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Your Musical Theatre Resource for Southern California!

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    CABARET/CONCERTS

    The ladies of Crimes of the Heart:An “Oh-So” Criminal Cabaretreturn to Rockwell Table & Stage for an encore performance on August 23 at 8pm. The show celebrates Broadway’s femme fatales and stars Leah Ashton, Tia Simone, Aly French, Kelly King and Nina Kasuya singing songs by Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and more. Rockwell-la.com

    Kurtis Simmons

    The following Monday night (August 29) at Rockwell,
    Kurtis Simmons makes his LA solo debut performing songs from his critically acclaimed pop/rock CD Fraction of a Thread, along with tunes from his original musical Hipster Sweatshop (co-written with Kyle Puccia and Darryl Stephens). Music direction is by Sean Bart. Also appearing with Simmons are Jordan Kai Burnett and Nicci Claspell. Rockwell-la.com


    Theatricum Botanicum’s Under the Oaks salon series returns during the month of September with four Thursday night musical performances outdoors under the California oaks in the company’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Pavilion. Sept 1 is an evening of song with actress Judy Norton. On Sept 8 it’s Roots, gospel and old school R&B with Skyrocket recording artists Little Faith. Sept 15 Tom Allard will perform Love Songs, Storytime and Moon-Madness! with musical guests. And on Sept 22, multi-instrumentalists Many Distant Cities (Clara Dykstra on accordion, ukulele and trumpet, Liz Eldridge on glockenspiel and ukulele, and Carl Turner on bass, drums and ominichord will sing about love and dying and bleeding a lot. www.theatricum.com

    An Evening of Classic Broadway
    with Brad Ellis and Dianne Fraser returns August 22. Show features music by music by Bernstein, Sondheim, Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, Hugh Martin, Kander & Ebb sung by Julie Garnyé, Emma Ashford, Joshua Finkel, Barrett Foa, Zachary Ford, 
    Susan Edwards Martin and Christina Saffran. Rockwell-la.com


    Photo courtesy of Disney
    FILM
    It’s hard to believe that Disney’s Beauty and the Beastis celebrating its 25th anniversary, but it is. To mark the occasion, the El Capitan theatre in Hollywood is showing the film daily, Sept 2-18, and also featuring a special appearance by Belle, live on stage before each screening. Showtimes are 10am, 1pm, 4pm & 7pm. Tuesdays are designated as Tiny Tot Tuesday and during the 10am screening, parents and small children can enjoy the movie in a tot-friendly way – with lights dimmed rather than out and with reduced sound levels. At the end of the film, families will have the opportunity take pictures with Belle on stage. For more info about special events in connection with the screenings at the El Capitan go towww.elcapitantickets.com.


    Now playing and full of delightful performances, Florence Foster Jenkins.

    CONTRA-TIEMPO
    DANCE: Ford Signature Series pairs Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women with Los Angeles-based urban Latin dance theater company CONTRA-TIEMPO for a one-of-a-kind evening of dance under the stars, Saturday, August 27. UBW will perform the West Coast premiere of their newest work, Walking with ‘Trane, inspired by the musical life and spiritual journey of innovative jazz artist, John Coltrane. The performance features experimental movement and an original soundscape, and was conceived of as an album, offering a Side A (with guest DJ) and Side B (with live pianist). CONTRA-TIEMPO kicks off the evening with She Who: Frida, Mami & Me, a new work inspired by the life and mythology of Frida Kahlo and Nigerian deity Mami Wata. Former UBW company member Marjani Forté choreographs. www.FordTheatres.org

    Voices Carry, Inc. presents the world premiere of Strings Attached, an innovative multidisciplinary dance performance exploring the ties that make us human at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Oct 6-16. The performance combines contemporary dance, abstract puppetry, an original score, and performance art to create a window into the heart focusing on universal feelings of grief, forgiveness, devotion, entrapment, and joy. Dance choreography and story development is by Christopher Bordenave, and the original score is by Ariel Blumenthal. Dancers featured include Nia-Amina Minor, Junji Dezaki, Brenna Dwyer, Raymond Ejiofor, and Annalee Traylor. Puppeteers are Marie Bergenholtz, Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh, Drew McCourt, Lisa McNeely, Elizabeth Nankin, and Monti Silva. Ticket Link

    Photo by Marc Domage
    The fall season at REDCAT (the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) kicks off with Christian Rizzo/ICI - CCN MONTPELLIERd’aprés une histoire vraie (Sept 15-18). Inspired by Turkish folk dances, the performance features eight male dancers executing Rizzo’s powerful choreography to tribal rock music featuring two percussionists on stage. www.redcat.org

    Local favorite Diavolo – Architecture in Motionis celebrating its 25th Anniversary season by bringing Passengers, a new work, to The Broad Stage, Sept 23-25, along with audience favorite Trajectoire. Passengers takes place on and around a giant morphing staircase with multiple doors, passageways, and shifting surfaces. Here, the dancers contend with themes of journey and transition and the tenuous balance we attempt to strike each day as both indomitable drivers and unwitting passengers. Following intermission, Trajectoire takes the audience on a visceral and emotional journey through the ebb and flow of the human experience. As the performers struggle to find their balance on a voyage of destiny and destination, Trajectoire shows the transcendence of the human soul against all odds. www.thebroadstage.org

    The USC Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Oct 5 to celebrate its grand opening. The center will act as the new home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, the first new school to be established at USC in nearly forty years. “This is the largest dance-dedicated complex on a private university campus,” said Jeffrey de Caen, Associate Dean for Operations. At the Kaufman Dance Center, students will have endless tools to experiment with different settings and engage in dialogue with other performing arts disciplines both on and off campus; even its courtyard can act as a non-traditional venue space.” Kaufman.usc.edu

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    Tickets go on sale 8/27 for La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere musical starring Daphne Rubin-Vega, Miss You Like Hell. The new work was commissioned four years ago by the Playhouse and was part of the 2016 DNA New Work Series. Book and lyrics are by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes(In the Heights, Water by the Spoonful), and music & lyrics are by singer/songwriter Erin McKeown. It is directed by Lear deBessonet and choreographed by Danny Mefford. The production will run Oct 25-Dec 4.

    “When a free-spirited mother convinces her whip-smart teenage daughter to join her on a drive across the country, neither can imagine where it will take them. Chance encounters with a motley crew of characters along the way brings them closer to understanding what sets them apart — and what connects them forever. A vibrant and affecting new American musical, Miss You Like Hell exudes the joy, love and frustration of being a family in a changing country.” Joining Rubin-Vega as Beatriz are Krystina Alabado, Cliff Bemis, Vanessa A. Jones, David Patrick Kelly, Julio Monge, Olivia Oguma, Victor Chan, Cashae Monya, and Kürt Norby. www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org

    Rubicon Theatre has announced its 2016-17 season, as well as this year’s Plays-in-Progress, which will include a new musical version of Sea Marks by Gardner McKay, adapted by James O’Neil with music and lyrics by Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman, and a concert with a working title of The Folk-Rock Project by O’Neil. Rubicon’s regular season includes A Christmas Carol, directed by Brian McDonald; Miche Braden reprising her Off-Broadway performance in The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith by Angelo Parra; Arlene Hutton’sGulf View Drive; A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, directed by Stephanie A. Coltrin; The Other Mozart written by and starring Silvia Milo, about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s equally remarkable sister Nannerl; Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness; and King Lear by William Shakespeare, directed by James O’Neil. www.rubicontheatre.org

    Wednesdays in September you can see Cyanide Theater and Cherry Poppins Productions’ Fringe hit Angel’s Flight at Three Clubs in Hollywood. The film noir burlesque comedy takes the audience to1944 where quick-talking, hard-nosed detective Duff McKagan is looking to track down a missing girl through “seedy bars, back alleys and awkward dream sequences.” The show is written by Benjamin Schwartz and Matt Ritchey (who also directs). “It’s a fully crafted story and fast-paced spoof with tantalizing burlesque and a real 1940s atmosphere with that Three Clubs’ throwback vibe,” Ritchey said. “Plus, great martinis!” Sept 7-28 at 8:30 pm (doors open at 8). Ticket Link Ticket Link

    Also reprising her award-winning Fringe hit is Theresa Stoll, whose one woman show, My Big Fat Blonde Musical, follows the dreams of one aspiring actress in Hollywood who learns the entertainment industry is far from glamorous . . . or kind. Aug. 28-29 (9pm) at The Belfry Stage Upstairs at the Crown in North Hollywood. www.theatreunleashed.org


    Palos Verdes Performing Arts presents Young Frankenstein Sept 23-Oct 9 at the Norris Theatre. This zany adaptation of Mel Brooks’ monstrously funny film is the story of Victor Frankenstein’s grandson who inherits his family’s estate in Transylvania, and, with the help of his hunchbacked side-kick and leggy lab assistant, brings to life a creature to rival his grandfather’s. With show-stopping production numbers including “Transylvania Mania,” “He Vas My Boyfriend” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Young Frankenstein is scientifically proven great entertainment which will leave you in stitches. Not recommended for children under 13. www.palosverdesperformingarts.com

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    MUSICAL NEWS
    An all-star ensemble joins For The Record when it returns to Los Angeles with a new production,
    For The Record: Scorsese - American Crime Requiem, kicking off the 2016-17 season at The Wallis, Sept 21-Oct 16. Show will feature Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young, Tony Award-nominee Carmen Cusack, American Idol’sPia Toscano, Lindsey Gort (The Carrie Diaries), Grammy Award-nominee B. Slade, and For The Record alums James Byous, Dionne Gipson, Olivia Harris, Doug Kreeger, Justin Mortelliti, Jason Paige, and Zak Resnick. The performance will highlight 40 years of Scorsese’s storytelling through films like GoodFellas, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and more on a massive four tier stage.


