Thursday, October 30, 2008

News - Spring Awakening at the Ahmanson until December 7

Winner of 8 Tonys including Best Musical 2007!

Review - 6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks
by Richard Alfieri
directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Falcon Theatre
through November 23
Two character plays about love and friendship over time like Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade and Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry are A-list treasures. Their lack of pretension and characters' genuine sense of humor make them linger quite joyously in the mind.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks by Richard Alfieri is not on the same level. Many of the reactions are sentimental, the outcome relies heavily on illness and sympathy to keep the two characters connected, but despite its flaws, the play is enormously entertaining and appealing with the right actors. In The Falcon's current production, Constance Towers could not be more elegant nor Jason Graae more hilarious, and so this mounting hits the mark.
What I like best about this play is the frank way that each opens up to the other - not at first, as they both are too insecure to strip away the masks of convenience. But after a period of adjustment, and all lies are accounted for, the two start to enjoy each other's company and confide about the past. That's nice. The woman gains a son - she had abandoned her daughter in time of need because of her husband's pigheadedness... and the man, a second mother. He had lost his own mother to Alzheimer's Disease and one true boyfriend to pancreatic cancer. What results is a relationship that satisfies a series of needs, not surely the best kind of friendship possible, but it is sweet and assuredly comforting, especially for the woman near the end of her life.
Graae is insanely energetic, devilishly amusing and feverishly sensitive as Michael Minetti. Towers is delicate, yet strong-willed and gives Lily Harrison a sterling and caring presence. Together they make music in and out of dance. Seidelman, the original director, obviously knows the piece inside out at this point and effectively paces the highs and lows, and choreographer Kay Cole wisely does not overdo the steps. Set design by Eric J. Larson of a Florida highrise apartment has a simple beauty like the sunsets in the play, and Miss Towers stunningly wears designer Helen Butler's lovely outfits.
4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review - The Lady with All the Answers


The Lady with all the Answers

by David Rambo

directed by Brendon Fox
Pasadena Playhouse
through November 23

As we left the theatre on opening night, my friend remarked, "Well, this will never win a Pulitzer, but I enjoyed myself!" Tame, low-key, but full of laugh-out-loud stories from readers' letters, The Lady with all the Answers, a one person play about one unsettling night in the life of columnist Ann Landers, is assuredly an ultra-amusing evening of theatre. Its star Mimi Kennedy delivers an endearing performance.

I knew little about Epie Lederer, the voice behind Ann Landers since 1955, aside from the fact that her twin sister was Dear Abby. Her husband was Jules Lederer who owned the multi-million Budget Rent-a-Car empire. She did not believe in divorce, was a great advocate of human rights, including those of gays and was greatly opposed to the politics of Presidents Johnson, Nixon and the Viet Nam War. Outspoken, but always refined and respected, she somehow summoned the nerve to appear on TV and educate the public about Linda Lovelace and the porn film Deep Throat in a controversial interview in Chicago in the 60s, in the presence of Lovelace herself. Explaining to the audience that she did not know what the title Deep Throat really meant until her daughter told her shortly before the taping, makes for one hilarious segment of the play.

Set in 1975, the action opens with Lander's preoccupation with the writing of her latest column. Throughout the two hours she entertains us with many humorously curious letters from readers - some of which she is incorporating into a book. Eventually she opens up and confides that her great writing dilemma this evening comes down to being honest about her impending divorce from the cheating Jules Lederer, a man she truly adores. Why is she so concerned about announcing her divorce? Because, according to Landers, how must it look for the woman that knows so much about solving everyone else's marital problems - to be getting divorced herself? Sincere, caring Ann Landers. She values her reputation and wants her readers to hear the truth from her alone. That's the conflict of the play in a nutshell. No great drama, no issues of life and death, just a straightforward portrait of one professional who puts the people that read her work - her first priority.

Kennedy looks and acts the part quite elegantly, particularly in mink and uses just the right inflections to duplicate Lander's distinctive voice. She invites us into her study and is the ever gracious hostess. Frivolous stories about how to hang TP, sex fantasies in marriage et al add up to pure enjoyment. More serious stories about her Viet Nam visit to the veterans' hospitals are sweet and quite touching and show the great humanitarian that Landers truly was. Kennedy's portrayal is unpretentious much like Landers and utterly engaging.

Gary Wissmann's set of the luxurious Lake Shore Drive apartment study is stunning.

