A ‘King-ly’ So Cal Debut: Though Her Classmates Have Met Their Untimely Cessation, “Carrie, The Musical” Is A Grade-A Sensation!

March 21, 2015
"The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts" & Bruce Robert Harris And Jack W. Batman Present "Carrie, The Musical" March 18-April 5, 2015; 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada CA. (www.lamiradatheatre.com)

“The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & Bruce Robert Harris And Jack W. Batman Present “Carrie, The Musical” March 18-April 5, 2015; 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada CA. (www.lamiradatheatre.com)

(WARNING SOME SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW) You can’t keep a good girl down! In 1988, it seemed that “Carrie, The Musical” would be simply another casualty along the Great White Way; that is, until 2012 when its creators came together to significantly rewrite book and score, from which was reborn a momentous show that quickly went onto a triumphant “Off-Broadway” run. Now “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts” in La Mirada California, in association with Producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman have once again reunited the show’s original creative team to present the Los Angeles area debut of an all-new, completely reimagined, “immersive” theater production of this truly one-of-a-kind musical!

Based on the acclaimed novel by Stephen King, “High School Musical” this isn’t–it’s more like a cross between “Spring Awakening” and “The Twilight Zone” instead. Even so, this “Carrie” is like NOTHING you’ve ever seen before! Overflowing with profound performances, jaw-dropping sets and spectacular special effects, it features a revised book by Lawrence D. Cohen (who also wrote the screenplay for the classic 1977 big-screen adaptation,) with music by Michael Gore and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. No strangers to the often schizophrenic world of adolescence, between them, the pair have worked on such iconic “teen” entertainments as “Fame”, “Footloose” and “Pretty In Pink”; their songs here are pithy, and painfully honest, while also managing to send a few chills down your spine when called for. Although subjects like abuse and blatant ignorance are always a bit tough to take (and here it’s no different) both Cohen’s script and Gore and Pitchford’s score masterfully pinpoint and portray numerous aspects of the high-school human condition in ways few musicals in recent memory have been able to.

"Who will hold me when there's no one? When the smiles I used to see are not for me, what will I do? (Emily Lopez As "Carrie" Calms Her Misty Cotton As Her Mother)

“Who will hold me when there’s no one? When the smiles I used to see are not for me, what will I do? (Emily Lopez As “Carrie” Tries To  Calm Misty Cotton As Her Mother)

Totally transforming the stage into an intimate “black box” theatre—or specifically, “Ewen High School”, spectators are put right into the very heart of all the goings-on! Moreover, this ‘immersive’ atmosphere begins before audiences even enter the theater, when they are taken through a shadowy corridor reminiscent of a Halloween theme-park maze, which has been made to look like a high school that’s seemingly been through a recent cataclysm of some kind. The auditorium itself is decorated as the school’s gym in which all the action will take place, while center stage sits an inconsolable girl whom we will soon detect is “Sue Snell”— the lone survivor of a horrible tragedy. With this retelling, the story is seen in flashback through Sue’s beleaguered mind: “If only that day in the shower had never happened” she laments, recalling how, viciously taunted by her peers at school and brutalized by her psychotically religious mother at home, 17-year-old high-school outcast “Carrie Etta White” leads a lonely, tormented life until she discovers that she’s gifted with rare-yet-potent psychokinetic abilities; but when a vicious prank at her school’s Prom (right after she’s been named “Prom Queen”) goes horrendously wrong, Carrie’s unwary classmates and mother learn too late just how fatal a mistake it is to mess with a girl like her!

This new and innovative concept is the brainchild of Director Brady Schwind, and it pays huge dividends. Schwind keeps the action fluid, but not so rapid that many key elements or sentiments expressed are overlooked or rushed through; indeed, often there are several things happening simultaneously in several performance areas throughout the theater, and if anything, at times it can be a challenge to take them all in. Cautious minds also may rest assured that the story’s controversial “shower scene”, while containing some very brief nudity, is handled with great tact and discretion—yet another credit to Schwind’s directorial capabilities. Wisely too, he’s kept the special effects in the service of, instead of overpowering, the on-stage happenings. This is a musical more about people than ‘powers’, so when something phantasmic does occur, it startles–then amazes, making it far more memorable! Lee Martino’s spirited choreography also helps punctuate many of the key moments as well. Best described as hip-hop meets be-bop, she gives her dancers plenty of large group movements reminiscent of a vintage VH1 video brought to life!

"Oh my life is gonna take flight--can't wait 'til Saturday Night! You ain't seen nothin' yet-it's gonna be a night we'll never forget!" (The Cast Of The La Mirada Theatre's "Carrie, The Musical")

“Oh my life is gonna take flight–can’t wait ’til Saturday Night! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet-it’s gonna be a night we’ll never forget!” (The Cast Of The La Mirada Theatre’s “Carrie, The Musical”)

First making their collective presence felt as the ‘ghosts’ of Sue’s lost classmates, the fresh-faced and superbly talented ensemble seethe out of the shadows, slowly ‘materializing’ with each pulsating beat of the opening number which details the crucial pubescent problem of fitting “In” (“I’d crawl out of my skin, and so would you, ‘cause life just doesn’t begin until you’re IN!”) Joining again, they back up the Evangelic “Open Your Heart”, giving it a fittingly “glorious” consummation; then they effectively initiate the second act with the optimistic “A Night We’ll Never Forget”, wherein each prepares for their big evening. Once revealed, the actual “Prom” is so breath-taking that even as the plot speeds toward its ultimate inevitable conclusion, you genuinely hope it won’t occur.

More than with many other musical theater heroines, a lot rides on the performance of “Carrie” herself as singer and actor, and here, Emily Lopez in the title role of the taunted “girl with something extra-sensory” has us in her corner all the way! Possessing the enviable ability to bring clarity and intensity to the considerable emotions being expressed through song, her opening rant, appropriately titled “Carrie”, is forceful and affecting. Through it, we learn just what a wounded soul this girl is, as well as how she clings to the hopes for better days despite everything. Lopez again impresses with her part in “Evening Prayers” (a duet with her mother.) This may be the most surreal sequence but it’s also the one of the most vital, as it’s here that Carrie starts to realize the extent of her mental powers and the inner-strength they can bring her. She may begin literally cowering before a large hovering crucifix while locked in a ‘prayer closet”, but she certainly doesn’t end that way, leaving her confinement with a definite swagger! Her final moments of Act One are about as portentous as they get, as Carrie, announcing her decision to go to the prom, then exits with the same sense of serenity one would find in the eye of a hurricane, after demonstrating her “abilities” to her now terrified mother.

"You've become Satan's Bride-Pray for mercy! Get down on your knees! You've got Jezebel's pride and your soul is a hole of disease!" (Misty Cotton Is "Margaret White" With Emily Lopez As "Carrie")

“You’ve become Satan’s Bride-Pray for mercy! Get down on your knees! You’ve got Jezebel’s pride and your soul is a hole of disease!” (Misty Cotton Is “Margaret White” With Emily Lopez As “Carrie”)

As Carrie’s mother, Misty Cotton also does a superlative job in a decidedly tricky role; her “Margaret White” is an over-the-hill hippie/Jesus freak who surrendered her mind and logic long ago. “I can see you inside—full of sin and full of pride!” she condemns Carrie; still, Cotton succeeds at painting her in a more “three-dimensional” light with very human foibles than has been seen in earlier incarnations. Yes, she loves her daughter, but is so blinded by the light of her rigid “faith” that she can’t bear to face reality. Her rancorous “Eve Was Weak” is as infuriating as it is passionately delivered, but it’s after intermission that Cotton indelibly makes her mark with “When There’s No One”–a haunting melody that’s both beautiful and bone-chilling, because under all the soft words and dulcet tones, this is where Margaret finally surrenders what’s left of her tenuous grip on sanity. (“When the song dies, there is silence; when the tune that filled my days—no longer plays, the room is still…” she pines.) In the equally pivotal role of “Miss Gardner”, the girl’s coach who looks beyond Carrie’s plain, shy facade and sees someone worthy of self-esteem, Jenelle Lynn Randall is likewise a force to be reckoned with. Her song, “Unsuspecting Hearts” in which she gives Carrie the courage to accept Tommy’s invitation to the prom, may even bring a tear or two to your eyes.

No stranger to the La Mirada stage (appearing in last season’s award-winning “Les Miserables”,) Valerie Rose Curiel completely steps into the persona of quintessential ‘mean girl’ Chris Hargensen, and her rendition of “The World According To Chris” is a bona-fide highlight illuminating how Chris (the daughter of a local lawyer naturally,) has been raised to believe she’s inherently superior to other girls (“In every litter there’s a runt—Carrie White is ours” she gloats, later rationalizing her cruel behavior with, “nobody ever died from a scar!”) In fact, so ‘on the money’ is Ms. Curiel’s portrayal that on opening night when Chris finally “gets hers”, it was met with a spontaneous round of applause! In contrast, Kayla Parker’s “Sue” is similarly awesome as the affable girl next door with a conscience lacking in many of her compatriots at school. Her declaration “Once You See” is musical dynamite conveyed with the high-caliber urgency of a girl shaken into understanding the error of her callow, shallow ways.

"The world according to Chris is: Better to punch than get punched; better to burn than get burned --learn that and you're gonna go far!" (Valerie  Rose Curiel Is Chris Hargensen With Her 'Admirers'")

“The world according to Chris is: Better to punch than get punched; better to burn than get burned –learn that and you’re gonna go far!” (Valerie Rose Curiel Is Chris Hargensen With Her ‘Admirers'”)

Joining her is Jon Robert Hall as Sue’s boyfriend, “Tommy”—the lad whom she talks into being Carrie’s date. Together they make the kind of handsome, wholesome “dream couple” we all wish we had been a part of back in our own high school days. Hall too, has a clean, expressive vocal styling evocative of a young Richard Marx which he puts to excellent use during Tommy’s “Dreamer In Disguise”, infusing it with depth and soul. With Parker, their romantic duet “You Shine” (as Tommy wishes he could take his lady-love to the Prom instead) also rates a giant thumbs up! Offering a more ‘humane’ take on the role made famous by John Travolta in the film, Garrett Marshall also does a noteworthy job as Chris’ juvenile-delinquent boy-toy “Billy Nolan”. More a big, boisterous puppy dog with a booming voice to match, Billy tentatively regrets what they’re planning (“Isn’t this a little low—even for you?” he asks Chris.)

Set your mind to seeing “Carrie, The Musical” ASAP! After beginning previews on Thursday, March 12th, the show opened on Wednesday, March 18th, where it will run through Sunday, April 5, 2015. Show-times are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm; there will be two performances on Friday April 3 at 7:30 pm and 11:00 pm; with only one matinee at 2:00 pm on Sunday, April 5th. “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” is located at: at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, CA. Tickets for this engagement can be purchased at their website, located at: www.lamiradatheatre.com , or by calling the Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 (Student and Senior discounts are available.) For more information about “Carrie, The Musical” visit www.experiencecarrie.com .

(www.experiencecarrie.com)

(www.experiencecarrie.com)

Production Stills By Jason Niedle (tethos.com) Courtesy Of David Elzer At Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”; Special Thanks To David Elzer, Brian Kite, Bruce Robert Harris, Jack W. Batman And To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” Production Of “Carrie, The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.

 

A ‘Bali Ha’i-Powered’ Experience: Nothing ‘Cockeyed’ About It–“South Pacific” Is A Show To Love In Long Beach, CA.

February 17, 2015
"Musical Theatre West" Presents "South Pacific" February 14-March 1, 2015 At "The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts" In Long Beach CA. (www.musical.org)

“Musical Theatre West” Presents “South Pacific” February 14-March 1, 2015 At “The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts” In Long Beach CA. (www.musical.org)

Talk about “some enchanted evening”! Although “I expect every one of my crowd to make fun of my proud protestations of faith in” musical theater that can be fanciful and romantic while also remaining significant and socially-conscious, “Fearlessly I’ll face them and argue their doubts away” by asserting that there are few better ways to celebrate February’s season of love and valentines than with one of the most acclaimed stage romances of all time—Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”! Thankfully, “Musical Theatre West” at “The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts” in Long Beach California, has unveiled, precisely this show as their first of 2015! A rare and jubilant—but also important–entertainment, “South Pacific” made its debut in 1949, before going onto win numerous awards—among them, a Pulitzer prize, and it remains ranked amid only a handful of musicals to ever attain such an honor. This is conceivably due to its peculiar, timeless, quality; although set at the height of World War II, it especially speaks to our current situation today—maybe even more so than when it was originally produced, and you can rest assured that MTW’s latest production lives up to all of the show’s ‘enchanting’ merits.

"Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try..." Alessa Neeck is "Nellie Forbush" with Christopher Carl as "Emile DeBecque"

“Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try…” Alessa Neeck is “Nellie Forbush” with Christopher Carl as “Emile DeBecque”

A true classic if ever there was one, I am definitely NOT in ‘a conventional dither’ when I state that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s score is filled with practically one amazing showstopper after the next, and certainly all have become bona-fide standards in the canon of noteworthy American music. The book is also by Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan (the show’s original director), based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel “Tales of the South Pacific” (–or more specifically, two stories within it.) The action takes place on an island (where else?) in the ‘South Pacific’, and concerns two romances that run parallel to each other with some comic relief thrown in. The first involves Navy nurse “Nellie Forbush” from “Little Rock, A-R-K”, who quickly falls for the slightly older “Emile DeBecque” after meeting him at an officer’s club dinner. DeBecque is a French expatriate and area plantation owner with (unbeknownst to Nellie) two small children by a previous relationship with a native woman. By the same token, idealistic newcomer to the island, Lt. Joe Cable soon finds himself entranced by a young exotic beauty named “Liat”, who is the daughter of “Bloody Mary”, a sassy local peddler around the Navy base. Caught between their blossoming courtships and the ever-looming reality of the war against Japan, both Forbush and Cable struggle to reconcile their (for the time) unconventional affairs of the heart with their own prejudices and insecurities.

