Thursday, February 11, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Thursday, February 11, 2016

3-D Theatricals leads the news this week with a major announcement. After a 3-year residency at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, they will be moving to the Cerritos Performing Arts Center as the new resident theater company for CCPA’s Broadway Series. The transition takes place this fall following the completion of their current 3-show season at Plummer Auditorium (Beauty and the Beast, The Full Monty, Hello, Dolly!). Features of the new space include excellent acoustics and sound equipment, free parking, and other improved amenities. We can’t wait to see what they program in their first year in this beautiful theater. www.3dtshows.com

The Old Globe in San Diego is gearing up for a highly-anticipated world premiere musical. This one is by the singularly wonderful team of composer & lyricist Michael John LaChiusa (The Wild Party, Giant) and book writer Sybille Pearson (Giant). Rain is based on the short story of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham and will run March 24 – May 31 (opening night 4/1). Another first, artistic director Barry Edelstein makes his musical directing debut with this production.

Somerset Maugham’s classic story of the explosive nature of repressed desire was adapted as a movie three times, his iconic character Sadie Thompson played successively by Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth. Now Eden Espinosa steps into the role. The year is 1924, the setting a boarding hotel on the island of Western Samoa, where a missionary, a doctor, and their wives are scandalized by Sadie’s arrival, particularly when they learn what she does for a living. But the missionary has secrets of his own, and when he tries to shut down Sadie’s business and save her soul, more heats up than the South Pacific sun. Tickets are currently available by subscription and will go on sale to the general public on Feb 19 at noon. www.theoldglobe.org

The world premiere of another new musical begins its run at NoHo Arts Center on March 11. Spies Are Forever is by the Tin Can Brothers (Corey Lubowich, Joey Richter and Brian Rosenthal – book) and TalkFine (Clark Baxstresser and Pierce Siebers – music & lyrics). Curt Mega, America’s greatest superspy, takes on a dangerous mission in 1959 which causes the death of his British counterpart and best friend, plunging him into an alcoholic decline. Four years later, Mega has a chance to redeem himself by joining forces with a beautiful femme fatale Russian spy for another dangerous assignment. Corey Lubowich directs a cast that stars Curt Mega as superspy Curt Mega, Al Fallick, Lauren Lopez, Tessa Netting, Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, Joseph Walker, and Mary Kate Wiles. Choreography is by Lauren Lopez. SpiesareForever.diamonds

The Falcon Theatre and Roger Bean Productions present The Real Housewives of Toluca Lake: The Musical, March 23 – April 24. Book, music & lyrics are by Molly Bell and the production is directed by Roger Bean with choreography by Roger Castellano and musical direction by Kyle de Tarnowsky. These wives have it all…or so it seems. Scandalous surprises and bitter betrayals mix with a healthy dose of Pinot Grigio and pharmaceuticals to create a hilarious romp inspired by America’s not-so-secret guilty pleasure. Starring Anita Barone, Jenna Coker-Jones, Cynthia Ferrer, Marc Ginsburg, Meredith Patterson, and Adrienne Visnic. www.falcontheatre.com

The Colony Theatre will host a one-night-only fundraising event on Saturday, March 5 at 8pm, An Evening with Fritz Coleman. Beloved Los Angeles weatherman Fritz Coleman proves that “getting old isn’t pretty but it sure is funny”, in this solo show that has played to rave reviews. Offering a hilarious glimpse into one man’s journey from childhood into “old age”, Coleman shares his opinions on everything from aging, health issues, and hospitals to family, religion, and dating. Tickets start at $40 and may be purchased www.colonytheatre.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006 or online at. The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank. Parking is free.