    “Over the past year, we have been expanding the For The Record brand outside of Los Angeles by presenting our 1980’s inspired Brat Pack show on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Escape, opening Baz (Luhrmann) - Star Crossed Love at The Palazzo Theater in Las Vegas, and most recently announcing a partnership with dick clark productions and ABC to develop the series as live musical events for the network,” said co-creator/Executive Producer Shane Scheel. “We are thrilled to finally be back home in Los Angeles with this new partnership at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.” www.thewallis.org

    Cabrillo Music Theatre has never produced Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s Evita but that all changes this fall when they stage the classic for the first time, October 14-23. Roger Castellano directs a cast led by Cassandra Murphy as Eva Peron, Marc Ginsburg as Che, David Kirk Grant as Juan Peron, and Bill Ledesma as Agustin Magaldi in the rags-to-riches story of Eva Duarte Peron, actress-turned-First Lady of Argentina. Choreography is by Cheryl Baxter, Dr. Cassie Nickols will music direct, and Dan Redfeld returns to conduct the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra www.cabrillomusictheatre.com

    The Garage Theatre brings on the gore with Evil Dead: The Musical based on the iconic films The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. When asked whether or not audience members should watch the films before attending, director Matt Kollar says, “Watch them right now, they’re classics! And some are apparently on YouTube, so there’s no excuse. The collective enthusiasm of our design teams, actors, and musicians traces all the way back to The Evil Dead, that low-budget 1981 video nasty that was outright banned in certain countries. Of course, those who haven’t seen the films will still have a great time, but be warned: this ain’t Gilbert & Sullivan!” Cast includes Steven Frankenfield, Jazzy Jones, Hollie Sokol, Austin Book, Nori Tecosky, Timmy Red, and Paul Scott. www.thegaragetheatre.org

    Chromolume Theatre presents Jason Robert Brown’s song-cycle Songs For A New World, directed by James Esposito, with musical direction by Daniel Yokomizo, Sept 9-25. Cast includes Bailey Humiston, Matt Mancuso, Teresa Tracy, Kenny Gary, Samantha Lawrence, James Esposito, and Bonnie Sludikoff. The show is about “one moment, hitting a wall and having to make a choice, or to take a stand, or to turn around and go back.” www.crtheatre.com

    Pilobolus' Shadowland. Photo by Ian Douglas

    FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

    Pilobolus’ amazing spectacle of inventiveness, Shadowland, returns to Southern California on Sunday, Oct 2 at 3:00pm to kick-off VPAC’s popular Family Matinee Series. Created by famed dance company Pilobolus after years of experimentation with short-form shadow play, Shadowland is part shadow act, part dance, part circus and part concert. It was conceived in collaboration with Steven Banks, lead writer for the playfully surreal animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, and is propelled by a rhythmic original score by David Poe. Shadowland is the storybook journey of a young girl coming of age, funny and sensational, told with Pilobolus’ signature fusion of shadow, theatre and dance. valleyperformingartscenter.org


    The Arcadia Performing Arts Foundation presents the Shanghai Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China on Friday, Sept 23 at 8pm. For over fifty years, the Shanghai Acrobats have proven to be one of the most influential and competitive acrobatic companies in China. The company’s acrobats, jugglers and contortionists create a performance highlighted by specially designed backdrops, lighting and music that promises to entertain and enlighten people of all ages. www.arcadiapaf.org

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    Original company, North American Tour of NEWSIES.
    ©Disney. Photos by Deen van Meer.

    I already knew Disney’s Newsies had developed cult status before I saw the show because its legions of loyal “Fansies” have championed it from the very beginning. But even I wasn’t prepared for the audience’s screams of appreciation for the hard-working boys – and one girl – who form the heart of the current national tour playing at the Hollywood Pantages through September 4. 

    It isn’t a surprise. Few among us can resist the chest-swelling pride we feel when the underdog wins. In many ways, the little guy represents all of us regular folk, in some form or another. Idealistic but without the resources of the rich, and often without the loud voices of the political and economic bullies, it as if one of our own has somehow breached the impenetrable fortress of the world and won.

    In this case, sixteen or so street urchins prove that a little solidarity can go a long way, even if you’re only a ragtag bunch of orphans selling newspapers on the street. If you believe in your cause and don’t back down, the establishment has nothing to do but listen.


    Newsies is based on the true story of an 1899 Newsboy Strike that took place in New York City. In an effort to increase their profits, newspaper owners Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst colluded to raise the price of their papers from fifty to sixty cents per hundred, which meant a significant drop in the newsies’ meager earnings. Led by one young orphan with a dream and publicized by an aspiring newspaperwoman on a mission to legitimize her writing, boys from all the boroughs across New York united and eventually achieved their goal. In the end, both sides learn the value of compromise, and that's what its really all about.

    It was a musical film first, directed by Kenny Ortega and released in 1992; then a stage production, adapted by Harvey Fierstein (book), Alan Menken (music), and Jack Feldman (lyrics) that became an accidental hit, largely due to its fans. From Paper Mill Playhouse to Broadway to its still-running first national tour, the phenomenon shows no signs of diminishing.

    Directed by Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, it pulses with heart-pumping adrenaline. Gattelli integrates dance into the story in much the same way the brilliant Michael Kidd did in musicals like Guys and Dolls and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Newsies’ brash and exciting production numbers explode with sequences that literally defy gravity. It would be interesting to know how may backflips, split jumps, leaps, and pirouettes the production actually contains. This is definitely a show for musical theatre geeks to geek out on. Its two and a half hours fly by.

    An eager enthusiasm pervades its young but undeniably gifted cast. Each of the boys reveals a unique personality that humanizes his plight. Head newsboy Jack Kelly’s (Joey Barreiro) swagger meets its match in the dry humor of Katherine’s (Morgan Keene) verbal takedowns. Their slow burn of a romance doesn’t exist in the film but creates a welcome counterpoint to the feverishly propulsive pacing of the stage production. Keene has a lovely Disney princess singing voice but could do with a little less singsong cadence in her speech pattern.

    Morgan Keene and Joey Barreiro

    Kelly’s optimistic best bud, Crutchie (Andy Richardson), has a bum leg but he still moves like lightning across the stage, until he’s beaten up by the authorities and lands in the Refuge, an institution that is no refuge for the poor. Davy (Stephen Michael Langton) may not have brawn but he does have brains and a sincere desire to help his struggling family while tough guy Anthony Zas (Spot Conlin, leader of the Brooklyn boys) is the don’t-mess-with-me back-up the striking Newsies desperately need.

    Aisha de Haas, as singer Medda Larkin, runs the club where Kelly hides out when the authorities are hot on his trail and it is there we learn of his artistic abilities as a painter. She’s as close to a mother as this orphan will ever get and she sings with a ballsy lilt that is a delight, outfitted in a hot pink glittery feathered gown. Oh, what a gal. Steve Blanchard’s (Joseph Pulitzer) deep baritone voice thunders condescendingly throughout.

    Still, the cast is not without vocal issues. Intonation is questionable at times and there is a lack of polish in individual voices that tend to overreach high notes but that is largely forgivable given the non-stop athletics of the show. Newsies’ real power is its ensemble work. Every time the cast comes together as a cohesive unit (whether vocally or physically), it soars. In this musical, the whole always is greater than the sum of its parts and the impact of their ensemble scenes and dances creates a showstopping behemoth of audience pleasure.

    The cast of Newsies

    Tobin Obst’s massive 3-tiered scenic design of intertwining steel New York fire escapes overlooks the city against a rich watercolor sky, transforming into a variety of bleak pre-twentieth century interiors and exteriors with precision. Jess Goldstein’s costumes, complete with newspaper bags that go from functional work attire to spinning dance props, also help define the characters with their subtle touches – an undershirt over bulging muscles or a dirty Baker Boy cap pulled down in defiance, plus a wide variety of tweed garments the boys can easily dance in.

    With the exuberance of youth on its side and a story whose core issue of fairness is as relatable as ever, Newsies continues to impress with its wow factor. Grab a seat now because it only runs through Labor Day weekend and its worth every penny!

    NEWSIES
    August 30 - September 4, 2016
    Hollywood Pantages Theatre
    6233 Hollywood Blvd.
    Los Angeles, 90028
    www.hollywoodpantages.com

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    Beth Kennedy and Matt Walker in Haunted House Party
    All photos by Craig Schwartz

    Troubadour Theatre Company’s classless clowns of classical comedy go rogue in their latest adaptation at the Getty Villa. Taking generous liberties with the source material (Plautus’s Mostellaria) they reinvent the over-2000-year-old play as Haunted House Party, A Roman Comedy in their own unique style. Yes, it’s definitely “a comedy tonight.” 

    Directed and adapted by head clown, Matt Walker, and accompanied by a band of mostly stalwart Troubie regulars, this one certainly contains the requisite tenets of Troubie playtime: classic musical numbers refashioned with story-specific lyrics, broad characters designed to spark an immediate (usually comic) response, large doses of improvised gags, multiple jabs at newsworthy figures, and a fair amount of circus whimsy on the side.

    Coincidentally, early Roman theatre – with its farcical stories, stock characters, commedia dell’arte, and burlesque influences – is a perfect fit for these modern-day troubadours. The Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks and since the Getty Villa’s performance space is patterned after the outdoor ancient Greek amphitheatres, the environment provides one more layer of stylish authenticity.

    What this Troubie production adds, however, that isn’t quite as typical of their previous work, is an abundance of explicit humor, both verbal and visual, that makes the play an adults-only affair. Plan on a bawdy night out and you won’t be disappointed, but if you lack the fortitude for indelicate humor, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    L-R: Rick Batalla, Misty Cotton, Matt Walker, Matthew Patrick Davis,
    Tyler King, Joey Keane, and Nicholas Cutro

    The story is not unlike one you’d find today, but for its period details. A young man (Nicholas Cutro) parties the days away in excess while his father (Michael Faulkner) is out of town on business. Money complications occur when he spends a great deal of dad’s funds to free a slave girl (Joey Keane) he has fallen in love with, and then dad arrives home unexpectedly. Now it’s up to the young man’s slave (Matt Walker) to figure out how to make things right and give the audience its happy ending.

    A dozen or so 70’s and 80’s hits like the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” Alex Call and Jim Keller’s “867-5309/Jenny” and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” allow the Troubies plenty of room for Molly Booth’s suitably outrageous choreography.

    The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” is reinvented to feature Beth Kennedy (hilarious) as a Mafioso banker, and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” becomes a call to arms for slave-girl, Karole Foreman. Kennedy also plays a slave in the show and is equally as funny, if not more so, in that guise. Fans of Rick Batalla’s off-kilter sense of humor will love what he does here and Joey Keane finally gets to do it in drag, and bubbles, and bikinis. You’ll just have to see it.

    There is no fourth wall in this production and it’s raunchy from beginning to end. Gags won’t be revealed here but I will that say that no political candidate, ethnic group, or pop culture trend goes unscathed. Some of the jokes fall flat but when they do it’s usually funnier than when they land. Troubie regulars will find that latecomers still get the song, even at the Getty Villa, and Walker has his trusty yellow flag ready to call foul on tongue-tied actors, which to delight of the opening night audience happened more than once. It’s a true ensemble effort from beginning to low blow end.

    Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo raises stories-high fabric panels behind the troupe’s travelling wagon centerpiece that acts as a beautiful canvas for JM Montecalvo’s colorful and tile-patterned lighting effects. Musical director Eric Heinly’s 4-piece band seems less comfortable than usual with its incidental music but makes up for it during full-fledged production numbers.

    This comedy outing may not be for everybody but it is still bright and bold and packed with laughs that add an entirely new color – definitely blue – to the palette that is Troubie-land. 

    L-R: Misty Cotton, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Joey Keane,
    Leah Sprecher, and Karole Foreman

    HAUNTED HOUSE PARTY, A Roman Comedy
    September 9 – October 1, 2016 (8pm)
    Getty Villa, co-produced by Troubadour Theater Company 
    The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
    17985 Pacific Coast Highway
    Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
    Running time: Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission
    Tickets: www.getty.edu/museum/programs
    Not recommended for anyone under 12

    L-R: Michael Faulkner and Matt Walker

    L-R: Michael Faulkner, Rick Batalla, Leah Sprecher, Matt Walker, and Nicholas Cutro 

    Beth Kennedy (center) with (L-R) Leah Sprecher, Misty Cotton,
    Karole Foreman, Michael Faulkner, Matt Walker, Rick Batalla,
     Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Nicholas Cutro, and Joey Keane


    Matt Walker

    Misty Cotton, Joey Keane, Nicholas Cutro, Matthew Patrick
    Davis, and Leah Sprecher

    The company of Haunted House Party

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    Ashley Park and Conor Guzmán Photos by Jim Cox Photography.

