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Your Musical Theatre Resource for Southern California!

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    Laguna Playhouse is closing its season with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, written and performed by James Lecesne, with music by Duncan Sheik and directed by Tony Speciale. When a 14-year-old boy goes missing in a small New Jersey town his disappearance is illuminated by memories of his brilliant spirit. This one-man show, written and staring Academy-award winner James Lecesne, tells the story of a young boy who had touched the hearts of his community during his short but richly colorful life. Teens and adults alike will be inspired by this uplifting story about humanity and the dignity of life. June 7 – 25. Due to the extreme generosity of Suzanne and James Mellor and The Mellor Fund, theatergoers 21 and under will be admitted for free. ID is required. www.lagunaplayhouse.com

    The legendary Harmony Boys return to Hollywood bringing Christmas 1962 with them for four performance of  A Harmony Boys Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve and renowned singing sensations are presenting their annual yuletide fundraising concert to benefit their charity “Force Feed the World” (in which they shove food and their personal cultural and religious beliefs down the throats of the less fortunate during the holiday season). It’s a singing, dancing, musical comedy extravaganza brimming with heartfelt but provocative satire. Starring Michael Hoy, Aaron Matijasic, Gabriel Oliva, and Al Rahn. Written and directed by Aaron Matijasic with choreography by Jen Oundjian and musical direction by Ben Stanton. June 8 – 24 at Sacred Fools Theater. http://hff17.com/4661

    Bucket List Theatre presents the world premiere of Missmatch, a multimedia musical parody based on actual events. Follow AC as she navigates her way through the world of online dating, unleashing hilariously disastrous results. Written & directed by Amanda Conlon. June 1 - 18 at Let Live Theatre at the Actors Company. http://hff17.com/4339

    Theatre Unleashed presents a new production of its popular superhero satire musical The Spidey Project by Justin Moran featuring new scenes, character and songs. Nerdy social outcast Peter Parker takes on an alter ego as he attempts to defeat a dastardly collection of terrifying villains and perhaps his biggest nemesis of all…himself in this tongue-in-cheek comedy. The show was a hit in 2012 [read about it here] With heroes more in demand than ever, it’s a good time to see Spidey back in the next iteration of Moran’s musical. June 3 – 24 at Studio/Stage. Tickets for the June 3 performance are only 55 cents. http://hff17.com/4398

    Chris Isaacson Presents has announced that legendary Tony Award-winning Broadway star Donna McKechnie will bring her show Same Place, Another Time to Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood on Sunday, May 28 at 7:30pm and Martinis Above Fourth in San Diego on Thursday, June 1 at 8pm. Special guests in Los Angeles will include Greg Safel, making his LA cabaret debut in celebration of his new CD Visible, and local favorite Jeffrey Scott Parsons. www.chrisisaacsonpresents.com

    Panic! Productions closes its season with a fresh take on the crowd-pleasing musical Little Shop of Horrors. The Alan Menken-Harold Ashman musical is directed by J. Bailey Burcham, with choreography by Tyler Matthew Burk, and musical direction by Josh Bednarsky. June 2 through 18 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. panicproductions.org

    Linden Waddell returns to the theatre after a 20-year hiatus in Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman. Sherman became an instant celebrity when his first three Warner Bros. comedy albums shot to #1 in the early ‘60s. He won a Grammy Award for his internationally-known hit about a child’s letter home describing a miserable camp experience in “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Waddell’s one-woman cabaret revue highlights Sherman’s humorous song parodies and is directed and choreographed by Janet Miller, with live accompaniment by musical director Marjorie Poe. The 55-minute concert presents some of his best-known works and lesser-known material. June 4 – 24 at Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre. http://hff17.com/4580

    Jeremy Ebenstein takes audiences through his humorous, inspiring, yet often heartbreaking story of living with Asperger’s Syndrome in Pain In My Asperger’s. The 80-minute one-man show includes eight original songs and compositions as Ebenstein chronicles his journey from childhood to adulthood addressing issues like childhood bullying, hopeful romance, overcoming depression, and striving for acceptance. It’s a story of hope and love, not only for those suffering with Asperger’s Syndrome, but for all who have ever hoped and dreamed about making something of themselves. Written and developed by Jack Fry who serves as producer and creative consultant. June 3 – 25 at the Lounge Theater. http://hff17.com/4650

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    L-R: Brandon Parrish, David Atkinson, Gina D’Acciaro, Vito Viscuso, Jose Villarreal,
    Selah Victor, and Alastair James Murden. All photos by Michael Lamont

    Before Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty teamed up for iconic works like Ragtime, Once on this Island, and their current Broadway hit Anastasia, they wrote a crazy little musical called Lucky Stiff. It was their first collaboration and, though it never made it to Broadway, it won the pair a Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre and launched a 30-year partnership that has helped shape the genre ever since.

    It may not have been their biggest success but it was quirky and fresh, and had a unique kind of boisterous charm that audiences loved. The musical is based on Michael Butterworth’s novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo about a nervous young shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon (Brandon Parrish) who has never done anything exciting in his life. He’s unlucky in love and tormented by neighborhood dogs. Harry can’t seem to catch a break.

    But when a rich uncle he’s never met dies and leaves him six million dollars, it appears Harry’s luck is about to change. The catch: he must take his dead uncle – now embalmed and sitting in a wheelchair – to Monte Carlo for one last adventure. Should he choose not to take him, or not to observe the detailed instructions his uncle has dictated for the trip, the money will instead go to The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Horrors.

    L-R: Claire Adams, Alastair James Murden, Brandon Parrish and Vito Viscuso

    So Harry quits his job and sets out on a vacation that takes one unexpected turn after another until the show’s hilarious conclusion. You picture going on a swanky vacation to Monte Carlo with a corpse in tow that you have to pass off as alive. And if that’s not enough, it’s the eighties. Things are going to get big, including Harry’s troubles.

    Other than a couple of student productions, the show has rarely been produced in Los Angeles but you can see it now through June 18th at Actors Co-op in Hollywood – and you should. Director Stephen Van Dorn turns this lively song and dance musical into the perfect pick-me-up after a long and exhausting week. It’s full of laughs, intrigue, and mischief, plus a colorful cast of goofy characters who nimbly move in and out of the story. Light and frothy as champagne-spiked cotton candy, you can’t beat it for a good time.

    Lucky Stiff isn’t an easy musical to stage. It requires multiple changes of location, often within the lyric of a song or single scene, so creative use of space is a must. Van Dorn smartly plays into the silliness of the plot and solves the dilemma of world travel on a small stage by thinking like a kid. Underwater adventures accompanied by cast members blowing soap bubbles, and a trombone that stands in as the voice of a wife at the other end of a dramatic phone call, are two of many delightful touches that add an element of surprise to the show. Lex Gernon’s breezy set design is a versatile backdrop.

    It’s also the kind of musical a cast of character actors can dig into and shine, especially as capable a group as this one. Many of them play multiple roles – dogs, gangsters, assorted international travelers, oddball hotel staff, old biddies, even Hare Krishnas – and with each switch they get funnier and funnier. Gina D’Acciaro’s nosy landlady is only outdone by her bulldog, which is only outdone by her shaky Miss Thorsby, which is only outdone by her drunk maid. Girl can belt too. If she ever announces a one woman show, it’ll be the hottest ticket in town.

    It’s easy to root for Brandon Parrish who plays Harry, the underdog-turned-accidental-leading man. He blossoms from frustrated loser into a charming romantic as the story unfolds and Parrish navigates the character’s journey swimmingly. His “I Want” Song – “Mr. Witherspoon’s Friday Night” is quirky and fun, and like many of Ahrens & Flaherty’s songs, full of unusual syncopations and changing time signatures that add an appropriately off-kilter color to the show.

    Brandon Parrish and Claire Adams

    The other half of the developing romance is Annabel Glick (Claire Adams). All work and no play, it is her home for dogs that will benefit from Harry’s inheritance if he can’t fulfill the requirements of his uncle’s will so she follows him everywhere hoping to catch him making a mistake. The winsome Adams gets the best love song of the show, “Times Like These,” underplayed to perfection and a definite highlight.

    On the flip side, Rory Patterson has found her role of a lifetime in Rita LaPorta, the gun-toting girlfriend of the deceased who wants Harry’s fortune for herself. The trap is to play her big and loud, but Patterson makes sure this Jersey girl is also likably insecure. She sidesteps what could be a caricature and instead creates a sympathetic and unusually funny broad. Devil’s in the details and this cast is full of surprises.

