Sunday, March 18, 2018

MUSICAL NEWS - Mark Your Calendars Now

Hamburg Company of Love Never Dies. Photo courtesy of Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Love Never Dies – Hollywood Pantages Theatre
April 3 – 22, 2018
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera begins its North American Tour at the Hollywood Pantages next month. This new production reflects changes made since the Australian premiere in 2011 and is directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical). The year is 1907, ten years after the Phantom escaped from the Paris Opera House and made a new life for himself among the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. With Christine’s marriage to Raoul on the rocks, the Phantom seizes one last opportunity to win back her love with an invitation to perform at a New York Opera House.

L-R: Playwright David Henry Hwang, Conrad Ricamora, Billy Bustamante,
Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, and Francis Jue 

Soft Power – Ahmanson Theatre
May 3 – June 10, 2018
Center Theatre Group has announced the cast for its upcoming world premiere of Soft Power by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics) produced in association with East West Players. Leigh Silverman directs, choreography is by Sam Pinkleton and musical direction is by David O. The title comes from China’s current quest for international cultural influence, known as “Soft Power” and tells the story of a visiting Chinese executive who falls in love with a good-hearted U.S. leader following the 2016 election. The cast includes Billy Bustamante, Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, Francis Jue, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee, Alyse Alan Louis, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Paul HeeSang Miller, Kristen Faith Oei, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Trevor Salter and Emily Stillings.

Blues in the Night – The Wallis
April 27 – May 20, 2018
Yvette Cason stars in Blues in the Night, conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, a production he originally staged in a small Off-Broadway theater in the early 1980s and at Donmar Warehouse in London. Now Epps returns to bring the soul of the blues back to life in The Wallis’ Lovelace Theatre. Joining Cason are Bryce Charles, Paulette Ivory, and Chester Gregory in 26 hot and torchy numbers by the likes of musical icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, and Harold Arlen that fuel the story of three women and the men who have done them wrong. You know it’s the blues so the night is sure to sizzle.

South Pacific – La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
April 20 – May 13, 2018
Glenn Casale will direct Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts this April. John Cudia stars as French plantation owner Emile De Becque and Stephanie Wall as Navy nurse Nellie Forbush in this classic musical theatre masterpiece dealing with romance and racism in the South Pacific during wartime. Musical direction is by Brent Crayon and choreography by Peggy Hickey. The cast also includes Jeff Skowron (Luther), Jodi Kimura (Bloody Mary), Matt Rosell (Lt. Cable), and Hajin Cho (Liat). Prior to its run in La Mirada, it will play four performances at The Soraya in Northridge, April 13 - 15. Tickets: and

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – 5-Star Theatricals
April 20 – 27, 2018
5-Star Theatricals in Thousand Oaks presents The Hunchback of Notre Dame (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Peter Parnell), starring managing director Will North in the title role, at the Kavli Theatre. This gorgeous musical is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel and the Disney film of the same name, and contains some of Menken’s most beautiful music The cast also includes Cassandra Murphy as Esmeralda, Justin Michael Wilcox as Clopin, Gregory North as Frollo, and Adam Hollick as Phoebus. Musical direction is by Dan Redfeld, choreography by Michelle Elkin, and Misti B. Wills directs. A signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will take place on Saturday, April 21 at 2pm, followed by a post-show discussion with the cast and staff.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Your Sunday Recommendation

There are only two more performances left of this poetic flight of fancy but, if you can take the time, I highly recommend you get to The Wallis and see it. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is the theatrical love story of early twentieth century Russian artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella told with a feather-light whimsy and lyrical sophistication that will take your breath away. Marc Antolin stars as Chagall and Daisy Maywood as his wife in this intoxicating production written by Daniel Jamieson, directed by Emma Rice, and produced by Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic. Passionate, and full of thrillingly optimistic theatre magic, it captures the couple’s romance set against a dramatically changing world in a time of war and revolution. The original score performed by composer/musical director Ian Ross and James Gow is light as air and as poignant as Chagall’s own journey. The entire 90 minutes was a lovely surprise. Tickets: 

Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood. All photos by Steve Tanner

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: ALLEGIANCE - A Full Circle Moment for an Important Work

George Takei as Sam Kimura. All photos by Michael Lamont

After nearly nine years, Allegiance has come home to Southern California. The co-production by East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center opened to a sold out crowd on Wednesday night, less than half a mile from the Japanese American National Museum where it had its first reading in 2009.