Sierra Madre Playhouse will present Adyran Russ and Doug Haverty’s Inside Out as part of its Off The Page series of staged readings on Wednesday, Feb 17.  The musical recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a run at GTC Burbank in 2015. This reading will feature Sandy Bainum, Jill Marie Burke, Cynthia Ferrer, Stephanie Fredericks, Dana Meller, Leslie Stevens, and Adrienne Visnic directed by Bruce Kimmel. In this funny and feel-good musical, five women in a 1980’s therapy group find their lives transformed when a hesitant new member joins their weekly sessions and becomes a catalyst for change. Admission is free, but tax-deductible donations to the Playhouse are accepted. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org


Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks announces its 2016-2017 season which will include three shows in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Kavli Theatre (Evita, Sister Act and Peter Pan) and one in the more intimate Scherr Forum (Tarzan). “This might be the most exciting season we’ve ever put together!” says Cabrillo’s artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld. A post-show discussion with cast and staff follows the first Saturday matinee of each production, and a signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will take place on the second Friday night of each production. New season memberships will be available at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office or by calling Member Services at (805) 449-2775, beginning March 31st. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

First Look: DOGFIGHT at Chance Theater

Jonathan Rosario, Andrew Puente, Joseph Ott and James McHale.
All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

Chance Theater presents the Los Angeles and Orange County premiere of Dogfight. Book by Peter Duchan, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed by Matthew McCray, music direction by Taylor Stephenson, and choreographed by Angeline Mirenda. In this 2013 Lucille Lortel Outstanding Musical Award winner, a plain young woman not accustomed to men’s attention is approached by a young Marine the night before he ships out for Vietnam. Little does she know why he’s really invited her to a party, and little does he know that this “common girl” is going to change him in ways he could never imagine. Tickets: www.chancetheater.com

Ashley Arlene Nelson and Andrew Puente

Jonathan Rosario, John Wells III, James McHale and Andrew Puente

Kim Dalton and James McHale

Andrew Puente, Jonathan Rosario and James McHale

Andrew Puente and Ashley Arlene Nelson

Kim Dalton and Ashley Arlene Nelson

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Friday, January 29, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Friday January 29, 2016


Want to see inside the historic movie palaces in downtown LA for free? Head over to Broadway on Saturday, Jan. 30 for Bringing Back Broadway, a free event (5 – 11pm) led by Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar. It’s part of a revitalization plan for the Historic Broadway corridor meant to encourage historic preservation, provide economic development, and bring new life to historic theaters like the Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre, the Palace, the Orpheum, the Tower, the Globe, and the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Performances of all kinds will take place inside and outside on the street, with Broadway closed to traffic. Many area restaurants will also be offering discounts. For more information, go to http://nightonbroadway.la/.

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and
Lin-Manuel Miranda in the original Broadway Cast of Hamilton.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

There has been a lot of exciting news from the Hollywood Pantages Theatre this week as they announce their 2016-17 season – mainly because the current darling of Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is coming (Aug. 11 – Dec. 20, 2017). The season opens with Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Nov. 1 – 27, 2016), followed by the Lincoln Center production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I (Dec.13, 2016 – Jan. 21, 2017), Finding Neverland (Feb. 21 – March 12, 2017), An American in Paris (March 22 – April 9, 2017), The Bodyguard starring Deborah Cox (May 2 – 21, 2017), and the return of The Book of Mormon (May 30 – July 9, 2017).

Up next for the Hollywood Pantages is Dirty Dancing, based on the classic movie starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, which runs Feb. 2 – 21. www.HollywoodPantages.com

Celebrate Black History Month at Chromolume Theatre with the world premiere of Prez, a play with music about jazz legend Lester Young, written by Willard Manus, directed by Daniel Edward Keough and starring Leslie A. Jones (Feb. 5 – 28). Lester Young was a unique jazzman whose deceptively simple style – laid back, low key, relaxed yet earthy and swinging – brought him fame, first with the Count Basie Orchestra, then with the likes of Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Teddy Wilson, and his best friend and alter ego, Billie Holiday. Born in the Jim Crow south to a showbiz family, Young was a non-conformist who fought against racism and intolerance all his life, climaxed by his battle against the segregated army in WW II, an experience that affected his attitude toward life but not his playing, which never lost its creative spirit. Tickets are available at www.crtheatre.com/prez.html. For 30% off enter the code PZ30.