"Close to my heart she came...only to fly away; only to fly as day flies from moonlight." Christopher Carl is "Emile DeBecque"

“Close to my heart she came…only to fly away; only to fly as day flies from moonlight.” Christopher Carl is “Emile DeBecque”

With direction and choreography by Joe Langworth, who himself was the Associate Choreographer of the hit 2008 “Lincoln Center” revival, there’s a refreshing, unforced, quality running through the entire production that speaks to both the strength of the material and the commendable talents of those performing it. When it comes to dances and group achievements, Langworth saves most of the really clever moves for the scene-changes and brief ‘in-one’ segments, but perhaps by reason of their very brevity, these sequences truly charm and enliven thanks to some rather sharp moves and acrobatic exchanges. Examples of his imaginative terpsichorean craftsmanship include an ingenious combination “mariner’s horn-pipe/jitterbug’ for the sailors as part of their big “Bloody Mary” number (–which, not coincidentally, earns one of the most prodigious ovations of the evening!) Subsequently thereafter, the “Seabees” earn still another hearty round of applause for their efforts with, “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”; by the time the second act is unveiled, it’s the ladies turn to bask in the spot-light as they reignite the goings-on with an energetic, burlesque-inspired kick-line performed as part of the stylish gag-number, “Honey Bun”.

"I am caught and I don't wanna run, 'cause I'm havin' too much fun with 'Honey Bun'" Alessa Neeck  is "Nellie Forbush" with Spencer Rowe as "Luther Billis"

“I am caught and I don’t wanna run, ’cause I’m havin’ too much fun with ‘Honey Bun'” Alessa Neeck is “Nellie Forbush” with Spencer Rowe as “Luther Billis”

Broadway’s Alessa Neeck stars as the wide-eyed, “Cockeyed Optimist”, Ensign Nellie Forbush, along with Christopher Carl—likewise an artist of some note along “The Great White Way”, who appears as the French Planter, Emile DeBecque; together, Neeck and Carl make a handsome, not to mention very melodic, on-stage couple whom viewers won’t find it hard to ‘root’ for. Ms. Neeck’s portrayal emphasizes Forbush’s small-town southern upbringing and she even throws in an appealing southern lilt to her voice. Her opening, “Only A Cockeyed Optimist” is conveyed simply but cheerfully, while shortly after, her take on “Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” is a sheer delight, starting off as a solo, but quickly erupting into a full-on lively dance-interlude with all the nurses; then, her abrupt romantic ‘about-face’ with “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy” (including its encore) is yet another authentic highlight this lass really delivers on! Meanwhile, Mr. Carl’s appropriately deep and resonant voice is one to fall in love with, and his rendition of the iconic “Some Enchanted Evening” early on is the evening’s first full-fledged show-stopper, but it isn’t until the second act with his lamentation “This Nearly Was Mine” (—complete with the song’s seldom heard ‘bridge’,) that the pure profundity of this man’s ability to instill raw emotion into what he’s singing is completely felt.

"My eyes look down at your lovely face and I hold a world in my embrace..." Patrick Cummings is "Lt. Joseph Cable" with Cailan Rose as "Liat"

“My eyes look down at your lovely face and I hold a world in my embrace…” Patrick Cummings is “Lt. Joseph Cable” with Cailan Rose as “Liat”

Joining them is Patrick Cummings from the San Francisco Opera as Lt. Joseph (Joe) Cable. Gifted with a rich tenor voice, in keeping with the over-all style of this production, he begins his alluring chanson, “Younger Than Springtime” (sung just after he’s met and become thoroughly enamored with Bloody Mary’s daughter,) softly enough, but gradually lets it build into a tremendous crescendo that reveals the ample might of his striking vocal talents! Similarly, his rendering of “You’ve Got To Be Taught”—which spells out the primary message of racial acceptance for “those whose skin is a different shade” that “South Pacific” proclaims, is initially kept low-key, steadily building to a passionate apex filled with recrimination—against himself and the “society” he was brought up in. The production also incorporates a first-act duet between Nellie and Joe titled “My Girl Back Home”, which was cut from the original 1949 staging, but later reinstated for the 1958 film. Here, it deepens the understanding of the pair’s deeply entrenched mind-set toward race-relations that they grew up around, and each are impressive in presenting it.

"Bloody Mary's chewin' Betel Nuts --and she don't use Pepsodent!" Jodi Kimura is "Bloody Mary"

“Bloody Mary’s chewin’ Betel Nuts –and she don’t use Pepsodent!” Jodi Kimura is “Bloody Mary”

“South Pacific” also features several remarkable character roles, and here too, they don’t disappoint! Jodi Kimura, furnishes laudable support as “Bloody Mary”. Kimura offers us a much more relaxed, honest and unaffected ’person’, and less of a caricature than “Mary” is all-too-commonly seen as. This doesn’t mean, however, that she doesn’t vocally bestow the goods where it counts though. Her interpretation of “Bali Hai” is full and seductive as the song should be, while her supposedly ‘upbeat’ second act ditty, “Happy Talk” (sung to a malaria-weakened Cable) has an intriguing tinge of desperation also strangely befitting the situation, as shortly following, Joe will announce that he is unable to marry her daughter. As that same vulnerable young lady “Liat”, Cailan Rose also manages to stand-out nicely in a frequently overlooked role, depicting her as a fresh-faced and innocent ingénue who is easy to empathize with. Although dialogue-wise, she may not have much to say, Rose nonetheless makes her mark with a whimsical little dance-solo performed as part of her ‘mother’s’ breezy melody, “Happy Talk”. Spencer Rowe also does an exceptional job providing many rib-tickling moments as the tattooed Seabee Luther Billis. Proprietor of “Luther Billis Enterprises” (among other things,) he’s the character that ostensibly connects all the stories as he’s pretty much connected to all (or at least, most of) the lead players. In addition, his various antics go a long way in lightening the mood of what could, at times, be a fairly heavy show. Moreover, listen for Melvin Ramsey as “Seabee Kenneth Johnson” to supply some dramatic low notes at the end of “Nothing Like A Dame”, as well as some equally formidable foot-work during the choral reprise of “Bali Ha’i”.

"You can't light a fire when the wood is wet, you can't make a Butterfly strong; you can't  fix an egg when it ain't quite good--and you can't fix a man when he's wrong!" Alessa Neeck as "Nellie Forbush" and her fellow nurses are "Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair"

“You can’t light a fire when the wood is wet, you can’t make a Butterfly strong; you can’t fix an egg when it ain’t quite good–and you can’t fix a man when he’s wrong!” Alessa Neeck as “Nellie Forbush” and her fellow nurses are “Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”

Given the day and place that the events in this story are set against, in an exhilaratingly dignified gesture of gratitude, on opening night Executive Producer, Paul Garman asked all the actual Veterans of WWII in attendance to rise and be acknowledged for their service, at which they readily received a rousing round of applause! Indeed, this patriotic salute would later be reinforced immediately after intermission, when omitting the entre-act, the cast requested audience members to stand and join them in singing the National Anthem. Not only did this unexpected bit of spectator-participation inaugurate the second-half in an elegant and spirited way, it also further reinforced the era the show occurs in: the first scene in Act Two begins during a “Thanksgiving Program” on the military base, where just such a tradition would be observed!

"If you don't talk Happy, and you never dream, then you'll never have a dream come true!" Jodi Kimura is "Bloody Mary" with Patrick Cummings as "Joe" & Cailan Rose as "Liat"

“If you don’t talk Happy, and you never dream, then you’ll never have a dream come true!” Jodi Kimura is “Bloody Mary” with Patrick Cummings as “Joe” & Cailan Rose as “Liat”

“The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts” is on the northern end of the campus of “California State Long Beach”, located at 6200 E. Atherton St. in Long Beach, CA. Don’t wait and later lament “This Nearly Was Mine”—get your tickets now! Having opened Saturday, February 14th, “South Pacific” will play Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 P.M, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM, through March 1st. Special added shows are on Thursday, February 26th at 8:00 PM and Sunday evening 22nd, at 7:00 PM; Tickets are available by visiting the “Musical Theatre West Ticket Office” at 4350 E. 7th Street, Long Beach CA., by calling (562) 856-1999, ext. 4, or online by logging onto: www.musical.org.

 

"Bloody Mary is the girl I love--now ain't that too Damn Bad!" The Seabees sing their praises to Jody Kimura as "Bloody Mary"

“Bloody Mary is the girl I love–now ain’t that too Damn Bad!” The Seabees sing their praises to Jody Kimura as “Bloody Mary”

Production stills by “Caught In The Moment Photography”, Long Beach CA. (www.caughtinthemoment.com) Courtesy of “Musical Theatre West”; Special Thanks to Paul Garman, Lori Yonan, and to the cast and crew of “Musical Theatre West’s” “South Pacific” for making this story possible.

A Wildly “Wubbulous” Show: “Seussical—The Musical” Proves ‘Anything Truly Is Possible’ In Fullerton, CA.

February 10, 2015
Cathy Rigby Stars In 3-D Theatrical's "Seussical, The Musical" February 7-22, 2015 In Fullerton, CA.; February 28-March 8, 2015 In Redondo Beach, CA.

Cathy Rigby Stars In 3-D Theatrical’s “Seussical, The Musical” February 7-22, 2015 In Fullerton, CA.; February 28-March 8, 2015 In Redondo Beach, CA.

When was the last time you really had ‘FUN’ at the theater? If you have to think about it, then run, hop, skip or jump to the landmark “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton, California where 3-D Theatricals, Southern California’s Ovation Award Winning Theater Company takes a walk on the whimsical side with their first show of 2015: the charmingly quirky and family-friendly “Seussical—The Musical” starring Cathy Rigby! Based on selections from the enormously popular works of children’s author, Dr. Seuss, “Seussical, The Musical” is equal parts Broadway musical, Big Top circus, rock concert, MGM extravaganza,—and all enchantment. Like your favorite amusement park ride, once the last note ends, 3-D Theatricals’ rip-roaring new production makes you want to run right out and experience it all over again!

"Oh the thinks you will find lining up to get loose--oh, the thinks you can think when you think about 'Seuss'!" (Cathy Rigby & The Cast Of 3-D Theatrical's "Seussical, The Musical")

“Oh the thinks you will find lining up to get loose–oh, the thinks you can think when you think about ‘Seuss’!” (Cathy Rigby & The Cast Of 3-D Theatrical’s “Seussical, The Musical”)

Featuring Music by Stephen Flaherity and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (who both share credit for also writing the book) the idea was co-conceived by Ahrens, Flaherty and Eric Idle (–the guy from “Monty Python” who would also later score with his musical “Spamalot”!) That the entire enterprise is largely ‘sung through’ with plenty of extended musical sequences interrupted only by very short interjections of all-rhyming dialogue, keeps the happenings flowing from one great melodic escapade into the next. The tales that seem to drive the plot are “Horton Hears A Who”, “Horton Hatches The Egg”, “The Butter Battle Book” and “Gertrude Mc Fuzz”—even the notorious “Grinch” (he, who stole Christmas) makes an appearance! The opening “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think” (taken from the Doctor’s book of the same name) is about as rousing as they come, and sharp-eyed viewers will definitely see many familiar characters from their grade-school book shelves.

"You're the Biggest Blame Fool in the Jungle Of Nool--and I don't care who I tell!" (Amber J. Snead is "Sour Kangaroo" with Matthew Downs as Horton, The Elephant)

“You’re the Biggest Blame Fool in the Jungle Of Nool–and I don’t care who I tell!” (Amber J. Snead is “Sour Kangaroo” with Matthew Downs as Horton, The Elephant)

Afterward, the story begins “On the 15th of May in the Jungle Of Nool”, at which we’re taken to a lush, sumptuously hued jungle where lives Horton a simple, good-hearted elephant who believes “A person’s a person—no matter how small”. The first act pretty much follows his exploits trying to save the microscopic land of “Whoville” (which exists, we’re told, “in the tiniest planet in the sky” that’s found at the center of a mere speck of dust.) The second, when he’s tricked into sitting on an egg belonging to a vain and lazy bird named “Mazie”. Be prepared for some terrific audience participation after intermission, as the surprises (—and some ingenious ‘mise-en-scènes’–) come fast and furious!

"Notice me Horton, put down the clover; this your next-door neighbor calling. There's a new Leaf you neighbor's turned over." (Matthew Downs Is Horton, The Elephant & Melanie Mockobey Is Gertrude McFuzz)

“Notice me Horton, put down the clover; this your next-door neighbor calling. There’s a new Leaf your neighbor’s turned over.” (Matthew Downs Is Horton, The Elephant & Melanie Mockobey Is Gertrude McFuzz)

Directed and Choreographed by multi “LA Ovation Award” winner David Engel, who was part of the original Broadway company, he perspicaciously plays to all the book’s strengths, keeping the action going at a near whirlwind pace, which makes those times when things do slow down a bit all the more meaningful. Likewise, his choreography (and there is plenty of it) is expertly based on Broadway’s original staging by Kathleen Marshall. Movement here runs the gamut from 50’s “sock hop” dances to 80’s Hip-Hop; “Choreographer” Engle has found numerous ways to open up and enliven the proceedings through some inspired stepping, and even some remarkable mid-air maneuverings (with the captivating assistance of “Aerial Choreographer” Paul Rubin!) The sets by J. Branson and George Bacon’s costume design (both courtesy of “Music Theatre Witchita”) all effectively conjures up the look and feel of a Dr. Seuss illustration, and all are F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C; but it’s the lighting design by Jean-Yves Tessier that truly makes the show come alive with bold, vibrant, colors and some rather amazing lighting effects (particularly in the second act.)

