Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: The Gorgeous World of ALADDIN Comes to the Hollywood Pantages

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin. All photos by Deen van Meer

As Disney stage musicals go, the North American tour of Aladdin that just opened at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre is the big, splashy colorful delight kids and musical theatre lovers want to see. Dressed in a dizzying array of dazzle and glitz, it offers a top-of-the-line audience experience for fans of the beloved and well-known tale anxious to be whisked away to a dreamy world where the underdog gets the girl, the villain loses, and the comic relief holds court every time he steps on stage.

Few can resist the charms of Disney’s 1992 animated film that preceded it, based on One Thousand and One Nights. Its songs by Alan Menken, the late Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, have become part of the enduring Disney/pop lexicon and, along with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, it paved the way for a smarter, more independent kind of Disney princess.

In order to adapt Aladdin for the stage, a number of deviations from the movie plot had to be made, mainly to simplify the action. Gone is the first scene where Jafar tries to retrieve the lamp using a thief named Gazeem, as well as his attempt to drown Aladdin, and later banish him. Jafar doesn’t trap Jasmine and the others in an hourglass and he doesn’t turn into a giant cobra to fight Aladdin. These are all smart changes we don’t miss, but there are others we do.

Eliminating the animals – Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu, Jasmine’s tiger Rajah, and Jafar’s parrot Iago – and replacing them with human characters is a necessary logistical move but the results are mixed. In place of Abu, Aladdin gets three bubble-headed but energetic fellow thieves: Kassim (Mike Longo) the virile, not-so-smart one; Omar (Philippe Arroyo) the nervous effeminate one; and Babcock (Zach Bencal) the heavier, food-obsessed one. They add humor and sing well, particularly in their featured number “High Adventure” but they’re still all stereotypes. Rajah is replaced by a trio of nameless female attendants (Mary Antonini, Olivia Donalson, Annie Wallace) who are lovely but powerless, unlike the tiger. And in place of the greedy parrot Iago, we now have an annoying lackey (Reggie De Leon) who is such a cartoon it makes you wince. 

Happily, the trio of leading actors shines brightly. Adam Jacobs, who originated the title role on Broadway, easily wins over the audience with his insouciant charm, dashing good looks, and winning vocals. Expanding the story from the film’s 90 minutes to 2½ hours for the stage meant three of the songs Ashman originally wrote with Menken (cut from the film after he died) were restored. One of those is Aladdin’s heartfelt I Want song “Proud of Your Boy” which explains why he wants to make something more of himself, and it’s a gem.

Isabelle McCalla

As Princess Jasmine, Isabelle McCalla favors the character’s strong, no-nonsense, independent streak rather than playing the more obvious romantic yearnings of an inexperienced young woman. In doing so, the romance that eventually blossoms between she and Aladdin feels earned and not simply a foregone conclusion. As written, Jasmine and Aladdin could do with some fleshing out but McCalla and Jacobs add so much life to their roles, that you can’t help but fall in love with them.

Michael James Scott originated the role of Genie in Australia and he is the joyful one-man-show the audience can’t get enough of. It’s true that all roads lead to Rome and, while the musical starts out with some pretty snazzy numbers in Act I, it’s all leading up to Scott’s magnificent “Friend Like Me” at the end of the act. Another of the songs featuring lyrics by Ashman, this one is built to be a showstopper and stop the show it does. Offering up verse after verse of fabulous (and hilarious) reasons why Aladdin has just won the genie lottery, Scott lets loose with an endless stream of pop culture, musical theatre, and Disney references, attacking the number with gusto. The setting has just as much to do with the wow factor of the song as the music and choreography, and Bob Crowley’s cave interior is a floor-to-ceiling sparkling surprise with more than a few fun reveals.

Michael James Scott

Up until this point, the scenic design has been more compact but both this and his later rendering of Jasmine’s bedroom window and magic carpet ride through a spellbinding night sky are glorious. Aided by Natasha Katz’s gasp-inducing stars and Jim Steinmeyer’s flying carpet illusion, it satisfies every possible romantic notion as Aladdin and Jasmine sing “A Whole New World” and we finally see them fall in love.

