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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Two For The Show: The Chance Theater’s “Lysistrata Jones” & Musical Theater West’s “The Music Man” Prove Music Is In The Air In So Cal

February 18, 2014

One is a modern updating of a classic comedy; the other is a classic bit of Americana, and, having each opened over Valentine’s Day weekend, you can bet there’s romance, songs, and music aplenty throughout Southern California! The West Coast Premiere of “Lysistrata Jones” marks the inaugural production of the Chance Theater’s impressive new 150 seat theater, while Musical Theater West at Long Beach’s Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts welcomed in a new production of Meredith Willson’s Tony Award-winning, “The Music Man”! Both are two enchanting shows worthy of completely losing yourself in.

Lysistrata (Devon Hadsell) flanked by Lampito (Klarissa Mesee) L and Robin (Ashley Arlene Nelson) R vow to stop 'giving it up"

Lysistrata (Devon Hadsell) flanked by Lampito (Klarissa Mesee) L and Robin (Ashley Arlene Nelson) R vow to stop ‘giving it up”

Loosely inspired by Aristophanes’ classic play, “Lysistrata Jones” kicks off The Chance’s 16th triumphant season. Set in and around a large basketball court appropriately decked with Greco-Roman designs (The team is called “The Spartans” after all,) the entire concept is as unique as it is clever—think “High School Musical” with a decidedly ‘adult’ twist. Magnificently realized, the hilarious dialogue and upbeat score from Tony nominated playwright Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn has been described as “an electric combination of “Mean Girls”, “Glee” and “Pitch Perfect”. Rest assured, just because the action is all set at college—this one is anything but sophomoric!)

Mick (J.D. Driskill) & Cinesias (Jackson Tobiska) are cheered on by "Lyssie  J." (Devon Hadsell)

Mick (J.D. Driskill) & Cinesias (Jackson Tobiska) are cheered on by “Lyssie J.” (Devon Hadsell)

When the action begins we learn that Athens University has a problem…its basketball team is in the midst of a thirty-year losing streak, so new transfer student Lysistrata (aka “Lyssie J.) decides to form cheerleading  squad comprised of the girlfriends of the team’s players; (“Losing every single time? That’s no way to live!” she tells Mick, the team Captain and her main squeeze; “you’ve got to shine—you’ve got to live up to your potential…the time has come to finally win!”) Yet, when that does little to affect the outcome of their games, much like her famous namesake, our Lysistrata launches “a sex-jihad” and she’s even read the “Spark Notes on the original play (unabridged yet!) convincing her girl-power posse to cease “giving it up” to their basketball-playing boyfriends until they win a game.

Soon the guys are ‘harder that long division” and a comedic battle of the sexes has begun. The opening salvo is titled “Right Now” which introduces the cast and effectively sets up this basic plot; “Lay Low”, the boys’ counterpoint to the girls’ embargo on ‘doin’ the deed’ is equally as catchy. Act Two presents the cast in all their various dilemmas—couples broken up, with new ones yet to form, so the boys turn to visit the Madame at the local brothel. She in turn sets them up with their girlfriends—in disguise. When push comes to shove the guys realize that they crave something deeper than just momentary carnal gratification, and by the final curtain, not only have the broken their losing streak, the boys have all matured into to respectful men, sensitive to the needs of their ladies, (or in the case of two of the guys, each other–) and our Heroine not only saves the day, she’s also gained a new stronger perspective on herself and relationships in general.

Lysistrata (Devon Hadsell) finds and unexpected ally in Xander, the team mascot (Robert Wallace)

Lysistrata (Devon Hadsell) finds an unexpected ally in Xander, the team mascot (Robert Wallace)

In the title role, Devon Hadsell is sweet-voiced and radiates a wholesome kind of All-American exuberance that has us rooting for her right from the very start—we know right from the get-go she’s going to achieve her goals one way or another “No matter how hard, no matter how long!” (–yeah, the script is loaded with plenty of such ‘piquant’ double entendres like that.) Her Act One final soliloquy, “Where Am I Now” is excellent, really showing Ms. Hadsell ability to deliver a song that’s both heartfelt, intimate and powerful at the same time! Camryn Zelinger is Hettaira, the omnipresent narrator who both comments on, and guides the action kind of like a latter-day ‘Nike’–the Greek spirit of Victory; that is until she is called upon to actual participate in the story as “Madame Hettaira”—the proprietress of the local brothel who ‘advises’ the girls how to up their game and ultimately win their men. Her number, “I don’t think so”, an ode to ‘teasing with no intention of pleasing’ is her shining moment in a series of shining moments.

