Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: A Night with Janis Joplin is a Night to Remember

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin and the company of
A Night with Janis Joplin. Photo by Joan Marcus

Baby boomers don’t normally show their approval at the theater by leaping to their feet and giving standing ovations during a performance… unless they happen to be seeing A Night with Janis Joplin at Pasadena Playhouse. The power of remembrance combined with the powerhouse performances of Mary Bridget Davies (as Janis Joplin) and her crew – four dynamic supporting female vocalists and an eight piece kickass rock band – prove that the Queen of Rock ‘n Roll can still conjure up a revolution in the hearts of her fans and get them on their feet in spite of themselves.   

A hard-rocking Janis Joplin packed everything she had into 27 short years of making music before drugs and hard living claimed her life. “None of us are who we started out to be,” says Davies as the iconic artist at the top of the show, but as music drove Joplin forward through the deeply felt anguish of the blues, she reached a point where she acknowledged that whatever came next, she’d had her say.

The original version of the musical played the Playhouse in 2013 under another title, before the show was reworked and went to Broadway. I didn’t see that incarnation of the show but I’m told, in addition to featuring the music, it also showed more of the downside of Joplin’s life, including her addiction to drugs and alcohol. That doesn’t appear in this musical tribute. Instead, writer & director Randy Johnson’s current production winds its way through Joplin’s catalogue of music amid stories of the women who influenced her. And while I noticed that part of the story was missing, I didn’t miss it. It was enough for me to celebrate her music and hear her talk about her blues muses.

Each of them is played by one of the four supporting singers: Jenelle Lynn Randall as a feisty Etta James; Sylvia MacCalla as Odetta, and the incomparable Bessie Smith; Yvette Cason as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone; and Sharon Catherine Brown as that incredible nameless Blues Singer who paved the way for them all. They capture the essence of each musical icon and turn in some wonderful performances. Brown’s Blues Singer wrenches the blues up from her guts, giving an unforgettable vocal performance that just about steals the whole show.

L-R: Yvette Cason, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Sylvia MacCalla and
Sharon Catherine Brown. Photo by Earl Gibson III. 

Davies relates the stories intimately and honestly, often following up a song by one of her role models with her own Joplinized version. These are golden moments, the kind that give you shivers to see how she translates the emotion into her adaptation of the song. “Bessie Smith showed me the air and taught me how to fill it,” she says with deep respect in her voice. Her mother, a lover of music theatre, taught her to understand the blues. Of Nina Simone, “She put everything into the song she was feeling at the time.” And of the blues in general, “Blues are so subtle. You can milk it with two notes.” 

Act I is Joplin on the rise from Port Arthur, Texas, to hooking up with Big Brother and the Holding Company to singing with Aretha. The tone turns a bit darker in Act II but Davies’ energy keeps barreling on through to the feverish high point of “Ball and Chain” which elicited crazy screams and a standing ovation from the crowd. Rightfully so. No wonder she received a Tony nomination on Broadway. Davies is a singular artist with an uncanny ability to channel Janis Joplin’s unique sound. As a musical experience, the show exceeded all my expectations. Go. It’s a helluva night!


A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN
Extended through August 23, 2015

Pasadena Playhouse
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena CA 91101
Tickets: www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org
Mary Bridget Davies performs the role of Janis Joplin Tuesday - Friday evenings at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm
Kacee Clanton performs the role of Janis Joplin on Saturdays at 4:00 pm and Sunday Evenings at 7:00 pm

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Photo Flash: OKLAHOMA! Now Playing at Cabrillo Music Theatre

Once upon a time, musical theatre was a sometimes-random collection of songs, dances, and comedy bits. Then, along came OKLAHOMA!, the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. By pushing boundaries and creating new theatrical devices, OKLAHOMA! reinvented the musical theatre genre. Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production runs through Sunday, July 26 in the 1,800-seat Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, located at 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd in Thousand Oaks. There will be a signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing on Friday, July 24th, at 8:00 pm. Tickets: www.cabrillomusictheatre.com

Callandra Olivia as Laurey and Dan Callaway as Curly.
Photos by Ed Krieger

Josh Switzer as Will Parker and the cast of Oklahoma!