This is a musical the whole family can enjoy and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw knows it and owns it. The pacing is tight, musicianship impeccable (under the baton of musical director Brent-Alan Huffman), and dance numbers athletically executed by an unusually handsome ensemble of dancers flashing swords, tossing silks, and investing themselves one hundred per cent in creating the fairy tale world of Agrabah. Disney has pulled out all the stops for this gorgeous musical. Go for the magic and you won’t be disappointed.


Isabelle McCalla and Adam Jacobs


ALADDIN
January 10 - March 31, 2018
Hollywood Pantages
6233 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, 90028
www.hollywoodpantages.com

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

MUSICAL NEWS: Get Your Year Started Right with these Marvelous Musicals!

2018 is going to be a great year for musicals in Southern California so mark your calendars now and Ill see you at the theater!

Isabelle McCalla and Adam Jacobs in Aladdin. Photo by Deen van Meer

Aladdin – Hollywood Pantages
Jan 10 – March 31, 2018
The Hollywood Pantages Theatre begins 2018 with Disney’s Aladdin, a big, bright musical for the whole family starring original Broadway cast members Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and Michael James Scott as the Genie. Get ready to take a magical carpet ride into an exotic world of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance in this new production featuring a full score, including the five cherished songs from the Academy Award-winning soundtrack and more, written especially for the stage. Hollywoodpantages.com/aladdin


Cabaret – La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
Jan 19 – Feb 11, 2018
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts opens its 40th anniversary season with Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, directed by Larry Carpenter. Starring Jeff Skowron as The Emcee, Zarah Mahler as Sally Bowles, and Christian Pedersen as Clifford Bradshaw, and featuring musical direction by David O and choreography by Dana Solimando, its story is more relevant today than ever before. The seedy glamour of the Kit Kat Club with its bawdy Emcee provide an unsettling but fitting backdrop to the tale of the hard-living entertainer Sally Bowles in the decadent nightlife of Germany in the early thirties. LaMiradaTheatre.com/cabaret


Candide – LA Opera

Jan 27 – Feb 18, 2018
Kelsey Grammer and Christine Ebersole star in Leonard Bernstein’s funny, satirical whirlwind tour of human folly and foolishness. Brimming with youthful innocence, Candide is certain he lives in the best of all possible worlds. But an unrelenting series of ridiculously unfortunate events makes him question everything he has been taught. Kelsey Grammer takes on the delightful double role of satirical author Voltaire and optimistic philosopher Pangloss, with two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole in the riotous role of the Old Lady. Bernstein’s brilliant score features some of musical theater’s greatest hits, from its exuberant overture, to the show-stopping “Glitter and Be Gay.” More info: www.laopera.org

The Hypocrites’ Pirates Of Penzance at Arizona Repertory Theatre
courtesy of The Hypocrites

Pirates of Penzance – Pasadena Playhouse
Jan 23 – Feb 18, 2018
Pasadena Playhouse turns its theater into a wacky beach party for Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, as reimagined by the Chicago theatre hooligans, The Hypocrites. For the first time in its history, the Playhouse will be completely transformed into a new configuration. All of the orchestra seats will be removed, and in their place there will be a deck, making the entire orchestra level of the theatre a playing area with actors and audience sharing the space promenade style. Expect flying beach balls, rubber duckies, ukuleles, banjos, plastic swimming pools, and even a tiki bar, for a night you won’t forget as Frederic, an orphan mistakenly apprenticed to an ineffectual but raucous band of pirates, disavows the pirates’ way of life and falls for the beautiful Mabel. Adapted and directed by Sean Graney, co-adapted by Kevin O’Donnell, and featuring music direction by Andra Velis Simon. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org


Million Dollar Quartet – 3-D Theatricals
Feb 9 –18 (Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center)
Feb 23 – March 4 (Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts)
David Lober directs the 3DT production which goes back to when Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” who launched the careers of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, brought the four superstars together at the Sun Records studio for the first and only time, in what became known as one of the greatest jam sessions in rock ‘n’ roll history. Starring Cole as Elvis Presley, John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis, David Elkins as Johnny Cash, and Michael Monroe Goodman as Carl Perkins, this one is sure to get the house rockin’. 3dtheatricals.org/milliondollar