Camryn Zelinger Returns to "The Chance Theater' as 'Madame Hettaira'

Camryn Zelinger Returns to “The Chance Theater’ as ‘Madame Hettaira’

The Athens “Spartans” are Uardo (Michael Dashefsky), Tyllis (Darian Archie), Cinesias (Jackson Tobiska), and Harold (Ricky Wagner). Led by J.D. Driskill as Mick, the Captain of the Basketball team and initially Lysistrata’s main squeeze, Driskill’s great moment occurs in the second act with his impressive solo turn, “When She Smiles” which at last allows J.D. to let loose with some pretty impressive vocal power himself. Likewise, the names of Lyssie’s cheerleaders all cleverly reference Aristophanes’ own original characters (but again with a 21st Century twist.) They are Klarissa Mesee as Lampito, Danielle Rosario as Cleonice and Chelsea Baldree as Myrrine. Lyssie also persuades a poetry loving librarian-work study student turned activist named Robin and a left-leaning blogger named Xander to join her “just say no crusade” as well. As Robin, Ashley Arlene Nelson also has an A-Plus voice, which she amply reveals in her duet with Ms. Hadsell, titled “Just Once”. As Xander, the sensitive intellectual, who reluctantly becomes the team’s new mascot, (and ultimately, Lyssie’s surprise soul-mate,) Robert Wallace also does a fine job standing out in what could be a too easily overlooked role. “You’re onto something great—something mighty” he assures our heroine. Their shared anthem to perseverance, “Hold-On” is a bona-fide showstopper, and his clever, rapid-fire delivery as the start of the “Right Now Operetta (It’s A Little Like)” demonstrates he’s got some pretty dexterous vocal chops too!

Kari Hayter marks her first time directing at “The Chance” and it’s a pretty impressive debut. She makes terrific use of the entire space and keeps the action going at a firm pace, but not so fast that the more intimate moments don’t receive their full due. Choreographed by Chance Theater Resident Artist, Kelly Todd, her choreography is athletic, utilizing a lot of movement in unison and modern dance steps and gyrations, adding a surprising element of grace to all the goings on.  Even the all toga-clad curtain call rocks! When is the last time that there’s been a smart, snappy sex-farce in local theater? Happily thanks to the right-on fast-moving treatment this little treasure of show has gotten from the Chance Theater, that time is “right now”!

Ultimately both sexes learn that there's more to love and relationships than "Right Now"

Ultimately both sexes learn that there’s more to love and relationships than “Right Now”

Likewise, Musical Theatre West presents the second production of their own incredible 61st season: Davis Gaines (Los Angeles’ longest-running ‘Phantom’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of The Opera”) starring as Professor Harold Hill along with Gail Bennett as Librarian, Marian Paroo in Meredith Willson’s joyous classic, “The Music Man”. The applause comes fast, furious and frequent here, and for good cause–few shows are as downright likeable as this one is, and this is one thoroughly likeable production! With book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, the story is based on one by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey.

David Gaines as Professor Harold Hill warns "We got Trouble right here in River-city!"

Davis Gaines as Professor Harold Hill warns “We got Trouble right here in River-city!”

Set in the year 1912, it all starts on a train. After making an unexpected stop-over in River-city Iowa, Con-man Harold Hill promises to create a boys’ band in order to “keep the young ones moral afterschool” once a pool table has popped up at the local Billiard Parlour.  Hill, you see is the purveyor of “the Think System” of music instruction which requires no actual practice or need for learning to read music, and his persuasive patter in selling his scheme (along with the instruments and uniforms) fools everyone except the town librarian. With this show, Writer-Composer Willson managed to find and capitalize on the music found in the rhythms of everyday life which he spotlights in many of the Musical numbers that absolutely invigorate his ground-breaking score (“Rock Island” and the immortal “Trouble In River City” may just be the very first rap-songs ever heard on Broadway!) Included are the standards “Goodnight, My Someone,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,”, “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” and “Till There Was You.” In fact, few shows can boast a score in which every song is memorable, and many of these ditties will be merrily playing in your head long after the final curtain has been wrung.

