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.

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 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.

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.

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).

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.”

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.

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. 

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).

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. 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 For more information go to

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

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. 

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.

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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.

June 17 - August 2, 2015
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 hollywood Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: or 800-982-2787

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Sunday, June 14, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS: Garry Marshall has announced the Falcon Theatre’s 2015-2016 season, which includes 3 musicals this year. The season begins with Impro Theatre’s Sondheim UnScripted (Aug. 19 – Sept. 27), directed by Dan O’Connor and Michele Spears. The completely improvised musical in the style of Stephen Sondheim starts with audience suggestions as the cast and musicians create a wholly original, thrilling musical based on Sondheim’s intricate rhymes, soaring counter melodies and complex themes.

Troubadour Theater Company returns to The Falcon for the holidays reviving a fan-favorite, the parody of holiday classic, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown (Dec . 2 – Jan 17), directed by Matt Walker. Telling the tale of Kris Kringle’s (aka Santa Claus) origin, the Troubies take the jolly old man himself and send him to the land of Smokey Miracles and Supreme Temptations.

The Falcon will close its season with The Real Housewives of Toluca Lake: The Musical (March 23 – April 24), book, music & lyrics by Molly Bell, directed by Roger Bean. In this story, you’ll get to meet the wives, Joanne, Babette, Penny, Lulu, and Beezus: The Real Housewives of Toluca Lake. Scandalous surprises and bitter betrayals mix with a healthy dose of Pinot Grigio and pharmaceuticals to create this hilarious romp inspired by America’s not-so-secret guilty pleasure. The Falcon’s season will also include two plays, Scott and Hem (Oct. 14 – Nov. 15), by Mark St. Germain, directed by Dimitri Toscas, and The Complete History of America (abridged) (Feb. 3 – March 6), by Adam Long Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor.

Actors Co-op has announced its 2015-16 season, which will begin with Stephen Schwartz & Joseph Stein’s The Baker’s Wife, directed by Richard Israel, Sept. 18 – Oct. 25, 2015. From the creator of Wicked and Pippin comes the delicious musical about a French baker who stops making his mouth-watering bread when his young wife leaves him. Faced with the loss of the best food they have ever eaten, the town of misfits unites to rekindle the couple’s love. The season will also include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Tennessee Williams masterpiece Summer and Smoke, and Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.

The world premiere of Adam & Eve and Steve: The Musical by Chandler Warren will run July 9 – August 30 (Opening night 7/10) at NoHo Arts Center’s Stage 2. The 80-minute musical farce is based on the Biblical Adam and Eve story, with the addition of Steve thanks to the Devil’s interference. As the three of them get tangled, they all try to figure out the many definitions that love has to offer. Music is by Wayne Moore and Ronnie Marmo directs.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts presents Disney’s Choo-Choo Soul With Genevieve! Performances are Sunday, June 28 at 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm. Disney’s Choo-Choo Soul With Genevieve! won the Parent’s Choice Award in 2007 for Children’s television and has performed across the country. Choo-Choo Soul is an upbeat, exciting way for kids to learn while having fun, while parents enjoy the current, soulful stylings of the accompanying music. Train conductor Genevieve Goings drives her animated train through fantastical lands while singing contemporary, kid-friendly hip-hop songs about ABCs, 123s and being polite. The diverse and hip duo of Genevieve and DC, the beatboxing, break-dancing engineer, teach children through music in this special live version of the favorite television show.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS for Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Betsy Wolfe and Matt Bittner

