Thursday, August 13, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Thursday, August 13, 2015

Geffen Playhouse opens its 20th anniversary season with the west coast premiere of These Paper Bullets! A Modish Ripoff of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Sept. 8 – Oct. 18. Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Emmy Award nominated writer Rolin Jones with songs by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and staged by Jackson Gay, the show was commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre where it premiered in 2014. Meet the Quartos. Ben, Claude, Balth, and Pedro. Their fans worship them. Scotland Yard fears them. And their former drummer will stop at nothing to destroy them. Can these fab four from Liverpool find true love in London and cut an album in seven nights? The cast features James Barry (Pedro), Kate Blumberg (Paulina, Frida), Damon Daunno (Claude), Chris Geary as Anton, Mr. Crumpet, Queen & Others), Brad Heberlee (Mr. Urges), Justin Kirk (Ben), Tony Manna (Mr. Cake), Rod McLachlan (Boris), Kiera Naughton (Ulcie), Adam O’Byrne (Don Best), Lucas Papaelias (Balth), Nicole Parker (Beatrice), Greg Stuhr (Mr. Berry), Ariana Venturi (Higgy), Nick Ullett as (Leo). www.geffenplayhouse.com

TROIKA Entertainment LLC and the Nederlander Organization have announced casting for the new tour of ANNIE playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Oct. 13 – Nov. 1. Original Broadway lyricist and director Martin Charnin returns for the 19th time to direct this brand new production which also features book by Thomas Meehan and music by Charles Strouse. Choreographer Liza Gennaro will incorporate selections from her father Peter Gennaro’s 1977 Tony Award®-winning choreography. The 25-member company stars newcomer Issie Swickle as Annie and Gilgamesh Taggett as Oliver Warbucks. The cast also includes Lynn Andrews (Miss Hannigan), Ashley Edler (Grace), Garrett Deagon (Rooster), Lucy Werner (Lily) and Jeffrey B. Duncan (FDR). Sunny, a 5-year-old rescue terrier mix, stars as Sandy. The Orphans will be played by Angelina Carballo, LillyBea Ireland, Molly Rose Meredith, Emily Moreland, Lilly Mae Stewart and Isabel Wallach. Tickets: (800) 982-2787 or www.HollywoodPantages.com.

Broadway’s Alison Luff and Constantine Maroulis will lead the cast of Breaking Through, a world premiere musical, with book by Kirsten Guenther, and music & lyrics by Cliff Downs and Katie Kahanovitz, at the Pasadena Playhouse Oct. 27 – Nov. 22 (opening night 11/1). The production is choreographed by Tyce Diorio and directed by Sheldon Epps. Breaking Through is told through the eyes of a young, talented singer/songwriter, as she tries to navigate the treacherous shark-filled waters of the music business. She embarks on a compelling journey to find her way back to her authentic self and in the process rediscovers the music that truly makes her alive. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

International City Theatre has announced its 2016 season beginning with Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s musical revue, Closer Than Ever Feb. 10 – March 6, 2016 (opening night 2/12). Filled with hilarious and poignant songs about dating, parenting, aging and dreams both fulfilled and unrequited, Closer Than Ever is like a musical “how-to” manual for life. With each song a self-contained story inspired by real-life experiences, its message to value the little things in life remains timeless. Also part of the season: Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods, Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sasha and Masha and Spike, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself). www.internationalcitytheatre.org

Red Blanket Productions presents Sondheim’s Assassins at The Pico Playhouse August 21 – Sept. 27. The show is directed by Dan Fishbach, with choreography by Lili Fuller, and features a live orchestral quartet conducted by music director Anthony Lucca. Disturbing, alarming, and eerily funny, Assassins is perhaps one of the most controversial musicals ever written. Sondheim leads audiences on a tuneful review of Presidential assassins and would-be killers from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley. The cast includes Claire Adams, Jeff Alan-Lee, Sean Benedict, Janna Cardia, Cole Cuomo, Dominic De Armey, David Gallic, Adam Hunter Howard, Jason Peter Kennedy, Zachary Lutsky, Sandy Mansson, Nick Tubbs, Bryan Vickery, Selah Victor, Travis Rhett Wilson, and Paul Wong. The Pico Playhouse, 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 90064. www.assassinsmusicalLA.com

Celebration Theatre has announced its 2015-2016, under the artistic direction of Michael Matthews & Michael A. Shepperd. This is the Celebration’s 34th season and the first in its new home at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave. in Los Angeles. Included on the schedule is the L.A. intimate theatre premiere of The Boy From Oz directed by Michael A. Shepperd, which begins previews April 22, 2016. Australian entertainer Peter Allen becomes a star, marries and divorces Liza Minnelli, comes out of the closet, and ultimately succumbs to AIDS in this biographical jukebox musical featuring Allen’s songs. The season also includes a new sketch show, Kim Jon Funner directed by Todd Milliner, Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara, and Dream Boy by Eric Rosen. www.celebrationtheatre.com