"High or low, Gee she's fabulous! Watch her go, Gee I'm envious!" (Victoria Matlock is the "Amayzing" Mayzie LaBird with Cathy Rigby)

“High or low, Gee she’s fabulous! Watch her go, Gee I’m envious!” (Victoria Matlock is the “Amayzing” Mayzie LaBird with Cathy Rigby)

As the celebrated mischief-maker, “The Cat In The Hat”, Cathy Rigby serves as our sprightly host for the evening, popping in and out of all the on-stage undertakings and guiding spectators through the various adventures and misadventure more or less familiar to anyone who recalls Dr. Seuss’s stories. She literally jumps out of the pages of “The Cat In The Hat” book when making her first appearance, proclaiming “Howdy do and hello—I’ll be running the show”! Ms. Rigby also puts her agility and athletic training to exceptional use—as well as her ‘flying’ experience from other shows. According to Director Engel, the unique arraignment of her number “A Day For The Cat In The Hat” seen here was specifically created for the actress when she joined the show as the last “Cat” during its run on the “Great White Way”. Her rendition of it is A-Plus, and it ‘evolves’ (as many of the numbers do) from a simple duet with “Jo-Jo” (the son of the Mayor of “Whoville” whom Horton has befriended) into a huge splashy dance sequence titled “McElligot’s Pool”, in which the chorus executes a brilliant ballet while Rigby herself ‘takes to the air’ with some incredible acrobatic moves of her own–high above the stage! Moreover, her exuberant handling of the second act reprise of “How Lucky You Are” makes for a bouncy pick-me up directly after intermission; throughout, she throws in plenty of clever ‘tricks up her sleeve’ to keep the audience guessing, laughing, and thoroughly enjoying–and she’s just plucky and likable enough to pull them all off and then some!

"I have wings and I can fly, around the moon and far beyond the sky..." (Matthew Downs As Horton, The Elephant Commiserates With Grant Westcott As "Jo-Jo")

“I have wings and I can fly, around the moon and far beyond the sky…” (Matthew Downs As Horton, The Elephant Commiserates With Grant Westcott As “Jo-Jo”)

The pleasant but put upon pachyderm at the center of much of the events, “Horton, The Elephant” is performed by Matthew Downs, who does a sensational job in playing up the ‘quiet hero’ Horton is, portraying him as an all-around nice guy, “Caught between a dust-speck and an incubated egg”, as opposed to a universal ‘schlub’. His lullaby “Solla Sollew” to the newly orphaned egg which he’s been tricked into tending is superbly poignant and well-delivered. Right there by his side (whether he always sees it or not) is Melanie Mockobey, who is a genuine delight as the insecure, but ultimately valiant bird, “Gertrude McFuzz”. What a voice she has too, which is wonderfully displayed in “The One Feather Tale Of Miss Gertrude McFuzz” and “Notice Me Horton”; later, one humongous unwieldy tail lighter (–after she learns that anyone can be ‘pretty’ but real beauty comes from within), she shines with “All For You”. Not to be overlooked either is young Grant Westcott as “Jo-Jo”, the little “Who” who thinks the great big ‘thinks”. Westcott has a voice bona-fide three times his Bantam size and he puts it to excellent use in the service of “Anything Is Possible” and several quieter, but still stirring duets with Horton such as “Alone In The Universe” and his part in “Solla Sollew”.

"I've got brains in my head and feet in my shoes--so steer yourself in any direction you choose." (Grant Westcott As "Jo-Jo" & The Company Are "Havin' A Hunch")

“I’ve got brains in my head and feet in my shoes–so steer yourself in any direction you choose.” (Grant Westcott As “Jo-Jo” & The Company Are “Havin’ A Hunch”)

Amber J. Snead also offers outstanding support as “Sour Kangaroo”—one of Horton’s many detractors in the Jungle Of Nool; she magnificently takes center stage, showcasing her dynamically robust voice early on with “Biggest Blame Fool” (about Horton) and again at the show’s climax, in essence driving “The People Versus Horton The Elephant”. Gregory North is also a real force to be reckoned with as the blustery “General Genghis Kahn Schmitz” whose military Academy “Jo-Jo” is proscribed to. While North doesn’t sing much, he still makes the most of this prime-character role. But, in point of fact, the full ensemble is the primary “Co-Star” in all of these goings-on. As a group, they demonstrate some refined choral work—both during the larger jungle sequences and as the assorted “Who” townsfolk especially. As a dance team, being that the show is 90% song, it also means it’s 90% dance, and in this respect, what a breath-taking bit of artistry they consistently manage to achieve there! All through the show they present some fairly astounding terpsichorean treats, but “Having A Hunch” (wherein “Jo-Jo” discovers that anything really is possible) is one of the most down-right astonishing numbers (containing some dandy examples of ‘show-biz’ razzle-dazzle using their gloved extremities,) you’re likely to see this or any other season! In addition, after the stories are told and the day is won, they throw in a bonus audience-pleaser before the final curtain, this one a jivey jitter-bug singing the praises of that most ‘Seussian” of delicacies, “Green Eggs And Ham”!

"I'm General Genghis Kahn Schmitz! I scare children out of their wits!" (Gregory North is "The General")

“I’m General Genghis Kahn Schmitz! I scare children out of their wits!” (Gregory North is “The General”)

From page to stage, this production is guaranteed to bring back a few happy memories for those whose early years these iconic stories were so much a part of, and is precisely what an exciting evening of theater should be. Don’t you deserve a few good smiles? Then come be a kid again and treat yourself (and those you love) to this cotton candy-coated carnival of a show! Having opened February 7th 2015, “Seussical, The Musical” will play weekends through February 22nd, 2015 with show-times on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 pm, and added performances on Thursday, February 19th at 8:00 pm and an added Saturday Matinee at 2:00pm on February 21st . “The Plummer Auditorium” is located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue, Fullerton, CA. Subsequently, starting Saturday February 28th, the show moves for an additional six performances to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” located at 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd. in Redondo Beach, CA. Show-times there are Saturday, February 28th at 8:00 pm, Sunday, March 1st, at 2:00 pm, Friday, March 6th at 8:00 pm, Saturday, March 7 at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, with a final Sunday Matinee on March 8th at 2:00 pm. Tickets for both engagements may be obtained by calling 714 589-2770, or by logging onto the “3d Theatrical’s” website located at: www.3dtshows.com. (Special Group and Student discounts are also available.)

"Be happy you're here--think of life as a thrill; and if worse comes to worst (--and we all know it will) Thank your lucky star you've got this far!" (Cathy Rigby As "The Cat In The Hat" And Her Quartet Of  Assistant "Things")

“Be happy you’re here–think of life as a thrill; and if worse comes to worst (–and we all know it will) Thank your lucky star you’ve got this far!” (Cathy Rigby As “The Cat In The Hat” And Her Quartet Of Assistant “Things”)

Production Stills By Isaac James Creative  (www.IsaacJamesCreative.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Jeanette Dawson And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” “Seussical, The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.

‘Start A New Fashion, Buck All The Trends’: “Billy Elliot—The Musical” ‘Shines’ With Plenty of Genuine ‘Electricity’ In La Mirada, California

January 20, 2015

“It’s like that there’s music playing in your ear, and I’m listening, and I’m listening, and then I disappear; and then I feel a change–like a fire deep inside, something bursting me wide open impossible to hide…”—Billy Elliot

"The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts" & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment Present: "Billy Elliot-The Musical" January 17-February  8, 2015; 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA (www.lamiradatheatre.com)

“The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment Present: “Billy Elliot-The Musical” January 17-February 8, 2015; 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA (www.lamiradatheatre.com)

Based on the hit 2000 British drama about a 12-year-old boy from a small North-Eastern England town who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” and McCoy-Rigby Entertainment in La Mirada, California continue their winning 2014-2015 season by presenting the Southern California regional premiere of the ten-time Tony Award-winning “Billy Elliot—The Musical”! Set in 1984 amid an increasingly bitter miners’ strike, young Billy discovers that he prefers the girls’ ballet class at the local community center to the boxing he’s actually been sent there for. After witnessing his remarkable ability on the dance floor, his teacher swiftly realizes that this boy has true potential, but no-one, let alone his conservative working-class family, is likely to tolerate a ‘bloke’ who dances!

"Suddenly I'm flying--flying like a bird, like 'electricity' sparks inside me and I'm free!" Mitchell Tobin Is Billy Elliot

“Suddenly I’m flying–flying like a bird, like ‘electricity’ sparks inside me and I’m free!” Mitchell Tobin Is Billy Elliot

Directed by Brian Kite with plenty of intricate, jaw-dropping ‘uber-choreography’ by Dana Solimando, the production is graced with a top-flight score comprised of music by Elton John, and lyrics and book by Lee Hall (who adapted it from his screenplay.) “Sir Elton’s” music hearkens back to the best of his earlier ‘hit maker’ period of the mid-1970’s, when he literally ruled the pop-charts with one iconic hit after another. While occasionally interspersing some salty language, Hall’s book too, is exceptionally witty and Director Kite makes the most of these comic elements, which eases the show’s heavier or even slightly more ‘controversial’ components (such as pre-teen cross-dressing.) Take for example, the enterprising way the action of the striking workers clashing with riot-gear clad police is transposed in contrast to the lighter, more innocent workings of the Ballet studio, as Billy (at first awkwardly, but soon adeptly) learns his craft. Even the moment when Billy discovers that his buddy “Michael” has taken to dressing in his sister’s clothes is handled with sensitivity and playfulness rather than as something shocking or off-color, and even gives rise to a lively number “Expressing Yourself”—which itself erupts into a sensational ‘tap-line’ so vibrant you can’t help but cheer at it’s conclusion.

"Bowl them over, knock 'em out--show them what life's all about..." Vicki Lewis As Mrs. Wilkinson (Center)  & The Girls Of The Ballet Class

“Bowl them over, knock ‘em out–show them what life’s all about…” Vicki Lewis As Mrs. Wilkinson (Center) & The Girls Of The Ballet Class

Solimando’s indispensable contributions include plenty of eye-popping instances of ballet, tap, swing, and even some Irish ‘clog dancing’ reminiscent of “The Lord Of The Dance”. This is a certifiable ‘dance heavy” show wherein the dance and movement must absolutely amaze and, gladly in this regard, Ms. Solimando and the cast more than rise to the requirement. Foregoing a traditional overture in favor of a short film setting up the historical and political framework against which the story will be played, the opening, “The Stars Look Down” offers the ensemble a terrific chance for some great group harmony as the miners take center stage to sing of their plight, commitment to their cause, and hopes for better days. Act Two kicks off with lots of laughs and another sterling collective effort, as the striking miners perform “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” as part of their union’s annual holiday show, which features a chorus-line of little masked “Margaret Thatchers”. Toward the end, an extended combination “finale/curtain call”, affords one more Gold-Medal showcase for “Billy” and the young ladies of the company as they delight with a snazzy, unexpected, ‘line-dance’ that promptly brought the auditorium full of ‘First-Nighters’ to their feet!

"You might have it, you might not, all you really have to do is 'Shine'!" Vicki Lewis As Mrs. Wilkinson Guides Mitchell Tobin As Billy

“You might have it, you might not, all you really have to do is ‘Shine’!” Vicki Lewis As Mrs. Wilkinson Guides Mitchell Tobin As Billy

Earlier that evening, Producer Tom McCoy took a minute before the show got underway to inform those in attendance that on the previous Saturday, the lad who was set to play “Billy” was rehearsing his big climactic number, when he was injured, thus requiring a quick replacement. As extraordinary fortune would have it though, with only five days left before opening, just such a replacement was found. Understanding this–and seeing what a truly roof-raising performance was given on opening night, turns this already memorable evening of theater into a down-right phenomenal one! That ‘last minute’ replacement is a young ‘Super-Trooper’ by the name of Mitchell Tobin who had been part of the second national tour of the show, and to say his performance here in the title role is astounding would be a complete understatement! What wouldn’t be though, is to assert that he gives one of the very best performances Southern California has experienced in the last few years—at least! Add to it how his character is on stage throughout 90% of the goings-on, it becomes even more considerable a feat. His brief ‘shadow dance’ early on tenders a glimpse into still more outstanding things to arrive; and arrive they certainly do. It’s apparent even as he ‘burlesques’ learning those first couple of unsure moves that this kid is one hell of a talent! Indeed, Tobin manages to keep topping himself in each successive number–whether it’s Billy’s Act One “Angry Dance” closer (when circumstances dictate that he must miss his big audition for the “Royal Ballet School” causing him to ‘act out’ his frustration), his second act “Dream Ballet” staged as a breath-taking Pas-de-Deux between Tobin and Billy’s ‘older self” (pristinely executed by Brandon Forrest), or his eleventh hour dazzler “Electricity”. In fact, on opening night, this latter interlude effectively “stopped the show” as the eager spectators kept plying forth ovation after much-deserved ovation!

"We will go down--but rise again! And we will all go together when we go..." The Town's Striking Miner Sing.

“We will go down–but rise again! And we will all go together when we go…” The Town’s Striking Miners Sing.

Joining him is Vicki Lewis who likewise doesn’t put a foot wrong as Billy’s sympathetic Ballet Teacher, “Mrs. Wilkinson”. Her introductory salvo, “All You Have To Do Is Shine” is A-Plus—backed by a chorus of little Ballerinas in neon tutus (providing yet another dynamic sampling of Ms. Solimando’s really ripping Choreography!) Here, Lewis gives the boy the basics urging him: “It doesn’t matter if you’re large or small, ‘trapezoid’, or short or tall; even if you can’t dance—at all! All you really have to do is ‘shine’!” It’s also no surprise that this number earns the first humongous round of applause in an evening filled to the brim with them. David Atkinson similarly does an impressive job as Billy’s widowed father, “Jackie Elliot”.