Allegiance – East West Players
Feb 21 – April 1, 2018
George Takei will be joined by Broadway cast members Elena Wang (Kei Kimura), Greg Watanabe (Mike Masaoka), Scott Watanabe (Tatsuo Kimura), and Janelle Dote (Hanako) for the LA premiere of Allegiance, produced by East West Players and Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. The production is directed by Snehal Desai with musical direction by Marc Macalintal and choreography by Rumi Oyama and performances will take place at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre. With gorgeous music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione, Allegiance tells the story of the Kimura family, whose lives are upended when they and 120,000 other Japanese Americans are forced to leave their homes following the events of Pearl Harbor. This is definitely a don’t-miss production. EastWestPlayers.org

Dessa Rose – Chromolume Theatre
Feb 2 – 25, 2018
Chromolume Theatre’s first production of 2018 will be Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flhery’s Dessa Rose. James Esposito directs and the show will feature musical direction by Daniel Yokomizo and choreography by Michael Marchak. Dessa Rose is the story of a young black runaway slave (Shauntee Tabb) and a white abandoned mother (Abby Carlson) and their journey to acceptance in the antebellum South as they tell their story to their grandchildren. www.crtheatre.com

Daddy Long Legs – International City Theatre
Feb 21 – March 11, 2018
This two-hander by Paul Gordon and John Caird transforms Jean Webster’s novel into a charming and poignant musical that tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, an 18 year old young woman who has grown up at the John Grier Home for orphans. When a trustee of the home reads one of her essays and sees promise in her writing, he offers to send her to college to continue her education. His only requirements are that she must write him monthly letters, even though he will not write her back, and that she will never know his identity. Jerusha’s heartwarming journey to independence, education and romance is a journey every woman can understand. If you’re looking for the secret of happiness, you just may find it in this lovely musical. ICTLongbeach.org

Violet – Chance Theater
Feb 2 – March 4, 2018
Set in the Deep South during the early days of the civil rights movement, this powerful musical by Jeanine Tesori tells the touching story of a young woman accidentally scarred on the face as a child. Hoping that a TV evangelist can cure her, Violet sets out on a long bus ride from her sleepy North Carolina town through Memphis to Oklahoma. Along the way, she meets two young soldiers who teach her about love, courage and the true meaning of beauty. Use online code “POKER” for 20% off tickets. Discount expires February 1st. Good for any performance before February 19, except opening. ChanceTheater.com

High Society – Musical Theatre Guild
Feb 11, 2018
Up next for Musical Theatre Guild is High Society, the 1956 musical film adaption of Philip Barry’s sparkling stage play The Philadelphia Story, which starred Grace Kelly, Bring Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The plot centers on pretentious socialite, Tracy Samantha Lord, who is planning to wed an equally pretentious executive when her ex-husband arrives to disrupt all her plans. AlexTheatre.org/highsociety

Earhart: More Than A F-ing Mystery (A Musical Flight)
Feb 18 & 20, 2018
An original musical comedy by Manny Hagopian, this 50 minute show is the little known story of Amelia Earhart. For 50 years, Earhart has been known as only an unexplained mystery, but she was, and is, much more than that - especially today. Earhart delivers the story of a proud, kickass girl, who set out to change the world and to prove once and for all that she is more than an f-ing mystery. www.Rockwell-LA.com  

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Proves Too Ambitious for CASA 0101

One glance at the program for Casa 0101’s Beauty and the Beast and you can see that it takes a village to put on a show - quite a large village, in fact. No less than three producing entities, an LA Councilman, three individual producers, an executive producer, a 19-person production team, and a cast of 25 had a hand in making sure the show goes on. That doesn’t even include the countless unnamed volunteers, parents, friends, and others who are also an important part of this homegrown Boyle Heights theatre company.

Last year Casa 0101 produced a lovely dual language version of Disney’s Aladdin, which was so popular it extended its run and eventually transferred to a larger venue. Hoping to repeat that success, they have set their sights on another Disney classic but, this time, the production proves too ambitious an undertaking for the company. Since this is the holiday season, I thought I’d turn to the best gift giver I know to see if he might be able to help them out.

