and save her soul, more heats up than the South Pacific sun. Tickets are currently available by subscription and will go on sale to the general public on Feb 19 at noon. www.theoldglobe.org

    The world premiere of another new musical begins its run at NoHo Arts Center on March 11. Spies Are Forever is by the Tin Can Brothers (Corey Lubowich, Joey Richter and Brian Rosenthal– book) and TalkFine (Clark Baxstresser and Pierce Siebers– music & lyrics). Curt Mega, America’s greatest superspy, takes on a dangerous mission in 1959 which causes the death of his British counterpart and best friend, plunging him into an alcoholic decline. Four years later, Mega has a chance to redeem himself by joining forces with a beautiful femme fatale Russian spy for another dangerous assignment. Corey Lubowich directs a cast that stars Curt Mega as superspy Curt Mega, Al Fallick, Lauren Lopez, Tessa Netting, Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, Joseph Walker, and Mary Kate Wiles. Choreography is by Lauren Lopez. SpiesareForever.diamonds

    The Falcon Theatre and Roger Bean Productions present The Real Housewives of Toluca Lake: The Musical, March 23 – April 24. Book, music & lyrics are by Molly Bell and the production is directed by Roger Bean with choreography by Roger Castellano and musical direction by Kyle de Tarnowsky. These wives have it all…or so it seems. Scandalous surprises and bitter betrayals mix with a healthy dose of Pinot Grigio and pharmaceuticals to create a hilarious romp inspired by America’s not-so-secret guilty pleasure. Starring Anita Barone, Jenna Coker-Jones, Cynthia Ferrer, Marc Ginsburg, Meredith Patterson, and Adrienne Visnic. www.falcontheatre.com

    The Colony Theatre will host a one-night-only fundraising event on Saturday, March 5 at 8pm, An Evening with Fritz Coleman. Beloved Los Angeles weatherman Fritz Coleman proves that “getting old isn’t pretty but it sure is funny”, in this solo show that has played to rave reviews. Offering a hilarious glimpse into one man’s journey from childhood into “old age”, Coleman shares his opinions on everything from aging, health issues, and hospitals to family, religion, and dating. Tickets start at $40 and may be purchasedwww.colonytheatre.orgor by calling 1-800-838-3006 or online at. The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank. Parking is free.

    Sierra Madre Playhouse will present Adyran Russ and Doug Haverty’sInside Outas part of its Off The Page series of staged readings on Wednesday, Feb 17.  The musical recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a run at GTC Burbank in 2015. This reading will feature Sandy Bainum, Jill Marie Burke, Cynthia Ferrer, Stephanie Fredericks, Dana Meller, Leslie Stevens, and Adrienne Visnic directed by Bruce Kimmel. In this funny and feel-good musical, five women in a 1980’s therapy group find their lives transformed when a hesitant new member joins their weekly sessions and becomes a catalyst for change. Admission is free, but tax-deductible donations to the Playhouse are accepted. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org


    Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks announces its 2016-2017 season which will include three shows in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Kavli Theatre (Evita, Sister Actand Peter Pan) and one in the more intimate Scherr Forum (Tarzan). “This might be the most exciting season we’ve ever put together!” says Cabrillo’s artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld. A post-show discussion with cast and staff follows the first Saturday matinee of each production, and a signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will take place on the second Friday night of each production. New season memberships will be available at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office or by calling Member Services at (805) 449-2775, beginning March 31st. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com 

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    International City Theatre presents Maltby & Shire’s Closer Than Ever directed by Todd Nielsen, now through March 6 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The musical “how-to” manual for life features two dozen wise and witty songs of experience with charming melodies and smartly crafted lyrics. Tickets: www.ictlongbeach.org

    L-R: Katheryne Penny, Adam von Almen, Kevin Bailey, and Valerie Perri

    L-R: Kevin Bailey, Valerie Perri, Adam von Almen, and Katheryne Penny

    Valerie Perri, Adam von Almen, and Katheryne Penny

    Kevin Bailey and Katheryne Penny

    L-R: Adam von Almen, Valerie Perri, Katheryne Penny, and Kevin Bailey

    Valerie Perri, Adam von Almen, and Katheryne Penny

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    Dazzling originality and elegant artistry blend seamlessly in the spectacular show, The Illusionists – Live From Broadway, now playing at the Hollywood Pantages. Much more than a magic show, the artists who make up this “Magnificent Seven” exhibit a stunning array of feats that will constantly leave you saying, “How’d they do that?!”