Musical Theatre Guild presents on a one-night-only concert reading of A Class Act at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale on Sunday, Feb. 21(7pm). Loosely based on the life of A Chorus Line composer/lyricist Edward Kleban, it stars Joshua Finkel as Kleban along with Melissa Fahn, Zachary Ford, Julie Garnye, John Massey, Jeffrey Christopher Todd, Melody Butiu and Monica Quinn directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera with musical direction by Brent Crayon. Choreography is by original A Chorus Line cast member Kay Cole. www.musicaltheatreguild.com

Four exciting new original musical works have been chosen for the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop, a co-partnership with DreamWorks and The Wallis that will be presented at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Feb 16 – 18. During the three-day event, selected composers and lyricists will present their original works-in-progress for professional critique with accompanying expert panel discussions composed of prominent musical theatre producers, directors, performers and composers. A special Musical Theater Songwriting Master Class with ASCAP Workshop Artistic Director Stephen Schwartz will conclude the workshop on Thurs., Feb. 18. Tickets for the workshop are FREE and open to the public. For reservations call 310-746-4000 or go to www.thewallis.org. The musicals to be presented are:

Joe Schmoe Saves The World: Book, Music & Lyrics by Brett Rybeck
Set amidst the 2011 Arab Spring, the musical tells the parallel stories of an indie rock duo in America and a pair of Iranian students in Tehran. Raging against conformity, fear and the status quo, the two young women at the center risk everything in an attempt to change the world through their art (25 min). Tuesday, February 16 at 7:30pm.

Gold Mountain: Book, Music & Lyrics by Jason Ma
Set against the backdrop of a key moment in California and America’s history, the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, Gold Mountain celebrates the striving immigrant spirit, the redemptive power of love and the ultimate nobility of self-sacrifice (25 min). Tuesday, February 16 at 7:30pm.

Comic-Con the Musical: Book by Nicholas David Brandt, Music & Lyrics by Laura Watkins
The lives of three Comic-Con attendees change forever when a film icon pulls a ‘Willy Wonka’ and offers to make one special person’s dream come true. Of course, they also have to contend with an egotistical idea thief, a run on nachos, and oh yeah, actual aliens. What did you expect from Comic-Con the Musical? (25 min). Wednesday, February 17 at 7:30pm.

Legendale: Book & Lyrics by Jeff Bienstock, Music by Andrea Daly
Legendale is an original, contemporary comedy about the power of fantasy. Andy’s favorite way to escape his humdrum life is the online game “Legendale.” He dreams of victory in the game’s tournament, but is stuck competing as a lowly milkmaid. When the fantasy becomes real, Andy and his avatar must both discover their inner warrior. Legendale blends romance, adventure and virtual reality with a pop-infused score (25 min). Wednesday, February 17 at 7:30pm.

A Jewish-American reporter in Japan uncovers a conspiracy to cover up the government-sanctioned sale of HIV-contaminated blood products in a new political thriller with music inspired by true events. Written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, the world premiere of BLOOD, based on the real-life “Japanese Tainted Blood Scandal,” will play The Complex in Hollywood (Feb. 26 – April 3). Original music and songs are by “The Virgins” bassist Nick Ackerman and “Jet” drummer/vocalist Chris Cester, BLOOD marks the debut production of L.A.’s newest theater company, The Garage. The cast includes Gena Shaw, Sohee Park, Takuma Anzai, and Kazumi Aihara, Toshi Toda, Miho Ando, Saki Miata and others. www.plays411.com/blood.

Ciarán McCarthy will star as Billy Bigelow in the Barn Stage Company and Temecula Presents’ Carousel in Concert March 3, 5 & 6, directed by J. Scott Lapp. Accompanied by the Temecula Valley Symphony’s 32 piece orchestra, the concert will take place at Old Town Temecula Community Theater in Old Town Temecula. Musical direction is by John Mario Di Costanzo and choreography is by Gary Iversen. Also featured in the cast are Heather Lundstedt O’Neill (Julie Jordan), Emily Lopez (Carrie Pipperidge), Jason Webb (Enoch Snow), and Vonetta Mixson (Nettie Fowler), with Tracy Ray Reynolds, John Campbell, James C. Mulligan, Grandison M. Phelps III, Randy Ingram, Miranda Rose, Jonathan Sharp, Nicholas Alexander, Jerry Alexander III, Courtney Daniels, Johnny Fletcher, Ally Lawton, Luke Monday, Maureen Russell, Emily Chelsea, Leif Corbeil, Karin Gittins, Jack Taylor French, Lori Eve Marinacci and Ethan Park. www.TheBarnStageCompany.com or www.TemeculaTheater.org.

