“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”

One ‘Mel’ Of A Show: MTW’s Regional Premiere Of “Young Frankenstein” Packs So Much Fun It’s Scary!

November 5, 2013

Musical Theatre West Presents The Regional Premiere Of "Young Frankenstein" Nov. 1-17 2013

Long Beach has an acute and very green case of “Transylvania Mania”—as “Young Frankenstein, The Musical” makes its regional premiere as the triumphant season opener for Musical Theatre West’s sixty-first consecutive season. Mel Brooks’ ‘monster’ of a stage-hit based on his iconic 1974 film features all the classic lines and quips connected to some of the most hil-scare-iest numbers to be heard in any recent production to hit the Southland; the results are enough to urge audiences to run to the box office in time for this limited three-week run at the Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts in Long Beach California!

Ben Liebert as "Eye-gore" and Zachary Ford as Fredrick Frankenstein are "Together Again For The First Time"

Ben Liebert as “Eye-gore” and Zachary Ford as Frederick Frankenstein are “Together Again For The First Time”

It’s 1934 and upon  moving in to his family’s  forbidding “Castle Frankenstein” on the foggy moors of Transylvania Heights, young Doctor Frederick Frankenstein (–“that’s Fronkensteen” he snaps early on–) reluctantly (at first) attempts to complete his famous grandfather’s infamous work by bringing a hulking corpse back to life. Joined by a hunch-backed assistant Igor (pronounced “Eye-Gore”) a voluptuous assistant named Inga, the Castle’s ungainly housekeeper Frau Blucher (cue the horse whinny’s,) and Fredrick’s “adorable, mad-cap” (not to mention incredibly self-involved) fiancé Elizabeth, he does succeed in reanimating his ‘monster’; however, not without a series of riotous consequences which culminate with he and his ‘creation’ performing a nifty song-and-dance routine on-stage!

"What Knockers!" Tracy Lore as Frau Blucher greets Dr. Frankenstein & Andi Davis as "Inga"

“What Knockers!” Tracy Lore as Frau Blucher greets Dr. Frankenstein & Andi Davis as “Inga”

Susan Strohman’s original direction and choreography has been lovingly recreated here by Lauren Kadel. The “Don’t Touch Me” (the new dance-craze sweeping Catholic girls’ schools all over the Midwest) wherein couples waltz without ever actually latching onto one another, and the Act One finale, the “Transylvania Mania” (during which the monster breaks loose) are two clever nods to the old thirties-era movie-inspired dances like “The Continental” or “The Carioca”.  In fact. If Brooks’ previous theatrical outing “The Producers” paid homage to Broadway’s golden age, “Young Frankenstein” pays just as many compliments to the golden age of movies. Later in one of many other examples of inventive staging, the junior Frankenstein’s construction dances with his own enormous shadow (which turns out to be more adept with the fancy footwork than the creature himself!) Then again, the special effects—and there are several—serve the production, but never over power it! In the musical dream sequence, “Join The Family Business,” Fredrick’s late grandfather Victor appears urging his recalcitrant grandson to take up his life’s work, as the cast “build” a humongous monster on stage that is truly breath-taking to see.

Fredrick, "Eye-gore" & Inga have a "Roll In The Hay"

Frederick, “Eye-gore” & Inga have a “Roll In The Hay”

The book, equal parts Borsch-belt burlesque, vintage vaudeville and silver-screen shtick, is pure Brooks–even old jokes are given surprising new life here. It’s a bit campy, a bit bawdy and all entertaining, with the ending of this stage version having been necessarily built up from the movie, offering instead a humorous, coherent and even romantic closure for all the couples, rather than just relying on a simple series of cinematic sight-gags. Likewise, if the score ostensibly is lacking any notable ‘hits’, rest assured many of the tunes will stay with you in the best way possible long after you’ve exited the theater.

"Have you seen the well to-do, up and down Park Avenue?" Danny Blaylock as "The Monster" is "Puttin' On The Ritz"

“Have you seen the well to-do, up and down Park Avenue?” Danny Blaylock as “The Monster” is “Puttin’ On The Ritz”

They include “Welcome To Transylvania” and “The Happiest Town In Town” (sung as Mad Scientist, Victor Frankenstein’s body is at last laid to rest,); the chorus also particularly shines in the Second Act opener, “He’s Loose” offering up terrific harmony. (Incidentally, Irving Berlin’s renowned melodic contribution,”Puttin’ On The Ritz” was met with particular enthusiasm opening night, having been expanded from a brief one-note bit into a full-fledged production number complete with a tuxedo-clad kick-line.)

Zachary Ford has an amiable “Nathan Lane” like quality as Frederick Frankenstein and, given that he’s on stage a good 90% of the time, he effectively keeps on top of all the fast-paced (–even, sometimes, manic as could be expected of a Mel Brooks show) goings-on. Ben Liebert is “Eye-gore” whose constantly shifting back-hump is actually one of the funnier running puns. It is he who brings the doctor a brain mistakenly identified as having belonged to one “Abby-Normal” which may account for the monster’s hair-trigger personality! Similarly, while appropriately busty and flirtatious, Andi Davis as Inga is more the wholesome girl next door than a seductive siren but she does possess a magnificent voice. Her best moments include “Roll In The Hay” (sung on the back of a ‘moving’ hay wagon) and the sublime “Listen To Your Heart”; moreover, Danny Blaylock is “a scream” as the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop”—aka “The Monster” of the title.

