Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review - Kiss of the Spider Woman

Kiss of the Spider Woman
book by Terrence McNally; music and lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb
directed by Nick DeGruccio
choreographed by Lee Martino
Bootleg Theatre
through October 26
Frequently described as a cross between steel and gossamer, Kander and Ebb's musical of Manuel Puig's mind-boggling Kiss of the Spider Woman is nothing short of breathtaking when properly produced. In the hands of the Havoc Theatre Company, Kiss receives a magnificent mounting: staging, ensemble, set and costumes are all flawless.
Dealing with reality versus illusion (steel, for prison bars and gossamer, the feminine side of Molina's mind), the play adapts perfectly to musical form, where Molina (Chad Borden) and his troupe play out Aurora's (Terra C. Macleod) screen life through song and dance. In fact, I've always found the musical more intriguing than the play also because of the omnipresent operatic themes of love, passion, violence and betrayal.
Borden is Molina to the core, sensitive, yet with a complicated inner strength. His movements are graceful down to his fingertips. This is Borden's finest hour. Macleod makes an exotic Spider Woman, the beautiful and mysterious temptress. Reminding one of the original star Chita Rivera, especially when she sings so seductively, she is the ideal fit. Daniel Tatar as Valentin is ferociously committed and compassionate. The supporting team of 11 actors are all terrific, outstanding among them Eileen Barnett as Molina's saintly mother. The six dancers/prisoners are rhythmically riveting: Oskar Rodriguez, Salvatore Vassallo, Shell Bauman, Hector Guerrero, Jeffrey Parsons and Mike A. Motroni. Whether in motion via Martino's brilliant choreography, or mischievously subdued in the discomfort of their own cells, they are amazing to behold!
Tom Buderwitz' big open set encompassing both the jail and just about any place Molina's imagination cares to go, Steven Young's dreamlike lighting design and Anne Kennedy's lavish costumes in shades of black, gray and purple for Aurora add tremendously to the nightmarish/surreal quality of the piece. What a rich production! McNally, Kander and Ebb are Tony winning geniuses and thankfully Nick DeGruccio and company remain loyal to the dark complexities and simple beauty of their original work. Bravo!
5 out of 5 stars+

Review - Red Scare on Sunset


Red Scare on Sunset

by Charles Busch

Attic Theatre

directed by Cindy Gendrich

through October 18

Playwright Charles Busch is at his best as a satirist who pokes fun at old films, actors and the Hollywood machine. He did that exceedingly well in Die! Mommie Die! His leading lady was no saint, but found liberation in who she was, and that was that. In Red Scare on Sunset he goes a step further in trying to champion a cause within the acting profession, showing two sides of American guilt during the McCarthy era of the early 50s.

Much of it works engagingly, especially equating the Actors' Studio to the Communist Party, showing method acting as revolutionary in its attempt to destroy the dominant artificiality of the Hollywood star system in favor of kitchen-sink realism. Its acting ideology true, but equation to the Party a falsehood, what emerges is an exaggerated reality that indeed makes for a very enjoyable theatrical evening. And the plot plays like a B mystery with the good guys out to obliterate the bad guys, and the bad guys always one step ahead. However, when his characters become overly heroic at play's end, it's not as easy to digest.

Yes, artists at that time were tricked into believing that they were actually doing the right thing by naming names, and if they didn't, they didn't work in the industry. Naming names went out of control like an epidemic and even the most innocent were called guilty; it evolved into a betrayal of associates and friends for selfish motives. This heightened sense of reality is hard to laugh at; it doesn't quite jive with the play's overall texture of the grade B adventure movie.

This production of Red Scare at the Attic, nonetheless, has much to sing about: a super cast and some finely tuned direction.

Especially memorable are the female contingent: namely, Michelle Begley as loud-mouthed, outspoken Pat Pilford, Sona Tatoyan as the evil femme fatale Marta Towers, Amy Procacci a standout in a variety of supporting roles and - in a drag performance quite common a la Busch, Drew Droege as the star, sweet and loveable Mary Dale. Like Busch himself, Droege is totally believable as a woman, giving Mary poise and flare. His overly expressive face in reaction to disbelief is hilarious. All the actors deliver superbly meaningful/comic performances. Busch puts the women center stage as extreme forces of nature and deliberately makes the males weaker and of secondary importance. But, making the most of it are Chris Tarantino as handsome, no- talent movie star Frank Taggart, Dane Whitlock delectable in an assortment of roles, especially the butler and Eric Jorgenson exuding fake charm as the brash and sexy New York playwright Mitchell Drake.

I admire Charles Busch tremendously as an actor, playwright, movie historian and overall entertainer. He has guts and is not afraid to let his characters show their human side. It is this humanity and his campy wit that make his plays sparkle. Bravo for taking a stand, but getting too politically involved can be messy!

Production values: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Congrats to my fellow Roadies at the Road Theatre Co for 9 nominations!

For a complete list of all of this year's nominees, visit:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Review - 9 to 5: The Musical


9 to 5: The Musical

book by Patricia Resnick/ music & lyrics by
Dolly Parton

Joe Mantello

Ahmanson Theatre
through October 19

Tempus fugit! It was 1980 when 9 to 5, the megahit film that starred Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin graced the big screen. A comic gem, due to a great script from Patricia Resnick, it put female corporate workers in the center spotlight; they have not, unfortunately, gained total equality, but the film surely tread waters with the imaginative and brazen way it thrust revenge upon the male chauvinist boss. It had hysterically funny performances from its 3 stars, in tandem with Dabney Coleman's indelible portrait of the "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical..." heartless Hart.