"Seventy-Six Trombones Led The Big Parade" (Gaines & The Cast of 'The Music Man')

“Seventy-Six Trombones Led The Big Parade” (Gaines & The Cast of ‘The Music Man’)

Gaines does a remarkable job as that “spellbinding cymbal salesman” Professor Harold Hill, and Bennett matches him step-for-step, note-for-note as “Marian The Librarian”. Gaines is a familiar face to MTW’s audiences having assayed roles as disparate as King Arthur in the company’s “Spamalot” to Don Quixote in “Man Of La Mancha” and silent movie pioneer, Mack Sennett in last year’s concert production of “Mack And Mabel”. As expected, he excels in “Trouble” providing the needed fireworks there and throughout, but his performance overall is natural and nuanced making Hill likeable and more importantly—believable, regardless of the yarns he’s spinning. So too, Bennett’s ‘Marian’ doesn’t just shine-she incandesces—and oh, what a voice! Her duet with young Maggie Balleweg as ‘Amaryllis’, is spot-on providing a glimpse of the numerous vocal delights she’ll be providing later on. Fortunately one doesn’t have to wait too long as her solo, “My White Knight” is positively mesmerizing. To top it off, Gaines and Bennett make for a lovely and tuneful on-stage pairing and together, their “Til There Was You” (the song that practically defines a great “eleven o’clock number,) is definitely worth waiting for!

" 'Til There Was You" (Davis Gaines as Harold Hill with Gail Bennett as Marian)

” ‘Til There Was You” (Davis Gaines as Harold Hill with Gail Bennett as Marian)

Upon the curtain’s rise, one is immediately taken with the vibrant colors employed in the sets and costumes, and how the younger members of the cast are well utilized–particularly in the big “Seventy-Six Trombones” number which here, rates a standing ovation all its own. Seasoned actor Joey D’Auria as Mayor Shinn provides a powder-keg of bluster which explodes into some big laughs, and there is nothing ‘rrrrrr-reticent” about Rebecca Spencer’s portrayal of his wife Eulalie; she’s a larger than life handful of hilarity, offering a slightly more sympathetic take on “River-city’s First Lady”. Christian Villanueva as Tommy Djilas and Ashley Anderson as Zaneeta Shinn also adeptly make their characters refreshingly original and completely their own (–and both have the expert terpsichorean moves to match!) Moreover, Kevin Ciardelli as Marian’s shy little brother, Winthrop Paroo, similarly makes him more believable than the caricature he’s often seen as. He too, can effectively ‘sell’ a song as well as the older members of the cast and he does so laudably with “Gary, Indiana”.

John Todd’s effervescent choreography is pretty near awe-inspiring, frequently incorporating acrobatic moves in with traditional ballet or Irish folk dances with a few good old-fashioned vaudeville flourishes to boot! All of the dances are vigorous but graceful–even at times, lyrical–filled with plenty of “Did-you-just-see-that” moves, making what could be run-of-the-mill production numbers rise to the level of magic one goes to theater for. Standouts include The “Marian The Librarian” number, as well as the Act II rouser, “Shipoopi”. Jeff Maynard’s direction is fast-paced and flowing packing an evening’s worth of entertainment into what seems like a scant two hours. Then again, what he’s created here is a crisper, cleaner production than what may have been seen in recent times. His innovative staging breathes fresh new life into this old favorite, and he fore-goes the overly splashy, dream-like conclusion of the film for one that’s subtler and more genuine but every bit as fulfilling. On opening night however, audiences were treated to an additional thrill, when at the show’s close, members of the Tetzlaff Trojan Band and Color Guard emerged from the wings to serenade those in attendance with a rousing reprise of “Seventy-Six Trombones” as only a large brass band can, making for one of the most stirring finale’s in MTW history.