San Diego Musical Theatre is holding AEA and non-AEA auditions for 42nd Street directed by James Vasquez on March 6 & 7. All roles are open. For information and how to schedule an audition, go to  www.sdmt.org/auditions. Show runs May 27 – June 12, 2016.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: EMPIRE THE MUSICAL Aims for the Sky

Kevin Earley (far left) and Stephanie Gibson (center) with the workers.
All photos by Michael Lamont

Empire the Musical has been knocking around in the wings ever since Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull began writing it in 1999. Its first fully-staged production took place at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood in 2003 and it has had periodic readings through the years in both Los Angeles and New York. Now the story of how the Empire State Building came to be is enjoying a lavish pre-Broadway run at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, produced in partnership with McCoy Rigby Entertainment, Sue Vaccaro, Ricky Stevens and The Rivet Gang. 

A splashy 1920’s Charleston opening to “Heydey” sets the tone of director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s determinedly optimistic production as it follows the 14-month task of building the tallest skyscraper in New York. By taking the obligatory dance style of the period and reinventing its character with unique moves Dodge ratchets up the energy from the very beginning and then spins it to capture the fading spirit of the Great Depression. 

Each subsequent number builds upon her vision in inventive ways, from highlighting the winking vaudevillian duo of ex-governor Al Smith (Michael McCormick) and financier John J. Raskob (Tony Sheldon) in “Moxie,” to showcasing can-do girl Frankie’s (Stephanie Gibson) secret to getting results in “Patch in Pittsburgh,” to featuring construction workers dancing up on steel beams to impress the ladies below in a muscularly athletic “Lunch Time” showstopper.

Kevin Early, Tony Sheldon, Michael McCormick and Stephanie Gibson

Equally as impressive are the intimate moments such as Irish immigrants Ethan (Caleb Shaw) and Emily O’Dowd (Katharine McDonough) sharing a wistful vision of the future in “Castles in the Air” and architect Michael Shaw’s (Kevin Earley) idealistic ‘want’ song, “Man of Destiny.” Earley is an appealing leading man whose chemistry with Gibson is reminiscent of the old screwball comedies starring Gable and Lombard or Hepburn and Tracy. The rapid-fire repartee between this reluctant romantic pair speeds along in true 1930’s fashion even when the storytelling makes leaps that don’t always track. 

Empire is an effervescent homage to a time when the girl Friday had gumption, the dreamers had vision, and everyone came together to make the impossible possible.

The crowning glory of the musical is, of course, the method by which the cast builds the building on stage. Co-projection designers Brad Peterson and David Gallo (who also designed the striking set) give life to the towering construction process, and New York itself, by using vintage black and white moving images that are both breathtaking and a marvel of shifting perspectives. 

Computer-generated steel beams swing into place “pulled down” by flesh-and-blood workers while projected store fronts and brownstones become larger and smaller to accompany a virtual walk through the city. The technical effects are quite beautiful in the way they communicate the grittiness of the surroundings and the images are so convincing you feel you could reach out and touch them. As a living, breathing presence it is unparalleled in its scope.

Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design adds to the brilliant three-dimensional illusion with hard edges, floating squares, and shadows that pop against the squared edges of Gallo’s platforms and decks.

But when the story’s focus switches from the building to Frankie getting fired after an accident on the construction site and a mysterious worker named Bill Johnson, we lose the momentum gained in the first half of the show and it never quite recovers its stride.

The hardships of the immigrants and Mohawk workers who gave their blood, sweat – and in some cases, their lives – to raise the iconic structure are lightly touched on but the full measure of danger is never really a tangible presence. More practical than poetic, they stand for the many that believed in a dream but needed the paycheck and were willing to put their lives at risk to earn a living in the dark days following the Depression. How much richer might Empire be if the underbelly of such a venture could be explored in greater detail? Then the contrast between its energetic ‘let’s raise the triumphant American spirit’ and the sobering reality of what it cost would give this story an even truer picture of the grit and guts that went into the making of a landmark.

One final musical note - La Mirada Theatres orchestra, led by music director Sariva Goetz, has never sounded better than they do here playing Michael Starobins cheeky arrangements. His charts are full of bright, jazz-infused novelty accents that lend a unique character to even the most contemporary pop songs in the show. You’ll hear a great mix of old and new, plus a few surprises if you keep your ear attuned.