MUSICAL NEWS: La Jolla Playhouse announces the cast for Up Here, a new musical comedy featuring book, music & lyrics by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Up Here is directed by Tony Award nominee Alex Timbers and will run July 28 – Sept. 6. When introverted, 30-something computer repairman Dan finds a potential spark with outgoing t-shirt designer Lindsay, his attempts at a relationship are thwarted by the Technicolor world in his head. This world-premiere musical goes where no musical has gone before, bringing to life the circus of judgmental, neurotic, ever-changing characters that rule an ordinary man’s mind. The cast is led by Broadway’s Betsy Wolfe and newcomer Matt Bittner, along with Broadway alums Andrew Call, Giovanni Cozic, Jeff Hiller, Gizel Jimenez, Zonya Love, Sarah Meahl, Eric Petersen, Devin Ratray, Devere Rogers, Charles South and Nick Verina. The ensemble features Kikau Alvaro, Hanz Enyeart, Jacob Haren, April Jo Henry, Tamara Rodriguez and Graham Stevens, N’Jameh Camara, Zakiyah Markland and Lorena Martinez. Tickets are currently available by subscription. Single tickets go on sale June 27. 

Hershey Felder

Laguna Playhouse has announced a special return engagement of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, written and performed by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay. “After the overwhelming response to his initial run, we are delighted to bring Hershey Felder back on our stage as Irving Berlin as part of the wide array of programming we're doing this year,” comments executive director Karen Wood. Called “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived” by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin is known for innumerable American classics such as “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “Anything You Can Do,” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin will play June 22 – 30 at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach.

Thor Steingraber. Photo courtesy of VPAC

Valley Performing Arts Center has announced Executive Director Thor Steingraber’s 2015-2016 Inaugural Season and it’s packed with classical and popular music, dance, theater, family, and international events only seen at VPAC. Best of all, the season includes VPAC’s first Broadway musical – Dreamgirls – a McCoy Rigby Entertainment and La Mirada Theatre Production (May 6 – 8, 2016), and two women of Broadway in concert: Megan Hilty in Concert on Sept. 24, and Lea Salonga on April 1, 2016. Other highlights include two concerts by John Pizzarelli celebrating the Frank Sinatra centennial: Dear Mr. Sinatra: A Swinging Centennial with Monica Mancini and Cheyenne Jackson on Dec. 12 and Radio Deluxe: Sinatra and Billie Holiday on April 9, Peter Nero’s brand new Gershwin in Hollywood, and an L.A. Theatre Works evening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula adapted by Charles Morey Oct. 28. For a complete season schedule, visit

FRINGE SPOTLIGHT: POP! The Musical will play the fringe for three performances only beginning June 19. The world premiere musical is written and produced by Geoffrey Rose and Sam Rose (Roze Broze), directed by Barry Pearl, and choreographed by James Tabeek, whose Broadway credits include Mary Poppins, Beauty & The Beast, Wicked and Taboo. Like Grease, POP! is a comedic period piece that celebrates an extraordinary decade in the history of pop music. POP! tells the story of two struggling musicians who, through a twist of fate, suddenly have a chance of getting a song to Madonna at the height of her fame. Brimming with nostalgia and packed with original 80s style pop music, the score, book and lyrics are a love letter to one of music’s most remarkable decades. Starring Joshua M. Bott, Jenna Coker-Jones, Ben D. Goldberg, Douglas Ladnier, Matt Steele, Haviland Stillwell, and Laura L. Thomas. June 19 – 21 at The Hudson Backstage Theatre. Tickets: $22 at

CABARET/CONCERT: The Colony Theatre presents Henry Prego Sings Frank Sinatra as part of the Colony’s 2015 Cabaret Series on June 21 at 7pm. Celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday with the international star of Las Vegas’ “The Rat Back is Back” as he performs the songs of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Frank Sinatra Tribute Singer Henry Prego has become one of the most prominent, in-demand vocalists of today, establishing his place among the finest interpreters of standards and traditional pop music in the nation. His show Henry Prego Sings Frank Sinatra creates a perfect blend of the classics introducing a new generation to this timeless music, while appealing to long-time listeners.

Fraser Entertainment presents An Evening of Classic Broadway starring Eydie Alyson, Bill A. Jones, Ashley Fox Linton, MaryJo Mundy, Kevin Odekirk, Patricia Whiteman and Ali Stroker, with host and musical director Brad Ellis, June 16. Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz.

