Wednesday, August 24, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Friday, August 19, 2016

CABARET, FILM & DANCE NEWS for Friday, August 19, 2016

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

Kurtis Simmons

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Thursday, August 18, 2016

MUSICAL CELEBRATION
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will host a free two-day celebration for the community on Sept 10 (2pm – 10 pm) and 11 (10am – 2pm) featuring performances by many of the artists who will be appearing in their 2016-17 season. WelcomeFest highlights will include Matthew Bourne, Michael Arden’s Pop-Up Sondheim, Deaf West Theatre, Films of Harold Lloyd, For The Record: Scorsese, Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone Unscripted: Abridged, the Colburn School, Invertigo Dance Theatre and many more. Everything is free and it’s a great way to experience a taste of The Wallis’ wide variety of arts offerings. Discounted parking is available both days. For a complete schedule of performances and interactive activities, visit www.TheWallis.org/WelcomeFest.

MUSICAL NEWS
International City Theatre has announced its upcoming 2017 season, which begins with Forever Plaid, Feb 15 – March 5 (opening night 2/16). Always an audience favorite, it is the story of four young singers killed in a car crash on the way to their first-ever big concert who miraculously return to earth to fulfill their dream and perform the show after all, sixty years later. Written by Stuart Ross and featuring musical arrangements by James Raitt, Forever Plaid was first produced in 1990, yet remains one of the most popular and successful off-Broadway musicals in history. For a complete look at ICT’s 2017 season, visit www.internationalcitytheatre.org.

Menopause The Musical® returns to the Laguna Playhouse for a two-week run, August 31 – Sept 11. Inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine, the show was created as a celebration of women who find themselves at any stage of “The Change.” The fun, 90-minute production is designed to get audience members out of their seats and singing along to parodies from classic pop songs of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Set in a department store, four women meet by chance while shopping for a black lace bra at a lingerie sale. After noticing unmistakable similarities among one another, they end up commiserating about their woeful hot flashes, mood swings, wrinkles, weight gain and much more. Produced by GFour Productions, it is hilarious from beginning to end. www.lagunaplayhouse.com

The Barn Stage Company and Temecula Presents will stage Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus’ Chess in Concert at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, Sept 1 – 4. The show will be accompanied by the 25-piece Temecula Valley Symphony Orchestra and is directed by J. Scott Lapp, with musical direction by John Mario Di Costanzo and choreography by April Henry. Cast includes Michael McCorry Rose as Anatoly Sergievsky, Louis Pardo as Freddy Trumper, Rena Strober as Florence Vassy, Elizabeth Brackenbury (Svetlana Sergievsky), Daniel Guzman (Alexander Molokov), Allen Everman (Walter de Courcey), Bryan Barbarin (The Arbiter), Jerry Alexander III, Ethan Park, Kelsie Piini, Ariana Ramirez, Amanda Restivo, Shealyn Sailors, Edred Utomi and Tanner Vidos. www.TheBarnStageCompany.com

COLLEGE THEATRE
The CSULB University Players will present Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Stop the World I Want to Get Off as part of their 2016-2017 season. Show runs Oct 7 – 16 in the Studio Theatre and is directed by Joanne Gordon. The quirky, British musical is a tale of rags to riches that will take the audience on a journey of one man’s search for hope during his rise to fame. Cast includes Christian Sullivan as Littlechap and Alexandra Billings (ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, Amazon’s Transparent) in multiple roles as the many women in Littlechap’s life, with Maddie Larson, Asialani Holman, Kaleigh Clark, Bonnie Dolan, Asialani Holman, Likun Jing, Lara Lafferty, Maddie Larson, Tamanii Meeks, and Carolina Xique. Ticket Link

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NEW SEASONS
Valley Performing Arts Center launches its 2016-2017 season with a one night only performance of Jerry Herman’s Dear World starring Tyne Daly as Countess Aurelia, Friday, Sept 30 at 8pm. This concert version of the show was created specifically for VPAC by veteran producer Suzi Dietz and will be directed by Emmy Award winner David Lee. Darryl Archibald will make his VPAC debut as musical director. Daly leads a cast of 13 performers, accompanied by a live 25-piece orchestra and a student chorus. The Broadway Series at Valley Performing Arts Center continues with Kelli O’Hara in concert, October 14, West Side Story, March 10 – 12, 2017 and Man of La Mancha May 5 – 7, 2017. www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

Latino Theatre Company celebrates its 30th anniversary by presenting Evelina Fernández’s award-winning trilogy, Faith, Hope and Charity, in its entirety as one unforgettable tour de force - A Mexican Trilogy: An American Tale. You can choose to experience the epic adventure over the course of two evenings or as one all-day immersive experience (box dinners available for purchase). Directed by Latino Theater Company’s artistic director José Luis Valenzuela, it features musical direction by Rosino Serrano and choreography by Urbanie Lucero. A Mexican Trilogy runs Sept 8 – Oct 9 (opening night 9/15).