    Musical director Taylor Stephenson does an excellent job of punctuating the musical irregularities in the score and you can understand every word that is sung. Julie Hall’s choreography fits the caper nicely and includes an absurd tango, an opening production number with the cast literally dancing over the dead man’s body, and plenty of movement-driven bits integrated into both the dialogue and the songs.

    A long chase scene slows down the second act after intermission but the pace eventually recovers when the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. In the end, its a no-brainer. Everyone gets what they deserve in this to-die-for madcap musical comedy. Go for the laughs. Stay for the fun.

    Clockwise: Rory Patterson, Jose Villarreal, Alastair James Murden, Brandon Parrish
    (center), David Atkinson, Brian Habicht, and Selah Victor

    Rory Patterson and Brian Habicht

    Alastair James Murden

    Brian Habicht, Gina D’Acciaro, Rory Patterson, Alastair James Murden, Brandon Parrish,
    David Atkinson, Claire Adams, Jose Villarreal, and Selah Victor

    L-R: Gina D’Acciaro, Selah Victor, Brandon Parrish, Alastair James Murden, and Jose Villarreal

    LUCKY STIFF
    May 10 – June 18, 2017
    Actors Co-op
    1760 N. Gower Street
    Hollywood, CA 90028
    www.actorsco-op.org

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    3-D Theatricals presents a re-imagined production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma June 16 - 25 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and June 30 - July 9 at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. The 53-member cast stars Julia Aks as Laurey and Zachary Ford as Curly, with Tracy Rowe Mutz (Aunt Eller), Rufus Bonds, Jr (Jud Fry), Kelley Dorney (Ado Annie), Tom Berklund (Will Parker), Drew Boudreau (Ali Hakim), Cloie Wyatt Taylor (Gertie), and E.E. Bell (Andrew Carnes). The production is directed by T.J. Dawson with musical direction by Julie Lamoureux and choreography by Leslie Stevens. www.3dtheatricals.org

    Ben Vereen, Juan Pablo Espinosa, Mary Birdsong, Stacey Oristano, and Anthony Federov join the Concert For America: Stand Up, Sing Out! on May 24. Previously announced performers include Chita Rivera, Cheyenne Jackson, Rachel Bloom, Wayne Brady, Helen Reddy, Megan Hilty, Wilson Cruz, Barrett Foa, and Marissa Jaret Winokur. The Concert for America series is created and hosted by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley. May 24 has also been designated Concert For America Day in Los Angeles by Mayor Eric Garcetti. Proceeds will benefit five organizations working to protect human rights: Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, The Sierra Club Foundation, NAACP, and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 7pm at UCLA’s Royce Hall. www.ConcertsforAmerica.com

    Rubicon Theatre Company continues its popular Broadway Concert Series with Nancy Dussault in My Life…Upon the Wicked Stage on May 20. Dussault combines extraordinary musicality and her trademark wit for a new spin on songs by Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne, Burton Lane, Stephen Sondheim and other treasured favorites by preeminent composers of the stage and screen. Songs include “Getting Married Today,” “Look to the Rainbow,” and her iconic “Make Someone Happy.” She is joined by musical director Christopher Marlowe and director Valentine Mayer. Three performances only May 20 at 2pm & 8pm and May 21 at 2pm. www.rubicontheatre.org

    Mesopotamian Opera Company presents the world premiere of The Spell of Tradition, two Noh Play/Operas on the life and afterlife of Benjamin Franklin beginning June 1st at the Highland Park Ebell Club. In Part One, Tuesday, set in 1936, a soprano and orchestral conductor from the Metropolitan Opera en route to a concert date in Philadelphia survive a train derailment in Trenton, New Jersey that kills other members of their company. Aided by a shaman of the Lenape tribe (the original Native Americans of New Jersey and Philadelphia), the ghost of Benjamin Franklin is conjured to aid them as they strive to make their Philadelphia curtain on time.

    In Part Two, The Salem Quilt begins in 1723, when Benjamin Franklin, a runaway apprentice, seeks food, rest and refuge from Mrs. Clapp, an innkeeper. She lets him sleep under a quilt with supernatural properties and it reveals to him a glorious future. Mrs. Clapp is conflicted: Shall she keep Franklin in her bed, or allow him to go off and pursue his magnificent destiny? Written, composed, choreographed and directed by Peter WingHealey and performed in English. Running time is two hours ten minutes plus intermission. There is free parking in a lot across the street. June 1 – 3. Mesopotamianopera.org

    Songwriter Richard Levinson’s entry into this year’s Fringe Festival is a set of twelve songs he’s written over many years spent in drinking establishments that he says are “roughly thrown together like a bunch of dive bar regulars should be into one 50 minute binge.” The song cycle is called 12 Bars and will run for three performances June 3, 9 & 21 at Sacred Fools Theater. Richard’s got a wry sense of humor so the evening is sure to appeal to a Fringe crowd. http://hff17.com/4680

    After sold-out shows at Second City Hollywood and an encore performance at iO West, Divorce: The Hip-Hop Musical returns to conquer the Fringe. Exploring the stress, mess, and duress of divorce, the show promises a tale of destruction, seduction, and general dysfunction. It’s the nuclear option for the nuclear family featuring12 original songs, written and directed by Conor Hanney. Starring John Ryan Benavides, Stanson Chung, Ike Flitcraft, Kelsey Goeres, Conor Hanney, Kevin Hanney, Jr., Schuyler Jeffres, Brendan McCay, Brianna McClellan, Callie Ott, Dane Troy, Rama Vallury, Rob Zaleski, with with beatboxing accompaniment by Shaun Fisher. 6/1 - 21 at Sacred Fools Theatre Second Stage. Recommended for ages 13 & up due to Adult themes. http://hff17.com/4274

    Hennessey Productions and Laurie Grant present an interactive musical comedy, Kookie Clubhouse Kingdom: The Gift at the Asylum this June. When a magical GIFT arrives at the Kookie Clubhouse Kingdom, all of its residents become very excited, a little confused, slightly irritated, and even a little scared. The uplifting music brings a powerful message about seeing and embracing the gifts all around us. Starring Abbe Rowlins, Anthony Beechler, Brian Smith, Daniel Garza, Ekaterina Pagiva, James Calixte, Jeremiah Caleb, Jim Todd, Johnny Avila, Karlie Blair, Mike Hennessey, Sheena Metal, Stephanie Rose, Tracy Martin, and Victoria Smith. The show will be live streamed on select dates to benefit various children’s charities around the globe. June 3 – 25 at Asylum @ Studio C. http://hff17.com/4745

    Springloaded, written and performed by Margot Rose, is a musical meditation on disappeared years, discarded dreams, and delinquent DNA playing at the Hudson Theatre beginning June 4. In this solo show, a woman finds herself untethered and unhappy within the fast passing years. Out of good ideas, she turns to face her younger selves, expecting to restore her lost faith by revisiting simpler, happier times from her past. Directed by Terrie Silverman with musical direction by Alicia Morgan. June 4 – 22 at the Hudson Guild Theatre. http://hff17.com/4355

    Pat Whiteman and Harriet Schock will bring their cabaret show to the Espot Lounge at Vitello’s on June 29 at 8pm. Harriet is a Grammy-nominated songwriter for “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” which was recorded by Helen Reddy and has written songs for artists like Johnny Mathis, Roberta Flack, and the Partridge Family. Special guest is Gary Lynn Floyd and the show is backed by an 8-piece band featuring Harriet on piano. www.espotlounge.com

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    Obba Babatundé (front) with Octavius Womack, Rogelio Douglas, Jr.,
    Eric B. Anthony, Jacques C. Smith and Trevon Davis. All photos by Craig Schwartz

    When I moved back to Los Angeles in the mid-’90s, I was fortunate enough to work for a small company led by a president who was loved by everyone who knew him. A true gentleman, Gordon had been in the radio business a long time and was just entering his seventies. He always had a twinkle in his eye, time to listen, and a ready quip to lighten the mood. One of his favorite responses when asked if anyone was in his office was, “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens.” It always made me laugh.

    I asked him about the phrase one day. All he did was smile and say, “Louis Jordan.” That was my introduction to the man known as the King of the Jukebox.

    When it came to music, Louis Jordan knew how to make it swing. He was one of the most influential African American musicians of the late thirties and forties, and he had a knack for creating songs that were so infectious you just had to get up and dance. A pioneer in the rhythm and blues genre and forerunner of early rock and roll, he was also one of the first black artists to cross over on the pop charts, and everyone from Chuck Berry to Ray Charles has acknowledged his impact on their music.

