Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best in LA Theatre for 2008

(alphabetical listings)
(in certain categories artists performing outside LA may be included)

Top Productions
Alice in One-Hit Wonderland 2, Through the Looking Glass – Troubies @ Falcon Theatre
American Tales – Antaeus Company
Assassins – West Coast Ensemble
Great Expectations – Hudson Theatre/Odyssey Theatre
House of Blue Leaves – Mark Taper Forum
Kiss of the Spider Woman – Bootleg Theatre
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara – Sacred Fools/Matrix Theatre
My Antonia – Rubicon Theatre, Ventura
Prelude & Liebestod – LCGRT (Lonnie Chapman’s Group Repertory Theatre)
Singin’ in the Rain – Cabrillo Music Theatre
Waiting in the Wings – Theatre West
West Side Story – Hudson Backstage

Most Promising New Musical
9 to 5: The Musical – Ahmanson

Most Promising New Play (tie)
Girl’s Room – El Portal Mainstage
Looped – Pasadena Playhouse

Most Unique Production: Play with Standup Comedy
Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress – Geffen Playhouse

Most Unique Performance: Play within Orchestral Concert
John Malkovich – Seduction and Despair - Musica Angelica (Santa Monica)

Best Ensemble – Play (tie)
The Friendly Hour – The Road
Waiting in the Wings – Theatre West

Best Ensemble – Musical (tie)
The Andrews Brothers – Musical Theatre West
West Side Story – Hudson Backstage

Best Lead Performance
Chad Borden/Terra C. Macleod – Kiss of the Spider Woman (Bootleg)
Jake Broder/Vanessa Claire Smith – Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara (Matrix)
Kate Burton/Jane Kaczmarek/John Pankow – House of Blue Leaves (Mark Taper Forum)
Laura Darrell – West Side Story (Hudson Backstage)
Larry Eisenberg – Prelude & Liebestod (LCGRT)
David Engel – Singin’ In the Rain (Cabrillo @ Thousand Oaks)
Eden Espinosa – Flora the Red Menace (Reprise!)
Beth Kennedy – Alice in One-Hit Wonderland 2/As U2 Like It (Troubies @ Falcon)
Sharon Lawrence – Orson’s Shadow (Pasadena Playhouse)
Adam Simmons – Great Expectations (Hudson)
Pamela Taylor/Eduardo Enrikez – Blood Brothers (Whitefire)
Granville Van Dusen – Memoirs of Abraham Lincoln (Falcon)

And...Equally Memorable
Dave Barrus – Songs from an Unmade Bed (Celebration)
Jonathan Crombie – Drowsy Chaperone (Ahmanson)
Barbara Gruen/Henry Gummer – A Good Smoke (Chandler Studio)
Valerie Harper/Chad Allen – Looped (Pasadena Playhouse)
Megan Hilty/Stefanie J. Block/Allison Janney/Mark Kudisch – 9 to 5 (Ahmanson)
David Hess/Judy Kaye – Sweeney Todd (Ahmanson)
Allen E. Read/ Michelle Duffy – Mask (Pasadena Playhouse)
Stewart W. Calhoun/Alex Schemmer – Thrill Me (Hudson)

Best Featured Performance
Rick Batalla – As U2 Like It (Troubies @ Falcon)
Ellen Crawford/Dave Barrus – Great Expectations (Hudson)
Melissa Fahn/Randy Rogel – Singin’ in the Rain (Cabrillo @ Thousand Oaks)
Madelynn Fattibene – A Good Smoke (Chandler Studio)
Kathy Fitzgerald – 9 to 5 (Ahmanson)
Betty Garrett – Waiting in the Wings (Theatre West)
Janet Krupin – West Side Story (Hudson Backstage)
Michael Lanning – Mask (Pasadena Playhouse)
Megan Lawrence – Flora the Red Menace (Reprise!)
John O’Brien – Assassins (Cast)
Andrea Syglowski – Post Mortem (Lyric Hyperion)
Liz Vital/Stewart W. Calhoun - How Cissy Grew (El Portal, Secondstage)

Best Authors
William Derringer –
The Passion that Bites Back
Steven Stanley –
Moroccan Roll