Jacquelin Schofield (Mrs. Potts), Andrea Somera (Belle) and Omar Mata
(The Beast). All photos by Ed Krieger
Dear Santa,

Casa 0101 has been very good this year so I wanted to ask if you could give them some extra special help with a few of the items below for their current production of Beauty and the Beast. Even without them, Andrea Somera has a lovely voice and makes a charming Belle, but any or all of these additions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

1. Please give Casa 0101 a way to cover the house right corridor so the audience does not have to watch the actors and stagehands make all of their crosses. It is very distracting and we would rather focus on what is happening on stage. Could you also take their backstage light (SL) that shines through the black curtain whenever someone turns it on? Maybe they won’t miss it.

2. I would love it if you could you do something about the large cumbersome set pieces that roll on and off stage throughout the show. They’re loud, difficult to maneuver, and get in the way more often than not. Bigger isn’t always better and these make the scene changes ponderous affairs.

3. If you could give the sound board operator a hand too that would be great. He or she caught up after a couple of numbers but it was an awkward beginning without the mics turned on. I didn’t miss the spotlight until it finally came on mid-number but maybe that should start at the beginning too. You know best.

4. As this is a family musical, please give the costumer some pants for Gaston. His shiny black Lycra tights are so skin tight (SO skin tight) and his vest so short you can see every seam in his undergarments and a few things you wish you didn’t. It isn’t funny; it’s crude and feels inappropriate with so many young children in the audience.

5. Would you also give the costumer a pair of scissors to cut the tag off Maurice’s scarf? When Belle puts it on her father, she says she made it for him but the store tag hanging from it begs to differ. Also, halfway through the act, one of the other characters comments that Cogsworth is turning more into a clock and has sprouted a windup key on his back. Problem is, the key was there from the beginning of the show. Maybe he was missing a piece of fabric to camouflage it? In any case, I’m sure you can help.

L-R: Jeremy Saje, Omar Mata and Caleb Green

6. Santa, could you also help Lumiere with his wig? It flew off during Act One and I thought it was accidental but, when the actor came back, he didn’t wear it the rest of the show. He didn’t wear it in the production photos either so I guess it was intentional. If that’s the case, maybe he just needs a jar of cold cream for his whiteface makeup...unless it was a statement. I really don’t know for sure.


7. I also don’t know if the fights were meant to be comic or realistic. At times the sound effects came on the action and at others they came several beats after the action. I guess I was confused since it was inconsistent. At least I didn’t worry that anyone would get hurt, though, since I could see that the actors were making the sounds themselves.

8. Maybe you could also let the cast know they don’t need affected voices or unnatural dialects to make their characters work. Even though this is a musical, the rules of acting still apply. You can’t go big unless you stay grounded and if your accent muddles your words the audience can’t understand you.

9. And speaking of those kids in the audience, please add a stop watch to the director’s Christmas stocking. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect young children to sit through a first act that is an hour and a half long without giving them a way to exit the theater other than the doorway where actors make their stage entrances. The staff can make all the announcements they want about staying in your seats but when a child has to go, they’re going. I’d also have them take down the sign that says no one will be admitted once the show starts so don’t knock. Plenty of people were lucky enough to be seated once the show began so they really didn’t need it.

10. Oh, one other thing...please give the 17-year old Salt Shaker a scholarship to a dance conservatory when he graduates from high school. He is well on his way to becoming a terrific professional dancer and I would like to see him have the opportunity to continue his studies.

Sincerely,
An avid theatregoer and musical fan

Maxwell Peters and Andreas Pantazis

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
December 8, 2017 – January 21, 2018
CASA 0101 Theater
2102 East First Street
Boyle Heights, CA 90033
www.casa0101.org

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Chromolume Theatre Presents Memorable Revival of PACIFIC OVERTURES

L-R (front): Kevin Matsumoto, Paul Wong, Julia May Wong, Daniel Koh, Marcel Licera,
Peter Jeensalute. Rear: Cesar Cipriano, Daryl Leonardo. All photos by Ederson Vasquez

You only have one more week to catch the striking revival of Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (playing through December 17th) and true Sondheim fans shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. The last time it made an appearance in Los Angeles was in 1998 when East West Players presented it in the company’s new 240-seat David Henry Hwang Theatre.  