    Jordan recorded “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” in 1946 and it became an instant hit, spending seventeen weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart and reaching number six on the pop chart. It’s been covered by James Brown, B.B. King and Patti LuPone, and it is also featured in a musical revue by Clark Peters built to showcase Jordan’s remarkable collection of songs. That revue - Five Guys Named Moe - is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its successful Broadway run in an out-and-out stellar revival at Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles.

    The show is directed and choreographed with stylish precision by Keith Young, a former principal dancer with Twyla Tharp’s company in New York. His impressive resume is packed full of film, television and theatre credits including three prior productions at Ebony Rep. This time around his work is streamlined and character-driven, with generous doses of humor thrown in to amplify the fun. He saves the big glitz for Act II’s Five Moes floor show and a whopper of a reveal, but, back to the beginning.

    L-R: Trevon Davis, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Eric B. Anthony,
    Octavius Womack, and Jacques C. Smith

    It starts with Obba Babatundé (as Nomax) stumbling home in the wee small hours of the morning after another late night bender, singing the blues to the plaintive sound of a muted trumpet. His girlfriend of sixteen years has finally left him and he’s in serious need of some solid relationship advice. Like many a lonely soul before him, Nomax turns on the radio for a little comfort and company.

    That’s when he’s musically whopped up side the head by the five Moes of the title who materialize, as if by magic. Big Moe (Octavius Womack), Little Moe (Trevon Davis), Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony), Four-Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas, Jr.), and No Moe (Jacques C. Smith) are determined to help him cast off his lush life and get his girl back, whether he likes it or not. It’s a set-up that paves the way for two hours of tell-it-like-it-is fun where the music is the main attraction and you can’t wait to see what tactic they’ll try next.

    As a group, the Moes offer up a tasty blend of vocal harmonies that often blooms out of a verse when you least expect it. As soloists, they exude personality and charm by the bucketfuls, whether it is Womack raising the roof on Jordan’s jump blues crowd pleaser “Caldonia” or Davis getting crazy on “Saturday Night Fish Fry” considered by many to be the first true rock and roll song, or Anthony’s sultry version of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” which is enough to break your heart.

    Smith’s “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” would be considered politically incorrect by today’s standards but it is of the era and he sings it with such zeal that you can’t help but laugh. As for the aforementioned novelty song “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,” it is a Douglas, Jr. comedy highlight you’ll not soon forget. He plays both ends of the emotional spectrum with ease showing off a gorgeous voice at its finest in the bluesy ballad “Azure Te.”

    The longing in the song is multiplied times ten with the addition of scenic designer Edward E. Haynes Jr’s subtle Paris imagery on an upstage scrim, an effect he uses several times throughout the show to create atmosphere while adding an ethereal quality to the action.

    They’re backed by one of the best 6-piece jazz ensembles you’ll hear anywhere, led by original Broadway Five Guys musical director Abdul Hamid Royal, an incredible musical force. By the way, don’t even think about getting up and leaving during the curtain call. Stay for the band’s entire last number after the cast has exited and you’ll see the definition of pure joy as they take over the stage and bring it all home.

    Obba Babatundé

    So how does an everyman character named Nomax not get lost in a show like this? The key is casting a consummate leading man who can anchor the production and make it look effortless while tapping into a bottomless well. In this case, the soul of the blues and the heart of Five Guys Named Moe belongs to Obba Babatundé. Every note he sings, every ghost of a thought you see flicker across his face is infused with the deep sentiment only time and life can give to an actor. He is a master at his craft and his performance is utterly enthralling.

    Nomax may defend his actions and appear cavalier at times but all the justification in the world can’t keep him from his poignant realization in “Is You Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” As Babatundé walks off stage into the dark, he takes a piece of our heart (and understanding) with him.

    Summer musicals all strive to get your attention at this time of the year but this bright jukebox musical is the one party you don’t want to miss. For my money, it’s Five Guys Named Moe for the win every single time.

    FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE
    May 18 - June 11, 2017
    Ebony Repertory Theatre
    Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
    4718 West Washington Blvd
    Tickets: www.ebonyrep.org

    L-R: Jacques C. Smith, Trevon Davis, Rogelio Douglas, Jr., Eric B. Anthony,
    Obba Babatundé, and Octavius Womack

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    Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s next musical is Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, the show that introduced American audiences to the Belgian singer-songwriter known as the “Bob Dylan of France.” Director Dan Fishbach and musical director Anthony Lucca lead a cast that includes Marc Francoeur, Susan Kohler, Miyuki Miyagi, and Michael Yapujian in what promises to be a powerful evening of music. Brel’s songs are full of with flair, attitude and European sophistication, retaining their edgy vibe over half a century after they were written. While Brel is no longer either alive or living in Paris, his legendary vision of romance, humor and moral conviction endures. July 1 – Aug. 27. www.odysseytheatre.com

    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts has announced its 40th Anniversary season and there is a lot of musical theatre to love in it. First up is American Idol’s Frenchie Davis starring in a brand version of the Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Sept 15 – Oct 8, 2017) directed by original Broadway cast member, Ken Page, followed by Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow (Oct 27 – Nov 12, 2017) about the last year of Judy Garland’s life. 2018 begins with Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret (Jan 19 – Feb 11, 2018) featuring choreography by Dana Solimando, directed by Larry Carpenter. April 20 – May 13, 2018 is a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic yet to be announced, and closing out the season is Disney’s Newsies (June 1– 24, 2018), directed and choreographed by Richard Hinds. www.lamiradatheatre.com

    Art-In-Relation presents John Bucchino’s It’s Only Life, featuring the composer on piano during opening weekend performances. The poignant revue is filled with the questions, joys, sorrows, and challenges we all face when making choices between our art, and our daily lives set to the music and lyrics of John Bucchino. Starring Jill Marie Burke, Devon Davidson, Joaquin Nuñez, Philip McBride, Kayre Morrison, Ken Shepski, Amanda Aceves (7/8, 2pm), and VanNessa Hulme (7/1, 7/2, 7/8 2pm). June 9 – July 9 at Chromolume Theater. ArtinRelation.com

    Over at REDCAT, Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint is being presented in partnership with LA Opera June 15, 17 & 18. The opera is an astonishing true story of courage that explores the deep family ties and tribal traditions that empowered Mukhtar Mai to become the first female victim of gang rape in Pakistan to bring her attackers to justice. In lieu of a financial settlement, she requested that a school be constructed to educate girls. She hoped to educate the young, to help prevent the humiliation of signing their names with only a thumbprint. The story is told through a dynamic score by Sankaram, filled with influences from Hindustani and European opera, and a libretto by Susan Yankowitz, originating from a series of interviews with Mai. www.redcat.org

    Dan Waldkirch & Jeremiah Lowder debut their new musical Save Me a Spot beginning June 3. To win the heart of his favorite YouTube star, 30-something slacker, Chris decides to make a grand gesture – waiting in line for a pair of concert tickets. Over the course of one night, he’s joined by a handful of colorful strangers who share their stories, dreams, and ill-advised business plans. Starring Clayton Farris, Kristen Heitman, Kate Ponzio, Garrett Vander Leun, and Brent Lydic directed by Jeremiah Lowder. June 3 – 24 at Asylum at Studio C. Show runs 90 minutes. www.hff17.org/4369

    The Book of Mormon has announced a lottery ticket policy for its national tour, which begins May 30 at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. The pre-show lottery will take place at the box office prior to every performance, making a limited number of tickets available at $25 apiece; cash or credit card accepted. Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing. May 30 – July 9. www.hollywoodpantages.com [Photo credit: Joan Marcus]

    Cherise Pascual debuts her one woman show, Herpes: A Love Story at studio/stage beginning June 1st. The multimedia, interactive musical comedy is written, produced and performed by Pascual, and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson. Join Pascual as she relives her bad choices through musical parodies, awkward dance moves, and conversations with all the people in her head (real and imaginary) and learn how having herpes taught her to love myself. Leave the kids at home for this one. June 1 – 23. http://hff17.com/4504

    Nick DeGruccio will direct a student production of Carrie the Musical for the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television opening June 2 at UCLA’s TFT Little Theater. Choreography is by Lee Martino, who also teaches at UCLA TFT. This is the close of the Department of Theater’s Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program, and caps off a highly successful 2016-17 Theater Season. June 2-3 and 6-10. tft.ucla.edu/theatertickets

    Nic and Brooke’s Comedy Dance Party makes its world premiere in June. An homage to the classic variety shows, it asks what it would look like if Sonny and Cher were still on the air today…and black. Nick and Brooke take the audience through a fun-loving comedy romp with sketches, musical numbers, and a dance party. Reminiscent of the great comedy/variety shows of the 70s with a modern twist, it also incorporates elements of The Carol Burnett Show, Laugh-In, and even a little Soul Train. June 2 – 23 at the Lounge Theatre. http://hff17.com/4598

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    L-R: Chris Bramante, Molly Dworsky, Miles Crosman, and Kat Primeau
    Photo credit: Mary Bonney

    Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” They are simple words but carry a profound message about how we experience the world. Applied to theatre, it is a concept that reveals why some companies are successful and others struggle. To understand what kind of art you’re making and who the audience is for it, is everything.