    When The Fantasticks first opened Off-Broadway in 1960, it was a pretty sure bet no one had ever written the word Bengasi [Benghazi] in a musical theatre song lyric before. But at the time, lyricist Tom Jones knew it would evoke the romantic fascination of an exotic land in composer Harvey Schmidt’s whirlwind number “Round and Round.” The song is a thrilling but sobering adventure for the musical’s two innocent young lovers, Matt (Conor Guzmán) and Luisa (Ashley Park), who witness firsthand the violent reality of a world spinning out of control. Still, the song was written long before war broke out in the Middle East and the Twin Towers came down in New York. Yesterday’s allure gives way to today’s terror and another layer of evolution digs in.

    Director Seema Sueko taps into the times by setting her Pasadena Playhouse revival of The Fantasticks in a dingy, decaying theater, much like you might find in a bombed-out city. There, actors and musicians creep in and set about the business of presenting their play. Everything they need is created out of objects found amid the junk on scenic designer David F. Weiner’s wondrously musty stage. Droplets of water plink down as sirens and outside disturbances flash intermittently in Joe Huppert’s exquisite sound design. The whole opening sets up a love of the theatre and a need to create no matter what the limitations may be. It made me wonder what kind of world this might be without that love.

    Then, with a deep breath from El Gallo (Philip Anthony-Rodriguez), the orchestra begins to play one of the best overtures ever written and a story unfolds. If it’s been years since you’ve seen this musical or if you’ve never seen it before, this is the one production you’ll want to add to your calendar. Pasadena Playhouse’s revival is a beautiful study in nuance and understanding. Funny, haunting, poignant and bittersweet, it is that rare musical theatre experience that exceeds every possible expectation and leaves you wanting more.

    L-R: Alyse Rockett, Regi Davis, Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, Gedde Watanabe,
    Ashley Park and Conor Guzmán

    For my money, the score to The Fantasticks is one of the most brilliant marriages between music and lyrics to be found in a classic musical. The themes in its gorgeous songs return in underscoring throughout the piece whenever romance, danger, longing, or any one of a myriad of significant emotions is within grasp. El Gallo invites the audience to see the play with your ears and though he is speaking about painting the picture of a scene, you can also hear the story in its music. There is so much to take in musically.

    The chosen orchestration for this revival is piano and harp – two musicians, David O. and Liesl Erman, respectively – who create an infinitely rich musical journey. The delicate pianissimo phrases in “Metaphor” are breathtaking and “They Were You” begins as softly as a caress before building to a lush duet and then circling back from whence it came. Both accompaniment and vocals contain gorgeous phrasing. There is poetry in the sound of Ashley Park’s voice and wonder in Conor Guzmán’s.

    Sexy innuendo gives way to a driving accelerando in “I Can See It” as music director David O.’s virtuosic piano performance explodes with unrelenting energy underneath Guzmán and Rodriguez’s long legato vocal phrases until the number turns into a three-way tour de force performance. The harp, as moonlight, beckons both lovers and audience into the forest in a beautiful make believe castle scene for “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” (Guzmán’s exuberant charm bursts from every pore) and although Park sings the phrase “happy ending,” Schmidt’s minor melody foreshadows the pain to come.

    The score is full of texture and when a director and ensemble can reveal the many twists and turns within the musical with such tenderness and honesty, you want to be there to be moved right along with them. There is no doubt, this production of The Fantasticks is a triumph for the Playhouse’s artistic director, Sheldon Epps, as he begins his final season leading the charge.

    L-R: Regi Davis, Gedde Watanabe and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez

    For humor and a nod to the sweet comedy of a much more innocent time, Gedde Watanable and Regi Davis (Hucklebee and Bellomy) make great use of their vegetables, fake feud, and wall in scene and song – wall provided by Alyse Rockett as The Mute, a story facilitator and location scout responsible for several lovely moments of stage magic.

    The ease of Shirley Piersons costumes assist with character recognition – plaid for the comics, the muteutilitarian streetware, a whimsical splash of clear blue sky and blossoming flowers in the ingenues skirt, long underwear as a blank canvas for the actors and a tattered dublet for the Elizabethan.  

    When the audience least expects it, a secret weapon emerges from a nondescript trunk in the form of Hal Linden as Henry, an old Shakespearean actor. This is the point in many productions where the energy often flags as actors past their prime milk scenes ad nauseam without payoff or point. But what delight there is in Mr. Linden’s portrayal of a career actor of many years, not as spry or as sharp as he used to be but still in search of a stage on which to perform. Lines like “young rooster looking for the pinch of adventure” and “beyond that road’s an episode waiting to be unzipped” take on new meaning with his yeoman’s insight.

    Hal Linden and Amir Talai

    Accompanying him is his sidekick Amir Talaias Mortimer, an actor skilled at dying, committed to traveling the world with Henry wherever the footlights beckon. Thankfully, he no longer plays an Indian chief in the Playhouse’s production – a character holdover from an early Western incarnation of the play which always made me a little uncomfortable. Following that original version, the writers (happily) took the script in a new direction with influence from playwright Edmund Rostand’s Les Romanesques, who would later become known for his more widely recognized classic, Cyrano de Bergerac.

    Today The Fantasticks remains the longest running musical in history with productions consistently being performed around the world. But all you need to do is make your way to Pasadena to try to remember that long ago September. The shows message speaks to audiences of all ages and its staying power confirms what we all know in our hearts. Despite everything, love is always worth it, no matter the cost.

    Ashley Park and Conor Guzmán

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    From the Oscar®-winning team of Peter Parnell, Alan Menken, and Stephen Schwartz comes a lushly scored retelling of Victor Hugo’s epic story of love, acceptance, and what it means to be a hero. Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame showcases the film’s Oscar®-nominated score with new songs by Menken and Schwartz. Librettist Peter Parnell crafts a bold, highly-theatrical take on the moving tale of the scorned bell-ringer Quasimodo (John McGinty), the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Cassie Simone), and the dashing Captain Phoebus (Eric Kunze) in 15th-century Paris. Directed by Glenn Casale with choreography by Dana Solimando. Show runs through October 9, 2016. Tickets: www.lamiradatheatre.com

    John McGinty and Keith A. Bearden with the company.
    All photos by Michael Lamont

    Eric Kunze, Cassie Simone and John McGinty

    John McGinty and Cassie Simone

    Cassie Simone and Mark Jacoby

    The company of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    John McGinty (center) and the company

    John McGinty and Dino Nicandros

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    Milo Manheim and Anabella Ronson-Benenati. All photos by Shane Alan Bradley

    Two years ago this teen musical was one of the best new works to come through Hollywood. Its young writers Julie Soto, Ryan Warren, and composer Will Finan had found a way to tell a story about teen suicide that was relatable to both youth and adults alike. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare; the thought of your own child suffering in silence and one that also speaks to the isolation that persists among many adults as well.

    The original cast consisted of an exceptional group of teens, many of whom had been with show from the very beginning. Their commitment to telling the story truthfully made it so much more than the sum of its parts. It was a great example of how the right people telling the right story can move an audience with their honesty. For that reason, I was interested in seeing how the musical had evolved.

    Both the 2014 production and the current version were directed by Ryan Warren and the scenic design is much the same, but with the addition of TV screens that track the social media reactions of the characters. The screens are a great idea but would have had more impact if they were larger and set further downstage. The staging, from what I remember, is basically the same and while I’m told the story has had some edits, they weren’t large enough to be noticeable.

    The biggest change is the production’s cast. These LA-based young actors have had significantly less rehearsal which has resulted in more generalized performances: now I’m sad so I’ll look at the floor, now I’m mad so I’ll yell. Perhaps that is the challenge when a new cast picks up roles that have been essentially written for another group of actors. It doesn’t work to simply repeat what they did; one’s actions must be grounded in one’s own truth or the characters end up superficial and ultimately less likable.

    Chelsea Fitzsimmons and Ian Ferrell

    Another challenge using LA actors whose training and credits favor film & TV is that they also, almost without exception, assume a film style of acting on stage that has consequences for the audience. The dialogue and singing are so quiet you can’t hear them (no body mics are used). The sound engineer compensated by lowering the volume of the pre-recorded tracks for Act II, but the actors then lowered their volume even further. Cue pick-up was slow and scene changes sloppy, which created an overall pacing problem.

    Stage is a different medium. It requires different skills and a different kind of physical energy from an actor. What works for one does not always work for the other.

    Milo Manheim and Will Meyers

    As a teaching piece, Generation Me has a lot to say about the issues teens face such as peer pressure, bullying, suicide, and sex. Milo Manheim (Milo Reynolds) and Will Meyers (Cody Bennett) create a realistic relationship that follows the ups and downs of best friend-ship as do Manheim and Anabella Ronson-Benenati in their accidental alliance formed on the “outcast” patio.

    When we reach the final emotional choral number “Find My Way” – powerfully staged in its simplicity – it is the kind of theatrical moment that can extricate a tear from even the most resistant heart.

    Like most real life tragedies, not all of GenMe’s questions are answered, and that’s a wise decision by the writers. Not tying up all the loose ends creates a space for continuing dialogue about these all-important issues. And if that means one young person who feels hopeless can consider another option, it has done its work.

    Julia Nightingale and Johnny Lee

    GENERATION ME
    September 16 – October 9, 2016
    Hudson Mainstage Theatre 
    6539 Santa Monica Blvd 
    Hollywood, CA  90038
    Ticket Link
    www.generationmethemusical.com
    No late seating. Recommended for ages 13 and older.

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    Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez, Ella Saldaña North, Esperanza America,
    Julio Macias and Olivia Cristina Delgado. Photos by Grettel Cortes Photography

    The essence of Latino Theatre Company’s monumental production of A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story is beautifully captured in the simple photograph above. In this starry night scene, a family poised on the edge of major change looks to the infinite sky with hope. Quietly, in these few moments of silence, we as audience members know exactly how they feel. For what parent has not dreamed of providing a better life for his or her children and what child has not longed for a future where dreams come true?

    These ideas are built into the very foundation of Evelina Fernández’s 3-part Mexican-American legacy piece spanning almost a hundred years in a family’s evolution. They are part of what makes the story universally appealing and eloquently representative of the struggles of a growing portion of our population, especially here in California.

    The plays were not initially conceived as a trilogy nor were they written chronologically but, little by little, each has found its place in this rich extended narrative. They have all been produced individually in the last few years but are now presented in their entirety for the first time, divided into two separate productions that can be seen alone or consecutively on the same night with a dinner break in between. I chose to see them both on one day and it was the best six hours of my week, being immersed in a world that is familiar but whose details are completely unexpected.

    Evelina Fernández and Olivia Cristina Delgado

    It is, above all, a family story framed in an instantly recognizable historical context. Part I’sFaithbegins in 1915 as young Esperanza and Silvestri leave a Mexico devastated by revolution for what they believe will be a brighter future in Arizona, and continues through the 1940’s war years. Part II, Hope, picks up during JFK’s presidential reign and the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early ‘60s, and Part III, Charity, skips forward to 2005 Los Angeles, after the invasion of Iraq.

    Against this indelible backdrop, the Morales family experiences birth, death, love, and loss, as each generation’s distinct characteristics give way to the next.