The First Lady Of River-City: Rebecca Spencer is "Eulailie Mackecknie Shinn"

The First Lady Of River-City: Rebecca Spencer is “Eulailie Mackecknie Shinn”

Having opened Saturday, February 15th the show runs through Sunday, March 9th  with performances Friday evenings at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 3:00PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. The Chance Theater is located at its new home at: 5522 E. La Palma Avenue, Anaheim, CA. Tickets may be obtained by calling the box office at (714) 777-3033 or on-line at www.ChanceTheater.com  ; In addition, after previewing on Friday, February 14th , “The Music Man” also opened on Saturday, February 15th  where it will perform for three weeks through Sunday, March 2nd at The Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located at 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach on the campus of California State University, Long Beach.  Show-times  are: Thursday and Friday evenings at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. There will be an additional Sunday evening performance on February 23 at 7:00 PM, and all tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 562-856-1999 – Ext. 4; in person at the MTW Box Office located at 4350 E 7th Street, Long Beach, or online at www.musical.org.. Box Office hours are 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday (Group Discounts are available for parties of 12 or more can be had by calling the Group Sales Department at 562-856-1999 ex 222.)

Shy Winthrop Paroo (Kevin Ciardelli) has a fan in Amaryllis (Maggie Balleweg)

Shy Winthrop Paroo (Kevin Ciardelli) has a fan in Amaryllis (Maggie Balleweg)

“Lysistrata Jones” Photos by Thamer Bajjali, “True Image Studio”, Courtesy of “The Chance Theater”; “The Music Man” Photos by “Caught In The Moment”  Photography, Courtesy of David  Elzer at Demand PR (www.DemandPR.com) Special Thanks To Casey Long at “The Chance Theater”, David Elzer and Doug Clayton at Demand PR, Dayna Perotin, and to the casts and crews of “Lysistrata Jones” at “The Chance Theater” and Musical Theater West’s “The Music Man” For making this story possible.

‘Sinfully’ Funny: “The Book Of Mormon” Rings Your Bell With All The Right Notes!

January 25, 2014
"The Book Of Mormon" At The Famous Pantages Theater In Hollywood, CA.  Jan. 21-May 11 2014

“The Book Of Mormon” At The Famous Pantages Theater In Hollywood, CA. Jan. 21-May 11 2014

They’re on a mission—for big laughs! Fresh from San Francisco, the sensational cast of the second national tour of “The Book Of Mormon” stopped into the majestic Pantages Theater in Hollywood on Tuesday, January 21st  for an extended run! When the off-the-wall minds that brought us ‘South Park’ paired with the equally sharp-witted composer of the Tony Award winning ‘Avenue Q’, the result was this musical that many have described as “a rare theatrical farce…that cleverly pokes fun at such sensitive social topics as religion and race.” Featuring a book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, the production walked away with the 2011 Tony Award for best musical along with eight others including Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction and Best Scenic Design. Who knew a show about missionaries could prove so popular—or so damned funny!

"We can fully guarantee you, that this book will change your life" (The Cast Of The Book Of Mormon")

“We can fully guarantee you, that this book will change your life” (The Cast Of The Book Of Mormon”)

“Long Ago,” we’re told (via the booming voice of God spoken by none other than a pre-recorded Trey Parker) the back story of the Mormons and their beliefs–starting with their ‘beginnings’ as a lost tribe of Israel that somehow had found their way to North America. Immediately after, we’re introduced to several fresh-faced young missionaries-in-training—and two in particular, “Elder” Kevin Price and “Elder” Arnold Cunningham. Price is pretty full of himself convinced of his own righteousness while his schlubbish “missionary companion” is every bit the nerd he looks and, when pressured, isn’t above stretching the truth in order to get his point across. The pair is soon sent to Uganda in Africa (“Where is that?” Cunningham asks)—where they find a war and pestilence ravaged village full of starving locals who themselves aren’t above cursing God for the many hardships they face–or as they put it “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (“Having a saying makes it all better!” we’re told.) Once there, they meet ‘their ward’—a group of similarly minded Mormon boys. Not so much a bold “Army Of The Church” as kind of the “F-Troop” of missionaries (–F being for ‘Fabulous’–) they may try hard but aren’t converting anybody!

As Elder Kevin Price, David Larsen is as wholesome as a tall glass of milk, gifted with an especially expressive voice. He effectively takes center stage in most of the group numbers, but his solo effort, “I Believe” is a definite crowd pleaser, as is “You And Me—But Mostly Me”. So too, Elder Price’s “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is raucously hilarious as he envisions every young red-blooded Mormons’ worst fears in the place of eternal fire.