Kevin Earley (center) and the company of Empire

The company of Empire the Musical

Kevin Earley,Tony Sheldon, Stephanie Gibson (center), Joe Hart, Michael
McCormick and the company of EMPIRE. Photos by Michael Lamont


Caleb Shaw and Katharine McDonough

EMPIRE THE MUSICAL
Jan 22 – Feb 14, 2016
La Mirada Theatre
14900 La Mirada Blvd.
La Mirada, CA 90638
Tickets: (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com
Parking is free

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: MY SISTER - a Compelling Story Transfers to the Odyssey

Emily Hinkler and Elizabeth Hinkler
Photos by Enci Box

Janet Schlapkohl’s play with songs, My Sister, began as a vehicle for twin sisters Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler while they were attending the University of Iowa where Schlapkohl was an adjunct professor. Since then, it has received a number of developmental runs, most recently one that garnered it “The DUENDE Distinction” sponsored by The Vagrancy for “irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical” at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

Now it plays the Odyssey Theatre in what is being described as an expanded production directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story. Not having seen it at the fringe, I can’t speak to how the story has been expanded, other than to say it now runs 95 minutes without intermission, up from its original 65 minutes.

Adding half an hour’s worth of material is a significant leap in the way a play tells its story and it is a process that requires careful consideration. While My Sister certainly has merit, in this version it also suffers from redundancy.

The Hinklers play twin sisters Magda (Emily) and Matilde (Elizabeth) who move to Berlin in search of a dream. By day, Magda is a hospital worker but, by night, she performs in a lesbian club with material written by her sister. Politically-minded Matilde, who also has cerebral palsy, spends her days in their apartment listening to the radio and devising new stories and jokes for the act she knows will make her sister famous.

It would seem to be a perfect scenario for two young women looking to spread their wings and make something of themselves in the world. But this is 1930’s Germany at the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party and a dangerous time to be different. As the chaos around them surges, it becomes more and more difficult to keep reality from knocking on their door. 

A shadowy prologue reminiscent of Sondheim’s Follies sets up an intriguing air of mystery which pays off nicely in the epilogue but Magda’s club act can’t help but be compared to another musical theatre classic, Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. This one is a pale imitation that feels forced, complete with a canned laugh track that blasts intrusively.

Remaining scenes all take place in the sisters’ apartment when Magda comes home to change clothes between jobs. She tells Matilde about hospital business, repeats her performance for her sister, and leaves for her next job. Tilde writes and listens to the radio. Outside the conflict escalates. Rinse, repeat.

By the time the crisis comes to a head, we know where the story is going. Unfortunately, its climactic moment happens off stage and, like almost everything else in the play, we are left to hear about it after the fact.

The addition of a threadbare set design by Pete Hickok adds authenticity to time and place as do fraying period costumes by Audrey Eisner. But taking the play out of a smaller fringe venue and putting it on a larger stage means the playwright must keep the story compelling, especially if she is adding 30 minutes of dialogue and action. At the moment, scenes are largely repetitive and the actors are working harder than they should to tell this story, which still feels like a senior class project.

Few moments are as poignantly effective as the one in which Emily silently exercises her sister’s atrophying muscles. The emotional core of the piece lies in their bond. And, while the real-life sisters share a bright future ahead, the play itself could look to its past for help in the editing department.



MY SISTER
January 16 - March 6, 2016

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
Tickets: (310) 477-2055 x 2 or www.odysseytheatre.com

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

MUSICAL NEWS for Thursday, January 14, 2016

Check out all the latest Musical News in Southern California and get ready to see some great shows!

