Wednesday, April 18, 2018

THE VERDI CHORUS, A Musical Family Related by the Love of Opera

The Verdi Chorus today

Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Nowhere is that phrase truer than with a choir. When individual voices, each unique in character and personality, begin to resonate together they create an entirely new, and often thrillingly exciting, sound. If you’ve ever experienced the goosebumps that come from hearing a choir in action, you know what I mean.

For the past 35 years, members of The Verdi Chorus have celebrated their shared love of music, and their ability to raise those goosebumps, by lifting their voices in song. This spring, they will mark their milestone anniversary with two special concerts on April 28th and 29th at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica. On the program: nothing less than four passion-filled scenes by Verdi from I Lombardi, La Forza del Destino, Nabucco, and La Traviata, plus a big finish from Johann Strauss’ effervescent operetta, Die Fledermaus.

No other choral group in Southern California performs their particular repertoire and, as any chorister will tell you, it is an experience like no other. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked for life and on Monday nights you’ll find more than fifty singers, age 22 to 80, rehearsing under the direction of Anne Marie Ketchum. Among its members are four unique individuals who represent the average, everyday folks who populate the sections. They sing because they love it. Meet Bobbi Mapstone, Rana Ebrahimi, Patrick Mack, and Peter Goldman.

The Verdi Chorus at Ristorante di Musica in the early days

Bobbi Mapstone (alto), one of the original members of the group, is a photographer who couldn’t read music and only sang folk songs while plunking her guitar when she started. She enjoyed opera but says she had an untrained voice. Then, 35 years ago, she happened to attend a friend’s wedding reception at Verdi Ristorante di Musica in Santa Monica. She says, “While we were there, Bernie Segal, the owner, invited everyone to join a brand new opera chorus and no audition was required. That sounded too good to pass up and, before I knew it, I found myself in the soprano section. Singing in the shower was a favorite activity, but to sing opera in my shower was thrilling. Soon I discovered I was not a real soprano and moved through the voice ranks until I landed happily with the 2nd sopranos - the women’s bass section.

Verdi Ristorante had become a proving ground for many singers but, when it closed, the chorus sadly came to an end. By then, passion had exceeded the quality of our singing and when a few enterprising members asked Anne Marie if she would continue the chorus privately she agreed, with one important condition. Everyone had to audition. This was nerve wracking for me but singing with Anne Marie was addictive and she wanted to create a group that would contribute to the music of Los Angeles.

Auditions and artistic control made all the difference; without them there would be no Verdi Chorus today. It’s been a large learning curve and I feel privileged to sing glorious opera music with talented singers and soloists. I enjoy the struggles with language, speed, and dynamics and the nerves and often panic as the performance approaches. Then it’s that special weekend. We dress in black and bling, and the energy is high. The church has excellent acoustics and there are stunning moments when our sound soars to the rafters giving us chills and thrills. My 35 years with the Verdi Chorus has resulted in a greater love of music, and new skills and friendships. Attending opera can be difficult; we know so many choruses that it is hard not to sing along!”

The Verdi Chorus, from the archives

Rana Ebrahimi (soprano) is a student who was born in Iran but moved to the U.S. in 2013 to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. She was already a flutist and a classical singer back home but she enrolled in the Music Program at Pasadena City College to gain performance experience. In Iran, there had been little to no opportunity to perform.

Rana says, “It was at PCC that I met Anne Marie Ketchum de la Vega. She was the opera director there and she also taught classes. Words cannot describe how much I learned from this amazing woman. Aside from vocal technique, she helped me come out of my shell and find confidence on stage, mainly because I was new to the U.S. and hadn’t made any friends yet. When I realized she was also the director of Verdi Chorus, I asked her if I could join. Luckily, I was accepted. In Verdi Chorus people support and help each other in every way they can. That’s why we sing with a lot of passion. It is not just a chorus to me. Verdi Chorus is my music family and I am so fortunate to be a member!”