Additional workshops and readings followed before the production’s world premiere in 2012 at The Old Globe in San Diego. In 2015, it moved to Broadway for a 4-month run, which was filmed and screened in cinemas across the country. Not bad considering most musicals of this size and scale never make it to the finish line.

But Allegiance is special. It has historical significance and the potential to educate generations of Americans about a part of our past we cannot afford to forget. You have only to look around at what is happening in our country today to see how important it is that we remember to bring our better selves to the table and not jump to conclusions when it comes to our fellow man.

The cast of Allegiance

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and FDR’s subsequent signing of Executive Order 9066, approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens were removed from their homes and relocated to government-run internment camps. Allegiance is the story of how one family endures in a country that now views them as the enemy, even though they had nothing to do with the war. It highlights the incredible resilience of the human spirit and its never-ending ability to carry on, make due, and above all, survive.

The musical is a legacy piece for George Takei who was only a child when he and his family were sent to the camps. It was his story that inspired Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione to write Allegiance and for whom they created the central role of Sam Kimura/Ojii-chan. He has played it in all of the previous productions and does so again, with humor and heart, in LA accompanied by several of his Broadway castmates and a capable local cast directed by East West Player’s artistic director, Snehal Desai. The performance style is heightened and dramatic, at times a bit overly so, but the ensemble is sincere in its desire to communicate how deeply this story resonates with them.

L-R: Ethan Le Phong, George Takei, and Elena Wang 

Energetic Ethan Le Phong plays the younger version of Takei’s character, an all American boy full of youthful verve and idealistic optimism. Elena Wang is his sister Kei, sounding like a Disney princess about to get her warrior wings, and Scott Watanabe is their gruff and unwavering father, Tatsuo. Greg Watanabe takes on the controversial role of real-life Japanese Citizens League representative Mike Masaoka who was used by the government to secure cooperation among the camps.

Kuo’s score is full of power ballads and galvanizing anthems that the characters deliver with stirring authority, despite the fact that some of the lyrics are set rather awkwardly to music. The occasional boogie-woogie dance number or delicate Japanese folk melody is interspersed among the more typical musical theatre-sounding songs.

An 11-piece orchestra conducted by musical director Marc Macalintal provides thrilling accompaniment, nowhere more affecting than in the dissonances that underscore conflicting passions. The vocal sound is perennially bright, amplified by an abundance of treble in the sound system that pierces even when it doesn’t need to.

The story, which spans a 60-year time frame, plays out on a sparsely decorated set (scenic design by Se Hyun Oh, lighting by Karyn Lawrence) against a compelling backdrop of grainy black and white historical images, sepia-toned photographs, and full-color projections (by Adam Fleming). Its combined visuals create a starkly dramatic foundation for Allegiance’s underlying human story of family, loyalty, and honor.

Though the story is largely fictional, the historical context is not. It happened. It wasn’t right. It’s up to us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Consider Allegiance a musical reminder that we have a social responsibility to each other, “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Greg Watanabe

Elena Wang

Eymard Cabling, Elena Wang, and George Takei

L-R: Scott Watanabe, George Takei, Jordan Goodsell, Elena Wang, and Ethan Le Phong

Natalie Holt McDonald and Ethan Le Phong

L-R: Miyuki Miyagi, Chad Takeda, Janelle Dote, Eymard Cabling (center) as
Frankie Suzuki, Sharline Liu, Cesar Cipriano, and Grace Yoo

