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 www.3dt.org.

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. www.RecordedInHollywood.com

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.” www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

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 www.celebrationtheatre.com.

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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 www.TheOldGlobe.org.

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: http://hff16.org/3595.

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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HFF: Photo Flash - The Cure to Mortality


Original sci-fi musical comedy The Cure to Mortality has one more performance left on the Hollywood Fringe Festival schedule. You can catch the show June 25th at 7:30 pm at Asylum @ McCadden Theatre. The futuristic musical farce explores what happens to society when science takes the possibility of eternal life seriously. It marks the playwriting debut for Katy Erin, who stars in the show along with Sandra Diana Cantu, Mary Ann Pianka, Brookelyn Rose, and Molly Gilman (who also directs). Music is by Katy Erin and Christoffer Schunk. Tickets: http://hff16.org/3522.



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Sunday, June 19, 2016

HFF: THUG TUNNEL is all kinds of Cazy Wonderful

The cast of Thug Tunnel. Photo by Matt Kamimura

Thug Tunnel’s improv roots serve it exceedingly well. Comedians – especially those skilled in improvisation – approach comedy and comic timing differently than other actors do. Here the technique results not only in a show that is smart but exceptionally appealing as well. It’s a great example of what wild imagination, a commitment to getting a little down and dirty, and reveling in the joy of the art itself, can do. If you want to understand the kind of funny becoming more and more in demand today or to attract a younger audience, this show is a great example of what works.

Produced by the musical improv group Robot Teammate & The Accidental Party, the production grew out of an improvised sketch they performed at iO West. An audience member called out the title and these comedy thugs took the idea and ran with it. Cut to three years later and it has now been turned it into a clever one-hour scripted musical with genuinely unexpected lyrics (Molly Dworsky) and a score (Sam Johnides, with additional composition by Branson NeJame) that may seem simple but is deceptively complex.

Photo by Chris Sousa
The story follows a set of unfortunate characters trapped underground for more than twenty years and an enterprising young woman (Kat Primeau as Petunia) who wants to return to the earth’s surface, aided by her bestie (Chris Bramante) [pictured right]. Standing in the way are a one-handed villain (Dave Reynolds) and a coloratura queen (Nikki Muller) who rule the tunnels with an iron fist, a girl who glows mysteriously from within (Molly Dworsky), and a blind seer (Miles Crosman) who may or may not be a friend.

Directors Dworsky and Reynolds set the tone in the very first comic ensemble number and then follow through over and over again. Primeau’s choreography is feisty and executed ferociously by the company who are, in total, a pretty irresistible bunch.

The whole show is a little absurd and kind of wrong but so completely hilarious that you’ll be hooked from the get-go. Its rough edges actually benefit the production and there is a certain guerrilla intensity to it all that I loved. An extension is most certainly in the works and, if that happens, book it immediately.

One other note: this show does something else I haven’t seen before at the Fringe that other companies may want to consider in the future. Fans love stuff and fans love to buy stuff. Thug Tunnel is capitalizing on its popularity by selling swag before the show at very reasonable prices. Signed posters, stickers, patches, and T-shirt sales are a smart move to add a few dollars to the bottom line. http://hff16.org/3671

Center L-R: Chris Bramante, Kat Primeau and Dave Reynolds with the cast
Photo by Matt Kamimura

L-R: Kat Primeau, Chris Bramante, Miles Crosman and Molly Dworsky
Photo by Matt Kamimura

Dave Reynolds and Nikki Muller. Photo by Matt Kamimura

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

HFF: Transformation in NINE DRESSES or The Nine Circles of Hell


There isn’t a woman alive who can’t relate to Brenda Varda’s one woman musical, Nine Dresses: Sex, Death, Fashion, which takes on the subject of fashion in a very personal and humorous way. The title refers to the nine dresses every woman has in her closet. You know, the ones with the tags still on them. The ones that make us feel better simply by purchasing them, regardless of whether we have ever worn them or not. Each one has a personality and Varda lets us in on the back story of some of her favorite unworn garments in this intimate session of girl talk. 

Joined by Nick Morabito on upright bass, Varda sings and also plays piano. She’s got Marilyn Monroe’s blend of sexy sweetness and awkward innocence, as well as Kate Bush’s striking vocal style (think “Hammer Horror”) The combination of the two is unpredictable enough that you’re never quite sure what she’ll do next. Plus, she is a warm and likable storyteller whose easy rapport with the audience makes you feel like youve known her for years.

