Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: WAITRESS Bakes Up Slices of Life in a Pie Tin and Changes Lives in the Process

Charity Angél Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman.
All photos by Joan Marcus

Can eating a pie be a religious experience? It can if it was made by Jenna, the diner waitress in the Broadway musical Waitress, who turns ordinary ingredients like butter, sugar, and flour into mouthwatering slices of life in a pie tin.


Her magical creations run the gamut from Deep (Shit) Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie and Mermaid Marshmallow Pie, to Lonely Chicago Pie and I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie. Each one encapsulates an incident ripped from the headlines of real life and together they create the backbone of this heartwarming story of female empowerment.

The musical was inspired by the 2007 indie film starring Keri Russell as Jenna, the pie baker stuck in an abusive marriage who finds the courage to reach for something better, along with Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly (who also wrote and directed the film). It opened on Broadway in March of 2016, where it is still enjoying great success, and its national tour - a quietly radiant production - is now playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through August 26th. An Australian tour is planned for 2020. There’s no denying this brand of sugar is a popular commodity.

The story mirrors that of the film and a great deal of the dialogue is incorporated into the stage adaptation by bookwriter Jessie Nelson, who has a gift for writing dialogue that actually sounds like the characters. Nelson retains the film’s folksy charm but adds more comedy and a few new personal details with amusing payoffs.

Lenne Klingaman, Desi Oakley, and Charity Angél Dawson

For instance, Jenna’s new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart) is “off sugar” when he meets Jenna (Desi Oakley) during her first pre-natal visit, a character trait I don’t think he had in the movie (or if he did it wasn’t nearly this comical), but it fits his quirkier stage personality and sets up a clash between them from the start. He’s no match for Jenna’s baking, however, and one taste of her pie has him eating out of her hand...and forgetting about his sugar-free diet.

Of course, their attraction comes with complications. They’re both married - he to a doctor doing her residency in Jenna’s town, she to a disagreeable husband, Earl (Nick Bailey), whose obsessive behavior has choked the joy right out of her life. It isn’t long before a secret romance begins.

The musical builds on the film’s inherent eccentricities and delivers its message with warmth, honesty, and a heaping helping of heart. Much of its sensitivity can be attributed to pop songstress and storyteller Sarah Bareilles (“Love Song,” “Brave”) who wrote the score for the show. Her soulful sound and open-hearted lyrics are an alluring combination that helps create characters who sing what they think in individual musical styles that match their unique personalities.

Oakley, who plays Jenna, has a voice as sweet and rich as Bareilles herself and is the emotional center of the show. Jenna’s journey from the resigned acceptance of a “happy enough” life to a renewed desire for real happiness is a heartfelt one and Oakley has the depth, likeability, and dry wit to make you want to come along with her. She is dubbed the “Queen of kindness and goodness” by her friend and fellow Waitress, Dawn (Lenne Klingaman), a fitting title for the woman whose pie keeps bringing people together and Oakley wears it as comfortably as a second skin. Each of her songs is a knockout but her eleven o’clock number “She Used to Be Mine” is the best of the best. Oakley sings a lifetime into four and a half minutes that will alternately break your heart, lift you up, and echo your own inner longings.

Klingaman’s Dawn is a socially awkward, self-deprecating single girl who Jenna and Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) finally convince to try online dating. Her five minute date is a bust but Ogie (a wacky, overly-caffeinated Jeremy Morse) knows they were meant for each other and shows up the next morning with flowers and a declaration of love.

Lenne Klingaman and Jeremy Morse

Never has an actor earned a reprise with more panache than Morse does with his over-the-top “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Klingaman is hard-put to resist him when she finds out he has done even more Revolutionary War reenactments as Paul Revere than she has as Betsy Ross. Watching these two misfits fall in love on stage is geeky to the core and wonderfully sweet.

Dawson is also blessed with great pipes and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude as Becky. She’s an R&B belter who can grind out the high notes and throw a mean side eye with enough sass to check you when you least expect it. Becky is married (it’s complicated) but is secretly carrying on with Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin), the short order cook at the diner. When she sings “I Didn’t Plan It” we see how life has thrown each of the characters in Waitress a curve and we come to understand that the true beauty of living is in how we manage its messiness.

Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Lorin Latarro work this idea into the fabric of the show. Scenes, and scenes within scenes, blend into each other like a dance as set pieces roll on and off (including the excellent band) in a flurry of coordinated motion. Impulses for movement come from the body itself, often like a heartbeat pulsing softly and sweetly from within. It’s a very fluid style built on externalizing the internal that creates an exquisite expression of the complex emotions people don’t reveal. To see it coordinated flawlessly is quite beautiful. In this ensemble, every single member is important to the overall effect and there are no loose threads among them.

Even Joe, the finicky owner of the diner has his own way of coping with life’s endless annoyances. Larry Marshall captures the spirit of this gruff old curmudgeon who’s secretly hiding a heart of gold, at least where Jenna is concerned. Maiesha McQueen (Nurse Norma) is memorable in her short stage time as the no-nonsense nurse who knows what’s going on and is determined to get some pie of her own out of that knowledge.

Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakley, and Bryan Fenkart

Vocally, the show sounds terrific. Ryan Cantwell has finessed the material until its nuances shine through with an easy grace. Harmonies, particularly among the main trio of waitresses, are sublime, and will stand out to musicians who love the sound of voices shimmering when they resonate together.

So much ingenuity and heart has gone into the making of Waitress by its all-female creative team, a Broadway first but hopefully not the last, that you’re bound to leave feeling a whole lot better than when you walked into the theater. That’s worth it every time, in my book. And if pie-pop heaven is a thing, I’d say Waitress has taken us there and served up a slice of its finest counter goodness.

WAITRESS
August 2 – 26, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: www.hollywoodpantages.com

Nick Bailey and Desi Oakley

Desi Oakley and Larry Marshall

Ryan G. Dunkin and the ladies of Waitress

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES Will Win You Over Hook, Line, and Sinker

Cori Cable Kidder and Michael Butler Murray. All photos by Gina Long

One thing’s for sure - country musicals are an awful lot of fun. There aren’t very many of them and, if you can name one at all, it’s most likely The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas or The Robber Bridegroom. But there is another rarely produced gem that is just as enjoyable – Pump Boys and Dinettes - the fun-loving retro revue written by its original cast (John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann).

The year is 1972, according to the giant Farrah Fawcett poster on the piano, and the place is Highway 57, between the town of Frog Level (yes, it’s an actual town) and Smyrna, North Carolina. There, the Double Cupp Diner and the Pump Boys’ filling station share a cozy corner of the asphalt just a spittin’ distance apart, and if its hometown hospitality you’re lookin’ for you’ve come to the right place.

Sisters Prudie (Emily Kay Townsend) and Rhetta Cupp (Cori Cable Kidder) run the diner; Jim (Michael Butler Murray) and his buddy L.M. (Sean Paxton) run the garage. The boys also have a band that includes their buddies Jackson (Jimmy Villaflor), Eddie (Kevin Tiernan) and Bobby (Jim Miller), good old boys who don’t take life too seriously. Sometimes they work on cars but mostly they just enjoy taken’ life slow.

They’ll tell you about it too in songs - twenty of them - that reflect the values and goings on of life in a small town, with all its quirks and heart. The music is anything but pretentious and the characters are typical no-nonsense Southerners who aren’t above teasing each other whenever they get the chance.

The ladies know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach so you’ll always find the coffee hot and the pecan pie fresh. Jim is sweet on Rhetta and Prudie has a thing for L.M., which means a fair amount of flirtatious banter gets thrown back and forth. Jackson is a charmer and Eddie doesn’t say much. They’re all friends, and there is something comforting about a group of pals watching out for each other and telling it like it is.

Cori Cable Kidder and Emily Kay Townsend

Murray introduces the lot and narrates with an easy manner, much like a local tour guide pointing out all the best tidbits only an insider knows. Villaflor is the eye candy of the group, sporting an aw-shucks grin that would melt any woman within fifty yards. L.M. is often cast as a nerd but Paxton plays up his suspicious, silent side so when he gets to “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine” it makes the story even more endearing. Kidder is the “Wynonna” belter and Townsend sings sweetly.

Collectively, they have a good command of the style and personality necessary to make the music come alive and sound best when they don’t oversing. Murray’s “Mamaw” and Kidder and Townsend’s “Sister” are two examples of letting the melody and lyrics do the work for you. In fact, the whole show works best when it doesn’t try too hard.

Great songs like the boys’ acapella “Fisherman’s Prayer” need to lay back so we can hear the barbershop harmonies and “Vacation” turns harsh if the singers start to scream-sing. What makes this show so special is how the story songs connect with the audience.