February 21 – April 1, 2018
East West Players at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre
244 S. San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets and Info:

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: Love Comes as a Surprise in DADDY LONG LEGS

Ashley Ruth Jones and Dino Nicandros. Photos by Tracey Roman

It can be a wonderful adventure to watch two people falling in love, particularly when they themselves don’t realize it’s happening. When the adventure takes place on stage – as in John Caird and Paul Gordon’s musical two-hander Daddy Long Legs – the audience has an advantage because they get to see the relationship develop from both points of view. The misunderstandings are more poignant, the coincidences even more delightful. By the time it becomes apparent to the couple in question, we’ve already fallen in love with them and are cheering them on to their eventual conclusion. Add music and the whole emotional journey becomes a romantic dream come true no fairy tale could tell better.

That’s the story of Jerusha Abbott and Jervis Pendleton, the two charming characters in Daddy Long Legs, who easily succeed in working their way into our hearts by the time they arrive at their happy ending. It’s a return to Southern California for the musical, which debuted at the Rubicon Theatre in 2009 as part of its rolling premiere. It then played venues like La Mirada Theatre, The Broad Stage, and Laguna Playhouse (I saw them all) before taking flight to London, New York, and beyond.

Caird’s adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel is an intimate and delicately balanced conversation for two, carried out in letters. She is an 18-year-old orphan with dreams of becoming a writer. He is a trustee of the orphanage who has seen promise in her writing and has decided to send her to college. His terms: they will never meet, she must write him monthly, and he will not write her back.

It’s worked perfectly well for the boys he has previously helped to educate but he finds that Jerusha has a curious effect on him. As she begins to discover a whole world she never imagined, her thoughtful, inquisitive, and often humorous observations break through his self-imposed isolation and reconnect him with the world.

What so impressed me about the musical in the past is how effortlessly it communicated the joy and pain of life by setting up two completely isolated realities - his and hers - and eventually merging the two into one. Their letters are the threads that tie them together with a singular intimacy that is only available because they move in parallel, not intersecting, worlds (until specific plot points deem it necessary).

International City Theatre’s production, directed by Mary Jo DuPrey, takes a different approach. DuPrey sets up the two worlds and then breaches their integrity by having the characters walk into each other’s space. Jervis (Dino Nicandros) watches Jerusha (Ashley Ruth Jones) for long sections of the musical, at times only inches away from her while she’s singing. She dances around him and wanders into his library at will. In one of the most invasive and puzzling moments, she drops a book on his desk for no apparent reason while he is sitting there.

The director’s desire to make the staging theatrically interesting has instead given us actors who are performing for the audience rather than speaking to each other, or to themselves, in the stream of consciousness narrative style Caird has written. It imposes an artificial quality on the piece, particularly since the characters are also not reading or writing letters at all. That in itself is confusing because it is difficult, especially in the beginning, to know whether they are speaking their own thoughts or reading the other person’s.

Nicandros is charming and has a lovely voice but encounters some difficulty with his high notes. Jones gives Jerusha an awkwardness that is endearing in its own sweet way yet it still feels like she is performing rather than carrying on a private conversation. Her most effective moments come when she keeps it simple. Gordon’s articulate and expressive score is full of soaring melodies and graceful lyrics that do much of the actors’ work for them, if they will trust what is written. Musical director Bill Wolfe’s onstage chamber trio (consisting of piano, guitar and cello) creates an elegant ambiance.

Despite its heavy-handed direction, there is much to love in this appealing romance of minds and hearts. If you are coming to the musical for the first time, doubtless you will be swept away as I was originally by its inherent charm.