    There is a fluidity to director Jose Luis Valenzuela’s approach to the story that is almost poetic in the way it fuses its keen visual and storytelling elements. Memory creates powerful images and Valenzuela honors that union with reverence and healthy doses of humor enhanced as much by what we see and hear as what we don’t.

    Sam Golzari, Esperanza America, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Ella Saldaña North,
    Julio Macias, Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez

    A by-product of creating art with a core acting ensemble that has grown together over the course of many years, like this one, is that communication becomes almost intuitive. You can feel it in the audience when you’re watching them. They also bring to the plays their own personal history which enriches the work even further. Lucy Rodriguez, Sal Lopez, Geoffrey Rivas, and playwright Evelina Fernández are an incredible study in truth. That they and their fellow actors (equally as skilled) breathe life into these characters so effortlessly is not at all surprising. It makes the view from our vantage point remarkably humbling and inspiring.

    The traditional underpinnings of Part I’s Faith anchor the story culturally before skipping ahead to the idealistic Forties when brave young men went off to war and left many a sweetheart to navigate motherhood alone. Scenes taut with tension coexist alongside those full of situational humor and snappy dialogue that everyone who has siblings will instantly recognize. Hope swells with the optimism of the early Sixties and here the playwright has great fun with a series of fantasy sequences that provide a lively comic diversion. The sobering reality of Charity comes full circle as it connects back to the beginning by acknowledging its roots and providing an avenue to forgiveness.

    Geoffrey Rivas, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Ella Saldaña North and Esperanza America 

    Each era brings with it a soundtrack that further accentuates the passage of time. Olivia Cristina Delgado, Ella Saldaña North, and Esperanza America’s 3-part harmonies are particularly satisfying on a dozen or more standards like the Andrews Sisters’ “I Want to be Loved” the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts” and with the additional of their brothers, a dreamy version of “Mr. Sandman” that rivals the original by The Chordettes. America’s lush solos reveal a singular ability to interpret a lyric and a voice that could melt an iceberg. Rosino Serrano’s musical direction – and what I assume are his arrangements – are perfection.

    The design is equally as polished. Francois-Pierre Couture’s two-level cutaway scenic design morphs seamlessly from period to period, first incorporating the grainy textures and sepia-toned hues of the more traditional early years and later introducing the bright pinks, blues and sunny yellows so evocative of the budding television era. Thoughtful touches of whimsy in Carlos Browns costumes and Yee Eun Nam’s detailed projections combined with Couture’s set and Pablo Santiago’s lustrous lighting design create both intimacy and a sense of the all-encompassing mystery of life as pivotal moments play out with panoramic appeal.

    Lucy Rodriguez and Robert Beltran

    Sal Lopez, Sam Golzari, Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez, and Julio Macias

    Julio Macias, Ella Saldaña North, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Xavi Moreno,
    and Esperanza America

    Lucy Rodriguez and Evelina Fernández

    Olivia Cristina Delgado, Esperanza America, Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez and Julio Macias 

    A MEXICAN TRILOGY: An American Story
    September 8 – October 9, 2016
    The Latino Theatre Company @
    Los Angeles Theatre Center
    Tom Bradley Theater
    514 S. Spring Street
    Los Angeles CA 90013
    www.thelatc.org

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    L-R: Tracy Lore, Chris Kauffmann, Larry Raben, and Anne Montavon.
    Photos by Ed Krieger

    When October hits and Halloween horror movies begin to flood late night TV, you can always count on at least one station somewhere to air Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic comedy
    Young Frankenstein. But, this year, the situation is a little different. With the recent passing of Gene Wilder, who stars in the title role and also co-wrote the film with Brooks, Young Frankenstein has been making many more appearances than usual in tribute to Wilder’s uncommon genius. As a writer and actor, the film was some of his finest work and will continue to make audiences laugh for years to come.


    Young Frankenstein is a brilliant spoof of the Universal Pictures 1930’s black and white horror movies Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein, based on Mary Shelley’s gothic novel. In 2007, Mel Brooks, assisted by co-bookwriter Thomas Meehan, adapted the film as a stage musical which instantly became a hit with audiences. It isn’t surprising. The material is a natural fit for the stage with its spooky locale, dramatic storyline, and crazy characters and it has remained a crowd-pleaser ever since.

    In a stroke of incredibly (and sadly) fortuitous timing, Palos Verdes Performing Arts had the show scheduled on its 2016 season. You can see their lively and entertaining production directed by James W. Gruessing, Jr. right now at the Norris Center and you should. It’s a wonderfully Wild(er) good time and a terrific way to begin the haunting season.

    Anne Montavan, Chris Kauffmann and Larry Raben

    All of the best jokes and bits are intact, from the “Roll in the Hay” wagon ride, which becomes a standout number for winsome Anne Montavon (Inga) singing and yodeling with innocent exuberance, to the classic revolving bookcase scene “put…the candle…down” for straight man Larry Raben (Dr. Frankenstein), to Tracy Lore’s (Frau Blucher) deliriously funny “He Vas My Boyfriend” reveal. Her performance of the outrageous comedy song is equal parts maudlin melodrama and throaty German Kit Kat Club chanteuse. It’s hard to say who corners the market on laughs more.

    Raben bears an uncanny resemblance to Wilder, sounds like him when he speaks, and has impeccable timing in the deadpan humor department. The Monster (Pablo Rossil) he creates is a 7-foot tall endearing creature with sad eyes and a penchant for even sadder violin music. Their fancy footwork in the musical’s big splashy “Puttin’ on the Ritz” production number is delightful. Choreographer Daniel Smith builds dance numbers like “Ritz,”  “Welcome to Transylvania” and a spectacular “Join the Family Business” with distinctive moves from the original production but incorporates his own flair for comedy (watch for his twist on traditional Russian dance moves).

    Vocally, the production also sounds great. Musical direction is by Sean Alexander Bart who leads a live 13-piece orchestra that creates a vividly dynamic presence in the auditorium (there’s not a bad seat anywhere). Voices are strong, diction is crisp, and featured soloists among the ensemble have plenty of moments to shine.

    Greg Nicholas and Pablo Rossil

    Gene Hackman nearly stole the film in his 5-minute role as a blind hermit the Monster visits when he escapes Frankenstein’s castle and Greg Nicholas makes the most of the scene and his hilarious want song “Please Send Me Someone.” He also doubles as the kooky Inspector Kemp who has given an arm and a leg in the pursuit of justice.

    Lindsey Alley rolls out a big brassy belt voice as Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé and Chris Kauffmann takes on the role of Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, but it’s almost impossible not to compare them to Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman who created the roles. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Alley is quite a bit more abrasive and unlikable as the self-obsessed actress, although her staging is comical, but Kauffmann’s take on Igor falls flat. The role begs for the kind of oddball unpredictable behavior, posturing, and brilliance Feldman used in creating the character but unfortunately he’s just a bloke with an accent and funny makeup here. It’s a missed opportunity.

    A dozen or so painted backdrops simulate the interior and exterior of Frankenstein’s mountaintop castle, an ocean liner, underground laboratory, Transylvania Town Hall, town square, and even a giant moon in the sky. Lighting designer Jean Yves-Tessier creates an impressive light show, particularly for the monster reanimation and brain transference scenes that employ some additional electrical magic and Brian Hseih’s accompanying sound effects add to the surprise.

    You vant some fun at a big silly musical Halloween treat? You vant Young Frankenstein at the Norris. Ya.

    YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
    September 23 – October 9, 2016
    Palos Verdes Performing Arts 
    The Norris Theatre
    27570 Norris Center Drive (formerly Crossfield Drive)
    Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274
    Tickets: palosverdesperformingarts.com

    Pablo Rossil and Larry Raben

    Tracy Lore and candlestick

    Larry Raben and brain

    Lindsey Alley and Pablo Rossil

    Anne Montavan and Larry Raben

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    All I can say is get ready to be blown away. This theatricalized cinematic hybrid entertainment-on-steroids comes at you with all the force of a loaded gun, if the stage was the barrel, the singers were the bullets, and the Scorsese signature plot twists were the triggers. It’s one showstopping sequence after another woven together with a modern sensibility that hits right on trend.

    The cast of For The Record. All photos by Kevin Parry

    Your first holy-shit moment happens the moment you walk into the theater and see how Matt Steinbrenner and Kyle Courter have transformed the Wallis stage into a 4-level Vegas-style nightclub. A large round leather booth and table form the centerpiece of the main playing area with additional club seating for audience members flanking the 2 middle sections. Curved staircases on each side of the stage connect the tiers and create a sweeping visual that makes the club look like it is a hundred feet tall. They are also integrated beautifully, and with quite a measure of stylish surprise, into Dan Efros and Michael Berger’s lighting design.

    I can imagine how detailed the light plot for this show must be to achieve so many wow moments in this Vegas showroom. It’s a given that Efros and Berger would excel at creating the excitement of a rock concert but what is even more fascinating is the way they use light to give the illusion of depth and warmth. The show looks luxe but it just as easily trades its burnished glow for the stark grit of a crime drama whenever it needs to.

    Then For The Record: Scorsese’s creators (executive producer Shane Scheel, director Anderson Davis, and music supervisor/arranger Jesse Vargas) drop in an outrageously talented 7-piece band lead by Vargas and a ferocious cast that can quite literally blow the roof off with their powerhouse vocals. It’s a recipe for success right out of the box.

    Zak Resnick and Jason Paige

    Like previous For The Record performances, the 2-act show focuses on the films of an iconic director such as Baz Luhrmann, Quentin Tarantino, and John Hughes and weaves together scenes from across their body of work into one story. This one nails Scorsese’s brilliance and also recognizes the way he used music to underscore his characters’ personalities and their pivotal scenes. The stage production brings together some of his most memorable creations like Sam Rothstein (John Lloyd Young) and Ginger (Carmen Cusack) from Casino, Karen (Pia Toscano) and Henry Hill (Zak Resnick) from Goodfellas, Iris (Lindsey Gort) and Travis Bickle (James Byous) from Taxi Driver, Jordan Belfort (Justin Mortelliti) from The Wolf of Wall Street, and Jason Paige who plays Frank, a composite of Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas, Nicky Santoro from Casino and Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello from The Departed.

    Rather than mimicking the original film characters, however, the actors use them as a point of departure, although Paige eerily channels his characters’ humor and brutality with chilling exactitude. The choice allows for adjustments to be made to fit the current cast. For example, Byous’s Travis seems younger and more innocent that De Niro’s but when he makes the change to haunted vigilante in his unforgettable revenge scene, it is no less believable.

    Lindsey Gort with Erik Carlton on guitar

    As Iris, Gort takes Jodie Foster’s little girl prostitute and turns up the volume to create a sexier, more worldly, but equally as damaged young woman. She’s got that slit your wrists kind of voice that hits you in stomach when she sings. It’s full of pain, and tears, and dirty martinis. She’s a little bit baby doll and a little bit Janis Joplin rolled into one. Her bluesy version of B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” with guitarist Erik Carlton backing her up is one of the most vulnerable scenes in the show.