The show could use some polishing but anyone who can spend half her time on stage in her underwear and still keep talking gets my vote for bravery. Funny and sweet, touching and endearingly honest, it’s the kind of show that’s about much more than just changing clothes. But for that, you’ll need to see it for yourself. Through June 25 at Sacred Fools Black Box. www.hff16.org/3820



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HFF: A FEAST OF SNACKS - Sweet, Silly, Wacky & Weird


A Feast of Snacks
consists of four short musical comedies written by Michael Gordon Shapiro packaged into a complete one hour presentation. The unrelated stories run the gamut from sweet and endearing to wacky and weird with heavy emphasis on tickling your funny bone. The best of the bunch musically is HMS Headwind, a twist on one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most popular comic operas, HMS Pinafore, a swashbuckling tale of adventure and lady pirates.


Overall, performances are broad and loud, sometimes hilariously so, but for the random actor who over-reaches for the comedy or forces the vocals. Director Julia Plostnieks hits all the right notes with her staging and Lindsay Braverman’s choreography is full of spunk. Theatre Unleashed brings a high fun factor to the silliness making it a great addition to the Fringe. Through June 25 at the Lounge Theatre. http://hff16.org/3796

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

HFF: Bumpersticker: The Musical, a Sure-fire Fringe Favorite

L-R: Jahmaul Bakare, Jennifer Leigh Warren, Lamont Dozier, Jr., Anne Yatco,
Nadia Ahern, and Zachary Ford

Bumpersticker: The Musical conquers the Hollywood Fringe Festival with its terrific triple threat combination making it great for people who don’t like musicals and even better for those who do. It’s the right show in the right venue with the right cast, and a rousing good time from beginning to end.

The band, the vocals, and the blend all sound great (yes, it is loud so be prepared) under the musical direction of David O. He’s one of best of the best when it comes to local musical directors – in all musical styles – and this show is no exception.

The venue is Asylum at The Dragonfly, a nightclub where the music rocks, the bar stays open during the show, and the atmosphere is decidedly dark and fringy. It’s perfect for Gary Stockdale and Spencer Green’s homage to the aphorisms that define our lives, all printed on little sticky pieces of paper and proudly plastered on the cars we drive.

The lyric to the opening number says it all. “People know what you are by what you stick on your car,” and in the next 90 minutes you’ll meet 8 outstanding singer/actors playing a wide range of drivers (and a few assorted passengers) who come from all walks of life. Somewhere in there, you’re bound to see yourself.

Catchphrases like “My Other Car is a Porsche” and “My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student” set up comic riffs on the insecurities and hopes of adults and parents everywhere. “I ♥ ____” sung by huggy bear Lamont Dozier, Jr. is a satisfying ode to the things we love but with a humorous twist. He’s got the market cornered on that smooth Motown sound and between this number and his R&B charmer “Lose Weight Now, Ask Me How” you’re gonna fall for that voice.

If by some reason you don’t, well you’d be crazy, but Jennifer Leigh Warren is coming up next with a big old dose of Gospel glory to the slogan “Honk if you Love Jesus.” There’s nothing like hearing her bring down the house, with a dashboard Jesus on the screen and a chorus of voices backing her up, revival style.

Zachary Ford

Zachary Ford plays all the radio DJs who interact with the drivers and connects the various scenes with an almost schizophrenic intensity while stepping in and out of the action.

Trucker Bill’s (Eliot Hochberg) slogan “Gas, Grass or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free” turns into a challenge à la Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” when he picks up a pretty young thing (Lauren Rubin) who may seem shy at first but can bite off an armadillo’s ear, conquer quantum physics, and still look like the Mudflap Girl by the time the song’s done.
The cast of Bumpersticker: The Musical

The show also pokes fun at current issues like immigration in a reggae version of “America is Full, Go Home” featuring Jahmaul Bakare, and freedom of speech, a hot button right now given the political landscape, in “America, Love it or Leave it.” “Free Speech is great unless someone’s feelings get hurt,” says Ford as patriotism and rebellion clash heads. The song eventually turns into a steamy dance duet with Ford and Lady Liberty (Lauren Rubin) in the vein of “Steam Heat.” It’s a great blend of jazzy 1950’s musical theatre and BDSM, thanks to director/choreographer Michele Spears. Spears is one of the founding members of the LA-based improv company Impro Theatre, and she stages the show with a delicious blend of smarts and sass.

