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 Laruen

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.

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 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 and distract from the action.

Still, there is something charming about the production that makes it appealing 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 love and romance, and that’s something we can all relate to. Through August 7, 2016. Ticket Link

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dim the Lights for Garry Marshall, Founder of the Falcon Theatre

Garry Marshall, film and television writer, director, and actor, has passed away at the age of 81, at 5:00pm on Tuesday July 19 from complications of pneumonia following a stroke at a hospital in Burbank, California.

Mr. Marshall created the hit sitcoms Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy, as well as directing 18 films, including Beaches, Overboard, The Princess Diaries, Mother’s Day, and Pretty Woman, for which Mr. Marshall was the revising for a Broadway-bound musical.

He was born in The Bronx, New York, and was a proud graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School and Northwestern University. Marshall is survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, nurse Barbara Sue Marshall, two sisters, Ronny Hallin and Penny Marshall, three children, Lori, a writer, Kathleen, a theatre producer, and Scott, a film and TV director, as well as six grandchildren, and his live theatre, the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial is being planned for his birthday on November 13. The family requests no flowers. Donations in the name of Garry Marshall can be made to The Saban Community Clinic, formerly known as the Los Angeles Free Clinic, The Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, and Northwestern University Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.

He loved telling stories, making people laugh, and playing softball, winning numerous championships. Even at age 81, he had a record this year of 6 - 1 pitching for his team.

Dim the lights for a wonderful, kind, charming man of Hollywood. We will all miss seeing you at the theater.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Photo Flash: CABARET at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Direct from Broadway, Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret will play the Hollywood Pantages Theatre July 19 – August 7. Directed by Sam Mendes and co-directed & choreographed by Rob Marshall, the show takes you to the decadent Kit Kat Klub where the Emcee, Sally Bowles and a raucous ensemble tantalize the crowd nightly. But as life in pre-WWII Germany grows more and more uncertain, the question remains as to whether or not the allure of Berlin nightlife will be enough to get them through their dangerous times. Tickets:

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and the cast of Cabaret

Andrea Goss and Girls

Randy Harrison as The Emcee

Randy Harrison and cast

Andrea Goss and the girls

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cirque du Soleil's AVATAR TORUK - The First Flight, Coming in November

AVATAR, TORUK - The First Flight, the new Cirque du Soleil touring production inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar is coming to Southern California for a few short days in November. Written and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, it will play the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, November 2-6, and at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, November 11-13.

The show transports the audience to the world of Pandora in a visually stunning storytelling odyssey. Through a riveting fusion of cutting-edge visuals, puppetry and stagecraft buoyed by a soaring cinematic score, Cirque du Soleil applies its unique signature style to James Cameron’s imaginary world and “makes the bond” between two kindred artistic visions that capture the imagination.

This live immersive experience is a living ode to the Na’vi’s symbiotic coexistence with nature and their belief in the basic interconnectedness of all living things. Narrated by a Na’vi Storyteller and populated by unforgettable characters, TORUK – The First Flight is a mythical tale set thousands of years before the events depicted in the film Avatar, and before any humans ever set foot on Pandora.

All photos by Errisson Lawrence ©2015 Cirque du Soleil. Costume credit: Kym Barrett

When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, Ralu and Entu, two Omaticaya boys on the brink of adulthood, fearlessly decide to take matters into their own hands. Upon learning that Toruk can help them save the Tree of Souls, they set out, together with their newfound friend Tsyal, on a quest high up in the Floating Mountains to find the mighty red and orange predator that rules the Pandoran sky. Prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.

The creative team includes 13 creators under the artistic guidance of Guy Laliberté (Guide) and Jean-François Bouchard (Creative Guide) for Cirque du Soleil, and James Cameron, Jon Landau, Kathy Franklin and Richie Baneham for Lightstorm Entertainment: Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, Show writers & Directors/ Multimedia Directors; Neilson Vignola, Director of Creation; Carl Fillion, Set and Props Designer; Kym Barrett, Costume and Makeup Designer; Tuan Le and Tan Loc; Choreographers; Bob & Bill, Composers and Musical Directors; Jacques Boucher, Sound Designer; Alain Lortie, Lighting Designer; Patrick Martel, Puppet Designer; Germain Guillemot, Acrobatic Performance Designer; Pierre Masse, Rigging and Acrobatic Equipment Designer.