"We will go and we will shine and we will go and seize the time." David Atkinson Is Jackie Elliot With Mitchell Tobin As His Son, Billy

“We will go and we will shine and we will go and seize the time.” David Atkinson Is Jackie Elliot With Mitchell Tobin As His Son, Billy

Although his best moments aren’t until after intermission when his relationship with his son is really developed, he paints a believable, well-rounded portrait of a working-class man who, while being acutely aware of his own life’s limitations, isn’t blind to the potential for a better life that Billy’s incredible gift could bring him. His moving rendition of “Deep Into The Ground” (as the elder Elliot dolefully recalls his life ‘working underground’ and the sudden loss of his wife) is a particular highlight: “Once I loved a woman, she meant all the world to me; saw ourselves a future as far as I could see; but I was only forty-seven when they took her down from me…”

""What the Hell is wrong with wearing a dress? Being who you want to be? Who the Hell is it you try to impress?!" Jake Kitchin As Michael Plays 'Dress-Up' With Mitchell Tobin As Billy

“What the Hell is wrong with wearing a dress? Being who you want to be?” Jake Kitchin (Right) Is Michael With Mitchell Tobin As Billy (Left)

Excellent support is also furnished by Marsha Waterbury as Billy’s Grandmother. Gram’s mind, we learn, isn’t what it used to be, but the one memory she can still savor after thirty years of enduring a less-than-blissful marriage, is how she and her late husband would go out dancing. This inspires one of the more touching refrains, aptly titled “Grandma’s Song”, during which we learn that Billy may even have dancing in his blood! Furthermore, young Sammy Gayer as Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter “Debbie” gets all the best laugh lines and she definitely makes the most of them, as does Jake Kitchin when he gets to ‘strut his stuff’ as Billy’s gender-bending school-friend, “Michael”.

""Know I was always there--I was with you through everything, and please Billy, know that I always will be." Billy Elliot Recalls His Late Mum's (Kim Huber) Words As Mrs. Wilkinson Reads "The Letter"

“”Know I was always there–I was with you through everything, and please Billy, know that I always will be.” Billy Elliot Recalls His Late Mum’s (Kim Huber) Words As Mrs. Wilkinson Reads “The Letter”

Never mind ‘could’, this production ‘can’—and surely does—‘shine’! “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, California, and after previewing on Friday, January 16th, 2015, “Billy Elliot—The Musical” opened on Saturday, January 17th, where it will run through Sunday, February 8th. Performances are at 7:30 PM on Wednesdays & Thursdays; 8:00 PM on Fridays; 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Special “Talkbacks” with the cast and creative team after final curtain are set for Wednesday, January 21st and Wednesday, February 4th. Tickets can be purchased at “The La Mirada Theatre’s” website, www.lamiradatheatre.com , or by calling “The La Mirada Theatre Box Office” at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Student, Senior and Group discounts are also available.)

"If you wanna be a Dancer, dance; if you wanna be a Miner, Mine; if you wanna dress like somebody else, fine...Fine...FINE!"

“If you wanna be a Dancer, dance; if you wanna be a Miner, ‘mine'; if you wanna dress like somebody else, fine…Fine…FINE!”

Production Stills By Michael Lamont, Courtesy Of David Elzer At Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) McCoy-Rigby Entertainment And “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”; Special Thanks To David Elzer, Tom McCoy, Cathy Rigby, And To The Cast & Crew Of McCoy-Rigby Entertainment & “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” Production Of “Billy Elliot-The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.

There Are No ‘Greener Pastures’: Max Liebman’s “Heidi” Is A Rediscovered Vintage TV Treat!

January 3, 2015

HEIDI wrap9b.indd

“If you follow the foot-path through the cool, green meadows alive with blue mountain streams, you will soon become aware of the fragrance of sweet pasture land…it is here, at the foot of the majestic Swiss Alps, that you will find the pleasant little village of Dorfli…” So begins “Heidi”, the rarely seen television musical version of Johanna Spyri’s treasured children’s classic. Now available on DVD from “Video Artists International”, there’s an underlying sense of friendliness and amiability running through the entire production of this delightful tale of a spirited little orphan girl’s amazing journey from her gruff-but-loving Grandfather’s home in the Swiss Alps to the city of Frankfurt, Germany (where she’s been delivered to help aid a young invalid,) that makes it appropriate for ALL viewers.

"Under every star you find a Dreamer, dreaming just the way you do; if you think you're the only dreamer, look and you'll see quite a few." Jeannie Carson Is "Heidi"

“Under every star you find a Dreamer, dreaming just the way you do; if you think you’re the only dreamer, look and you’ll see quite a few.” Jeannie Carson As “Heidi”

Since NBC is now producing one (albeit very lauded) “Live” theatrical production a year, it’s striking to note that “Heidi” hearkens back to that magical time in TV and pop-culture history when such presentations were practically weekly viewing fare! Produced and Directed by Max Liebman as part of his “Spectaculars” series for the network, “Heidi” was originally broadcast live on October 1, 1955. Based on themes of influential German Composer, Robert Schumann (who was recognized as one of the most influential composers of the ‘Romantic’ Era) the Music is by Clay Warnick with Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh–just after her huge success with the inimitable “Peter Pan”. To be sure, her song “I Love To Ramble” (—sung as a duet between Heidi and Peter,) is a very worthy follow-up to “I Won’t Grow Up” featured in that production. Dances and Musical numbers were staged by James Starbuck, and the book was adapted by William Friedberg and a young fledging “Superstar” Playwright in the making, Neil Simon.

"The roses blowing wild, the giant apple tree--await their favorite child anxiously...Heidi."

“The roses blowing wild, the giant apple tree–await their favorite child anxiously…Heidi.”

Once the rollicking opening chorus concludes, young Heidi enters led by her “Aunt Dete” looking for the girl’s estranged Grandfather whom the scheming aunt accuses of being “A mean old man whose lost his senses!” Soon they learn from the village pastor that “Grandfather” hasn’t been down to the village for ten years! Undaunted, the pair travel up the mountainside to his cabin, and though he isn’t initially too keen on the idea of taking the girl in, he nevertheless relents. (“Am I gonna stay here tonight or am I gonna live here forever?” she asks; “We’ll see” her grandfather replies. “I hope it’s forever because I like it here very much!” Heidi responds.) Despite the pastor urging Grandfather to send Heidi to school and church, his suggestion is promptly rebuffed: “She will learn more here from the goats and the birds!” he asserts. In fact, the very next day she meets Grandfather’s two goats—a light one named “Swanli” and a dark one named “Bearli”, which Peter, the young goat-herd collects daily to herd on the mountainside. Time passes and Heidi grows to love her mountain home as much as she’s come to love her Grandfather; everything seems to be going along wonderfully until Aunt Dete suddenly reappears: “There’s a widower in Frankfurt who has offered Heidi a wonderful opportunity” She tells them, reporting he has a fine home in Frankfurt where Heidi is to be brought in order to be a companion to the man’s ailing young daughter named “Klara”. “I’ll be back—you’ll see” Heidi tearfully promises her equally distraught Grandfather, “—I’ll be back!” But insofar as Dete is Heidi’s ‘Legal Guardian’, the two have no choice in the matter.

"I hate to read and write, etcetera-er; I get to fidget from doin' digits--I count the mountain goats much better-er" (Wally Cox is "Peter")

“I hate to read and write, etcetera-er; I get to fidget from doin’ digits–I count the mountain goats much better-er’ (Wally Cox is “Peter”)

Act Two opens in the house of “Herr Sesseman” in Frankfurt. “The excitement was immense” the narrator details, “all the servants had been busy from early morning in preparation for the arrival of the little playmate from Switzerland.” This inspires a clever number—“Antiques” (“They serve no purpose or earthly need, but throw them out? Oh no—indeed! They’re ‘valuable’ Antiques!”) Longing to see the mountains from the local church-steeple (the only place tall enough that she might catch a glimpse of them, she’s told) Heidi wanders away from the Sesseman household and finds herself on an adventure in the city where she meets a new ally, an Organ-Grinder named “Eric”. Showing her around, he even takes her to a Marionette Theater featuring the “Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes”—many of which are bound to be familiar from their appearance in the iconic blockbuster, “The Sound Of Music”. (Word is their number here, “Oudt Comes Oom-pa-pa”” directly inspired the staging of that film’s “The Lonely Goatherd”.) Unhappily, even as Klara grows stronger, Heidi grows sadder and weaker, so by the time winter blossoms into spring, the answer is obvious: the terribly homesick girl must be returned home, which makes for a bitter-sweet culmination to the act. The third act is also the most abbreviated, as the narrator explains: “Heidi was home again; the days flew happily by, but she could never forget Klara…then June came with its deep blue sky and warmer sun, inviting all the flowers to come out…and one day, a strange procession was seen coming up the mountain…” Thus arrives Klara to visit her much missed comrade, leading to a touching finale that’s as poignant and joyous as they get (—just don’t be surprised if it leaves a little tear in your eye!)

"I hear the mountains calling me, dressed in all their greenery..." (Jeannie Carson Is "Heidi")

“I hear the mountains calling me, dressed in all their greenery…” (Jeannie Carson Is “Heidi”)

Leading a thoroughly likable, A-Plus cast, is Jeannie Carson in the title role. Reminiscent of a young Mia Farrow, she effectively inspires a near-instant sense of empathy from us, the viewers, which is distinctly important for the character she’s playing. In addition, Carson has a crisp and expressive voice which she puts to great use early on in “Pick Yourself A Star” ; later, her handling of the Act Two closer, “Pastures Of Your Home” ends the act forcefully but with a sense of hope (and both tunes similarly demonstrate Ms. Leigh’s often under-appreciated talent for a clever turn-of-phrase.) As her Grandfather, Broadway veteran Richard Eastham gets his chance to shine with “I Go My Way” wherein we learn how came to be a brusque, embittered man who remains suspicious of the outside world (“I go my way, even though I go my way alone!” he sings.) Eastham has a sumptuous baritone and he especially impresses with it here. His other solo, “Greener Pastures” is another awesome accomplishment, delivered as Grandfather desperately tries to console himself upon losing his now beloved grand-daughter: “You dream beyond some distant hill lies the answer to a dream you must fulfill…young and restless you are bound to roam until you’re old enough to know–there are NO pastures that are greener than the pastures of your home!”

"Oh, I wish I could go pick flowers on a mountain top!" (Natalie Wood Is "Klara")

“Oh, I wish I could go pick flowers on a mountain top!” (Natalie Wood Is “Klara”)

On the verge of film stardom herself with “Rebel Without a Cause” (released, literally, just weeks after this telecast,) 17-year-old Natalie Wood plays “Klara”. Although at the time of its original airing critics argued against the comparative ages of Carson and Wood, considering the “heightened reality” involved, and the viewer’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ (–they do, after all, tend to burst into song here and there,) this really isn’t a problem, and they actually do come off as fairly plausible in their individual roles. As seen here, Wood’s “Klara” is lonely but good-natured, basically facing her disability but still eager to find a friend in the unusual little mountain girl. While perhaps a bit more abbreviated in this tele-play than it arguably should have been, thanks to Wood’s indelibly appealing performance, it nonetheless loses none of the impact giving us a “Klara” who is much more warm and sympathetic than has been seen in other interpretations as well. This in turn, makes it easier to ‘root for her’ and to be genuinely moved by her ultimate ‘recovery’ at the story’s close.

"I love a tender voice that tells me I'm divine; no voice, I fear, is quite as sincere, and so I'm in love with mine!" (Robert Clary Is "Eric")

“I love a tender voice that tells me I’m divine; no voice, I fear, is quite as sincere, and so I’m in love with mine!” (Robert Clary Is “Eric”)

Also making their outstanding mark here are several other performers who themselves went onto to substantial show-business careers–including Wally Cox, who does surprisingly well as the goat-herd “Peter”, and the delightfully puckish Robert Clary (perhaps best known today from his role as the diminutive Frenchman “LeBeau” on TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes”.) As “Eric”, Clary interjects the second act with some jubilant energy with “I Love Me” (which also features the show’s best choreography as well!) Moreover, legendary character actress Elsa Lanchester demonstrates all the appropriate ‘airs’ of haughtiness and arrogance as Klara’s Governess, “Fraulein Rottenmeier”, while never coming off as seriously menacing. Her playful “Etiquette Song” even makes a fun “round”, featuring “Heidi”, “Klara”, “Sebastian” (the Butler) and herself (“Speak but be graceful—never with a face-full” it cautions.) Furthermore, the Academy Award-winning Jo Van Fleet (1955’s Best Supporting Actress for “East of Eden”) is “Aunt Dete”, who does a fine job proving that greed and down-right smarminess truly can be masked by a pretty, smiling face. Not to be overlooked either are the “Schmeed Trio”, who provide plenty of authentic Swiss ‘yodeling’. They too, are given several terrific moments in the spot-light, first leading the chorus (including Peter) in an enjoyable “Yodeling Song”, then with “Yodel-Dee-Hi”—the Act Three opener which also offers up some equally authentic Swiss folk dancing as the whole village ‘celebrates’ Heidi’s return.

"I say to myself: 'Repeat after me, no care in the world shall come between me and 'Yodel-Dee-Dee!" (The Renowned Schmeed Trio)

“I say to myself: ‘Repeat after me, NO care in the world shall come between me and ‘Yodel-Dee-Dee’!” (The Renowned “Schmeed Trio”)

Sweet, but never ‘saccharinely’, “pick yourself a star’ and be enchanted by this “Heidi’s” spell–here is old-fashioned “family-friendly” entertainment at its absolute finest. Presented in black & white, V.A.I.’s digitalized transfer from the original kinescope is largely pristine, with the soundtrack particularly profiting from the digital clean-up process. Likewise, as “Oldsmobile” was the sponsor of the original airing, all of their original, vintage commercials (also presented live at the time) are included in this DVD release as part of the “Bonus Materials”. For more information, or to order a copy of this newly rediscovered masterpiece from television’s “Golden Age”, log onto: www.VAIMusic.com .

Special Thanks To Paul Lambert For Assistance With The Vintage Photos And To Foster Grimm And The Staff At “Video Artists International” (www.VAIMusic.com) For Making This Story Possible.

Dear Friend: There’s Plenty To Love About “The Chance Theater’s” Restaging Of “She Loves Me” In Anaheim, CA!

December 8, 2014
"The Chance Theater" At "The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center" Presents "She Loves Me" December 5-28 2014, 5522 La Palma Avenue, Anaheim CA.