A Mexican Triilogy: Faith. Photo by Pablo Santiago

The story follows the Morales family through decades of the Mexican-American experience, from a remote mining town in Arizona during World War II, to the Phoenix family home during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, finally to Los Angeles following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. Compelling, funny, with songs and a splash of magical realism, it touches on aspects of tradition, religion, labor issues, war and the clash between immigrants and their first and second generation American offspring. In just five hours, the twelve-actor ensemble portrays members of the Morales family over the course of 90 years and four generations. As the years fly by, we recognize the music of each era in classic songs ranging from the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller, to the Isley Brothers and Elvis, to Jimi Hendrix, all sung live. Cast stars Lucy Rodriguez, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Esperanza America, Ella Saldaña North, Sal Lopez, Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez, Julio Macias, Sam Golzari, Evelina Fernández, Robert Beltran, Xavi Moreno, and Geoffrey Rivas. For a complete schedule of dates and times visit www.thelatc.org.

Panic! Productions kicks off its 2016-2017 season with Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, Sept 9 – 24 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. David Daniels directs, with music direction by Ben Ginsberg, vocal direction by Marilyn Anderson, and choreography by Brance Souza. Broadway veteran Joshua Finkel stars as Leo Frank, with Dana Shaw playing his wife, Lucille. The musical dramatizes the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner accused of murdering a young girl in Atlanta, Georgia in 1913. It was sensationalized by the media and aroused anti-Semitic tensions in Atlanta and beyond. www.hillcrestarts.com

NEW WORKS
Overtone Industries, known for its development of contemporary music theatre and experimental opera, presents the next phase of its epic new multidisciplinary production, Iceland, in concert form, at the Ford Theatres’ newly renovated amphitheatre on Friday, October 7, 8:30pm. The new work is written and composed by O-Lan Jones, in collaboration with acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter Emmett Tinley. It is a modern love story, set in a mythical and timeless world, where ancient creatures challenge the hero and heroine on an archetypal journey. The work begins in an Icelandic airport before journeying off the map of the known world, into the realm of “The Hiddenfolk” and the vast mythic inner landscapes of Iceland.

Cesili Williams and the Hiddenfolk. Photo by Martha Benedict

I saw the first half hour of the piece during REDCAT’s New Works Festival in 2014 and was quite taken with it. I’m excited to see this next phase of its development. This performance at The Ford will be the first time it will be heard with full orchestration and complete score. The performance is directed and choreographed by Ken Roht, with musical direction by David O. Cast includes Emmett Tinley as Mundi and Cesili Williams as Vala, with Patty Cornell, Matthew McCray, MJ Silva, and Silvie Zamora. www.fordtheatres.org

The Old Globe’s 2016–2017 Season begins with October Sky, a tale of boys, rockets, and big dreams inspired by the beloved 1999 Universal Pictures film and Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam, Jr. Book is by Drama Desk nominee Brian Hill (The Story of My Life) and Aaron Thielen (Hero) and music is by Michael Mahler (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). It is directed by Rachel Rockwell and produced in association with Universal Stage Productions. Kyle Selig stars as Homer Hickam, Ron Bohmer as John Hickam, and Kerry O’Malley as Elsie Hickam. Cast also includes Rebecca Bellingham, Joel Blum, Will Branner, James Royce Edwards, Steve Gouveia, Kevyn Morrow, Austyn Myers, Destan Owens, Liam Quealy, Patrick Rooney, Connor Russell, Lance Arthur Smith, Betsy Stewart, Nick Sullivan, and more. Show runs Sept 10 - Oct 23.  www.TheOldGlobe.org