Avatar, Toruk – The First Flight is part of a global tour which started in November 2015. The show in Ontario is presented by Visa Signature® and the show in Los Angeles is presented by Visa Signature® in association with Korean Air SKYPASS Visa®.

For tickets and more information go to

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

First Look: Chance Theater's A CHORUS LINE

Chance Theater’s production of A Chorus Line runs through July 31 on the Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center. It is directed by Chance’s artistic director Oanh Nguyen, choreographed by Hazel Clarke, and features music direction by Ryan O’Connell. Tickets are available at All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio.

Kristen Daniels, John Wells III, Tina Nguyen, Ben Heustess, Tatiana Alvarez,
Camryn Zelinger, Ben Heustess, Ashley Arlene Nelson and Dannielle Green

Tina Nguyen, Robbie Lundegard and Tatiana Alvarez

Joseph Ott, Emily Abeles, Christopher Mosley, Victoria Rafael and Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter, Victoria Rafael, Xavier Castaneda, and Angeline Mirenda

Emily Abeles, Victora Rafael, Brandon Carter, Xavier Castaneda and Angeline Mirenda

Ben Green and Tatiana Alvarez

Ben Heustess, Camryn Zelinger, Ashley Arlene Nelson and Dannielle Green

Emily Abeles, Victoria Rafael, Brandon Carter and Xavier Castaneda

Tatiana Alvarez, Camryn Zelinger, Ben Heustess, and Ashley Arlene Nelson

Victoria Rafael, Dannielle Green, Robbie Lundegard, Calvin Brady, Xavier Castaneda,
Tina Nguyen, Tatiana Alvarez, John Wells III, Christopher Mosley and Emily Abeles

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: BEAUTIFUL - The Carole King Musical is Everything You Hope it Will Be

Abby Mueller in Beautiful. All photos by Joan Marcus

It was a Tony Award-winning vehicle for Jessie Mueller who played Carole King on Broadway and now you’ll see her older sister, Abby, in the title role in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical during its three and a half week national tour stop at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. “She’s the kind of woman you know you’d be friends with if you met her,” I said to my guest as we exited the theater after the performance. And in that moment, I realized I wasn’t sure if I meant Mueller or King. The sentiment pretty much applies to both.

Baby boomers who grew up alongside King, and those who hear the ache of their own lives in the songs she wrote, can’t afford to miss this production which is satisfying on so many levels. As a soundtrack to a generation that saw women come into their own, it is endlessly inspiring, and for the many women who took comfort in her songs, it is an emotionally fulfilling experience. 

The music reflects both the joy and pain of King and her husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin’s (Liam Tobin) relationship, from awkward high school meeting and the beginning of their songwriting partnership through marriage, infidelity, divorce, and her eventual coming out as one of the top female solo artists of her time. It is genuinely full of heart and grounded in a reality that resonates with anyone who has felt the sting of love gone wrong.

Abby Mueller and Liam Tobin

King never meant to be a singer. Songwriting was always her aspiration and she was content collaborating with her husband and writing hits for groups like The Drifters and The Shirelles. But as she says in the opening scene during her 1971 concert at Carnegie Hall, life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. And happily for us, that means a rich body of work whose impact continues to resonate today.

Douglas McGrath’s book illuminates the back story to songs like the couple’s breakout hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion,” eventually made famous by their real-life babysitter Little Eva, “Up on the Roof” describing the one place Gerry could find relief from his difficulties growing up, and “One Fine Day,” which captures the bittersweet poignancy of their crumbling marriage.

From Brooklyn to the big city to the suburbs to L.A., the story unfolds with a graceful authority that highlights not only King’s vulnerability but her inner fortitude as well. Mueller channels the essence of her muse, both vocally and in her acting, with self-deprecating charm. She’s just so honest and likeable. 

Even Tobin (who sings beautifully) is irresistible and that’s no mean feat when one is playing the philandering husband. They have great chemistry and at any given moment you can see both the surface and the depth of their feelings.

The musical also chronicles the work of fellow songwriters Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) who were King and Goffin’s close friends and occupied an adjoining studio at Don Kirshner’s (Curt Bouril) 1650 Broadway offices. They bloomed a little later as a duo but when they did they produced such hits as “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place.” Mann’s hypochondria and Weil’s witty comebacks add a great deal of humor to the story and Gulsvig and Fankhouser excel at providing comic relief.