Josh Switzer (Will Parker) and dancers

Callandra Olivia (Laurey), Dynell Leigh (Aunt Eller), Melanie Mockobey
(Ado Annie), and Damon Kirsche (Ali Hakim)


Tim Campbell, Dan Callaway and the ensemble

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Sunday, July 19, 2015

Final casting for the Hollywood Bowl’s upcoming production of Monty Python’s Spamalot - to run July 31, Aug. 1 & 2 - has been announced. Kevin Chamberlin (Sir Bedevere), Tom Deckman (Not Dead Fred), and Rick Holmes (Sir Lancelot) will join previously announced Merle Dandridge as The Lady of the Lake, Warwick Davis as Patsy, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Sir Robin, Eric Idle as the Historian, Craig Robinson as King Arthur and Christian Slater as Sir Galahad. BT McNicholl will direct. Spamalot will be conducted by Todd Ellison and have choreography adapted and re-staged by Scott Taylor and Billy Sprague Jr., from the original by Casey Nicholaw. www.hollywoodbowl.com

Two-time Grammy Award winner and Songwriter of the Year Paul Overstreet has chosen the Ruskin Group Theatre in Los Angeles to launch his new musical Sneaky Ole Time, opening on  August 1st. Overstreet has charted 16 singles on Billboard, including two #1 hits. Tanya Tucker, Kenny Chesney, Alison Krauss, The Judds, and Randy Travis have all covered Overstreet’s songs. Day drinking strangers in a Tennessee honky-tonk discover that they have a lot more in common than they ever could have imagined in this cosmic and comic exploration of love and/or marriage. The show is built around twenty-two of Overstreet’s greatest songs, including Forever and Ever, Amen, and When You Say Nothing at All. Book is by Steve Mazur. Tickets: www.ruskingrouptheatre.com or (310) 397-3244. There is free parking at the theater. Pictured: Amy Motta, Ken Korpia, Nina Brissey, and Nicole Olney.

The Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles, known as Grand Arts High School, has produced an original music video – Dream It! Do It!– directed and choreographed by Emmy, Golden Globe, NAACP Image, Drama Desk, Astaire and Olivier Award winner Debbie Allen. Dream It! Do It! had its world premiere on July 15, 2015 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The event featured remarks from arts education leaders, including Mark Slavkin, Director of Arts Education at The Wallis. Artistic Director Kim Bruno, former Principal of the famous Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (the renowned “Fame” School) in New York City, conceived the project as a way to celebrate the lives of young artists pursuing their dreams. Bruno says,“Dream it! Do it! inspires us to work together to ensure the arts thrive for future generations. It was exciting to collaborate with Ms. Allen on this project, which gave our students a way to share with the world the joy we create every day at Grand Arts High School.”


The video was filmed on location at the school’s state-of-art $232 million campus and stars students from the Los Angeles school system. Debbie Allen enlisted the help of some of the top professionals in the film and television industry, including cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg, currently Director of Photography of ABC’s Scandal. Dream It! Do It! is written by Norm (Thump) Nixon with musical direction by Grammy Nominated composer Stormy Sacks; vocal arrangements by Angel Hart, vocal coach to music celebrities including Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

Stages Musical Theatre Festival returns to Los Angeles in August. This prestigious festival, now in its 18th year, features concert readings of new musicals presented in two venues over two weekends: August 21-23 at New Musicals Inc., 5628 Vineland in North Hollywood and August 28-30 at 3D Theatricals, 1255 N. Knollwood Circle in Anaheim, CA 92801. The shows featured this year include Invisible by David Hollingsworth and David Orris; Off the Wall by Danny Abosch and Sarah Rebell; Anarchist Girl by J. Linn Allen and Cris Wo; Bagels! by Chana Wise and Carl Johnson; Darby O’Gill and the Leprechaun Queen, by Scott Guy and Ron Barnett; and an electric evening of selections from musical theatre writers under the age of 26, the final presentation of the 2015 New Voices Project. Featured will be the work of the New Voices Project winners: Jacob Combs & Madeline Myers, Bill Nelson and Joseph Trefler, and Michael Finke. Tickets are free, but a donation of $10 or more guarantees reserved seating. Tickets and info: www.nmi.org.