“The Chance Theater” At “The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center” Presents “She Loves Me” December 5-28 2014, 5522 La Palma Avenue, Anaheim CA.

“Will wonders never cease?!” Just in time for the holidays, “The Chance Theater” at “The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center” in Anaheim California, is presenting “She Loves Me”! Charming, romantic—the perfect show to celebrate the season with, it features music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick–the same team who created the unforgettable “Fiddler On The Roof”, with a book by Joe Masteroff (himself known for his work on “Cabaret”.) Often called a “jewel from Broadway’s Golden Age”, “The Chance’s” inspired revival provides audiences with a sweet little yuletide tale that makes a delightful Valentine to this festive time of year!

"Will he like me? Who can say? Oh, this evening seems a million years away!" (Erika C. Miller Is "Amalia")

“Will he like me? Who can say? Oh, this evening seems a million years away!” (Erika C. Miller Is “Amalia”)

A very human story with refreshingly realistic performances, the action is set almost exclusively in and around “Maraczek’s”–a small, perfume store in Budapest, Hungary circa 1937. There, clerks “Georg Nowack” and “Amalia Balash” escape the workaday grind (not to mention mutual hostilities with one another) through passionate letters to anonymous pen pals–never guessing that they are actually, unknowingly, writing to each other! Almost immediately we discover that our hero, “Georg” is preoccupied with a serious correspondence he has with a mysterious young lady he addresses only as “Dear Friend”. On one particularly hectic day, “Amalia” enters looking for a job—determined not to take no for an answer, and suffice it to say theirs is ‘dislike at first sight’. However, as the days eventually progress (–and after more than their share of continued misunderstandings) Amalia finds that “right before her eyes, the man that she despised has turned into a man she likes”, until naturally, it all ends wonderfully (–as all the very best holiday exploits do!)

"Three more minutes, two more seconds, TEN more hours to go..." (Stanton Kane Morales is "Georg" With Corky Loupe As "Sipos")

“Three more minutes, two more seconds, TEN more hours to go…” (Stanton Kane Morales is “Georg” With Corky Loupe As “Sipos”)

 

Adapted from the original play “Parfumerie” by Playwright Miklos Laszlo, “She Loves Me” stays pretty close to its source material that gave rise to such classic films as “The Shop Around The Corner”, “In The Good Old Summertime”, and more recently, “You’ve Got Mail”. Sarah Figoten Wilson’s insightful direction plays to the many strengths contained in Masteroff’s swift-moving libretto while emphasizing the honesty and veracity of the situations depicted–and, most especially, those depicting them. The engaging result is genuine, believable ‘people’ as opposed to your standard “Musical Theater Characterizations” so common in previous versions of the show. Then too, where it does appear, Christopher M. Albrecht’s nimble choreography is sharp and energetic—injecting a bit of animation and liveliness into the story while incorporating some sprightly Hungarian folk dance-moves to boot! (Indeed, sharp-eyed viewers may also notice how Albrecht has deftly thrown in a few ‘knowing nods’ to the Author and Song-writing team’s other, previously mentioned classics in several numbers.) There’s even a “Gypsy Violinist/Flower-girl” who pops in and out of the action, serving as a kind of tuneful ‘spirit’ of the city.

"I'm a very good sales-girl--really good! And I know the Parfumerie business inside and out!" (Erika C. Miller As "Amaila" Entreats Beach Vickers As "Mr. Maraczek")

“I’m a very good sales girl–really good! And I know the Parfumerie business inside and out!” (Erika C. Miller As “Amaila” Entreats Beach Vickers As “Mr. Maraczek”)

"All night, circling the floor, 'til dawn lit up the sky...no one younger than I, in days gone by!" (Beach Vickers Is "Mr. Maraczek" With Stanton Kane Morales As "Georg")

“All night, circling the floor, ’til dawn lit up the sky…no one younger than I, in days gone by!” (Beach Vickers Is “Mr. Maraczek” With Stanton Kane Morales As “Georg”)

Being a smaller cast musical, everyone pretty much gets their moments in the spot-light. Leading them is “Chance Theater” founding artist Erika C. Miller, as “Amalia” and Stanton Kane Morales as “Georg”. Possessed with a gorgeous soprano voice with just the right touch of tremolo, Ms. Miller’s “Amalia” isn’t so much disagreeable or temperamental as she is determined, which causes her to be somewhat quirky at times. Her ‘aria” (for that’s exactly what it is–) “I Don’t Know His Name” is nothing short of sensational, effectively showing-off her amazing talent. When it becomes a duet with her fellow shop-girl “Ilona”, they each elevate this to a bona-fide Act One highlight! Then again, Miller’s is a role with numerous shades to it and she does a top-notch job showing them all. The Act One closer, “Dear Friend” offers a flawless opportunity to divulge Amalia’s more ‘ hidden’ introspective nature and sensitivity, while the second act’s “Vanilla Ice Cream” (—one of the score’s more famous inclusions) is a fantastic occasion to introduce an element of comedy into the proceedings as well. This immediately segues into Georg’s solo-turn with the title number, and here he really dazzles (think of the two numbers as a sort of  thrilling ‘one-two’ punch in the second act!) Morales too, has a sumptuous tenor voice capable of significant power and expressiveness, and his first act ‘soliloquy’ “Tonight At Eight” is full of intense vocal gymnastics, but includes several good moments of subtlety too. Together, Morales and Miller make an overall winning combination (besides being a most melodious couple–whether their characters see it at the outset or not!)

"How I envy you, each evening when work is through--for I only have me to be with, while you have you!" (Taylor Stephenson Is "Kodaly" & Camryn Zelinger Is "Ilona")

“How I envy you, each evening when work is through–for I only have me to be with, while you have you!” (Taylor Stephenson Is “Kodaly” & Camryn Zelinger Is “Ilona”)

A popular figure at “The Chance”, Camryn Zelinger once again proves her magnificent chameleon-like qualities as the lovelorn “Ilona”—so utterly and enchantingly ‘becoming’ the character that she’s nearly unrecognizable from her previous projects. “Ilona”, it turns out, has been having a not-so-clandestine ‘involvement’ with her co-worker, ladies-man “Steven Kodaly”. Taylor Stephenson’s “Kodaly” is more about laid-back charm than out-and-out ‘sleaze” here–if anything, he’s your typical “driven’ guy looking out for himself first, rather than about any (outward) malice. Stephenson’s handling of “Come With Me, Ilona” is deliciously seductive revealing his striking voice that really could make a girl melt! In fact, this one too, is definite ‘standout’ number in an evening full of them! (Of course, as is often the case, before the final curtain is rung we’ll learn that Kodaly is an even bigger rat than his laconic, easy-going facade would have us believe–one who “works hard—at all the wrong things!”) As the spat-wearing, puckish “Mr. Maraczek”, Beach Vickers is also thoroughly likable (but still capable of ample boisterousness and swagger.) His energetic “Days Gone By” is an avuncular bright-spot early on, then a little poignant in its later reprise; meanwhile, Daniel Jared Hersh is likewise a ‘force’ as young go-getter “Arpad Lazlo”—initially the shop’s delivery boy who is ultimately promoted to shop assistant. He single-handedly re-charges the goings-on with his amusing Act Two opener, “Try Me”. Moreover, Corky Loupe’s take on the long-suffering clerk, “Ladislav Sipos” isn’t so much sycophantic or mousey (as it would be so easy to portray him as.) Instead, he’s more practical than pathetic.

"I have trained myself- going shelf by shelf- and I know each item in the store." (Daniel Jared Hersh is "Arpad" with Beach Vickers As "Mr. Maraczek")

“I have trained myself- going shelf by shelf- and I know each item in the store.” (Daniel Jared Hersh Is “Arpad” with Beach Vickers As “Mr. Maraczek”)

In addition, excellent supporting contributions are made by Matt Takahashi, who poses equal parts pretension, bluster, and hilarity as “The Café Imperiale’s” slightly jittery-but-still-overbearing “Maître d’ ”. His gifted ‘management’ of “A Romantic Atmosphere”—the one really big production number and also the funniest–makes this into a major hit; while Elizabeth Adabale also does an A-Plus job as a Billie-Holiday-esque “Blues Singer” in the same Café whose song-stylings and snippets of authentic “30’s era” standards help the transition from the shop to the restaurant (–one of the longer sequences, and one of the very few scenes to take places out of “Maraczek’s”) to come off as clever and seamless. Not to be overlooked either is Tina Nguyen’s “Gypsy Violist”; one of only two musicians the piece utilizes (the other being the dynamic work of pianist Ryan O’Connell who appears on stage throughout) she may not speak, but still makes her vibrant presence known in the very best possible ways nonetheless! As an ensemble, the entire bunch achieve some stunning collective work, such as in the opening, “Good Morning, Good Day”–a jaunty introduction to all the key players (and those they serve.) They also demonstrate terrific harmony during “Sounds While Selling” (which humorously exhibits the day-to-day undertakings of the shop.) Toward the end, the “Twelve Days To Christmas” is yet another energetic group effort that helps send the show out on a very positive, (if a touch, frenetic) note.

"Think of all the Love-Affairs we assist--what more noble calling is there than our?!" (Matt Takahashi Is The "Maitre'D" Of "The Café Imperiale")

“Think of all the Love Affairs we assist–what more noble calling is there than ours?!” (Matt Takahashi Is The “Maitre’D” Of “The Café Imperiale”)

The simple orchestrations for “She Loves Me” both delicately–and brilliantly–recall the best of the old Hungarian school of musical composition (think Franz Liszt or Bela Bartok) with lots of dramatic embellishment and violin underscoring (–thanks again to the impressive work by Ms. Nguyen!) What’s more, Scenic Designer Bruce Goodrich demonstrates his own brand of ingenuity with a keen “fold away’ set that literally opens and closes as the store’s ‘hours’ dictate—and he’s done just as noteworthy a job as the show’s Costumer as well, furnishing smart, urbane, period garb that’s also right on the money. So why not present yourself with this big, bright, “musical candy-box” of a show? Having opened Friday December 5th, “She Loves Me” will play through Sunday, December 28th, 2014. Show-times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, Saturday Matinees at 3:00 PM and Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM ; “The Chance Theater” at “The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center” is located at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA., and tickets for all performances can be obtained by calling (714) 777-3033 or logging onto: www.ChanceTheater.com .

"She love me! (True, she doesn't show it.) How could she, when she doesn't know it?!" ( Erika C. Miller Is "Amalia" With Stanton Kane Morales As "Georg")

“She loves me! (True, she doesn’t show it.) How could she, when she doesn’t know it?!” ( Erika C. Miller Is “Amalia” With Stanton Kane Morales As “Georg”)

Production Stills By Doug Catiller At “True Image Studio” (www.trueimagestudio.com) Courtesy Of “The Chance Theater”; Special Thanks To Casey Long, Sarah Figoten Wilson, And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Chance Theater’s” “She Loves Me” For Making This Story Possible.

 

May The Merry Bells Keep Ringing: ‘One More Productions’ Rings In The Holidays With Their Bright And Shiny “Holiday Gem” In Garden Grove, CA.

December 2, 2014
"One More Productions" Presents "The Holiday Gem" November 28-December 21, 2014 At "The Gem Theatre" 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA

“One More Productions” Presents “The Holiday Gem” November 28-December 21, 2014 At “The Gem Theatre” 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA

How many opportunities do you have to leave your cynicism at the door and sincerely appreciate the best of what this season is supposed to be? Now, “One More Productions”—the resident production company of the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, once again invites audiences to have themselves “A Merry Little Christmas” with their annual “Holiday Gem”—a jubilant family oriented celebration of all things ‘Noel’! Sure to fill spectators with the ‘spirit of the season’, the score is loaded with well-known standards, holiday classics, and a few surprises–all connected by a simple but effective story of two young girls and the tune-filled Yuletide adventure they find themselves taken on. In fact, “One More Productions” has deftly managed to offer Garden Grove (and all of Southern California, really) the stylish equivalent to a live-action “Rankin/Bass” Christmas Special all its own, boasting equal parts heart, talent, and sheer enjoy-ability. There‘s so much to like here it’s almost like having to choose which present to open first or which one you like the most!

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, soon the bells will start..." Chris Harper is "Elroy" with Shayna Gayer (L) as "Hope" & Lisa Scarsi (R) as "Holly"

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, soon the bells will start…” Chris Harper is “Elroy” with Shayna Gayer (L) as “Hope” & Sophia Scarsi (R) as “Holly”

To be sure, it’s been a full and prosperous year for the group at “The Gem” since reopening last December after a fire in May of 2011 disrupted operations for two years, and happily, in many ways this is like a homecoming for more than a few of the performers who have graced the theater’s stage over the past twelve months. The story (and yes, there is one) concerns two small sisters named “Holly” and “Hope” who have recently moved out West to Garden Grove; Holly, the elder sibling seems to be having the “Southern California Holiday Blues”: “No snow, No Grandma!” she laments—even going so far as to call her belief in Santa Claus himself into question. No sooner than she does this though, that an elf named “Elroy” (who introduces himself as a “Holiday Magic Technician”) appears via the auspices of a magic snow globe that can transport those who use it to any place or any time—provided they truly believe in the magic of Christmas (“With each song, the magic of the season just grows and grows” Elroy tells the girls.)

"They're gonna build a Toy-land town all around the Christmas Tree!" John Gillies Is 'Assistant Elf' "Ernie"

“They’re gonna build a Toy-land town all around the Christmas Tree!” John Gillies Is ‘Assistant Elf’ “Ernie”

Immediately, when the stately red-velvet curtains part, they reveal a picturesque wintry town-scape worthy of a “Currier and Ives” print. After a melodic visit to Santa’s Artic workshop, Act Two picks up with a trip to Victorian England reminiscent of a scene right out of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Following the unabashed playfulness and joviality of the first act, things are slightly more refined and secular–there’s even a point where the audience is invited to sing along to such old favorites as “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy To The World”—with all their various verses intact. Afterwards, much of the second part is really more a series of solo turns, (and even a terrific trio) punctuated by a few amazing company-performed medleys honoring a more traditional Christmas observation, and of course before the night is through, rest assured “Jolly Old St. Nick” will make an appearance–leading a chorus line of tap-dancing Santas!