Marcia Milgrom Dodge will direct and choreograph Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull’s Empire the Musical in its pre-Broadway engagement at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Previews begin Jan 22 and the show will run through Valentine’s Day. Empire is an original musical about those who bravely embodied the American spirit during the dark days of the Great Depression by building what was then the tallest structure in the world, the Empire State Building. It is a celebration of the American spirit with big dance numbers, pop-driven melodies, and captivating spectacle that puts a contemporary spin on the classic musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The cast includes Michael Baxter, Chassey Bennett, Tommy Bracco, Ricky Bulda, Juan Caballer, Caitlyn Calfas, Kevin Earley, Fatima El-Bashir, Tory Freeth, Stephanie Gibson, Joe Hart, Charlotte Maltby, Tony Sheldon, Michael McCormick, Katharine McDonough, Gabriel Navarro, Rachel Osting, Caleb Shaw, Cooper Stanton, Michael Starr, Christine Tucker, Rodrigo Varandas, Josh Walden and Justin Michael Wilcox. www.lamiradatheatre.com

Ryan Scott Oliver’s song cycle 35MM: A Musical Exhibition will get a 4-week run at the Dorie Theatre at The Complex beginning Feb 25. The show is based on photographs by Matthew Murphy with music & lyrics by Oliver and is a collection of ‘snapshot stories’ woven together with each of the original songs performed in combination with immersive projections of the photography that inspired it. Produced by The Unknown Artists, its cast includes Jeff Scot Carey, Cody Clark, Emily Clark, Vincent Perez, Dana Shaw, and Katherine Washington.  ua35mm.eventbrite.com

An expanded version of the Hollywood Fringe hit My Sister will play the Odyssey Theatre beginning January 16. Ron Sossi and Paul David Story co-direct identical twins Elizabeth Hinkler and Emily Hinkler in Janet Schlapkohl’s poignant tale of two sisters in pre-war Germany. “Elizabeth and Emily are talented, charming and extremely charismatic,” says Sossi who was so taken at the Fringe that he wanted to mount a full production. “This new version features additional cabaret sequences, songs and humor, and delves more deeply into the characters.” Original music is by Christopher Gene Okiishi, with lyrics by Janet Schlapkohl. Incidental music is by Barbara Rottman, who accompanies live during performances, and choreography is by Maureen Robinson. www.odysseytheatre.com

International City Theatre opens its 2016 season with a recently updated version of Maltby & Shire’s Closer Than Ever directed by Todd Nielsen opening Feb 12 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The musical “how-to” manual for life features two dozen wise and witty “songs of experience” with charming melodies and smartly crafted lyrics. “This is such a personal and human piece,” says Nielsen. “It’s all about who we are – where we’ve come from, what we’re going through and what’s still to come. Doors, opportunities and ‘what ifs.’ Hopes, regrets, musings… I’ve always wanted to direct it, and am thrilled to be doing it at ICT.” Musical direction is by Gerald Sternbach and the cast includes Kevin Bailey, Valerie Perri, Adam von Almen and Katheryne Penny. ictlongbeach.org

Direct from a critically acclaimed off-Broadway run, HAM: A Musical Memoir will make its west coast debut at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre with previews beginning January 21. Based on Sam Harris’s book HAM: Slices of a Life and starring original Star Search winner Harris, it takes the audience from a conflicted childhood in Bible-Belt Oklahoma to the dizzying roller coaster ride of a life in show business to the fulfillment of the impossible dream of fatherhood, culminating in the lessons of a life well lived. Well . . . lived. Directed by Tony Award-winner Billy Porter and featuring musical direction by Todd Schroeder. lalgbtcenter.org/theatre

Previews begin Feb 5 for Chance Theater’s production of Dogfight directed by Matthew McCray, featuring music & lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Smash, A Christmas Story) and book by Peter Duchan. “It’s the beautiful story of a Vietnam vet returning home to San Francisco where on the eve of his departure he met a woman that he never stopped thinking about,” says McCray, who makes his Chance debut with this production. “But it’s really about the way a person can change and the impact of a single individual on another individual if you’re willing to be open to that person. These characters are young people really doing the best that they can and learning who they are as people.” Dogfight stars Andrew Puente, Ashley Arlene Nelson, Jonathan Rosario, James McHale, Kim Dalton and more, with choreography by Angeline Mirenda and musical direction by Bill Strongin. Use code “DINER” for $15 off general admission tickets for performances before Feb 22 (limited availability). www.chancetheater.com 

Musical Theatre West has announced its cast of West Side Story playing Feb 12 – 28 at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts. The show stars Ashley Marie as Maria, Michael Spaziani as Tony, Lauren Boyd as Anita and Cooper Howell as Bernardo, and is directed by Joe Langworth. Musical direction is by David Lamoureux and choreography by Hector Guerrero. Opening weekend is already sold out however an additional performance has been added at 7pm on Feb 28. www.musical.org