 

"OOPS!" Ben Liebert steps to it as "Eye-Gore"

“OOPS!” Ben Liebert steps to it as “Eye-Gore”

Other stand-outs include MTW Veteran, Tracy Lore as Frau Blucher who garnered applause just by making her first entrance. In addition to her laudable vocal talents, Lore has pristine comic timing which is very much in evidence here. Her solo turn, “He Vas My Boyfriendt” is a genuinely side-splitting high point of the evening. Later she rebukes Frankenstein when his initial attempts to revive his pet-project look like they’ve failed, telling him “It worked for your Grandfather–and he couldn’t even sing!” Rebecca Johnson too, as the doctor’s intended, Elizabeth is a certified crowd pleaser seeming to channel all those great “too delicious” screwball comedy vixens of yester-year; if anything, it’s a pity she isn’t given more stage time, but she absolutely makes the most of it when she’s there! “Hug me ‘til I scream” she croons to Frederick at one point “–if it’s only in a dream, but please don’t touch me!” (–yeah, wonderful girl!) Also offering excellent support is Jeffrey Rockwell who pulls double duty as both Inspector Kemp (whose previous tangles with one of Frankenstein’s monsters cost him “an arm and a leg”—literally) and a blind, Jolson-esque hermit.

Rebecca Johnson is  Fredrick's "Adorable, Mad-Cap" fiancé Elizabeth

Rebecca Johnson is Frederick’s “Adorable, Mad-Cap” fiancé Elizabeth

“Young Frankenstein” is that rare gem of a show whose only ambition is to amuse and entertain and this it does in grand style. Having opened on Friday, November first, it plays through Sunday, November 17th 2013. Curtain-times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00: pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM; added performance will be on Thursday, November 14 at 8:00 pm and an additional evening performance on Sunday, November 10th at 7:00 PM. Tickets for “Young Frankenstein’ may be purchased on-line at: www.musical.org or by phone at: (562) 856-1999 Ext. 4 (Group rates are available for parties of 12 or more) Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Musical Theater West Box-office between the hours of 12:00 PM-6:00 PM Tuesdays through Friday. The Box office is located at: 4350 East 7th Street, Long Beach Ca. The Carpenter Center on the campus of California State University Long Beach  at 6200 East Atherton Street, in Long Beach California.

"It's One 'Monster' Of A Hit": Musical Theatre West's Production of Young Frankenstein

“It’s One ‘Monster’ Of A Hit”: Musical Theatre West’s Production of Young Frankenstein

Production photos by “Caught In The Moment Photography” (www.caughtinthemoment.com) Courtesy of Musical Theatre West (www.musical.org) Special Thanks To Paul Garman, Michael Sterling of “Michael Sterling And Associates” and to the cast and crew of Musical Theatre West’s “Young Frankenstein” for making this story possible.

 

Blond Item: 3-D Theatricals’ “Legally Blonde, The Musical” Raises The Bar For Grade A Entertainment

October 15, 2013
"Get On Your Feet, There's No Retreat, 'Cause She's Legally Blonde!"

“Get On Your Feet, There’s No Retreat, ‘Cause She’s Legally Blonde!”

Oh My God, You Guys! “Legally Blonde, The Musical” 3-D Theatrical’s new closer for their 2013 season, is totally worth the wait! Having opened on Friday, October 11th, 2013, it will play for three weeks at the historic Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton California, before transferring for an additional four performances at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in Redondo Beach California. With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin the book is by Heather Hach. Based on the hit 2001 comedy starring Reese Witherspoon. “Legally Blonde, The Musical” tells the story of spunky Elle Woods, and like many recent screen-to-stage adaptations, Ms. Hach’s libretto actually tightens and improves on the action introduced in the motion picture. The results are a fun, frothy, life-affirming story with loads of big laughs and great numbers.

"I'm Going back To The Trial, But I'm Going Back In Style" (Stephanie Wall As 'Elle Woods')

“I’m Going back To The Trial, But I’m Going Back In Style” (Stephanie Wall As ‘Elle Woods’)

All of the principals here are vocal power-houses and most have the moves to match! Stephanie Wall is Elle Woods –and being that this is her story, she’s practically on-stage the entire time. “Blondes make commissions so easy” says a greedy (and presumptuous) Rodeo Drive sales-girl early on, but Ms. Wall’s ‘Elle’ may be perky, cute and yes, blonde but she’s anything but dumb! A sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner, once there she discovers how her often unorthodox insight and sheer zest for living can help others, as she successfully defends exercise queen (and Elder “Delta Nu” Sorority Sister) Brooke Wyndham in a high-profile murder trial. Gifted with a vibrant voice, hers is strong enough to raise the roof, yet emotive enough for an introspective ballad such as the wistful eleventh hour title number (initially about resignation to the tyrannies of others’ negative opinions.) Prior to this, her Harvard Law application “essay” is a full-blown production number of its own—complete with band and pep squad all touting the strength Elle has for getting things done (still one more improvement on the simple video used in the film.) It’s so campy it works in spades.

"Do You Want An Easy Miracle? Do You Want To Lose A Pound Or Two? Then Turn This Tape Right Off--My Workout's NOT For You!" (Emma Degerstedt Is Brooke Wyndham)

“Do You Want An Easy Miracle? Do You Want To Lose A Pound Or Two? Then Turn This Tape Right Off–My Workout’s NOT For You!” (Emma Degerstedt Is Brooke Wyndham)

Matthew Benedict does an impressive job in the fairly thankless (and purposefully so) role of Warner Huntington III. With a strong, soulful voice, he shines in Act One’s “Serious” in which he breaks up with the Golden-tressed leading-lady just when she was expecting him to propose. (“But Richard Simmons was my neighbor!” she protests when met with the idea that she might not be good enough for his blue-blood East-Coast ‘pedigree’.)