Best Solo Artist: Play
Ann Randolph – Squeeze Box (Steinway Hall)

Best Solo Artist: Variety
Jeff Trachta - Jeff Trachta Live! (Spa Resort Casino, Palm Springs)

Entertainer of the Year
Jeff Trachta – Jeff Trachta Live! (Spa Resort Casino, Palm Springs)

Best Theatre CD
Patti Lupone Gypsy

Consistently Outstanding Achievement in Producing Musicals with a Very Limited Run (tie)
Musical Theatre West (The Carpenter Center, Long Beach)
Reprise Theatre Company (The Freud @ UCLA and Brentwood Theatre)

Final reviews for 2008 - West Side Story & GMCLA Holiday Concert

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) always gives me my favorite Christmas gift: a spectacular show full of song, warmth and humor. It's much, much more than a concert, and this year's It's a Fabulous Life! at the Alex Theatre was no exception. Interweaving 8 individual remembrances that were each followed by an appropriate holiday song, it became a very special evening: some of the stories were terribly amusing like a boy's wish to be a Rockette, while others tugged heavily at the heartstrings, especially the story about losing 104 friends to AIDS and another about sacrificing one's Christmas Day to sing carols to AIDS patients in hospital wards.
From the rousing fanfare of "Joy to the World", to the unusual and dazzling arrangement of "Drummer Boy" the music was mostly traditional, pop and gorgeously sung by both chorus and soloists, under the steady baton of Bruce Mayhall. A delectable treat was a combo showtune: "We Need a Little Christmas" and "Do Re Mi", retitled: "We Need a Little Do-Re-Mi." Beautiful familiar ballads included "White Christmas", "Silent Night", "Still, Still, Still", "What a Wonderful World" and less familiar, but equally lovely: "Are You Burning, Little Candle?", "Hands" and "Together".
The group's sense of humor is always precious, original and unforgettable. This time around they offered a double whammy of Rockette numbers, including the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" with all soldiers toppling backwards on top of each other, domino style and a colorful ice-skating extravaganza, sans ice of course! There were also some studly cowboys with an unusual headgear fetish. Oy!
This is the 30th anniversary season of GMCLA, so check their website for future events in February/March and in June 2009:
If you have never attended a GMCLA concert, it's high time you did. This is the best all-male chorus in ... perhaps on the planet.
5 out of 5 stars
The timeless musical West Side Story is rarely produced, perhaps because it is one of the most difficult to carry off...well, that is. With book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein - all brilliant, and original concept, choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins, one must consider the choreography alone as an overwhelming feat of genius to accomplish, let alone the close to operatic singing and passionate acting required. This show pulsates from beginning to end, and this new production from Musical Theatre of Los Angeles, under the electric direction of Kenneth Gray-Scolari and choreographer Arthur L. Ross (also A.D.) having played through December 21 at the Hudson Backstage Theatre, pulses favorably -in fact, very close to the beat of the original. It's a gigantic winner! With four nods on my year-end list: Best Lead Actress - Laura Darrell as Maria , possessing a clear soprano voice akin only to a bell, Best Featured Actress - Janet Krupin as Anita, Best Ensemble and Best Production, my only hope is that it return again in 2009 for those that did not get a chance to see it. Especially for young audiences, familiar only with the great 1960 film or perhaps not at all familiar with it, it's most definitely worth a look. One message reverberates to the rafters: stop the hatred! stop the violence! Focus on "One Hand, One Heart"/"I Have a Love (And It's All That I Need)"!
West Side Story may very well be the best musical of all time, and Musical Theatre of Los Angeles can take pride in its faithful vision, executed on a practically bare stage. This confirms my belief that an expensive, elaborate set is unimportant; it's the talent up front that wins the game.
5 out of 5 stars
Santa granted my wish:
for more info, schedule, and ticket reservations

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday wishes to one and all!

I am a big kid especially at Christmas.

I wish the joy of the holiday season lasted all year round! Imagine if we all supported one another from the heart, what a world it might be!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Peace! And prayers that Obama will lead us up and out of the darkness in 2009!