Patrick Mack (tenor), a travel consultant, has been singing with Verdi Chorus for fifteen years. He found the group by way of a friend’s suggestion but he never thought he’d join another choir. “I ran into a colleague at a work function who had heard I was an opera singer. She started babbling on about this ‘Verdi Chorus.’ Well, I had sung in the chorus with the Baltimore Symphony for two years and figured that part of my life was over. I was riding a very high horse called, ‘I’m a soloist.’

My colleague continued to harass me every time she saw me for the next 7 YEARS (!) until I finally came in for an audition and found this musical family. I’m constantly astonished at the musicianship our director, Anne Marie Ketchum, achieves. Her level of preparation and her constant attention to detail are obvious in our performances. Many of us are just people who really love to sing. In the years I’ve been with the chorus, I’ve gotten to perform some of the greatest music ever written for the voice, and no one complains I’m too loud!”

Peter Goldman (bass) is a publicist by day, singer by night. The Verdi Chorus first came into his life as a client for Davidson & Choy Publicity where he works. Peter says, “I always like to think new and exciting things will continue to come into my life if I’m just open to them, but it really was beyond my wildest dreams that I would ever have the opportunity to sing opera alongside first rate opera singers. Initially, I went to their annual summer party strictly to learn more about the group we would be representing. But, two things happened at that party. First, I was gobsmacked by the talent and genuine camaraderie and family spirit of the group. It seemed every walk of life was represented there and they all had one thing in common - an incredible love of the music.

The second thing that happened, which stunned me to no end, was that I was encouraged to audition the following month to join the chorus. While scared to death, (I hadn’t sung since college and that was decades ago) I gathered the courage to give it a go figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained. To my absolute surprise and joy, I made the cut, and I am continually amazed how being part of such a dynamic musical group has changed my life.”

Of course, none of this would be possible without the woman they all sing the praises of, Founding Artistic Director, Anne Marie Ketchum. In 1983, Anne Marie was one of over 20 professional opera singers at Verdi Ristorante in Santa Monica, an elegant high-end Italian restaurant where a handful of soloists would perform on any given night.

She says, “Grant Gershon, the Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Master Chorale was one of the pianists and Evan Kleiman, who is known for being the ‘fairy godmother’ of the LA food scene through her show Good Food on KCRW, was fresh out of culinary school and working in the kitchen. Needless to say, the food was fantastic, and singing on a stage surrounded by commissioned art of all the Verdi opera characters in such a beautiful space was a wonderful thing.

The owner of the restaurant came up with the idea of starting an opera chorus comprised of the patrons from the restaurant, and as I had a background in conducting, asked me to lead it. We wound up with about 30 singers, and while no auditions were required - and the sound of the chorus reflected that - everyone had a great time and the performances were packed with family and friends.

When the restaurant closed, as restaurants will do, the singers didn’t want to stop. Tom Redler, Peter Kahn and Walter Fox were members of the chorus as well as incredible philanthropists. They were instrumental in raising funds so the chorus could go on. I was asked to continue as Artistic Director, and I agreed, under the condition of having full artistic control, and instituting auditions for all members to bring the Verdi Chorus up to the next level musically.

Over the years, the Verdi Chorus has evolved on every level. There truly was no way of knowing what we would grow into as a performing arts organization. We’ve not only long outlived the restaurant where it all began and where we first started presenting opera choruses in concert, we have also become a force in the L.A. classical music community and are proud to be able to provide career development opportunities for young professional singers.”

For a look at their upcoming program, tickets, and more information, visit their website at www.verdichorus.org. Parking is free and a reception follows each concert where you can meet the artists.

THE VERDI CHORUS: The Force of Destiny
April 28 (7:30 pm) and April 29 (2:00 pm)
First United Methodist Church
1008 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tickets: $10 - $40 (800) 838-3006 or www.verdichorus.org
Guest soloists: Shana Blake Hill, Karin Mushegain, Alex Boyer, and Ben Lowe
Accompanist: Laraine Ann Madden

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: LOVE NEVER DIES Finds its Happily Never After

Meghan Picerno as Christine Daaé and Gardar Thor Cortes as The Phantom.
All photos by Joan Marcus

Romance based on obsession is a challenging tale in today’s world. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 hit musical The Phantom of the Opera might have had a more difficult debut if it had taken place today amid the #MeToo movement. But it didn’t, and the British composer’s masterpiece went on to conquer the West End, Broadway, and the rest of the world, creating legions of fans in its wake.