"One Look At You, Looking Like A Deam Come True Would Leave Me Speechless, Like You Always Do." (Matthew Benedict Is Warner Huntington III)

“One Look At You, Looking Like A Dream Come True Would Leave Me Speechless, Like You Always Do.” (Matthew Benedict Is Warner Huntington III)

Carly Nykanen too, does a fine job with a rather difficult role of Vivienne Kensington—aka “a constipated polo shirt with a mousy-brown bob”; sure, she starts out as the gal we’d love to hate, but, as she gradually softens toward our heroine, we too soften towards her. Given the sheer power of Ms. Nykanen’s vocal ability it is a shame that her character wasn’t given more of a chance to show it, but where she does (mostly toward the end of the second act) it certainly is thrilling and unexpected.
Christopher Carothers’ is appropriately sleazy and demanding as Professor Callahan—the man who holds the key to all his student’s futures—knows it and isn’t afraid of using it to his advantage. His song, “Blood In The Water” introduces his true colors: law is about power—not justice. At the other end of the spectrum, Matt Bauer is Emmett Forrest, Professor Callahan’s student aid, who works two jobs to stay in Harvard Law School and “hasn’t slept since 2007”; he acts as ‘Elle’s” rumpled, boyish and likeable guardian angel, teaching her to take her studies and life seriously. In fact, his numbers –particularly “Chip On The Shoulder”, likewise effectively augment the action of the movie, showing the progression of Miss Woods as both a student and ultimately his perfect match. Another dynamic presence is Lindsey Alley as Paulette, the kindly hairdresser at the “Hair Affair”. A bona-fide triple threat performer, she makes the most of every moment throughout; among her best is leading the dance in the “Legally Blonde Remix”. Not to be overlooked either is the instant audience favorite, “Frankie” the Chihuahua as Elle’s devoted dog, “Bruiser”–of whom, one enthusiastic first-nighter was overheard to quip, should be seen more.

"Elle, Do you know the number one reason behind all bad Hair decisions? LOVE!" (Lindsey Alley Is Paulette)

“Elle, Do you know the number one reason behind all bad Hair decisions? LOVE!” (Lindsey Alley Is Paulette)

Joining them all are Elle’s trio of Sorority Sisters, Margot, Pilar and Serena (played by Jamison Lingle, Tory Trowbridge and Micaela Martinez, respectively.) Even when they are not supposed to be with her physically, these loyal lasses of “Delta Nu” remain her guides “in spirit”, acting as an inner-conscience for her, Greek Chorus for us. (Dressed in ethereal white when they serve this former function, one advises her, “We’re not HERE here, we’re here in your head.”) Supporting everything is a cast of 27 performers (including the four-legged one) who particularly make the goings-on more jubilant during the many, often hilarious, group numbers.

"We Are The Daughters Of Delta Nu..."

“We Are The Daughters Of Delta Nu…”

These include Paulette’s dream of better things in “Ireland”, “Bend And Snap” (wherein Elle shows her how to get them,) “Take It like A Man” as Elle, herself instructs shabby Emmett how to cultivate a ‘look” that commands respect, and the rousing opening featuring the entire sorority.
It’s always tricky taking a fairly recent cinematic property like “Legally Blonde” and condensing it down to a musicalized stage vehicle; happily, the direction by David F.M. Vaughn (who returns after directing and starring in this summer’s “Shrek, The Musical”,) is sharp, focused and fast paced, while skillfully combining a number of competing elements into one (in this case, huge) cohesive whole without losing any of the sheer joy and ebullience of each. Similarly, ranging from an athletic synchronized jump-rope extravaganza (supposedly depicting a Tivo-recorded exercise program) to a hip, show-stopping Irish line-dance, Linda Love Simmons’ jivey choreography is like the luscious cherry a top this delightful sundae. Special mention also has to be given to Jean-Yves Tessier’s inventive lighting design featuring a multi-chromatic border and scrim that cleverly ‘changes’ to subtly comment on the action (pink, green, and even to rainbow-colored when the on-stage happenings warrant it.)

"There's A Chip On My Shoulder And Its Big As A Boulder; With The Chance I've Been Given I'm Gonna Be Driven!" (Matt Bauer Is Emmett Forrest)

“There’s A Chip On My Shoulder And Its Big As A Boulder; With The Chance I’ve Been Given I’m Gonna Be Driven!” (Matt Bauer Is Emmett Forrest)

Anything but sophomoric entertainment, show-times for “Legally Blonde, The Musical” at Plummer Auditorium are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, with Sunday matinees at 2;00 PM, with an additional Saturday Matinee on October 26th at 2:00PM; show-times for the Redondo Beach Center For The Performing Arts will be at 1:00 PM on Friday November first, Saturday November 2nd at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and 2:00 PM on Sunday, November 3rd. Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue in Fullerton CA. with plenty of free parking across the street from the theater; The Redondo Beach Center For The Performing Arts is located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach, California. Tickets for both locations can be purchased by calling (714) 589-2770 Extension 1 or by logging onto 3-D Theatrical’s website at: http://www.3DTshows.com .