    Paige turns John Lennon’s “Well, Well, Well” into a grinding showstopper. There’s a whole world in that song and he wrings every ounce of desperation and defiance out of it. Cusack takes her long last walk of drunken, drugged-out shame to Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and creates an indelible image stumbling through her final crazed moments. Equal parts torch singer and tortured country star, she also brings down the house with her version of Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” and a reprise of “I’m Sorry” sung earlier by Toscano, one of the best female vocalists  to come out of American Idol.

    Toscano’s voice is a perfect match for the ‘50s and ‘60s songs that represent the challenges of many of the wives in Scorsese’s films and her lush vocals resonate with emotion. She and Resnick also recreate the unique comedy in Karen and Henry Hill’s over-the-top marriage, which director Davis positions at just the right moments to break up the show’s more violent scenes. The production is well-calibrated and as an audience member you never feel overwhelmed.

    L-R: Zak Resnick and Justin Mortelliti

    Mortelliti and Resnick’s party boy pace is fast and funny. Their hilarious Lemmon Quaalude scene mops up the stage and “My Way” is reinvented with a driving rock beat. Young functions as the anchor point for the ensemble. He takes his trademark Jersey Boys cool and adds intensity to standards like “Stardust” and “The ‘In’ Crowd.” Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Florez stage a tango for Young and Cusack over the exchange of a twenty dollar bill (or a hundred, who knows?) that is slyly effective. You can see their savvy touches all over the production which adds a level of showmanship to the performances that deepen their impact.

    As a kind of everyman observer who pops up throughout the performance to comment or accompany the onstage action, B. Slade (Stacks) is the silver bullet that subtly connects the audience with the actors. By the time the show gets to his “House of the Rising Sun” epilogue, we’re primed for the incredible rage, halleluiah fever, angelic push, and righteous indignation he wrings out of the demanding finale. It’s the type of mega-spectacular number that is the only fitting way to end this kind of a major undertaking.

    B. Slade

    For The Record has come a long way since its humble beginning six years ago in a small cabaret space in Los Feliz. Since then the company has expanded and brought shows to New York City, Las Vegas, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and soon to television in partnership with Dick Clark Productions. They have taken the theatre cabaret act to a whole new level, reinventing it, and positioning that new form in such a way that it will undoubtedly grow audiences across generations. That’s an exciting prospect for the future of the art form itself.

    In addition to the actual performance, the Wallis has extended the Scorsese feel of the evening by adding a number of pre and post attractions for theatregoers. Come early for pasta from the Prince of Venice Food Truck and themed-cocktails at The Bar at The Wallis. Entertainers will roam the courtyard and films like Fellini’s and Rossellini’s Paisan will screen outdoors. You can also stay after the performance for a post-show hangout at The Bar and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights enjoy music by For The Record artists and other performers.

    John Lloyd Young

    Carmen Cusack

    James Byous

    Pia Toscano
    Dionne Gipson and Justin Mortelliti

    Carmen Cusack and John Lloyd Young

    FOR THE RECORD: SCORSESE – American Crime Requiem
    September 21 – October 16, 2016
    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
    Tickets: ($25 - $129) 310-746-4000 or www.TheWallis.org/FTR

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    John Bobek and David Haverty. All photos by Jessica Sherman Photography

    I love a good prequel, especially when a contemporary playwright decides to take on the back story of a hallowed play by the likes of William Shakespeare. I mean, come on. Daring to tread on that playing field takes some guts because you know before you begin that audiences are going to have high expectations of your work. They also know where you need to end your story in order for Shakespeare’s to begin so getting there must be highly inventive and worthy of its foregone conclusion.

    LA-based playwright Michael Shaw Fisher proves he’s up to the task in his latest new work Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a rowdy and irreverent precursor to Shakespeare’s revenge play, Hamlet. The musical comedy is a smart contrast in tone that opens up a clever pathway for foreshadowing later events and introducing the quirks of Shakespeare’s dramatic characters, like Ophelia’s (Alyssa Rupert) madness and Polonius’ (Curt Bonnem) convoluted conversation. It also allows for a slew of new characters to emerge that are completely unpredictable. You never know what this bunch of crackpots will do next.

    John Bobek and Brendan Hunt (center) with the cast

    Instead of simply the skull of a jester we meet in passing in Hamlet (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”) Yorick (scene-stealing Brendan Hunt) is a real person – a falling-down drunkard with more than his fair share of secrets. Hunt doesn’t even have to try to be funny. All he has to do is try to stand up and it becomes a study in how to create an unforgettable character. When his arm gets stuck in a set piece or he slips while walking across the stage, it’s a lesson in improv you can’t pass up.

    Hamlet Sr. (David Haverty), appearing in Hamlet as a ghost only, is still alive, and three boisterous roustabouts (Jeff Sumner, Matt Valle and Cj Merriman) who will take up new careers as gravediggers before Skullduggery is over will reveal all the mysteries heretofore unsolved.

    When this show works it works really well and a lot of that is due to the understanding they (and Hunt) have of how to bring the material to life. In truth, it’s the fusion of their acting chops and director Scott Leggett’s terrific ability to wring the funny out of Fisher’s writing that makes Skullduggery so much fun.

    L-R: Jeff Sumner, Matt Valle and Cj Merriman

    Each of the three has a distinct personality and role in their lively trio. They sing, they dance, they move like wraiths cloaked in black à la Martha Graham and, whenever they appear, they buoy up the merriment. Leggett’s adept staging and Natasha Norman’s cheeky choreography are a delicious combination that this show wears well.

    Skullduggery takes place thirty years before Hamlet begins when brothers Claudius (John Bobek) and Hamlet are young men. Claudius and Gertrude (Leigh Wulff) have fallen in love but when Hamlet goes off to war with their father and dear old dad is killed on the battlefield, Hamlet returns and marries her while Claudius is away at school. Seven years later, Claudius comes home to Elsinore and learns the bitter truth. Yorick’s uncanny ability to predict the future eventually convinces Claudius to join him in his drunken revolution to overthrow the now King Hamlet and take back what he lost.

    Where Hamlet follows the perspective of King Hamlet’s son, Skullduggery is really Claudius’ story of what led up to the murder. Bobek (as Claudius) is a likable leading man with a strong singing voice whose journey begins hesitantly, and is at times quite comical, with his hypoglycemic fainting spells a regular occurrence. As he gains confidence, his earnest demeanor propels him forward until he takes bold action to achieve his desired end. Haverty goes from battle-ready to war-weary and his few moments of vulnerability add depth to a very traditional character.

    As their object of affection, Wulff looks the part of a regal queen but is acting as though she is in an entirely different play. A scene can be serious in a musical comedy but it still needs to have an intensity behind it that is consistent with the style of the play. And, whether or not an actor is miked (they are not here), it is critical that the audience hears their dialogue. In this case, we can’t hear her and the acting is so internal that it comes across as flat. Rebecca Larsen (Berta) does the same thing in her scenes although her wisecracks do land when we can hear them. Both have a bigger problem swallowing their vocals during their songs which gives them an uncomfortably thin, reedy sound, neck veins straining to reach the notes.

    Rebecca Larsen and Leigh Wulff

    It’s too bad because Fisher’s score is an appealing combination of musical styles that includes everything from electro-funk, Lennon-esque tunes, and Sondheim-inspired verses to Renaissance folk, drinking songs, and sea shanties. I even heard something resembling The Pink Panther hidden in the mix. When it goes all out rock, it’s even better.

    Musical director Michael Teoli uses instruments you don’t often hear together in a musical to create some cool sound paintings and eerie effects in his arrangements for the show. He features marimba, mandolin, and guitar, and even tuba on “Twenty-Three” at the top of Act II to recap the story and move the audience forward twenty-three years. Vocal harmonies, especially the intentionally dissonant phrases, are deceptively simple and add subtle texture. It’s an artful working of the score that creates a musical world just slightly off enough to catch your ear because it isn’t at all traditional.

    Lyrically there are nods to popular Shakespeare phrases and a good bit of punning if you listen closely. You’d have to see the show a second time to catch all the Shakespeare in-jokes Fisher has included so keep your ear tuned.

    Sacred Fools’ new Hollywood venue is a step up from their previous location for this kind of musical adventure and the creative team has done some impressive work here. DeAnne Millais’ polished scenic design features open wooden panels, a curved staircase, and some highly effective scene painting (by Joyce Hutter) to bring the Elizabethan era’s stone and bone to life. A cabinet of skulls does double duty stage left while a fabric panel hanging stage right makes tapestry changes via Ben Rock’s rich video projections to further enhance locations. Gorgeous costumes by Linda Muggeridge look expensive under Andrew Schmedake’s saturated lighting design.

    Making Shakespeare a good time isn’t always easy but Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamletaccomplishes that goal and delivers an exhilarating crowd-pleaser. The laughs are infectious, the fun factor high. Maybe every Shakespearean tragedy should come with a comedy prequel.

    SKULLDUGGERY: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet
    September 30 – November 5, 2016
    Sacred Fools Theater Company
    1076 Lillian Way
    Los Angeles, CA 90038
    Tickets: www.sacredfools.org

    The cast of Skullduggery

    John Bobek and Leigh Wulff

    Pat Towne

    John Bobek and David Haverty

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    Emily Bridges and Rowan Treadway. All photos by Rick Rose.

    Did she or didn’t she? To this day, no one knows for sure. In 1893, Lizzie Borden was tried for the murders of her father and stepmother in one of the most famous unsolved cases in history. When Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were found savagely bludgeoned to death inside the family home nearly a year earlier, Lizzie was the prime suspect. She was acquitted after a two week trial but inconsistencies in her story led many to doubt her innocence. Still, no other suspect was ever accused.

    In the years since, the public’s fascination with the case has only grown, spawning a profusion of books, movies, and songs, the most famous of which is the children’s nursery rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.” It is a haunting refrain especially when set to music.

    Katrina Wood is the latest writer to explore the Fall River, Massachusetts tragedy in her new musical Spindle City, a fictional account of what might have caused Lizzie to commit the murders. Here Lizzie (Emily Bridges) is portrayed as a schoolteacher whose mission is to protect her poor students from being taken away to work in the mills.

    L-R: Bianca Vanderhorst, Sarah Hoback, Kristin Towers-Rowles and Emily Bridges

    She has a sleazy uncle (Rick Simone), determined to marry her for the Borden fortune and a male friend (Rowan Treadway) who is secretly in love with her. When her timid sister (Sarah Hoback) introduces her to Nance O’Neil (Kristin Towers-Rowles) a New York actress, there is an immediate attraction. A relationship develops but eventually ends in disappointment. We are to believe that all of this contributes to an eventual breakdown resulting in the bloody deaths of her overbearing father (Chas Mitchell) and antagonistic stepmother (Jazmine Ramay).

    But where history makes it unclear whether she did the deeds or not, this story directed by Trace Oakley, has already decided that Lizzie is mentally unbalanced, justified in her actions, and guilty. Whether by design or direction, it is a misfire to rob the audience of the mystery. Doing so undermines the fundamental allure of the story, especially since Wood has not settled on a consistent storytelling approach.

    Initially it appears that the show is going to be a tongue-in-cheek parody musical as downtrodden millworkers burst into bright bouncy Broadway choreography. While the contrast elicits many laughs, the show does not follow through on this set-up and instead alternates between doom-and-gloom drama and campy Victorian melodrama accompanied by a confusing array of musical numbers that never come together to create a cohesive whole.