Celebrate the 4th of July with an Old-Fashioned Barn Dance and Barbeque at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, Saturday, July 4 from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. Activities include live music, a barn dance with renowned multi-instrumentalist and traditional dance caller Evo Bluestein (1pm and 3pm.), children’s games, a pie-eating contest, watermelon seed-spitting contest, cake walk, horseshoes, relay races, dunk bucket and more. Barbeque and fixin’s, beer and wine available for purchase. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga CA 90290.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: Deaf West's Spring Awakening Continues to Break Open Hearts

Sandra Mae Frank as Wendla and Austin Melchior
Photos by Kevin Parry

The original mounting of Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening at Inner City Arts last fall was, hands down, my favorite production of 2014. When it was announced that it would transfer to The Wallis this spring, I was thrilled that its life would continue – both for the cast and creatives who had worked so diligently on it, and also for the many more people who would now have an opportunity to witness their amazing work. 

Happily, after seeing it opening night, I can say that this is one musical theatre reinvention that makes the leap with all its grace and beauty intact. Most of the actors are part of the original company, with the addition of Broadway’s Krysta Rodriguez and Andy Mientus stepping in for Lauren Patten (now covering roles in Fun Home on Broadway) and Joseph Haro (currently shooting a film). Both have played their roles before; Rodriguez as the standby for Ilse on Broadway and Mientus as Hanschen on the First National Tour. Each brings new depth to an already devastating story in a production that breaks open the heart in more places than you can count.

It is adapted for The Wallis’ larger stage by designers who have held to the integrity of the vision while enlarging the scale to reach to the balcony and beyond. There are some surprises in Dane Laffrey’s scenic design that are an absolute delight and Ben Stanton’s lighting shadows and splinters as the characters’ lives slowly unravel, enhanced by Lucy Mackinnon’s vivid projections that intensify the action.

So much of what I felt the first time around continues to be true now so I have reprinted my original review below. If it is possible, I am more in love with this company than ever. Delicate, poetic, and brutally honest in delivering its message, this is one for the books. Go. Get your tickets and just go.

Daniel N. Durant (Moritz) and Krysta Rodriguez (Ilse)

May 21 – June 7, 2015
Deaf West Theatre at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts 
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 
Tickets: $19 - $99
(310) 746-4000 or
Special seating is available for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

*    *    *    *    *    *
Review: Deaf West and Michael Arden Discover a New SPRING AWAKENING

September 15, 2014
Director Michael Arden gives the word discovery new meaning in a spectacular production of Steven Sater (book & lyrics) and Duncan Sheik’s (music) Spring Awakening based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play. Arden, who has had a long partnership with Deaf West that goes back to Big River, which played in LA and on Broadway, stages the controversial musical in a triangular black box at the Inner City Arts complex in downtown Los Angeles. 

In it, deaf and hearing actors and musicians work together to tell the story of a group of teens whose transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the sexual awakening they go through, is made even more difficult by the very parents and teachers in whose care they are entrusted. Unwilling, or unable, to communicate with the youths, they deny them what they so desperately need – love, answers, protection – and in the end, everyone suffers the consequences. It deals with topics that are as important today, and often as difficult to discuss, as they were in 1891, such as rape, incest, masturbation, teen suicide, and abortion. And with this casting, it also comments on the gap between hearing parents and deaf children, who face yet another level of difficulty in communicating.

Arden’s gift for knowing how to express the emotion in a scene or a song begins with his sensational casting. What is so terrific about these partnerships is how beautifully they come together to create rich characters that literally spring to multi-dimensional life. Wendla, a deaf actor played by Sandra Mae Frank, is partnered with a hearing actor, Katie Boeck, who speaks and sings her songs, and plays acoustic guitar. Daniel N. Durant, another deaf actor, plays Moritz, with Rustin Cole Sailors voicing his role and also playing electric guitar. The partners often interact and consult with each other as scenes unfold and never is there a moment when the speaking actor’s eyes aren’t riveted on his or her deaf counterpart, which makes everything so much more sensual.