    Although the first illusion had to be abandoned on opening night when the drape covering a large see-through box suspended in the air failed to drop into place, it didn’t dampen the excitement. Instead, Jeff Hobson (the Trickster), the next magician in line used the foible to enhance his opening comedy routine and impress the audience with his ability to improvise his way to some serious laughs. The Las Vegas showman is the cheesy glue that connects the larger acts – all glitz and Liberace glamour with a healthy dose of fun-loving camp.

    This show contains a great deal of audience participation so watch your belongings when Hobson or one of the other magicians gets close. Even if you aren’t the one ending up on stage, your personals might if you aren’t careful, and the laugh will be on you.

    Each entertainer brings his own style to the party and among them you’re sure to have favorites. Regardless of which speaks to you specifically, there is no doubt that they are all ridiculously talented.

    Dan Sperry. Show photos by Vanessa Viana

    One of the most striking characters is Anti-Conjurer and shock illusionist, Dan Sperry whom you may have seen on America’s Got Talent. Looking like he just stepped out of an episode of American Horror Story, his brand of illusion is accompanied by head-banging rock & roll and will make you cringe with its darkly seductive allure. Why might you cringe? Early on he chews a lifesaver to pulp and then somehow forces a length of dental floss into his skin to pull the lifesaver out of his neck whole again in a process that can only be declared as gross. Later he pushes a coin into his eye and then cuts a gash in his arm where the coin eventually emerges a bloody mess. It’s awful and wonderful at the same time.

    Another illusionist you may recognize from America’s Got Talent is sharpshooter Ben Blaque, known as the Weapon Master. With astounding precision he does what looks to be impossible, culminating in a slick series of crossbow shots around the room while blindfolded that has him split an apple on his own head. You figure out how he does it. 

    And later, the amazing Deceptionist James More (first seen on Britain’s Got Talent) is shackled and run through by a panel of flaming spikes before mysteriously disappearing and reappearing at the back of the Pantages Theatre behind the audience. Stunning.

    Andrew Basso

    Escapist Andrew Basso is listed as “Italy’s star escape artist” and easily lives up to his nickname in a twist on Houdini’s famous water torture cell illusion. A lengthy setup adds suspense while Basso very seriously relates what he is about to do with an eerie sense of calm. A successful escape requires that he hold his breath upwards of 4 minutes, making a thrilling end to Act I.

    The large illusions may impress by their sheer scale but equally as incredible are the intimate moments such as crumpled bits of paper dancing in the Inventor’s (Kevin James) hand and cards smoothly transforming in front of our eyes by the Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin). 

    James has a friendly Professor Marvel appeal and has created illusions that have been used by the likes of Penn & Teller and David Copperfield. Here his inventions involve bringing a small man to life out of wooden body parts, creating a snowstorm out of a glass of water, and putting a man back together when you’d swear there was only half of him left. Ho-Jin’s close-up work is like watching art in motion. He gracefully manipulates the cards in long, easy, flowing sequences accompanied by beautiful music. The effect is breathtaking.

    Adam Trent

    Then, in a completely different kind of magic, Adam Trent (the Futurist) combines sleight of hand with projections and animation to create a uniquely original kind of performance – think the ingenuity of Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller skates or dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. It is the kind of revolutionary artistry that propels the audience into the, well, the future.

    It isn’t a surprise that The Illusionists has already done two stints on Broadway, one in London, and also has a world tour traveling at the same time as its U.S. tour. Producers Simon Painter and Tim Lawson have found seven showmen with seven radically different personalities and talents that will give you the ride of your life. You want to be astounded? Get to the Hollywood Pantages before the magic disappears. 

    THE ILLUSIONISTS
    February 23 – March 13, 2016
    Hollywood Pantages
    6233 Hollywood Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90028
    Tickets: 1-800-982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com 

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    Dana Shaw and Katherine Washington, Photos by Daniel J. Sliwa

    No one writes a story song like composer Ryan Scott Oliver. Known for his clever lyrics and the ability to create in a wide variety of musical styles, his is an exciting voice in the current musical theatre landscape. Broadway insiders marvel at the way he plays with musical language and captures a point of view that never fails to resonate deeply with the listener. It’s no wonder the Pasadena native has already received a Richard Rodgers Award, a Jonathan Larson Grant, and a Lucille Lortel nomination.