L-R: Dashaun Young, Paris Nix, Josh A. Dawson and Noah J. Ricketts

Of course, that also comes from the care with which director Marc Bruni has crafted the musical and choreographer Josh Prince has staged the movement. Scenes move seamlessly from one to the next on Derek McLane’s stylish set which is more detailed than you’d normally see for a touring production. The design incorporates the geometric textures of the seventies and its gold and earth-toned color palette with the contrasting “on stage” world of bubble gum colored performances by the performers in bright pinks, blue and purples. Several delightful costume transitions add a bit of surprise and a gentle Vermont snowfall brings a smile. Bruni balances it all and never loses sight of the tenderness within the story.

L-R: Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser,
Becky Gulsvig and the Company

“When I hear a good song, I feel like someone understands me,” says a young Carole to explain why she wanted to become a songwriter. Listening to her music again and hearing her story in Beautiful, you’ll walk away feeling the same way about her. It’s no wonder she made the earth move with her music.

Eventually you’ll be able to see a film adaptation of the musical, which is in development by Tom Hanks’ production company and Sony Pictures, but it will be several years until it is completed. For now, do yourself a favor and see this heartwarming slice of pop culture heaven live at the Hollywood Pantages. It only runs through July 17. 

Abby Mueller (right) w/ Britney Coleman, Sarah Bockel and Ashley Blanchet

L-R: Abby Mueller, Becky Gulsvig, Ben Fankhauser and Liam Tobin

Abby Mueller as Carole King

BEAUTIFUL - The Carole King Musical
June 22 – July 17, 2016
Hollywood Pantages
6233 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including intermission)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for June 21, 2016

Valerie Perri stars as Dolly Levi in 3-D Theatricals’ revival of Hello Dolly! which plays July 15 - 31 at Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium. Following its performances in Fullerton, the production will open at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center for a second run on Aug 5. Ken Sawyer directs and choreography is by Leslie Stevens. Musical director is Diane King Vann.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s  play The Matchmaker, Hello Dolly! features music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (Mame, La Cage aux Folles) and a book by Michael Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie, 42nd Street). It ran for nearly 3,000 performances on Broadway, won 10 Tony Awards in 1964 including Best Musical, and the 1969 film version was nominated for 7 Academy Awards. Joining Perri is Robert Yacko as Horace Vandergelder, Gary Patent as Cornelius Hackl, Afton Quast as Irene Molloy, Grace Yoo as Minnie Fay, and Chris Villain as Barnaby Tucker, and a cast of more than twenty. For tickets, visit

Photo by Ed Krieger

Casting has also been announced for the all-new production of Recorded in Hollywood opening at the Kirk Douglas Theatre July 16. A rare blend of R&B, rock and relevance, Recorded in Hollywood is the story of trailblazing Los Angeles entrepreneur and civil rights activist John Dolphin, who made his mark on the national music scene long before Motown existed. Written by Matt Donnelly and Jamelle Dolphin, the production features an ensemble of 21 performers, a six-piece live band, 15 original songs by Andy Cooper, and eight covers of songs launched in the legendary Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store on Central Avenue in South L.A.

Cast members returning include Stu James reprising his role as John Dolphin; Eric B. Anthony as Percy Ivy; Jenna Gillepsie, who will portray Ruth Dolphin; and ensemble members Franklin Grace, Matthew Lewis Sims, Jr., Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Katherine Washington. New to this production are Wilkie Ferguson III in the role of Jesse Belvin; Thomas Hobson as Sam Cooke; Matt Magnusson as legendary DJ Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg; and Frank Lawson as Los Angeles Sentinel founding publisher Leon Washington, along with ensemble members Ashley Lynette Brown, Caitlin Gallogly, Gabi Hankins, Dylan Hoffinger, Alfred Jackson, Bren Thor Johnson, Ryan Murray, Joël René, Tyler Ruebensaal and Emily Zetterberg.

Photo by Eighty Eight Entertainment

The Pasadena Playhouse presents Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, the musical story of an immigrant boy who gave the country its voice, July 21 - August 7 (opening night 7/22). The director is Trevor Hay, who collaborated with performer/creator Hershey Felder, on An American Story, Abe Lincoln’s Piano, Hershey Felder as Franz Liszt and The Pianist of Willesden Lane. The new play with music features lyrics and music by Irving Berlin and book by Hershey Felder and includes some of the composer’s most popular and enduring songs from “God Bless America” and “Always” to “White Christmas” and beyond, Hershey’s masterful creation of character and musical performance is an unforgettable journey. As Jerome Kern famously said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.”