Production Photos By Isaac James Creative (http://isaacjamescreative.com) Courtesy Of 3-D Theatricals. Special Thanks To Carlos Martin, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Dayna Perotin And The Cast And Crew Of 3-D Theatricals’ “Legally Blonde” For Making This Story Possible.

The Cast Of 3-D Theatrical's "Legally Blonde, The Musical" Oct. 11-27, 2013 in Fullerton CA; Nov. 1-3 2013 in Redondo Beach, CA

The Cast Of 3-D Theatrical’s “Legally Blonde, The Musical” Oct. 11-27, 2013 in Fullerton CA; Nov. 1-3 2013 in Redondo Beach, CA

Another Lost Classic Found: “Bloomer Girl” DVD Proves ‘Golden Age’ Musicals Are Always In Fashion!

September 12, 2013

Bloomer Girl boxcover

“Hoop-skirts are uncomfortable, ungainly and in a high wind, totally unpredictable!” asserts Evelina Applegate—the feminist heroine of “Bloomer Girl”. Instead, she prefers the more liberating garment comprised of loose-fitting trousers gathered at the ankle; yet for a woman in the days leading up to the civil war, to even think of wearing such clothing was apt to cause scandal! Recently, the 1956 televised adaptation of this Broadway smash has been released onto DVD by “Video Artists International”.

"Don't Ya Reckon It's Wrong, Triflin' With April This Way?" Keith Andes As Jefferson Calhoun As Barbara Cook As "Evalina"

“Don’t Ya Reckon It’s Wrong, Triflin’ With April This Way?” Keith Andes As Jefferson Calhoun & Barbara Cook As “Evelina”

Originally airing as part of NBC’s popular “Producer’s Showcase”, this slightly streamlined-for-television version in many ways actually improves on its source material. Based on an unpublished play by Dan and Lilith James, the book by Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy, (adapted for television by Leslie Stevens) is witty and sometimes eerily cogent to today’s headlines. (For instance, Evelina’s father fumes at one point “That ‘rail-splitter’ in the White House has saddled us with a National Debt of Six Million!” to which his wife replies, “Mrs. Lincoln must be an extravagant housekeeper!”)It’s also interesting to consider that the ‘play-within-a-play’ production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” predates Rogers & Hammerstein’s similar use of the material for their “King And I” by seven years when “Bloomer Girl” first bowed in 1944.

Told in four acts, the show boasts a glorious score by the legendary team of Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg who wrote the songs for the classic, “Wizard of Oz”. However, the subject matter here is light years away from that magical realm, anchored more in the gritty reality of history. Nonetheless, their songs are just as memorable, In fact, taken in their entirely, the score of ’Bloomer Girl” rates among the most clever and intelligent, while still remaining sumptuously lyrical.

The Men Who Put The "Bloom" In "Bloomer Girl" E.Y. "Yip" Harburg & Harold Arlen

The Men Who Put The “Bloom” In “Bloomer Girl” E.Y. “Yip” Harburg & Harold Arlen

Numbers include the lilting “Evelina”, the sprightly “It Was Good Enough for Grandma”, and the beautiful “Right As The Rain”. In the same regard, “Sunday In Cicero Falls” is filled with some very high-minded and pointed satire involving the state of religion and politics–and those who practice them! In addition, “When The Boys Come Home” may start out simply as a home-spun ode to female domesticity sung by eager wives awaiting their husbands return, but by the show’s end it takes on a far deeper, more poignant meaning, as those same husbands are now soldiers going off to battle: “There’ll be drums and trumpets and tea and crumpets served on the town green” they sing with a desperate kind of hope many even today may recognize. Equally unforgettable is “The Eagle And Me”—a run-away slave’s heartfelt and hopeful anthem to the joys of freedom, which delightfully blends powerful sentiments with an exuberant, near show-stopping melody.

The President is Abraham Lincoln, when the action opens in 1861–a year, Horatio Applegate promises will be “A year of peace and plenty—you have my word for it!” He ought to know–after all, he is the leading manufacturer of ladies hoop skirts (a fashion staple at this time–particularly in his southern territories, so any news of political unrest in these areas would surely have been brought to his attention.)

"Whatever Gave Your Eyes This Glow, Whatever Gave My Heart This Song--Can't Be Wrong" (Keith Andes & Barbara Cook)

“Whatever Gave Your Eyes This Glow, Whatever Gave My Heart This Song–Can’t Be Wrong” (Keith Andes & Barbara Cook)

Beguiling with every single frame she’s in, Barbara Cook is the spunky Evelina, the youngest of his six daughters and the only one without a husband. “Suddenly a strange businessman will appear and you’ll inform me that I’m in love” she complains of her father’s insistence she, like all her sisters before her, marry a man connected with the family business. “I wonder which eligible ‘territory’ you’ve picked for me?!” she sighs. Nonetheless, she may be youthful and head-strong, but isn’t so hard-hearted that “A new moon and an old plantation song” with a dashing Kentucky Casanova like Jefferson Calhoun can’t soften her emotions. When he arrives (complete with the expected bouquet of magnolias) to Mr. Applegate’s delight, he also brings the hope of increased sales from “Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee” (won’t that make the Honeymoon a bit cluttered?” Evelina quips.)