Together, Frank’s innocent earnestness, and the sweetness and simplicity of Boecks singing voice, create a character that is instantly sympathetic. Their pain becomes the audience’s pain and we feel for them from their first hypnotic moments on opposite sides of a bottomless mirror. Likewise does Sailors bring an edgy raw vulnerability to Durant’s Moritz in a pairing that is poignant beyond words. One word – failed – flashes on the walls growing larger and larger until it finally takes over his life. It is a black and white world that surrounds these characters, down to the chalk boxes drawn on the floor which limit their playing area and then are swept away in Act II when all the lines start to blur, and to see it in the design metaphorically expressed is chilling. Arden’s staging of Moritz’s last act is unlike any production of Spring Awakening I’ve ever seen and flips the situation into something beautiful and wholly unexpected, even if you know what turn the story takes.

And it continues all the way down the line. Martha’s song, one of the best of the lot, gave me chills. Kathryn Gallagher’s voice has an underground coffeehouse feel to it, the kind that lets out heartbreak a little at a time, and the connection between her poignant onstage character, Treshelle Edmond, and Gallagher singing from the faraway stairs, was mesmerizing. Daniel David Stewart plays piano and voices the role of Ernst as Joshua Castille brings to life the naïve young man who eventually gives in to Hanschen’s (Joseph Haro) advances. More sublime moments as Arden insinuates a ménage à trois between them. 

In every case, Arden chooses a voice that completes the onstage character in a unique and compelling manner. Then musical director Jared Stein mixes all of the textures together to create a fresh sound that is immensely satisfying. And while each combination is beautiful and unexpected, it is the deaf actors’ performances that are even more breathtaking.

As the actors sign - passionately, lyrically, and completely open to their emotions - it creates a new kind of choreography; one that is so much a physical part of these characters that it is impossible to imagine the production without it. The need to communicate is fierce.

Spencer Liff also blends the ASL into his choreography with incredibly moving results. A song like “Bitch of Living” is always explosive but Liff combines disciplines for an even bigger punch. During Melchior (Austin McKenzie) and Wendla’s first meeting in the meadow, cast members’ bodies intertwine to form the tree behind them, which stands like a massive statue, intoxicating and voyeuristic in its silent presence behind their sweet, simple scene.

This production is full of sensuality, and not only the sexual kind. Undulating shapes move in waves across the wall to the hypnotic melody of “Touch Me;” Hanschen masturbates while female cast members with their arms threaded through his, sign; and a church procession, complete with the heady smell of incense, encircles Melchior and Wendla in their first sexual encounter in the hay loft. It is the contrast that is so thrillingly provocative.  

A critical turning point happens in the first act when Wendla begs Melchior to beat her with a switch because she’s “never felt anything.” It is a moment that breaks something open in both of them, changing them forever. She may never have felt anything before but you’ll feel everything watching this Spring Awakening.

Lauren Patten makes bold choices in a strong characterization of the wayward Ilse, accompanied by a dusky, warm singing voice that, once again, comes as a wonderful surprise, given her willowy frame. Even Natacha Roi and the deaf/hearing partners of Troy Kotsur and Daniel Marmion, who cover all the mothers, fathers, teachers and authority figures, bring a unique contrasting element to the desperate young people around them. Kotsur says more with a single look than most actors do with all of their senses combined.

Which brings me to young leading man, Austin McKenzie - charismatic, innocently handsome, and blessed with a gorgeous voice - mark my words…Melchior is his first professional role and this young man is going to be a star.  He has that intangible quality, that mysterious something that the stage light loves (which means the camera will too) and that draws the viewer to him naturally. He has “It” and the fact that he can act and sing beautifully is even better. Like I said, Michael Arden gives discovery a new meaning.

