Past Is Prologue: Anaheim’s “Chance Theater” Is Doing Fine With Their Regional Premiere Of “Maple And Vine”!

September 29, 2014
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The Chance Theater Presents The Regional Premiere Of “Maple And Vine” September 19th – October 19th 2014, In Anaheim, CA.

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, imagined what it might be like to travel back to at least visit another period in time? Now, Anaheim California’s award-winning “Chance Theater” explores that very premise in the fourth and perhaps most intriguing offering of their 16th Anniversary Season with the regional premiere of Jordan Harrison’s clever and sharply drawn fantasy, “Maple And Vine”. Directed by Mark Ramont, the show introduces audiences to “Katha” and “Ryu”, a modern interracial couple (He’s of Japanese descent; she’s Caucasian) living a fast-paced, upper-middle class life in New York City. Both have very successful careers—he a plastic surgeon and she’s got a high-powered publishing job at “Random House”; yet, despite feeling the loss of a recent miscarriage, life (overall) should be a dream for the two. Even so, despite all the technological benefits to living ‘the good life” here in the year 2014, they feel mostly drained, depressed and disconnected, desperately longing for a simpler life.

Robert M. Lee Is "Ryu" And Jennifer Ruckman Is his Wife "Katha" In The Chance Theater's Premiere Of "Maple And Vine"

Robert M. Lee Is “Ryu” And Jennifer Ruckman Is his Wife “Katha” In The Chance Theater’s Premiere Of “Maple And Vine”

One day, just such an opportunity presents itself when Katha has a fortuitous meeting with “Dean”—a man who looks like he just stepped out of an old episode of “Ozzie And Harriet”. Dean explains that he’s part of “The Society Of Dynamic Obsolescence” (or “S.D.O.” for short,) which is a small, closed community somewhere in the mid-west dedicated to recreating life as it was in 1955. This means, forsaking all technological accoutrements (and even the daily news) to actively recreate life as it was in what they consider to be that particularly ‘charmed’ year. Intrigued (–or maybe, relieved) Katha and Ryu decide to leave everything modern behind and join the community; however, each soon realizes that even the simplest things are seldom what they seem. “People kept things to themselves” Dean’s wife Ellen explains of 1950’s society; “People held their heads up high!” At first, one might even be apt to notice a certain smugness or self-satisfaction to Dean and Ellen. Oh, they’re both likeable enough—in fact, they could be the perfect couple (–on the face of it.) But underneath their grinning jovial façade, we soon learn that they (like everybody) have their secrets too, and as today, things back then were not always what they seemed. Consider too, how Ryu steps down from working as a surgeon to working in a box factory where he faces subtle (and sometimes not so) racism from his supervisor Roger—a man who himself may be more than he appears, with the kind of connection to Dean that society in the 1950’s seldom—if ever–dared to discuss. “I’m not like you!” Dean snaps at Roger, regarding their clandestine encounters; “I don’t NEED this!” “You could’ve fooled me” comes his wounded reply.

Just Another Wonderful Day In '!955'!

Just Another Wonderful Day In ‘1955’!

Ramont’s direction tackles the nuts and bolts of his narrative with a steady, but tender touch—favoring neither the absurdly comic nor the surprisingly poignant, but providing all of these elements their due at their proper times in the story. Moreover, Scenic Designer, Joe Holbrook’s set is amazing in and of itself! Throughout most of the First Act, it consists of series of black and white flats painted in a rather mundane cubist design. Initially, one is likely to think that this is possibly a nod back to the days (which numerous individuals nowadays are inclined to perceive) when the world was seen (quite literally) in black and white. But wait! By the time the end of the act rolls around–when the couple finally enter their new community, it then dramatically ‘opens up’ into a vibrantly colored “doll house” example of a 50’s era domicile (complete with all the latest gadgets and conveniences of the day.) Bradley Lock’s costumes are also right on the money–whether it’s the drab ‘office casual” of 2014, or the perky, colorful (and decidedly more formal)”around the house” attire of six decades ago.

Daniel Fagan Is The Dapper And Charismatic "Dean"

Daniel Fagan Is The Dapper And Charismatic “Dean”

Indeed, these are auspicious times for Playwright Jordan Harrison. A rapidly rising talent on the contemporary theater-scene, he’s getting twice the attention from Southern California theater-goers these days, because even while “The Chance” is presenting “Maple And Vine”, Los Angeles’s celebrated “Mark Taper Forum” will themselves be unveiling his “Marjorie Prime” simultaneously. Among the most praise-worthy aspects of his script for “Maple And Vine” is the way he refuses to settle for easy answers—what’s more he actually dares to be politically incorrect in a number of his assertions, particularly in regards to the standard feminist thought so readily accepted today. (“It’s different for girls” Ellen tells Katha at one point regarding their decisions to accept a more traditional viewpoint apropos to the roles wives and husbands play in their community; “It’s a different kind of power.”) Save for several “dream sequences” given to Katha’s character that seem like a slightly incongruous form of exposition, the plot is solid and the characters sharply drawn and portrayed. As a matter of fact, “Maple And Vine” features some of the strongest female characters in recent stage memory. Best yet, Harrison shrewdly allows individual viewers to decide for themselves when it comes to many of the issues his play lays forth–all of which adds up to some pretty compelling theater!

The Perfect Life many Not Be So Perfect For "Ellen" (Kelly Ehlert)

‘The Perfect Life’ May Not Be So Perfect For “Ellen” (Kelly Ehlert)

The cast of five (with two playing dual roles) serve the material particularly well. Jennifer Ruckman delivers a pleasingly empathetic performance as “Katha”, (later called “Kathy” once settled into her more domestic routine,) and hers is arguably the most complex character through whose eyes all the action unfolds. Likewise, Robert M. Lee as her ever patient and loving husband, “Ryu”, does an equally laudable job—frequently underplaying his reactions to the absurdity that surrounds him. This plausibly makes the laughs that much bigger and more effective. As the charismatic, if anachronistic, “Dean”–the “S.D.O’s” gate-keeper to ‘the outside world’ (–and whose name in that ‘real-time’ world, we eventually discover, is in reality “Jason”,) Daniel Fagan also does a genuinely impressive job. Faced with what could too easily be played off as a simple caricature from a vintage TV re-run, he instead conveys a three-dimensional and believable portrayal of a man who, it is ultimately found out, is so deeply and so startlingly conflicted. Kelly Ehlert too, does a primo job pulling double-duty, taking on both Dean’s wife “Ellen”, as well as “Jenna”—a co-worker at Katha’s publishing house. As “Ellen” she similarly renders a woman of quiet strength and charisma who appears to have everything—a terrific husband, a wonderful house, and leading role in the community, but who in the end, finds her inner-strength severely tested (–her Second Act monologue is exceptionally potent!) Then, in a delightfully intriguing contrast, Ehlert’s “Jenna” is also a woman who should be enjoying the benefits of ‘having it all”, but instead just seems to be straining to keep one-step ahead of our current rat-race. Rounding out the company is James McHale who also provides rich, multi-layered support as both “Roger” and “Omar”—Katha’s gay secretary at “Random House”. Interestingly enough, it’s especially fitting that these latter two actors perform these additional parts, as each is merely an alternative ‘take’ on their primary character (with the chief variation being just that they exist in—and represent–two separate ‘eras’.)

"Ryu" Faces 'Good-Natured' (?!) Ribbing At Work From Boss "Roger" (James McHale)

“Ryu” Faces ‘Good-Natured’ (?!) Ribbing At Work From Boss “Roger” (James McHale)

At turns humorous, light-hearted, thought-provoking and even a little bit ‘creepy’ (–the ending is worthy of the best “Twilight Zone-esque” examples of dramatic irony–) “Maple And Vine” is, nonetheless, always enthralling to watch! Having begun previews on Friday, September 19th through Thursday September 25th, regular performances began Friday September 26th and will continue through Sunday, October 19th, 2014. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm with a special performance scheduled on Tuesday, September 30th, at 8pm (No performance will be held on Saturday, October 11th.) Tickets may be obtained either by phone by calling (714) 777-3033, or via the web by logging onto: www.ChanceTheater.com ; “The Chance Theater” is located in their new home at “The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center”, 5522 E. La Palma Avenue in Anaheim, California.

"Katha" (Now "Kathy") Takes On A Surprising Role With The "S.D.O."

“Katha” (Now “Kathy”) Takes On A Surprising Role With The “S.D.O.”

Production Stills By Doug Cattiler At “True Image Studio” (www.trueimagestudio.com) Courtesy Of Casey Long At “The Chance Theater” in Anaheim, CA (www.ChanceTheater.com) Special Thanks To Casey Long, Associate Producers Scott And Sandra Graham And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Chance Theater’s” “Maple And Vine” For Making This Story Possible.

Hot Flash: Guest Star Cindy Williams Stops By The Laguna Playhouse For A Short Spell With “Menopause: The Musical”!

September 22, 2014

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Had it with mood-swings, Midol and Merlot? Then head on down to the “Laguna Playhouse” in Laguna Beach California, where Cindy Williams, the multi-talented star of the classic TV series “Laverne And Shirley” and such films as “American Graffiti” and “The Conversation”, is making a “Special Guest Appearance” in “Menopause: The Musical”! Having entertained audiences in more than 450 U.S. cities, nearly 300 international cities, and a total of 15 countries “Menopause: The Musical” is now in its thirteenth year of production world-wide, produced by GFour Productions. Reports are that Cindy felt especially moved that the production company will be donating a portion of the revenues from this engagement to “The Susan G Komen Foundation”—the non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer as well as to raising awareness and funds for research, education, advocacy, health services and social support for women in over 50 countries!

"This Is YOUR Day !" (L-R Roberta B. Wall, Marsha Waterbury, Sandra Benton, Cindy Williams & Beth Buczkowski)

“This Is YOUR Day !” (L-R Roberta B. Wall, Marsha Waterbury, Sandra Benton, Cindy Williams & Beth Buczkowski)

Created by Jeanie Linders, who also wrote the book, “Menopause: The Musical” proves laughter and song really are the greatest medicine—but it also provides audiences with the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about this natural, inevitable, but often misunderstood phase of a woman’s life. Indeed women of all ages will want to see this unique evening of theater—as well as any men who want to understand them better! Linders explores her subject with equal parts humor and integrity, and her script is laden with plenty of big belly laughs (–always managing to inject plenty of irreverent ‘hormonal humor’ into the driest places!) Furthermore, her genuinely clever song parodies, effectively achieve what they set out to do: educate while entertaining—and entertain they do with such witty verses as “I heard it through the grapevine, you’ll no longer see thirty-nine” (sung to the tune of–what else?! “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”!) Notable too, is how perhaps the real strength in her parodies’ successes lie in the very choices of songs she’s chosen to send-up while getting her point across. Most are taken from iconic hits that practically defined their various generations. Surely all are relatable–from the ardent reactions of agreement from the largely female crowd on opening night, it’s obvious that the vast majority of jokes were hitting their intended targets.

