Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My My, How Can We Resist MAMMA MIA! at the Hollywood Bowl?

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!

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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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Photo Flash: PETER PAN at Cabrillo Music Theatre

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. Photo credit: Ed Krieger www.cabrillomusictheatre.com

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Photo Blast: The Old Globe's GUYS AND DOLLS

(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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Thursday, July 6, 2017

First Look: PARADE at Chance Theater

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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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Discount for a New Musical, National Dance Day Instruction Video, and a New Guys and Dolls

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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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Rethinking OKLAHOMA! For Today's Audience

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

3-D Theatricals

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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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: LONDON CALLING, A MUSICAL Doesn't Connect

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.

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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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Theatre High of hearing John Bucchino play IT'S ONLY LIFE

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.

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

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: Robot Teammate's TURBULENCE! Covers Fun-Loving Comic Territory

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 (on purpose) 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.

June 10 – 22, 2017
Sacred Fools Theater
1076 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA 90038

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