Now its sequel, Love Never Dies, is making its world tour, but lightning, as they say, isn’t striking twice for this continuation of the Phantom/Christine saga. Curiosity and the unwavering affection of those impassioned fans seem to be the main reasons audiences are flocking to the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for the musical’s short stay. Indeed, the women sitting behind me could barely contain their excitement at seeing the production, a sentiment that didn’t diminish throughout the night.

And much like the Phantom’s fixation on the chorus girl with a golden voice he abducted to turn into a star, Lloyd Webber has been obsessed with turning Love Never Dies into a success.

He began work on the story four years after Phantom premiered in London. It took another seventeen years before he would start composing the score and another three years with multiple collaborators before Love Never Dies finally opened in the West End, albeit to disappointing reviews. He reworked the troubled production, replaced the set, brought in a new director and lyricist to fix trouble spots, and reopened what he felt was a more vibrant musical. Still, it never aroused the same excitement as Phantom. Its London engagement was shorter than anticipated and plans for a Broadway run were scrapped. Productions scheduled to run in other countries also went through significant changes.

The version on stage at the Pantages is one that was reworked for the 2011 Australian premiere, complete with lavish sets and costumes, gorgeous operatic voices, and an orchestra that fills the art deco house with glorious sound. These attributes alone make Love Never Dies a thrill for musical lovers, but you’ll need to overlook a story that tampers with your recollection of the events in Phantom. They say you can’t rewrite the past but, in the case of Love Never Dies, you’d never know it.

It seems that Christine was actually in love with the Phantom, and more happened during the gondola ride to his subterranean lair than they let on. At the end of the musical, miraculously, Madame Giry saves him from the angry mob we thought killed him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Front L-R: Richard Koons (Squelch), Katrina Kemp (Fleck), Stephen Petrovich
(Gangle) and the Ensemble in The Coney Island Waltz

When the sequel opens, it is 1907 and ten years have passed (yes, the math is off). Erik (Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom) isn’t dead but alive and well and living in Coney Island where he runs a commercial concert hall among the fantasy world of boardwalk freaks and outsiders, still pining for his darling soprano. The lovers, Christine (Meghan Picerno) and Raoul (Sean Thompson) are unhappily married with a 10-year-old son (Casey Lyons at this performance), and young Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) is now a glorified singing, dancing stripper who performs in the burlesques at Erik’s show palace while sleeping with the investors her mother finds to fund Erik’s venture.

Madame Giry’s (Karen Mason) objective is to secure their future with the Phantom’s fortune and everything is going according to plan until the announcement that the now-famous soprano is coming to America to perform a concert for Oscar Hammerstein. When Erik learns of the trip, he intervenes to bring Christine and her family to Coney Island. Cue the music. Cue the lights. You can bet there is a mirror waiting in her future that casts more than her own reflection in it.

Though the production’s spectacle is impressive – this is an expensive touring set and the costumes are divine (both by Gabriela Tylesova) – no amount of glitz can compensate for the melodramatic book or performances. The operatic gestures and posturing are stilted and director Simon Phillips doesn’t seem to notice or care, although he does create some heavenly stage pictures.

Gardar Thor Cortes and Meghan Picerno

One of the problems is that Ben Elton’s book and Lloyd Webber’s repetitious score stretch moments across minutes like schmaltzy grand opera. The dramatic throughline isn’t interesting enough, nor are Glenn Slater’s* lyrics transcendent enough, to sustain such slow development so, no matter how hard the actors try to make it natural, it just isn’t possible.

The second problem is that the score doesn’t present a cohesive vision. In Phantom, the composition style was operatic and the “performance” scenes at the opera house were also operatic, because of the location. Here, the setting is a completely different musical world, one that can’t help but sound jarring when you pit its flimsier ditties against the richer sound of opera.