Offering not so much a full-on plot as a steady unwinding of events throughout the 90-minute production, five women have a chance meeting in the Lingerie Department of New York City’s famous “Bloomingdales”. Vastly different “types” from very different walks of life, one is a no-nonsense business woman, one is a somewhat conceited Actress on a Soap Opera (who’s secretly trying to hold on to her illusions of youth), another is an aging, but good-natured Hippie, while another is a wide-eyed housewife visiting from a small town in Iowa (…and of course, rounding out their quintet is Cindy Williams.) Noticing unmistakable similarities among one another, they share quips and light-hearted jibes about all their hot flashes, mood swings, memory loss, weight gain and ultimately something much more–and far deeper. Performed without intermission, what follows is a laughter-filled celebration overflowing with scintillating satirical songs based on vintage pop anthems from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

Cindy Williams "Has A New Attitude" In GFour Production's "Menopause: The Musical"

Cindy Williams “Has A New Attitude” In GFour Productions’ “Menopause: The Musical”

Although she was initially set to play a larger role, due to a sudden illness during rehearsals, Ms. Williams instead makes numerous comic appearances—popping in and out of the goings-on, but always with some terrific laugh lines or hilarious sight gags. Yet, even if she’s not exactly the “leading player” here, it is safe to say she’s like the sharp and sassy cherry atop this very fulfilling Sundae. Others featured in the vibrant and enthusiastic cast include Sandra Benton as “The Business Woman”, Beth Buczkowski as “The Soap Star”, Marsha Waterbury as “The Hippie” (or “Earth Mother”) and Roberta B. Wall as “The Iowa Housewife”. Directed by Seth Greenleaf, the pacing is quick–jamming more than 22 guffaw-inducing melodies (many of them presented in conjunction with several others) into the evening. Making all these numbers stand out still more is the stylish choreography by Daria Lynne Melendez, recalling the best moves of Motown, Disco, Honky-Tonk and many other rhythmic modes and milieus. A large, sleek, department store backdrop serves as the many locations the festivities are played against serving, at turns, as a ladies room (–where they all seem to spend an awful lot of time in–), the store’s tea-room, as well as the different floors and departments; simple, but suitable—particularly when combined with Ryan A. Partridge’s inventive lighting design, these elements could be considered to be like two whole separate characters in and of themselves.

The action gets off to a blazing start as the ladies sing “Change-change-change—Change Of Life” in a jivey burlesque of Aretha Franklin’s classic, “Chain Of Fools”. Led by Ms. Benton, who shows off her considerable vocal abilities early on and throughout, she does a similarly impressive job with “I’m Flashing” (a side-splitting take-off of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry”.) Later, she doesn’t put a foot (or note) wrong with her dead-on impression of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Ms. Buczkowski likewise does a remarkable solo turn with the splashy, “I’m Having A Hot Flash!” (that itself is a delectable parody on Irving Berlin’s incomparable “We’re Having A Heatwave”) during which she carols forth such priceless lines as “My personal summer is really a bummer”; Buczkowski also scores with “Please Make Me Over” (sung to Dionne Warwick’s 1962 hit “Don’t Make Me Over”) demonstrating that she too, is a vocal force to be reckoned with. Not to be out done though, Ms. Waterbury and Ms. Williams garner huge laughs with their duet, “Puff, Good God I’m Dragging”–a brilliant reworking of Peter Paul & Mary’s “Puff, The Magic Dragon”, sung here as an ode to slowing down with age.

Beth Buczkowski & Co. Are "Havin' A Hot Flash, Comes On Like A Car Crash!"

Beth Buczkowski & Co. Are “Havin’ A Hot Flash, Comes On Like A Car Crash!”

Each performer has her own individual moments to shine, but it’s as an electrifying ensemble that the show really gels. Collectively, they mine comedic gold all through the evening, but their “Beach Boys Medley”—featuring such memorable lampoons as “I wish we all could be sane and normal girls” and “Thank you doctor, (thank-thank you doctor)” is a bona fide crowd-pleaser, as is “My Husband Sleeps Tonight” (–a buoyant take-off of “The Token’s” 1961 chanson, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.) However, it’s when the group launched into a send-up of the Platter’s “The Great Pretender” that the crowd really meted out their wholehearted applause! Meanwhile, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, “I’m No Babe, Ma” (better known in its Top 40 incarnation as Sonny and Cher’s unforgettable “I’ve Got You, Babe”) is a surprisingly touching sonnet-in-song to mothers treating their grown daughters like children.

Now there’s no need to ‘ovary act’ because it’s definitely NOT the ‘silent passage’ anymore–thanks to this A-Plus cast and such a quick-witted, insightful, and thoroughly enjoyable musical! After previewing on Wednesday, September 17, “Menopause: The Musical” opened on Thursday, September 18 where it is set for a special limited two-week run through Sunday, September 28, 2014 at the Laguna Playhouse located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach, CA. Show-times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:00 pm, with matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be obtained by phone at (949) 497-ARTS (2787) or by logging onto: http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com ; (Group Discounts for parties of ten or more are available by calling 888 686-8587 ext. 2.)

"We Were Going To Change The World; Now, 'Change' Has A Whole New Meaning!" The Cast Of "Menopause: The Musical" At "The Laguna Playhouse", Laguna Beach CA.

“We Were Going To Change The World; Now, ‘Change’ Has A Whole New Meaning!” The Cast Of “Menopause: The Musical” At “The Laguna Playhouse”, Laguna Beach CA.

Production Photos By Ed Krieger, Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) Special Thanks To David Elzer At Demand PR And To The Cast & Crew Of GFour Productions’ “Menopause: The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.

Curtain Up! Light The Lights: One More Productions’ “Gypsy” Thoroughly ‘Entertains You’ With Some Old And New Tricks in Garden Grove, CA.

August 26, 2014
"One More Productions" Presents "Gypsy" August 21-September 14, 2014 At "The Gem Theatre" In Garden Grove CA.

“One More Productions” Presents “Gypsy” August 21-September 14, 2014 At “The Gem Theatre” In Garden Grove CA.

Everything’s coming up roses for “One More Productions” housed in Garden Grove California’s historic “Gem Theatre” with the third musical production in their momentous season–the classic “Gypsy”. Based on the 1957 memoirs of the legendary burlesque entertainer, Gypsy Rose Lee, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by the then brash young newcomer, Stephen Sondheim, the show is considered one of the crowning achievements of the musical theater art form with many of the songs having long since become bona fide standards. It is especially fitting that “The Gem’s” resident company chose to produce this particular show at this particular venue, seeing that the playhouse originally began its life back in the 1920’s as the areas’ one theater devoted to that once thriving brand of stage entertainment known as “Vaudeville”. On opening night “One More Productions” co-founder and producer Damien Lorton (who also served as the production’s director,) professed, “To bring this vaudeville show alive in a vaudeville theater is especially thrilling”, and he’s exactly right—there’s a rare sense of magic and history flowing though this particular production of this priceless audience favorite.

"Sing Out Louise! Smile Baby!" Beth Hansen is "Mama Rose" With Shayna Gayer As "June" &  Sophia Scarsi As "Louise"

“Sing Out Louise! Smile Baby!” Beth Hansen is “Mama Rose” With Shayna Gayer As “June” & Sophia Scarsi As “Louise”

Curtain up and we’re at an audition for “Uncle Jocko’s” kiddie stage show in Seattle Washington, where that 3’3” bundle of dynamite “Baby June” and her sister Louise are trying out for a spot on that week’s bill. They scarcely begin their number when in rushes their brassy bulwark of a stage-mother, “Rose” admonishing the girls to “Sing Out Louise! Smile Baby!” In fact, the first act primarily focuses on Rose (whose name has become synonymous with the ultimate overbearing show business parent,) following her single-minded efforts to turn the girls into vaudeville stars—no matter the cost! This includes forming an act—“Baby June and her News Boys”, starting with two lads, which quickly grows to four when they become “Dainty June and her Farm Boys” as the group hits adolescence. When June runs off and marries one of the boys, leaving mom, sister, and company flat, Rose (still determined that at least one of her daughters will ‘hit the heights’) turns her attention to Louise—her less talented, though ever patient offspring. The second act’s emphasis is more on Louise’s (at first) unintended transformation into the ‘strip-tease artiste extraordinaire’ “Gypsy Rose Lee, and more specifically, her need to finally get out from under her mother’s heavy-handed thumb.     Nicole Cassesso & the Hollywood Blonds in Gypsy at The GEM T

Lorton’s finely paced direction explores the psychological depth of these characters, approaching this as more of a “play with music” rather than your standard ‘musical’. Not that the actual songs and dance-numbers have been neglected though—far from it! Adroitly supercharged by Shauna Bradford-Martinez’s often-dazzling choreography, each one effectively either moves the plot forward, provides acuity into the characters, or glitteringly casts light on a bygone ‘show biz’ era. In the first act, scene changes are cleverly indicated with the appearance of Lexi Cross and Keresy Dillon as sultry “twin” showgirls who each place ‘act cards’ (once a staple of the stage world) on either side of the proscenium; after intermission, these duties are taken over by two studly men—Danny Diaz and Tim Miller respectively, who subsequently ‘dress down’ a bit more with each successive appearance.