Feb 21 - March 11, 2018
International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802
Tickets: 562-436-4610 or

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Monday, February 26, 2018

MUSICAL NEWS for Monday, February 26, 2018

The Little Mermaid - Sound Stage Live!
March 15 – 18, 2018
What’s the newest way to experience Disney’s The Little Mermaid? Sound Stage Live’s first-ever immersive musical theatre event combining live actors, projected animations that surround the audience, and a new way to use your mobile device to interact with the show. Directed by Karl Warden and starring Chassey Bennett, the performances are hosted by YouTube sensation Todrick Hall. VIP ticketholders will have the chance to meet Todrick, attend a special Q&A, and get front row seats. In this new format, you’re encouraged to bring your cell phone to the party, rather than put it away. Co-producer Jeff Cason says, “We’re bringing cutting edge technology and storytelling together to put our guests in the middle of the action. Your phone will let you see and hear the fish under the sea, join the musical chorus that get Ariel and Eric to fall in love, and even help Ariel defeat Ursula with the power of the trident.” A red carpet, themed snacks, and games in the lobby start the festivities. The pre-show will feature Todrick Hall’s fan favorite videos of his performances, plus a lip sync battle in which guests can join him onstage at the El Segundo Performing Arts Center to showcase their own talents. Tickets:

Hollywood Revisited – MTG at the Colony Theatre
March 26, 2018
Musical Theatre Guild presents Hollywood Revisited, a one-of-a-kind musical revue, as a benefit to raise funds for its youth outreach programs. The show is an homage to the movies with the cast singing and dancing while wearing the ORIGINAL Hollywood movie costumes worn by legendary stars of the Golden Age. You’ll see costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Julie Andrews, Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Donald O’Connor, Mae West, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and more, all from the collection of curator Greg Schreiner. Greg is director of special collections at the Hollywood Museum and also serves as musical director and narrator for this unique revue. Expect to see MTG members on stage as well as some surprise guests, all directed by Joshua Finkel. Tickets:

WaistWatchers The Musical! – El Portal Theatre
February 28 to March 4, 2018
Alan Jacobson and Vince Di Mura’s WaistWatchers The Musical! follows four forty-something women in their quest to lose weight while managing all the pitfalls of a busy life. The ladies discuss everything from food, diets, and exercise, to friendship, love and sex in much the same spirit as Menopause the Musical. The show takes place inside Miss Cook’s Women’s Gym where the women share their marital pitfalls, body size issues, and a common weakness for sweets. Original music by Vince Di Mura includes songs like “Viagra” and “I Went to the Buffet Line.” Tickets:

L-R: Jennifer Bevans, Spencer Harte, Rio "Soulshocka" Wyles, Rex Lewis-Clack,
August McAdoo, Alan Davis, Patrick Storey, Jonetta Ward, Igor Zaninovich

Lost in the Light – CRE Outreach
April 13 – May 12, 2018
CRE Outreach presents Lost in the Light, a world premiere play by Pelita Dasalla with original songs by Laurie Grant and Chloe Copoloff. This is the company’s inaugural production at its new home, The Blue Door in Culver City. Performed by Theatre by the Blind, the only blind theater company in the country, and musicians with autism from Rex & Friends, it is the story of Angel Taylor, blind since birth, who learns about a rare opportunity to restore her vision through an experimental surgery. As she grapples with the conflicting notions of what is and what might be, the budding journalist must come to terms with a future she never expected. Directed by Greg Shane, the production challenges conventional expectations about the capabilities of individuals who live without sight, who struggle with movement, or who have difficulty understanding the complexities of social interactions. Tickets:

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Captures Rock and Roll History

L-R: John Countryman, Michael Monroe Goodman, Cole, and David Elkins
All photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

3-D Theatricals recreates a pivotal moment in rock and roll history in their latest production, Million Dollar Quartet. It’s the date (December 4, 1956) four legendary musicians – Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash – would all end up at Sun Records in Memphis on the same day and take part in one of the most famous jam sessions of all times.

Carl was there to record a new song Sun Records’ founder Sam Phillips hoped would revitalize his career, with the addition of a young, unknown piano player named Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis dropped by with his girlfriend to get some advice from the man who discovered him, and Johnny, who’d been avoiding Phillips in recent weeks, stopped in for a heart-to-heart while June and kids were out shopping. Get that many artists with a passion for music in their souls together and it’s only a matter of time before they start to jam.