As “Jefferson”, Keith Andes is every ounce the charming southern gentleman complete with old-fashioned southern traditions and expectations; in due course though, he comes to see the wrongs some of them (most notably slavery) entail, and in the end wins his liberal-minded Lady-love’s heart by being truly heroic, arranging for his own ‘property’ to ultimately elude his captors via the underground railroad. (He even enlists in the Union Army!) Carmen Mathews is also a force to be reckoned with as Evelina’s Aunt, Dolly Bloomer –“The Working Girl’s Friend” for whom the famous vestment of the title takes its name. Based on the real-life ‘Amelia Jenks Bloomer’ (nicknamed “Dolly”,) her emancipating dress innovation not only shows a girl has legs, it frees up womankind from the tyranny of Horatio’s oppressive and confining hoops. A woman decidedly ahead of her time, Dolly’s a committed Abolitionist, Suffragette and Publisher of “The Lilly” newspaper. Think of her as a more ‘genteel’ type of sixties radical (—1860’s that is!)

"It Was Good Enough For Grandma--But It Ain't Good Enough For Us!" Evelina Leads The 'Bloomer Girls"

“It Was Good Enough For Grandma–But It Ain’t Good Enough For Us!” Evelina Leads The ‘Bloomer Girls”

Paul Ford co-stars as Horatio Applegate, a man with an equal amount of convictions as his sister-in-law, but in a distinctly more conservative bent. Likewise, Rawn Spearman is thoroughly likable and has an opera-quality tenor voice finer than a Missouri Blue Bird’s as the Calhoun family’s escaped slave Pompey, and Patricia Hammerless does a terrific job as the Applegate’s ditzy ‘whirling dervish of a maid”, Daisy. The cast also featured several who would go onto do bigger things in their own right. Before he made an impact in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Brock Peters can be seen as Pompey’s equally oppressed cohort, Alexander, while Paula Stewart too, offers top-notch support as Julia, one of the Applegate Sisters, several years before headlining on Broadway as Lucille Ball’s sister ‘Janie’ in “Wildcat. As for her work here, Stewart recalls, “Looking back, I was glad to be part of a production that dealt with such important social matters.”

Paual Stewart & The Applegate Sisters Eagerly Await "When The Boys Come Home"

Paula Stewart (Center)  & The Applegate Sisters Eagerly Await “When The Boys Come Home”

Her observation is right on the money—seldom has a “Musical Comedy’ dared to incorporate such serious and potentially controversial subjects like civil rights, feminism, and anti-war sentiments as this does. Moreover, Alex Segal’s Direction sometimes borders on remarkable—particularly given the technical state of 1950’s television and the run-time limitations. Segal employs some sophisticated camera and staging techniques including a second act “Carriage Ride” the two principals take and the near continuous motion involved with the “Sunday In Cicero Falls” number. For this TV Production, famed choreographer Agnes De Mille was brought in to recreate several of her dances from the original Broadway version—including the dynamic “Civil War Ballet” assembling the original four principal dancers to similarly re-enact their roles in this, which ranks among the most affecting of the entire spectacle.

Agnes DeMille Recreates Her Famous "Civiil War Ballet" Featuring Four Of Her Original Principal Dancers From The Hit Broadway Version

Agnes DeMille Recreates Her Famous “Civil War Ballet” Featuring Four Of Her Original Principal Dancers From The Hit Broadway Version

Seldom seen or performed, this bona-fide crowd-pleaser is at turns starkly moving and boisterously jubilant and makes a perfect “fit” for anyone who savours entertaining and thought-provoking musicals at their most impressive as well as anyone who recalls (or wishes to become better acquainted with) the best of what the “Golden Age of Television” could be. Digitally restored from a Black and White kinescope, V.A.I. Music’s DVD edition also includes the original commercials as a separate viewing option as well. For more information, or to order on-line check out: http://www.VAIMusic.com .

“Bloomer Girl” Screen Grabs Courtesy Of “Video Artists International” (www,VAIMusic.com) Special Thanks To Foster Grimm and Allan Altman At “Video Artists International”, Paul Lambert And Miss Paula Stewart For Making This Story Possible.

Barbara Cook As "Evelina Applegate" Celebrates "Sunday In Cicero Falls"

Barbara Cook As “Evelina Applegate” Celebrates “Sunday In Cicero Falls” In “Bloomer Girl” From “Video Artists International”

Beyond The ‘Footlights’: ‘The Musical Theater Project’ Assures Listeners Every Seat Is “On The Aisle”

August 21, 2013

TMTP Logo with Microphone

There’s something magical about a favorite show-tune heard over the airwaves! Fortunately for any fan of terrific Broadway songs there’s Sirius XM Radio’s “On Broadway”–a station completely devoted to the music from the Great White Way and Show-tunes from all over. Located on Channel 72 on their satellite receiver, a regular feature is an insightful program titled “On The Aisle”, hosted by Bill Rudman.

Host Bill Rudman Puts Listeners "On The Aisle" Every Sat. & Tues. On Sirius XM

Host Bill Rudman Puts Listeners “On The Aisle” Every Sat. & Tues. On Sirius XM

Produced by a remarkable organization known as “The Musical theater Project” located in Cleveland Ohio, each hour-long episode is dedicated to a specific theme–often by year–exploring the best musicals have to offer. “We believe musical theater expresses who and what we Americans can be at our best,” proclaims Bill; “From the beginning, musical theater was determined to be a pro-joy, pro-love force in our country. It’s our very own art form, and audiences respond to the idealism, hope and optimism that are at the heart of great musicals and the artists who create and perform them.“

Gifted with a smooth, mellifluous voice, Rudman, who also produces each and every installment, serves as the radiocast’s narrator, setting up and guiding listeners through all of the songs and selections chosen each week. Along with his duties in front of the microphone, Bill also serves as Artistic Director, continuing to create concerts, cabarets and stage presentations all celebrating the performing arts. In 1983 he joined Author Ken Bloom in co-founding Harbinger Records, a label that is similarly dedicated to albums focusing on the American Musical theater and the Great American Songbook. In 2000, he became the first recipient of the “Robert Bergman Award” for his work in arts education. Happily too, as any regular listener to “On The Aisle” will attest, he is a well-spring of information about Broadway and its related subjects.