There are times Allison Bibicoff’s choreography and staging try to make the show a bigger musical presentation than it is organically. Less is more, especially since there is an innocence to the show that gets lost when you “musical theatre-ize” it too much. It’s all about the lyrics and the stories. When you let it be easy, it lands every time, like the final chords in “Closing Time.”

Emily Kay Townsend, Jim Miller, Jimmy Villaflor, Mike Murray,
Cori Cable Kidder, and Sean Paxton

The production design incorporates the ‘70s orange and vinyl touches that make the period authentic. Jeff G. Rack’s set design is a playful roadside double wonder with room for both garage and diner, including half a ‘50s muscle car mid tune-up, onstage booth seating for a few lucky audience members, and a fun Florida vacation insert. He even gives lighting designer Derek Jones room to create an unexpectedly lovely working night sky.

I love this musical and, if you can sit and listen to great story songs all day like I can, you will too. From its fun opening to its hushed final notes, Pump Boys will win you over hook, line and sinker.

Emily Kay Townsend and Sean Paxton with Mike Murray,
Kevin Tiernan, and Jimmy Villaflor

Emily Kay Townsend and Cori Cable Kidder

Jimmy Villaflor, Mike Murray, Cori Cable Kidder and Emily Kay Townsend

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES
Now through August 12, 2018
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Tickets: (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
Free parking behind the theater.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Review: New Musical MUTT HOUSE Belongs to the Dogs

Ben Palacios, Max Wilcox, Garrett Marshall, Ryan McCartan, Amanda Leigh Jerry
and Gabriel González. All photos by Daren Scott

Singing strays and the humans who love them are the focus of the world premiere musical Mutt House, currently on stage in a guest production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The cute, sweet story about learning to believe in yourself isn’t a musical for deep introspection, but it does offer a good time with its charming songs, lovable mutts, and a fun production design.

Stephen Gifford creates human-sized cages with detached rolling doors to fit the actors playing dogs in the dilapidated shelter but edges them in bright neon tubing (lighting by Matthew Brian Denman), perhaps as an indicator that these unfortunate mutts could be the show dogs of their dreams if only given the chance. Happily, they do get to strut their stuff with songs that highlight each of their unique personalities and they sound terrific under musical director Anthony Lucca’s guidance.

For Pepe (Gabriel González), an energetic Chihuahua, it is a Latin-flavored up-tempo number. For Donna (Amanda Leigh Jerry), a mutt from the Bronx, it’s a sassy comedy beach-rock song. Sophie (Valerie Larsen), an award winning poodle with breeding, gets a smoky laid-back jazz cut and when Digger (Ben Palacios), the coolest and happiest of Golden Labradors, takes over the lead it morphs into a speak-singing number that’s not quite rap, not quite lyrical, but completely infectious and winning as can be. Max (Max Wilcox) is the resident sweet, comic Corgi, and Bradley (Garrett Marshall), the lovable Eeyore of the group, plays a sadsack Pit Bull.

Garrett Marshall, Ryan McCartan, and Ben Palacios

The songs are written by Tony Cookson, creator and bookwriter of the show, who enlists the aid of John Daniel, Robb Curtis Brown and David O to help create the 16+ numbers that make up the score. Most of them exist as stand-alone songs and are orchestrated by David O, which means the vocals come packed with lovely harmonies and melodies that are pleasing to the ear.

Cookson’s juvenile book, however, still needs depth and polish. At the moment, it is better suited for the After School Special crowd rather than for adults looking for the next smart, sophisticated musical. Sincerity will get you part of the way but a show needs more than that to give it legs.

The story isn’t complex. Eddie (Ryan McCartan), an insecure young man who works at the local shelter and is able to talk to the animal,s must summon up his courage and come to the aid of his friends – the dogs – when the city decides to shut them down. A love interest emerges in Hannah (Claire Adams), the girl Eddie had a crush on in junior high and who now works in the repulsive mayor’s (Heather Ott) office. We also learn that Eddie was bullied in school and that his boss Gerry (Boise Holmes) is a nice guy with a secret crush of his own. It’s a foregone conclusion that Eddie will eventually save the day and find romance in the process.