    For example, Coeurage Theatre Company owns a unique niche presenting adventurous new works under a Pay What You Want banner. Antaeus is a theatre co-op that produces classical works with seasoned artists and employs partner casting for its productions. 3-D Theatricals is known for large scale Broadway-caliber musicals, and 24th Street Theatre creates inclusive world-class family entertainment that both educates and stimulates dialogue among a diverse community. All of them know who they are.

    Also in this group of self-aware artists is Robot Teammate, producers of Turbulence!, a new 55-minute musical playing through June 22 at Sacred Fools Theatre. At its heart, they are a musical improv group specializing in heightened comedy, often with a sci-fi or fantasy twist. They include their audience throughout the entire process of developing a new work and one thing you can be sure of is that an RT show will be fun.

    Consequently, getting butts in seats isn’t a problem. Translation: If you don’t have tickets for their current run yet, get them now or prepare to be disappointed when they sell out. Consider it a $15 fun tax; it’s money well-spent.

    The crowd on Saturday saw the first full performance of Turbulence!, their latest space fluff adventure about a wackadoo crew aboard the S.S. Albacore, commissioned to be Earth’s last minute replacement in the annual race around the Sun. Likable but hilariously unprepared, this bunch of misfits must find a way to overcome their own oddball eccentricities and learn to work together as a team in order to best their rivals.

    Set to an upbeat ‘80s-style pop rock score, Turbulence! is a screwball mash-up of Friday night SyFy comedy classics and Saturday morning cartoons with colorful characters and bright, energetic choreography. Two musical departures – a hokey country “Hoedown Throwdown” style number (priceless) and a beautiful a cappella choral piece add variety. The friendly rough-and-tumble nature of the work is a good fit for those looking for an escape from the more cynical/slit-your-wrists drama one often finds at the Fringe. This is comical territory, bold and fun-loving. It won’t tax any brain cells but the rowdy good time it delivers is all you need.

    The only issue they need to rectify is the audio. While the acting is crisp, the sound over the mics is hooty and hollow with frequent feedback. A voiceover sets up the story but you can’t understand it over the band, partly because the balance is off and partly because of the garbled character choice. Once that's handled, this outer space adventure will be firing on all cylinders.


    Cast: Miles Crosman (Capt. Davin Galaxy), Kat Primeau (Dr. Joules Johnson), Chris Bramante (Mick Cribbins), Dave Reynolds (Mambo 4), Molly Dworsky (Pattern MaGerk), Sam Johnides (Zorks), Branson NeJame (Malarkis/Announcer). Directed by Molly Dworsky, co-directed by Dave Reynolds. Choreography by Kat Primeau. Book & lycics by Miles Crosman & Robot Teammate. Music composed, arranged & directed by Sam Johnides with additional composition by Branson NeJame.

    TURBULENCE!
    June 10 – 22, 2017
    Sacred Fools Theater
    1076 Lillian Way
    Hollywood, CA 90038
    http://hff17.com/4557

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    L-R: Phillip McBride, Jill Marie Burke, John Bucchino, Joaquin Nuñez,
    Kayre Morrison, Ken Shepski, and Devon Davidson. Photo by Daniel L. Wilson

    I’m sorry if you didn’t see Art-In-Relation’s production of It’s Only Life this past weekend because you missed hearing a remarkable musician play his own magnificent songs in a tiny 50-seat theater. To have that luxury is a rare occurrence, even for a city like Los Angeles. It was a breathtaking evening with the composer at the piano expressing, as only one who has written a song truly can, the most intimate nuances of a piece. For a lover of music, it was transcendent.


    John Bucchino writes like no other. The award-winning composer has been called a genius by most who have worked with him. Singers like Judy Collins, Audra McDonald, Barbara Cook, and Art Garfunkel clamor to record his material and he has performed in some the greatest halls in the world, from the Hollywood Bowl to the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall to the White House.

    What I know is that he has an unparalleled ability to tap into the human condition and tell a story with a song that will bring you to your knees. It may be a moment of unencumbered hope, deep longing, or lingering regret, but it is crystallized in an emotional space that only music can occupy. When paired with a John Bucchino lyric, it is pure magic.

    In this version of It’s Only Life, the six actors who undertake the journey present a mixed result, hindered at times by a directorial vision (Alan Palmer) that either punctuates the obvious or leaves the actors up to their own devices. It doesn’t have a linear plot, as written, and that is the inherent beauty of the piece. The shows potential to move the listener comes from the mindfulness of the actors as they consider the cost of their art, what they’ve sacrificed to succeed, and how they will navigate the ever-changing waters ahead. Regardless of whether or not you are an artist, these questions are the stuff of life and the same ones all seekers wrestle with at some point along the journey.

    But to stage the climactic “Taking The Wheel” while driving a car and then have the actor throw his hands up in excitement so his passenger must take the wheel to keep them from crashing completely ignores the metaphor. The song is a joyful expression of taking charge of one’s life but here it is played for a cheap laugh that sorely misses the point.

    Group numbers are also hit and miss. There are a number of times the cast stands stationary and sings, not necessarily a bad thing if you ignore some of the awkward positions, but the lack of focus is distracting. One actor tries repeatedly to make eye contact with the audience, several look to their fellow actors to connect, while others have generic musical theatre smiles pasted on their faces as they gaze vacantly over the audience’s heads.

    L-R: Phillip McBride, Devon Davidson, Joaquin Nuñez,
    Ken Shepski, Kayre Morrison, and Jill Marie Burke

    It is a reminder that these aren’t the kind of songs you can simply pick up and sing because you think they’re beautiful. You need to live with them, or at least have some life experience under your belt, to even begin to communicate the subtleties, let alone have the vocal chops to do them justice.

    Only Jill Marie Burke fully cracks open a vulnerable heart to expose all the color and richness they deserve. She belts out ‘80s classics by day as the lead singer of a Pat Benatar tribute band but, in this cycle of 22 songs – missing is “Painting My Kitchen” – her deep connection to both lyric and melody on “Unexpressed,” “If I Ever Say I’m Over You” and the bluesy “What You Need” will be your reason to see It’s Only Life once the composer is no longer at the piano.

    The rest of the singers fare better on the choral numbers than on their solos where a shortage of emotional depth and amateurish acting can’t escape notice. As a group, intonation improves and the lush harmonies begin to soar under the musical direction of Jonas Sills and VanNessa Hulme.

    Still, I left the evening on a theatre high after hearing songs I dearly love played by the very composer who wrote them. That is something I will never forget.

    IT'S ONLY LIFE
    June 9 – July 9, 2017
    Art-In-Relation @ Chromolume Theater
    5429 W. Washington Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90016
    ArtinRelation.com
    For more about the composer, visit www.johnbucchino.com.

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    British punk rock invaded the U.S. during my formative years. The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash started a movement that aggressively pushed back against the system and provided an outlet for the angst of an angry generation. Defiant in every way, from the sound of the music, to the topics it addressed, to the look of its bands and followers, it was the resistance, and it was exciting.

    London Calling, The Clash’s third album, is considered by many to be one of the band’s greatest achievements. It is also the title of a musical that has been knocking around for the last decade, now being presented at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Using songs by The Clash, it is the story of four bandmates who share a dream of making it big. According to the program it is not based on The Clash’s rise to fame but on the creative team’s (Peggy Lewis/writer, Mark Hensley/creator) own experiences of, “A youth spent playing in bands, living in squats and pursuing dreams…” 

    It’s a retread of the frustrated musician story; nothing unexpected here. Unable to get a break, the boys eventually peel off into the traps of youth. “Get a job,” is a common thread as one goes to the army, one to jail, one to work for his snobbish girlfriend’s father, and one to London to try it solo. Each finds disillusionment with his choice until they all conveniently reunite to reclaim the dream.