To further complicate things, Lloyd Webber undercuts his own melodies. Rather than building them to soaring heights in an upward trajectory, something he so beautifully did in Phantom, in Love Never Dies he repeatedly uses descending falling phrases that stifle the bloom in the voice. Even his title song, the pièce de résistance for Christine, is full of such phrases. Happily, when Picerno finally does get to let loose in the upper stratosphere of her range it is the kind of luscious soprano magic that makes audiences swell with applause.

Meghan Picerno

David Cullen and Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations are rich and full and the orchestra, led by music director/conductor Dale Rieling, sounds superb.

Though this alternate reality for the Phantom and Christine may ultimately disappoint the discerning musical lover, the visual extravagance and vocal virtuosity of the piece will not. Those riches are fully on display.

*Additional lyrics by Charles Hart

LOVE NEVER DIES
April 4 – 22, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd, 
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets and more info: www.hollywoodpantages.com or 800-982-2787

Mary Michael Patterson and the ensemble

L-R: Mary Michael Patterson, Meghan Picerno, Karen Mason and Sean Thompson 

Richard Koons, Katrina Kemp, and Stephen Petrovich 

Casey Lyons and Gardar Thor Cortes

Sean Thompson and Gardar Thor Cortes

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

MUSICAL NEWS - Mark Your Calendars Now

Hamburg Company of Love Never Dies. Photo courtesy of Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Love Never Dies – Hollywood Pantages Theatre
April 3 – 22, 2018
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera begins its North American Tour at the Hollywood Pantages next month. This new production reflects changes made since the Australian premiere in 2011 and is directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical). The year is 1907, ten years after the Phantom escaped from the Paris Opera House and made a new life for himself among the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. With Christine’s marriage to Raoul on the rocks, the Phantom seizes one last opportunity to win back her love with an invitation to perform at a New York Opera House. www.hollywoodpantages.com

L-R: Playwright David Henry Hwang, Conrad Ricamora, Billy Bustamante,
Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, and Francis Jue 

Soft Power – Ahmanson Theatre
May 3 – June 10, 2018
Center Theatre Group has announced the cast for its upcoming world premiere of Soft Power by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics) produced in association with East West Players. Leigh Silverman directs, choreography is by Sam Pinkleton and musical direction is by David O. The title comes from China’s current quest for international cultural influence, known as “Soft Power” and tells the story of a visiting Chinese executive who falls in love with a good-hearted U.S. leader following the 2016 election. The cast includes Billy Bustamante, Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, Francis Jue, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee, Alyse Alan Louis, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Paul HeeSang Miller, Kristen Faith Oei, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Trevor Salter and Emily Stillings. www.centertheatregroup.org

Blues in the Night – The Wallis
April 27 – May 20, 2018
Yvette Cason stars in Blues in the Night, conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, a production he originally staged in a small Off-Broadway theater in the early 1980s and at Donmar Warehouse in London. Now Epps returns to bring the soul of the blues back to life in The Wallis’ Lovelace Theatre. Joining Cason are Bryce Charles, Paulette Ivory, and Chester Gregory in 26 hot and torchy numbers by the likes of musical icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, and Harold Arlen that fuel the story of three women and the men who have done them wrong. You know it’s the blues so the night is sure to sizzle. www.thewallis.org

South Pacific – La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
April 20 – May 13, 2018
Glenn Casale will direct Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts this April. John Cudia stars as French plantation owner Emile De Becque and Stephanie Wall as Navy nurse Nellie Forbush in this classic musical theatre masterpiece dealing with romance and racism in the South Pacific during wartime. Musical direction is by Brent Crayon and choreography by Peggy Hickey. The cast also includes Jeff Skowron (Luther), Jodi Kimura (Bloody Mary), Matt Rosell (Lt. Cable), and Hajin Cho (Liat). Prior to its run in La Mirada, it will play four performances at The Soraya in Northridge, April 13 - 15. Tickets: www.lamiradatheatre.com and valleyperformingartscenter.org/SP