Megan Hilty will take the stage at Valley Performing Arts Center for a concert on Thursday, Sept.24 at 8:00 pm. The vivacious star of Wicked at the Pantages Theatre, New York Encores’ Gentleman Prefer Blondes and 9 to 5: The Musical at the Ahmanson and on Broadway, as well as the NBC hit television series Smash will present an unforgettable evening of Broadway standards, Hollywood favorites, and songs from her album, It Happens all the Time. Valley Performing Arts Center is located on the campus of California State University, Northridge (CSUN), 18111 Nordhoff Street Northridge, 91330-8448, at the corner of Nordhoff and Lindley. Tickets: (818) 677-3000 or ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org.

Heart and Flame Productions has announced that the world premiere pop/rock musical We Are the Tigers will play the Hudson Backstage Oct. 2 – Nov. 8 The musical features book, music & lyrics by Rebekah M. Allen, musical direction by Patrick Sulken, choreography by Jacob Brent and is directed by Michael Bello. A new school year means a new beginning for the Tigers, the worst-ranked high school cheerleading team in the state. But when an innocent team-building sleepover becomes a mysterious murder scene, the Tigers will need more than just team spirit to survive the night – and each other. www.plays411.com/tigers

The world premiere of Welcome to My World starring Sami Staitman, the first ever one-girl musical written for and about a fourteen-year-old, will take place at the Grove Theatre in Burbank, Sept. 10 – 27. The Disney Channel’s Corey Fogelmanis (Farkel on Girl Meets World) will be on hand opening weekend for a private Meet & Greet with fans who have donated to the production. With book, music and lyrics by Grammy nominated Bruce Kimmel, Welcome to My World takes you into the world of a bright, funny, irreverent and iconoclastic young girl named Molly, who has her own very unique way of looking at life. The 85-minute show also features musical direction by Alby Potts. Tickets: (323) 960-7787 or www.plays411.com/world.

Panic! Productions begins its 2015-2016 season with the classic musical, She Loves Me, Sept. 11 -27, at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. A beloved favorite of many musical theatre aficionados, She Loves Me features a book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. This newly staged, intimate production is directed and choreographed by Miriam Durrie-Kirsch, with musical direction by Diann Alexander and starring Brandon Hynum, Becca Peyton, Tiffany Asta, John Wallis, Paul Panico, Robert Weibezahl, Frankie Rodriguez, Alex Gonzales, Larry Craig, Alisa De Los Santos, Annie Sherman, Matt Markham, and Noah Terry. www.hillcrestarts.com

In celebration of the in-home Diamond Edition release of Aladdin, Hollywood’s legendary El Capitan Theatre is thrilled to present a limited run of the magical Disney classic Sept. 17- Oct. 7. Before the movie, El Capitan guests will be greeted by Genie, live on stage. The El Capitan will also host a special opening-night screening on Saturday, September 17 at 7:00 pm. www.elcapitantickets.com

Also this month at the El Capitan, a special engagement of Disney’s Frozen Sing-along version Aug. 20 – Sept. 16. Each screening will be accompanied by Elsa, live on stage, snow inside the theatre, and after the movie, Olaf live on stage and a screening of Disney’s Frozen Fever which will be featured in an extraordinary new in-home collection of award-winning and beloved shorts by Walt Disney Animation Studios. www.elcapitantickets.com

(mostly)musicals returns to the E Spot Lounge on August 24 with its latest cabaret show, Lucky Numbers featuring performances by Rachel Tyler, Eric B. Anthony, Patricia Whiteman, Sandra Benton, Sherry Mandujano, Neil Taffe, Alli Miller, Emerson Boatwright, Amanda Kruger, David Crane, Jason Peter Kennedy, Christina Morrell, and music direction by Gregory Nabours. Doors open at 6:30pm for dinner and drinks. www.mostlymusicalsla.com

Stupid Songs will present a one-night-only cabaret show called Stupid Gold on Tuesday, August 18 at Rockwell Table & Stage featuring the company’s stupidest hits, plus some brand new songs. http://rockwell-la.com/

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

REDCAT's NOW Festival: Program 2: Sammanfläta (Intertwined), BIT, and Circle Jerk

Stina Ahlberg Sammanfläta (Intertwined).
All photos by 
Rafael Hernandez/Calarts

REDCAT debuted an eclectic program of new works this week during its 12th Annual New Original Works Festival – two dance/movement-based pieces and a third that fused theatre and live music to create an absurdist performance art piece based on early twentieth century Surrealism.