El Molino Viejo celebrates its 200th year with a new adaptation of Zane Grey’s western romance The Light of Western Stars. The two hour world premiere play with music is adapted by Bob Colleary and directed by Billy Gill, produced by Allison Darby Gorjian and Betsy Roth, and developed and presented by Little Candle Productions. Can East Coast socialite Madeline Hammond tame the last corners of the Wild West when she follows in the footsteps of her runaway brother? Set in 1912 Arizona, see what happens when an independent, high-society woman and one of America’s last cowboys tussle. Performances are August 19, 20 & 21 at 7:30 pm at El Molino Viejo, 1120 Old Mill Road in San Marino. www.littlecandleproductions.com

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Pasadena Playhouse has announced the cast for its upcoming production of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’s The Fantasticks, directed by Seema Sueko. Show runs Sept 6 – Oct 2, with opening night on Sept 11. Starring as El Gallo is Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, with Conor Guzmán and Ashley Park as young lovers Matt and Luisa, Regi Davis and Gedde Watanabe as their fathers Bellomy and Hucklebee, Alyse Rockett as The Mute, Amir Talai as Mortimer, and Hal Linden as Henry. Musical direction is by David O and choreography is by Kitty McNamee. Perhaps most exciting is that Sueko has a new vision for the show, one she has worked with lyricist & bookwriter Tom Jones to create. Their discussions even prompted Jones to rewrite several sections of the musical some sixty years later.

Sheldon Epps, Artistic Director of The Pasadena Playhouse says, “Seema and her creative team have brought together a wonderfully diverse, talented, charming, and persuasive cast for our production of this much loved musical. I have no doubt that the entire company will bring both freshness and immediacy to this great classic that will have audiences not just rediscovering the show, but in fact seeing it as if for the first time. I very much look forward to their contributions to this true gem of a musical.” www.pasadenaplayhouse.org


Triage Productions and Standing Room Only Productions are getting ready to open Next To Normal at Pico Playhouse this weekend. The production will feature a live five-piece band conducted by music director Taylor Stephenson and stars Isa Briones (Natalie), Michelle Lane (Diana), Harrison Meloeny (Gabe), Randal Miles (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine), Blaine Miller (Henry), and Nick Sarando (Dan) directed by Thomas James O’Leary. Next to Normal runs Aug 18 – Sept 25 (opening night Friday, August 19 at 8pm). There will be a Q&A Talk-back after the Sunday matinees on 8/21, 9/4 & 9/18. Ticket Link

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment begin their 2016-2017 season with the LA Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Glenn Casale directs, musical direction is by Dennis Castellano, and choreography is by Dana Solimando. Show runs Sept 16 – Oct 9 (opening night Saturday, Sept 17). Bookwriter Peter Parnell has adapted the story from the Victor Hugo novel and I love the gorgeous score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. For the first time, Quasimodo -- who is deaf in the original novel -- will be played by a deaf actor, John McGinty. Joining him are Dino Nicandros as the singing voice of Quasimodo, Cassie Simone as Esmeralda, Mark Jacoby as Frollo, Keith A. Bearden as Clopin, Eric Kunze as Phoebus, and an ensemble of fourteen. With Stephen Gifford designing the set and Jared Sayeg providing the lighting, this is sure to be a winner. www.lamiradatheatre.com

Teen musical Generation Me (music by Will Finan, lyrics by Julie Soto) was an unexpected hit when it played the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2014 and a production I’ll never forget. Now it’s back, with a new cast and updated material, opening at the Hudson Theater Sept 16. The show follows 15-year-old Milo Reynolds who had it all: a seat at the popular table, the perfect girlfriend, the “coolest” parents, and friends who worshiped him. But when Milo kills himself on Monday morning, his friends and family are left questioning everything they thought they knew about him. Told in flashbacks that reveal Milo’s story like a mystery, Generation Me identifies a generation more privileged, self-interested, oblivious, and lonelier than ever. Recommended for ages 13 and older. Please note there is no late seating for this production. Sept 16 – Oct 9. Ticket Link

And in Ventura, Rubicon Theatre celebrates folk-rock trailblazers Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro in Back to the Garden, part of its Janet and Mark L. Goldenson Broadway Musical Concert Series. Headlining the show are Melissa Hammans, Shaleah Adkisson, Maddy Wyatt, and Sue Terwilliger on guitar, directed by Amy Jones with musical direction by Debra Barsha. The ladies have played to sold-out theatres across the country and will appear at the Rubicon for 3 performances on Saturday, August 20 (2pm & 8pm) and Sunday, August 21 (2 pm). Tickets are $69.50 for the general public, with a $5 discount using Code REP. (805) 667-2900, or www.rubicontheatre.org.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Photo Flash: The B Productions' Little Shop of Horrors


The B Productions’ modern twist on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors plays one more weekend at the NoHo Arts Center. Directed by Brianna McDonnell, with musical direction by Lindsay Aldana and choreography by Logan Allison & Sam Mejia, the musical is now set in the not-so-distant past, before technology was readily at our fingertips. Here, Seymour and the residents of Skid Row face a threat far greater than human existence and plant-based, recycled, technology is the way of the future…Or is it? Through August 7. Tickets and more information: www.thebproductions.com.