Valerie Larsen, Ben Palacios. Gabriel González and Garrett Marshall

The dogs are adorably decked out by Allison Dillard (costumes, hair & make-up). Janet Roston’s cute choreography adds pizzazz but dialogue scenes are flat in comparison. Scene transitions are choppy, with director Ryan Bergmann staging set-up movement for the next scene in the dark on one side of the stage while the lit scene we’re watching is still going on. The problem is, we can see them moving and it distracts us from what we should be watching. Some scenes end abruptly; others feel sketchy as they move to the next one without transition music or a sense of completion. In a smaller house, it might be possible to overlook the ragged edges but, on the Douglas’ larger stage, everything is exposed.

And yet, we do love a dog musical. Animals have a way of making a beeline straight to your heart and Mutt House’s fetching mongrels are no exception. These singing and dancing four-legged friends are sure to make you smile.

MUTT HOUSE
July 10 – August 5, 2018
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Tickets: 213-628-2772 or www.MuttHouseTheMusical.com

Amanda Leigh Jerry and Ben Palacios

Boise Williams and Ryan McCartan

Claire Adams and Ryan McCartan

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: ON YOUR FEET! Will Have You On Your Feet!

Mauricio Martinez and Christie Prades. All photos by Matthew Murphy

Those of us who lived in Miami in the 1980s know firsthand the phenomenal rise of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. They were already hometown favorites prior to the release of “Conga” but, when that song hit, it changed everything. You couldn’t go to a club on South Beach or turn on a local radio station without hearing the upbeat dance song, and you couldn’t stay in your seat once it started playing. It was a joyful dance call to action, a rousing anthem to get up and get out on the dance floor regardless of age, ethnicity, or ideology. Those opening three notes – D D# E minor – had power, and it was impossible to resist them.

You could “name that tune” (as the old ‘70s TV show challenged) in only three notes, two if you were paying attention, but their record label wouldn’t even produce it because the lyrics were in English. They were already stars in the Latin music world but, in typically shortsighted fashion, their producer scoffed at the group’s desire to crossover into American pop music. Still, Emilio Estefan knew it was a hit and in a quintessential grass roots campaign, he took the song to every public party and outing possible to prove it.

Mauricio Martinez, Christie Prades and Devon Goffman

The milestone is captured in the Act I finale of On Your Feet!, a vivacious bio-musical based on the lives of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, in a montage that shows them performing “Conga” at a Bar Mitzvah, an Italian wedding, and a Shriner’s convention before Phil (Devon Goffman), their producer, finally sees the song’s wide appeal. The scene closes on a high note as the actors’ conga line spills down into the aisles from the stage of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, where the touring production is currently playing, picking up audience members as it dances its way to the lobby with a 1-2-3-kick.

The Estefans’ story is a natural fit for the jukebox musical format and is packed to the brim with chart-topping hits like “Turn the Beat Around,” “1-2-3,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” and “Get On Your Feet,” the song that inspired the show. It follows both their professional and personal life, from Cuba to Miami and the early days of Emilio’s Miami Latin Boys, to their slow burn of a romance which took two years to finally ignite.

Conflict comes from within Gloria’s own family as her mother Gloria Fajardo (Nancy Ticotin) remains the lone holdout against her daughter pursuing a career in music. As a young girl, she too had dreams of being a singer but when her father refused to let her sign a contract to become the Spanish voice of Shirley Temple, she was devastated.

L-R: Joseph Rivera, Adriel Flete, Jeremey Adam Rey, Nancy Ticotin
and Hector Maisone

We see, in a flashback to her last club performance in Havana, that her mother was a talented singer who would quite possibly have become a star in her own right, had it not been for the Cuban revolution. But, when Castro seized power, her husband saw to it that she, little Gloria, and Gloria’s grandmother Consuelo (Debra Cardona) were able to escape the country, even though he could not leave, and her dreams as an artist came to an end. Ticotin transfers all her fire and passion into the role displaying a spicy temperament grounded as much in a mother’s fierce love as it is in a lingering unhappiness at the opportunities denied her.

As Gloria, Broadway understudy Christie Prades lights up the stage. She isn’t a sound-alike for the iconic singer but there are moments when you’d swear she’s the real thing. Her endless energy and natural innocence captures the appealing essence of the superstar making it easy to fall in love with her. Mauricio Martínez (NBC Universo’s TV series El Vato), who plays Emilio, is all charm and tenacity as he spits out the unique speech pattern of the brains behind the Estefan empire, a source of much humor in the show. Plus, the pair has the kind of chemistry that makes their long, slow attraction pay off when romance finally blossoms.