    His song cycle 35mm: A Musical Exhibition is a wonderfully rich and crazy illustration now on stage at The Complex in a sleek collaborative production by The Unknown Artists. 7 cast members and 8 directors bring 16 different compositions to life in this 80-minute exploration that navigates the tricky waters of love and life.

    Each sequence pairs a song by Oliver with a series of still photographs by former American Ballet Theatre member turned photographer, Matthew Murphy. The result is a constantly shifting living work of art that runs the gamut from light and breezy to wickedly funny to gut-wrenchingly poignant. To say there is something for everyone is an understatement.

    This collection of snapshots is all about focus. What happens when you “Stop Time” long enough to notice the full picture of what is happening in a moment? Who are these people…to each other, to themselves, to the world around them? By blending images, sound, and story in a new way, the creators direct our attention to how much fullness exists in a single moment of time.

    The finest of the straight ahead comedy songs is “Caralee” directed by John Ross Clark and sung by Cody Clark. In it, a young “manny” is at the end of his rope taking care of a toddler with no boundaries. He’s certain the child is Satan. Mesmerizing photographs of dismembered doll heads hang above the hilarious scene adding a wicked subtext.

    “Make Me Happy” reveals a different kind of funny by pairing a smart, cynical lyric with a bright up-tempo beat in which Emily Clark [left] and Jeff Scot Carey (who also directs the scene) reveal feelings that are nothing like they show each other on the surface. In the accompanying photos, a couple walks along a yellow fence holding paddles with smiley faces in front of their own while photos of clouds drift by in the background. Irony abounds. (Note - beginning March 4, Nate Parker takes over Carey’s track)

    The company has a thorough understanding of the way Oliver blends contrasting ideas in his songs which helps make this a vividly entertaining evening. The disjointed yet infectious melody and harmonies of “Immaculate Deception,” and its evocative lyric about making art from pain, is distinctively staged by Emily Clark to reveal the nuances of its jab at commercialism, while CrazyTown, directed by Clark and Meghan Allison, is full of percussive machine-like movements and sounds accompanied by photos of random body parts.

    Regret gets its due in the ballad “The Party Goes with You” staged by John Ross Clark for Emily and Carey. Even the transitions between pieces factor into the storytelling.
    Some of the moments are beautiful in their simplicity, like “The Seraph.” Here Carey [right] accompanies himself on guitar and sings a folk song to the angelic presence that watches over him, the man he is blessed to love, with Vincent Perez singing harmony. It is a lovely lyric set to a simple melody with a beautiful vocal blend.

    The most dramatic piece is “Leave Luanne,” a compelling story that tackles domestic violence down on the bayou, impressively directed by Amy Bartlett. Murphy’s image of a deer’s head with a man’s arms extending out from under it eerily sets the tone while the juxtaposition of Katherine Washington playing a haunting melody on the violin and the song’s piercing subject matter do a deadly dance. This powerful tale comes with a great story twist. You’ll hear the trickling change in the music when it happens and it makes for one of the most completely satisfying revenge stories ever. Bartlett also goes for the gut with her direction of “Cut You a Piece” delivering another powerful message about the nature of love and devastation of loss. This one is a showpiece for Perez.

    Modern rock takes over in “Why Must We Tell Them Why?” a driving up-tempo ensemble number energetically directed by Allie Costa, and in the vampire tale “Twisted Teeth,” abstract steamy red photographs seem to pulse with the beat as Washington and Perez seductively dance. This story, too, isn’t quite what it seems. The twist here comes in the final moments of the piece and director Kate Purnell stages the aha moment with a wink. 

    Saving the best for last, Dana Shaw kills on “The Ballad of Sara Berry” another terrific rock number about a high school cheerleader who finds a creative way to eliminate her competition for Prom Queen. Shaw may have a girl-next-door face but she can wail like a demon on the high notes with a bright musical theatre belt that gives her Sara Berry a great rocker edge. This is one of Oliver’s songs that always ends up a showstopper and it makes a great finale for 35mm before the final show wrap-up.

    If you aren’t familiar with Ryan Scott Olivers music, youre missing out. This is an artful evening of rich, sexy, smart songs delivered by a capable cast and a high-powered band. Do yourself a favor and go.