In “Well Behaved Women Don’t Make History,” girl power and the ‘80s pop sound of Pat Benatar and Blondie’s Debbie Harry give a crazed assistant (Anne Yatco) the confidence to take control of her situation with some help from a friend (Nadia Ahern).

Eliot Hochberg
There are also very touching sequences featuring the Rainbow Equal Sign highlighting the strides we’ve made in the fight for gay marriage, a former serviceman beautifully singing about not taking his guns away, and a hat tip to the symbols that define us in “Coexist.” Musical theatre fans, listen for the nod to Godspell here and the dissonant chord on “what could go wrong” which is just one example of how well the music & lyrics work together to make the writers’ point.

Each of these little story songs is a complete look at a life or a belief and together they become a microcosm of the planet. All facets of the human condition are represented in Bumpersticker’s message. You’re in for some laughs, great singing, crazy characters, touching moments and a final reminder that will leave you encouraged about your fellow travelers.

Without a doubt, if you want to know what makes a person tick, just look at their bumper sticker.


BUMPERSTICKER THE MUSICAL
Through June 23, 2016
Asylum @ The Dragonfly (Main Stage)
6510 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: $15 at http://hff16.org/3687

The cast of Bumpersticker: The Musical

Zachary Ford and Lauren Rubin

Jahmaul Bakare, Eliot Hochberg, Anne Yatco, Nadia Ahern
 and Jennifer Leigh Warren
Lauren Rubin and the cast of Bumpersticker: The Musical

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Monday, June 13, 2016

HFF: THE TOXIC AVENGER Wins Again

Jared Reed as The Toxic Avenger. All photos by Rich Clark

A blind baby doll librarian, a nerd-turned-toxic-super hero, and a maniacal mayor clash in this campy musical by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Add two crazy utility players and its a recipe for non-stop laughs. For most theatregoers in LA this will be the first opportunity they’ve had to see the off-Broadway hit (based on Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult film) and it is hilarious. Nothing serious here. It’s all big comedy and big fun by an irresistible cast of five that really delivers the goods. Director/choreographer Janet Miller wins with this silly 2-hour rock musical where everything is a send-up and nothing is safe from a joke, not even New Jersey (especially New Jersey). Corey Hirsch’s live 5-piece onstage band is a bonus. Starring Kim Dalton, Danny Fetter, Shirley Anne Hattan, Jared Reed, and Wesley Tunison. Through June 26. Tickets: http://hff16.org/3539


Jared Reed and Kim Dalton (Sarah)

L-R: Weslety Tunison, Shirley Anne Hatton and Danny Fetter

Jared Reed and Kim Dalton

L-R: Jared Reed, Danny Fetter and Wesley Tunison

Jared Reed and Kim Dalton

Shirley Anne Hatton

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HFF: See Who Wins in ALIEN vs. MUSICAL


I didn’t see the Alien vs. Musical at the 2015 Fringe Festival, where it received rave reviews, and was looking forward to seeing it this year in what everyone says is an expanded story. The premise is fantastic: one by one an alien kills off the characters in musical theatre land, including Elphaba, Jean Valjean, Harold Hill, Tracy Turnblad, Danny Zuko and more. While there is some cute choreography and I loved the idea of the show, it isn’t well-executed and much of the singing is a stretch for the singers. The songs by Erik Przytulski are bright and bouncy with fun lyrics. Book by Erik Przytulski & Steve Troop is noticeably thin due to the weak performances but the alien is terrific.The standout is Allie Costa as Annie. See it for the fun of it but without high performance expectations and you’ll have a great time. Its perfect Fringe material. Through June 26. Tickets: http://hff15.org/2202.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

HFF: Tap Your Troubles Away with OFFICE BEAT


Tap Overloads Office Beat is a fun one hour tap musical with its story told entirely through tap dancing (no dialogue). How much can you tell without words? A lot, when it comes to this tale. There’s a new guy, an office romance, a bullfight with the photocopier, a firing, and the new boss who banishes tapping in the office just might have a change of heart by the end of the show. Plus, the choreography is terrific and highlights a wide range of fun patterns and rhythms while clearly defining the various office personalities. Written, directed, and choreographed by Mindy & Gabe Copeland with original music by Andrew Van Vlear. Additional choreography by Dianne Walker and Hiroshi Hamanishi.

You’ll smile all the way through this delightful show!






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