Congrats to Celebration Theater on their extension of The Boy from Oz which will continue performances through July 31st at the Lex Theatre. Directed by Michael A. Shepperd with choreography by Janet Roston, this show is sensational. You can read my review Here and get your tickets at

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The Old Globe's West Coast Premiere of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY Opens July 6th

Megan McGinnis as Marianne Dashwood and Peter Saide as Willoughby.
All photos by Liz Lauren, courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Tony Award nominee Paul Gordon (Emma, Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs) and director Barbara Gaines have refashioned Jane Austen’s timeless classic Sense and Sensibility into a gorgeous, thrillingly romantic musical which will make its west coast premiere at The Old Globe in San Diego beginning July 6. Gaines is artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the company that commissioned the production, where it had its world premiere in April 2015. It was developed in with CST creative producer, Rick Boynton.

Megan McGinnis (whom you’ll remember from Daddy Long Legs) stars as Marianne Dashwood and Sharon Rietkerk as Elinor Dashwood in Austen’s story of two sisters who lose their fortune, their home, and all their prospects following their father’s untimely death. But fortunes can turn again, and these plucky heroines will face their situation with courage and resolve in this new musical featuring another ravishing score by Paul Gordon.

Among others, the cast will also star Emily Berman as Lucy Steele, Sean Allan Krill as Colonel Brandon, Colin Morgan as Mr. Harris, Brian Ray Norris as Lord Middleton, Peter Saide as Mr. Willoughby, David Schlumpf as John Dashwood, Paula Scrofano as Mrs. Jennings, Elizabeth Telford as Miss Grey, Jill Van Velzer as Fanny Dashwood, and Wayne Alan Wilcox as Edward Ferrars. Show runs July 6 – Aug 14 (opening night 7/14). Tickets are available by calling (619) 234-5623 or online at

Megan McGinnis and Sharon Rietkerk as Marianne and Elinor Dashwood

Sean Allan Krill as Colonel Brandon

Megan McGinnis

Wayne Wilcox as Edward Ferrars and Sharon
Rietkerk as Elinor Dashwood 

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Monday, June 20, 2016

HFF: BROADWAY NOIR has Potential but needs Development

Nathan Ondracek and Max Lichtig. All photos by Matt Kamimura

This is a show that hasn’t yet decided what it wants to be. While it’s clear the company has put a great deal of effort into it and presents a polished, well-rehearsed production featuring strong vocals, some of the actors are playing it as a spoof and others are playing it straight. 

According to the program notes, it is meant to be noir and the most interesting and successful scenes are those that honor director Julia Lisa’s vision. Max Lichtig (Carter) and Nathan Ondracek (Roger) nail the tone, as does Emily Decker (Zelda) as the sultry leading lady but most of the others are selling their performances and songs big and bouncy with a very contemporary delivery.

It isn’t completely their fault. Writer/composer Dan Sugi has given them conflicting styles of music and ultimately the two don’t work – at least not as currently written.

A sexy muted trumpet (Matt Von Roderick) underscores dialogue scenes and is used as change music which places the show beautifully in the jazzy noir period. Indeed, it is one of best features of the piece.

Jarring, however, is the number of times that flow is interrupted to jump into an artificially bright musical theatre song that immediately takes you out of the noir world and drops you in a generic alley somewhere way off Broadway. Many of the songs have prosody issues (which may be why the actors are forgetting their lyrics) and there are several that, while a fun solo feature for the actor, contribute nothing to the story and should be cut. The running time of the show is two hours but this should really be a one-act musical without an intermission since there isnt a major plot twist at the act break as it stands now.

Still, there is enough at the core of the show to continue its development. I’d love to see this musical live up to its potential. Before it can do that though, it needs an outside objective eye. More info:

Max Lichtig and Lauren Byrd

Martin Feldman, and Emily Decker

Lauren Byrd and Nathan Ondracek

Max Lichtig and Emily Decker

Nick Rubando and Max Lichtig

Lauren Byrd and Martin Feldman

Arielle Fodor, Nick Rubando, Adam Lau, Emily Decker
and Samantha Bussard

Nathan Ondracek

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