1373320770_BOMChicago1202r  Denee Benton too, is spot-on as the innocent, wide-eyed and waifish, Nabalungi–the idealistic African girl caught in some pretty severe circumstances. Among her best and surprisingly touching moments occurs with her number, “Sal Tlay Ka See-Tee” (Salt Lake City) wherein she dreams of better days for herself and those she loves by imagining a near impossible Utopia where “flies don’t bite your eye-balls and human life has worth.” Meanwhile Pierce Cassedy’s Elder McKinley is the most, well, let’s say ‘overtly ebullient’ ward-leader this side of the “Evergreen Conversion Therapy” ministry (“O.M. Gosh!” he exclaims upon hearing of Elders Price and Cunningham’s eventual successes with the villagers.) His big number is “Turn It off” in which he enthusiastically instructs the ward to literally tap their troubles away by repressing–via song and dance—any unwanted thoughts or emotions.

"Hello, My name is Elder Price --and I would like to share with you the most amazing book"

“Hello, My name is Elder Price –and I would like to share with you the most amazing book”

David Aron Damane also is a force to be reckoned with glowering over the entire proceedings as the evil “General Butt-Fucking Naked” (Yes, that’s what he’s called!) If there’s a scene-stealer though (in the best way possible,) it’s Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Arnold Cunningham. Strand does an awesome job leading the cast in “Man Up”–the First Act finale when Arnold decides if the villagers are to be converted, it’s up to him (no matter which stories he has to ‘alter’ to tell them,) as well as its second act follow-up “Making Things Up Again” as he imagines his father, Joseph Smith, and Jesus Christ all reprimanding him for not teaching “by the book” until ultimately, his fantasies (in the form of Yoda, Lt. Uhura and several refugees from “The Lord Of The Rings”) get the better of him again. If one can get past all the coarse-but-funny raciness, there is an underlying amiability to all the goings on that will definitely have audience members rooting for our young heroes because, (much like “South Park” has become famous for,) shining through it all are some great –even reverent–truths about this often misunderstood religion. “All American Prophet” and “I Believe” genuinely, (albeit with a healthy dose of playfulness,) sum up Mormon history and theology succinctly and in an entertaining way—so much so they should both be used as teaching tools by real missionaries! In fact, one quick perusal of the evening’s “Playbill” will reveal several ads placed by the LDS church advising “You’ve seen the play…now read ‘The Book’, encouraging audiences to use the show as a starting point to learn more about their actual faith.  Co-Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker keep the action fast-paced and involving, always managing to keep you guessing as to what’s going to come next. Moreover, Nicholaw’s expert choreography runs the gamut from rhythmic African tribal dances to a nifty tap line of Mormon missionaries, to a hard-rock hellish free-for-all featuring several dancing Starbucks coffee cups.

"When you get confused because of thoughts in your head, don't feel those feelings-hold them in instead!"

“When you get confused because of thoughts in your head, don’t feel those feelings-hold them in instead!”

One thing is also for sure: Parker, Stone and company have intensely studied the musical medium, and knowing eyes will recognize more than a few clever nods to such previous Broadway hits as: “The Lion King”, “Hairspray”, “Mamma Mia”, “The Little Mermaid” and even “The King & I”! Scott Pask’s impressive set designs look especially eye-catching contrasted against the ornate carvings that adorn the Pantages Theater’s lush and historic 2703 seat auditorium, while Ann Roth’s imaginative costumes utilize fiber optics to make sure our very Caucasian Lord (when he appears) incandesces appropriately, just as his underworld counterpart is commendably horned and menacing. Her inspired work also includes an African version of Joseph Smith and his fellow pioneers–and the boys’ “Magic” temple-garment underclothing makes a brief appearance too!

"I believe the Lord God sent me here..." (Elder Price  & "The General")

“I believe the Lord God sent me here…” (Elder Price & “The General”)

Satire doesn’t come any raunchier, wittier—or more on the money! “I believe” open-minded audiences will love it; so don’t wait for ‘Latter days’–get your tickets now! “The Book Of Mormon” opened Tuesday, January 21st and has been extended through May 11th 2014. It plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sundays at 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM. The Pantages Theater is located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. To purchase tickets, patrons should visit www.HollywoodPantages.com  or call 800-982-2787.

BOM-Title-Treatment1

Productions Stills By Joan Marcus; Courtesy Of Boneau/Bryan-Brown And The Nederlander Organization; Theater/Marquee Photo By Jarod Milsap. Special Thanks To Benny Aguayo, Jarod Milsap And The Company Of “The Book Of Mormon” For Making This Story Possible.