One last wish - maybe increased federal funding for the elderly, for education and for the arts?!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Goodbye to another Screen Legend

Van Johnson, one of my favorite film actors of the 1940s, who played comedy and drama with equal ease, passed from us on Friday, December 12 at the age of 92. My favorite movie of his is perhaps lesser known to many: Warner Bros' Miracle in the Rain (mid 1950s) in which he played a WWII soldier on leave and in a brief love affair with the late Jane Wyman. Most hate the film because of its improbable ending, but Johnson's sense of humor reverberates throughout, making the affair so memorable and touching. In later years he appeared occasionally onstage in such roles as Captain Andy in Showboat and as another Andy in Love Letters with one of his favorite screen partners, the late Janet Leigh. I remember with great fondness a very brief encounter with him, asking him a question about his career and hearing him respond, "That sexy voice! Do you always sound like that?" I don't recall his answer to my question, only that he made me laugh within seconds of meeting him. They say he was a real party boy. Who cares! What a sense of humor onscreen -and, from what I remember - off! God speed!

Visit Theatre 360's Toyland @ Pasadena Playhouse

Photos by Ed Krieger.
Theatre 360 in association with the Pasadena Playhouse and artistic director Sheldon Epps presents Victor Herbert's classic Babes in Toyland through December 21. Directed and choreographed by Devon Yates, there is a new book and lyrics by Alice Hammerstein Mathias.
Theatre 360 features winter and summer camps for young men and women to get involved in the making of musical theatre, and in this day and age, anything that will get kids motivated to want to act, sing and dance and - to appreciate theatre in general - is worthy of your recognition.

Troubies' It's a Stevie Wonderful Life Now @ The Falcon

Sold out for a six week run at The Falcon is perhaps The Troubies' funniest Christmas outing It's a Stevie Wonderful Life, parodying It's a Wonderful Life to the music of Stevie Wonder. Get yourselves on a waiting list! It's worth it!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

CD Now available - Danny Guerrero's Celebration

Talented pianist Danny Guerrero's newest CD Celebration makes a great Christmas gift, a terrific stocking stuffer!
With such classics as "Night and Day", "Satin Doll" "A Foggy Day in London Town", a Gershwin medley, "Spanish Eyes" and Danny's very own exciting interpretation of the Bossa Nova, this album is a real treat for the ears!
I first heard this man play at the Green Room of Vitello's (a regular weekend gig) and he's GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mike Flick on bass and Carl Rigoli on drums + Guerrero on piano make The Danny Guerrero Trio - Live at Cafe 322 a very special musical happening you'll want to play over and over. He's a jazz musician par excellence - and a whole lot more!!!!

Visit his website to order CD:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mini Reviews - Holiday Buffet: Jeff Trachta, CART, Actors Co-op and LCGRT

Talking with Jeff Trachta following his hilarious holiday show in PS. I suggested he do "The 12 Days of Christmas". His response? Gleefully, "All those characters!"

This was a merry, merry weekend full of Holiday cheer and theatrical treats.

In Palm Springs I caught Jeff Trachta's holiday show, and it's super fun! Still performing parts of his regular variety act, that includes impressions of George Burns, Joan Rivers et al, he has added to this show 6 Christmas tunes such as "Sleigh Ride" "Jingle Bells", "The Christmas Song" and "Joy to the World", some delicious new characters: Frosty the Showman, Phyllis Kringle, answering the phone at the North Pole, and a Paul Lyndish-like Wise Man trying to find the place of the Christchild's baby shower on his cell phone, and also 2 segments on screen Christmas Memories and XMas Wishes with film characters all played with unique hilarity by Trachta. This man is so talented, he, in my book, is the Entertainer of the Year or any year for that matter. Don't miss his holiday shows during December only, Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm in the Cascade Room of the Spa Resort Casino.