    The score is a mish-mash of styles that includes everything from a country square dance, parlor songs, and vaudeville to ‘70s disco, an orchestral piece, and what sounds like 1980’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, complete with his signature synthesizers (which makes one wonder how long this musical has been in development). The pre-recorded instrumental tracks (arrangements by Art Wood and Ken Rarick) also contain passages of strange underscoring that have no connection to the dialogue. Add it all together and musically it simply doesn’t make sense.

    L-R: Chas Mitchell, Sarah Hoback, Bianca Vanderhorst, Jazmine Ramay
     and Rick Simone

    Neither does Averi Yoreks choreography, which has little to do with the story and in some cases interferes with what is happening among the principle characters. During the mill fire, the ensemble forms a stylized bucket brigade, then stops and exits, only to return hesitantly in the background of the scene several minutes later and continue. The transition is so out of place that it felt as if someone had made the wrong entrance and the cast was going back to do it all over again.

    Likewise, a story song sung by Ramay is choreographed as a tango but has nothing to do with the dialogue in the scene, regardless of the fact that it is well-executed by the actress. And though she sheds no clothes, Towers-Rowles’ stage number, with mirror in hand, looks and sounds like a disingenuous stripper’s lounge act. As director, Oakley bears the responsibility of pulling the show’s disparate pieces together but the decisions he makes are downright puzzling as he reduces the characters to unfortunate stereotypes.

    Kristin Towers-Rowles

    Skylar Johnson’s lighting adds an appropriately eerie tone to the production and Aaron Glazer’s creepy set design has a number of unexplained oddities that set up the story quite nicely. It’s unfortunate that some of those touches, such as a staircase going nowhere with what, at first glance, looks like a finger sitting on an upper step, aren’t at all integrated into the story. Still, Id like to see the story that goes with his intriguing set design and its offbeat color palette, period details, and miniature city skyline. Now that would be a mystery worth solving.

    As it is, Spindle City needs more work before it can live up to the fascinating tale of the real Lizzie Borden. In the meantime, there is always the next TV movie or film reinvention to look forward to.

    James J. Cox, Paul Wong and Emily Bridges

    SPINDLE CITY: The Lizzie Borden Musical
    October 13 – November 5, 2016
    Secret Rose Theatre
    11246 Magnolia Blvd.
    North Hollywood, CA 91601
    Tickets: (323) 960-7780 or www.Plays411.com/spindlecity 
    Regular show times: Fri. at 8pm, Sat. at 3pm and 8pm, Sun. at 3pm. Special Halloween show on Monday, Oct. 31 at 8pm (period costumes encouraged- Fake Axes for sale in the foyer.)
    More info: www.lizziebordenmusical.com

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    Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote. All photos by Cooper Bates

    24th Street Theatre takes on the Brothers Grimm in its latest world premiere Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass by Bryan Davidson, but forget the fairy tale  you think you know. This is no sanitized version of the story. The original, written in 1812, was a cautionary tale, bleak in its portrayal of a time when it was commonplace for impoverished families to abandon their children for lack of food and resources. The thought was that they would somehow find a way to survive and maybe even be better off on their own. It’s a heartbreaking decision for any parent to make and, unfortunately, one that families in dire circumstances around the world still face today.

    For that reason it makes sense that the company would reimagine the story’s conventions in its own meaningful, unique way. Director Debbie Devine and Davidson have created a grim, haunting, and incredibly touching tale that speaks to our most basic instincts – fear, love, and the determination to survive.

    Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote with Bradley Whitford on video

    Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass transports the brother and sister to the Eastern Kentucky mining town of Butcher Holler during the 1930s as part of a radio program narrated by an onscreen DJ (Bradley Whitford as “The Duke”). Here, work is scarce and so is food. Their mother lives in the cemetery where Gretel (Angela Giarratana) visits and sings from the family hymnal, her one possession and the only thing that makes her forget the hunger in her belly. Their pa is a poor miner, destitute, out of work and unable to provide for them. When the reality of the situation becomes unbearable, he tells them he is taking them to stay with relatives. Deep in the woods, he gives Hansel (Caleb Foote) the three objects you need to survive – a blade to cut, a cord to bind, and iron to make a fire – before leaving them to chop firewood. By the time they realize he has abandoned them, it is too late.

    Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote

    They stumble upon a limestone cave and a mysterious blind Mountain Woman (a wonderfully enigmatic Sarah Zinsser) who shows them what they want to see. Gretel, who has previously been told she is of no use (“What good are you Gretel, you’re just a girl”) suddenly becomes valuable because of her voice while Hansel, who has always been in charge, is treated as the outsider (“What good are you, Hansel, you don’t sing”). The reversal of fortune is a poignant one, for this story is full of harsh lessons much like life. Here the woods are the world and what they will come to realize by story’s end is, in order to survive, what they really need is each other. 

    The standoff between brother and sister begins early in the play and both Foote and Giarratana are full of fire. Devine deftly heightens the tension during their tiffs by modulating the interplay between silence and outburst. The result of this stretching and release of pressure is that the volatility of the story hits you in the pit of your stomach. More than once I found myself holding my breath and had to consciously remind myself to breathe. It captures the world in a moment at an internal level that you feel first before words are even spoken.

    Caleb Foote

    To create the striking visual world, set designer Kevith Mitchell uses four textured and layered cutout backdrops that function as a living panorama for Matthew Hill’s sketchbook-inspired charcoal drawing projections and lighting designer Dan Weingarten’s haunting colorations. Each time the scene shifts, from forest to cave to cemetery to well, the elements morph subtly creating locations that feel eerily alive. Christopher Moscatiello further enhances the ominous and spacious feel of the mountains and woods in his thoughtful sound design.

    Music director Megan Swan combines recognizable songs and hymns to evoke the era and time period. Some, like the terrific “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “Miner’s Prayer” are performed by the LA-based bluegrass band, The Get Down Boys. Others, such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Amazing Grace” are sung acapella with a plaintive vulnerability by Giarratana, 

    Hansel & Gretel has always been more than simply a child’s story about getting lost in the woods. 24th Street Theatre's Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass pushes its artful storytelling to new heights with this fresh interpretation sure to resonate with both young people and adults alike.

    HANSEL & GRETEL BLUEGRASS
    October 29 – December 11, 2016
    24th Street Theatre
    1117 West 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
    Tickets: ($10 - $24) call 213-745-6516 or go to www.24thstreet.org
    Saturdays 3pm & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm

    Sarah Zinsser and Angela Giarratana

    Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana

    Angela Giarratana and Sarah Zinsser

    Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana

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    Back L-R: Lucy Willhite, Stephen Russell, Jesse Graham, Harley Jay, Jason Graae
    and Omar D. Brancato. Front: Madeline Gambon, Trevor Wheetman,
    Craig McEldowney, Kimberly Hessler and Caleb Horst. All photos by: Ronnie Slavin

    Rubicon Theatre Company lands a winner with its latest musical comedy Return to the Forbidden Planet by Bob Carlton. The silly sci-fi confection is two hours of deliciously kitschy fun accompanied by a rock and roll score that blasts out more than twenty hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s and a dynamite cast that spews planetary puns and classical text faster than the speed of light.

    Loosely based on Forbidden Planet, one of the best science fiction films to come out of the 1950s, it also takes shots at just about every Shakespeare play you can think of. You’ll hear lines of iambic pentameter – many twisted into fresh new comic punchlines – from The Tempest (which also supplies the names of the major characters) and a host of others like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and King Lear. There’s even a line from one of the sonnets thrown in for good measure.

    The musical takes place aboard a space ship led by the charismatic Captain Tempest (Harley Jay). He and his crew are about to embark on a new mission, “Scientific Survey Flight Nine” which also includes the audience as fellow travelers. Once emergency instructions are dispatched (what could go wrong?) the ship launches and we’re off to the races.

    Kimberly Hessler and Harley Jay (front) with
    Craig McEldowney, Jason Graae, James O’Neil
    and Omar D. Brancato

    Carlton makes it easy to follow the plot – simply pay attention to the songs he uses to tell the story. “It’s a Man’s World” sets up a gender rivalry between the captain and Gloria (Rebecca Ann Johnson), the sexy Science Officer, and during blastoff the whole ensemble sings a rousing “Great Balls of Fire” to kick the action into high gear. When an asteroid hits and the ship is thrown off course, Prospero (James O’Neil), a defector who has been missing for fifteen years comes to their aid. Turns out he’s been living on the planet D’Illyria (Twelfth Night reference anyone?) conducting scientific experiments that he claims are not what everyone thinks (“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”).

    The Captain meets Prospero’s quirky robot helper Ariel (Jason Graae) and beautiful daughter Miranda (Kimberly Hessler) singing “Good Vibrations” but it’s also love at first sight for Cookie (Caleb Horst), the cook, when he spies the girl. Encouraged by the Bosun (Craig McEldowney) to woo her with a kiss (“The Shoop Shoop Song”) Cookie makes his approach, but Miranda has already fallen for the Captain (“A Teenager in Love”) who tells her she’s too young for him (“Young Girl”).

    Much mayhem occurs as Gloria’s true identity is revealed, Cookie vows to help her steal Prospero’s secret formula, and an unidentified green monster attacks the ship. And that’s only Act I. The goofy story continues from there with another dozen hits in Act II until the musical wraps it all up with a typical Shakespearean happy ending.

    The combination of science fiction subject matter, twisted Shakespeare, and rock and roll makes for a highly entertaining two hours, especially when performed by a cast as capable as this one. The ringer is, of course, James O’Neil whose wild-eyed rock god Prospero-in-space is one crazy dude. Harley Jay flexes his leading man muscles and portrays Captain Tempest with plenty of nonchalant swagger, charm to spare, and a knowing twinkle in his eye. Plus, he plays guitar, and everyone knows that a guitar player never lacks for female attention. Rebecca Ann Johnson shows off a dynamic set of pipes, belting out classics with a richness in her mid-voice that has only gotten better over time. Filling the shoes of the roller skating robot Ariel is Jason Graae, an actor who always finds a unique way to liven up a scene. If you are familiar with his solo work, be on the lookout for his oboe feature. It’s hilarious.

    As the sweet ingénue, Kimberly Hessler defines the word wholesome while Caleb Horst plays both good guy and temporary traitor with comic simplicity. Martin Landry’s Navigation Officer is a slightly imbalanced Vulcan who is prone to comical bouts of hysteria, and the additional onstage band members add to the disarming boy band appeal of the show.

    L-R: Jesse Graham, Craig McEldowney, Harley Jay, Omar D. Brancato
    and Stephen Russell

    And yet there is one other cast member who was – for me – the surprising secret weapon of the show. Craig McEldowney takes a supporting role as the Bosun and turns it into an unforgettable character portrait, wielding a thick Scottish brogue and a seriously intense demeanor that finds him managing his fellow bandmates and buddies so smoothly they don’t even realize he’s the one making them look good. Then he lets those tenor high notes loose while playing electric guitar and it sends this send-up over the top in the best way possible. We’ll have more of that, please.