A ‘Memorable’ Premiere: Laguna Playhouse Bakes Up A Tasty New Holiday Musical With “A Christmas Memory”

December 10, 2013
"A Christmas Memory" December 7--29 2013 At The Laguna Playhouse In Laguna Beach California

“A Christmas Memory” December 7–29 2013 At The Laguna Playhouse In Laguna Beach California

When is the last time you heard “They don’t make Christmas like that anymore!”? This holiday season just got a whole lot merrier in Southern California as the landmark “Laguna Playhouse” in Laguna Beach California celebrates the regional debut of the new musical “A Christmas Memory” based on the Short Autobiographical Story by Truman Capote. Having begun previews on Tuesday, December 3 the show opened on Saturday, December 7th where it will run through Sunday, December 29, 2013.

Nick De Gruccio’s direction infuses every action with an expressive, near-poetic style, which makes even the most everyday occurrences depicted deeply personal. The music is by Larry Grossman who has worked his melodic magic for such previous theatrical favorites as “Minnie’s Boys” and “Snoopy, The Musical”; lyrics here are by Carol Hall, herself known for her award-winning score to “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”. Given the nature of the source material, Duane Poole’s book saves most of the drama for the second act; however, it is full of folksy wisdom and down-home chuckles with references that may not initially register, but when later recalled truly make this one a little diamond of a show! Halls lyrics compliment his text (“Heaven’s not a shiny star, Heaven’s things as they are”.) Happily too, both, we’re told, rely heavily on Capote’s authentic words and phrases lending the proceedings a greater warmth and honesty. Grossman’s music is lyrical and sweet with a few terrific ‘patter’ songs thrown in; his haunting harmonies (especially during the prologue and finale) are frequently evocative of a half recalled memory, often utilizing only one or two instruments such as the simple strains of a violin or piano.

William Spangler As Young Buddy Talks With Marsha Waterman As His Cousin "Sook" (With Pickle The Dog As "Queenie",) While Ciaran McCarthy As the Grown-Up Buddy Looks On

William Spangler As Young Buddy Talks With Marsha Waterbury As His Cousin “Sook” (With Pickle The Dog As “Queenie”,) While Ciaran McCarthy As the Grown-Up Buddy Looks On

Performed sans overture and told almost completely in flashback, “A Christmas Memory” paints a delicate portrait of an unforgettable friendship. In rural Alabama, 1933 young Buddy is being raised by his mother’s three eccentric cousins having essentially been abandoned by both his parents when, after their divorce, each went on to seek separate—and unencumbered–lives. He is closest to his childlike elderly cousin Sook, a woman, we learn, who has never been to a restaurant, never seen a movie. (“I’m old and funny” she tells him sadly; “Not funny—Fun” he reassures her.) For Buddy and Sook, whenever December rolls around, it’s “Fruitcake weather”, so as Christmas nears, the pair gather ingredients for their “greatest annual undertaking”, the baking of their “Alabama fruitcakes” to serve as gifts for those who’ve had an impact on their lives over the past year. (That few may appreciate their efforts is entirely inconsequential!)

It’s the height of prohibition to boot, and, as one of the key elements to make their recipe complete is whisky, the intrepid duo set about to find the local moonshiner—a figure of near legendary ferocity and terrifying renown called “Ha-Ha Jones”, operator of the local juke-joint, to procure some. This doesn’t set well with oldest cousin Jennie—a tightly wound (for Alabama) spinster of whom one character observes, “She saw people as either one thing or the other with no point in between.” To add fuel to the fire, the postman ‘informs’ her “Folks have been talkin’—just to pass the time mind you–” about the effect such an off-beat friendship might have on a growing boy’s character. This gets her thinking a definite separation via a stint in military school just might be the thing for Buddy.  Being that it’s based on a genuine memory, the story foregoes a traditional “happy” ending in favor of a real, more bittersweet conclusion instead. This is wonderfully symbolized in a moment when, on Christmas day Buddy and Sook fly the kites they gave each other. During a touching number (appropriately titled “The Kite Song”,) they cut their kites loose, in effect, setting them and one another free.