"Mama! I'm Pretty! I'm A Pretty Girl!" Nicole Cassesso Is Louise AKA "Gypsy Rose Lee"

“Mama! I’m Pretty! I’m A Pretty Girl!” Nicole Cassesso Is Louise AKA “Gypsy Rose Lee”

Leading the multi-talented cast are Beth Hansen and Nicole Cassesso—both of whom are very much in touch with their character’s vulnerabilities. As Mama Rose, Hansen offers up far more than the all-too-common over-blown caricature or ‘star turn’ this role is famous for; instead, she presents a human, believable Rose—hence a far more fulfilling one. Indeed, the true brilliance of her performance lies in the softer, more emotionally exposed moments. Her opening salvo, “Some People”—Rose’s act one declaration of independence, is energetic but determined, while her duo “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” has just the right touch of playfulness to make it endearing. At the first act’s conclusion, she unleashes her full vocal firepower with the iconic “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” demonstrating exactly how overwhelmed and desperate this lady is over her youngest’s betrayal. However, it’s with the pivotal “Rose’s Turn”– one of the most forceful and finely-crafted musicalized monologues in the entire musical theater canon, that Hansen decisively proves she’s nailed the cognitive complexity of this woman, who after a lifetime of abandonment is really just a wounded child herself. (“What did it get me?!” she wistfully intones, feeling used and discarded; “One quick look as each of them leaves you!”) Seething with defiance, this is essentially a mental breakdown with notes and chords on top, and we are given it in all its potency and poignancy—as heart-stopping as it is heart-wrenching. Afterward, even Rose’s concluding lines are way more than just a space between the final number and the curtain-call, making the ending truly unforgettable.

"Little Lamb, Little Lamb, I wonder How Old I Am?"

“Little Lamb, Little Lamb, I wonder How Old I Am?”

Likewise, Nicole Cassesso does an awesome job in the title role. Insightfully soft-pedaling her presence in the first act, this makes her act two transformation all the more astounding. Her solo, “Little Lamb” especially strokes the heart-strings, while her second act showcase, “The Strip” is both the longest running musical sequence as well as the show’s most surreal. Unfolding almost like a dream, it details Louise’s evolution from an awkward teen into Super-star Stripper, “Gypsy Rose Lee”. Rounding out their ‘trio’ is Glenn Koppel as “Herbie”–the act’s would-be agent and Rose’s love interest who “stands up FOR her, instead of standing up TO her!” More than just  Rose’s foil though, Koppel’s portrayal is similarly fleshed out and genuine, depicting a man who understands Rose on her deepest level, which is why he puts up with so much from her until he can no more.

"Rose, I Love You--But Don't Count Your Chickens!" Glenn Koppel Is "Herbie" With Beth Hansen As "Rose"

“Rose, I Love You–But Don’t Count Your Chickens!” Glenn Koppel Is “Herbie” With Beth Hansen As “Rose”

Other standouts include little Shayna Gayer, who’s an acrobatic powerhouse with a humongous voice (—and she’s cute as a button too!) Although only on stage for a short time, she excels right from the get-go in the opening, “Let Me Entertain You” as well as when introducing her “Newsboys”. In addition, young Sophia Scarsi is equally laudable as her sister, “little” Louise holding her own with a quiet sensitivity that nicely lays the foundation for Cassesso’s later take on the more mature persona. Tad Fujioka too, is a marvel to watch as “Tulsa”—one of June’s ‘boys’ who secretly longs to be a night-club star himself. He interjects a terrific jolt of song-and-dance pizzazz with the rousing, “All I Need Now Is The Girl”—accompanied by the shy “Louise”, who mirrors his moves near, but not quite ‘with’, him until the very end of the number. Together, they make this boisterous interlude a surprisingly tender one. Cassesso also scores yet another dual ‘direct-hit’—this time opposite Elyssa Alexander as the perky “Dainty June”—with “If Mama Was Married”, wherein the siblings wearily dream of more peaceful days away from the spotlight.

"She Appears, All In White..." Tad Fujioka Is "Tulsa" With Nicole Cassesso  As "Louise"

“She Appears, All In White…” Tad Fujioka Is “Tulsa” With Nicole Cassesso As “Louise”

Not to be overlooked either is Lauren Lowe’s delightful comic turn as “Agnes” (–but call her “Amanda”–) a wide-eyed innocent and one of Louise’s wanna-be chorines, as well as the three strippers they all meet once they’re accidentally booked into that first fateful Burlesque house. They are: Fiona Wynder as “Tessie Tura”, Carmen Tunis as “Mazeppa”, and Margie Ikerd as “Electra”—and their side-splitting ode to the art of taking it off in public titled, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” is a show-stopper if ever there was one (punctuated with plenty of appropriately placed drum-rolls and trumpet trills of course!) Major comedy also comes courtesy of the act two opener, “Rose Louise And Her Tore-adorables” (still another of Rose’s attempts to formulate a “Boffo” act—this time with daughter Louise at its center.)

"It Could Be So Nice, If Mama Got Married To Stay" Nicole Cassesso As Louise & Elyssa Alexander As 'Dainty' June

“It Could Be So Nice, If Mama Got Married To Stay” Nicole Cassesso As Louise & Elyssa Alexander As ‘Dainty’ June

Worthy of many ovations, ‘One More Production’s’ “Gypsy” makes for a “Can’t Miss” evening at the theater! Having opened on August 21st, it will play through September 14th; performance times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM; (Special “Student Rush” tickets
are available for Thursday and Friday performances.) The “Gem Theatre” is located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove, CA; for more information or to purchase tickets, call “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 225, or visit their website at www.onemoreproductions.com.

Production Stills By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of “One More Productions”; Special Thanks To Dan Pittman At “Pittman & Associates PR” (www.pittmanpr.com) And To Damien Lorton And The Cast & Crew Of “One More Productions” “Gypsy” For Making This Story Possible.

"You Can Sacrifice Your Sacro, Workin' To The Back Row"  Fiona Wynder  Is "Mazeppa" Flanked By Carmen Tunis As Tessie Tura & Margie Ikerd As Electra

“You Can Sacrifice Your Sacro, Workin’ To The Back Row” Fiona Wynder Is “Tessie Tura” Flanked By Carmen Tunis As “Mazeppa” & Margie Ikerd As “Electra”

They’ve Got Heart: 3-D Theatricals Hits One ‘Out Of The Park’ With Their Revival Of “Damn Yankees”

July 16, 2014
3-D Theatricals' "Damn Yankees": July 12th-July 27th 2014 In Fullerton CA; August 2nd-August 10th 2014 in Redondo Beach CA.

3-D Theatricals’ “Damn Yankees”: July 12th-July 27th 2014 In Fullerton CA; August 2nd-August 10th 2014 in Redondo Beach CA.

“Those Damn Yankees! Why can’t we beat ‘em?!” exclaims Joe Boyd at the start of “Damn Yankees”–the classic musical performing at the landmark “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton California. Produced by 3-D Theatricals, the show opened on July 12th for a three-week run before moving to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” in Redondo Beach California. Based on Douglass Wallop’s novel “The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant”, the story is a delightful updating of the old “Faustian” legend—this time concerning what one long-suffering fan of the “Washington Senators” would do to help his team win. With a book by Wallop and theatrical giant George Abbott, and featuring music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the show first debuted on Broadway in 1955 and went on to win seven “Tony Awards” including “Best Musical”. Now, given the first-class, ‘Pennant-winning’ treatment 3-D Theatricals has given this classic bit of Americana, is it’s easy to see why!

"Goodbye Old Girl, My Old Girl..." (Robert Hoyt is Joe Boyd)

“Goodbye Old Girl, My Old Girl…” (Robert Hoyt is Joe Boyd)

Once the curtain rises we’re transported to a Washington D.C. suburban living-room circa 1955 where married, middle-aged Boyd is an avid supporter of the rag-tag ball club the “Senators” and has yet again been disappointed by the outcome of that night’s game. Shortly after his wife Meg departs, he murmurs to himself how he’d ‘sell his soul’ for someone to help the home team out of its slump. Immediately, the Devil in the unassuming guise of a ‘Brooks Brothers’ suit wearing salesman named “Applegate”, appears with just such a deal (“I’m handy with fire” he tells Joe upon making a lit cigarette materialize from thin air.) The deal has Boyd turned into a 22-year old long-ball hitting phenom named “Joe Hardy” who easily puts the “Senators” back on track for the “World Series”; but of course, as these things always do, there’s a price: he must leave his beloved wife and deal with a suspicious Sports-writer named “Gloria Thorpe”, while fending off the advances of Applegate’s sizzling hot seductress, “Lola” (who “Always gets what she aims for!”) Alan Souza’s direction is always fluid and inventive—making this timeless piece of musical theater fresh and new while still staying true to the original charms that made it great.

"You Gotta Have Heart" (Joe Hart is Team Manager Van Buren)

“You Gotta Have Heart” (Joe Hart is Team Manager Van Buren)

In fact, his innovative staging is apparent right from the first ‘inning’ where he has baseball literally invading the Boyd home with the opening salvo, “Six Month Out Of Every Year”, wherein Meg complains “six months out of every year we are hardly ever seen apart, but then the Washington Senators take over my place in his heart.” As she’s joined by a chorus of like-minded housewives, he’s surrounded by the Senators themselves enacting their best moves in this stirring start of the evening. Serving as a succulent cherry on this already sumptuous Sundae, is the absolutely dynamic–and at times, down-right eye-popping–choreography by three-time “Ovation” Award-winner Dana Solimando, who has been more than capably assisted by Gretchen Dawson as Assistant Choreographer. Incorporating plenty of acrobatics, even the first scene change introducing Hardy’s new team-mates is athletic! Then, one of the most amazing moves in this (or any) show, occurs during the big “Shoeless Joe” number as the players form a ‘human staircase’ which Gloria Thorpe dashes up and onto a second level bleacher before turning and diving back into the guys who readily catch her. Throughout, Solimando pays plenty of terpsichorean tribute to “Damn Yankees” original choreographer and master showman, Bob Fosse.

"Came Upon The Scene As Fresh As Listerine..." Chelsea Emma Franko Is Gloria Thorpe With The "Washington Senators"

“Came Upon The Scene As Fresh As Listerine…” Chelsea Emma Franko Is Gloria Thorpe With The “Washington Senators”

 

Jordan Lamoureux oozes with slimy charm as the ‘Devilish’ “Mr. Applegate” in a portrayal that’s utterly spot-on on every level; count on him to nearly stop the show with his thrilling “Vaudeville” inspired act-two ode to villainy throughout the ages, “Those Were The Good Old Days”—complete with pyrotechnics and built-in encores that are completely deserved!