    As a longtime fan of The Clash, I really wanted this musical to succeed, but the ten years invested in creating it has not produced a strong, cohesive production. The program says, “The lyrics of the songs are the dialog, they propel the story forward…” Sorry, they don’t. In some cases they might, if you could hear them, but the show is run by a sound engineer from the house who doesn’t seem to notice his singers can’t be heard.

    They are also singing to pre-recorded tracks, which feels disingenuous when you’re watching a show about a band if the audience never gets to see them perform. We’re meant to take them at their word when they say they are brilliant but they never actually play together onstage. Show us, don’t tell us. It’s much more powerful storytelling.

    Missing too is a consistent artistic vision under Rod McLachlan’s direction; surprising since he is an actor with multiple Broadway credits and knows the drill. The actors wander around the stage sometimes relating to each other and other times speaking or singing directly to members of the audience without rhyme or reason.

    L-R: Paul Holowaty, Sam Meader, Duane Asante Ervin, and Tom Conlan

    The boys (Sam Meader, Paul Holowaty, Duane Asanté Ervin, and Tom Conlan) do bring a certain raw, ignorant charm to the piece and two punk rock dancers (Sarah Marquelle Kruger and Natalie Davis) add the brash cheekiness the music demands. Sean Smith is particularly compelling as Tom’s father, lending weight to an otherwise loosely-sketched production.

    London Calling may appeal to die-hard fans of The Clash, and friends of those involved with the production will certainly be invested. In fact, the night I attended it was well-received by the audience. Unfortunately, I expected more.

    LONDON CALLING
    June 17, 2017
    Hudson Theatre
    6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90038
    Tickets: http://hff17.com/4293 
    More info: www.london-calling.com

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    Julia Aks, Zachary Ford and the cast of Oklahoma!
    All photos by Salvador Farfan, Caught in the Moment Photography

    Just when you thought you knew what the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! was all about, along comes a revival by 3-D Theatricals that makes you rethink everything.

    Yes, it will always be the story of a headstrong young farm girl and a charismatic cowboy whose romance is challenged by a menacing hired hand, but there is another layer to it I’ve never seen emphasized in any other production; Oklahoma’s ethnic makeup at the time and how it may have impacted those who lived there.

    The musical is set in the days leading up to Oklahoma’s bid for statehood in the early 1900s and is based on Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs. Riggs grew up on a farm near Claremore, Oklahoma (the same Claremore mentioned in the musical) in what was then known as Indian Territory so it is natural he would recreate the world of his youth for this particular story.

    The eastern part of the state had been set aside by the U.S. government for the relocation of Native Americans whom the Feds had evicted from their lands. It was also where many African Americans, some free and some still enslaved, occupied towns alongside immigrant settlers. Whether farmers or cattlemen (or black, brown, or white), to live here was to be committed to the hard work necessary to make the harsh surroundings habitable. Survival meant learning to get along, though one can imagine the tensions that might have arisen in such a melting pot.


    This is the landscape for director T.J. Dawson’s revival, one that creates a vital new narrative in the wake of contemporary racial and political tensions. Against this backdrop, Laurey (Julia Aks) is no shrinking flower but a hardy young woman who takes the demanding work of running a farm seriously. Her standoffishness with Curly (Zachary Ford) lasts longer than usual, and verges on becoming unlikable, but it is grounded in a reality that is believable, making her eventual admission that she needs him a powerful turn. It doesn’t happen until the box social but, when it does, the payoff is a satisfying one.

    Ford’s Curly isn’t the typical self-assured leading man you’re used to seeing either. When he and Aks engage in their Beatrice and Benedick style sparring, a boyish vulnerability is evident behind the mischief. He may be confident on the surface but casting a character leading man instead of the usual baritone romancer means you’re going to see an unpredictable Curly with the potential to make some extremely affecting choices, which Ford does. Plus, he gets more mileage out of the humor in the libretto.


    Dawson’s critical decision to cast Rufus Bonds, Jr. as Jud Fry – were it done in the context of non-traditional casting – wouldn’t be so unusual, but that’s not the purpose here. Borrowing from a line in both the musical and the play referring to Jud as “bullet-colored” he is intentionally presenting a world in which a man of color could legitimately find himself in this story. Bonds doesn’t waste the moment. He reinvents the character with remarkable insight into his humanity and, in doing so, gives us an opportunity to see our own human failings in the process.

    Now when Curly picks up a rope in Jud’s room and jokes about how easy it would be for a man to hang himself from the beam above them, we are eerily reminded that, throughout our history, something as simple as the color of a man’s skin could get him killed. If that’s not relevant to today, I don’t know what is.

    Taking a page from the Agnes de Mille philosophy of dance, which uses the art form to further the storyline, Leslie Stevens choreographs two bona fide showstoppers. Her staging of the Dream Ballet is fifteen minutes of searing emotion – joy, pain, lust, innocence, horror – and it’s a knockout. She expands the story even beyond what de Mille first presented as Laurey struggles to make up her mind in a dream turned nightmare. This is a career milestone for Stevens whose dancers, like Missy Marion and Dustin True, (Dream Laurey and Curly) elevate the soul of the production with their technical skill.


    Then, after intermission she does it again with an athletic, exuberant ensemble number for the entire 53-member cast in “The Farmer and the Cowman,” a competition of one-upmanship that builds to a breathless climax.

    Musical director Julie Lamoureux accomplishes the same feat musically in the large choral numbers and her 23-piece orchestra spins one of the most beautiful scores to come out of the Golden Age into gold. Forget third time’s a charm; for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, their first time changed the game for the entire musical theatre genre, and this is a chance to hear the full power of Rodgers angelic harmonies that so beautifully defined the movie musical period of the forties and fifties.

    In any production it’s always a toss-up whether Will Parker or Ado Annie (played by Tom Berklund and Kelly Dorney) will be the dumber of the two comic roles but here they rival each other for the title. Neither develops beyond on a single overriding character choice pushed to the extreme, although Berklund’s dancing is so brilliantly executed it almost doesn’t matter. Ali Hakim (Drew Boudreau) and Aunt Eller (Tracy Rowe Mutz) are high energy roles that still leave themselves someplace to go within all the melodrama.

    Tom Berkland and the cast

    3-D Theatricals always over-delivers on the technical aspects of its productions and this show doesn’t disappoint. Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting at the fish pond and inside Jud’s smokehouse makes the moments seem particularly intimate, in sharp contrast to the bold colors he uses to flood the stage during the Dream Ballet’s dramatic shifts. Andrew Nagy’s projections enhance the feeling of great open space on the prairie (but for a little overkill on the birds flying by) and in a creative decision that might escape notice anywhere else, Peter Herman’s long side-swept ponytail for Laurey makes exactly the right character statement.

    There is an unparalleled thrill that occurs when a director takes a well-known musical like Oklahoma! and finds what others have missed, especially when it was there all along. T.J. Dawson’s thoughtful undertaking of the search to answer the question, “why Oklahoma! and why now?” proves classic productions can be as significant today as when they were first written. It’s all in how you see it.

    Rufus Bonds, Jr. and Julia Aks

    Julia Aks and Kelly Dorney

    Julia Aks and Zachary Ford

    Zachary Ford and Rufus Bonds, Jr.

    Estevan Valdes

    Dancers in the Dream Ballet

    OKLAHOMA!
    3-D Theatricals
    www.3dtshows.org

    June 16 – 25, 2017
    Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
    1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90278

    June 30 – July 9, 2017
    Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
    12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, CA 90703

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    The Broad Stage is offering a special Independence Day Sale through today only for The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 11 – August 6. You can save 50% on select preview performances (7/11-7/14 and 7/16 (7:30 pm) -7/19) with the code FAITH. Limit of 4 tickets per account. The musical is the story of Detroit natives BeBe and CeCe Winans, who joined Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise the Lord television show, and became television celebrities. But with success comes challenges and BeBe must learn to balance his desire for success with his true calling. Watch Nita Whitaker sing “Seventh Son” in the rehearsal video below and then get your tickets at Thebroadstage.org/bornforthis


    On July 29, The Music Center partners with The Dizzy Feet Foundation to present its 6th annual FREE celebration of National Dance Day place in Grand Park from 10am – 2pm. The day includes music, dance workshops, performances and other activities hosted by some of LA’s best dance companies. The Dizzy Feet Foundation also produces an instructional video online so participants can learn the routines and perform them on National Dance Day. Check out Jade Chynoweth and Carlito Olivero from Step Up: High Water, who teach the simple routine below and get ready to have some fun! Musiccenter.org/ndd


    And in San Diego, audiences can enjoy an American classic this summer as Josh Rhodes returns to direct and choreograph Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls at The Old Globe. Previous Globe audiences saw his directorial work in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, and choreography in the new musical, Bright Star, and this one looks great! Show runs through August 13. Tickets: www.TheOldGlobe.org


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    Allen Everman as Leo Frank. All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

    Chance Theater is currently in previews for the Jason Robert Brown musical Parade which opens July 8th @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical tells the story of the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager, Leo Frank (Allen Everman), accused and convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan (Gabrielle Adner). The show illustrates the dark realities of a time where prejudice, discrimination, and class separation were common practice in the community, just one moment in history that has repeated itself over and over because of a community’s intolerance. As a result, unfortunate circumstances, tragic events and a questionable judicial system continue to plague generations to follow.