John Countryman, Michael Monroe Goodman, Cole, and David Elkins

Luckily, an engineer rolled tape and captured the foursome shooting the breeze and singing familiar hymns and country songs for the next several hours. It was the one and only time the King of Rockabilly, the Killer, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and the Man in Black would ever play together and that alone makes it one for the books. Dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet by the press in an article about the event, this high-energy musical is a dramatization of that day.

Only a handful of the 22+ songs in the show by creators Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux were actually recorded that afternoon but the stage musical features many of their greatest hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Real Wild Child,” “Matchbox,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” Don’t start to leave during curtain call because some of the best songs take place during the encore in a finale that literally had the audience at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on its feet cheering and bopping to the beat (no small feat in this location).

David Lober recreates Mutrux’s original direction and the production uses many of the official technical elements from the National Tour, including props and guitars, Derek McLane’s original set, and costumes based on Jane Greenwood’s original designs. If you saw Million Dollar Quartet at the Hollywood Pantages in 2012, you’re sure to have a happy moment of déjà vu when the most surprising element of all drops from the ceiling like a gift from the gods.

Omar Brancato, David Lamoureux, Cole, and Zachary Ford

The show is narrated by Zachary Ford as Sam Phillips (albeit with a little too much Barney Fife gusto), who relates how he discovered each of the artists when they were young and poor. In addition to the music, there is drama in the studio as Jerry Lee and Carl clash, and secrets come to light that will affect the future of Sun Records. The four actor/musicians who play the artists in question are immensely talented and all of them have appeared in numerous productions of the show in cities like Las Vegas and Chicago, and around the country on its National Tour. Each steps into his icon’s unique energy and personality like a second skin and all sound eerily like their counterparts.

John Countryman grabs hold of Jerry Lee’s cocksure, showy style and never lets go. Cole has Elvis’s hip-swiveling, swoon worthy moves down to a science, and Michael Monroe Goodman adds a charismatic intensity to Perkins’ guitar picking that shows why musicians are among the sexiest beings on the planet. As Cash, David Elkins is quietly charming and impresses by replicating the singer’s signature bass vocals as few can. When they lay back into effortless 4-part harmony on spirituals like “Down by the Riverside” it is breathtaking. Omar Brancato (as Jay Perkins) on upright bass and David Lamoureux (Fluke) on drums back the headliners with reckless abandon.

Adrienne Visnic
The odd man out is actually a woman, Adrienne Visnic playing Dyanne, an eye candy character based on one of Elvis’ many girlfriends, since no one knew who the real woman at the session was until more recently. Visnic has a lovely voice but oversings her biggest number, “Fever” most famously recorded by Peggy Lee. Shes a young actor playing at being sexy with generic poses and a constant smile that keep her in trivial territory.

But it hardly matters. This show belongs to the boys and this cast is the real deal. Million Dollar Quartet is a rock and roll thrill-ride-a-minute brought to life by four incredible musicians emulating four amazing musical icons. That’s all you really need for success.

John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis

Michael Monroe Goodman as Carl Perkins and David Elkins as Johnny Cash

Feb 9 – 18, 2018
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
Feb 23 - March 4, 2018
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts3-D Theatricals

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: The Brick: A One Man Musical Metamorphosis

Bill Berry. All photos by James F. Dean

In Bill Berry’s solo show The Brick: A One Man Musical, Berry isn’t addressing the audience in a theater. He’s on a beach having a two-way conversation with his dead mother and we are the accidental eavesdroppers who witness their complicated relationship unfold piecemeal. The convention is more akin to a play than a typical solo performance, a smart decision that sidesteps many of the pitfalls solo artists often fall into. It isn’t self-indulgent, doesn’t require that the audience be his scene partner, and lets each person take the journey with him by not establishing a foregone conclusion.