    The cast of 35mm

    35MM: A MUSICAL EXHBITION
    The Unknown Artists
    February 26 - March 19, 2016
    Dorie Theatre at The Complex
    6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038
    Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm
    Click Here for tickets

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    Jason Robert Brown will headline Broadway on Grand, Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2016 Gala Celebration on Saturday, March 19 (6pm) at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic DirectorGrant Gershonconducts the Grammy-nominated chorus in a program featuring the music of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter, with special guest composer/performer Jason Robert Brown, the Tony Award-winning composer of such acclaimed Broadway shows as Parade, The Last Five Years, and The Bridges of Madison County. Brown also serves as an Honorary Gala Co-Chair, along with his wife Georgia Stitt, an award winning composer, conductor and musical director. Photo credit: Alex Berliner.

    The evening includes a glamorous cocktail reception in Disney Hall’s lobby and sumptuous post-performance dinner by Patina in BP Hall. Guests will also have the opportunity to bid on an array of irresistible auction items, take in the Chorale’s signature LAMC “Surround Sing,” during which Chorale singers encircle gala patrons and shower them in glorious song, and trip the light fantastic into the wee hours. Proceeds help support LAMC’s artistic and education programs throughout the year. Tickets: 213-972-3162 orwww.lamc.org.

    Beginning May 27, there will be one place in Southern California where you can go for year-round snow when Frozen – Live at the Hyperionopens at Disney California Adventure Park. The new stage musical is based on Disney’s hit animated film Frozen and replaces the recently-closed Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular which played the Hyperion Theater for 13 years. It features music and lyrics by the creators of the film score, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and is adapted from the screenplay by 4-time Tony® nominee Chad Beguelin.

    The show is directed by Liesl Tommy, with choreography by Christopher Windom and its musical supervisor/arranger/adaptor is Jason Michael Webb. Master puppet designer Michael Curry (who co-designed the puppets for The Lion King on Broadway with Julie Taymor) will bring Olaf and the Trolls to life. Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort.

    The Pasadena Playhouse has announced its 2016-2017 season, which includes a brand new production of The Fantasticks (Sept 6 – Oct 2, 2016) by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones directed by associate artistic director Seema Sueko. Two additional musicals will be part of the upcoming season: Shout, Sister, Shout! (Jan 31 – Feb 26, 2017), about the life of legendary gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, conceived and directed by Randy Johnson (A Night With Janis Joplin) with book by Cheryl West, and a special holiday production  from Lythgoe Family Productions, Cinderella Christmas (Dec 8 – Jan 8, 2016).
    Also included on the season is David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, a new production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and one additional “Artistic Director’s Choice” to be announced. Sheldon Epps, artistic director of The Playhouse, says, “My final season as Artistic Director is made up of passion projects for me and for the artists involved. These titles represent so many of the aspects of the art of the theatre that I truly love. It is a season that is boldly theatrical, diverse, and hopefully a celebration of the magic of the theatre and the joy that I have had in sharing that treasure with our audiences for two decades. I look forward to the party!” Tickets: 626-356-7529 or www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment present Dreamgirls March 25 – April 17 at La Mirada Theatre, followed by performances on May 6 & 8 at Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. Musical direction is by Dennis Castellano and the show will be directed & choreographed by Robert Longbottom. Cast includes Moya Angela as Effie, Jasmin Richardson as Deena, Brittney Johnson as Lorrell, Danielle Truitt as Michelle, David LaMarr as Jimmy, Scott People as Curtis, John Devereaux as C.C., and Lorenzo Hughes as Marty , along with Brandon Burks, Andre Darnell Myers, Davon Williams, Dedrick Bonner, Chavis Humphrey, Eran Scoggins, Trance Thompson, Remmie Bourgeois, Miah Blake, Liisi LaFontaine, Loreigna Sinclair, Fatima El-Bashir, Jennifer Akabue and Fay James. Tickets: www.lamiradatheatre.com or www.ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org.

    Hershey Felderwill make his debut at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts with his critically-acclaimed production of Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro directed by Joel Zwick, August 10 – 28. The performance combines first-person narratives with the compositions of Bernstein, Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, Copeland, and more as the audience is drawn deeply into this maestro’s fascinating life, one filled with tragedy, triumph, and extraordinary music. Leonard Bernstein’s only son, Alexander, says of Felder: “His performance truly reveals the man, the story and the music of my father, Leonard Bernstein.”