Don't expect any great shakes from Rambo's writing, but, like the 18% of married couples who are still enjoying sex with each other after many years, you will leave the theatre smiling.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review - How Cissy Grew

How Cissy Grew
by Susan Johnston

directed by Casey Stangl
El Portal - Secondstage
through November 23

The trauma of losing a child, even for a brief time, is devastating for the parents. One blames the other, the injured party is fraught with self-guilt, all in all the resulting personal turmoil can go a long way in ruining a once happy relationship. How Cissy Grew, directed fluidly and cinematically by Casey Stangl, is quite affecting to a point, but somehow never finds its focus. Its throughline zigzags haphazardly, but the play does boast 4 terrific performances.

Playwright Johnston concentrates on a series of scattered memories preceding and following the kidnapping of infant Cecily. Characters are always onstage watching the action as if recalling or re-experiencing certain moments. This is the positive side of the play. The negative is that the pieces of the puzzle remain a puzzlement - and don't tell me that's what the author intended! -and the relationships are only partially developped, which makes it difficult to appreciate or even like the characters. Sure, we sympathize with them, but like them?

Both Butch (James Denton) and Darla (Erin O'Brien) are flawed parents, to say the least. Cissy as a teen is exposed to the drinking and pot smoking and leads quite a permissive sexual life despite parental discontent. Butch, a recovering alcoholic, blames himself for the kidnapping and showers the older Cissy with presents, while Darla becomes over-protective and permissive in her own way. But apart from their individual issues, we never get to see much of their relationship together, except their early meeting, engagement and an occasional disagreement.

The opening scene in the car with each talking nonstop and neither hearing what the other is saying, is at once sad and hilarious. The play could stand more of this realistic humor.

The acting is superb, nonetheless. Both Denton and O'Brien have their finest moments in scenes of solitary brooding or helplessness. Especially noteworthy in the cast is Liz Vital as Cissy. A singular beauty like Charlize Theron, she possesses a total naturalness and physical flexibility onstage that are remarkable. Her complex performance is a revelation. Stewart W. Calhoun is wonderfully dynamic and versatile essaying a few of her boyfriends; Johnston should write more of him into the action.

Overall, the play does not lack potential, but there's an unfinished quality about it. Create more scenes of family interaction, add more humor and hone a cleaner focus; then, it will perhaps be a more pleasant pill to swallow.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 18, 2008

REVIEW - Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers
book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell
directed by Bryan Rasmussen
Whitefire Theatre
through November 23
Playwright Willy Russell, like most bold and sensitive writers, envisions something better for his brood of protagonists. Life for many of them, in Britain's lower middle class, is stifling: it depletes the mind as well as the pursestrings. Rita in Educating Rita seeks enlightenment; Shirley in Shirley Valentine wants real appreciation as a woman; Mickey's impoverished mother in Blood Brothers unconsciously wishes that the son she gave away reluctantly at birth will reap the benefits of his new privileged family. As most major changes incur imperfections, there is a price to be paid, and sometimes that price is human life itself. Bryan Rasmussen's current production of Blood Brothers, which has been his dream child since he first saw the musical on the West End in 1983, is potently unforgettable. Within the small space of the Whitefire Theatre and with the aid of an outstanding cast, Russell's obsession with the effects of socio-economic struggle - the play is now placed in Southcentral Los Angeles - reverberates with the utmost clarity.
The winning ensemble is headed by Pamela Taylor as Mrs. Johnstone. Underprivileged and heartbroken, Johnstone is embued by Taylor with the tiniest grain of hope that shines brightly even at the end. Her performance both in word and song is a stunner. Eduardo Enrikez, an immensely talented actor, paints his Mickey with a wired energy and anguish that starts at age 7 and festers on into his all too brief manhood. Ryan Nealy as Eddie and Sita Young as Linda make the sweetest of star-crossed lovers - we want them to be together, knowing all the while that it is out of the question. Judy Norton lends an edgy sensitivity to an otherwise icy, unbending Mrs. Lyons, and Gil Darnell takes the difficult role of the Narrator, a shadow on the wall and transforms him into an attractively imposing figure of authority. Nicolas Mongiardo-Cooper is a scene stealer as the devilish brother Sammy, and the rest: Mueen Jahan, Debra Arnott and Jess Busterna ably portray a number of parts, under Rasmussen's resourceful hand.
"Marilyn Monroe" that opens and "Tell Me It's Not True" that closes the play are haunting musical reminders that the action, as real as it seems, may very well be, like life itself, just an illusion.
Praise also to Victoria Profitt for her excellently practical set depiction of the two social worlds.
Hardly your typical musical, Blood Brothers is real drama with music and stays with you long after the curtain comes down, especially via this heartfelt rendering.
5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review - Girl's Room