Chromolume’s theater seats only 49 but the production comes alive in this intimate space, achieving a gentle lyricism and uncluttered style under James Esposito’s direction that gives the musical’s emotional impact surprising weight. It is performed in a modified Kabuki tradition without the highly-stylized makeup and costumes but incorporating many of the form’s dramatic aspects and enhanced sensory elements. Choreographer Michael Marchuk beautifully tailors the movement to the small playing area.

The cast, led by a mesmerizing Paul Wong as the Reciter (or narrator), handsomely communicates the subtleties in John Weidman’s book and Sondheim’s score but what is even more potent is how alive their silence is. The visual organization has a distinct presence and you can feel it shift as the tone changes from scene to scene. Focus is all.

Paul Wong

Musical director Daniel Yokomizo handles the difficult score with a delicate touch and capitalizes on the vocal eloquence of the cast’s ringer, Gibran Mahmud, whose cascading tenor voice bounces brilliantly off the surrounding wood panels. The acoustics of the theatre are quite good, even without mics, making it unnecessary for cast members to push (although a couple of the men fall into this trap in their eagerness to communicate during moments of heightened emotion).

The story of Commodore Perry’s intrusion into Japan’s tranquility in order to open up the country for trade resonates like Pandora’s box – once the contents have been released they can never be put back. As the ceremony of life begins to unravel and priorities shift to make room for the West’s enticing commercialism, the resulting compromises become increasingly more disturbing. Sondheim’s final two numbers, “Pretty Lady” and “Next” are unsettling for completely different reasons but have as much in common with today’s issues of aggression, resistance, and progress as they did in these circumstances depicted in 1853.

Pacific Overtures is some of the best work Chromolume Theatre has done to date. The production strikes a balance between economy of storytelling and dramatic effect to create a uniquely memorable experience. And while it may not be perfect, its level of sophistication is truly admirable.

PACIFIC OVERTURES
December 1 – 17, 2017
Chromolume Theatre at The Attic
5429 W. Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
(Between the 10 Freeway and Hauser Blvd.)
www.crtheatre.com

Cesar Cipriano

Cesar Cipriano and Marcel Licera

Cesar Cipriano and Daryl Leonardo

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: A Noise Within Rings in the Holidays with A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Geoff Elliott (center) as Ebenezer Scrooge and the cast of A Christmas Carol.
Photo by Craig Schwartz

Of all the holiday stories written, it would be hard to find one more well-known or popular than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The redemption of a miser named Scrooge whose heart has forgotten the meaning of charity has been adapted, musicalized, spoofed, and dramatized in every medium imaginable, and, like all good cautionary tales, returns as a warning each December. In these trying times, its message about the importance of caring for one’s fellow man is as necessary as ever.

A Noise Within remounts its version of the holiday comfort food classic, starring Geoff Elliott as Scrooge, for the sixth year in a row. The adaptation is also by Elliott, who co-directs with wife, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and the production features many familiar faces from among the company’s pool of resident artists.

Deborah Strang bustles in as the whimsical Ghost of Christmas Past looking like a child’s birthday cake topper, amid layers and layers of white flouncy ruffles. Jeremy Rabb, who plays Marley for the first half of the run, dons a fright wig and tattered suit bound with rag-strewn chains extending dramatically up into the balcony. And, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Stephen Weingartner’s elaborately-festooned robe adorned with a Thanksgiving feast’s worth of fruit, autumn leaves, and even a miniature pumpkin, looks more like a mechanical set piece when he rolls in than merely a textile from the costume department.

These are looks that make a statement in a production that unabashedly prides itself on its colorful pageantry. But you can’t act the costumes. Without a deeper dive into the soul of the characters you end up with a perfectly nice, generally adequate telling of the story; layers and layers of fluff but nothing underneath. To be unmoved by A Christmas Carol is disappointing indeed.

Geoff Elliott and Deborah Strang

It’s up to narrator Frederick Stuart (better known to ANW audiences as Freddy Douglas) to inject a sense of warmth in the tale, which he does with sincerity and a knowing twinkle in his eye. His short preludes to the five scenes are pleasing additions that successfully draw the audience in.

Add some shadowy Victorian touches in the scenic and lighting designs by Jeanine A. Ringer and Ken Booth, respectively, to go with those wonderful costumes by Angela Balogh Calin and the pictures play like scene capsules sprung from the pages of a Dickensian pop-up book.