Laguna Playhouse will present the west coast premiere of I’m Still Getting My Act Together, music by Nancy Ford, lyrics by Gretchen Cryer and performed and directed by Gretchen Cryer opening Saturday, October 10. The production will run through Sunday, November 1st and is based on Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s 1978 groundbreaking Off-Broadway musical. Act One, the original musical, introduces Heather, a 39 year-old divorced song-writer attempting a comeback by ditching the romantic songs of her past for a more personal collection. Act Two visits Heather and her band 30 years later. Ms. Cryer will be reprising the role of Heather in Act Two for this west coast premiere production. Tickets: www.lagunaplayhouse.com or (949) 497-ARTS (2787).

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts presents Troubador Theater Company’s The Funky Punks, a high energy, interactive, circus arts, clown extravaganza, for two performances only Sunday, August 9 at 1pm and 3:30pm. The Funky Punks is part of La Mirada Theatre’s Programs for Young Audiences Series. Tickets: Children $10 – Adults $15. (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

First Look: HAIRSPRAY at Chance Theater

Chance Theater presents the Tony Award-winning musical about love, big hair, and pursuing your dreams no matter what obstacles life gives you… Hairspray! Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman, directed by Kari Hayter, choreographed by Kelly Todd & Christopher M. Albrecht, and music direction by Robyn Manion. Hairspray will run through August 9 on the main stage at Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center. You can’t stop the beat! Tickets: www.chancetheater.com 

Joe Tish and Taylor Hartsfield.
All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

John Wells and Taylor Hartsfield

Monika Pena, Ellie Wyman, Jordan Goodsell, Haylee
Cotta and Joseph Ott

Sarah Pierce and Karen Webster

Joey Busch and Cody Bianchi

Sarah Pierce and Xavier J. Watson

LaJoi Whitten

Ellie Wyman and Camryn Zelinger

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: 3-D Theatricals' TARZAN The Musical is a Swinging Success

Katie DeShan and Devon Archer. All photos by Isaac James Creative

Tarzan the Musical is the latest winner in a string of ambitious musicals by the Dawson producing team at 3-D Theatricals (Gretchen, Daniel, Jeannette and T.J.). Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a family run company would know the kind of heart it takes to bring to life a Disney adventure musical about the power of family and finding one’s place in the world. In any case, Tarzan is one big show that succeeds beautifully under their care.

Adapted from Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and originally produced on Broadway by Disney Theatrical Productions, 3DT has made a number of smart decisions that make their version of the show much more vivid and engaging than the Broadway production I saw in New York. Yes, I’m actually one of the few people who really did see the show on Broadway. It ran there a little over a year but never came close to the success of other Disney properties like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. There were definite reasons for that.

Songs by 80’s pop star Phil Collins, who wrote the music & lyrics, were pretty but largely unmemorable with the exception of Merle Dandridge’s gorgeous version of “You’ll Be in My Heart,” and David Henry Hwang’s book didn’t give the actors much depth with which to create their characters.

Oddly enough, in the excellent hands of director Rufus Bonds, Jr. and his 3DT cast, the characters take on a richness that make Tarzan completely satisfying, both artistically and emotionally. It’s a credit to what the company does and reason enough why I recommend you make the drive to see this production. There won’t be another Tarzan in Southern California like it again.

Daebreon Poiema and Devon Archer 

Casting is superb. Daebreon Poiema’s luscious singing voice and nuanced portrayal of mama ape Kala gets the audience’s full and complete empathy as protectress of her adopted son Tarzan (Devon Archer). Archer takes a character that could easily end up as a series of tricks and stereotypes and turns him into an endearing, funny, sweet, and ultimately smart young man whose instincts prove to be rock solid throughout. When he meets Jane, Katie DeShan (darling as the spunky, naïve, and hilariously clumsy professor’s daughter with a predilection for bugs), their natural chemistry opens the door to romance for two people, neither of whom possesses much in the way of social graces when it comes to the opposite sex. The fact that their meet cute takes place while she’s being swallowed by a man eating plant only makes it better. 