We meet Berry carefully picking his way over the rocks on an unnamed beach. There is a pained determination in his eyes as he lays out his beach towel, places his cooler, and pulls out his guitar. The purpose of his visit is to have a conversation with his mom to decide whether he will speak her name for the last time, at which point she will have experienced her third death.

The idea is part of neuroscientist David Eagleman’s theory of three deaths. The first occurs when a person physically dies, the second when they are buried, and the third, when their name is spoken for the last time, thus completing the cycle of death.

For Berry, the decision means telling the truth about a past no child should have to endure. A workaholic father and an alcoholic mother who demeans her son by repeatedly calling him a loser might set the stage for a one-sided accusatory tale. But rather than a simple blame game, Berry is more thoughtful in his approach.

He decides to tell her what it was like growing up from his perspective as a child left to fend for himself. The stories are poignant, unsettling, and often wickedly humorous despite their regrettable subjects. A boy wading through a grown-up world without the tools to maneuver it instilled by a good parent can easily fall prey to those who would take advantage, as his experience with a gardener ten years his senior reveals. Berry’s gift is in finding the humor in the pain and, because he is disarmingly honest, we instantly empathize with him.

He divulges the bleak reality of his home life in a memory about an electrical blackout. In his home, they sit silently by a single candle casting only enough light for his mother to see her bottle. At an opportune moment he escapes to his friend’s house where he finds the family having an ice cream party, eating all their ice cream before it can melt. Asked if he wants mint chip or fudge ripple, Berry is so taken aback at the laughter and joy he sees that he can’t even answer. “Is this what a normal family is like?” he wonders.

In ten songs and 85 minutes, he continues to get down and dirty with his mom as he tries to resolve the puzzlement of his formative years and how they impacted all of his decisions in life. The unfortunate (and comic) consequences of a one night stand, a night in jail after “stealing Steve Martin,” and a cockfight that saved his life show him to be a masterful storyteller regardless of the style of song. His insightful lyrics capture the essence of a fragile moment (how odd that other parents have time in the afternoon to watch their sons play baseball) as easily as a highly-charged one (“you can tell a lot about a man by what he uses his brick for”).

As an actor, Berry is naturally open and vulnerable. As a musician, he flies. At this performance, the audience was so acutely tuned to his energy I don’t even think they realized they were singing softly along with him on “Two Crows,” a haunting song about the wisdom of age. That kind of organic connection is something that cannot be manufactured and I found it to be incredibly powerful. It helps that he knows how to write a song with a hook that stays with you even after you’ve left the theater.

The metamorphosis that takes place on this cathartic musical journey is a rich one and it is beautifully directed by Kelly DeSarla. What could become a dark descent into hell instead shimmers with a light touch making the show’s poignant message all the more powerful in its subtlety. Berry never overplays his hand but holds firm in the truthfulness of his narrative. Feet firmly planted in the sand like a kid, armed with six strings and his soul, he is an inherently likable human being and one helluva writer. Bonus - the guy knows how to tell a good joke.

If you’re in Canada this summer, you can see Berry’s musical in one of two locations: The Regina International Fringe Theatre Festival (July 11-15) or The 37th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (August 16-26). Youd be crazy to miss it the next time he presents it in LA. For more information about upcoming local performances, go to

February 1, 2018 (closed)
Whitefire Theatre 13500 Ventura Blvd. 
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review: It's Party Time for The Hypocrites in PIRATES OF PENZANCE

All photos by Jenny Graham

Say what you will, The Hypocrites have found a way to transform traditional theatre into a form of entertainment that appeals to folks whod rather go to a party than sit in a theater. And they’ve done it using Gilbert & Sullivans operetta The Pirates of Penzance. No joke.

Gilbert & Sullivan were the satirists of their day, parodying everything from politics to grand opera (the pop music of the Victorian era) so it isnt surprising that the Chicago-based company would choose to reinvent their comic operas to fit the taste of current audiences. (Theyve also given the Hypocrite treatment to The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore.) From the production design to the adaptation and style of the performance, their novel approach is a stimulating example of how to deconstruct a classic and put it back together again in a fresh, fun, and thoroughly engaging manner.