Bill Rudman & Robert Conrad Celebrate 30 Woderous Years Of"Footlight Parade"!

Bill Rudman & Robert Conrad Celebrate 30 wonderous Years Of “Footlight Parade”!

“Bill’s knowledge and passion for the American musical theater canon runs so deep, and he knew there was potential to bring people of all ages and backgrounds closer to the art,” TMTP Executive Director, Heather Meeker attests.   The Radio Personality’s love for the musical theater hearkens back to when he was just five years old and was allowed to stay up to see the iconic Televised version of “Peter Pan” starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. “I was hooked,” he smiles; “ when the show ended I somehow knew I had been on an emotional journey that only musical theater can provide.” little wonder then, that he reports they’ve used this idea (which they call “A Peter Pan “ story”,) to invite listeners to send in their stories of how they were introduced to the theater.

TMTP Executive Director, Heather Meeker

TMTP Executive Director, Heather Meeker

In Heather’s case, she too, recalls her initial exposure to this most unique of art forms when she was six and her parents introduced her to the cast albums of “Grease” and “A Chorus Line”. “I’m not sure they fully understood what they were exposing their 6-year-old to,” she laughs, “but I connected with both shows and I consider them the beginning of my musical theater education.”Before “On The Aisle” ever found its way into the stratosphere, it had already gained a following as “Footlight Parade”–the name it still retains when it’s heard on numerous ‘terrestrial’ radio stations across the country. Having just celebrated its thirty year anniversary, “Footlight Parade” itself was originally called “Broadway Melody”, beginning in 1983 when Rudman approached Cleveland’s WCLV 104.9 FM President, Robert Conrad about creating a theme-based weekly show celebrating the finest numbers culled from Broadway and films. His instincts paid off and “Broadway Melody” quickly became a staple on the city’s airwaves. “After changing its name, in short order the show was nationally syndicated and is presently heard on 100 public stations,” Meeker details; “Now as ‘On the Aisle’ too, it’s been airing for six years on Sirius XM Satellite Radio!” Bill likewise divulges that while the two versions are comparable, “Footlight“ is slightly longer with the inclusion of four additional minutes. Another difference lies in the way “On The Aisle” is delivered to Sirius XM approximately 2 ½ months before airing.

Bill Rudman & WCLV FM President Robert Conrad Launch "Broadway Melody" In 1983

Bill Rudman & WCLV FM President Robert Conrad Launch “Broadway Melody” In 1983

Shortly after syndication, in 2000, Rudman founded “The Musical Theater Project” with the goals of expanding the show’s success into education and public service. Currently, the organization produces 52 editions of their weekly offering every year, to which, Heather exclaims, “That’s a lot of programming! So we can’t talk radio without giving a huge shout-out to our engineer, Mark Logies who brings his own skill, taste and musicianship to the final product.” Again, her associate fully concurs, noting how he and Logies work, together and separately, to make each individual episode the very best it can be.

Engeneer Mark Logies Makes The Magic Happen 52 Weeks A Year.

Engineer Mark Logies Makes The Magic Happen 52 Weeks A Year.

“I come into a recording session with a script, song list and the CDs and LPs; most songs come from CDs, but many are from LPs and need to be “cleaned up” in digital format,” he explains; “Mark records my commentary and puts the music tracks into the computer, then we work to create the ‘flow’ we want.” Yet there’s so much more to TMTP than simple entertainment. As Meeker further clarifies, a good part of the reason for their longevity and success can be attributed to the thorough scope and methodology they bring to every aspect of the work they do. “We explore the American musical—on both stage and screen—as well as the social and cultural history that surrounds it,” she declares; “our approach is entertaining, professional and educational at once, and includes radio broadcasts, concerts, cabarets, school and community outreach programs and CD recordings.” Her colleague couldn’t agree more “Each year, we hear from more listeners, audience members and students who tell us how much our work means to them—and that means a lot to us” Bill emphasizes; “While we know our work brings back memories for many, our aim is to provide new memories, new perspectives–and for all of us to reconnect with why we connect with this form.”

Part Of TMTP's Program, "Kids Love Musicals"

Part Of TMTP’s Program, “Kids Love Musicals”

Moreover, Heather proudly points to the academic aspects of the work they’re doing to promote arts education, most notably their concert series titled “The Song Is You”, as well as an in-school artists residency program, “Kids Love Musicals”, which provides children–Kindergarten through third grade–a ’voices on’ chance to use their imaginations and explore characters through songs from such popular vehicles as “Cinderella” and “The Wizard Of Oz”. “Musical theater has a special ability to encourage group social interaction and self-confidence–and our program taps into its strengths to make personal connections,“ she beams.“I love all the pieces and parts of what I do–and what my two colleagues do,” Rudman follows; “We’ve made it add up to something very exciting locally and nationally. Our quest is to expose audiences young and old to the rich legacy of this art form!” “On the Aisle” airs Saturdays from 3PM-4PM (Eastern Time) then again Tuesday evenings from 9-10 PM (Eastern Time) For more information log onto: http://www.siriusxm.com/onbroadway ; “Footlight Parade” can be heard across the country on public radio stations. For a complete listing of the stations it airs on–including the one nearest you, check out: http://jrabold.net/radio/4foo300.shtml or the Public Radio Exchange at: www. prx.org ; For more on The Musical Theater Project, its line-up and events, log onto :http://www.musicaltheaterproject.org .