Lawrence Cummings (Terk) has mastered the art of comic relief and provides it whether he’s clowning around or joyously scatting his way through a song. Casting a handsome, charismatic actor like Marc Cedrik Smith rather than a more typical character man like Shuler Hensley, who originated the role of ape leader Kerchak, somehow makes him more vulnerable. The contrast between that vulnerability and his intimidating stage presence and voice makes us care about him, even if we don’t like what he does to Tarzan. And as Professor Porter, Joey D’Auria offers common sense wisdom with a twinkle in his eye and a father’s love in his heart.
Devon Archer as Tarzan and the cast of Tarzan the Musical

Stephen Gifford’s whimsical three dimensional storybook set design is a marvel of design solutions and his ability to provide ways for a cast to interact with his set to enrich their characters is delightful. What this designer can do with wood and paint will astound you and how lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier lights the pieces and creates the rest of the jungle world will make you smile at the enchanting result. Wait until you see the reveal of his moonlight on the water. It’s a breathtaking moment.

Another large part of the magic comes from Paul Rubin’s flying sequences and aerial choreography. The opening storm at sea and shipwreck is staged like the original and is as stunning here as it was on Broadway. Indeed, if it had continued to deliver on that magic throughout the show it might have fared better. 

Here, with Rubin’s creativity, you get gorillas endlessly catapulting through the air, aerial fight scenes, and a beautiful butterfly and insect ballet floating overhead. Combined with the ingenuity of Linda Love Simmons’ on-the-ground ape choreography, it is a wholly integrated world of wonder.

Much like the forever bond between parent and child, 3-D Theatricals’ Tarzan the Musical further stakes its claim as a Southern California’s destination for Broadway – and in this case, better than Broadway – entertainment. It gets the green light from me.


Marc Cedric Smith as Kerchak

The cast of Tarzan the Musical

Devon Archer and Dominique Alan Petit Frere

Katie DeShan (center) and the cast of Tarzan the Musical

Brian Abraham, Joey D'Auria and Katie DeShan

TARZAN THE MUSICAL
3-D Theatricals
July 11 – 26, 2015: Plummer Auditorium
August 1 - 9, 2015: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Tickets: www.3dtshows.com

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Musical News for July 5, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS: Impro Theatre returns to the Falcon Theatre for their third year, kicking-off the 2015-2016 Subscription Season with Sondheim UnScripted, co-directed by Dan O’Connor and Michele Spears, August 19 – Sept. 27 (opening night 8/28). The show is a completely improvised musical in the style of one of Broadway’s most acclaimed artists, Stephen Sondheim. The cast and musicians work together as an ensemble to improvise songs with the intricate rhymes, soaring counter melodies, and complex themes that are all hallmarks of Sondheim’s work, creating a wholly original, thrilling musical with every performance. Pictured  from left:  Lisa Fredrickson, Brian Michael Jones, Kelly Holden-Bashar. www.FalconTheatre.com

The Colony Theatre is thrilled to presents the California Premiere of The Fabulous Lipitones by John Markus and Mark St. Germain, July 22 – August 23 (opening night 7/25). The show is directed by John Markus, with musical direction by Sam Kriger and choreography by Murphy Cross. A barbershop quartet that has sung together for nearly thirty years suddenly loses their lead singer when he drops dead at a regional competition, belting out a heart-stopping high B-flat in front of the judges. But he holds his note until the end of the song, and the quartet wins! Now, the three surviving members must put an end to their bickering and find a replacement in time for the Nationals. During a phone call, they hear a beautiful lead voice who could be their salvation – but when he shows up, he’s a young Indian Sikh wearing a turban. And the quartet’s bass singer is Archie Bunker. It’s a wonderful comedy with music about the journey all four have to take to find their voice together. Starring Steve Gunderson, Asante Gunewardena, Dennis Holland, John Racca, www.colonytheatre.org

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced casting for the return engagement of A Night With Janis Joplin July 21 – August 16. Conceived, written and directed by Randy Johnson, with choreography by Patricia Wilcox and musical direction by Tyler Evans, the show will star Mary Bridget Davies, following her Tony Award® nominated Broadway run. Pasadena native Kacee Clanton, also from the Broadway production, will alternate the role of Janis Joplin with Davies. The cast also includes Sharon Catherine Brown, Yvette Cason, Sylvia MacCalla, and Jenelle Lynn Randall. Pictured: Mary Bridget Davies in A Night with Janis Joplin. Photo by Joan Marcus. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