Christie Prades, Mauricio Martinez and cast

In Act II, the timeline jumps to 1990 and the horrific bus accident that could have left Gloria paralyzed, were it not for her determination to not end up in a wheelchair like her father who suffered from MS in his later years. Things turn sentimental when she sees her father and grandmother in a dream while unconscious and Emilio pours out his heart in the emotional “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now.” Once she regains consciousness after her back surgery, there is reconciliation with her mother and painful physical rehabilitation. Six months later, she makes a triumphant return to the stage at the 1991 American Music Awards, singing “Coming Out of the Dark.”

Bookwriter Alexander Dinelaris (who won an Academy Award for the film Birdman, but is also credited as the writer of the less fortunate The Bodyguard Musical) necessarily shortcuts events in the interest of time, but most of the show’s best moments take place within the songs.

Director Jerry Mitchell and choreographer Sergio Trujillo ratchet up the emotional impact with a cavalcade of Cuban dance rhythms, festive concert performances, and heart-driven ballads that will leave you wanting more. You’ll get an exciting addendum in the encore medley of songs at the end of the end of the show that includes reprises of several upbeat numbers plus “Turn the Beat Around” and “Everlasting Love” so dont leave early.

Christie Prades, Adriel Flete and the cast

The touring design is awash in the colors of Cuba and Miami Vice pastels, making it as visually stimulating as is the sound of the music (costume design by Emilio Sosa, scenic design by David Rockwell, lighting design by Kenneth Posner). And happily, the fantastic orchestra includes five members of the Miami Sound Machine, including musical director Clay Ostwald. They open the show so don’t be late. It’s quite a moment and you don’t want to miss it.

If ever there was a story that epitomizes the fulfillment of the American Dream through hard work, dedication, and sheer determination, it is On Your Feet! I’ll never forget seeing Gloria Estefan on her concert tour after the accident. The titanium rods implanted in her back had given her the support to heal and left her with ramrod straight posture. They swung her out over the audience on a lift and we were dumbstruck by how effortless she made it look, even after all shed been through. 

What a gloriously inspiring way to leave a legacy.

ON YOUR FEET
July 6 – 29, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 800-982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com

The company of the national tour of On Your Feet!

Adriel Flete and Mauricio Martinez


On  Your Feet! Band featuring members of the Miami Sound Machine:
Clay Ostwald (music director/keyboard), Jorge Casas (bass), Edward Bonilla
(percussion) and Theodore Mulet (trombone)

(center) Christie Prades, Jordan Vergara and Mauricio Martinez

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Get Ready for ANNIE at the Hollywood Bowl

Kaylin Hedges and David Alan Grier

Get ready musical lovers – everyone’s favorite singing orphan is coming to town and she’s taking over the Hollywood Bowl! ANNIE, the Tony Award-winning musical by Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics) and Thomas Meehan (book) will play three performances July 27, 28 & 29th and is directed by Tony Award-nominated Michael Arden, conducted by Todd Ellison and choreographed by Eamon Foley. Every night is a great night at the Bowl and this one is sure to please the whole family.

Kaylin Hedges stars as the comic strip character brought to life whose optimism turns the tables on Miss Hannigan (Ana Gasteyer) and her cronies “Rooster” Hannigan (Roger Bart) and Lily St. Regis (Megan Hilty), while serving up some of the best classic musical theatre songs ever written.

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” “N.Y.C.” and “Tomorrow” are just a few of the gems you’ll hear from the cast of Broadway and television personalities, which also includes
David Alan Grier (Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks), Lea Solanga (Grace Farrell), Steven Weber (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Ali Stroker (Star-to-Be) and Amir Talai (Bert Healy).



Tickets are available on the Hollywood Bowl’s website HERE so get ready to have a little fun on “Easy Street” or at least enjoy an easy night out celebrating summer at the Bowl. Its one of the great joys of living in L.A! 

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: Reprise 2.0 is Back in the Musical Business with SWEET CHARITY

Krystal Joy Brown, Laura Bell Bundy, and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer.
All photos by Michael Lamont.

When Reprise! Broadway’s Best closed its doors in 2012, musical theatre lovers heaved a collective sigh. The resident company at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse had gained a reputation for producing outstanding performances of classic musicals featuring stars from the worlds of live theatre and television, similar to those done by Encores! in New York. Everyone felt the loss.