Gifts From The Heart: Buddy & Sook Share Holiday Kites With Amber Mercomes As "Anna"

Gifts From The Heart: Buddy & Sook Share Holiday Kites With Amber Mercomes As “Anna”

Featuring two participants in The Laguna Playhouse’s “Youth Theater Repertory” program, the cast of seven form a surprisingly strong ensemble. As the older Buddy from whose viewpoint everything is seen, Ciaran McCarthy is onstage just about every moment, as memory and the present exist side by side thanks to De Gruccio’s often inspired staging. “Yesterday was simple, easy and clear” Buddy–the man, recalls upon returning to the house he shared for a time with his cousins. Now a successful author, he’s burdened by the hurly-burley of big city life and the stresses success can bring (“when you’re only as good as your last effort.”) McCarthy most notably hits pay-dirt with his numbers “Imagine A Morning” and the act one closer, “Paper and Cotton”, and while he has a voice more than big enough to fill the Laguna Playhouse’s ample 420 seat auditorium, it’s the quieter, more concentrated moments when he really shines, such as in the show’s poignant finale. Likewise, Marsha Waterbury is delightful as Sook—the good-hearted child-woman Buddy so depends on for his emotional connection to the world. Immediately she provides the sense that here is someone who not only needs protecting, but deserves it as well. Tracy Lore is Jennie, her stern oldest sister who, we learn in her second act solo “You Don’t Know It”, gave up any chance of personal happiness to look after  her younger siblings, with the result being the development of a sharp ‘edge’ to her slightly damaged psyche. Her greatest fear for Buddy is that he’ll grow up ‘soft” which doesn’t play well in a ‘hard world’. At its center though, young William Spangler is particularly engaging throughout as the younger Buddy.  His best moments (and there are numerous) include “Alabama Fruitcake”, “One Small Seed” and the second act’s “No Tellin’”.

Outstanding support is also offered by Tom Shelton who does triple duty, appearing vastly different and nearly unrecognizable each time as Buddy’s cousin Seabon—a confirmed bachelor and all around hypochondriac; Farley Wood –the gossipy letter carrier and the fittingly fearsome bootlegger “Ha-Ha Jones”.  Amber Mercomes too, gives great service to the role of Anna Stabler—the family’s loyal and patient neighbor and laundress. She succeeds in what might easily be discounted as just another ‘supporting’ part, instead giving the show some bona-fide spark and pizzazz with her songs “Detour’ and “Mighty Sweet Music”. Siena Yusi also does a laudable job as the tomboy Nelle Harper—a lass who uses bullying to hide what might actually be a school-girl crush on Buddy. Rounding out the cast are “Pickle” and “Herbie”–the dogs who alternate portraying Sook’s beloved pet, “Queenie”.

"I Double-Dog Dare Ya!" Siena Yusi As "Nelle" Confronts Buddy (With "Queenie")

“I Double-Dog Dare Ya!” Siena Yusi As “Nelle” Confronts Buddy (With “Queenie”)

An intimate production, large on good old-fashioned family-friendly charm “A Christmas Memory” is a beautiful story, beautifully told—a sublime character study that makes the perfect gift to give to yourself and those you love this holiday season. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. There will be additional performances on Sunday, December 15 at 7pm, Thursday, December 19 at 2pm, Monday, December 23 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, December 29 at 7:00pm, with special holiday performances on Tuesday, December 24 at 4:00pm and Thursday, December 26 at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased online at www.lagunaplayhouse.com or by calling (949) 497-ARTS (2787). (Special student rush discounts are available at the Box Office, while Group discounts are available by calling 949-497-2787 ext. 229.) The Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach Ca. The box office is open Mondays–Sundays: noon to 5pm (open until 7:30pm on performance days). For more information visit: www.lagunaplayhouse.com .

Production  Stills By Ed Krieger Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) Special Thanks–And “Happy Holidays”– To David Elzer At Demand PR, Karen Wood (Executive Director Of The Laguna Playhouse) And To The Cast & Crew Of “A Christmas Memory” For Making This Story Possible.

Buddy (William Spangler) Regales Sook (Marsha Waterman) With Tales Of His 'Midnight Adventure" in a Number From Laguna Playhouse's "A Christmas Memory"

Buddy (William Spangler) Regales Sook (Marsha Waterbury) With Tales Of His ‘Midnight Adventure” in a Number From Laguna Playhouse’s “A Christmas Memory”


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