    From a design standpoint, the show is neon-flavored eye candy with some terrific teamwork by scenic and lighting designer Thomas S. Giamario, costume designer Pamela Shaw, prop designer T. Theresa Scarano, and video designer Dillon G. Artzer. Artzer’s jumpy projections of onscreen narrator Fred Willard are a great addition to the show. All of it comes together under the guiding hand of director/choreographer Kirby Ward who nails the style of the piece and manages to accomplish quite a few surprises along the way. Musically, the show is firing on all cylinders, led by musical director Trevor Wheetman. Sound designer Jonathan Burke adds bright atmospheric detail that enhances the fun.


    RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET
    Oct 26 – Nov 13, 2016
    Rubicon Theatre
    1006 E. Main St. Ventura, CA 93001
    Schedule: Wed at 2pm & 7pm, Thurs at 8pm, Fri at 8pm, Sat at 2pm & 8pm, Sun at 2pm.
    Talkbacks follow all Wednesday evening performances.
    www.rubicontheatre.org

    Jason Graae and Kimberly Hessler

    L-R: James O’Neil, Harley Jay, Craig McEldowney, Trevor Wheetman
    and Omar D. Brancato 


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    Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    Don LaFontaine was one of the most prolific (and best-loved) voice actors in the movie industry for more years than I can even remember, until his death in 2008. You may not know his name but you've certainly heard his deep bass voice and famous catch phrase, "In a world..." in hundreds of movie trailers during his more than forty-year career. No one has come close to duplicating what he could do. He was one of a kind.

    Were he alive today and recording the movie trailer for TORUK - The First Flight, that signature "in a world..." would be the perfect beginning to describe what Cirque du Soleil has created in this stunning yet atypical foray into acro-musical storytelling.

    In a world where beauty lives in every detail and the lush jungles of Pandora pulse with life, it is up to one young boy to overcome self-doubt and save a dying people.

    Much more than that you don't need to know, and a narrator will take care of supplying the finer points of the tale as you go along. What you do need to be aware of is not to expect what you would normally see in a Cirque du Soleil production. This evolution of the brand trades the troupe's normal progression of death-defying feats as self-contained acts and instead integrates a more streamlined set of athletics into a linear tale. The movement of the artists becomes a language all its own and everything they do is part of the larger sphere of the Pandoran universe.

    Photo: Youssef Shoufan. Costumes: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    It requires that the audience be ready to take in an enormous amount of potent stimuli as breathtaking projections sweep across the plains of the stage and throughout the audience. Vibrant colors, so tactile and rich you could almost reach out and dip your hand in them, create the vast landscapes, moving waterfalls, and mythical scenes. It is spectacular. The sheer scope of the vision boggles the mind. It's no wonder this show plays out in the largess of an arena setting rather than inside Cirque's smaller traveling tent.

    The show may not have the same emotional reach we've come to expect but its highly creative design integrates such visual splendor and new forms of artistry and technology that it's impossible not to feel its impact.

    TORUK brings to life the world of the Na'vi from James Cameron's epic film Avatar some 3000 years before we meet them in the film. Within this world, wondrous creatures exist - part puppet, part human, some comical, some ominous. There are Viperwolves and Direhorses, Austrapedes (a kind of ostrich/flamingo/dinosaur) and a Turtlepede (turtle shark). But none are more striking than the flying Toruk, a dangerous beast of prey whom the Na'vi fear.

    The tribal sound of drumming is threaded throughout the score, along with haunting orchestral themes and a soundscape that incorporates the pulse of nature. Hoop jumping, fire twirlers, aerial silks, mechanical poles, and contortionists that balance on a moving seesaw of bones are a few of the artistic elements incorporated in the story. Boomerangs whoosh through the air and exquisite banshee kites elegantly lift in a butterfly dance overhead.

    Make sure your smart phone is fully charged before you go. Once there, you can download the TORUK app which is a unique way to engage with the show in real time, making fireflies dance, woodsprites converge, and participating in other cool effects during the performance. TORUK may not elicit the same kind of emotional longing or ache for humanity I've felt in other Cirque shows but, in an age where we are becoming more and more disconnected, this is one way of using technology to give us the next best thing.

    TORUK: The First Flight

    November 2-6, 2016
    Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario

    November 11-13, 2016
    Staples Center in Los Angeles

    January 12-15, 2017
    The Forum in Inglewood
    Tickets: www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk

    TORUK creative team: 13 creators under the artistic guidance of Guy Laliberté (Guide) and Jean-François Bouchard (Creative Guide) for Cirque du Soleil, and James Cameron, Jon Landau, Kathy Franklin and Richie Baneham for Lightstorm Entertainment, along with Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon ( Show writers and Directors, Multimedia Directors), Neilson Vignola (Director of Creation), Carl Fillion (Set and Props Designer), Kym Barrett (Costume and Makeup Designer), Tuan Le and Tan Loc (Choreographers), Bob & Bill (Composers and Musical Directors), Jacques Boucher (Sound Designer), Alain Lortie (Lighting Designer), Patrick Martel (Puppet Designer), Germain Guillemot (Acrobatic Performance Designer), and Pierre Masse (Rigging and Acrobatic Equipment Designer).

    Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett
    © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    Photo: Youssef Shoufan Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

    Photo: Jesse Faatz Costumes: Kym Barrett  © 2015 Cirque du Soleil

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    Do you have what it takes to be LA’s Next Great Stage Star? If so, Stage Star 2017 is looking for you! Presented by Princess Cruises, the competition will hold auditions for 10 men and 10 women between the ages of 18 – 32 this Saturday, December 10th at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. You must make an appointment in advance by contacting Executive Producer, Michael Sterling, at 818-623-7300. An accompanist will be provided and attendees should be prepared to sing one up-tempo song and one ballad, both from Broadway musicals. The Colony Theatre is located at the Burbank Town Center, 555 N 3rd Street in Burbank, CA 91502.

    This is the competition’s 11th consecutive year and offers a Grand Prize of $2500, professional theatrical representation, and other valuable prizes. Sixteen former Stage Star contestants have already made their Broadway and/or Off-Broadway debuts; while another 80+ are enjoying full time careers in musical theatre throughout the country and abroad. This is a great way to launch your career.

    The critically acclaimed competition will premiere January 8th and is highly anticipated by those who present Broadway musical theatre in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California.

    For her 6th year, actress, concert headliner, author, businesswoman, and arts philanthropist Barbara Van Orden joins Sterling as co-executive producer by gifting LA’s Next Great Stage Star® with the Barbara Van Orden Grant which provides invaluable financial assistance for production of the annual competition.

    “Barbara is part of a rare breed of philanthropists whose passion for live performance and commitment to young hopefuls who dream about having a professional career in the arts, is a trait not often found in Los Angeles. We are humbled by her generosity,” said Sterling.

    Musical theatre and television performer/writer/eirector/producer Peter Welkinreturns for his 5th year as associate producer. Richard Berent joins the creative team for his first season as musical director. Broadway and Television Performers/Choreographers Joe Giamalva and Susie Ewing return for their 3rd season.

    LA’s Next Great Stage Star® will be presented at the Colony Theatre as a series of five Sunday events: January 8, 15, 22, 29, and February 12; with its Grand Finale on February 19. Loosely patterned after “an audition process”, the competition is geared to discovering new talent for the musical theatre stage. In addition to the cash award of $2500, the winner will also receive theatrical agency representation, and other valuable gifts, including a paid headlining engagement at Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal... LA’s most celebrated intimate concert destination.

    Contestants selected from auditions to compete in the competition are subject to a one-time entry fee of $600. All contestants will compete at each competition with no eliminations until the Grand Finale on February 19th. Following the Finale’s competitive performances, the winner and a group of 4 to 5 top finalists will be determined based on cumulative votes.

    As a direct result of “...Stage Star...”, more than half of its 200 contestants to date have been cast in top regional musical theatre, Las Vegas Broadway productions, Broadway U.S. National Tours, major cruise line production shows, and network television shows; while 16 have made either their Broadway and/or Off-Broadway debuts. An average of 50% of “all” contestants in each year’s edition of LA’s Next Great Stage Star® are signed by the competition’s musical theatre agent/judges.

    The 2017 competition will be judged by a live *audience and an overall nearly two dozen member panel of LA musical theatre’s most dynamic creatives forces. To date, panels have included such entities and individuals as the Center Theatre Group, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, 3-D Theatricals, Cabrillo Music Theatre, Musical Theatre West, Performance Riverside; casting directors Jeremy Rich, Robby Armitage, Michael Donovan, Peter Matyas, Amy Lieberman, Michael Serna, K.C. Gussler; directors Glenn Casale, Roger Castellano, Marco Gomez, Cate Caplin, T.J. Dawson, Michael Matthews, Bruce Kimmel, David Galligan, Joshua Finkel, Daniel Solis, James Mellon, Todd Nielsen, Larry Raben, Calvin Remsberg, Kristin Towers Rowles, and Robert Marra; and theatrical agencies such as Stage 9/DDO, Connor/Ankrum, Across The Board (ATB) Talent, Kazarian/ Meaures/Ruskin & Associates, the Daniel Hoff Agency, and Brady, Brannon & Rich.

    Judges will give live post-performance critiques to each contestant during the first five weeks of competition. Judges and *audience members vote on vocal, acting ability, stage presence and personality. (*Audience members vote only during the first five weeks of competition).

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    Donna Vivino and Aaron Lazar. Photo credit: Kevin Parry

    When Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in 1981, no one anticipated that it would be a flop. With a score by Stephen Sondheim and direction by Hal Prince, it should have been the next success in a series of highly successful collaborations by the two reigning kings of musical theatre, following such game changers as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and Sweeney Todd.

    It had a young, energetic cast and a subject the writers knew well. But, in their final weeks of rehearsal and throughout its previews, the show faced problem after problem including cast and creative changes, a delayed opening, and plenty of negative word of mouth. By the time it officially opened, the stress of the whole experience would derail Sondheim and Prince's working relationship for more than 20 years.

    Neither the critics nor the public embraced the show, the former being especially critical of George Furth's book - adapted from George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's play of the same name - and the latter unable to accept the story's bitter tone and reverse storytelling. After 52 previews and 16 performances, Merrily closed.

    It has been tweaked and revived over the years, its songs finding their way into the catalog of standards that can often be heard in cabaret performances. They are classic Sondheim, with rich insightful lyrics that capture the emotional ache of love and loss, and gorgeous melodies that haunt you long after you've heard them sung on stage.

    It remains one of my favorite scores and I always look forward to seeing how a director handles the show's challenges each time I see a production. I may love it more than most because I do know the show so well but, for audience members who don't, it requires that they stick with it to the final curtain in order to get the beautiful payoff that lies at the end of the story (or should I say the beginning?). Without that, it can be easy to walk away from the show unfulfilled.

    Aaron Lazar and Wayne Brady. Photo by Dan Steinberg

    This month Michael Arden, director and artist-in-residence at The Wallis in Beverly Hills, ventures into Sondheim and Furth's jaded show biz world and offers up his take on the troubled musical. It's interesting to note that even this production went through its own setbacks when Wayne Brady (who plays Charley) came down with gout and was unable to perform on opening night.

    The story unfolds like a series of snapshots marking significant turning points in the artistic climb and relationship collapse of three friends trying to make it in New York: Franklin Shepard (Aaron Lazar), a composer; Charley Kringas (Brady), a lyricist & playwright; and Mary Flynn (Donna Vivino), a budding novelist.