"Wink and giggle, wiggle your beard--keep up your grin! Get out and sell the spell of ol' Noel!"

“Wink and giggle, wiggle your beard–keep up your grin! Get out and sell the spell of ol’ Noel!”

As the ‘Lead Elf’ “Elroy”, Chris Harper favors the route of “Child-like” over “child-ish”, making for a genial guide on this magical musical tour. Then there’s young Sophia Scarsi as “Holly”.  No stranger to “The Gem Theatre” stage having previously appeared this year in “Violet” and “Gypsy”, she gives the first act a real shot in the arm with an A-Plus rendition of Irving Berlin’s iconic “White Christmas” (—complete with its seldom heard opening verse!) She also shines in the second act with her  sensitive handling of “Where Are You Christmas” (–from the big screen version of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”.) ‘Tiny-Titan’ Shayna Gayer also is an adorable bundle of energy with a voice several times her diminutive stature as her little sister, “Hope”. Meanwhile, Brandon Taylor Jones has a nice “Dennis Day” like quality to his rich tenor voice which he puts to excellent use in the service of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” and the poignant “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; while Tad Fujioka, (another proven talent at “The Gem”,) offers both a lighter touch of humor with “Mr. Santa” before delivering a more sublime take on “My Buddy”.

"Slice up the fruitcake--it's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough!" (The Kids Of "The Christmas Gem")

“Slice up the fruitcake–it’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough!” (The Kids Of “The Christmas Gem”)

Jade Taylor also makes for a great “Bette Midler-esque” “Mrs. Claus”, possessing an incredibly supple and robust voice which she awesomely demonstrates with “The Man With Bag” and the Act One closer, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”; while Nicole Cassesso too, once again more than proves her value to the “One More Productions” family of players leading the troupe in “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”; shortly thereafter, she does a similarly impressive job along with Dayna Laramie and Rene Bordelon in a brilliant send-up of Barbra Streisand’s “Jingle Bells” which immediately segues into the more “Andrews Sisters” inspired “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”. Her touching rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” is also a bona fide crowd pleaser! Not to be over-looked either are the younger members of the cast who each make a delightful contribution as well. They include Preston Coulis, Seth Elliot, Rebekka Galperin, Delaney Manna, Khloe L. Martinez, Zack Martinez, Isabel Melgoza, Brianna Sanchez and Kole Williamson. Conjointly, their turn with Jerry Herman’s timeless “Need A Little Christmas” will warm even the frostiest disposition, as will their vivacious medley of the kid favorites “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth’ and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (sung individually at first, then shrewdly ‘intertwined’ and sung simultaneously in perfect harmony!)

"With joyful ring--all carolling, one seems to hear words of good cheer."

“With joyful ring–all carolling, one seems to hear words of good cheer.”

Then again, the entire enthusiastic ensemble work is nothing short of first-rate, and each cast-member can readily lay claim to ‘a voice as big as the sea”! “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” is a buoyant opening that contains some nifty footwork, and ”Sleigh Ride” is another superb chorale-piece featuring some fast and fancy dancing and prancing—compliments of Choreographer Shauna Bradford-Martinez. Likewise, Ms. Bradford-Martinez infuses “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with lots of clever comic capering. Anthony Encina also provides some genuinely graceful moves as the show’s “Ball Room” Choreographer, adding his elegant stamp onto “It’s That Time Of Year” and “The Christmas Waltz”. Later, decked out in exquisite ball gowns, top hats and tails, the cast show-off their collective vocal-dexterity as well with “Oh, Holy Night”, “Do You Hear What I Hear”, “The Carol Of The Bells” and the upbeat finale of Comden and Green’s bubbly “Be A Santa”.

"I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that my heart embraces..." Nicole Cassesso with Brandon Taylor Jones (L) & Tad Fujioka (R)

“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that my heart embraces…” Nicole Cassesso with Brandon Taylor Jones (L) & Tad Fujioka (R)

Showcasing one great tune after another—with several of the more inspired music choices you probably haven’t heard in years, the witty original book by Chris Harper presents a down-right ebullient exploration of this holiday called “Christmas” in its many meanings. Whether it’s about “Santa Claus” and reindeer for some people, the sacred birth of their Lord and Saviour for others, or merely a reason for getting together with family, friends, and loved-ones for some joyous year-end festivities, you can bet it’s covered here! Aiding immensely in making the magic happen is Wally Huntoon’s thrillingly evocative sets—whether they be Santa’s Candy-Cane Colored Workshop, a snow-covered forest, or an ‘Olde English Village” set adrift in time. Costume Coordinator Lalena Vigil Hutton’s costumes also run the gamut from traditional Victorian garb, to the ‘Holiday-Ornamental’ gaiety of Santa’s Elves (complete with red-and-green curl-toed footwear) to some chic 1940’s-era evening wear, and each help to create the look and feel of “That Hap-Happiest Season Of All”!

"Be Kris Kringle--bell's a-jingle, what you bring'll fill the World with Joy!"

“Be Kris Kringle–bell’s a-jingle, what you bring’ll fill the World with Joy!”

So ‘come all ye faithful’–for a genuinely rousing time filled with the joy of the holiday season and ‘make this December one to remember”! Located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove California, “The Gem Theatre’s” “Holiday Gem” opened Saturday, November 29th, where performances will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees starting at 2:00 PM through Sunday, Dec. 21. In addition, there are two special “Family Day” Matinees on Saturday December 6 and 13, starting at 2:00 PM. (Tickets for kids 12 and under on these days are only $10, and after the show, families are welcome to stay and meet Santa and his elves, have photos taken, and do coloring crafts with the cast.) Special student rush tickets are also available for Thursday and Friday performances. 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.

"There'll be much 'Mistletoe-ing' and hearts will be glowing when loved-ones are near!" (The Cast Of "One More Productions' " "The Holiday Gem")

“There’ll be much ‘Mistletoe-ing’ and hearts will be glowing when loved-ones are near!” (The Cast Of “One More Productions’ ” “The Holiday Gem”)

Production Photos By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Dan Pittman At “Pittman P.R.” (www.pittmanpr.com) And “One More Productions”; Special Thanks &  “A Happy Holidays” To Dan Pittman, Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, And To The Cast & Crew Of “One More Productions’ ” “The Holiday Gem” For Making This Story Possible.

“Let The Good Times Roll”: The Chromolume Theatre’s Sondheim Revue “Putting It Together” Expertly Shows How You Make A Work Of Art!

November 18, 2014
"The Chromolume Theatre" At "The Attic" Presents "Putting It Together" November 14-December 21, 2014; 5429 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.

“The Chromolume Theatre” At “The Attic” Presents “Putting It Together” November 14-December 21, 2014; 5429 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.

“Bit by bit, putting it together; piece by piece—only way to make a work of art. Every moment makes a contribution, every little detail plays a part. Having just the vision’s no solution—everything depends on execution: Putting It Together!” 

"Us, old friend, what's to discuss, old friend? Here's to us--who's like us? Damn few!" The Cast Of "Putting It Together"

“Us, old friend, what’s to discuss, old friend? Here’s to us–who’s like us? Damn few!” The Cast Of “Putting It Together”

Located in Los Angeles, California, “The Chromolume Theatre” At “The Attic” presents the final show of their incredible 2014 season with “Putting It Together”–a delightfully rambunctious musical revue built around the Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize–and even Oscar-winning songs of Composer-Lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. Based on a concept by Sondheim and Julia McKenzie, the result is a clever celebration of the Master-Composer’s most enigmatic works, taking its name from a tune featured in his 1984 hit, “Sunday In The Park With George”. With a score comprised of nearly thirty melodies culled from some of Broadway’s best-loved musicals–including, “Company”, “Follies” and “A Little Night Music”, as well as several numbers cut from their original productions, “Putting It Together” is very well suited for “The Chromolume’s” nicely intimate setting.

"Here's to the girls who play wife--aren't they too much?! Keeping house but clutching a copy of life, just to keep in touch..." Kristin Towers-Rowels is "The Leading Lady" (Woman 1)

“Here’s to the girls who play wife–aren’t they too much?! Keeping house but clutching a copy of life, just to keep in touch…” Kristin Towers-Rowles is “The Leading Lady” (Woman 1)

Almost completely sung-through with only brief lines of dialog or descriptions of the prevailing emotions of those on stage, the show dispenses with a formal overture. Immediately, spectators find themselves at an upscale Beach-front home in Malibu belonging to a famous “Producer/Director” and his wife, “The Leading Lady” on the evening of a ritzy cocktail party celebrating his latest movie’s release. (“These are the Movers, these are the Shakers; these are the people who give you the vapors” we’re advised.) Although only referred to in the program as “Man 1”, “Woman 1”, “Man 2”, etc. it’s the characters they play that really move the action forward, providing the goings-on with a sense of progressive (and at times, even frantic) momentum. Right away, the party’s “Caterer/Bartender” greets us in a most congenial (–not to mention hilarious) way with “The Invocation And Instructions To The Audience” taken from one of the Composer’s more esoteric efforts, “The Frogs” (“Please don’t fart-There’s very little air, and this is art!” he pleads,) before joining the rest of the cast in the rollicking title number, (complete with additional seldom heard lyrics,) as one by one they each take the stage, ‘introducing’ themselves. Along with the Caterer (–who’s also a budding screenwriter himself,) the couple are soon joined by an up-and-coming “Composer/Actor” and his date—an aspiring “Starlet”, who all spend the evening reflecting on the desires and difficulties of relationships amidst life “in the biz” of Hollywood.

"The run in the stocking-the snag in the zipper; the carbon monoxide that fills the garage!" Kristin Towers-Rowles As "The Leading Lady" & Rachel Hirshee As "The Starlet" Warn Us "There's Always A Woman"!

“The run in the stocking-the snag in the zipper; the carbon monoxide that fills the garage!” Kristin Towers-Rowles As “The Leading Lady” & Rachel Hirshee As “The Starlet” Warn Us “There’s Always A Woman”!

The basic theme here is one that’s been often explored in Sondheim’s most notable projects—marriage (or more pointedly, marriages in trouble,) and whether love in the end, really does conquer all. Then again, “Putting It Together” is a superb primer featuring the Song-smith’s most iconic show-tunes (and then some) as well as a number of his lesser known ones, providing both seasoned “Sondheim” aficionados and complete novices to his art alike, with a thrillingly witty and entertaining time. In fact, the songs selected show proof-positive just how ‘act-able’ and full of genuine substance this legendary Melodist’s creations truly are. Moreover, for those familiar enough with the songs, the shows they made their debut in, and in which context they were presented, it’s actually kind of fascinating to see how they’ve been reimagined and re-situated—like “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid” from “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”, presented here with a surprising and comical change of gender, or the swaggeringly ‘wolfish’ “Hello Little Girl” (from “Into The Woods”.) Likewise, it also provides a keen opportunity for some of his slightly obscurer songs (such as “Live Alone And Like It” and “Back In Business” from the film, “Dick Tracy”, for example) to finally get their overdue recognition.

"Life is swinging, bells are ringing, everyday I wake up singing!" Kurt Andrew Hansen is "The Producer" (Man 1) Rachel Hirshee is "The Starlet" (Woman 2) Chris Kerrigan is "The Composer/Actor" (Man 2)

“Life is swinging, bells are ringing, everyday I wake up singing!” Kurt Andrew Hansen is “The Producer” (Man 1) Rachel Hirshee is “The Starlet” (Woman 2) Chris Kerrigan is “The Composer/Actor” (Man 2)

Each of the five-member cast possesses a fantastic voice paired with the outstanding ability to interpret the frequently intricate sentiments that match such sophisticated note-phrases and chord-structures. All have their moments to shine here—and most assuredly, shine they do! As the “Hollywood Producer-Director” (Man 1) Kurt Andrew Hansen does an admirable job personifying the proto-typical Sondheim “anti-hero”: the dashing guy who seemingly has it all and at times can be a bastard, but who still has a fundamental compassion, empathy—and perhaps most significantly, maturity to him. Hansen commendably displays all these various sides through the songs he’s been given, particularly the rakish “Have I Got A Girl For You”, and the second act’s introspective “The Road You Didn’t Take”, then ultimately, “Merrily We Roll Along’s” wistful, “Good Thing Going” wherein we find, behind all the macho posturing and flashy façade, there really is a fragile human being who sincerely loves his wife (“We took for granted a lot, and still I say, it could have kept on going instead of just ‘kept on’; we had a good thing going…going…gone.”) In the role of his wife (Woman 1) Kristin Towers-Rowles makes her dynamic presence (and talent) known in widely varying–but always astounding–ways, whether she’s playing the wounded, rightfully indignant spouse with “My Husband The Pig” (initially cut from “A Little Night Music”) which then segues into “Everyday A Little Death” from the same show, or the more rancorous “Could I Leave You” from “Follies”; the side-splittingly over-the top ‘drunk’ of “The Ladies Who Lunch” (made famous in “Company”); the vibrant but barely-restrained cattiness of “There’s Always A Woman” (–a deleted track from “Anyone Can Whistle” that, thankfully, is given a fitting and very funny time in the spotlight here); then to the standing-ovation worthy vocal acrobatics of “Not Getting Married Today”. As a twosome, Rowles and Hansen’s opening duet, “Do I Hear A Waltz” (from Sondheim and Richard Rodger’s 1965 show of the same name) is A-Plus, (and is the only piece used that features music not by Sondheim himself;) as is their shared ode to domestic ‘complexity’, “Country House” (omitted during out-of-town try-outs of “Follies”.)