3-D Theatricals presents Beauty and the Beast at Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium (Feb 5 – 21) and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center (Feb 26 – 28). Afton Quast will star as Belle with Alexander Mendoza as the Beast and Cameron Bond as Gaston, plus Norman Large (Maurice), Tracy Lore (Mrs. Potts), Joey D’Auria (Cogsworth), Dennis Kyle (Lumiere), Melina Kalomas (Babette), Bree Murphy (Madame de la Grande Bouche), and a company of 21. T.J. Dawson directs, choreography is by Billy Sprague, Jr. and musical director/conductor is Julie Lamoureaux. www.3dtshows.com

Up in Thousand Oaks, Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum makes its Civic Arts Plaza debut January 29 in a Cabrillo Music Theatre production starring Nick Santa Maria as Pseudolus. The slapstick musical comedy with a zany script by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove is directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld and will also star David Ruprecht as Senex, Larry Raben as Hysterium, and Matt Merchant as Miles Gloriosus. Choreography is by John Charron and musical director by Lloyd Cooper. cabrillomusictheatre.com

Pillars of New York is a new musical opening Jan 23 at Write Act Rep that follows the story of four couples and the struggles they have surrounding the events of 9-11. Written by Michael Antin, directed by Jim Blanchette, and featuring musical direction and arrangements by Rob Bowers, the cast of ten includes Eloise Coopersmith, Michael Cortez, Molly Gilman, Julian Goza, Bobby McGlynn, Wayne Moore, Elizabeth Sekora, Suzan Solomon, Marza Warsinske, and Gary Mortimer. Tickets and Info

ZJU’s annual 50 Hour Drive-By Theatre Festival is back for the 15th year Jan 23, 24 & 25 at 8:30 pm. The festival will present four all-new mini-plays written, directed and performed in a speedy 2 days with a live musical score by Kevin Van Cott. Writers: Steven W. Alloway, Vanessa Cate, Colin Mitchell, and John Semper, Jr. – Directors: Amir Khalighi, Roger K. Weiss, Angela Weitzman, and Jana Wimer – Actors: Charlotte Bjornbak, Jason Britt, Jahel Corbán Caldera, Nicole A. Craig, Matthan Harris, Ian Heath, Magnus MacDomhnaill, Gerald McGrory, Sebastian Muñoz, Daniel Palma, Jonica Patella, Danielle Reverman, John Santo, Elif Savas, and Rachel Scorpio. For reservations call 818-202-4120 or go to ZombieJoes.com.

Next up at the Echo Theater Company is the world premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s newest play – a funny, sexy and unconventional romance with music. Jennifer Chambers directs Kate Morgan Chadwick, TW Leshner and Johnathan McClain in BED, opening Feb 6 at Atwater Village Theatre. Witty, raw, racy, spanning 10 years in less than 90 minutes and featuring original songs by Sophocles Papavasilopoulos and Maxwell Gualtieri, BED explores issues of love, abandonment and betrayal. According to Callaghan, this “little bomb of a relationship play” is her most personal work to date. echotheatercompany.com

Theatre of NOTE’s 21st Annual Hollywood Performance Marathon will take place Saturday, January 16 beginning at 3pm and continuing until dawn, at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. The marathon celebrates the company’s twenty-first year with over 50 performers who will donate their time and talent. This highly anticipated local tradition is an all-day-all-night extravaganza of eclectic performances including comedy, pancake juggling, poetry, puppets, performance art, dance, music, monologues and more. Performances by Kirsten Vangsness, Paul Dooley, Bill Brochtrup, John Fleck, Two Headed Dog will be part of the schedule. www.theatreofnote.com

Doc and Stumpy present Banned In Burbank: Uncle Eddy’s Big Time Burlesque, an adult show with exotic dancers, musical acts and baggy pants comic routines Jan 29 & 30 at the Mayflower Club located at 11110 Victory Blvd. (near Vineland) in North Hollywood. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets and Info

The new musical comedy Freaky Friday, book by Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (If/Then, Next to Normal), based on the novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and the Walt Disney motion pictures, has been added to La Jolla Playhouse’s 2016-17 season. It will be directed by artistic director Christopher Ashley and will run January/February 2017. lajollaplayhouse.org