"The Rack Was In Fashion, The Plagues Were My Passion..." Jordan Lamoureux Is Mr. Applegate

“The Rack Was In Fashion, The Plagues Were My Passion…” Jordan Lamoureux Is Mr. Applegate

As Joe Boyd, Robert Hoyt has a rich operatic voice which he puts to superb use with the opening “Six Months Out Of Every Year” and “Goodbye Old Girl”, but more than just providing the show with its framework, Director Souza wisely brings him back to be heard again in the second act’s “Near To You”—traditionally a duet between Joe Hardy and Meg, here an inspiring ‘trio’ with Meg, Hardy, and ‘the Spirit’ of Joe Boyd. Cameron Bond too, as Boyd’s young alter–ego “Joe Hardy” is a high-octave vocal presence to be reckoned with for his part in that fore-mentioned trio as well as in the first act’s quick reprise of “Goodbye Old Girl”; he then ‘knocks one out of the park’ with “A Man Doesn’t Know”. Joining them is Cynthia Ferrer as Joe’s ever-patient wife, Meg. Really the leading lady in this venture, Meg provides the goings-on with a sense of nice emotional grounding, and Ferrer does a fine job with “A Woman Doesn’t Know” as well as more than holding her own in “Six Months” and “Near To You”.  Likewise, Chelsea Emma Franko is a beautiful bundle of energy as “Gloria Thorpe”, and Alexis Carra’s ‘happy home-wrecker’ “Lola” dazzles in just about every number she’s in, including her enticing introduction “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and the iconic “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)”, where she’s a little more “Chita Rivera’ than “Gwen Verdon”. In both she offers the show a taste of good-natured ‘risqué’ fun. Ms. Carra also does a superlative job taking center stage with “Who’s Got The Pain?”—usually staged as a rhythmic ‘Pas-de-Deux’, here seen as jiving, gyrating, group effort with Lola accompanied by a passel of bowler-clad chorus boys. Vocally, she also proves she’s also got the fireworks where it counts with her half of the classic duet, “Two Lost Souls” opposite Bond’s Joe Hardy which makes for an impressive ’11 O’Clock Number’, particularly as this old standard provides yet another homage to Fosse as well.

"To Our Women One And All, We Will See You In The Fall" Nick Waaland As "Rocky" Urges His Team-mates To "Think About The Game"

“To Our Women One And All, We Will See You In The Fall” Nick Waaland As “Rocky” Urges His Team-mates To “Think About The Game”

Hardy’s team-mates led by “Smokey” (Chris Duir) “Rocky” (Nick Waaland) and Vernon (Bren Thor Johnson) also hit a few on stage ‘home-runs’ collectively, first with the classic “You’ve Got To Have Heart”, then again while kicking off Act Two with “Think About The Game”. Excellent comic support is similarly provided by Karla Franko and Tamara Zook as Doris and ‘Sister’ Miller respectively. Both do a hilarious job standing out with roles that might otherwise be easily marginalized. On opening night audiences were treated to an additional special appearance by Daniel Rodriguez—better known as “The Singing Policeman”. A first-responder on 9/11 and praised across New York City and beyond for his incredible talent, he opened the evening’s proceedings with a truly rousing rendition of our national anthem before curtain.

Having opened Saturday, July 12th, “Damn Yankees” will play at the “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton California through Sunday, July 27,2014. Located at: 201 E. Chapman Avenue, in Fullerton, CA, show-times for “The Plummer Auditorium” engagement are: Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM with additional performances on Thursday, July 24th, at 8:00 and an added Saturday matinée at 2:00 PM on July 26th; then, starting August 2nd,

"Can't You Feel Him There In His Favorite Chari?" Cameron Bond Is Joe Hardy With Cynthia Ferrer As Meg Boyd

“Can’t You Feel Him There In His Favorite Chair?” Cameron Bond Is Joe Hardy With Cynthia Ferrer As Meg Boyd

the production will move to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” in Redondo Beach California, where it will play through Sunday, August 10, 2014. Show-times for this engagement are: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM, with an additional matinée on Saturday, August 9th at 2:00 PM. “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” is located at: 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA. Tickets for both “Plummer Auditorium” and “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” may be purchased by calling 714 589-2770, Ext.1 between the hours of 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM Monday through Friday, and 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM Saturday, or at each individual theater’s box office two hours prior to performances. To order on-line check out: www.3dtshows.com (Group and Student Discounts are available for both locations.) There’s nothing ‘Damnable’ about this “Yankees”—come be transported to a simpler time for a few hours and see this old favorite the way it was meant to be!

"This Queen has her 'Aces' in ALL the right places!" Alexis Carra as "Lola" 'convinces Jordan Lamoureux as "Applegate"

“This Queen has her ‘Aces’ in ALL the right places!” Alexis Carra as “Lola” ‘convinces’ Jordan Lamoureux as “Applegate”

Production Stills By Isaac James Creative (www.IsaacJamesCreative.com) Courtesy Michael Sterling at “Michael Sterling Entertainment Publicity & Production” And “3-D Theatricals” (www.3dtshows.com) Special Thanks To T.J. Dawson, Michael Sterling, Alan Souza, Dana Solimando And To The Cast & Crew Of 3-D Theatricals’ “Damn Yankees” For Making This Story Possible.

Teatro Muy Excelente: Anaheim California’s “Chance Theater” Rises To New Heights With New Production Of “In The Heights”

July 15, 2014

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What happens when the lights go out one hot 4th of July weekend in the urban neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City? That’s the premise of “In The Heights”—the winner of four 2008 Tony Awards (including “Best Musical”) presenting some thoroughly ground-breaking work by the Tony Award-winning (and Pulitzer Prize Finalist) Composer-Lyricist Lin Miguel Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. A contemporary hit with timeless—and universal—themes that speaks to all ages and cultures, the show features a Grammy award-winning score comprised of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop, Salsa, Rap, and Merengue that serves as the backdrop for a community with dreams of succeeding in America while at the same time holding onto their culture and heritage.

Joshua Lopez as Usnavi welcomes us "In The Heights"

Joshua Lopez as Usnavi welcomes us “In The Heights”

A potent reminder of the importance of chasing one’s dreams, finding where you belong, and always having ‘home’ to come back to, the true brilliance of Hudes’ book lies in the way it balances several subplots which ultimately combine to become the master story without diminishing any of them. The Chance’s staging offers a more intimate take on this Award-winner than has been seen before and the show, in many ways is actually strengthened by it. Moreover, in dispensing with the omni-present “George Washington Bridge” of the original, they’ve opened up the ‘universality’ of the story. This could be any neighborhood, and the joys and problems could pertain to any culture. Such intimacy also enables the cleverness of Miranda’s lyrics (often lost in larger productions,) to really shine through. Directed by ‘The Chance’s” Artistic Director, Oahn Nguyen and Choreographed by “Resident Artist” Kelly Todd, the show marks a reunion of sorts for the pair who once again are working together for their ninth successful time. In addition, Ryan Brodkin’s sound design is perfect–and perfectly complements Bradley Kaye’s impressive, compact-but-evocative scenic design and Martha Carter’s vibrant, multi-hued lighting design.

"Piragua, Piragua, So Sweet And Nice": Julio Arroyo is "The Piragua Guy"

“Piragua, Piragua, So Sweet And Nice”: Julio Arroyo is “The Piragua Guy”

Upon entering the Chance’s new and expanded venue, the audience is greeted by an inner-city ‘Avenida’ facade encompassing the businesses “Rosario’s Car Service”, “Daniela’s Beauty Salon”, and in the middle, the “De La Vega Bodega”–a small convenience store where members of both businesses and the surrounding apartments all make their morning pilgrimages for coffee, snacks and the morning paper. The shop is owned by “Usnavi De La Vega”– a genial everyman from the Dominican Republic with a talent for ‘rap songs’ who, we’ll come to discover, was named after the first thing his parents saw upon entering New York harbor after emigrating from their home. Seeing a large imposing ship with the words “U.S. Navy” emblazoned across it, they reasoned the owner of the ship must be quite important, thus his peculiar name (“I worked with what they gave me,” he sighs self-deprecatingly.) Usnavi serves as our narrator and guide, leading the entire company in the sultry, rhythmic opening “In The Heights” where we learn the basic truth about all those we will encounter: “Everybody’s Got A Job, Everybody’s Got A Dream”. Also among the many twists and turns the plot is overflowing with, this particular weekend also marks the sudden return of ‘Nina Rosario”, the first person on the entire block to go away to college and the daughter of Kevin and Camila Rosario, owners of the local car service company.

"No Me Diga--Tell Me Something I Don't Know!" Vanessa (Chelsea Baldree) Daniela (Sonja Taylor) & Carla (Angeline Mirenda)

“No Me Diga–Tell Me Something I Don’t Know!” Vanessa (Chelsea Baldree) Daniela (Sonja Taylor) & Carla (Angeline Mirenda)

Nguyen’s direction literally keeps things ‘hip-hopping’ from one storyline to the next, juggling many complex story elements while providing each one with their required time and attention without ever letting things drag. Todd’s masterful Choreography serves a kind of zesty nexus connecting one scene to the next. Indeed, her vivacious, uber-kinetic dance numbers rate a special ovation all their own! ”In The Heights” is one of “The Chance Theaters” largest ensemble shows to date (second only to their 2012 award winning “Westside Story”) and the entire cast work in unison as a well-oiled machine. “Carnaval Del Barrio” is a terrific, spirit-raising group-enterprise, while “No Me Diga” (“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”) sung by the ladies of Daniela’s Salon is also first-rate and hysterically funny—a genuine Act One highlight. Not to be overlooked is the bouncy “Piragua Song” led (appropriately enough) with liveliness and enthusiasm by Julio Arroyo as “The Piragua Guy”—a street vendor selling the cool Puerto Rican treat made from shaved ice. This stands as a bona fide crowd pleaser in an evening full of them. Then again, it’s the lighter moments like these, which make the more weighty one all the more impactful. As the first act races toward its unexpected climax, the number “Fireworks” serves as the longest ‘musicalized’ sequence in the entire piece and its most boldly dramatic–commencing at a local nightclub before a city-wide power outage throws everything into near chaos.