Swedish choreographer Stina Ahlberg’s solo dance piece, Sammanfläta (which translates as intertwine) opened the evening. The short 15-minute hypnotic enterprise pairs wind-like sounds with a cappella voices in choral layers to create a haunting work with an otherworldly feel. Ahlberg’s earthy physicality conjures images of a broken bird and the collapsing and unfolding of the spirit as she creeps and crouches and writhes with tactile sensuality.

Mint Park and Hee-Eun Jeong's BIT

In BIT, the interplay between light pools and shadows, synthesized sound, and stylized movement creates a piece that moves propulsively through several stages of storytelling. At times Mint Park and Hee-Eun Jeong’s new work achieves a sharp but beautifully lyrical quality that feels like one is watching a film scene unfold live. I found the opening featuring a solo male dancer (Jung-Woon Jung) spinning and expressively moving with a martial artist’s precision inside that shifting light to be very exciting and a powerful expression of the potential of the piece. Three additional female dancers and abstract modernistic projections expand its multi-layered progression.

Off-putting was the “strobe light” effect consisting of hand-held lights manipulated by the dancers. Too often they were flashed directly into the audiences eyes rather than used to create effects that would have made a greater impact on the visual interpretation of the work.

Robert Cucuzza's Circle Jerk

Following intermission, Robert Cucuzza ventures into the potent world of André Breton and The Surrealists in his theatrical staging of Circle Jerk. The basis of the play is a series of provocative discussions on the topic of sex and sexual perversity led by Breton over a 4-year period beginning in 1928. All of its text comes directly from transcripts of the sessions and no question is off limits.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Circle Jerk is the contrast between its direct and intentionally absurdist humor and the sheer beauty of the subtle jazz trio that accompanies it. (The outstanding original score is by Juli Crockett and Michael Feldman, with Crockett on cello and vocals, Feldman on piano, and Danny Graziani on violin). Fragments of lyric – “she’s just a girl” and “melody haunts my reverie” float in the background while an eye-opening question and answer session delivers the harsh truths about men and women’s roles from the male perspective.

The piece wanders at the midpoint when the interactive group discussion becomes more philosophical and focused on only one individual before snapping back to life when the characters begin a direct address to members of the audience. That discussion probes more taboo questions of erotica in regards to children, animals, and monogamy.


Together the three new works provide a stimulating representation of the kind of adventurous work REDCAT is known for. The final performance for Program 2 is tonight.

REDCAT NOW FESTIVAL
Program 1:  July 30 - August 1, 2015
Bloom - Nguyễn Nguyên and Maria Gillespie
In|Expiration - Sheetal Gandhi, Ulka Mohanty & Mark Gutierrez 
Crying - Zac Pennington, Jherek Bischoff and Steven Reker

Program 2: August 6-8, 2015
Sammanfläta (Intertwined) - Stina Ahlberg 
BIT - Mint Park and Hee-Eun Jeong
Circle Jerk - Robert Cucuzza

Program 3:  August 13-15, 2015
Stellar Tears - Cassandra 
Touch of the Other - Takao Kawaguchi, Jonathan Hall & Deanna Erdmann
Trophy - Kevin Williamson

REDCAT is located at 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 in the heart of downtown Los Angeles on the northeast corner of the intersection of W. 2nd and Hope Streets. Housed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex, REDCAT has a separate entrance at the corner of West 2nd and Hope Streets. Tickets and information: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org. Performances begin at 8:30 pm.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Sunday, August 2, 2015

Anthony Crivello and Vanessa Claire Stewart in Louis & Keely.
Photo by Charles Osgood Photography

MUSICAL NEWS: Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara returns to the Geffen Playhouse Dec 30 – Jan 17 (opening 1/6). Written by Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford and Jake Broder and directed by Taylor Hackford, it stars Anthony Crivello (Tony Award Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Vanessa Claire Stewart who originally created the role of Keely Smith. This is part of a new national tour, based on the recent hit Chicago production featuring Crivello and Stewart. It originated here in LA. It was terrific the first time around – don’t miss it this time! Louis Prima and Keely Smith shared a larger-than-life marriage and a groundbreaking Las Vegas act featuring unforgettable songs like “That Ol’ Black Magic,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and “Embraceable You.” Tickets: (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.com.