    “Every serious musician in America owes a great debt to Leonard Bernstein,” says Felder. “Besides being a maker of music and musicians, Leonard Bernstein also became the musical ambassador of the world with his affable musical manner, love of teaching and learning, photogenic countenance and the newly minted television broadcasting him into homes around the globe. Bringing this character to life based on personal time spent with many people who knew him well, including members of his family, and the study of his music and musical style has been an honor, a joy, and a truly incredible journey. Being able to bring him to life at the beautiful acoustically brilliant Wallis, in the city where I began these theatrical portrayals, is really a dream come true.”

    Felder will also offer a special one-night-only performance ofHershey Felder’s The Great American Songbook Sing-Alongon Monday, August 22 at 8pm. Audience members are encouraged to sing along with Felder as he takes them on a musical journey through 100 years of American music from the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and more. Tickets:www.TheWallis.orgor 310-746-4000.

    Varla Jean Merman returns to the Renberg Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center April 1, 2 & 3. Long a favorite with Renberg audiences, Varla (the drag persona of New Orleans native Jeffery Roberson) will take the stage again after a 10-year absence during which the acclaimed performer did extensive research in outer space. Her new solo show, the science fiction-themed Varla Jean Merman’s Big Black Hole, is the culmination of this long and grueling research. It combines story, song, and video in “an inventive night of theatre, full of high-class production, vaudevillesque low-brow humor, and the vocal prowess of a grand dame of the stage.” (ibid.) Directed by Michael Schiralli, it also features the piano stylings of accompanist and Varla-foil, Gerald Goode. Tickets: 323-860-7300 or www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre.

    The world premiere of La Olla, a comedy with songs, opens March 26 at Los Angeles Theatre Center. Adapted from Plautus’ Pot of Gold by resident playwright Evelina Fernandez, it will be performed in English (with a few Spanish words). Previews begin March 24 and the show will run through April 24. Fernandez’s update of the ancient Roman comedy sets the action in Los Angeles in the 1950s at a Mexican night club. The night club’s guardian spirit intends for a four-pound pot of gold to benefit young Phaedria, a conscientious and good-hearted woman but it accidentally falls into the hands of her father Euclio, a clown and bit player in the club’s floor show. La Olla is directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela with choreography by Urbanie Lucero. Cast includes Esperanza America, Evelina Fernandez, Sam Golzari, Fidel Gomez, Castulo Guerra, Sal Lopez, Xavi Moreno and Geoffrey Rivas. It is produced by The Latino Theater Company. Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org.

    The new jukebox musical Down on Your Knees & Up to the Moon set during the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, both of which took place in New York, will have its world premiere March 12 – April 30 at T. U Studios. The musical spans 25 years from the golden age of the great American songbook, to the era of rock and pop, and the early days of the British invasion. It is written by Gloria Gifford (who also directs), Lucy Walsh, Jade Warner, Lauren Plaxco, Chad Doreck, Billy Budinich and Danny Siegel.

    The cast includes Hayley Ambriz, George Benedict, Raven Bowens, Davon Brown, Billy Budinich, Marlin Chan,  Leana Chavez, Heather Compton, Yvette DeVito, Sonia Diaz, Chad Doreck, Joshua Farmer, Kevin Ferris, Lindy Fujimoto, Dylan George, Irini Gerakas, Keturah Hamilton, Chris Jones, Abigail Kochunas, Christian Maltez, Sam Mansour, Alex Miller, Maya Moore, Kelly Musselwhite, Nakta Pahlevan, Kasia Pilewicz, Lauren Plaxco, Antonio Roccucci, Cynthia San Luis, Deidra Shanell, Danny Siegel, Tejah Signori, Pamela Renae Smith, Samiyah Swann, Nancy Vivar, Lucy Walsh, Jade Warner, Teagan Wilson, Sabrina Won and Diva Yazdian. Tickets: (310) 366-5505 or www.tix.com.

    Santa Monica Playhouse presents the musical exposé Audition! The Musical, based on the all-too-true-life Hollywood experiences of the award-winning creative team of Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie, with even more harrowing, haunting and hilarious Hollywood horror stories than when it debuted in 2006. For anyone who’s ever wanted to be the best. At Anything. The show runs now through April 24. Cast includes Evelyn Rudie, Serena Dolinsky, and Cynthia Zitter. Click Here for tickets.