Trimmed down to a tidy 80 minutes (plus a one minute intermission) the ensemble tells its pirate story of love and adventure amid a beach party setting. Tiki torches and overhead strands of lights cast an inviting glow, a central winding boardwalk is shared by actors and audience, and an island bar sells drinks throughout the show.

Most of the audience is seated “in the water” on colorful folding chairs atop risers painted Caribbean blue, proving that scenic designer Tom Burch knows how to be funny too. A fair number of general admission attendees experience the show promenade style, sitting or standing around the boardwalk’s central playing area. They’re encouraged to get up and move around, and the actors have a system in place to indicate when they are about to move into a space occupied by an audience member. It’s great fun whether you’re part of the boardwalk milieu or watching it from the risers and if you see the production multiple times, you’ll never get the exact same show twice. (Note: don’t get general admission tickets if you’re not prepared to change seats frequently and interact with the cast.)

The fun begins the moment you round the corner to the stage where Burch has built a new floor extending out over the Playhouse’s theatre seats. It’s somewhat similar to the way Stephen Dobay reconfigured The Broad Stage for The Hypocrites production of Our Town starring Helen Hunt in 2012 (which was terrific) but much more colorful.

The good-natured cast, directed by the company’s artistic director, Sean Graney, immediately indoctrinates you into the fun-loving atmosphere. They are a welcoming bunch, accompanying themselves on instruments like guitar, ukulele, clarinet, violin, spoons, and even a musical saw. Graney finds plentiful opportunities for humor in his playful approach and, in one particularly sly scene, he also uses the instruments to add to a joke.

Doug Pawlik
When Freddy (Doug Pawlik), a naïve but duty-bound pirate apprentice, meets Mabel (Dana Omar), a fetching young maid, the two fall instantly in love. The scene contains one of the show’s most popular songs, Poor wandring one sung by Mabel, and accompanied by Mabel on banjo and Freddy on guitar. Eventually, their infatuation leads them off-stage, though the song continues. Upon their return, the flushed pair has swapped instruments, and presumably a whole lot more, during their giddy romantic tryst. It’s a small but genius detail that merrily amplifies the subtext. Look for saucy touches like this throughout the show.

Adapted by Graney and his co-adaptor Kevin O’Donnell, the story stays true to the original but takes judicious liberties with its construct. We meet young Freddy on the day he believes he will be released from servitude to the pirates who took him in as a boy. The mix-up occurred when his nurse, Ruth, (also played by Omar) mistakenly apprenticed him to a group of pirates instead of pilots, as originally intended. What follows is a whimsical story of boy meets girl, pirates stealing daughters, police clashing with pirates, and a pardon in the name of Queen Victoria that grants a festive happy ending to all.

Pawlik is as fresh-faced as Omar is quirky. Matt Kahler gives a devilish spin to the buffoonery that is the Major-General and Shawn Pfatsch’s Pirate King is a congenial bad guy who’s really a pushover at heart. The absurd twists in the story provide hearty laughs, often prompted by choreographer Katie Spelman’s amusing moves.

Though the cast is precise in action and intent, the new theatre configuration isn’t always conducive to hearing every line. It’s a shame to miss any of the humor in Arthur Sullivans lyrics but when the party descends into a noisy free-for-all, it can’t be helped. Musical richness also comes second to comic effect but, in this setting, it doesn’t seem to matter. The gist of the story always comes through and the fun of the experience makes up for any artistic shortcomings. Go ready to jump into the silliness and you’re guaranteed to have a blast.

Should you need assistance at any time during the performance, just look for one of two stage managers roaming around the edges of the boardwalk decked out as lifeguards. It’s yet another comic touch, courtesy of costume designer Alison Siple, who gets the last meta-theatrical laugh.

January 23, 2018 - February 25, 2018
The Hypocrites at Pasadena Playhouse
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101

Dana Omar as Ruth

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