    Director Kari Hayter says, “I am most interested in exploring Parade as an intimate and exposed platform that reveals the most raw and universal truths of a community in order to remind us of our responsibilities today to demonstrate love, tolerance, and acceptance.” Parade runs through July 30th. Tickets: www.chancetheater.com

    Madison Miller (Monteen), Madeline Ellingson (Iola Stover), and Alissa Finn (Essie)

    Robert Stroud as Newt Lee

    Erica Schaeffer (Lucille Frank) and Allen Everman (Leo Frank)

    Devin Collins (Judge Roan) and Chris Kerrigan (Hugh Dorsey)

    Dillon Klena as Frankie Epps

    Tucker Boyes (Governor John Slaton), Asia Washington (Minola McKnight),
    and Erica Schaeffer (Lucille Frank)

    Tucker Boyes as Governor John Slaton

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    (Center) J. Bernard Calloway as Nathan Detroit and the cast of Guys and Dolls.
    All photos by Jim Cox

    Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls is making a splash on stage at The Old Globe in San Diego now through August 13. Nathan Detroit’s (J. Bernard Calloway) floating crap game is on the move and Sky Masterson (Terence Archie) needs to win big in this high energy singing and dancing classic musical masterpiece. But when Nathan’s long suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn) gives him an ultimatum and Sky accidentally falls in love with Sarah Brown (Audrey Cardwell) of the Save -a-Soul Mission, all bets are off as to who will win in the end. Based on Damon Runyon’s famous tales of small-time hoods and showgirls, the show is filled with some of the most singable tunes ever, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Get your tickets now at www.theoldglobe.org.

    Audrey Cardwell (Sarah Brown) and Terence Archie (Sky Masterson)

    Veronica J. Kuehn (Miss Adelaide) and the Hot Box Girls

    L-R: Matt Bauman (Benny Southstreet) and Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely Johnson)

    Crapshooters Ballet

    "Sit Down You're Rockin' Th Boat with Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely Johnson)
    and the cast

    L-R: Veronica J. Kuehn (Miss Adelaide) and Audrey Cardwell (Sarah Brown)

    "Luck Be A Lady" with Terence Archie and the cast


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    Yvette Lawrence directs Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Peter Pan, a family friendly musical where fairies, pirates, Lost Boys, and Indians all inhabit a magical world. The show is based on J.M Barrie’s story, with music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne, and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and features musical direction by Dan Redfeld and choreography by Cheryl Baxter. Now through July 23, 2017 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com








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    It isn’t summer in Los Angeles without a trip to the Hollywood Bowl, the outdoor jewel of LA, where you’ll find every kind of music imaginable throughout the season. For musical theatre lovers, the big announcement about what summer musical the Bowl will stage at the end of July is always a big deal, and this year’s fan favorite doesn’t disappoint. Mamma Mia!, the 2001 international phenomenon that captured the hearts of hopeless romantics around the world, will play the Bowl July 28, 29 & 30.

    The heartwarming story about a young woman’s plot to uncover the identity of her father among three of her mother’s former loves, kicks into hilarious high gear when she invites them to her wedding and they all show up. Sophie (Dove Cameron) doesn’t know if it’s Sam (Jaime Camil), Bill (Steven Weber) or Harry (Hamish Linklater) who will turn out to be her dad, but solving the mystery is sure to be full of comic twists. As for her mother, Donna (country star Jennifer Nettles), she’s about to take a trip down memory lane she never imagined with the support of her pals Rosie (Lea DeLaria) and Tanya (Tisha Campbell-Martin). What could go wrong, right?

    L-R: Corbin Bleu, Jennifer Nettles, Jaime Camil, Dove Cameron,
    Lea DeLaria, Hamish Linklater, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and Steven Weber

    Tony Award-winning director
    Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs the production. David Holcenberg, currently music director of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Groundhog Day, leads the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra through Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ score, which contains two dozen incredible ABBA hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimmie!” “S.O.S” and “Voulez-Vous.” If that doesn’t get you up dancing in the aisles, nothing will.

    No matter how many times I've seen the musical live on stage or the film starring Meryl Streep, it never gets old. At the Bowl it promises to be an extra special night under the stars. Here we go again!

    MAMMA MIA!
    July 28, 29 & 30, 2017
    Hollywood Bowl
    Click Here for Tickets

    Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson
    Book by Catherine Johnson
    Originally conceived by Judy Craymer

    Photo credit: Jaime Camil (William Callan), Dove Cameron (Bob D’Amico/Disney Channel), Lea DeLaria (Sophy Holland) 

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    Theatre Palisades Youth invites you to “be their guest” for a special presentation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. opening July 28th at Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. Forty members of the youth theatre group are getting ready to tell the tale of an adventurous young girl and a prince trapped under a spell who find that the power of love can overcome any evil.

    This 90-minute Jr. version of the musical is specifically designed for young talent, and is based on the 1994 Broadway production and Disney’s 1991 animated feature film. Director Lara Ganz (along with musical director Caitlin Tortorici) helms the production. Ganz studied musical theater at AMDA in NYC, has a psychology degree from UCLA, and is currently studying to be a children’s drama therapist, which is how she became Youth Director for TPY. After volunteering at the theater to gain experience working with children, she was asked to step into the position when the previous director was ready to move on.

    So how does a director bring a beloved Disney musical to life with a cast of children? Ganz lets us in on the behind-the-scenes workings in this charming interview.

    Lara, I know you have limited rehearsal time for the show so how do you put it all together so quickly?

    We have to be very creative in how we use our time. Our actual rehearsal period is only two full weeks of rehearsal and one full week of tech before we open. There are 40 children in the cast and we have TRIPLE cast this show. With nine performances, each child will have three performances as their featured character and six shows in the ensemble. Essentially, they are all learning the parts for TWO shows in two weeks. We held auditions and callbacks in April/May and the actors were given scripts and CDs of the show music in May, once cast. Our unorthodox process requires that they know their music and be off-book BEFORE we begin on day one.

    Children have such great imaginations. How do you help them create their characters, especially when some of them are objects like teapots, a candelabra, and a wardrobe?

    I use my drama therapy background to inform the way I teach the children. They get character homework before we even start rehearsals consisting of the usual “who, what, why, etc.” I give them sensory exercises and have them experiment with the character’s walk and movement style. They write about a day in their life and then a day in the life of their character. I also have them write two “rant” monologues. One monologue is about something they personally want to exclaim and the second is to be written from their character’s point of view. They then share these with their group. What they created was unpredictable and brilliant.

    Specifically for the inanimate objects, we have done some improvised sensory work where they physicalize the stages of transformation, incrementally, from full human to inanimate object. Then they perform improvised monologues describing how the transformation affects their character emotionally. I ask them to tell us what their character is longing for that has been lost in the transition.

    I would imagine they are having a great time experimenting.

    The children are extremely enthusiastic about playing these roles and are completely engaged in the exercises. They get inspired by their cast mates and will try to one-up each other with our improv games, which only brings the level of creativity to new heights!

    It sounds like you encourage a strong team spirit in rehearsals.

    Before we began the rehearsal process, I had the cast help me create a set of conduct and professionalism rules; a contract that we all agree to and sign. Here are some 
    of the rules: 
    • I agree to take big risks and not be afraid to fail or for my choices to fall flat. I understand this is an essential part of the sacred creative process.

    • I agree to refrain from bragging and competitiveness because bragging makes other people feel bad and comparison kills creativity and is the thief of joy. Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.

    • I agree to leave my inner Simon Cowell at home. Harsh critics have wreaked havoc on many an inspiring actor, there is no room for harsh criticism of yourself and others in the creative process.