Tony Sanchez is Kevin Rosario & Rachel Oliveros Catalano is his wife, Camila

Tony Sanchez is Kevin Rosario & Rachel Oliveros Catalano is his wife, Camila

As for the equally talented cast, this one boasts one great performance on top of the other. Like his store, at the center of the action is Joshua Lopez as “Usnavi De La Vega”. Lopez’s triumph lies in how effortless he seems in handling some very tricky elements. He’s the one through which all the action unfolds, and exudes a laid-back ease as he takes on the tasks of narrator and cultural interpreter, “Illuminating the stories of the people in the street” while staying empathetic and always interesting. We’re genuinely involved in all the on-stage happenings because he makes it so easy for us to be (–add to it, he can also rap like a ‘Def Jam’ star to boot!) Usnavi, we learn, is secretly in love with Vanessa—a pretty young beautician at the parlor next-door. As the object of his affection, perky Chelsey Baldree does an outstanding as an unlikely Barrio “Girl Next Door”—with just the right dashes of spice when needed! Likewise Julia Cassandra Smith’s “Nina” is an angel-faced firecracker with an awesome voice. Her opening salvo, “Just Breathe” in which she contemplates breaking the news to her parents and friends that she’s had to drop-out of Stanford, is A-Plus; however, her part in Act Two’s “Alabanza” (“Praise”) is not only her most powerful moment, it ranks among the most heart-rendering of the entire show. Joining her as Nina’s potential new Boyfriend, “Benny” (an ”Honorary Latino” we’re told, for his conscientious and faithful employment by the Rosario’s) Charles McCoy too, has an incredible depth and passion—not to mention a booming voice that will knock your socks off! He and Smith make a most engaging and certainly melodic couple.

"Everything Is Better When You're Home" Benny (Charles McCoy) tells Nina (Julia Cassandra Smith)

“Everything Is Better When You’re Home” Benny (Charles McCoy) tells Nina (Julia Cassandra Smith)

 

"Think Of The Hundreds Of Stories We Will Share" Aubela Claudia (Candida Oroscos) talks with Nina (Julia Cassandra Smith) andSonny (Ruben J. Carbajal)

“Think Of The Hundreds Of Stories We Will Share” Abuela Claudia (Candida Orosco) talks with Nina (Julia Cassandra Smith) and Sonny (Ruben J. Carbajal)

Meanwhile, Candida Orosco’s “Abuela Claudia” is nothing short of a revelation with the vocal clout to match! If Usnavi and Nina represent the heart and fortitude of the show, hers is the soul. She particularly scores with “Paciencia Y Fey” (“Patience And Faith”) which takes us into the mind and memories of this elderly woman, now slightly stunned at discovering she’s just hit the lottery to the tune of $96,000. After a lifetime of struggle, she poignantly recalls her girlhood in Havana Cuba before moving up to “Nueva York” in 1943—effectively touching on elements inherent to every immigrant’s experience. Also offering fine support is Tony Sanchez as Kevin Rosario. His soliloquy (after hearing his daughter’s news) titled, “Inutil” (Spanish for “Useless”) is potent and touching, and Rachel Oliveros Catalano as his wife, “Camila” similarly commands the stage with her delivery of “Enough!” during which she –and in no uncertain terms—informs her daughter that “when times are tough, you don’t run and hide alone—you come HOME!” This, in fact, is the main signature of the entire piece.

Recently named “The Official Resident Theater Company Of Anaheim” by the Anaheim City Council, The Chance Theater At The Bette Aitken Arts Center is located at 5522 E. La Palma Avenue, Anaheim, CA. Having ‘Previewed’ Thursday, July 3rd through Thursday, July 10th, “In The Heights” will play through Sunday, August 10th. Show-times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Tickets may be purchased by calling (714) 777-3033 or by logging onto: http://www.ChanceTheater.com .

The Cast Of "The Chance Theater's" "In The Heights" Celebrate "Carnaval Del Barrio"!

The Cast Of “The Chance Theater’s” “In The Heights” Celebrate “Carnaval Del Barrio”!

Production Stills By Doug Catiller of “True Image Studio” (www.TrueImageStudio.com) Courtesy Of “The Chance Theater”; Special Thanks to Casey Long, Oahn Nguyen, Kelly Todd  & to the Cast and Crew of Anaheim California’s “Chance Theater” for making this story possible.

Oh What A Show! Audiences Have Fallen To The Charm Of One More Production’s “Evita” In Garden Grove, CA.

July 1, 2014
'One More Production's'"Evita" June 26-July 20 2014 At The "Gem Theatre" In Garden Grove, CA.

‘One More Production’s'”Evita” June 26-July 20 2014 At The “Gem Theatre” In Garden Grove, CA.

Stand Back Southern California—because ‘One More Productions” is offering up their own ‘touch of star quality’ with their latest production of “Evita”! Fresh on the heels of their successful restart for musical performances at Garden Grove’s historic “Gem Theatre”, the resident company now presents this winner of the 1980 Tony Award for “Best Musical” featuring a book and lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"Argentina has gone to town, over the death of an Actress called Eva Peron"

“Argentina has gone to town, over the death of an Actress called Eva Peron”

Relating the passionate and unforgettable true story of Argentine First Lady Eva Peron, this completely ‘sung-through’ show features some of theater’s most inspiring songs in recent memory, including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, “High Flying, Adored”, “On This Night Of 1000 Stars” and many others. It all begins in July 1952 in a Buenos Aires movie theatre where the picture is interrupted by the announcement that Argentina’s first lady and guiding spirit, Eva Peron has “entered immortality at 20:25 hours this evening.” Flashback then to Junin fifteen years earlier where we witness young ‘Eva Duarte’ as she uses her razor sharp instincts and raw charisma to meteorically rise from the slums of Argentina into the presidential mansion as the wife of President, Juan Peron. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, Eva became one of the most powerful women in the world, even as her ambition, greed, and ultimately, fragile health, made her one of the most tragic.

"Oh, what I'd give for 100 years, but the physical interferes" (Adriana Sanchez as Eva with Danny Diaz as Che)

“Oh, what I’d give for 100 years, but the physical interferes” (Adriana Sanchez as Eva with Danny Diaz as Che)

Capably aided by Assistant Director Tad Fujioka (who also appears in the cast) “One More Productions” co-founder Damien Lorton serves double duty as both the show’s Director and Musical Director, while fellow co-founder Nicole Cassesso serves as Producer. Lorton’s direction is forceful and flowing, though he manages to keep things subtle and subdued in the early scenes which, much like the personal growth depicted of Eva herself, allows the energy to gradually, steadily, build and ‘mature’ until it “bursts forth”, taking you by surprise. More unique still is that both Lorton and Fujioka confide how they really worked with their cast to enable the subtext of each song to shine through beyond the words and melodies being sung. This extra effort is easily apparent and the overall production benefits immensely from it. So too, special applause goes to Wally Huntoon’s versatile utilitarian sets and Jon Hyrkas’ evocative lighting—both so important to a show like this where the action is fluid and ever changing, and each effectively provide these proceedings with some (colorful) sense of scope and (where required) stateliness.

"And the money kept rolling in..." The cast of 'One More Production's' "Evita"

“And the money kept rolling in…” The cast of ‘One More Production’s’ “Evita”

In the title role, Adriana Sanchez literally hits all the right notes, steps and emotions! It’s not until her first number opposite Peron however, that she really lets loose with her complete vocal firepower—and then oh, how powerful she is. Here’s where she really comes into her own, save for the one earlier exception being her adept handling of “Good Night And Thank You…” which similarly builds little by little as Eva’s star rises incrementally higher on her way to becoming “The lady of them all” with each successive man she uses and then discards. Sanchez also excels with the iconic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and immediately after with her part in “High Flying Adored”—indeed, the two numbers are like a delightful back-to-back melodic one-two knockout punch in the second act. Moreover, her “Don’t Cry For Me” reprise (aka “Eva’s Final Broadcast”) and closing soliloquy, “Eva’s Lament”, rank as among the evening’s most touching moments.

"Politics-The art of the possible!" (Chris Peduzzi is Juan Peron)

“Politics-The art of the possible!” (Chris Peduzzi is Juan Peron)

Meanwhile, Danny Diaz’s ‘Che Guevara’ is nicely understated and sardonic—this is a younger ‘pre-revolutionary’ take on the man who would grab plenty of headlines of his own later on. Diaz makes a fine narrator and scene-setter, and his accomplished treatment of the show’s stirring opening “Oh, What Circus”, as well as more than holding up his end of the surreal “Waltz For Che And Eva”, are among his finest numbers in an evening full of them. Not only that, he also has plenty of opportunities to prove just how gifted a dancer he is—leading many of the group endeavors here. Likewise, Chris Peduzzi as Juan Peron possesses a booming voice which he makes terrific use of in the service of “A New Argentina” and his half of the Peron-Evita duet, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”. Even Peron’s introduction, “The Art Of The Possible” is equally striking—staged as a game of elimination where, in the end, only one man is left standing.

"Who am I who dares to keep his head held high while millions weep?" (Danny Diaz is Che Guavara)

“Who am I who dares to keep his head held high while millions weep?” (Danny Diaz is Che Guevara)

Then again, all of Shauna Bradford-Martinez’s impressive choreography is like a big glittery exclamation point to the entire on-stage goings-on, bestowing more dancing than has been seen in previous incarnations of this, or really any of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions. Her staging of “Good For You” is particularly clever: As Eva and her soon-to-be-steady, Peron ‘demurely’ stand at opposite sides of the stage, Che enters at intervals dancing a sultry tango with numerous partners, so by the time the song reaches its climax, there is a chorus full of girls on stage ready to bring the newly paired (and now together center stage) couple’s point resoundingly home. Ms. Bradford-Martinez’s work also makes Act One’s kinetic rouser “Star Quality”, and her high-energy dance interlude at the center of “Rainbow High” (–which itself elevates the second act’s already dynamic forward momentum) absolutely A-Plus too!

As Peron’s Mistress, young Olivia Rybus is the picture of bewildered innocence and pathos, presenting a more sympathetic—even heart wrenching–turn with “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”, while Jon Korbonski is an appealing and strong-voiced presence as the tango singer Augustin Magaldi (of whom, we’re told, is “the first man to be of use to Eva Duarte”.) Others comprising the excellent and talented ensemble include Elyssa Alexander, Monica Beld, Grace Bowen, Rene Bordelon, Lexi Cross, Keresey Dillon, Tad Fujioka, Ashley Bauer Harkey, Reilly Jimenez, Katherine Ljubic, Danielle Lopez, Donovan Marcotte, Zack Martinez, Isabel Melgoza, Tim Miller, Rebecca Murillo, Tayo Odebunmi, Brady Porter, Nicole Powell, Ariana Weiss and Fiona Wynder.