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Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: In & Of Itself, Where Theatre and Magic Become Art

Derek DelGaudio. All photos by Jeff Lorch Photography

“willing suspension of disbelief” --the willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. 

In 1817, “poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and suggested that if a writer could infuse a ‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.” [Wikipedia]

It’s a concept I couldn’t help thinking about while watching Derek DelGaudio’s world premiere of In & Of Itself at Geffen Playhouse last week. The show lives somewhere in that make-believe realm between magic and theatre where what you see isn’t real but presents itself to be so, and it is up to you to determine what your experience will be. I found it to be as thought-provoking as any piece of theatre I’ve ever seen and as revelatory in its awe-inspiring moments as any magic act I’ve ever witnessed.

It is an experience that will change you, or at the very least, change how you see yourself in relationship to the world. And isn’t that why we go to the theatre? In & Of Itself is a rare entertainment where magic and theatre have evolved into a new form of art.

DelGaudio created the show and it is directed by Frank Oz, the much-loved puppeteer who brought to life many iconic characters for The Muppets and Sesame Street, as well as Jedi Master Yoda for the Star Wars series of films. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising then that the very humanity found in In & Of Itself should be one of its most memorable characteristics. Windows in a wall or windows into the soul...they aren’t all that different when you stop and think about it.

The production has been extended five times but is now in its final weeks and will close August 28. This kind of performance doesn’t come around very often. Don’t miss out.

As a character, DelGaudio is a bit of an enigma. He is quiet and even somewhat unassuming, with the studied composure of a man who knows the value of underplaying a moment. He moves slowly, carefully, and he intentionally lets his words linger in the air, which only serves to heighten their effect on the listener. Where most magic acts are showy and built to impress with applause-inducing flash and splash,” he instead takes the contrary route, an alchemical inward journey both heady and hypnotic that, for my money, leaves a deeper impression.

Even now, several days after seeing it, I continue to reflect on the show’s philosophical forks in the road: the weight of our secrets, who I think I am, and how I choose to see what I see…because, he reminds us, it is always a choice. 

This point of view, like everything in DelGaudio’s show, is unexpected. The illusions woven into his theatrical narrative flow seamlessly – almost matter-of factly – out of his storytelling. I’m loathe to say much about the actual content because the very fact that you don’t know what you’re in for throws you ever so slightly off balance. Relaxing into that place of not knowing can be difficult in our fast-paced, results-driven world but it carries a great payoff in this instance.

What I will say is that the Geffen’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater has been completely reconfigured to create an intimate and antiquated cigar box setting worthy of the wholly original experience. I guarantee you’ve not heard these stories before nor seen them integrated with such poetic grace.

Adding to the show’s ethereal nature is a mesmerizing sound design composed by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh and an illusory, almost spectral, lighting design by Adam Blumenthal. More than the sum of its parts, each decision enhances the overall effect and delivers on the show’s promise. And for a production whose very title is an idiom with no meaning, that is rather astonishing.

L-R: Producer Glenn Kaino, Derek DelGaudio, and Frank Oz



IN & OF ITSELF

Through August 28, 2016
Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
www.geffenplayhouse.com

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: It's Austen Time - Sense and Sensibility / I Love You Because

L-R: Megan McGinnis (Marianne Dashwood) and Sharon Rietkerk (Elinor Dashwood)
Photo by Liz Lauren, courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

This past week I saw two different musicals that have taken their inspiration from classic Jane Austen novels and, while completely different in size and scale, both have considerable merits. The first is in San Diego where Paul Gordon’s to-die-for new musical Sense and Sensibility is gracing the stage at The Old Globe.

Produced in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theater and directed by Barbara Gaines, it is a gold mine for lovers of Austen’s epic romances, and this gorgeously appointed production soars.