    • I agree to be inclusive at all times while at TPY because that is how we will make new friends and demonstrate that TPY is a nurturing and supportive community. No one likes to feel like they are being excluded.
    Brilliant! Why did you decide to do Beauty and the Beast now?

    I have been surprised to learn how revered the story of Beauty and the Beast is in all populations! Adults, teens, tweets, “littles”-- people are SO connected to this show. It is thrilling. This was our most competitive audition ever. We had so many kids come out for the show I had to have callbacks, which is normally not necessary. I asked the children auditioning for leads to show me they could be prepared and professional. Every single child at callbacks was brilliant! I realized that I would need to reward their glorious efforts by triple casting the show. That creates an ENORMOUS amount of extra work for me and my musical and assistant directors (for no extra pay – we are a non-profit community theater) but these kids earned it!

    How is working with youth different from working with adults?

    I love working with both kids and adults. I am a more confident director with children. “In the land of the blind, one eye is king!” Children generally don’t have that self-conscious filter. You see it more in the junior high kids but, for the most part, they are so proud of and excited to share their ideas and creativity. It is MAGIC!

    What have you found to be most surprising about directing the show?

    TPY has never put on a “Disney princess” musical before. We try to avoid musicals that showcase one starring role and always look for ensemble based works. Ours is a developmental program and my mission is to use drama, music and dance to help guide ALL of the children in the program to find their true voice.

    I knew the kids in the community were really excited about the Disney live action version of the movie starring Emma Watson that was soon to be released so I reluctantly decided to look into the junior version while researching summer show options. The music, the messages, the characters were just too irresistible. I had chills and beautiful tears streaming down my face while envisioning the kids performing this sublime material.

    Beauty and the Beast life lessons?

    As a parent, I have learned that true grit and resilience are essential qualities for children to develop in order to be emotionally healthy. Belle and the castle servants model these behaviors so beautifully. She is miserable living in a small town where the people tend to mock and dismiss her as a weirdo but she finds a way to stay happy by escaping into her beloved books. Belle selflessly sacrifices herself to save her father from captivity and she then tries to make the best of the situation. The servants never lose hope that the spell will be broken. They also learn to care for each other and to make the most of their dreadful fate.

    These messages and others, -- like sacrificing for love and true beauty lies within -- are always important but, with the current political and social trends, it is imperative that these strong moral themes be absorbed by young people in order to help deflect the often confusing messages that infiltrate their lives. Through performing this story as well as being fully immersed in the safe and respectful creative environment we work to create at the theater, it is my greatest hope that these ideas will have been passed onto the children by the time we close this show.

    BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, JR
    July 28 – August 6, 2017
    Theatre Palisades Youth @ Pierson Playhouse
    941 Temescal Canyon Rd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
    Tickets: $15 available at www.theatrepalisades.org

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    L-R: Kate Ponzio, Kelsey Boze, Afton Quast and Kelly Klopocinski. All photos by Gina Long

    Roger Bean’s jukebox musical confection The Marvelous Wonderettes plays the Sierra Madre Playhouse July 21- August 27th. The show is directed by Robert Marra, with musical direction by Sean Paxton, and follows four girls from their 1958 high school prom to their ten-year class reunion in a delightful story about the power of friendship. It’s score is full of classic hits like “Lollipop,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “It’s My Party” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” Tickets: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

    L-R: Kelsey Boze, Afton Quast, Kelly Klopocinski and Kate Ponzio

    Afton Quast

    Kate Ponzio, Kelly Klopocinski, Afton Quast and Kelsey Boze

    Kelly Klopocinski

    Afton Quast, Kelly Klopocinski, Kelsey Boze and Kate Ponzio

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    Photos courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents

    I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that this is the first
    Hershey Felder performance I have attended, given the popularity of his productions and the number of original works he has produced in the last twenty years. Known for his impeccable theatrical portraits of famous composers, Felder uses his abilities as a concert pianist, composer, playwright, and actor to showcase both the artist and the man in a uniquely devised solo presentation.

    The result is a hybrid genre all its own, and the consistently sold-out houses to which he plays proves that demand has only grown for his kind of theatre. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Franz Liszt, and Leonard Bernstein have all been subjects of Felder’s exploration. Now Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) takes his turn in the spotlight as Felder presents what may be his most important and topical story to date.

    Tchaikovsky was gay (though closeted), and that put him in a dangerous position living in 19th century Russia under a government regime that considered homosexual behavior to be deviant. It was a death sentence if you were found out. Many were banished to Siberia or outright killed. The sad fact is, while Tchaikovsky was a musical genius who would compose some of our greatest classical works, he lived in constant fear his entire life.

    Russia’s complicated relationship with homosexuality continues, even today. Every other week another story emerges of the horrible treatment LGBT individuals are subjected to, and that is what makes Our Great Tchaikovsky such a thought-provoking piece at this time in history. As the world rises up in defense of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, the responsibility to champion human dignity at its most basic level becomes paramount.

    For Tchaikovsky, living in the shadows meant pouring all of his love, longing, and despair into his music. Essentially, he composed his emotions and gave us brilliant works like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Eugene Onegin, and Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique). Nine days after he premiered the Pathétique, he died. Cholera was the official report but rumors of a forced suicide arose and to this day the exact cause of death has never been confirmed.


    Felder begins the piece by breaking the fourth wall and relating a true story about an invitation he received from Russian producers to bring his performance of their great composer to Russia. He reads from the letter and asks the audience whether or not he should go. It’s a simple question but the Russian government still considers the topic illegal (and is even going so far as to rewrite history by declaring Tchaikovsky wasn’t gay) which means Felder’s own life could be at risk for even performing it publicly.

    With that thought lingering in the air, Felder morphs into the composer and begins to relate stories, tying them to his music and performing passages on a gorgeous Steinway grand piano that richly express Felder’s own sensitivity as an artist as well as Tchaikovsky’s.

    One can see that his performance has been constructed with great respect for the Russian composer. An underlying elegance is woven into both the narrative structure and the visual storytelling that surrounds Felder throughout the piece.


    Imagery of Tchaikovsky’s homeland softly comes into focus and then quietly transitions like virtual memories unspooling in the background. The face in a suspended picture frame also changes as the various significant figures in his life are discussed. These projections, and the lighting that so beautifully captures the depth of the composer’s emotions, is the work of Christopher Ash.

    Felder has designed the scenery and, whether it was intentional or not, I couldn’t help but notice how the furnishings epitomized the weight of the era with their dark woods and heavy textures. In contrast, the piano center stage seemed to float between the two interiors with an entirely different and significantly lighter energy, functioning as a kind of respite from the reality of the world. It’s subtle stage magic and perhaps I’m reading too much into it but I was fascinated by the effect created by light, texture, and tone. Trevor Hay’s direction is seamless in its shifts from humor to beauty to pain.


    Our Great Tchaikovsky’s run has already been extended a week longer than originally scheduled at The Wallis, due to high demand for tickets. I’m not surprised. The artistic consideration that has gone into the piece, together with Felder’s personal storytelling style, makes it an incredibly satisfying and tragically enlightening experience.

    Those who go to the theatre looking for a great story will find one here. For the classically inclined, Felder’s mastery at the piano will remind you why you love the music. And if you’re in search of art with a message that matters, this is your ticket. There is a reason Hershey Felder’s name pops up repeatedly on theater marquees all over Los Angeles. He’s that good.

    HERSHEY FELDER: OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY
    July 19 – August 13, 2017
    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
    Beverly Hills, CA 90210
    (located between Canon and Crescent)
    Tickets: TheWallis.org
    Click Here for directions and parking.


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    Topher Grace. Photos courtesy of Wolfe Video

    Every theatre production comes with its share of backstage drama. One Hit Wonderland, the Broadway musical comedy depicted in Gary De Leon and Greg Lisi’s indie film Opening Night is no exception. Sex, drugs, and crazy characters collide in this rousing tongue-in-cheek comedy full of splashy production numbers and entertainment in-jokes. It’s a movie for, and about, theatre people – their quirks, their insecurities, and above all, their passions. No one escapes unscathed; not the aging leading lady (Anne Heche as Brooke), the over-the-top chorus boys (including Taye Diggs), the foul-mouthed producer (Rob Riggle), or the bitchy bombshell (Lesli Margherita).