"Would you like to see a friendly Shrink?"; "I think I'd rather have another drink." Kristin Towers-Rowles as "The Leading Lady" (Woman 1) & Kurt Andrew Hansen as her husband, (Man 1)

“Would you like to see a friendly Shrink?”; “I think I’d rather have another drink.” Kristin Towers-Rowles as “The Leading Lady” (Woman 1) & Kurt Andrew Hansen as her husband, (Man 1)

By the same token, Rachel Hirshee as the “Would-Be Starlet” (Woman 2) makes a fine ingénue—gifted with sharp comic timing as well as a spot-on ability to express sensitivity where need be that underlies all that coquettish sex appeal. She absolutely knocks your socks off with the first act’s “Lovely”, as well as with the seductive “Sooner Or Later”, and her part in the touching duet “Unworthy Of Your Love” (remarkably repurposed from “Assassins”.) In addition, her interpretation of “More” (also formerly from “Dick Tracy”) is exuberantly delivered and, judging from Opening Night’s enthusiastic crowd, well received (–it features some pretty nifty dance steps to boot!) Chris Kerrigan is yet another charismatic vocal powerhouse as the “Composer-Actor” (Man 2). He too, more than earns his share of applause over the course of the evening, but especially via those numbers that hold a little more visceral depth to them, such as “Sweeney Todd’s” “Pretty Women”, and his part in “Unworthy Of Your Love”. Indeed, Kerrigan’s “Marry Me A Little” (cut from—and then restored to–“Company”,) is a bona-fide highlight of this production. Tying everything together is Mike Irizarry as the party’s “Caterer/Bartender” (also known as Man 3). Not so much a full-on narrator” as he is a “Scene-setter” (or even more accurately, a “Mood-setter”,) who’s occasionally an active participant in the action, Irizarry is an amiable host making the most of his time on stage with great numbers that include some equally wry commentary like “Merrily We Roll Along” (parts 1 & 2), “Bang!”, and the ‘Jolson-esque’ “Buddy’s Blues” (first conceived as a trio—here hysterically staged with Mike performing all three parts!) While there are more duets in the first act and more solo-turns in the second, it’s when the company comes together as a whole that some really magnificent theatrical moments occur. “Back In Business” is a bouncy Act Two opener (“Back again like a boomerang–same old stand, and same old gang. Back in business with a BANG! Let the ‘Good Times’ roll!”), and the jovial “Hey Old Friend” makes for a terrific, up-beat conclusion; but the most dazzling group triumph which boasts some incredible harmony is definitely their collective rendition of Sondheim’s unforgettable “Being Alive” from “Company”!

"Marry me a little, Body-Heart-and-Soul; Passionate as Hell, but always in control..." Chris Kerrigan is "The Composer/Actor" (Man 2)

“Marry me a little, Body-Heart-and-Soul; Passionate as Hell, but always in control…” Chris Kerrigan is “The Composer/Actor” (Man 2)

As with the cast she’s chosen, Cate Caplin’s direction and choreography themselves are forces to be reckoned with, and she impressively balances many elements with awesome dexterity. Too often, the temptation with smaller musicals is to omit any choreography whatsoever (or at least minimize it.) Happily, such is anything but the case here, as Caplin incorporates lots of snazzy stepping and polished moves here and there into the most unexpected places; in doing so, she not only maximizes the effectiveness of the Chromolume’s stage-space, she also heightens the show’s over-all ‘razzle-dazzle’ factor demonstrating just how “larger than life” a so-called ‘chamber’ musical like this can really be. Special distinction also has to go out to Musical Director Richard Berent, who does a superlative job throughout the show as the production’s on-stage accompanist as well.

"Dreams to explore, waking up the country-side, everybody merrily, merrily, sing 'em your song" Mike Irizarry is "The Caterer/Bartender" (Man 3)

“Dreams to explore, waking up the country-side, everybody merrily, merrily, sing ‘em your song!” Mike Irizarry is “The Caterer/Bartender” (Man 3)

A “Must-See” for students of music, theater, and anyone eager to experience some remarkable performances or a smartly done bit of musical theater, “Putting It Together” opened on Friday, November 14th, where it will run through Sunday December 21st, 2014. Show-times are Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. “The Chromolume Theatre” At “The Attic” is located at: 5429 W. Washington Boulevard (between the 10 freeway and Hauser Boulevard), in Los Angeles, California. Tickets may be purchased by phone at: (323) 205-1617 or on-line by visiting: www.crtheatre.com .

"The art of making art is 'Putting It Together"." The Cast Of "The Chromolume Theatre's" 2014 Production: "Putting It Together"

“The art of making art is ‘Putting It Together”.” The Cast Of “The Chromolume Theatre’s” 2014 Production: “Putting It Together”

Production Stills By James Esposito, Courtesy of Ken Werther At “Ken Werther Publicity” (www.kenwerther.com) And “The Chromolume Theatre”; Special Thanks To Ken Werther, James Esposito, Cate Caplin And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Chromolume Theatre’s” “Putting It Together” For Making This Story Possible.

Red, White And True: Musical Theatre West’s West Coast Premiere Of “Big Fish” Reels In Big Ovations In Long Beach, CA.

November 4, 2014

EPSON MFP image

“Part epic tale, part fire sale–just one dad, inspiring just one son,” we’re told at a key point in Musical Theatre West’s “Big Fish”, the hit musical based on the 2003 Blockbuster Tim Burton film of the same name. Indeed, Long Beach California’s foremost theater company at “The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts” has definitely “caught a big one” with this West Coast debut which kicks-off their dynamic 62nd consecutive season! Featuring a book by John August (based on his BAFTA-winning screenplay) and a captivating score by Andrew Lippa, MTW’s re-staging features the original Broadway sets and costumes. It all adds up to a truly ‘spellbinding’ production that, as Producer Paul Garman so succinctly put on opening night, “Speaks to the heart”.

"Don't depend on other people to put paper next to pen--be the Hero of your story" The cast of MTW's "Big Fish"

“Don’t depend on other people to put paper next to pen–be the Hero of your story” The cast of MTW’s “Big Fish”

Following the relationship between Edward Bloom, a successful traveling salesman who describes himself as “a man whose at his best when he’s not at rest”, and his grown son Will–a logical-thinking, down-to-earth reporter, (on the verge of fatherhood himself,) the younger Bloom yearns to know the truth of his father’s life beyond all the wonderfully impossible ‘tall-tales’ he’s been told since childhood. This quest for understanding forms the framework of all the events that follow. “Son, you were born a tiny middle-aged man” his father tells him, later adding, “All your rainbows are in shades of grey!” (Yes, Dad’s a big talker–but a very likeable one.) What Will doesn’t know though, is that Edward has “ambitious Cancer” which he’s trying to hide from him until he can no more. Told in flashback (and sometimes featuring flashbacks within flashbacks) August’s book easily navigates all the potential snags inherent to adapting such an overtly ‘cinematic property’ to the musical stage; in fact, he makes them all seem fairly natural and free-flowing from one adventure to the next. Lippa’s score too, wisely forgoes most of the standard ‘stand-apart’ ballads or generic “money” songs, favoring instead those that express their characters deepest inner lives; rest assured though, that mixed in are plenty of absolutely awesome, “stand-up and cheer” production numbers featuring all or most of the cast—often in fantastic settings!

"Time stops, and still your heart is beating. Time stops, though you don't take a breath." Rebecca Johnson is Sandra Bloom & Jeff Skowron is Edward Bloom

“Time stops, and still your heart is beating. Time stops, though you don’t take a breath.” Rebecca Johnson is Sandra Bloom & Jeff Skowron is Edward Bloom

Over the course of numerous ‘recollections’, we learn that Edward was initially “A ‘Big Fish’ in a small pond’ that was his hometown of Ashton Alabama”; however, his ambitions (or at least his professed accounts of them) were too large for such a small town, so he strikes out to ‘see the world’ promising to return someday. Among his “exploits” are those that involve war-time intrigue, Giants, Mermaids, Witches—even a stint with a travelling circus where he first meets “Sandra”—the girl who’ll be the love of his life. Eager to learn more about her, Edward makes a deal with the Big Top’s owner and resident Ring-Master, “Amos Calloway”, that he’ll even work for free if, every month, Calloway gives him one more clue as to how to win her heart. Once Bloom discovers that Amos is also a ‘werewolf’, he’s finally told that the girl’s name is “Sandra Templeton” and she now attends “Auburn University”. Throughout Edward’s vast ‘storybook’ version of his past he always comes out on top–usually by helping those he encounters to succeed themselves; yet Will ultimately discovers it’s the one true heroic incident his father never told, that reveals his sincere nobility. “If you understand the stories, you’ll understand the man,” Will’s wife, Josephine tells him.

"After nearly thirty years I still don't know the man--my father is a stranger I know very well." Andrew Huber is the "grown" Will Bloom

“After nearly thirty years I still don’t know the man–my father is a stranger I know very well.” Andrew Huber is the “grown” Will Bloom

Larry Carpenter’s lively and fluid direction makes the most of the large stage space, while still furnishing enough intimacy for the more introspective moments the story boasts. This enables the most spectacular events and emotions to (literally) burst forth from the most subdued beginnings, which adds immensely to the production’s overall ‘mythical’ quality. Likewise, the buoyant (and at times, even boisterous) choreography by Peggy Hickey matches his pace and energy–referencing the original by Susan Stroman, while still showcasing many diverse types of dance (including plenty of eye-popping acrobatics) which proves to be her genuine triumph here! “Be The Hero Of Your Story” is an all-out ebullient opening which includes a clever ‘hambone’ inspired bit of fancy footwork called “The Alabama Stomp” in which Edward shows a fisherman the REAL way to catch a fish! Additionally, in that one of his stories concerns a witch living in a swamp, this gives rise to an equally awesome number titled, “I Know What You Want” —complete with a Zumba-esque ‘voodoo dance’ during which she advises “I can show you counterfeit from true” while offering to show the teenaged Edward the day and circumstances surrounding his death. (“Life begins when you know how it ends” the enchantress tells him.) Later, when the second act commences, we find Bloom telling his young son and his scout troop of the time he was a soldier, as we’re transported to a 1940’s U.S.O. with the rousing “Red Hot And True”. This is where real homage is paid to Ms. Stroman’s distinctive ‘signature’ moves via a line of fresh-faced hostesses who launch into a terrific—and stylishly dapper–parade of top-flight tapping terpsichory, even as Bloom “faces off” against his arch-enemy, the sinister “Red Fang”. There’s even a moment in the circus scene that features a trio of elephants ‘hopping and bopping’ in rhythm to the music! Special kudos are also in order for Phil Monat and John Infante, whose spot-on lighting and innovative “projection” designs respectively, make this production all the more bewitching, presenting bucket-loads of really inventive special effects whether they be illuminating a placid southern river, a vibrant field of daffodils, a murky bog or a fiery Giant’s cave.

"We fight the dragons and then storm the castles, and I do the best I can..." Jeff Skowron is Edward Bloom with Jude Mason and "young" Will

“We fight the dragons and then storm the castles, and I do the best I can…” Jeff Skowron is Edward Bloom with Jude Mason as “young” Will

The entire ensemble is hard-working–expertly handling some pretty exceptional material, and their efforts pay off ‘big time’ for both the performers and the audience alike! Leading them is Jeff Skowron as Edward Bloom, the hero of our story. Jeff effectively crosses between Edward’s various “ages” (from clumsy adolescent to the eager young man, then to the more paternal middle-aged man–and eventually, to one who finally comes to terms with his life and illness,) with great authenticity and perhaps most importantly, great empathy too. In addition, Skowron’s voice is particularly well suited for his songs, making the most of Composer Lippa’s frequently catchy turns-of-phrase: “Somewhere a surprising ending waits for me to tell it” he sings to the boy Will during the first of many flashbacks, adding “the best part of an adventure is the people you meet!” He also does a remarkable job with the First Act closer, “Daffodils”, wherein Edward proposes to Sandra amid a stage overflowing with the bright yellow flowers. Rebecca Johnson also does a superb job as his wife, similarly portraying her at different ages. She too has some pretty potent moments herself, like Sandra’s incredible Act-Two benediction, “I Don’t Need A Roof” (delivered as a gentle lullaby to her ailing husband) that not only showcases her sizable vocal talent, but her ability to deliver honest feelings through it as well (Just don’t be surprised if you find you’ve got a tear or two in your eyes by its conclusion!) Sandra and Edward’s duet, “Time Stops”, sung when the couple-to-be first lay eyes on one another, starts as a pair of dual soliloquies before the two join together in rich harmony making this one of the more impactful moments in a first act full of them. “Fight The Dragons” is another surprisingly powerful duet featuring Skowron, this time opposite young Jude Mason as the pre-teen incarnation of Will, that makes for a touching father-son interlude (“Even though I’m making deals and bringing people joy, I’m usually only thinking of my boy,” Edward assures the lad.) Mason displays abundant appeal as the contemplative “younger” Will–laying a solid foundation for the more mature characterization while providing the perfect counterpoint to the elder Bloom’s high-spirits. By the same token, the ‘adult’ Will, played by Andrew Huber, also has an awesome First-Act solo turn titled “Stranger” which Huber stunningly delivers. In pondering his own impending paternity, he reveals the isolation and emptiness he feels over not knowing the man behind the myths. (Then again, Lippa’s score is laden with these brilliant and emotionally super-charged moments–such is the bona-fide magic of this show!)

"Let me share a magic truth--a proof of all that thrives: the one's who face their fears lead the most interesting lives!" Molly Garner is "The Witch" with Jeff Skowron as "young" Edward

“Let me share a magic truth–a proof of all that thrives: the one’s who face their fears lead the most interesting lives!” Molly Garner is “The Witch” with Jeff Skowron as “young” Edward

As the Bayou’s answer to “Elphaba” or “Circe”, Molly Garner’s “Witch” is flamboyantly seductive with a rich, ample voice, which she demonstrates in “I Know What You Want”—easily filling The Carpenter Center’s substantial 1074 seat auditorium. Michelle Loucadoux also offers excellent support when (plot-wise) it’s needed most as “Jenny Hill”—Edward’s high-school sweetheart, who holds the key to his most monumental accomplishment—the one outstanding deed he’s kept from his wife and son. Timothy Hughes is equally a presence to be reckoned with as “Karl”, an agoraphobic “Giant” Edward meets on one of his many travels. Daring to ask directions, he quickly discovers this Leviathan is actually quite intelligent and far from fearsome (“You’re good with numbers” Ed quips after and being appraised of the absolute mileage; “Only big ones” Karl answers dryly.) Furthermore, Gabriel Kalomas makes for a delightfully crafty “Amos Calloway”, and he’s particularly engaging leading the big group number “Closer To Her”.