It’s pretty obvious that I adored this production, for so many reasons that I hope you will discover for yourself. If you go to the theatre like I do - looking for magic and hoping to be moved - I can recommend no better production than Deaf West’s Spring Awakening.

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MUSICAL NEWS for Sunday, May 31, 2015

MUSICAL NEWS: Original New York cast members, Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback star in the Geffen Playhouse engagement of the Off-Broadway hit Murder for Two May 26 through July 5, 2015 in the intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. Everyone is a suspect in this hilarious musical murder mystery with a twist: one actor investigates the crime, the other plays all of the suspects and they both play the piano! A zany blend of classic musical comedy and madcap mystery, this 90-minute whodunit is a highly theatrical duet loaded with killer laughs. Featuring book and music by Joe Kinosian, book and lyrics by Kellen Blair and direction by Scott Schwartz.

Cabrillo Music Theatre presents Oklahoma! July 17 – 26 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. 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’s artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld directs, joined by choreographer John Charron and musical director Brian Kennedy who conducts the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra. The cast is led by Dan Callaway as Curly, and newcomer Callandra Olivia as Laurey, with Damon Kirsche (Ali Hakim), Dynell Leigh (Aunt Eller), David Gilchrist (Andrew Carnes), Ronald Rezac (Cord Elam), Richard Storrs (Ike Skidmore), Melanie Mockobey (Ado Annie, Cameron Herbst (Will Parker), Claire Adams (Gertie Cummings) and more.

Recorded in Hollywood, the fascinating true story of black businessman, record label owner and music producer John Dolphin, who opened his Dolphin’s of Hollywood record shop in South Los Angeles a decade before Motown, moves to the Hudson Theatre for six additional weeks beginning June 19. Dolphin’s of Hollywood became the most famous record store in the country – perhaps the world – with legendary DJs like Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, Hunter Hancock and Charles Trammel spinning records all night from the front window. Based on the book “Recorded In Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story,” this new musical features a live on-stage band and an ensemble cast of 18 performing 16 original songs plus covers of hit songs launched by Dolphin in his store, including Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” The Penguins’ “Earth Angel” and “Wheel Of Fortune” by The Hollywood Flames.

FRINGE SPOTLIGHT: If you HATE musical theatre, if you LOVE musical theatre, this is the show for you. Stupid Songs is a night of brand new funny songs and parodies that will make you forget we’re all going to die. For a bit. Most of the performers met while training at The Groundlings Comedy Theatre & School, and will be performing original material, plus a few gems from up-and-coming composers. The band members also play regularly for Lost Moon Radio and Thirty Minute Musicals. The Stupid Cast will feature Yael Berkovich, Tad Coughenour, Brant Cox, Sara Cravens, Jason Currie, Carla Delaney, Laura Hughes, Aaron Matijasic, Misty Monroe Clark, Gabriel Oliva, Marissa Shields, Keri Safran, Selyna Warren, Sarah Wolter, and Alex Back, directed by Keri Safran. (Cast subject to change on any given night. Depends on their horoscopes) Stupid Band: Dan Wessels (music director), Eric Kalver (drums), Brenton Kossak (bass). June 8 – 26, 2015 at The Lounge Theatre. Running Time is 70 minutes. Tickets: $12 at

La La La Strada, Proboscis Theater Company’s second ground-breaking production, is a carnival-esque diversion starring six actors, a musician and a puppet that explores the making of Federico Fellini’s 1953 masterpiece La Strada, a beautiful and heartbreaking film about a brutish circus strong man and his naive assistant Gelsomina. The character of Fellini will be portrayed by a Bunraku style puppet. We see him first walking the tight rope, beguiling the audience with fantastical stories about his life, his art and the golden age of modernist Italian cinema. He extolls the virtues of being an auteur and takes for granted the privileges of his own genius. He boasts about reducing his actors to mere puppets and how they love him for it. But while he attempts to direct his actors they begin to challenge him. Especially Giulietta, his wife. They question his artistic process and admonish him for abandoning his principles. They call him a misogynist, an opportunist and he is forced to defend his obsessions and his right to project his own dreams on the big screen, to objectify and sexualize his female actors, to exalt the grotesque and estrange the normal. As Fellini’s crisis comes to a climax, the audience must face their own prejudices about art, beauty and personal expression.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Fringe Spotlight Part II