Still, even if some of the performances get glossed over, the moment Scrooge shows up at his nephew’s (Rafael Goldstein) door and says, “Will you let me in, Fred?” don’t be surprised if you feel a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye. Reconciliation restores the hardest of hearts, especially at Christmas time.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL
December 1 - 23, 2017
A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
www.ANoiseWithin.org

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: The Wallis Searches for THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD

L-R: Christina Bennett Lind and Luke Forbes in Vesturport and The Wallis’
The Heart of Robin Hood. All photos by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

This year for the holidays, The Wallis has traded its typical musical theatre fare (Into the Woods/2014, Guys & Dolls/2015, Merrily We Roll Along/2016) for something a little less traditional but even more imaginative and fun - Vesturport Theatre’s The Heart of Robin Hood by playwright David Farr.

Directed by Gisli Örn Gardarsson and Selma Björnsdóttir, it does contain music (beautiful songs by Icelandic pop star Salka Sól) but the hybrid production also incorporates elements like aerial and floor acrobatics and a unique floor-to-ceiling forest wall that allows the actors to slide in and traverse its trap doors and crevices like they’re on a crazy obstacle course. The heightened physicality adds a playfulness to the piece and the athleticism of its sword fights and combat scenes lend a rousing intensity. Deaths are grisly, romance is a given, and an underlying earthiness characterizes the passions that arise throughout.

Heart is a twist on the tale of Robin Hood (Luke Forbes) going back to the days before he stole from the rich and gave to the poor when he and his merry men were merely self-centered thieves. The dour ruffian refuses to let women into his band with the explanation, “A woman causes tempests in the heart of a man.” While we never find out exactly what prompts him to adopt the rule, we know he will have a change of heart by the end of the tale, and that change will be inspired by a woman.

Christina Bennett Lind

The woman is Lady Marion (Christina Bennett Lind), the willful, independent daughter of the Duke of York (Ian Merrigan) who, to escape her impending marriage to the villainous Prince John (Eirik del Barco Soleglad), flees to the forest. Disguised as a boy and inspired by a disastrous earlier meeting with Robin, she decides to form her own gang of thieves. But unlike Robin’s marauding band of bare-chested brawlers, her mission is selfless. She distributes her spoils to those in need and quickly becomes the beloved champion of the downtrodden. When Robin finds out this new “Martin of Sherwood” is encroaching on his territory, he furiously vows to kill him.

Farr (whose 2016 mini-series The Night Manager was a huge hit with television audiences) first directed his play at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011. His nods to Shakespeare are unmistakable and those who know the canon will find many parallels. Marion’s journey mirrors that of Rosalind’s in As You Like It. She is accompanied by her fool, Pierre (Daniel Franzese), an effeminate and comical twist on Touchstone, and in her guise as Martin, must hide her attraction to Robin in a Rosalind/Orlando rip-off.

Borrowing from The Taming of the Shrew, Marion’s relationship with younger sister Alice (Sarah Hunt) has much in common with Kate and Bianca (although Alice is the shrewish one of this pair). If you know Twelfth Night, you’ll hear a callback to Malvolio’s last declaration in Prince John’s final words and, like all typical Shakespearean comedies, it ends in a wedding.

The style is broad and rife with innuendo. Forbes and Lind spar both verbally and at opposite ends of a blade, causing sparks to fly on more than one level. He’s stubborn, she’s even more headstrong, and the hoops they end up jumping through on their way to a happy ending will give you the warm and fuzzy glow every hopeless romantic longs for by the time they lift off into the air in a final aerial pas de deux.

The cast of The Heart of Robin Hood

The score is a series of songs performed between scenes by Sól and her four musicians that capture the essence of what is about to happen on stage. The lovely singer has the kind of indie voice you can listen to all day and, as the action intensifies, so does her song style. In the early scenes, melodies meander with a folk lilt and quirky, winsome charm before giving way to a more insistent rap style. Lyrics can be difficult to understand so pay close attention.