"Requiem Aeternum Dona Evita" (Monica Belo, Danielle Lopez, Katherine Ljubis & Zack Martinez)

“Requiem Aeternum Dona Evita” (Monica Belo, Danielle Lopez, Katherine Ljubis & Zack Martinez)

This is one ‘Grande-sized’ musical audiences will want to be a part of! Located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove, (just moments away from Garden Grove’s 22 Freeway) “The Gem Theatre” recently underwent a major reconstruction, adding a brand-new state of the art sound system (which makes its debut with this production,) newly refurbished theater seats, and a larger, reconfigured stage. Having previewed Thursday, June 26th and Friday June 27th, “Evita” opened Saturday, June 28th and will run through Sunday, July 20th; Show-times are 8:00 PM Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM (special $10 student rush tickets are available for Thursday and Friday performances, with no performance on Friday July 4th) For more information or to purchase tickets, call “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 225, or visit their website at: www.onemoreproductions.com.

"I'm their Saviour--that's what they call me, so Lauren Bacall me, Anything goes!"

“I’m their Saviour–that’s what they call me, so Lauren Bacall me, Anything Goes!”

Production Photos Courtesy Of Dan Pittman At Pittman PR (www.pittmanpr.com) And “One More Productions”; Special Thanks To Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Shauna Bradford-Martinez, Tad Fujioka, Dan Pittman And To The Cast & Crew Of “One More Production’s” “Evita” For Making This Story Possible.

Hear The People Sing: McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s Triumphant “Les Miserables” Is A ‘Dream’ Of A Musical In La Mirada, CA.

June 3, 2014
"Les Miserables" May 31-June 22 2014 At "The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts"

“Les Miserables” May 31-June 22 2014 At “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”

When is the last time you were at a show after which the audience couldn’t get to their feet fast enough to offer up a thunderous and well deserved standing ovation? Yet, that’s precisely what McCoy-Rigby Entertainment and “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” in La Mirada California, have produced as they conclude their stunning 2013-2014 season with the Classic “Les Miserables”. Totally sung through, this winner of the 1987 Tony Award for Best Musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo and features music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. In the capable hands of Director Brian Kite this new re-staging offers a more coherent and accessible ‘representational’ version, complete with fuller sets as opposed to the original’s more ‘presentational’ take which occasionally obscured the time and locales of the events taking place.

Randall Dodge as Javert confronts James Barbour as Jean Valjean

Randall Dodge as Javert confronts James Barbour as Jean Valjean

Set in France during the early years of the nineteenth century, the story details parole-breaker Jean Valjean’s quest for salvation through tumultuous times while trying to ensure his adopted daughter’s happiness. The story opens in Toulon Prison in 1815 where Valjean is an embittered man having been sent there for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children. Later, he has a change of heart after a Bishop (whom he tried to rob) offers him kindness. Flash forward then to 1823 and our hero has turned his life around, and under an assumed name has risen to become a prosperous factory owner and Mayor of Montreuil-Sur-Mer (but his new identity comes with a price—which requires him to keep his convict past hidden, particularly from his beloved daughter Cosette and her fiancée, Marius) Act Two picks up right where the first left off on the streets of Paris 1833, as a student led street rebellion is in the offing, wherein a band of student revolutionaries—including Marius– create a barricade to challenge the local establishment. In order to watch over the lad, Valjean arrives at the barricade where he comes face to face with his long time pursuer, Inspector Javert, but when the occasion arrives that he might finally put an end to his old nemesis, he instead offers life-saving forgiveness.  “Les Mierables” is one of the few musicals in recent memory that offers such forceful moments of true drama, and the cheers come fast and frequently with this particular production. Every one is well-earned.

"A heart full of love..." Marius (Nathaniel Irwin) professes love at first sight for Cosette (Kimberly Hessler)

“A heart full of love…” Marius (Nathaniel Irvin) professes love at first sight for Cosette (Kimberly Hessler)

“At the end of the day” is the first production number that really showcases the entire ensemble, allowing us to, at last, grasp what an incredible—and talented–group they are! Each is the backbone on which this production lies. The trouble with trying to choose who stood out among the featured players in the cast is that they all, in their moments, are so impressive. However, James Barbour couldn’t be better cast as Jean Valjean. His inspired and accomplished handling of two of the key numbers in the piece, Valjean’s “Who Am I” and the iconic “Bring Him Home” could be worthy reason to rush out and see this one alone. Similarly, Jeff Skowron and Meeghan Holaway are collectively brilliant as the scheming couple, M. and Mme. Thenardier. Their hilarious “Master Of The House” injects the serious proceedings with a shot of ‘bad-natured’ joviality just when it’s needed (plus it offers yet another shining opportunity for the chorus to amaze.) Season four “American Idol” alum, Anthony Fedorov also puts his laudable voice to exceptional use as Enjolras. the leader of the student revolutionaries and particularly shines in “The Red And The Black” and “Do You Hear The People Sing?”.

"It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again..." The cast of McCoy-Rigby Entertainment's "Les Miserables"

“It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again…” The cast of McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s “Les Miserables”

Other co-stars include Cassandra Murphy as the luckless waif, Fantine, whose poignant “I Dreamed A Dream” is absolutely dynamic—and oh what a wondrous voice this young lady has! Likewise, young Jude Mason as the plucky street urchin ‘Gavroche’, possesses a voice that way outsizes his diminutive stature which he puts to great use in the service of “Look Down” and “Little People”—this latter wherein, he exposes Inspector Javert—now a high-up with the Paris Police, as a spy. Speaking of the relentless Inspector, Randall Dodge provides the role with the proper seething, repressed passion it requires, while his rich, full, baritone is well showcased in the Act One soliloquy, “Stars” during which we learn of his absolute belief in ‘the law’ and his commitment, not so much to be ‘just’, but instead unquestioned! So too, while Nathaniel Irvin and Kimberly Hessler are easily the most likable on-stage couple as Marius and Cosette, it’s Irvin’s touching duet with Valerie Rose Curiel as the ill-fated Eponine, titled “A Little Fall Of Rain” that is likely to bring tears to your eyes. Later, Irvin scores another heart-felt bulls-eye with “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” as he mourns his deceased friends lost at the barricade.

"Master Of The House, isn't worth my spit..." Jeff Skowron & Meeghan Holaway are M. & Mme. Thenardier

“Master Of The House, isn’t worth my spit…” Jeff Skowron & Meeghan Holaway are M. & Mme. Thenardier

Kite’s direction keeps the action flowing nicely without losing any of the necessary intensity the story requires, while the choreography (largely minimalized in the initial Broadway outing) is by Dana Solimando. Although her contribution here chiefly takes the form of lively staged production numbers with only a few bona fide ‘dance interludes’, her equally fine work nonetheless does add a shot of vivacity to what again could other-wise be some pretty heavy-handed goings on. Cliff Simon’s period-setting scenery too, offers a better perspective than has been seen in previous incarnations. For instance, his ‘Barricade” clarifies that the students’ big ‘revolutionary’ exploit is really just a minor street action and only one (albeit pivotal) moment in the lives of Valjean and his contemporaries. Special kudos also go to Musical Director John Glaudini, whose 12 piece orchestra sounds like many more–one whose evocative tones too, create a sense of scope, pathos, romance, and where appropriate, musical grandeur.

"He was never mine to lose" Valerie Rose Curiel as Eponine laments at seeing Marius and Cosette

“He was never mine to lose” Valerie Rose Curiel as Eponine laments at seeing Marius and Cosette

The very best of this (or any other) season, chalk up still another milestone for the award-winning McCoy-Rigby Entertainment. After previewing on Friday, May 30, 2014, “Les Miserables” opened on Saturday, May 31st and will run through Sunday, June 22, 2014.  Curtain-times are 7:30pm on Wednesdays & Thursdays; 8pm on Fridays; 2pm and 8pm on Saturdays; and 2pm on Sundays. There will be added performances on Sunday, June 15 and 22 at 7pm, and special “Talkback” sessions with the actors after final curtain will be held on Wednesday, June 4 and Wednesday, June 18. Tickets may be purchased at La Mirada Theatre’s website at: www.lamiradatheatre.com or by calling the La Mirada Theatre Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Student, Senior and group discounts are available.) So don’t wait “one day more”—“The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, (near the intersection of Rosecrans Avenue where the 91 and 5 freeways meet.)

"Bring him peace, bring him joy...he is young, he is only a boy" Valjean prays for Marius at the Barricade

“Bring him peace, bring him joy…he is young, he is only a boy” Valjean prays for Marius at the Barricade

Productions Stills By Michael Lamont & Jason Niedle Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And McCoy-Rigby Entertainment; Special Thanks To David Elzer At Demand PR & To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” And McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s Production Of “Les Miserables” For Making This Story Possible.

 

Charming And Sincere: 3-D Theatricals’ Lavish “Into The Woods” Is A Theatre-goers’ Fondest Wish Come True!

May 6, 2014
3-D Theatrical's "Into The Woods", May 2-18, 2014 At The Plummer Auditorium In Fullerton, CA

3-D Theatrical’s “Into The Woods”, May 2-18, 2014 At The Plummer Auditorium In Fullerton, CA

“Wishes may bring problems, such as you regret them; better that though, than to never get them!” the characters sing in “Into The Woods”—Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s five-time Tony Award-winning hodge-podge reimagining of some of our most treasured childhood fairy-tales. Happily, “Once upon a time” is now with an outstanding revival of the show by 3-D Theatricals at Fullerton California’s landmark “Plummer Auditorium” located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue, Fullerton CA.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair!" Viva Carr is The Bakers Wife; Christanna Rowader is Rapunzel

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair!” Viva Carr is The Bakers’ Wife; Christanna Rowader is Rapunzel

There are so many things to like about this truly magical and majestic re-staging of this old favorite as ‘The Plummer’s’ resident theatre company gives this classic the first-class treatment it so richly deserves. What’s more, there’s a special kind of magic that defies description, with plenty of ‘Gee-Whiz” special effects and all your favorite fairy tale characters—including Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the ‘Big Bad Wolf’–even Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the Three Little Pigs make appearances! Lapine’s libretto cleverly uses each tale to explore the conundrums of modern childhood (and parenthood for that matter,) making every story a parable regarding life’s moral ambiguities that very much speaks to young and old alike. At traces, the emotion here is genuine and palatable.