ASSISTANTS THE MUSICAL: Hollywood gets the Broadway treatment in the world premiere of Assistants The Musical, written by Bryan Blaskie and Manny Hagopian. “This is a close and personal show for me,” says Blaskie, who is returning to the Fringe after last year’s sold-out run of Victorian Courting & Zombies. “When I came to Los Angeles to start my career in entertainment, I had no idea what kind of world I was getting into or what kinds of characters I would meet along the way.” Hagopians show Tonya Harding: the Musical ran for five months at Upright Citizens Brigade, where it just underwent an expansion for a re-mounting this summer. “I come from comedy first. I love making people laugh. And I love a good tune!” Assistants is a love letter to Hollywood; to both those in and out of the limelight. It is a play about the definition of success, finding your footing in a world of endless competition, the process of “making it,” and heartfelt dreams. Today, social media and online press are more important than ever, and these characters struggle to find a sense of self amidst the late night mixers and constant “selfies.” C. Ryanne Domingues directs a cast that includes Ali Axelrad, Christopher Renfro, Abigail Eiland, and Daniel Amerman. June 6 – 28, 2015 at The Actors Company (Let Live Theater).

FUGITIVE SONGS: 2cents Theatre presents the west coast premiere of Fugitive Songs, music by Chris Miller & lyrics by Nathan Tysen (Upcoming Broadway production of Tuck Everlasting, The Burnt Part Boys), musical direction by Joshua Kranz and directed by Kristen Boulé. This innovative half-musical/half-hootenanny finds hope and beauty in what is past and what lies ahead. Blending traditional folk music with contemporary pop and gospel, Fugitive Songs offers a new sound for a restless America as it follows six troubled wanderers through their unique journeys across America. Matt is in and out of trouble, and finally seeking help. But a broken past keeps driving him deeper… Barrett, unable to handle a choice she’s made, runs away, into the mountains. Gavin runs, leaving a lifetime of struggle. But the further he gets from where he’s running from, the more his path points towards home. Joshua drowns his sorrows as he longs to escape his disillusioned life in NYC, and to Shine. Alysha spends her life ignoring home, until home is turned upside down. Karen can no longer be who she’s told… it’s time for daddy’s little girl to get a little lost, so she can be found. The cast includes Tiffany Asta, Dedrick Bonner, Katy Harvey, Jessica J’aime, Michael Levine, and Juan Lozano and features a live 5-piece acoustic band and a totally immersive experience. June 5 – 28, 2015 at Three Clubs. Tickets: $18.00 at

SHAKESPEARE’S LAST NIGHT OUT (OR “WHAT? YOU, WILL??”): Legend has it that Shakespeare died after a night of drinking. This is that night. Orgasmico Theatre Company follows up its previous Fringe successes, Exorcistic: The Rock Musical Parody Experiment and Doomsday Cabaret, with a one-man tavern musical in which the Bard of Avon (played by Michael Shaw Fisher) sings in defense of his authorship. On the eve of his death, an ailing Shakespeare is out drinking when he has a prophetic vision that his authorship will be contested in the future. Thus, he sets out to stake his claim once and for all. Raise your cups with Will as he takes his last audience through the tale of his life with a series of tavern songs, ranging from bawdy to heartbreaking. Backed by his Muses (Alistair Cooper on guitar and Allison Sulock on dulcimer, recorder, ukulele, and percussion), Will recreates the unknown events and eccentric characters that shaped his life and inspired his work. Featuring book, music, and lyrics by Michael Shaw Fisher and direction by Jeff Sumner. June 7 – 27, 2015 at Three Clubs. Tickets: $12 at or call (415) 994-4760.

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