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – 5-Star Theatricals
April 20 – 27, 2018
5-Star Theatricals in Thousand Oaks presents The Hunchback of Notre Dame (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Peter Parnell), starring managing director Will North in the title role, at the Kavli Theatre. This gorgeous musical is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel and the Disney film of the same name, and contains some of Menken’s most beautiful music The cast also includes Cassandra Murphy as Esmeralda, Justin Michael Wilcox as Clopin, Gregory North as Frollo, and Adam Hollick as Phoebus. Musical direction is by Dan Redfeld, choreography by Michelle Elkin, and Misti B. Wills directs. A signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will take place on Saturday, April 21 at 2pm, followed by a post-show discussion with the cast and staff.  5startheatricals.com

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Your Sunday Recommendation


There are only two more performances left of this poetic flight of fancy but, if you can take the time, I highly recommend you get to The Wallis and see it. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is the theatrical love story of early twentieth century Russian artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella told with a feather-light whimsy and lyrical sophistication that will take your breath away. Marc Antolin stars as Chagall and Daisy Maywood as his wife in this intoxicating production written by Daniel Jamieson, directed by Emma Rice, and produced by Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic. Passionate, and full of thrillingly optimistic theatre magic, it captures the couple’s romance set against a dramatically changing world in a time of war and revolution. The original score performed by composer/musical director Ian Ross and James Gow is light as air and as poignant as Chagall’s own journey. The entire 90 minutes was a lovely surprise. Tickets: www.thewallis.org 

Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood. All photos by Steve Tanner














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Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: ALLEGIANCE - A Full Circle Moment for an Important Work

George Takei as Sam Kimura. All photos by Michael Lamont

After nearly nine years, Allegiance has come home to Southern California. The co-production by East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center opened to a sold out crowd on Wednesday night, less than half a mile from the Japanese American National Museum where it had its first reading in 2009.

Additional workshops and readings followed before the production’s world premiere in 2012 at The Old Globe in San Diego. In 2015, it moved to Broadway for a 4-month run, which was filmed and screened in cinemas across the country. Not bad considering most musicals of this size and scale never make it to the finish line.

But Allegiance is special. It has historical significance and the potential to educate generations of Americans about a part of our past we cannot afford to forget. You have only to look around at what is happening in our country today to see how important it is that we remember to bring our better selves to the table and not jump to conclusions when it comes to our fellow man.

The cast of Allegiance

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and FDR’s subsequent signing of Executive Order 9066, approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens were removed from their homes and relocated to government-run internment camps. Allegiance is the story of how one family endures in a country that now views them as the enemy, even though they had nothing to do with the war. It highlights the incredible resilience of the human spirit and its never-ending ability to carry on, make due, and above all, survive.

The musical is a legacy piece for George Takei who was only a child when he and his family were sent to the camps. It was his story that inspired Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione to write Allegiance and for whom they created the central role of Sam Kimura/Ojii-chan. He has played it in all of the previous productions and does so again, with humor and heart, in LA accompanied by several of his Broadway castmates and a capable local cast directed by East West Player’s artistic director, Snehal Desai. The performance style is heightened and dramatic, at times a bit overly so, but the ensemble is sincere in its desire to communicate how deeply this story resonates with them.

L-R: Ethan Le Phong, George Takei, and Elena Wang 

Energetic Ethan Le Phong plays the younger version of Takei’s character, an all American boy full of youthful verve and idealistic optimism. Elena Wang is his sister Kei, sounding like a Disney princess about to get her warrior wings, and Scott Watanabe is their gruff and unwavering father, Tatsuo. Greg Watanabe takes on the controversial role of real-life Japanese Citizens League representative Mike Masaoka who was used by the government to secure cooperation among the camps.

Kuo’s score is full of power ballads and galvanizing anthems that the characters deliver with stirring authority, despite the fact that some of the lyrics are set rather awkwardly to music. The occasional boogie-woogie dance number or delicate Japanese folk melody is interspersed among the more typical musical theatre-sounding songs.

An 11-piece orchestra conducted by musical director Marc Macalintal provides thrilling accompaniment, nowhere more affecting than in the dissonances that underscore conflicting passions. The vocal sound is perennially bright, amplified by an abundance of treble in the sound system that pierces even when it doesn’t need to.