"We were born to wake each morn some place we've never been; checkin' out the locals as they watch US checkin' in!" Gabriel Kalomas is "Amos Calloway" with Timothy Hughes as "Karl"

“We were born to wake each morn some place we’ve never been; checkin’ out the locals as they watch US checkin’ in!” Gabriel Kalomas is “Amos Calloway” with Timothy Hughes as “Karl”

This is no ‘fish story’—upon seeing Musical Theatre West’s production, you know you’ve had a rare and extremely moving theatrical experience; What’s more, as entertaining as it is (at times) heart-wrenching, “Big Fish” has an emotional power that subtly sneaks up on you, but once it does, it stays with you in all the very best ways! Having opened on Saturday November 1st, “Big Fish” will play through Sunday November 16th 2014, at “The Carpenter Center For The Performing Arts”, on the campus of California State University, at 6200 E. Atherton Street, in Long Beach, California. Show-times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 2:00PM (with a special added performance on Thursday evening, November 13th at 8:00 PM) Tickets are available at the “Musical Theatre West” Ticket Office, located at 4350 E. 7th Street, in Long Beach, CA., by phone at (562) 856-1999, ext. 4, or online by visiting: www.musical.org.

"Be the Hero of your story while you may--be the guy who gets the girl and saves the day..." Jeff Skowron and the cast of Musical Theatre West's "Big Fish"

“Be the Hero of your story while you may–be the guy who gets the girl and saves the day…” Jeff Skowron and the cast of Musical Theatre West’s “Big Fish”

Production stills by “Caught In The Moment Photography”, Long Beach CA. (www.caughtinthemoment.com) Courtesy of “Musical Theatre West”; Special Thanks to Paul Garman, Lori Yonan, and to the cast and crew of “Musical Theatre West’s” “Big Fish” for making this story possible.

Real ‘Killer’ Theater: One More Productions’ Haunting “Assassins” Will ‘Blow Audiences Away’ In Garden Grove, CA.

October 20, 2014
"One More Productions" Presents "Assassins" October 9-November 2, 2014 At "The Gem Theatre" in Garden Grove, Ca.

“One More Productions” Presents “Assassins” October 9-November 2, 2014 At “The Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove, Ca.

“Everybody’s got the right to be ‘different’; even though at times they go to extremes. Aim for what you want a lot—everybody gets a shot!”

They all had their reasons; they all had their own special ‘rationalizations’…they all tried to kill “The Commander-In-Chief” of the United States Of America—and four even managed to succeed. Now, their individual stories serve as the basis for “Assassins” the latest musical being presented by “One More Productions” at the historic “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California! One of the most surreal, provocative, and ground-breaking musicals in current times, featuring a score by the legendary Stephen Sondheim and a book by John Weidman, this one-act historical “revusical” intricately explores the lives of nine people who have assassinated (or tried to assassinate) the President of the United States. From John Wilkes-Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and John Hinckley Jr., all of their motivations were different—or were they?!

(Alex Bodrero as John Wilkes Booth, Evan Guido as Leon Czogosz, Damien Lorton as Charles Guiteau & Adriana Sanchez as Sarah Jane Moore)

(Alex Bodrero as “John Wilkes Booth”, Evan Guido as “Leon Czolgosz”, Damien Lorton as “Charles Guiteau” & Adriana Sanchez as “Sara Jane Moore”)

As the audience take their seats, through the sound of repeated thunder can be heard the dissonant (even ghostly) strains of “Hail To The Chief”, and right from the get-go you know you’re in for something different. “One More Productions” has reimagined the setting from the original Broadway version, which had all of the goings-on playing out inside a wraithlike carnival shooting gallery. This time it all takes place in old western-style saloon on a dark and stormy night (which might very well be purgatory.) There, bending the rules of time and space, one by one individuals—both familiar, vaguely familiar, and completely unknown eventually find their way in out of the storm. “Everybody’s Got A Right” sung by this notorious band of brothers (and sisters,) opens the show, as the bar’s “Proprietor”, played by Daniel Berlin, offers each various weaponry (“If you keep your goal in sight you can rise to any height” they rejoice.) As each one’s personal sagas are revealed, we are taken on a macabre journey in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and actually inspire one another to carry out harrowingly violent acts in the name of our so-called (and celebrity-obsessed) ‘American Dream’.

Adriana Sanchez is "Sara Jane Moore" and Gretchen Dawson is 'Lynette 'Sqeaky' Fromme"

Adriana Sanchez is “Sara Jane Moore” and Gretchen Dawson is “Lynette ‘Sqeaky’ Fromme”

Weidman’s script is part history lesson, part political satire and part black comedy-drama that’s rife with powerful moments, bravely venturing into some pretty dark areas (–but doing so brilliantly.) In fact, this is easily one of the best, most impactful libretto’s written for a musical in recent memory! It even envisions a conversation between Lee Harvey Oswald (whose own story, not coincidentally, is saved for last,) and ‘the spirit’ of John Wilkes-Booth, (serving as his personal “Mephistopheles”,) while he lies in wait inside the book depository. Introducing Oswald to the others and the impact his impending carnage will have on future generations, Lee, who up until this time has served as the on-stage voice of reason and social conscience, is told “Without you we’re freaks…With you, we’re a force of history!” So too, while arguably not exactly Sondheim’s most iconic work, he nonetheless has infused the lyrics with some pretty powerful and insidiously clever phrases. For example, early on in the buoyant “Ballad Of Booth” (which first introduces us to the man who brought about the sixteenth President’s untimely demise,) “the Balladeer”, who turns out to be none other than “Lee Harvey Oswald”, exhorts: “Damn you Lincoln and Damn the Day! You threw the ‘U’ out of U.S.A.!” In due time, when it’s Booth’s turn to recount Oswald’s experiences in “November 22nd, 1963”, he leads the group in explaining how they all felt like “expatriates in their own country”, further joining them to urge Oswald on to his most desperate and sinister deed. Then, immediately following, the entire cast assembles on stage for “Something Just Broke”, which looks at what the ordinary citizenry feel upon hearing the shocking news that the President’s been shot.

"For Zangara No Photographers? Only Capitalists get Photographers! No Right!" (Danny Diaz is Giuseppe Zangara)

“For Zangara No Photographers?! Only Capitalists Get Photographers! No Right!” (Danny Diaz is “Giuseppe Zangara”)

Beth Hansen’s direction wisely favors taking a lighter touch—allowing the actors and their words to take center stage over any larger, bolder exploits or intricately staged numbers, and this is especially fitting as A) this is, by its very conception, a more ‘intimate’ type of musical (–and particularly well-suited for “The Gem’s” more intimately-sized auditorium,) and B) just the presence of firearms (which they all possess and brandish liberally throughout the proceedings) is a bold enough action in itself! Sean Smalls’ antique-looking bar-room set provides an excellent backdrop for all the events to play out against, and his inspired lighting design also plays a vital role as well, subtly suggesting mood or, in frequent places, serving as a kind of colorful punctuation to the thoughts being expressed and sung (Case-in-point: at the conclusion of “Another National Anthem”—sung by all the assassins—when the stage is bathed in jolting blood-red!)

"There are those who love regretting, there are those who like extremes; there are those who thrive on chaos and despair..."

“There are those who love regretting, there are those who like extremes; there are those who thrive on chaos and despair…”

The hard-working cast of fifteen each do a laudable job with some often challenging material. As John Wilkes-Booth (whom the others acclaim as “A Pioneer”,) Alex Bodrero is appropriately egotistical and full of bravado, explaining the unsettlingly feasible reasoning behind his bloodshed. Booth, in his words, was out to “Kill the man who killed my country”, afterward rationalizing “Let them cry ‘dirty traitor’; they will understand it later!” In many ways this is a dream-role for any actor and Bodrero more than lives up to it. Brandon Taylor Jones also does an impressive job as “Lee Harvey Oswald”, serving as our guide throughout much of the proceedings, as he narrates the unique and unusual back-stories of several of his compatriots (Booth, Czolgosz and Guiteau) until taking center-stage with his own grisly tale. Adriana Sanchez too, reveals a whole new and refreshing side to her talents, offering up plenty of laughs as the befuddled former ‘F.B.I. Narc’, “Sara Jane Moore”. Among numerous terrifically memorable scenes is hers with Gretchen Dawson as the free-spirited “Manson Family” member “Squeaky” Fromme, wherein the two ‘compare notes’ over a bucket of chicken and a joint. Sanchez’s “Moore” nicely counters the more ‘intense’ characters like Evan Guido’s tightly-wound immigrant-turned-killer, “Leon Czolgosz” who’s at the center of “The Ballad Of Czolgosz (At The Pan-American Exposition In Buffalo)”. Performed as a rousing square-dance, this is the single full-out “Choreographed” number the piece contains, as one-by-one the chorus take center stage to ‘shake the hand’ of the President, while Leon glowers in the background with his gun concealed by a handkerchief (…that is, until it’s ‘his’ turn.)

"Some men have everything and some have none!" (Evan Guido is Leon Czolgosz)

“Some men have everything and some have none!” (Evan Guido is “Leon Czolgosz”)

Danny Diaz likewise scores as the equally hot-headed “Giuseppe Zangara”—the Italian bricklayer who made an attempt on the life of then “President-elect” Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His infamy is detailed in “How I Saved Roosevelt (Lucky I Was There”)” which also provides a great opportunity for the five-person ensemble to get involved, as each relates their description of Zangara’s undertaking to the headline-hungry media even as Zangara himself is being strapped into the electric chair. Shortly thereafter, Dawson returns to totally captivate with her part in “Unworthy Of Your Love” opposite Tad Fujioka as “John Hinckley, Jr.”, during which he reflects on his obsessive devotion to Actress Jody Foster, while she similarly sings the praises of Charles Manson. Together, their duet makes for a genuinely delightful highlight of the show! As for Fujioka, he does an A-Plus job chillingly capturing the essence of Ronald Reagan’s would-be killer, painting him as a withdrawn, stammering loner whose only source of passion lies in his attempts to gain the attention of his imagined ‘paramour’ (whom he misguidedly believes is in need of rescuing like the character she played in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”.)

"Tell me Jodie, how I can earn your love; I would swim oceans, I would move mountains..."(Tad Fujioka is "John Hinckley Jr.")

“Tell me Jodie, how I can earn your love; I would swim oceans, I would move mountains…”(Tad Fujioka is “John Hinckley Jr.”)

In a rare move, this time around the cast includes “One More Productions’” Co-Founder, Damien Lorton (whose contribution is usually in the Director’s chair,) playing the role of “James A. Garfield’s” executioner, “Charles Guiteau”. Lorton infuses cultured eccentric Guiteau with the proper amount of pomp and self-importance, (while still making it clear he’s “mad as a hatter”!) His number, “The Ballad Of Guiteau” is staged as a lively ‘minstrel’ song, which not only showcases Lorton’s accomplished song-and-dance abilities, it effectively lifts the spirits of the show’s second-half. Subsequently, Guiteau has another uproarious interlude as he ‘instructs’ “Sara Jane Moore” in the proper technique to shoot a gun (Ironically, it was her very lack of familiarity with the pistol she used in her attempt on President Gerald Ford’s life that essentially saved him.) Next up we’re introduced to Chris Harper as “Samuel Byck”. His monologue, as he ‘records’ a tape to former Sondheim collaborator, Leonard Bernstein (one of several famous personages whom Byck actually tried to correspond with) eerily references one of the composer’s earlier works—“Westside Story”, and perhaps provides some insight as to Sondheim’s motivations behind taking on this particular subject-matter. Byck, we learn, is after Richard Nixon and in 1974, he tried to hijack a DC-9 with the intention of flying it into the White House to achieve his goal. His monologue here is one of the more acridly potent orations in this or any musical production. Also delivering noteworthy support is John Gillies, furnishing a few needed chuckles as a suitably clumsy “Gerald Ford”, and Fiona Wynder, who presents a slightly more ‘prim’ take on the notorious anarchist and rabble-rouser, “Emma Goldman” than has been seen of late, whom Leon Czolgosz is initially in love with. Although she gently informs him that she cannot return his affections, she can give him something more fundamental: a dream to live for. “They make us servants,” she tells him, “we don’t make servants of each other!” (That this ultimately leads to his slaying William McKinley is entirely inconsequential!)

"What a wonder is a gun! What versatile invention...Everybody pays attention!"

“What a wonder is a gun! What a versatile invention…EVERYBODY pays attention!”

While admittedly not always an easy show to watch, it is regardless, always thought-provoking–time and again proving far more significant than your average musical; “Assassins” is for mature, intelligent and discerning audiences who require a bit more from their time at the theatre than the standard “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a ‘Happy Face’.” “The Gem Theatre” is located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove, CA. ; after opening on Thursday, October 9th, performances will run Thursdays through Sundays until Sunday, November 2nd. Show-times are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be obtained either by phone at (714) 741-9550, ext. 225, or on-line by logging onto: www.onemoreproductions.com. (Discounts for Seniors and Children 12 and under are available, while special “Student Rush” tickets can also be obtained for Thursday and Friday evening performances.)

"No one can be put in jails for their dreams!" The Cast Of "One More Productions"  "Assassins"

“No one can be put in jail for their dreams!” The Cast Of “One More Productions”
“Assassins”

Production stills by Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy of Dan Pittman at Pittman P.R. (www.pittmanpr.com) and “One More Productions”. Special Thanks To Dan Pittman, Damien Lorton and to the Cast & Crew of “One More Productions’ ” “Assassins” for making this story possible.


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