Girl's Room
by Joni Fritz
directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett
El Portal Mainstage
through November 2
Joni Fritz's Girl's Room, with its strictly female cast and powder pink set, is about three generations of women in a small, but dysfunctional family. Sound typical? Just another episode of, say, The Golden Girls slanted toward the impossible mother/daughter relationship syndrome? Hardly. A Jewish Steel Magnolias? No! There is no sentimentality to be found, period! Unpredictable to the core, it could hardly be considered your typical sitcom-like comedy. Girl's Room is a refreshingly real play... with substance: a dramedy, with deeply intense moments of reflection for its three stars and a surprise dance sequence for two of them that is guaranteed to captivate and thrill.
Kate Silver's (Rebecca Mae Palmer) sudden accident that puts her in a wheelchair with a fractured knee on the day of her latest performance in dance sets the scene. Concerned, more for her daughter's future as a dancer, Marilyn Silver (Donna McKechnie), a former pro dancer, takes Kate back home under the guise of R&R. Her little girl's cozy bedroom is full of the trophies and ribbons that have made her a local dance phenomenon. Stimulation? No. They bring back memories for Katie that do not relieve her misery. Enter grandma Flo (Carol Lawrence), who had flown in anyway to attend the performance, and with her, increasing discomfort. Tensions and misunderstandings between Flo, still the party girl, and Marilyn, who she refers to as a square, just add more fuel to the fire of a 24-hour conflict that does produce a few meaty revelations, some painful, others quite amusing.
The ladies, out of boredom, participate in a Blackjack game, kind of like strip poker in
which the winner must ask the lady of her choice to reveal a deep dark secret. Flo's first one about dancing naked in her own bedroom is hilarious - and this leads to a dance number led by Flo with Marilyn right behind her - that is loaded with vigor and style. A terrific scene to admire: both Lawrence and McKechnie let it all hang out and still move remarkably, after all these years.
Both actresses have a field day with their roles: they are funny, especially Lawrence as the teasing and persistent Yiddisha grandma. McKechnie shows a beautiful warmth as Marilyn, struggling to understand Katie's motivations and to come to terms with her own failings and those of her all too chummy mother. Palmer, in her first Equity role, holds her own with the two legends. She is completely believable as the stubborn, rebellious, and confused Kate, who, like her mother, is trying desperately to find her place in the world. The three actresses display dazzling chemistry and make the evening a memorable entertainment and keen celebration of life.
Super kudos to director Corbett, who really knows how to keep the pace rolling, to Matt Scarpino Design for the pretty girlish bedroom in pink and to Jennifer Caprio for her colorful costumes, Flo's loud and flashy loungewear in particular.
5 out of 5 stars
I have included two blog spots below on the after-party for the gala opening of Girl's Room.

It was delightful to see the multi-celebrity audience react glowingly to the play and to Carol Lawrence and Donna McKechnie's performances, not to mention the disbelief that this is Rebecca Mae Palmer's first Equity performance. It justifies my feelings that actors really do appreciate good work from their fellow actors. To quote Joanne Worley, "Weren't they wonderful?!"
This is a short but worthwhile engagement; try not to miss it and spread the word!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gypsies at the El Portal

Carol Lawrence, the original Maria from Broadway's West Side Story and George Chakiris, the Oscar-winning Bernardo from the legendary West Side Story film, share a moment together at the after-party for Girl's Room at the El Portal. Lawrence and Donna McKechnie in blog space below co-star in the entertaining dramedy onstage through November 2.
These two have certainly retained their youth quite well. Incredible!