The Laguna Playhouse will present a special engagement of The Official Blues Brothers Revue with Wayne Catania as Jake and Kieron Lafferty as Elwood, August 13 – 30. The live concert show combines the comedy and hits from the original movie and pays homage to Chicago’s rich history of blues, gospel and soul music. Hear all The Blues Brothers classics as Jake, Elwood and the band hit the right balance of humor, music and mayhem. Backed by a powerhouse band, they’ll give you a show to remember including their biggest hits “Soul Man,” “Rubber Biscuit” and many more. www.lagunaplayhouse.com

Sierra Madre Playhouse announces its 2015-2016 season of shows to include Ted Swindley’s Always…Patsy Cline directed by Robert Marra (July 31- Sept 12, 2015; Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (Oct 2- Nov 8, 2015); A Christmas Memory by Duane Poole, Larry Grossman & Carol Hall directed by Alison Eliel Kalmus (Nov 27- Dec 27, 2015); Jerry Sterner’s Other People’s Money (Jan 8- Feb 13, 2016): John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (March 11- April 16, 2016); and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (May 16- June 18, 2016). For tickets and more information about the season go to www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

EXTENSIONS: The return engagement of Pasadena Playhouse’s A Night with Janis Joplin starring Mary Bridget Davies is once again exceeding all expectations and has extended through August 23. Tickets are available at www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

Alien vs. Musical, the runaway Hollywood Fringe hit, is being extended by Combined Artform’s Matthew Quinn at Theatre Asylum for a 6 week run, starting Friday August 7 at 8pm. Tickets for the 60-minute show by Erik Przytulski and Steve Troop are available at http://hff15.org/2202.

DOMA Theatre Company remounts its smash hit production of American Idiot, Oct 2 – 18 at the Met Theatre. Directed by Marco Gomez, it features the music of Green Day, including “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “21 Guns,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Holiday” and the blockbuster title track, “American Idiot.” Tickets: (323) 802-9181 or www.domatheatre.com.

Chance Theater’s production of Hairspray has added four performances and will now run through August 16. http://chancetheater.com/

Sandra Mae Frank and Austin McKenzie in Spring Awakening.
Photo by Kevin Parry

And perhaps the most exciting extension of them all, congratulations to Deaf West Theatre and their production of Spring Awakening which played The Wallis earlier this year and originated at Inner City Arts last fall. They’re going to Broadway! Performances begin at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on September 8 and the show will run for 18 weeks, through Saturday, January 9. It will be performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English by a cast of 27. Spring Awakening (book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik), is directed by Michael Arden and choreographed by Spencer Liff. The show is produced By Ken Davenport, Cody Lassen, Hunter Arnold And Deaf West Theatre (Artistic Director David J. Kurs). Tickets are available by calling (877) 250-2929 or at www.ticketmaster.com.

FUNDRAISERS: On the heels of last year’s highly successful event, Cabrillo Music Theatre will host its 2nd Annual, 24-hour Dance Marathon. This exciting community fundraising event unites marathon contestants of all ages and abilities, your favorite Cabrillo Characters, and local businesses for 24 hours of dance, Zumba, Stretch, music, food, prizes and special guests. There will even be special theme hours with the casts of Bye Bye Birdie, Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, Company, and the Young Artists’ Ensemble production of Legally Blonde. The marathon will take place from August 7th to August 8th, at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks, 91360. All proceeds go to Cabrillo Music Theatre’s outreach programs. Click Here to participate, make a donation, or for more information.

The Chance Theater will recreate a Film Noir evening, complete with 1950’s style fun, live music, and entertainment by Chance artists on August 29. Casino games, a silent auction, 3-course themed dinner with cocktails, and a murder mystery to solve are among the killer events. All proceeds will support the Chance Theatre. Click Here for tickets and more info.

CONCERT/CABARET: Chris Isaacson Presents has announced that Australian folk/pop star Shelley Segal will make her Los Angeles debut on Sunday, August 9 at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. Tickets for her one-night-only appearance are $15 and are available at www.hotelcafe.com. The Hotel Cafe is located at 1623½ Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

An Evening of Classic Broadway will host its next cabaret night on Monday, August 10 at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz. Joining Brad Ellis and Dianne Fraser are Jahmaul Bakare, Nicci Claspell, Elizabeth Hayden, Damon Kirsche, Barbara Minkus, Kevin Odekirk and Valerie Perri. Doors open at 6:30 for the 8pm show. http://rockwell-la.com/

Noted actor, composer and musician John Slade brings his traveling “Chautauqua-tent spirit revival in story and song” Walt Whitman Sings to Shakespeare Orange County’s outdoor cabaret stage. Settle in for an evening of Walt Whitman’s great poetry set to music among the trees. Recommended for music and poetry lovers of all ages. August 23 & 30 at 7pm. The 80-minutes performance runs without intermission. Tickets: (714) 636-3729.

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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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