    La Mirada’s Programs for Young Audiences presents Artspower’s Chicken Dance, Sunday March 13 at 1:00 & 3:00 pm. In this new musical, Marge and Lola are two chickens on a mission to win the barnyard talent contest. First prize: two tickets to see the great Elvis Poultry in concert! But first, the two chicken hopefuls must find a way to score higher than a flock of very talented ducks that appear to have the contest all locked up. Will Marge and Lola have the courage to face their challengers against all odds and summon up a winning performance? Get your tickets today and find out! www.lamiradatheatre.com

    Storybook Theatre at Theatre West will begin performances of its family musical Sleeping Beauty on March 19. Featuring book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, directed by David P. Johnson, and produced by Barbara Mallory, it stars Lukas Bailey, Kira Brannlund, James Cronin, David P. Johnson, Bonnie Kalisher, Julie McKay, Emily Rose McLeod, Charlie Mount and Laura Wolfe. This classic tale includes original songs and plenty of audience participation. Tickets: (818) 761-2203 or www.theatrewest.org.

    The delightful new family show EGG by the acclaimed Cahoots NI from Belfast, Northern Ireland will play The Broad Stage in Santa Monica on March 12 & 13.  Directed by Cahoots NI co-founder and artistic director Paul Mc Eneaney, with music by Garth McConaghie, EGG is an ovular extravaganza – a musical non-verbal and theatrical flight of the imagination that unfolds on a tiny magical, rustic set. The sad, funny and delightful tale explores the theme of “flying the nest” and is told through the medium of physical theatre, illusion, and music. Resonating as strongly with adults as it does with children, EGG is a magical experience, an enchanting tale of three birds....and an egg! Pre-show activities for children begin one hour prior to performance. Tickets: 310-434-3200 or www.thebroadstage.com. Photo credit: Richard Watson Photography.

    At the Grove Theatre in Upland, the family Broadway musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, the Musical will play April 22 – May 8. Directed by Kristopher Kyer, it is the tale of Superman’s efforts to defeat a vengeful scientist, Dr. Abner Sedgwick, who seeks to destroy the world’s symbol of good. Tickets: 909-920-4343 or www.grovetheatre.com.

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    Musco Center for the Arts Grand Opening Concert Cast and Chorus.
    Photo credit Doug Gifford

    It was indeed an auspicious occasion at Chapman University on Saturday night where over a thousand guests gathered for the much-anticipated official opening of the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts. The black tie event featured a concert performance by luminaries of the opera world, including Plácido Domingo, Deborah Voigt, and Milena Kitic, joined by a number of Chapman alumni, the Chapman University Singers, and Alumni Choir. 

    Acclaimed conductor John DeMain had the honor of being the first to conduct an orchestra from Musco’s pit, leading the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant Overture from Candide. In many ways, it was the perfect choice to open what would be a magnificent program because its fanfare, lush lyrical passages, and delicate rapidly-moving melody lines highlighted the impeccable sophistication of the hall’s acoustics. Every note was crystal clear.

    No surprise there, as the man responsible for creating the acoustics is world-renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics (who also designed the acoustics for Walt Disney Concert Hall, Stanford’s Bing Hall, and the Sydney Opera House). 

    The building and site itself was designed by Pfeiffer Partners and follows the concept of a renaissance garden in both interiors and landscaping. Stunning views from the three-tiered structure overlook the graceful sloping lawn of the Bette and Wylie Aitken Arts Plaza which will also host outdoor productions. It was from this location that guests witnessed a spectacular light show and dedication following the gala concert before being wined and dined for the remainder of the night.


    But back to the program. As the star of the evening, Mr. Domingo was undeniably charismatic. He led the gala cast and chorus in Verdi’s celebratory drinking song “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from La Traviata and then displayed the full richness of his voice in “Di Provenza il mar, il suol.” But it was Agustin Lara’s “Granada” sung in front of the curtain that bears his name that had the audience eating out of his hand.
      
    In a meta-theatrical moment, Ms. Voigt (who started her career as a Chapman student) proved utterly charming singing Wagner’s “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser, her ode to the “dear hall.” Musco’s acoustics facilitate the ring in a soprano’s high notes by picking up the overtones and letting the sound spill out over the audience like champagne bubbles, a result enjoyed by both Voigt and Ms. Kitic, whose rich tone and powerful high notes were exquisite. Kitic’s “O don fatale” from Verdi’s Don Carlo was a favorite of everyone who commented after the concert.

    Joining Kitic for the “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffman was Chapman alum Deborah Domanski who later returned as Count Orlovsky from Die Fledermaus. To the delight of the audience, the second verse of her aria featured a new comedic lyric in honor of the occasion. 