Now, after a seven year hiatus, the company is back with a new name – Reprise 2.0 – once again led by producing artistic director, Marcia Seligson. Met with an overwhelmingly positive reception on opening night, it proved how happy the community is that Reprise is partnering with UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television to again celebrate a shared love of musicals.

As its first production of the season, Seligson and her artistic staff have chosen a sparkling sixties classic by Cy Coleman (music), Neil Simon (book) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics) – Sweet Charity – that follows the mishaps of an optimistic but unlucky in love dance hall hostess named Charity Hope Valentine.

The musical is based on Federico Fellini’s 1957 Italian film Nights of Cabiria, which starred his wife Giulietta Masina, and was originally adapted as a musical by Bob Fosse for his wife Gwen Verdon. Shirley MacLaine famously played the role in Fosse’s film version of the musical.

Laura Bell Bundy and Robert Mammana

Reprise’s production stars Laura Bell Bundy (Broadway’s original Elle Woods in Legally Blonde) in an eternally-perky performance that doesn’t lack for enthusiasm but that proves a little too daunting for the singer’s stamina.

The rehearsal period for these more modestly staged presentations is shorter than for a full production of the show so a great deal is packed into a short span of time. That may be why  Bundy had difficulty controlling her voice during the performance. By the time she got to opening, she’d already blown it out and was unable to observe dynamics or reach the notes in her higher range. As if to compensate, she puts on an ear-to-ear grin and assumes an “aw shucks” self-deprecating manner that essentially turns the luckless leading lady into a bimbo in a giant Shirley Temple wig.

It’s problematic because Simon’s dated book is already difficult to stomach. Charity is of an era where double standards for men and women were acceptable, and a woman was defined by her relationship to, or the absence of, a man, as well as by her perceived purity. But times have changed and the dialogue, as written, is definitely passé.

Terron Brooks and the ensemble

Luckily, director Kathleen Marshall has choreographed dance numbers that are lively and full of effervescent charm, particularly the large ensemble numbers, “Rich Man’s Frug” and “Rhythm Of Life,” which capture the essence of Fosse on an abbreviated scale. The former is a stylized party sequence divided into three distinctly different parts (The Aloof, The Heavyweight and The Big Finish), and the latter is a crazy hippie revival that resembles a psychedelic acid trip. If you’ve never seen Sammy Davis, Jr. as Daddy Brubeck, Google him and watch it on YouTube. It’s fantastic. For Marshall’s production, it is a fabulous Terron Brooks who plays Daddy, a hep cat who leads a church service of questionable intent where the neurotic Oscar (Barrett Foa) takes Charity on their first date.

In one of the best songs of the night, Charity’s pals Nickie (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) and Helene (Krystal Joy Brown) give the musical some good old guts and honesty in their duet “Baby Dream Your Dream” as they imagine the possibilities of life outside the dance hall knowing full well their pipe dream may never come true. It’s a welcome dose of truthful artistry in a production that spends  most of its time selling itself as a frenetic song and dance show built on splash rather than depth.

Jon Jon Briones with Laura Bell Bundy, Barrett Foa and the cast

Their boss, a wonderfully flippant (and underused) Jon Jon Briones as Herman, turns “I Love To Cry At Weddings” into an upbeat comic going away party for Charity, who looks like she just might have a happily ever after, after all, by the end of the story. Alas, it is not to be, as Oscar, like many a schmuck before him, dumps her in the park where we first met her and she’s once again on her own.

Music Director/Conductor Gerald Sternbach leads a 14-piece onstage orchestra from the piano that sounds great playing Coleman’s score. They’re nicely highlighted in full view on scenic designer Stephen Gifford’s streamlined stage, which uses projections to communicate where scenes take place, and lighting by Jared A. Sayeg and Brian Monahan to define the space within each locale.

If you can look past the dated story line, or are a fan of Ms. Bundy, you’ll likely love Reprise’s presentation of Sweet Charity. We’re certainly glad to have the company back as part of the L.A. theatre season and look forward to their upcoming productions of Victor/Victoria starring Carmen Cusack directed by Richard Israel and choreographed by John Todd (September 5 - 16), and Grand Hotel – The Musical directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and choreographed by Kay Cole (October 24 - November 4).

SWEET CHARITY
June 20 – July 1, 2018
Reprise 2.0 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse
Macgowan Hall, 245 Charles E Young Drive E
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Tickets and more info: www.reprise2.org

Laura Bell Bundy and Barrett Foa

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