    Because we first meet them at the end of their friendship in 1976 and work backward to 1957, the show has a built-in mountain to climb that can leave the audience behind if not careful. Franklin has become one of the movers and shapers, a Hollywood producer too busy to honor his commitments to writing partner, Charley, who has used up the last of his patience waiting. And Mary, secretly in love with Franklin since the moment they met, has never overcome her self-worth issues, instead ending up an alcoholic mess with a viciously caustic tongue.

    Aaron Lazar (right) and the cast of Merrily We Roll Along

    It can be hard to sympathize with any of them as they act out in anger, frustration, or just plain venom (although Brady's inherent likability and showstopping number "Franklin Shepard, Inc." early in the show gives us enough to care about him up front).

    Luckily, Arden manages to carefully shape the jagged edges of their devastating trajectory within the overall arc of the show, and all three make the journey from end to beginning to devastating effect. Each is centered within his or her own universe and as they slowly pull back from spinning out of control to the crystalline moment when innocence first brought them together, it completes a circle that leaves a big impact.

    This is a production that chews up your emotions, along with the characters', and spits them out until you find yourself somewhere inside their stories. Whether it's in the I-can-conquer-the-world moment Sputnik passes over the rooftops or in the shadows where the realization of what compromising your dreams has cost you, you're in there. I think that may be one of the best reasons to see the show, to check where you are on your own path while there is still time to make a course correction.

    Vivino is heartbreaking as the glue that holds the three friends together and sings with such emotional color that she just about steals the show away from her co-stars. Brady adds a comic touch to his natural good-guy appeal that contrasts nicely with Lazar's self-absorbed neon executive. Together, they form the heart of the show, bursting and broken and everything in between.

    Plus, they have what I consider to be one absolutely perfect moment in the production. It happens at the end of "Good Thing Going" as Brady sings the final bittersweet lyric, "We had a good thing going, going, gone." While the lovely, quiet legato line hangs in the air and the full impact of the words becomes clear, the lighting slowly shifts, isolating each of them from the crowd, and then fades to black. Lighting designer Travis Hagenbuch scores big with his delicate handling of that single instance. It is a photograph to remember in a production full of scrapbook-worthy images; fragile, elegant, and perfectly balanced in what it reveals about their relationships.

    Saycon Sengbloh and Aaron Lazar. Photo by Kevin Parry

    Songs, and their reprises, have purpose in this backward storytelling style and none of them is more powerful than the opposing versions of "Not A Day Goes By" sung by Frank's first wife Beth (Whitney Bashor) at the point of divorce, and later by Beth, Frank, and Mary when the couple marries. Saycon Sengbloh as Gussie, the former secretary turned glamour girl who breaks up their marriage and becomes Frank's second wife gets a dose of her own medicine when he later loses interest and begins an affair with a younger starlet. Her Act II opening number shows off Sengbloh's own star quality and a rich, creamy voice you could listen to all day.

    One of the visual devices Arden uses to reinvigorate the show is a set of three dancers who portray younger versions of each of the main characters. Like ghosts of Christmas past, they weave in and out of scenes lending poignancy to the story line and interacting in the spaces between the action with the energy of inner children waiting to be let loose again. Eamon Foley's choreography is a playful combination of modern and lyrical moves, effortlessly executed.

    Reconciling the shifting tones of the piece isn't always easy but Arden maneuvers through the changes with forethought, alternating the shrill, shallow duplicity of fame with an inexplicable search for meaning that speaks to something deeper. It may be a lot to ask of an audience but the journey is well-worth the effort and pays off handsomely in the end.

    Aaron Lazar and Whitney Bashor. Photo by Kevin Parry

    MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
    Nov 23 - Dec 18, 2016

    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
    www.thewallis.org/merrily

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    HOLIDY MUSICAL NEWS UDPATE

    Pasadena Playhouse opens its annual Panto at the Playhouse tonight. The interactive holiday treat this year is A Cinderella Christmas by Kris Lythgoe and stars Lauren Taylor, Alex Newell, Morgan Fairchild, Kenton Duty, and Davi Santos, directed by Bonnie Lythgoe. The beloved fairytale is set to modern music including Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway”, Michael Buble’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet”, and Jennifer Lopez “Let’s Get Loud” and includes comedy, magic, and dancers from So You Think You Can Dance. Come early to enjoy activities for kids of all ages in the courtyard an hour before the performance. Now through Jan 8. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

    The Lythgoe team also brings a very special Panto to Laguna Playhouse this year. Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight starring Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Joely Fisher, Barry Pearl, Benjamin Schrader, Jeff Sumner, Vonzell Solomon and Conor Guzman is written by Kris Lythgoe and directed by Linda Goodrich. The show is based on the European fairytale where a Princess called Aurora has a curse put on her by the evil fairy Carabosse. By her 18th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep for 100 years. The Royal family live under the protection of Silly Billy and Nanny Tickle but Aurora does prick her finger and falls asleep for 100 years. A handsome Prince saves the day by defeating the wicked fairy and giving Aurora a true love kiss. Now through Dec 30.LagunaPlayhouse.com

    The MeshugaNutcracker! The Chanukah Musical by Scott Evan Guggenheim, Shannon Guggenheim, and Stephen Guggenheim will play a limited holiday engagement in Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University. The full-length musical comedy features the wonderfully silly sensibilities of the folklore of Chelm (a fictional town of fools) underscored by an invigorating Klezmer-ized orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” including original lyrics that celebrate Chanukah. Judah Maccabee’s triumphant saga and accounts of perseverance during the Holocaust as well as the celebration of the first Chanukah in the new state of Israel emerge with a genuine sense of wonder as the Chelmniks tell eight stories that pay tribute to the holiday. Add in dancing dreidels, singing sufganiot, and surprise guest stars and you have the perfect recipe for Jews and non-Jews alike. Dec 17 – Jan 1. www.themeshuganutcracker.com

    Cheyenne Jackson rings in the holiday season as special guest performer with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles at the choir’s Cool Yule Holiday Spectacular. The musical extravaganza will feature larger-than-life sets and bright, flamboyant costumes in a choral celebration of traditional holiday classics, favorite childhood songs, and even a few fabulous surprises. Dr. Joe Nadeau, GMCLA artistic director and conductor says, “This year we have a wide assortment of holiday hits and seasonal surprises including sleigh rides, lumberjacks, fruitcakes, hipster reindeer, and even Father Christmas. The concert features the stunning voices of GMCLA and a big band that is unlike any other holiday choral concert you’ll attend.” Dec 15, 17 & 18. www.gmcla.org

    The Wallis has transformed its Lovelace Studio Theater into a 150-seat intimate performance space for Dec/Jan and will offer a series of cabaret, comedy, contemporary music, dance and other live events.The Sorting Room, which was actually the mail sorting room of the historic Beverly Hills Post Office will create “a new cool late night experience, bringing audiences together with an extraordinary mix of artists – most hailing from right here in Los Angeles – in an extremely intimate setting,” says Paul Crewes, The Wallis’ artistic director. Among those scheduled to perform are musical theatre writers Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (Dec 17) & friends in an evening of songs hailed as the new American standards of today, Megan Hilty and her 4-piece band (Dec 20 & 21) performing traditional and brand new arrangements of holiday tunes from her new Christmas album, and a tribute to the Jerry Herman Songbook (Jan 11) featuring Jason Graae and special guest Karen Morrow. For a complete list of artists on the series, visit www.thewallis.org.



    (mostly)musicals moves downtown Dec 12 to the intimate Bar Fedora at Au Lac for (mostly) Holiday a holiday celebration that takes the road less traveled, through Broadway and Nashville, and features songs by new writers like Carner & Gregor, Andy Roninson, Joel Waggoner, and more. With Gregory Nabours at the keyboard and an open mic after party, it’s a great way to sing in the holidays. Doors open at 7pm for dinner and drinks, or have dinner in the restaurant before the show. There is convenient garage and limited metered street parking available. More Info

    COMING IN 2017


    Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and CAP UCLA will present the first LA performance since the 1950s of Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Weill’s powerful social indictment of apartheid-era South Africa receives an all-new staging directed by SITI Company’s co-artistic director Anne Bogart, and is conducted by LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane. The cast features soprano Lauren Michelle, tenor Issachah Savage and bass-baritone Justin Hopkins, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, and members of SITI Company.

    With musical influences ranging from Broadway and gospel to African American spirituals and blues, Lost in the Stars follows the troubled son of a black minister in apartheid-era South Africa, who accidentally kills the son of a white neighbor, and the reverend who fights to keep his family together, lead his alarmed congregation, and reconcile his own shaken notions of mercy and hope. Few have had the opportunity to see and hear a live performance of the work because the first national tour was cancelled in protest when the producers learned that black cast members would be denied the right to stay in the same hotels as white cast members.Two performances only, Saturday, Jan 28 at 8pm, and Sunday, Jan 29 at 7pm. www.cap.ucla.edu


    Las Vegas’ sexy tent show, Absinthe, makes its way to Los Angeles March 22 for a limited run at LA Live. American Express card holders are currently able to purchase tickets and limited pre-sale tickets will be offered beginning December 12th. More information, including show dates, casting, and special pre-opening events will be announced in January. absinthela.com
    EXTENSIONS

    Thrones! The Musical Parody is extending its run and will continue performances at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre through January 1. As six friends gather for the season finale of Game of Thrones, they soon find out the ultimate travesty – Leslie does not watch the show. Over the next 90 minutes, the group bands together to act out all six seasons including dashing men battling White Walkers, ravishing women riding fire-breathing dragons, the infamous Walk of Shame, and more. The show is written by Chris Grace, Zach Reino, Al Samuels, Nick Semar and Dan Wessels, with choreography by Kimberly McVicar and direction by John Flynn. www.plays411.com/thrones


    Coeurage Theatre Company has announced that its production of Urinetown: The Musical by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis will reopen January 6th at the Lankershim Arts Center. The irreverent satire of love, greed, and revolution is directed by Kari Hayter with musical direction by Gregory Nabours. Admission is Pay What You Want. www.coeurage.org/urinetown

    Over at 24th Street Theatre, Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass, narrated by Bradley Whitford has extended its run through March 26. The world premiere musical is a new version of the classic story set in depression-era Kentucky featuring the rollicking bluegrass sounds of The Get Down Boys. The company pushes its artful storytelling to new heights with this fresh interpretation that was one of the best productions I saw in 2016. Read the review HERE. www.24thstreet.org

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    L-R: Lauren Taylor, Alex Newell Matthew Patrick Davis and the ensemble 

    Pasadena Playhouse's annual Panto at the Playhouse A Cinderella Christmas by Kris Lythgoe runs through January 8. Come early to enjoy activities for kids of all ages in the courtyard an hour before the performance. www.pasadenaplayhouse.orgPhotos by Philicia Endelman


    L-R: Ben Giroux, Morgan Fairchild and Josh Adamson

    L-R: Kenton Duty, Davi Santos, LaurenTaylor and Morgan Fairchild

    Alex Newell

    Alex Newell, Lauren Taylor and the ensemble

    Davi Santos and Kenton Duty

    Lauren Tylor and Kenton Duty

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