Sirus XM "On Broadway"--Channel 72 On Your Sirus XM Receiver. "On The Aisle" Airs Saturdays: 3-4 PM Eastern; Encore Presentation: Tuesdays 9-10 PM (Eastern)

Sirius XM “On Broadway”–Channel 72 On Your Sirius XM Receiver. “On The Aisle” Airs Saturdays: 3-4 PM Eastern; Encore Presentation: Tuesdays 9-10 PM (Eastern)

Photos Courtesy of Heather Meeker at “The Musical Theater Project”; Special Thanks To Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker & Mark Logies For Their Gracious Assistance & Insights In Making The Story Possible.

It‘s No Fairytale: 3-D Theatrical‘s “Shrek, The Musical” Is Something To Roar About!

July 23, 2013
3-D Theatricals Presents "Shrek, The Musical" July 19-August 4 in Fullerton CA.; August 9-11 2013 in Redondo Beach, CA.

3-D Theatricals Presents “Shrek, The Musical” July 19-August 4 in Fullerton CA.; August 9-11 2013 in Redondo Beach, CA.

old-english-alphabet-7 ‘was not long ago, in the not-too-far-away land of Fullerton California, that a valiant theatre company called 3-D Theatricals took a giant step forward in their evolution of presenting quality entertainment, with “Shrek the Musical”. Based on DreamWorks’ ground-breaking animated classic, the hilarious story of moviedom’s most famous ogre has been brought to dazzling new life on stage at the historic Plummer Auditorium, and judging from the enthusiastic reactions from those attending Saturday night’s opening (–a new record for the organization–) whether younger, older or anywhere in between–spectators across the board were happily indulging themselves in the sheer, unadulterated joy this new production boasts.

"Do I have snowball's chance? Are my prospects just too grim? I spent my life stuck in the mud, now I'm crawling out--on  a limb!" T.J. Dawson  is the Ogre, "Shrek"

“Do I have snowball’s chance? Are my prospects just too grim? I spent my life stuck in the mud, now I’m crawling out–on a limb!” T.J. Dawson is the Ogre, “Shrek”

By now everyone should be familiar with the jolly green ogre whose name in German means “Terror”; but there’s very little terrible about him–or indeed, this show. Certainly, so much of the original film gives itself over to musical sequences that it wouldn’t be surprising to discover if it had initially been conceived as a musical in the first place. However, where “Shrek, The Musical” decidedly stands apart and above the film it’s based on, is how it actually improves on that Academy award-winning Blockbuster’s script, keeping all its best-loved moments while providing more background into the characters. Either way, it’s a big, fun, colorful and shamelessly ‘guilty’ pleasure where the laughs come fast and frequently! Of course, if the book by David Lindsay-Abaire flirts with moments of simple titillation (–Shrek and Fiona’s “gross-out battle” has to be seen to be believed–) it doesn’t at all rely on them, favouring instead humor that’s as sharp, witty and genuinely satirical, as his lyrics are. In fact, seldom has a musical’s score included such smart and catchy phrases, which are all set to Jeanine Tesori’s equally effervescent music. Once upon the house lights dimming, we’re introduced to a wee lad with pea-green skin.

"...And so the little orgre went off and found a muddy patch of swamp land, far, far away." (Emilie Lafontaine is Little Shrek; Amber J. Snead & Michael Cavinder are Mama & Papa Ogre)

“…And so the little ogre went off and found a muddy patch of swamp land, far, far away.” (Emilie Lafontaine is Little Shrek; Amber J. Snead & Michael Cavinder are Mama & Papa Ogre)

“Now you are seven” his parents tell him, “so it’s time to go away”; furthermore, they advise him that out in the ‘real world” “Every dream comes true–but not for you!” Flash forward and “Shrek” has come of age, living in a swamp where things are getting pretty crowded. In the nearby town of Duloc, the despotic “Lord Farquaad” has ‘huffed and puffed and signed an eviction notice” effectively banishing all fairytale characters to this same wet-land home of our hero and, given that he’s an ogre who relishes his privacy, he’s not at all happy about it! It seems the not-so-good Lord is out of sorts because he’s not really a king; to be that he’d need to at least marry a real Princess. While chained to a torture/baker’s rack, none other than the gingerbread man (aka “Gingy) tells him of one he’d heard about from the “Muffin Man” (who lives on Drury lane.) Trick is, she’s been locked in a tower since she was a child, and its guarded by a fearsome winged dragon! That’s when Shrek and his intrepid sidekick, a talking (and singing) donkey, are called in to set things right.