EXTENSIONS: Murder for Two extends through August 2 at the Geffen Playhouse. Everyone is a suspect in this hilarious musical murder mystery with a twist: one actor investigates the crime (Brett Ryback), the other plays all of the suspects(Jeff Blumenkrantz) and they both play the piano! Featuring book and music by Joe Kinosian, book and lyrics by Kellen Blair and direction by Scott Schwartz. Kinosian will play the suspects July 10 – 23. www.geffenplayhouse.com

FRINGE EXTENSIONS: The Encore! Producers’ Awards has announced extensions for a number of Hollywood Fringe Festival productions, including Assistants which is extending its run for four additional performances July 9 – 12 at the Actors Company Let Live Theater. Written by Bryan Blaskie and Manny Hagopian, and directed by C. Ryanne Domingues, Assistants follows a group of hopeful assistants and explores the superiority complex of Hollywood and the glamorous lifestyle that seems to elevate its participants above “ordinary” people. www.theencoreawards.com/projects/2191

Merely Players by James Penca and Alex Syiek will play an encore performance on July 12 at the Lounge Theatre as part of the ENCORE! Producers’ Award. The show, a meta-exploration of the theatre scene, watches as a struggling (and mostly terrible) theatre troupe attempts to put on a musical that maybe really should never have been written in the first place. http://hff15.org/2167

For a complete list of ENCORE! Producers’ Award winners and Fringe extensions, go to www.theencoreawards.com.

CABARET/CONCERTS: Paul Wong will present a solo musical show, Simply Singing Sondheim...almost as a benefit for New Musicals Inc’s 4 x 10 Ensemble on July 25 at 8pm. Starring Paul Wong, directed by Joshua Finkel, with musical direction by Jake Anthony. Autobiographical stories as told through the prism of the works of Stephen Sondheim will be featured. Click Here for tickets ($10). 


(mostly)musicals returns with an eclectic assortment of songs by Cole Porter, Jason Robert Brown, Marvin Gaye, George & Ira Gershwin, Adele, Irving Berlin, Christine Lavin, Duke Ellington, and others performed by a unique array of singers. Performers include Sharon McNight, Elijah Rock, Mary Jo Mundy, and Kimberly Ann Steele, Joshua Finkel, Cassandra Nuss, Alli Miller, Derrian Tolden, Rachel Tyler, Ryan Dietz, Amanda Kruger, David Meinke, Kalen Edean, and Jillian Easton. Plus, a special guest from Recorded in Hollywood. Music direction is by Gregory Nabours. Stay for the open mic afterparty hosted by Mark Jacobson. www.mostlymusicalsLA.com

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Wednesday, June 24, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS: 3D Theatricals will present the first, major, fully-produced Southern California regional premiere of the Tony nominated Tarzan® The Stage Musical based on the Disney Film at both Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium July 11 – 26 and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center August 1 – 9, 2015. Broadway’s Rufus Bonds, Jr. will direct, with T.J. Dawson as assistant director. Musical director/conductor is Nick Petrillo. Choreography is by Linda Love Simmons. Aerial choregraphy is by Paul Rubin. Cast includes Devin Archer as Tarzan, with Katie DeShan as Jane Porter, Daebreon Poiema as Kala, Lawrence Cummings as Terk, Mark Cedric Smith as Kerchak, Joey D’Auria as Professor Porter, Brian Abraham as Clayton, and Jude Mason as Young Tarzan. The ensemble includes Danielle Barron, Jeremy Barron, Jillian Dey, Jude Dawson, Kingson Higgins, Mallory Barron, Arlondriah Lenyéa, Chelle Denton, Christiana Powell, Jeanette Dawson, Jenna Wright, Kim Taylor, Natalie Iscovich, Rachel Farr, Taj Johnson, and Tiffany Reid, Brandon Burks, Bren Thor Johnson,  Brian Whitehill, Dominique Alan Petit Frere, Du’ron Fisher, Evan Strand, Frankie Silver, Gary Brints,  Justin Matthew Segura, and Remmie Bourgeois. www.3dtshows.com