The new show 9 to 5: The Musical opened at the Ahmanson this weekend - with a theatre already booked in New York for April, 2009 - and it, too, has the spunk, guts and pizazz to be a surefire winner. Starring Allison Janney, Megan Hilty and Stephanie J. Block - who become every bit as loveable as the film's original galpals - the show still boasts of the terrific writing of Ms. Resnick (book) and songs (music and lyrics) from that bodacious country-western singer that Doralee Rhodes is based on - the one and only "Backwoods Barbie" herself, Dolly Parton.

Following the screenplay pretty much to the letter, with a few minor adaptations here and there, 9 to 5 wisely stays set in 1979. Some scenes that worked on screen would be time consuming and difficult to manage onstage, so are omitted, such as the body snatching and subsequent high-speed chase after a stolen vehicle - and corpse - by the cops. It was a riot on film, but irrelevant here. One major addition to the storyline is a love interest for Violet (Allison Janney), a younger man named Joe (Andy Karl). A nice touch, as it lends hope to her ongoing struggle as a single mom. And what an ingenious choice giving Roz, Hart's confidante and closet paramour, a couple of tunes to sing, especially the over-the-top dream valentine "Heart to Hart". Kathy Fitzgerald plays Roz to the hilt.

Janney is pleasantly droll as Violet and Hilty as Doralee and Block as Judy, both dynamic singers, get the chance to strut their theatrically powerhouse stuff - and more than once, thanks to the Divine Miss Dolly! The chemistry of this trio, as with the stars in the movie, is heaven on earth. Also fascinating to watch - but in a devilishly despicable way - is Mark Kudisch as Hart.

With a fabulous cast, meticulous direction by Joe Mantello, zippy choreography in the fantasy sequences by Andy Blankenbuehler and a technologically brilliant set designed by Scott Pask, that operates, by what seems sheer wizardry - everything was smooth-sailing, at least the day I attended - this is LA's hottest ticket. In the words of Mr. Hart, teamwork runs the show!

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review - The House of Blue Leaves

House of Blue Leaves
by John Guare
directed by Nicholas Martin
Mark Taper Forum
through October 19

When John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves was first produced in 1971, we were still entangled in the Viet Nam crisis, and thanks, but no thanks, to Lyndon B. Johnson, every young man at the age of draft eligibility, like myself, sweated through the lottery, faced with the strong possibility of having to fight in what appeared to be a futile, never-ending war. So when Artie Shaughnessy's son Ronnie goes AWOL in the play, a true sympathizer will relate to his, downright disgust with the establishment. Burdened with a crazy bed-ridden wife - appropriately named Bananas - to look after, a selfish girlfriend Bunny, and with next to no remaining hope for that songwriting career-break, a dream that has helped him survive for many years, is it any wonder that Artie flips out and commits a violent act of passion? Isn't it totally conceivable that anyone could and might have done the same, given all the devastating circumstances that developed within a mere 24-hours? Even a devout Catholic just blessed by the Pope reaches a breaking point. Albeit seeming nightmarishly surreal, Guare's world is no cartoon or fantasy as it crumbles into painfully real pieces.
In the batting of an eyelash suffering becomes joy, at least for some, and John Pankow (Artie), Jane Kaczmarek (Bunny) and Kate Burton (Bananas) are nothing short of miraculous throughout their ups and downs. As over-the-top as these characters are played, especially Bunny and Bananas, Kaczmarek and Burton still remain grounded and pitiable. Artie is despiccable at times, but as played by Pankow, we root for his freedom. Making us laugh and shudder at failure and misfortune, they and the supporting cast: James Immekus as Ronnie, Mia Barron as Corrinna (a vulnerably sad yet amusing target), Diedrich Bader as Billy Einhorn (you should hate him, but you just can't!) and Rusty Schwimmer, Mary Kay Wulf and Angela Goethals as the silly nuns, all shine under director Nicholas Martin's satirical yet naturalistic expertise.
This is the quintessential production of John Guare's wonderfully screwball and operatic play.
5 out of 5 stars

The theatre has two faces. As the Taper enters Act II with its bright new changes of expansion, its audiences, unlike Artie Shaughnessy, have much to look forward to.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review - Once On This Island

Once On This Island
book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; music by Stephen Flaherty
directed by Billy Porter
Reprise Theatre Company
Freud, UCLA
through September 14
This is the second scintillating production of this musical that I have seen within the last few years, the first being one at ICT in Long Beach. I am saying now what I said then: the beauty of this show lies in the simplicity of the storytelling and with the gorgeous music of Ahrens and Flaherty. Of course, some truly great singing and dancing from the entire ensemble is what makes it all tick, and both are here in copious amounts, man.
A one-act that moves without stop, Island comes to life with the character of Ti Moune (Kristolyn Lloyd) and the TLC that exudes from every pore of her being.
Despite discouraging words from her adopted parents (Yvette Cason and Lance Roberts) that entering the other world on the opposite side of the island is forbidden, tabu, she rushes in where angels fear to tread and faces her sad destiny. The moral soon unravels as in every fable: everything renews from the all-encompassing power of LOVE.
Lloyd is breathtaking to behold; there are no false moves. Cason and Ledisi serve the score prestigiously, and the entire cast, including Darina Littleton, Jesse Nager as Daniel, Brian Chandler, Nicolette Robinson, Bryan Terrell Clark, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Vanita Harbour, take soul to the highest peak. Porter's direction is fast-paced, never letting us down for a second, and Bradley Rapier's titillating choreography is like a heat wave of rhythm. Costumes - all white - by Anita Yavich and purposeful scenic desgin by John H. Binkley add the right exotic touches. This is one of the best evenings of theatre: it will pull you in, hold onto you, and blow you away!
5 out of 5 stars