Plot-wise, there’s an interesting contrast that takes place over the course of the show. The first act sees all the characters pursuing their own individual goals that are familiar to anyone who’s ever been told a bed time story; but by the time Act Two rolls around it becomes necessary for them all to pull together to achieve one challenge they all have in common (if they can stop blaming one another long enough to do it, that is.) With their individual wishes granted they must now figure out how defeat a fierce Lady Giant (voiced by “All In The Family” and “Gilmore Girls” star, Sally Strothers) who’s out to avenge the death of her husband after Jack cut down the beanstalk bringing about the raging Behemoth’s untimely demise. (Without a doubt after all the joviality in the first act, things get serious pretty quickly after intermission.) IsaacJamesCreative_3DTheatricals_IntoTheWoods02

Directed and Choreographed by T.J. Dawson, with the aid of Assistant Director Rufus Bonds Jr. and Leslie Stevens as Assistant Choreographer, Dawson’s direction (in the first act especially) is fast-paced—even manic–at times, as the plot and situations require, utilizing Plummer Auditorium’s entire space. Having brought together a fine (and finely tuned) ensemble, he plays up the script’s comic elements as much as possible giving just about all of them their moments to shine. In the second act he slows things down just enough to allow the intensity of what’s being portrayed to be experienced to its full depth. Upon entry, Audience members are greeted by the sounds of the deep dark woods played against the open stage on which are three small cottages (and a cow) all befitting a child’s story book. In fact, the lush set design by Tom Buderwitz hits all the right (and most evocative) ‘notes’, favoring Beatrix Potter or the Brothers Grimm over Walt Disney. Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design which incorporates some nifty shadow effects to convey the menacing presence of the Giantess, along with Andrew Nagy’s Projections (–including that of an especially expansive and vine-covered “Bean stalk”–) also deserve special mention. Complimenting both sets and lighting are the truly sumptuous costumes that come courtesy of “California Musical Theatre” and were coordinated by Yolanda Rowell. Moreover, Musical Director Julie Lamoureux does an equally laudable job presiding over the 15 piece orchestra.

"Stay with me, the world is Dark and wild; stay a child while you can be a child" Betts Malone as The Witch beckons Rapunzel (Christanna Rowader)

“Stay with me, the world is dark and wild; stay a child while you can be a child” Betts Malone as The Witch beckons Rapunzel (Christanna Rowader)

Betts Malone does a superlative job as “The Witch”–first appearing as a bitter and vengeful old crone until she is ‘transformed’ into a great beauty with no powers. She’s the one who reminds the group of how truly treacherous Giants can be: “A Giant is just like us…only bigger!” she warns them. Her Act Two malediction, “Last Midnight” builds softly—insidiously —from a gentle lullaby into a bona fide show-stopper. Jeanette Dawson too, presents a different, more three-dimensional take on “Cinderella”–and oh what a voice she has! She particularly impresses with “On The Steps Of The Palace” –Sondheim’s witty ode to indecision, as well as when taking the lead vocals on the iconic “No One Is Alone”. Jordan Lamoureux provides a healthy dose of youthful energy as the “sad lad” Jack, bringing a vibrancy to his stream-of-consciousness chanson “Giants In The Sky”, while Julie Morgentaler’s ‘Red Ridinghood” is a pint-sized powerhouse with a voice as big as great out-doors! Her soliloquy “I Know Things Now” is A-Plus, yet she can still quietly manage to stroke the heart-strings as well with her part in “No One Is Alone”. Shortly thereafter, the entire cast unites onstage for “Children Will Listen” (complete with seldom heard verses) to make for a fitting finale to this utterly delightful show.

"The harder to get, the better to have!" Cameron Sczempka & Tim Martin Gleason are The Princes

“The harder to get, the better to have!” Cameron Sczempka & Tim Martin Gleason are The Princes

Excellent support is also provided by Cameron Sczempka as ‘Rapunzel’s Prince and Tim Martin Gleason pulls double-duty as Cinderella’s not-so charming Prince (“I was raised to be charming—not sincere” he tells her at one point) and Red Ridinghood’s wolf. In this latter guise, his solo turn “Hello Little Girl” is handled with class, choosing subtlety and seduction over outright salaciousness. Likewise, Tracy Rowe Mutz does a fine job (and gets plenty of laughs) as Jack’s slightly nutty mother. In addition, Sondheim created a surprising amount a duets for this one and each stands out wonderfully. “Agony”—the two Prince’s melodic treatise on wanting and infidelity offers a near operatic “Wow-factor” for the evening, while the Baker and his Wife’s “It Takes Two” also hits a dynamic bulls-eye. Indeed, Jeff Skowron and Viva Carr as the fore-mentioned pair make for the most tuneful couple and the perfect duo to serve as the center (and in some cases, touchstone) for all the on-stage goings-on. Carr’s number, “Moment’s In The Woods” is also a highpoint.

"It Takes Two Of Us" Jeff Skowron is The Baker, Viva Carr is His Wife

“It Takes Two Of Us” Jeff Skowron is The Baker, Viva Carr is His Wife

Family-Friendly entertainment doesn’t get any better than this, so don’t wait for another “midnight gone” –‘Happily Ever After” only lasts three weeks! Having opened Friday, May 2, “Into The Woods” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM through Sunday May 18th, with added performances on Thursday, May 15th at 8:00 PM and Saturday, May 17th at 2:00 PM . Tickets may be obtained by phone at (714) 589-2770, online by vising www.3dtshows.com or at the theatre two hours prior to performances (Group and Student discounts are also available.)

 

 

Production Stills by Isaac James Creative (http://isaacjamescreative.com) Courtesy of Michael Sterling & Associates Entertainment Publicity and 3-D Theatricals. Special Thanks to the Cast and Crew of 3-D Theatrical’s “Into The Woods” for making this story possible.

"To be happy--and forever, you must see your wish come true" Tim Martin Gleason is The Prince with Jeanette Dawson as Cinderella

“To be happy–and forever, you must see your wish come true” Tim Martin Gleason is The Prince with Jeanette Dawson as Cinderella

“Let It Sing”: Garden Grove’s Gem Theater ‘Raise’s Up’ With ‘One More Productions’ Jubilant Road-Trip Musical, “Violet”

April 16, 2014

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“Bring me to the light”—of the Historic Gem Theatre in Garden Grove California, that is, where after a tragic fire in May 2011, their resident theater company, “One More Productions”, is demonstrating things are better than back to normal with the opening of “Violet” on Saturday, April 12th 2014. A truly triumphant musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, “Violet” is based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. It introduces us to Violet, a young facially disfigured woman who, in 1964, embarks on a bus journey from her farm in the hills of North Carolina, all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed by a flashy “fire-and-brimstone” Televangelist whom she sees as her last hope for a normal face and a normal life. The first book-musical to be performed at The Gem Theatre since the landmark facility reopened following their recent renovation, the show’s director is Damien Lorton (who’s also the co-founder of One More Productions.) On opening night, Lorton addressed the audience explaining the choice for “Violet” to open the company’s 2014 musical season was made to provide viewers “not just with the type of shows they want to see, but the type of shows they deserve to see.”

"You're Different..."  Nicole Cassesso as Violet meets Danny Diaz as "Monty"

“You’re Different…” Nicole Cassesso as Violet meets Danny Diaz as “Monty”

A simple orchestration opens with a languid banjo rhythm that builds gradually into the jumpin’, jivin’, opening number, titled “On My Way”. After which, we learn via flashback that life has not been easy for our Heroine and that after the tragic accident that left her scarred, the self-righteous among her small (and small-minded) mountain community have been quick to rationalize her misfortune as “just desserts fer not goin’ t’church more regular!” Even her father advises at one point that when going to the local ‘pitchur show’ she “take the back way so’s nobody sees ya.” As a theatrical device, we never actually see the scar but rather the way those on stage react to it. According to Librettist Crawley, this was done to provide individual audience members “the opportunity to decide the meaning of beauty for themselves.” Happily, Violet’s Papa has also taught her something she can use in life—and that’s how to play cards. Indeed, by age 26 she’s a regular ‘card-sharp’! This inspires one of the productions’ more memorable numbers, “Luck Of The Draw”–as the adult Violet continually skunks her two traveling companions—soldiers by the names of “Flick” and “Monty”–in a game of Poker even as we see her younger self being taught how to do it by her father (“so’ she’ll learn to add and subtract better” of course.)

In the title role, Nicole Cassesso is ebullient and thoroughly likeable—sensitive and charismatic which is so important for this particular story as it all unfolds entirely through her eyes.

Violet (NIcole Cassesso) is "In The Chapel"

Violet (Nicole Cassesso) is “In The Chapel”

It is in the subtler moments though, when she doesn’t simply ‘shine’ onstage, she incandesces, providing deep insight into her character and into the human condition of the time as well. Matching her in terms of amiability, “root-for-ability” and talent is Skylar Johnson who’s a big, burly, vocal power house as Sgt. Grady Flickers, or “Flick” for short. His intense, soulful voice is especially well showcased with “Let It Sing” and “Promise Me, Violet”. Joining them is Danny Diaz as the young Vietnam-bound soldier, Monty (short for “Montgomery”.) Flush with the brashness of youth, Diaz’ Monty isn’t a bad guy—he’s just headstrong and despite a brief encounter with the leading lady, neither is what the other sincerely needs. Moreover Sophia Scarsi, also makes for a spunky-yet-sympathetic, younger Violet. In fact, some of the best, most touching moments occur when the two Violets share the stage simultaneously as the plot unfolds both in the present and in flashback concurrently.

Sophia Scarsi as the young Violet with her older "self", Nicole Cassesso

Sophia Scarsi as the young Violet with her older “self”, Nicole Cassesso

Then again, every member of the small, eight-person ensemble is given plenty to do and all have their moments. Danielle Lopez as the singer in a seedy music hall our trio visits, really knocks one out of the ball park with her awesome handling of “Lonely Stranger”—a hip, uber-groovy descant reminiscent of the classic 60’s era Motown sound. Kwanzaa Higgins too has an absolutely dynamic voice which she joyfully unleashes in her turn as Lulu Buffington—one of the preacher’s acolytes–during the second act Crowd-Pleaser, “Raise Me Up”. Nicole Cassesso and Daniel Berlin 2  Daniel Berlin also offers fine support as the (literally) larger than life Televangelist whom Violet has set out to meet and be ‘healed’ by in her quest ‘fer a brand new face’. Similar to “The Wizard Of Oz”, he’s that man behind the curtain–only now, he’s on TV preaching to the masses, without genuinely caring for any of them. Alex Bodrero as Violet’s Father, the one responsible for her accident, is likewise a forceful presence, but his best, most empathetic moments occur chiefly in Act II as well.