Back in LA at the Beverly Garland Hotel, CART (California Artists Radio Theatre) presented, one performance only, their holiday offering, this year Jim Geoghan's touching Light Sensitive (dedicated to Beverly Garland, who sadly passed from us Friday after a lengthy illness) with Mariette Hartley, Richard Herd and H. M. Wynant. It's the story of a blind curmudgeon, read with terrific humor by Herd, whose life is drastically changed for the better when an in-home aide, wonderfully interpreted by the always reliable Hartley, starts paying him regular visits. H. M. Wynant makes 2 brief appearances as a pal who is leaving New York for Vermont with a chick about 40 years his junior. Wynant plays the bluntness perfectly. It's a very funny piece and so perfect for the holiday season: tender, subtle and beautifully moving. And thanks, Peggy Webber, directress and producer, for your always splendid contributions to keep radio theatre alive for future generations!

Actors Co-op is presenting 2 original in-house one-acts about Christmas, one entitled The Wickersham's Christmas Eve by Linda Kerns, set in London circa 1911, and the second The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Ronnie Steadman. The first offers a traditional perspective, while the other is totally contemporary. Both are refreshingly well-written and marvelously acted, and the fun part of the program is that the audience changes theatres at intermission. It makes total sense because the contrast of the playlets benefits from a complete change of scene, and is very enjoyable fare. Enhancing the ambiance are roving madrigal carolers that entertain the audience before the show and at intermission.

LCGRT's Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan is just not up to their previous hits this season: Prelude & Liebestod and Comic Potential. However, it does boast delightful work from Doug Haverty, Larry Eisenberg, Lareen Faye and Klair Bybee and has intelligent humor from Sullivan. It's the American answer to the Brit play Noises Off, but not nearly as physically clever.

Stay tuned for more holiday goodies next week!!! Spike the eggnog and enjoy the season while it lasts!!!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review - I Love My Wife

I Love My Wife
book & lyrics by Michael Stewart; music by Cy Coleman
Starring Jason Alexander, Patrick Cassidy, Lea Thompson, Vicki Lewis
directed by Larry Moss
@ Reprise! - Brentwood Theatre, through December 14

As you experience change, you may not always comprehend what is happening. Understanding the times in which we live comes much later, when we're ready to look back and lighten up. So, as I contemplate the fact that in the late 70s I wasn't head over heels in love with the original New York production of I Love My Wife, I realize that I did not get it- its message that is, nor its novel change of the American musical form.

1977. The sexual revolution was in full blast: crazy, wild, confusing times, to be sure, with people selecting multiple partners, or wife-swapping. Fast forward to 2008, and we have seen it all, a zillion times over, so it can hardly be shocking, except of course to die-hard Christians or moral proods. Whether we agree or disagree with sexual transgression, it seems a natural part of maturing, like teens going through puberty. What a selection of sweets in the candy shoppe! -and in I Love My Wife, Cy Coleman's and Michael Stewart's songs - that include stylings of jazz, pop and country - are quite a mixed bag of goodies. No less curious is the loose structure of the onstage band members becoming characters in the play and parading in, around, and out of the action, to help play out human thoughts, emotions and fantasies via music. Was it ever done before? Never quite like this! No wonder I was baffled.

2008. Seeing this seldom mounted show at Reprise! I was mesmerized and thoroughly entertained by it all, especially by the genius of Coleman and Stewart. What better way to celebrate a diverse community than with an eclectic assortment of tunes!!

This cast under the stellar direction of Larry Moss and great choreography of Lee Martino is 100% atuned to the times - and sizzling! Thompson's opening fantasy seduction of Alexander "Monica" is totally hot, as is her unsettling second act dinner scene "Scream", when she's clad only in her undies and an apron. Lewis' "Love Revolution" rocks, the dance with Cassidy and Thompson at the top of Act II "Lovers On Christmas Eve" is divine - and dig Cassidy's abs; he looks better with silver hair than he did 20 years ago! Alexander milks every second of his second act 'strip' and provides much laughter throughout the evening.

Applause for the band/Greek chorus: Michael Skloff, Chris Ross, Micahel Butler Murray and Louie Allen who keep things consistetnly alive and jivin'.

Who would have guessed that a show that seemed at first glance 'dated' would, on the other hand, improve with age? Well, it has, so to broaden your spectrum of the love experience, go west, my friends, to Brentwood and celebrate Christmas early with Alvin & Cleo, Wally & Monica ... or is it Alvin & Monica, Wally & Cleo?

5 out of 5 stars