The story, which spans a 60-year time frame, plays out on a sparsely decorated set (scenic design by Se Hyun Oh, lighting by Karyn Lawrence) against a compelling backdrop of grainy black and white historical images, sepia-toned photographs, and full-color projections (by Adam Fleming). Its combined visuals create a starkly dramatic foundation for Allegiance’s underlying human story of family, loyalty, and honor.

Though the story is largely fictional, the historical context is not. It happened. It wasn’t right. It’s up to us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Consider Allegiance a musical reminder that we have a social responsibility to each other, “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Greg Watanabe

Elena Wang

Eymard Cabling, Elena Wang, and George Takei

L-R: Scott Watanabe, George Takei, Jordan Goodsell, Elena Wang, and Ethan Le Phong

Natalie Holt McDonald and Ethan Le Phong

L-R: Miyuki Miyagi, Chad Takeda, Janelle Dote, Eymard Cabling (center) as
Frankie Suzuki, Sharline Liu, Cesar Cipriano, and Grace Yoo

ALLEGIANCE
February 21 – April 1, 2018
East West Players at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre
244 S. San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets and Info: AllegianceMusical.com/LA

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: Love Comes as a Surprise in DADDY LONG LEGS

Ashley Ruth Jones and Dino Nicandros. Photos by Tracey Roman

It can be a wonderful adventure to watch two people falling in love, particularly when they themselves don’t realize it’s happening. When the adventure takes place on stage – as in John Caird and Paul Gordon’s musical two-hander Daddy Long Legs – the audience has an advantage because they get to see the relationship develop from both points of view. The misunderstandings are more poignant, the coincidences even more delightful. By the time it becomes apparent to the couple in question, we’ve already fallen in love with them and are cheering them on to their eventual conclusion. Add music and the whole emotional journey becomes a romantic dream come true no fairy tale could tell better.

That’s the story of Jerusha Abbott and Jervis Pendleton, the two charming characters in Daddy Long Legs, who easily succeed in working their way into our hearts by the time they arrive at their happy ending. It’s a return to Southern California for the musical, which debuted at the Rubicon Theatre in 2009 as part of its rolling premiere. It then played venues like La Mirada Theatre, The Broad Stage, and Laguna Playhouse (I saw them all) before taking flight to London, New York, and beyond.

Caird’s adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel is an intimate and delicately balanced conversation for two, carried out in letters. She is an 18-year-old orphan with dreams of becoming a writer. He is a trustee of the orphanage who has seen promise in her writing and has decided to send her to college. His terms: they will never meet, she must write him monthly, and he will not write her back.

It’s worked perfectly well for the boys he has previously helped to educate but he finds that Jerusha has a curious effect on him. As she begins to discover a whole world she never imagined, her thoughtful, inquisitive, and often humorous observations break through his self-imposed isolation and reconnect him with the world.

What so impressed me about the musical in the past is how effortlessly it communicated the joy and pain of life by setting up two completely isolated realities - his and hers - and eventually merging the two into one. Their letters are the threads that tie them together with a singular intimacy that is only available because they move in parallel, not intersecting, worlds (until specific plot points deem it necessary).

International City Theatre’s production, directed by Mary Jo DuPrey, takes a different approach. DuPrey sets up the two worlds and then breaches their integrity by having the characters walk into each other’s space. Jervis (Dino Nicandros) watches Jerusha (Ashley Ruth Jones) for long sections of the musical, at times only inches away from her while she’s singing. She dances around him and wanders into his library at will. In one of the most invasive and puzzling moments, she drops a book on his desk for no apparent reason while he is sitting there.

The director’s desire to make the staging theatrically interesting has instead given us actors who are performing for the audience rather than speaking to each other, or to themselves, in the stream of consciousness narrative style Caird has written. It imposes an artificial quality on the piece, particularly since the characters are also not reading or writing letters at all. That in itself is confusing because it is difficult, especially in the beginning, to know whether they are speaking their own thoughts or reading the other person’s.

Nicandros is charming and has a lovely voice but encounters some difficulty with his high notes. Jones gives Jerusha an awkwardness that is endearing in its own sweet way yet it still feels like she is performing rather than carrying on a private conversation. Her most effective moments come when she keeps it simple. Gordon’s articulate and expressive score is full of soaring melodies and graceful lyrics that do much of the actors’ work for them, if they will trust what is written. Musical director Bill Wolfe’s onstage chamber trio (consisting of piano, guitar and cello) creates an elegant ambiance.