The Hollywood Pantages has added eight shows as options to its 2015-2016 season. This new lineup of shows includes the return of Six Hollywood Pantages favorites: Beauty and the Beast (Nov. 13-22), Riverdance – The 20th Anniversary World Tour (Dec. 1-6), Mamma Mia! (Jan. 26-31), Once (March 15-20), Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles (April 5-10), and last season’s smash hit, Kinky Boots (April13-24). Current season ticket holders have first priority to purchase tickets at www.HollywoodPantages.com/SeasonPackages or by calling 866-755-BWAY (2929).

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has announced dates and subscription tickets for its 2015-2016 Season Artistic Advisor master classes and events. These include Suzanne Farrell, former Principal Dancer in George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and founder of Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center (Jan. 24, 2016); Judith Jamison, dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (April 5, 2016); Patti LuPone, Grammy, Olivier and Tony Award-winning actor and singer (March 31, 2016); Arturo Sandoval, Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter, pianist, composer and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Oct. 27, 2015); and Denzel Washington, Academy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning actor (Sept.17, 2015). Four of the advisors will also give Master Classes that are open to the public including Patti LuPone on March 31, 2016. LuPone will also perform her Far Away Places concert April 1-2, 2016. www.thewallis.org

Laguna Playhouse presents Footloose, directed & choreographed by Paula Hammons Sloan July 8 - August 9. The cast will feature Logan Farine as Ren and Lily Davis as Ariel, along with Ricky Pope, Jill Slyter, Carol Robinson, Hannah M. James, Charlene Jean, Melissa Mangold, Ashley Nicole Martin, Joseph Abrego, Derek Leo Miller, MaryAnn DiPietro, Michael Stancliffe, Todd Tucker, Christopher Hansell, Bryce Colby Vaewsorn, J’royce Walton, Mike Brennan and Siena Yusi. Footloose is based on the stage adaption by Dean Pitchford & Walter Bobbie. Musical direction is by Jeff Biering. www.lagunaplayhouse.com

Subscribe to Actors Co-op and get two Co-op Too! productions for free: Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd (June 25 – 28, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm), and An Evening with C.S. Lewis (July 10 – 19, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm and Saturdays, Sundays at 2:30pm). www.ActorsCo-op.org

Sierra Madre Playhouse presents Always…Patsy Kline July 31 – Sept. 12, directed by Robert Marra, with musical direction by Sean Paxton. The show is based on a real incident that occurred in 1961. Super-fan Louise Seger (Nikki D’Amico) befriends Patsy Cline (Cori Cable Kidder) before a concert in Houston. After the show, Louise takes her home, cooks her breakfast and appears with her on a local radio broadcast. The two maintain a correspondence, writing each other letters until Cline’s untimely death in a Tennessee plane crash in 1963. The star closed each of her letters to Seger, “Always…Patsy Cline.” www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

Like Star Trek? Battlestar Galactica? My Fair Lady? Then Space: The Musical Frontier is for you. It’s set on a spaceship, but instead of amazing special effects, it’s got show stopping musical numbers and lots of shiny duct tape. Join the crew of the U.N.E.S.S. Entrepreneur as they sing their way into their enemies’ hearts-- and yours. Space, written by Katie Smith and Jessica Spaw with music by Zach Reino, debuts June 30 at 8:30 pm on the Upright Citizens Brigade’s Sunset Stage. Tickets available for $5 at the UCB Sunset website or at the door. Starring Zach Reino, Richie Root, Alexa Green, Andrew Delman, Jessica Spaw, and Katie Smith. Additional performances set for 7/27 @ 10:30pm and 8/17 @ 10:30pm. https://sunset.ucbtheatre.com/

Performances of Enceladus Theatre Company’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will continue through July 3. The musical is being presented at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts in the Studio Theatre at Whittier College, 6760 Painter Avenue, Whittier, CA 90608. Producing Artistic Director Gil Gonzalez directs a cast that includes Charlotte Bailey, Molly Cunningham, Max Gallo, Stella Gordon, Christian Mohn, Ruben Sanchez, Courtney Smith, Jonathan Tupanjanin, and Andrew Zubiate. www.shannoncenter.org 