    Also returning to their alma mater to perform were coloratura Stacey Tappen singing “Glitter and be gay” from Candide; Lincoln Center’s 2016 Emerging Artist of the Year Ben Bliss singing “No puede ser” from Pablo Sorozábal’s La tabernera del Puerto; John Nuzzo with “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot; Efraín Solís singing the crowd-pleasing patter song “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville; and Bruce Sledge, whose smooth, lovely tenor voice made “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto another highlight.

    Voigt sang the evening’s one unusual selection, “My man’s gone now” from Porgy and Bess, which didn’t seem to fit the rest of the program but did feature the beautiful haunting wails of the women’s chorus. The other nod to musical theatre came from former Chapman student Weston Olson who is a member of the current Broadway cast of Les Misérables, singing “Bring him home.”

    The program also included the popular duet from The Pearl Fishers sung by Domingo and Nuzzo, and the quartet from Rigoletto featuring Tappan, Kitic, Sledge and Solis. The full cast and chorus concluded the evening with the finale from Candide, “Make our garden grow,” an appropriate sentiment given the extraordinary efforts that have gone into raising Musco Center and will now continue to grow its future.

    The celebratory event was an unforgettable evening honoring good people doing great work for the arts and for their community. May there be many who follow their lead.

    *      *      *      *      *      *      *

    If you’d like to see what the buzz is all about, mark your calendar for Saturday, April 2. Musco Center for the Arts will host a day-long Community Open House & Arts Festival from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm featuring performances by many local artists, Chapman student ensembles, and Pacific Symphony. Events will include family activities, tours and demonstrations, food trucks, and three internationally acclaimed fusion/world music groups: Troker, Delhi 2 Dublin, and the Stooges Brass Band. For more information about the festival and a complete list of upcoming season events, go to www.muscocenter.com.

    Musco Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Doug Gifford

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    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts has mounted a terrific revival of Dreamgirls directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom (Broadway: Side Show, Flower Drum Song). After completing its initial run at La Mirada, which plays through April 17, it will move to Valley Performing Arts Center for four performances May 6 – 8. Get your tickets now!

    Brittney Johnson, Jasmin Richardson and Danielle Truitt.
    All Photos by Michael Lamont

    David LaMarr, Scott A. People and John Devereaux (center) and company

    L-R: Scott A. People, Jasmin Richardson, Brittney Johnson, Moya Angela,
    David LaMarr and John Devereaux

    Moya Angela, Jasmin Richardson, Brittney Johnson and David LaMarr

    Brittney Johnson, Jasmin Richardson and Danielle Truitt 

    The company of Dreamgirls

    Brittney Johnson, Jasmin Richardson and Danielle Truitt (center) and company

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    The world premiere musical RAIN is now playing at The Old Globe in San Diego through May 1, 2016. Somerset Maugham’s classic story Rain was adapted as a movie three times, his iconic character Sadie Thompson played successively by Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth. Now a brand-new musical comes to the Globe from Tony Award nominees Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson.

    Eden Espinosa as Sadie Thompson and Jared Zirilli as Alfred Davidson
    All photos by Jim Cox

    The year is 1924, the setting a boarding hotel on the island of Western Samoa, where a missionary, a doctor, and their wives are scandalized by Sadie’s arrival, particularly when they learn what she does for a living. But the missionary has secrets of his own, and when he tries to shut down Sadie’s business and save her soul, more heats up than the South Pacific sun. Artistic Director Barry Edelstein makes his musical theatre debut with this gorgeous and powerful new work revealing the explosive nature of repressed desire. Tickets: www.theoldglobe.org

    Eden Espinosa (Sadie Thompson-front) with Marie-France Arcilla
    (Noi Noi), Elizabeth A. Davis (Anna Davidson) and Jeremy Davis (Jo)

    Eden Espinosa

    The cast of RAIN

    Jeremy Davis (Jo) and Marie-France Arcilla (Noi Noi)

    Eden Espinosa (Sadie Thompson) and Tally Sessions (Alec MacPhail)

    Eden Espinosa (Sadie Thompson) and Mike Sears (Hopper)

    Eden Espinosa and Tally Sessions

    Tally Sessions Betsy Morgan as Louisa MacPhail

    Marie-France Arcilla

    The cast of RAIN

    The cast of RAIN

    Eden Espinosa

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