Photo credit: Ed Krieger

More Gypsies at the El Portal

Photo credit: Ed Krieger
My friend dancer/actor Stan Mazin (dance alumnus of The Carol Burnett Show, active actor and director @ LCGRT and contributor/writer of the Outside LA portion of Grigware Talks Theatre) and I with two Broadway legends, Donna McKechnie and Ron Dennis, both from the original A Chorus Line at the after party for the gala opening of Girl's Room starring Carol Lawrence and McKechnie on the El Portal Mainstage through November 2. It was a great evening; a reunion to remember for Broadway and Hollywood gypsies.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Waiting in the Wings
by Noel Coward
directed by Charlie Mount
Theatre West
through November 23
Coward would rename his song "Mad About the Cast" were he to see this highest quality production of his late-in-life play Waiting in the Wings. The Wings is a charity home for elderly British actors, in this case actresses, who live out their final years attending midnight matinees and reminiscing about their days of glory on the stage. Remember "Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington"? Coward adores, yet loves to dish theatrical people, their talent or lack of it. Perhaps a bit long with three acts, and pardoning some actors for not mastering a sustained British accent, this is otherwise one of the most flawless pieces Theatre West has mounted as of late. It is full of Coward's priceless satirical wit and keen observations of what makes theatre folk tick. And these 'old crows' are lovingly portrayed by Theatre West stalwarts.
Heading the cast as dotty Sarita Myrtle is Betty Garrett who is nothing short of a miracle. Her demented character is luminescent as she quotes Shakespeare and strikes matches (she's a pyromaniac, poor dear!), and she sets the example for every member of the ensemble, who give absolutely FABULOUS performances, ALL! Magda Harout as obstinate May Davenport, Katherine Henryk as classy Lotta Bainbridge, May's arch-rival - and all because of a man, as it turns out - Sandy Tucker delightful as Deirdre O"Malley, who like any Irishman loves to talk and to listen to herself, Dianne Travis as Bonita Belgrave, Layla Galloway as Cora Clarke, Seemah Wilder as Estelle Craven and Phyllis Franklin as Maudie Melrose complete the book of residents. Erin Moore as gitty housekeeper Doreen, Arden Lewis as the crusty head of staff 'Miss Archie', Catherine Natale, the weepy Dora who finds it difficult to part from her companion Lotta, and Corinne Shor as nasty news reporter Zelda Fenwick round out the female portion of the cast. Males include David P. Johnson as dependable staff member Perry Lascoe, Walter Beery as dutiful Osgood Meeker, who, religiously bearing violets, visits a bedridden resident every Sunday, and Donald Moore as Allan Bennet, the son that Lotta has not seen for over thirty years.
Of course, there is death and abundant farewells, but they are never maudlin. Coward's wit will not allow sentimentality. And his humor here is as sharp as a tack. When one actress brags how she used to stop a show, her cohort retorts, "It was the notices that stopped the show." When the reporter questions Sarita about the residence, "Is it a nice house?" Sarita tosses back jubilantly "Capacity!" There is some grande singing and even an Irish jig. We may be reminded that life is short, but Wings is a joyful celebration of living from start to finish.
Charlie Mount's direction has a quick and consistently uplifting pace and the set by Jeff G. Rack and costumes by Daniella Cartun are scrumptious to behold. The ladies' Christmas Eve dresses are especially gorgeous.
5 out of 5 stars
POST NOTE: This is the third consecutive year that Southern California audiences have been treated to an outstanding Noel Coward production. In 2006 it was the musical revue A Marvelous Party at the Laguna Playhouse, in 2007, Tonight at 8:30 at the Antaeus Company in North Hollywood and now in 2008, Waiting in the Wings. How lucky can we get!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Review - Bush Is Bad 2


Bush is Bad:
Alaskan Beauty Queen Edition
concept, music and lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum
directed by Jay Willick and James J. Mellon
NoHo Arts Center Ensemble (NoHo Ace)
through November 2
For anyone with half a brain, Das Bush Ist Schlect. With no prior knowledge of German, I think you get the message. As I get older - and wiser? - I become increasingly irritated with those who see the good in someone who is so obviously moronic, self-absorbed, downright delusional and irresponsible. I know some children under 5 years that have more common sense than the President - why do we tolerate it? - of the United States, who will not even admit to our failing economy. I guess what my parents taught me is true - the rich worship the money in their pockets. NoHo Ace, formerly known as Open at the Top Productions, bring back their gigantic and irreverant smash musical revue Bush Is Bad for one month only. Not since the 70s and Let My People Come, Calcutta and Hair, have I been so engaged in a political sendup. It's shameful, and to a few, maybe somewhat inappropriate... and - deliciously right on target.
I will not spoil the fun by giving away too many details, but the latest incarnation has two added musical takeoffs - one of Sarah Palin, of course toting a gun and the other on John McCain. If you enjoyed the musical Jekyll and Hyde, you'll love McCain and Bush dueling it out, especially enacted by Roger Ainslie. A cute and cuddly Michael J. Fox, he is so terrifically magnetic and charming as Bush, he almost won me over. I was forced to remind myself, "This is not Bush but an actor; he's Roger Ainslie portraying Bush!" I'd support Ainslie for office, but Bush,
The rest of the cast is equally alluring: versatile Jonathan Zenz, Curtis C, hilarious as Condolisa Rice, Kathryn Percival, who lends a fresh, feminist perspective to the face of God, Stefanie Black terrif as Palin among others, and pretty Sabrina Miller. All six knock the satire out of the park. It's risky, ballsy material performed with enough wit and style to entertain a Republican. Even my grandmother, a staunch Republican to the end, would sit up in her grave with a disarming grin!
5 out of 5 stars