And finally, San Diego Musical Theatre announces its cast of Ragtime which will star Jay Donnell as Coalhouse, Nicole Pryor as Sarah, Carolyn Agan as Mother, Cris O’Bryon as Father, and Louis Pardo as Tateh. It will be directed and choreographed by Paul David Bryant and feature musical direction by Don Le Master. This version of the Flaherty and Ahrens musical will be worth a road trip. www.sdmt.org

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Review: Gangsters, Guns, and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY

Jeff Brooks (center) and the men of Bullets Over Broadway
All photos by Matthew Murphy

Gangsters, gams, and Broadway dreams are the stuff Woody Allen hilariously spoofed in his 1994 film, Bullets Over Broadway, co-written with Douglas McGrath. Full of smart dialogue and zippy one-liners, it scored an Oscar for Dianne Wiest and proved that audiences will always be interested in the backstage antics of the biz, especially when given the Woody Allen treatment.  

It would be another twenty years before Allen would adapt the film for Broadway and though it took its best shot on the Great White Way in 2014, it didn’t do particularly well, running for only five months before closing to mixed reviews.

Now the show is out on the road in a touring production that packs a three-way punch in its sit-down at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre – but not necessarily in the way one might hope.

The cast of Bullets Over Broadway

Sporting Susan Stroman’s Tony Award-nominated choreography (recreated here by Clare Cook), William Ivey Long’s dazzling 1920’s costumes, and a standout performance by Jeff Brooks as thug-turned-dramaturg, Cheech, it does manage to deliver enough of a rousing good time to make it worth the trip. Where it falls short is in the inauthentic and completely over-the-top (not in a good way) campy performances by the majority of its cast.

Granted, that appears to be a directorial choice by Stroman – who also directed the show on Broadway and whose staging is recreated here by Jeff Whiting – however the stereotypes are so shallow that they end up off-putting rather than endearing.

Headstrong young playwright David Shayn (Michael Williams) finally gets his big break on Broadway but must immediately compromise his principles when the backer (Michael Corvino as Nick Valenti) insists that his talentless tart of a girlfriend (Jemma Jane as Olive) be cast. Since he also happens to be a member of the mob, Shayne has little choice but to go along.

As the shrewish Olive pushes to make her part larger, David falls under the spell of egotistical leading lady Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton - right), an aging diva with a drinking problem and a penchant for the melodramatic, causing him to step out on his longtime girlfriend, Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri). Stratton’s singsong vocal pattern too soon becomes tiresome but she looks stunning in Long’s period costumes, quite like an Erté brought to life. DeFlumeri’s mostly thankless part doesn’t give her much opportunity to strut her stuff but for a late in the second act duet with Williams, “I’ve Found a New Baby,” that finally lets her shine. 

Other than DeFlumeri and Brooks, the most engaging stage time belongs to the chorus who breeze through Stroman’s cheeky and delicious dance moves with enough brio to make this Broadway baby bearable. Even Brooks gets his turn on the dance floor with a muscular display of athletics with the men in “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” following a hit. Indeed, that number alone stopped the show on opening night accompanied by well-deserved thunderous applause.

It’s a shame too because with such a high level of pure, unadulterated joy in the musical’s dance numbers this show should have been a real winner.

Rather than write original songs for Bullets Over Broadway, Allen instead opted to use existing songs from the 1920s for his score with musical adaptation and additional parody lyrics by Glen Kelly. The fun is in seeing how Kelly tweaks them to connect moments in the story that result in some unexpected comic twists. “Up a Lazy River” and the aforementioned “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” pull the biggest laughs but there are others that run the gamut from charming to crazy to crass. 

Go for the dancing, the costumes, and the thug and you won’t be disappointed. But whatever you do, steer clear of the canal.


The Red Caps

Michael Williams and Hannah Rose DeFlumeri

Kaylee Olson, Carissa Fiorillo and Elizabeth Dugas
(The Atta- Girls)

Jemma Jane (Olive Neal) and cast


BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
January 5 – 24, 2016
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 1-800-982-2787 or www.HollywoodPantages.com
Official show site: www.bulletsoverbroadwayontour.com  

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