With only a few bold strokes, scenic designer Kevin Depinet captures the sweeping elegance of Austen’s late 18th century England before the performance even begins. The effect of his choices, such as a swirling floor-to-ceiling flourish and oversized gilt-framed portraits that dramatically fly in and out, create movement and a seamless integration with the storytelling that somehow feels just right.

Add Susan E. Mickey’s absolutely ravishing costumes and a rich lighting design by Donald Holder and this three dimensional cutout world literally springs to life out of the darkness.

The adaptation centers all of its attention on the two elder Dashwood sisters and their tenuous situation following the death of their father. Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk) is the sensible one, somewhat reserved and always responsible, while the younger Marianne (Megan McGinnis) is of a more passionate and willful nature. By story’s end, each will need to expand her view of the world to include a bit of the other’s outlook on life in order to find love. But no matter their trials, this is Austen so we know where we’re headed. It’s the getting there that makes the story so much fun.

Gordon’s gift for bringing characters to life is evident in the way he has written the sisters. Their relationship is honest and believable, their loyalty to each other sincere. Rietkerk and McGinnis also sing beautifully and when their voices come together in duets like “Lavender Drops” and “Somewhere in Silence,” we hear some of Gordon’s most satisfying harmonies.

Sean Allan Krill. Photo by Liz Lauren

The men are equally as distinct, from the dashing but ultimately fickle Willoughby (Peter Saide), to the easily flustered Edward Ferrars (Wayne Alan Wilcox) to the somewhat stiff Colonel Brandon (Sean Allan Krill, whose comic ability is on full display in “Wrong Side of Five and Thirty.”) He is irresistible.

Without a doubt, this lovely Austen musical will easily win over even the least hopeless romantic in the audience with its heavenly music, gorgeous voices, quirky comedy, and a story that will make you tear up more than once. A road trip south for this Austen musical is just the flight of fancy you need. Through August 14, 2016. www.theoldglobe.org

Closer to home, the scrappy young After Hours Theatre Company is mounting a contemporary twist on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Hollywood. It’s titled I Love You Because and features book & lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman.

In this version the writers have done a gender switch with Elizabeth Bennet becoming Austin Bennett and Mr. Darcy now Marcy Darcy. Their approach is a modern one with the story set in New York City, present day, as it takes on the judgements and complications of the dating world.

Austin MacPhee and Aly French. Photo by Bryan Carpender

It isn’t nearly as sophisticated as Gordon’s Sense and Sensibility and its more loosely-adapted book does feel a bit dated (the musical was first presented at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival in 2005). What makes it work in this instance is director Rebecca Kenigsberg’s likable cast and some luscious arrangements of Larry Hochman’s original orchestrations by musical director Elmo Zapp.

Instead of two sisters we have two best friends, Marcy (Aly French), a no-nonsense photographer, and Diana (Shelley Regner), an actuary, who lives her life by the numbers. Marcy has recently broken up with her douchebag boyfriend and is heartbroken while Diana is simply looking to find someone to have a little fun with.

The pair reminded me of a young Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, so engaging is their friendship, and French bears a striking resemblance to Poehler. Along comes socially awkward Austin (Austin MacPhee), also recently uncoupled, and his malapropism-prone brother Jeff (Nick Bredonsky). From the moment they meet, it’s ‘let the dating games begin.’

A bright, optimistic opening number sets the tone of the piece. Elmo Zapp takes the score and re-orchestrates it, adding strings to amp up the emotional impact, eliminating reeds where they sound hollow, and expanding the textures to create a deeper richness all the way around. Marcy’s Act I finale “Just Not Now” (with Zapp on electric cello) and Austin’s eleven o’clock number “Goodbye” are particularly well-suited to his style. His treatment of the quartet “But I Do,” which is all about disappointment, is haunting in its lack of resolution. 

Scenes alternate between New York apartments and the bar/coffee shop where the couples gather. Act I is somewhat repetitious but when the characters begin to drop their guard in Act II it starts to pick up speed. Two additional utility actors cover all the different baristas, bartenders, and other generic characters but they are an unnecessary distraction. Most of their time is spent watching the main couples and in this intimate space it only serves to pull focus from the story.

Still, there is something charming about the production that makes it attractive on a number of levels. This fresh, young theatre company is on the right track by choosing a musical that will easily appeal to its peers. It’s a lighthearted look at the pitfalls of love and romance, and that’s something we can all relate to. Through August 7, 2016. Ticket Link

Austin MacPhee and Nick Bredosky. Photo by Bryan Carpender

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