Despite its heavy-handed direction, there is much to love in this appealing romance of minds and hearts. If you are coming to the musical for the first time, doubtless you will be swept away as I was originally by its inherent charm.

DADDY LONG LEGS
Feb 21 - March 11, 2018
International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802
Tickets: 562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org




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Monday, February 26, 2018

MUSICAL NEWS for Monday, February 26, 2018


The Little Mermaid - Sound Stage Live!
March 15 – 18, 2018
What’s the newest way to experience Disney’s The Little Mermaid? Sound Stage Live’s first-ever immersive musical theatre event combining live actors, projected animations that surround the audience, and a new way to use your mobile device to interact with the show. Directed by Karl Warden and starring Chassey Bennett, the performances are hosted by YouTube sensation Todrick Hall. VIP ticketholders will have the chance to meet Todrick, attend a special Q&A, and get front row seats. In this new format, you’re encouraged to bring your cell phone to the party, rather than put it away. Co-producer Jeff Cason says, “We’re bringing cutting edge technology and storytelling together to put our guests in the middle of the action. Your phone will let you see and hear the fish under the sea, join the musical chorus that get Ariel and Eric to fall in love, and even help Ariel defeat Ursula with the power of the trident.” A red carpet, themed snacks, and games in the lobby start the festivities. The pre-show will feature Todrick Hall’s fan favorite videos of his performances, plus a lip sync battle in which guests can join him onstage at the El Segundo Performing Arts Center to showcase their own talents. Tickets: www.soundstage.live/tickets


Hollywood Revisited – MTG at the Colony Theatre
March 26, 2018
Musical Theatre Guild presents Hollywood Revisited, a one-of-a-kind musical revue, as a benefit to raise funds for its youth outreach programs. The show is an homage to the movies with the cast singing and dancing while wearing the ORIGINAL Hollywood movie costumes worn by legendary stars of the Golden Age. You’ll see costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Julie Andrews, Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Donald O’Connor, Mae West, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and more, all from the collection of curator Greg Schreiner. Greg is director of special collections at the Hollywood Museum and also serves as musical director and narrator for this unique revue. Expect to see MTG members on stage as well as some surprise guests, all directed by Joshua Finkel. Tickets: Web.ovationtix.com/HollywoodRevisited


WaistWatchers The Musical! – El Portal Theatre
February 28 to March 4, 2018
Alan Jacobson and Vince Di Mura’s WaistWatchers The Musical! follows four forty-something women in their quest to lose weight while managing all the pitfalls of a busy life. The ladies discuss everything from food, diets, and exercise, to friendship, love and sex in much the same spirit as Menopause the Musical. The show takes place inside Miss Cook’s Women’s Gym where the women share their marital pitfalls, body size issues, and a common weakness for sweets. Original music by Vince Di Mura includes songs like “Viagra” and “I Went to the Buffet Line.” Tickets: www.elportaltheatre.com

L-R: Jennifer Bevans, Spencer Harte, Rio "Soulshocka" Wyles, Rex Lewis-Clack,
August McAdoo, Alan Davis, Patrick Storey, Jonetta Ward, Igor Zaninovich

Lost in the Light – CRE Outreach
April 13 – May 12, 2018
CRE Outreach presents Lost in the Light, a world premiere play by Pelita Dasalla with original songs by Laurie Grant and Chloe Copoloff. This is the company’s inaugural production at its new home, The Blue Door in Culver City. Performed by Theatre by the Blind, the only blind theater company in the country, and musicians with autism from Rex & Friends, it is the story of Angel Taylor, blind since birth, who learns about a rare opportunity to restore her vision through an experimental surgery. As she grapples with the conflicting notions of what is and what might be, the budding journalist must come to terms with a future she never expected. Directed by Greg Shane, the production challenges conventional expectations about the capabilities of individuals who live without sight, who struggle with movement, or who have difficulty understanding the complexities of social interactions. Tickets: CREoutreach.org/lostinthelight

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