    Topher Grace (funnier than ever) stars as Nick, an actor who choked in his Broadway debut a year ago and now works as the stage manager for One Hit Wonderland, a jukebox musical based on a series of Top 40 pop songs that were the only hit for the groups that recorded them. His deadpan responses to everyone’s ridiculous problems keeps them all in check but the task proves more difficult when he finds out the leading man (JC Chasez in a priceless parody of himself) has made a play for Chloe, Brooke’s understudy and his former girlfriend (Alona Tal), for whom he still has feelings.

    JC Chasez

    When Brooke gets knocked out by a giant chopstick, Chloe is thrust into the spotlight and finds that fame isn’t quite what she thought it would be, while Nick gets one more shot to drop his cynicism and go for what he truly wants.

    Music video director Isaac Rentz brings a stylish cool factor to the storytelling in his feature film debut. He magnifies the humor by focusing on the offbeat nature of the characters in a realistic way, which heightens the absurdity of their actions. Plus, you get to see some bona fide Broadway babies like sexpot Lesli Margherita (Matilda The Musical) and a fierce Taye Diggs (Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) in all their triple threat glory.

    Theatre people will eat it up.



    Taye Diggs (center)

    Anne Heche

    JC Chasez and girls

    JC Chasez (center) and cast


    The 83-minute R-rated film is set to release August 1st on DVD in the U.S. via Wolfe Video.


    OPENING NIGHT
    Directed by: Isaac Rentz
    Produced by: Alex Garcia, Topher Grace, Daniel Posada, Jason Tamasco
    Written by: Gerry De Leon, Greg Lisi
    Starring: Topher Grace, Anne Heche, Alona Tal, JC Chasez, Lauren Lapkus, Taye Diggs, Paul Scheer, Rob Riggle, Brian Husky, Lesli Margherita
    More Info: WolfeVideo


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    L-R: Misty Cotton and Bets Malone. All photos by Michael Lamont

    Bets Malone and Misty Cotton belt their way through this lightweight country and western musical two-hander by Roger Bean– creator of the popular Marvelous Wonderettes musicals and Life Could Be a Dream– and prove that female friendship wins over bad lovers any day of the week. The G-rated jaunt visits typical country storytelling territory where men are cheats and women help each other pick up the pieces, with plenty of singing and countrified self-help catchphrases to put it all into comic perspective.  

    The score is a mash-up of songs from many decades of the country catalog (plus one original song by Bean and Adam McPherson, “I Wish That I Could Yodel”). Some are classic hits like D-I-V-O-R-C-E, originally sung by Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’ Most of the rest fit into a genre of girl power country songs that came out of the late ‘80s,‘90s and beyond from artists like Martina McBride (“Independence Day”), Reba McEntire (“Take It Back”), Sara Evans (“Born to Fly”), and the Dixie Chicks (“Long Time Gone,” and “Wide Open Spaces”). Cotton and Malone funnel their characters’ emotions through the vocal wringer on all of them, often with hilarious results. Cotton’s intensity -- she's would tighter than a drum for most of the show -- has the audience repeatedly in stitches while Malone’s blunt, unpretentious sincerity is a whole other kind of funny.

    Laid back laundromat owner Lana Mae (Malone) meets uptight Katie Lane (Cotton) when she puts up a Help Wanted sign and Katie ducks in to her establishment after a run-in with her cheating ex. Act One reveals how the two bond over love gone wrong while sharing intimate details of their lives. In Act Two, they reclaim control of their destinies, and Lana Mae’s dream of becoming a country music singer, by turning her Wishy Washy Washateria into the hottest Honky Tonk stage in town.

    L-R: Misty Cotton and Bets Malone

    Bean’s book is appropriately hokey, with predictable outcomes that leave the audience on a rousing high but there are times the show needs to shake its cliché-ridden writing or risk feeling dated. Billed as a new musical, it was originally written about a dozen years ago and was first produced at Milwaukee Repertory in 2005. A more recent update of the show played Vista’s Broadway Theatre earlier this year.

    Both the full-blown stage show in the second act and its earlier first act set-up share a likable goofiness and folksy charm. Comic bits with audience participation work well in the Hudson’s intimate theater configuration as does James Vásquez’s classic country and western choreography. Bean’s staging is active and well-calibrated for both the space and the needs of the characters.

    The Washateria is a retro-inspired dream of a set by Tom Buderwitz, who transforms the functional space into a performance venue with numerous quirky touches. Renetta Lloyd’s costumes and Byron Batista’s hair and makeup reflect each woman’s unique personality; Lana Mae’s tending toward a tastefully tacky blend of big jewelry, big hair, and big prints, and Katie’s expressed in simpler styles with more juvenile prints and less makeup. Their glammed up red leather show costumes are right on the money for the big finish.

    L-R: Bets Malone and Misty Cotton

    Lighting designer Steven Young pulls out some surprising creative effects, including a full night sky of fireflies and stage lighting that emanates from within the washers, dryers and shelves.
    Cricket Myers’ sound design is bright and balanced but the sound engineer could bring the volume down a click or two. So much nasal belting can be overwhelming in the course of two hours, especially when the actors need to hit the belt just right on the attack or risk going flat. The musical ends rather abruptly at the completion of the floor show and although it is a natural place for the audience to break into applause, I would have liked to see one final scene after their big night that wraps the whole production together.

    In any case, Honky Tonk Laundry is an appealing production featuring two stars of the Southern California musical theatre scene at their best. So grab your boots and head on down to Hollywood for an empowering girls’ night out at the theatre, country style. Hubs can get his own beer ‘cause you’re done doin’ laundry tonight.

    Bets Malone and Misty Cotton

    HONKY TONK LAUNDRY
    August 5 – Sept 17, 2017
    Hudson Theatre
    6539 Santa Monica Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90038 
    Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm & 7pm 
    Tickets: Plays411.com/honkytonklaundry
    More Info: HonkyTonkLaundry.com

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    L-R: Daniel Sugimoto (Aladdin), Sarah Kennedy (Princess Jazmín) and Lewis Powell III (Genie)

    CASA 0101’s production, Disney’s Aladdin, Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual, was so popular during its initial run earlier this year that the company is bringing it back for another two weeks at Los Angeles Theatre Center, September 8 – 15. This is a newly expanded version of the family friendly musical based on Disney’s 1992 Academy Award-winning film, Aladdin. Set in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah, beloved princess Jazmín finds true love with a commoner named Aladdin with the help a bigger than life Genie and his Magic Carpet. 2017 marks the historic 25th Anniversary of the Disney film.

    Rigo Tejeda returns to direct and says, “We are very excited about the remount of our production of Disney’s Aladdin, Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual. We will have a much larger stage at the Los Angeles Theatre Center with a cast of 25 led by Daniel Sugimoto, our newly cast Aladdin, and a new set designed by Marco De Leon. Audiences will be blown away by our new special effects, including The Magic Carpet and other special surprises.”

    Ken Cerniglia, dramaturg and lterary manager for Disney Theatrical Productions adds, “Our dramaturgical mission…was to weave two languages into the plot while making sure that both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking audiences could follow the story. We hewed closely to the text and structure of Disney’s Aladdin JR., adapted for the stage by Bryan Louiselle and Jim Luigs, but amplified the show with a new back-story.”

    Featured in the cast are Daniel Sugimoto as Aladdin, Valeria Maldonado and Sarah Kennedy alternating as Princess Jazmín, Finley Polynice and Lewis Powell III (Genie), Omar Mata and Luis Marquez (Jafar), Andrew Cano and Luis Fernandez-Gil (Iago), Evan Garcia (Razú), Henry Madrid (Sultán), Sebastian Gonzalez (Abu), Rosa Navarrete (Rajah), Danielle Espinoza (Magic Carpet). The three Royal Translators are Blanca Espinoza, Shanara Sanders, and Beatriz Tash, and the ensemble includes Jocelyn Sanchez, Andrew Cano, Abigail “Abey” Somera, Andrea Somera, Jesse Maldonado, Alejandro Lechuga, Bryant Melton, Monica Beld, and Andrew Allen.

    Lewis Powell III (Genie), Valeria Maldonado (Princess Jazmín), Councilmember
    Gil Cedillo and Daniel Sugimoto (Aladdin)

    Aladdin is a co-presentation by Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo and TNH Productions, in association with El Centro Del Pueblo and CASA 0101 Theater. It features book by Jim Luigs and José Cruz González, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Music is adapted, arranged and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle, with lyric translations by Walterio Pezqueira.

    The 80-minute production is presented without an intermission.


    Aladdin, Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual
    September 8 – 15, 2017
    Los Angeles Theatre Center, 
    514 South Spring Street
    Los Angeles, CA  90013
    Tickets: (866) 811-4111, or Thelatc.org/events

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