New Musicals Inc. will present its annual 15-Minute Musicals June 29, 30 & July 1 at the Lonny Chapman Theatre. They are the culmination of NMI’s Academy for New Musical Theatre writers’ workshop and a decades-long tradition. This year’s theme is “Forks in the Road” with each musical about a life-changing moment. The creative team of director Scott Guy, music director Ron Barnett, stage manager Rita Cannon, and actors Conchita Belisle-Newman, David Crane, Shannon Martinous, and Louis Silvers will present End of the Line (book by Howard Ho, music by Kristen Rea, and lyrics by Chris Edgar), Can I Help You Out? (book by Weston Scott, music by Laura Wardrip, and lyrics by David Rackoff), and Fork You! (book by Lucy Wang, music by Molly Siskin, and lyrics by Shawn Ryan). The creative team of director John Coppola, music director Ross Kalling, stage manager Angel Hernandez, and actors Melvin Biteng, J. Bailey Burcham, Elise Dewsberry, and Emma Sperka will present Queen Hamembshaput Says What? (book by Danielle Roderick, music by Sahara S. Spain, and lyrics by Mitch Glaser), Margot’s Blessing (book and lyrics by Lori Ada Jaroslow, and music by Morgan Hollingsworth), Have A Nice Trip (book by Dan Margules, music by Raphael Nemes, and lyrics by Marissa Kochanski), and Half Off (book by Rich Cook, music and lyrics by Jeff King). www.nmi.org

The Fountain Theatre presents a world premiere theatrical event: Citizen: An American Lyric as Claudia Rankine’s acclaimed book of poetry about race in America is brought to the stage by playwright Stephen Sachs and director Shirley Jo Finney. A meditation on race fusing poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image, this provocative new stage adaptation about everyday acts of racism in America features a six-member ensemble including Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia. August 1 – Sept. 14. www.FountainTheatre.com. Pictured: Steven Sachs, Claudia Rankine, and Shirley Jo Finney, courtesy of the Fountain Theatre.

MAGIC: For one night only, The Colony Theatre Company will travel back in time to the days of vaudeville and kick off its first ever magic series on Sunday, June 28 at 7pm with an eclectic evening of conjuring. Five, award-winning magicians will gather to perform Vaudevillusion, a new creation that fuses the mysteries of magic and live theatre. This special engagement features acts seen on America’s Got Talent, Wizard Wars, Fake Off, and at The World Famous Magic Castle. Tickets: 818-558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org. For more information go to www.Vaudevillusion.com.

EXTENDED: DOMA Theatre Company’s production of Green Day’s American Idiot: The Musical adds five Thursday night performances beginning July 2, and extends one week through August 2. Performances take place at the MET Theatre The MET Theatre. For tickets, call 323-802-9181 or go to www.domatheatre.com.


DANCE: DancerPalooza, the “Coachella” for the dance world, will bring together the industry’s top professional choreographers, master teachers, professional dancers, dance students of all ages and dance fans under one roof for an exclusive week-long event July 21 – 26 at the Long Beach Convention Center. DancerPalooza features a wide variety of opportunities for everyone interested in dance -- from professionals to the general public – including the three-day Beat Street, (offered Friday July 24 through Sunday July 26) a dance expo hall that features special performances, Crash Courses (workshops throughout the day), and nightly ticketed performances in the intimate 825-seat Center Theater with some of the hottest names and ensembles in dance today including the works of Kenny Wormald & Misha Gabriel, Talia Favia, Andrew Winghart, Mike Minery & Anthony Morigerato, WilldaBeast, Dana Foglia, and Lauren Adams & Jason Parsons, and the return of Shaping Sound to the stage after its second national tour – a chance for the public to see the work of choreographers and dancers that all of the industry is talking about. www.dancerpalooza.com 