Young Violet (Sophia Scarsi)_ confronts her father (Alex Bodrero)

Young Violet (Sophia Scarsi) confronts her father (Alex Bodrero)

Just as the slightly enlarged stage complements the newly revamped auditorium (—even the paint still smells fresh–) Lorton’s direction is both innovative and understated, making full use of the theater. This is especially shrewd as the true power of this one really sneaks up on you (and oh, what a power it is!) Wally Huntoon’s sky blue “Greyhound Bus Station” set effectively and effortlessly serves double and triple duties for many locations, while Crawley and Tesori’s remarkable Tony-worthy score perfectly recalls both the times and the places the story takes us to, raucously encompassing, at turns, bits of classic “Opryland” country, vintage rock-and-roll and good old roof-raising gospel. (As it also happens, Act Two is practically all sung through with only small breaks for actual spoken dialogue!)

Thought-provoking and potent, it’s a rare opportunity when local audiences can see a show that is simultaneously in its pre-Broadway run in New York City, yet that’s exactly what’s happening here. According to Lorton, “The Gem” is only one of two theaters (the other being in Washington State) that was allowed to retain the rights to “Violet” once the Roundabout Theater Company decided to take the show to Broadway where it officially opens later this week. So don’t miss the bus—checkout this little ‘gem’ of a show at The Gem Theatre where it’s playing through Sunday May 4th.. Show-times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00PM. The Gem Theatre is located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove California. For more information or to purchase tickets call One More Productions at (714) 741-9550, ext. 225, or visit the website at: www.onemoreproductions.com. (Student Rush and Senior Discounts are also available.)

"Violet" At The Historic Gem Theatre 12852 Main Street In Garden Grove, CA

“Violet” At The Historic Gem Theatre 12852 Main Street In Garden Grove, CA

Production Photos By Lisa Scarsi Courtesy Of “One More Productions”; Special Thanks To Damien Lorton, Dan Pittman And The Cast &  Crew Of One More Productions’ “Violet” For Making This Story Possible.

Lights Up: LA’s Chromolume Theatre’s “The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical” Proves Do-Re-Memorable!

March 11, 2014
"The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical" At The Chromolume Theatre In Los Angeles CA March 7th-23rd 2014

“The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical” At The Chromolume Theatre In Los Angeles CA, March 7th-23rd 2014

Los Angeles is alive with the sound of “The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical” which returned to “The Chromolume Theatre At The Attic” on Friday March 7th for a limited, three-week run. One basic plot—“I can’t pay the rent” becomes five raucously entertaining and tuneful mini-musicals, each written in the style of a different master of the musical form ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. The book is by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart (who also contributed the Lyrics) with Music by Eric Rockwell. It takes a masterful team to parody other masters so effectively and these two have created such a smart, hilarious and easily produced a little masterpiece that no musical theater fan or show-tune aficionado will want to miss it! In fact, the puns comes so fast and frequently, you’ll have a great time trying to count them all! Told in five individual acts, in addition to Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein, healthy homage is likewise paid to Jerry Herman, Kander & Ebb and Andrew Lloyd Webber—with even a quick nod to Marvin Hamlisch at the evening’s close.

"Oh the critters are havin' a field day..." Jason Peter Kennedy  is "Big Willy" & Jean Altadel is "June" in "Corn"

“Oh the critters are havin’ a field day…” Jason Peter Kennedy is “Big Willy” & Jean Altadel is “June” in “Corn”

Inside the Chromolume’s intimate 99 seat space, a simple black set effectively serves multiple purposes, opening with the single piano that will serve as the sole accompaniment upstage, with the addition of a rocking chair downstage right. At Lights up, episode one is introduced—a Kansas farm in August and we are into “Corn” a lush romantic send-up of all things Rodgers and Hammerstein. Our hero “Big Willy” bursts forth with “Oh, What Beautiful Corn”—a song peppered with plenty of familiar phrases and references to many of the team’s other hits. His girl, ‘June’ lives on the farm with ‘Mother Abby’. The villain of the piece is ‘Jidder’ (“Don’t call me Leisl”)—the landlord with eyes on June, who will forgo the rent she can’t pay on the condition that she agrees to marry him.  Of course, this would be out of the question save for the fact that (in true R & H tradition) Willy and June spend most of their time trying desperately to not admit that they really are madly in love with one another: “Don’t throw OK’s at me” they argue during one such moment and when Willy decides to leave he does so shouting “So long, farewell, auf wedersehen, GOOD BYE!” In the end however, all is right and a spirited and splashy conclusion (also in true R&H tradition) ensues.

"Hey! Leave the little lady alone!" "Big Willy" (Jason Peter Kennedy) confronts "Jidder" (Eduardo Enrikez)

“Hey! Leave the little lady alone!” “Big Willy” (Jason Peter Kennedy) confronts “Jidder” (Eduardo Enrikez)

Act two is a sharp-witted satire on the collected works of Stephen Sondheim titled “A Little Complex”. Taking us to a dingy apartment complex called “The Woods” filled with “Unlovable people whose lives are hollow” who insist on singing “dissonant and overly complex melodies,” overseeing everything is Jitter, the tightly-wound Landlord, who we’re informed is also an Artist—and DEMON! (Picture Georges Seurat were he Sweeney Todd!) Here too, the line takeoffs are both subtle and clever all at once. When June (here called “Jeune’) asks the tortured ‘Jitter’ for a little respect and decorum, comes her reply, “I try, but a funny thing happened on the way to decorum.” Lights up on Act three takes our imaginations to a swank Manhattan penthouse with “Dear Abby”, a right-on send up of the works of composer Jerry Herman. Upon Abby’s ‘grand entrance’ (—in a feather boa, no less,) she advises us, “Life is a ‘Star Vehicle’ and most poor suckers are stuck in a ‘Bus and Truck’ tour!” This is easily the most ‘jovial’ of the evening’s offerings featuring flashy, brassy women and flamboyant men (“We’re ‘queer’ for Abby” they shout) with everything culminating with the standard giant “Stair-case’ number.

"Alarming and Charming, yet truly Disarming..." Jean Altadel is "Jeune" & Eduardo Enrikez is "Jitter" in "A Little Complex"

“Alarming and Charming, yet truly Disarming…” Jean Altadel is “Jeune” & Eduardo Enrikez is “Jitter” in “A Little Complex”

The second act (or should that be the act after intermission) brings us “Aspects Of Junita” a completely sung-through segment honoring the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s rock-opera meets ‘mock-opera’ (Think of it as what would happen if “Phantom Of The Opera” crashed headlong into “Evita”, with “Sunset Blvd.” driving.) Junita offers an opening salvo titled “I’ve heard this song before” that launches the goings-on into the stratosphere! (After much melodic ‘sturm-and-drang’ she finally laments “Can’t we just talk?!”) This is also the most ‘effects laden’ episode—where, at one point, the cast skate around on scooters scowling like Cats and (naturally) a chandelier comes crashing down toward the finale. The last act is dedicated to the works of Kander and Ebb and is titled “Speakeasy”. Lights up on a shabby little Cabaret in Chicago, where everyone speaks with a strange German Accent. Jitter (here pronounced Yooter) is a pseudo-pig-latin spouting M.C. who greets us with “Meine  damen und air-heads” as he introduces ‘Juny’ (That’s Juney with a J” she sings) Juny’s boyfriend is ‘Villy’ who, while in prison, has gotten in touch with his more ‘feminine’ side and spends his time spinning lush fantasies a la “Kiss Of The Spider Woman”. His “Color Me Gay” (–a spoof on Barbara Streisand’s “My Coloring Book”) is a definite highlight here  and later, the take-off on Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” called “Just Don’t Pay” is perhaps the very best production number in the entire show.

"I'd like to propose a toast. Let see what would happen if you Shut Up!" (Christina Morrell is "Abby")

“I’d like to propose a toast. Let see what would happen if you Shut Up!” (Christina Morrell is “Abby”)

All of the lampoonery scores a big bull’s-eye when it comes to garnering big laughs; each member of the cast is a vocal powerhouse and each has their individual moments to shine. The four person ensemble all portray variations on the same part in each act’s various ‘incarnations’ as they seamlessly slip into one show or song parody after another. They include Jason Peter Kennedy as our hero “Will”, Jean Altadel as “June”, Christina Morrell as “Abby” and Eduardo Enrikez as “Jitter”. Morrell has a brilliant voice worthy of a 9999 seat house, and her inspiring chanson “Follow Your Dream Until You Die” earns an A-Plus early on in the evenings proceedings, while Altadel’s “I Have Birds” (performed during the Sondheim send-up) demonstrates just how potent the pipes are on this talented young lady. On opening night, the part of “Jitter” (in all his manifestations) was played by Jason Chacon who himself demonstrated expert characterizations—some remarkably subtle, some not so much–expertly catching the essence of every Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber leading man wonderfully!

Director Kristin Towers-Rowles has crafted one large fast-paced, nutty rollercoaster ride wherein the laughs are deep and genuine. Choreography is by Samantha Whitby who does a great job filling the stage with only a quartet of performers. Act one features a nifty (and ‘Highly symbolic’) “dream ballet” that is anything but ‘run of ‘De Mille”, nor is her takes on the styles of Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, Ron Field or numerous other choreographers who made these original shows so unforgettable. Moreover, Kara McLeod’s effective costumes consist of plain black rehearsal clothes augmented with simple articles that suggest character such as hats, vests, aprons and capes. Musical Director and Accompanist Richard Berent’s inspired scene change music—whether it’s “Send In The Clowns” played as a dirge or snippets of grand opera mixed with pop/show tunes like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” make even the scene-change blackouts highly enjoyable too.

"DONE: Now we can pay the rent-y--Fun! (But now it's--Done!)" The Cast Of The Chromolume Theatre's "The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical"

“DONE: Now we can pay the rent-y–Fun! (But now it’s–Done!)” The Cast Of The Chromolume Theatre’s “The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical”

“The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical” will run for three weekends through Sunday, March 23. Show-times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be purchased by calling (323) 205-1617 or on-line by logging onto: www.crtheatre.com ; The Chromolume Theatre At The Attic is located at 5429 W. Washington Blvd. (between the 10 Freeway and Hauser Blvd.) in Los Angeles California.

Production photos by James Esposito, Courtesy of Ken Werther Publicity. Special Thanks to Ken Werther at Ken Werther Publicity and to the cast and crew of The Chromolume Theatre at “The Attic’s” “The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical” for making this story possible.

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