"I can see my future, and so it hall be done! It's total domination--with some torture just for fun!" (David F.M. Vaughn is Lord Farquaad with 'Gingy", the GIngerbread Man)

“I can see my future, and so it shall be done! It’s total domination–with some torture just for fun!” (David F.M. Vaughn is Lord Farquaad with ‘Gingy”, the GIngerbread Man)

Director David F.M. Vaughn (–an alumnus of the Broadway version,) pulls double duty–and gets the biggest laughs–as the diminutive villain, Lord Farquaad. His introductory number, “What’s Up Duloc?”  is an absolute crowd-pleaser where we’re offered a different kind of Magic Kingdom (were it manufactured by Mattel.)  Behind the glittery, molded plastic facade (–and that’s just describing the residents–) things are anything but happy! 3-D Theatrical’s resident producer T.J. Dawson steps from behind the scenes and into the spotlight, achieving a tour-de-force performance, in the title role of the Ogre with the (sometimes reluctant) heart of a Prince. Providing his character a solid, funny-but-empathetic presence (very necessary for a story like this,) he also possesses a polished way with a song that is anything but ‘monstrous’.  At his side throughout, Brandon Armstrong is lively, loud, and likeable as Shrek’s four-hoofed cohort, “Donkey”. Gifted with an awesome and soulful voice,  his first act charmers, “Don’t Let Me Go” and “The Travelling Song” provide an A-Plus showcase for such incredible (and powerful) vocal talents. In the same way, Melissa Wolfklain as the feisty Princess Fiona, is pretty, spunky and where appropriate, touchingly vulnerable. In “I Know Its Today” we see Fiona, imprisoned in her tower since childhood with nothing but a library filled with fairy-tales to keep her company, ‘grow up’ into a great beauty–but one with a secret! Assisting in this ‘transition’ is young Hadley Belle Miller as little Fiona, who herself has a voice to be reckoned with. Joined by Brennley Faith Brown as the teenaged Princess, the trio delightfully elevates this number to show-stopper status!

"I know he'll  appear, 'cause there are rules and there are strictures--I beleive the storybooks I've read!!" (Melissa Wolklain is Fiona, with Hadley Belle Miller & Brennley Faith Brwon as her younger 'selves')

“I know he’ll appear, ’cause there are rules and there are strictures–I believe the story books I’ve read!!” (Melissa Wolfklain is Fiona, with Hadley Belle Miller & Brennley Faith Brown as her younger ‘selves’)

Standouts also include Arthur L. Ross, who takes on several roles but is especially memorable as the infamous” Pied Piper”, and Daniel Dawson (himself one of 3-D Theatrical’s Associate Producers) who appears as a wise-cracking Pinocchio. Even the dragon–a bona-fide tribute to what modern puppetry can accomplish–sings, thanks to the dynamic contribution of Amber J. Snead. Both kinetic and melodic elements superbly come together in “Forever”–‘her’ duet with Donkey, which starts out as adversarial but quickly ’warms up’ as their romance…uh, ‘takes flight‘. Real “Shrek” enthusiasts will also be pleased that ‘Puss in Boots’–not seen in that first movie–makes a cameo appearance here as well. Without question though, among the most entertaining moments are when the entire cast gather together and share the stage, as during their spirited anthem to individuality, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly”. To be sure, this timely little proclamation-with-a-rousing-beat expresses the whole message of “Shrek”: “What makes us special, makes us strong!”

"I think you're bluffin': stompin' around--all that huffin' and puffin'!" (Brandon Armstrong is Donkey with T.J. Dawson as Shrek)

“I think you’re bluffin’: stompin’ around–all that huffin’ and puffin’!” (Brandon Armstrong is Donkey with T.J. Dawson as Shrek)

Props also have to go to the various designers who have capably undertaken the more technical aspects of what in many respects could otherwise be considered an ‘Ogre” of a show. Both set Designer Tom Burderwitz, and Lighting Designer Jared Sayeg’s work complement one another beautifully, creating a lush ’other-world’ that looks like it just might exist somewhere in our dreamiest imaginings, while Costume Designer Kate Bergh has neatly (and in some cases, innovatively) created a plethora of unique, polychromatic costumes–never stooping to copy any preset over-Disney-fied‘ concepts. Meanwhile, Jason Vaughan of “Le Chef Costumier”, the same company responsible for both the Broadway and National tour of “Shrek”, has handily created sixteen different prosthetics needed to transform Dawson and Wolfklain into Ogres for every show; Puppet-crafters Christian Anderson and Derek Lux too, have managed to make supporting ’players’ like “Gingy” and the Dragon, come off as surprisingly ’human’. Together, this team of theatrical wizards are responsible for much of the magic the viewers are treated to, expertly making this already enchanting production downright spectacular!

"Welcome to Duloc--such a perfect town." (David F.M. Vaughn as Farquaad and his 'perfect' citizens)

“Welcome to Duloc–such a perfect town.” (David F.M. Vaughn as Farquaad and his ‘perfect’ citizens)

So ditch your torches and pitchforks and run to the Plummer Auditorium, located at 201 East Chapman Avenue in Fullerton California, because “Ever After” only lasts until August 4, 2013 for this marvellous and family-friendly thrill ride. Then, starting August 9th, “Shrek” will move to The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd in Redondo Beach, California, where it will run through the 11th. Showtime’s at Plummer Auditorium are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. (An additional matinée will be performed on Saturday August 3rd at 2pm.) Showtime’s for the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center are: Friday August 9 at 8pm, Saturday August 10 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, August 11 at 2pm. For tickets call 714-859-2770 ext 1 or log onto: www.3DTshows.com . (Student tickets and special group rates are also available.)

The Historic Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 East Chapman Avenue, in Fullerton, California.

The Historic Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 East Chapman Avenue, in Fullerton, California.

Production Photos By Issac James Creative  (www.Isaacjamescreative.com)  Courtesy of Carlos Martin, 3-D Theatricals. Special Thanks to Carlos Martin, T.J. Dawson, Gretchen Dawson and the Cast and Crew of 3-D Theatricals Production of “Shrek, The Musical” for making this story possible.


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