Photo by Jamie Pham
FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT: Family Jam at the L.A. Zoo, featuring family entertainment for all ages, is set for Saturday, July 11, 2015, 6 pm, with live music, karaoke, crafts, games, popular food trucks, up-close encounters with some of the Zoo’s smaller residents, keeper talks, a rare opportunity for after-hours viewing of popular animal exhibits and more. Headlining the entertainment is The BeatBuds duo, who enrich young audiences with an array of original children’s songs that get the whole family singing, dancing, and laughing together. Also on hand is Close Encounters, a live karaoke band, plus a Paint Party providing the opportunity for children to commemorate their Family Jam experience, a Crafts Zone and animal cut outs for "”wild” selfies and family photos. Rounding out the evening is an animal search and a Play Zone (7-9pm), both offering small prizes. Food trucks in attendance are CPK, Ragin Cajun, Dogtown Dogs, Patty Wagon Burgers, My Tornado Potato, Greenz on Wheelz, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Vchos, Rice Balls of Fire, Hang 10 Tacos, Kona Truck and Paradise Cookies and Ice Cream. www.lazoo.org/familyjam

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Phantom of the Opera, Still Impressive After All These Years

Katie Travis as Christine and and Chris Mann as the Phantom.
All photos by Matthew Murphy

Spectacle wins out in Cameron Mackintosh’s latest tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Less reinvented than it is repackaged, the crowning glory of this production is its lavish costumes and sets (by Paul Brown and Maria Björnson respectively), and the lush sounds of its 17-member orchestra (under the direction of Richard Carsey). No matter what else you may think, David Cullen and Lloyd Webber’s soaring orchestrations never fail to send chills down the spine. The power of that gorgeous music is undeniable and, as such, provides a full and rich musical experience, even if it is impossible not to hear the voices of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman who will “always be there, singing songs in my head.” That’s the challenge for anyone who remembers their original work.

This new Phantom (Chris Mann) is a reality show find from The Voice so he may succeed for anyone who followed his career on the show, but you won’t find the charisma and utter pathos that Crawford brought to the role. There are moments he comes close, as when he offers Christine (Katie Travis) his ring, but he still needs time to grow into the role.

As for Travis, she does well with the vocally challenging part, and her diction is admirable given the high tessitura, but her consonants too often interrupt the sheer beauty of the vocal lines, causing them to lose some of their intoxicating impact.

The classic story of the deformed “opera ghost” who lives beneath the Paris Opera House hasn’t changed in the 29 years since Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe adapted Gaston Leroux’s novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” for the stage. The elusive Phantom still secretly nurtures a young singer from the chorus whom he intends to make a star, until her childhood sweetheart returns and becomes a rival for her love. Disasters occur when the Phantom’s demands are disregarded by the opera house’s new ownership, resulting in chaos and tragedy. It’s exactly the kind of stuff grand opera is made for and that this musical alternately sends up and takes quite seriously.

When humor is allowed to lift the drama, the production sparkles, thanks in part to the charms of Jacquelynne Fontaine as the spoiled prima donna, Carlotta. Anne Kanengeiser is formidable as ballet mistress Madame Giry.

Jacquelynne Fontaine as Carlotta

Anne Kanengeiser

The Corps de Ballet in Hannibal

Two distinct color schemes emerge in the design. For scenes that are filled with theatricality and life, it is as if you are flipping through a series of Toulouse-Lautrec picture postcards with a Degas or a Caillebotte thrown in for good measure. These are wrought in vintage golds and warm umber with brilliant dashes of red and green.

In contrast, those that reveal the Phantom’s world are rendered in deep blues and blacks. The updates include a new revolving set piece with precarious steps that appear and disappear as the actors descend into the murky caverns below the opera house. Anyone who knows that other wildly popular Cameron Mackintosh behemoth, Les Misérables, knows how much he loves a good turntable. Here it is an impressive bit of stage magic that works beautifully.

Chris Mann and Katie Travis

Chris Mann

There are other familiar and striking images: the Phantom’s gondola still floats through a sea of fog, pillars of fire shoot up from the footlights, and a newly redesigned chandelier is ever-present.

Yes, the score still thrills, even after all these years, and the production will surely please the majority of viewers, especially those seeing it for the first time. Phantom enjoys a longer run at the Pantages Theatre, where it will play through August 2nd.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
June 17 - August 2, 2015
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 hollywood Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: www.hollywoodpantages.com or 800-982-2787

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