Brian Hsieh’s graceful soundscape evokes the stealth and joy of the forest in all its cycles. It is almost imperceptible at times but the way it effortlessly enhances the tone of a scene is quite beautiful. Scenic designer Börkur Jónsson’s set makes its grand entrance the minute you walk into the theater and is enough to take your breath away at the sheer amount of lush greenery that fills the stage. It transforms under Ken Billington & Ed McCarthy’s richly dramatic lighting in surprising ways.

The Wallis never does anything halfway and with The Heart of Robin Hood they have taken another bold step forward in presenting first-rate live entertainment. This is a fairy tale with grit, sophistication, and the kind of devilish creativity a modern audience can go crazy over. (And it doesn’t hurt that you’ll find a rogue for every taste among the splendid cast).

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD
Nov 29 – Dec 17, 2017
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA  90210
Tickets: www.thewallis.org

L-R: Jeremy Crawford, Luke Forbes, Sam Meader, and Daniel Franzese

The cast of The Heart of Robin Hood

L-R: Luke Forbes, Kasey Mahaffy, Christina Bennett Lind, Jeremy Crawford, and Sam Meader

Luke Forbes

Salka Sol

L-R: Kasey Mahaffy, Luke Forbes, Eirik del Barco Soleglad and Sam Meader

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: Tyne Daly Deals with Loss in CHASING MEM'RIES: A Different Kind of Musical

Tyne Daly. All photos by Chris Whitaker

The title of Joshua Ravetch’s new play Chasing Mem’ries: A Different Kind of Musical is misleading. It really isn’t a musical at all, though it does contain half a dozen songs written by lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Their collaborations with composers like Marvin Hamlisch, Johnny Mandel, and Michel Legrand produced some of the most well-known hits of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and garnered numerous awards throughout their lengthy career.

“The Way We Were,” “Where Do You Start” and “Little Boy Lost,” are three such songs, all of which can be found in Ravetch’s latest work, now on stage at the Geffen Playhouse. But as beautiful as these wistful ballads are they, and the rest of the songs included in the piece, all have the same tone, tempo, and nostalgic longing within them, and that’s problematic.

Rather than functioning in a storytelling capacity, they become resting points for Victoria (Tyne Daly) as she processes the pain of losing her husband of 57 years by triggering memories of long ago. Or, they linger as underscoring, which makes the piece feel even more like it’s trying to manipulate the audience’s emotional response. In both cases, the play languishes under the weight of its protracted sentimentality.

Essentially, Chasing Mem’ries is a walk down memory lane that takes Victoria through all five stages of grief in the course of 90 minutes. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance each get their due, prompted by conversations with her son Mason (Scott Kradolfer) and dead husband Franklin (Robert Forster) who appears to her in the attic where Ravetch’s play is set.

Victoria won’t go downstairs to the memorial service happening on the lawn because she isn’t ready to let go of him. It’s a foregone conclusion that she will by the end of the play and perhaps that is part of the challenge. We know where this story is going before it even gets started, and it doesn’t add anything new to the conversation about grief we haven’t heard before.

Daly’s consummate skill as an actress is, of course, the reason to see this production and she doesn’t disappoint. She wrings every ounce of nuance possible out of the opinionated, wise-cracking widow’s dialogue but the play still can’t shake its own sentimental death grip.

Tyne Daly and Robert Forster

Tony Fanning’s set design is a gorgeous cutaway attic stuffed with forgotten items representing a life well-lived, complete with autumn leaves trailing across the shingled roof. It’s beautiful but it makes for challenging traffic patterns, and there are times Ravetch’s staging in the cramped space is restrictive and repetitive. That may be intentional but critical moments end up feeling contrived.

Watching Victoria and Franklin dance with their hands hovering inches away from each other, not touching, is odd. We know he isn’t really there but she would be able to feel him in the intimacy of the moment, particularly since this is in her mind. Its puzzling rather than poignant because, if she couldnt feel him, that would certainly be a source of frustration.

Scott Kradolfer and Tyne Daly

For those who have lost a loved one, Chasing Memries may conjure up memories of their own, making Victorias journey a cathartic one. Without that connection, the play is nothing more than an old-fashioned love letter to days gone by.

CHASING MEM’RIES: A Different Kind of Musical
November 7 - December 17, 2017 
Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tickets: 310-208-6500 or www.geffenplayhouse.org

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