Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA is changing, with exciting new features and an all new look by debuting August 12.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting this temporary site, on which you will find reviews of all currently running productions, as well as some which have closed recently.

Visit the new StageSceneLA starting August 12 and the first thing you’ll find will be all the latest reviews and interviews, beginning with the most recent.

All reviews will now be “tagged,” allowing StageSceneLA readers to make a quick list of each and every “Now Playing” production as well as those tagged with a “WOW!.” You will also be able to find reviews by “genre,” “location,” and other tags. Interviews will be tagged as well, allowing for quick accessing of all StageSceneLA interviews.

A brand new search function will allow readers to find any play or musical by name, as well as any reviews in which a particular actor performed, which a particular director directed, or which a particular designer designed, etc.

The new StageSceneLA will continue to feature complete lists of all StageSceneLA Award winners over the past six years—with our 2010-12 Awards to be announced mid-September. StageSceneLA will no longer feature listings of upcoming and unreviewed productions, the better to concentrate on its forte: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater in its reviews and interviews.

Review archives will be restored gradually—hopefully by the end of September 2011. In the meantime, please feel free to send an email request for a PDF file of any previous StageSceneLA review to

Thanks as always for visiting Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater. And thanks especially for your patience during this exciting period of transition.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011



Simply put, the first fifteen to twenty minutes of Twist: An American Musical are as breathtakingly thrilling as any I’ve ever experienced inside a theater. An honest-to-goodness overture previews some of the tunes we’ll be hearing, and how exciting it feels to have this mostly lost tradition revived. Then comes “Back By Demand,” the kind of dazzling tap extravaganza one might have seen at Harlem’s legendary Prohibition-era Cotton Club, though here it is set in Louisiana’s Big Easy, aka New Orleans, and the applause it inspires seems to go on forever. Cheers soon turn to gasps of horror as Ku Klux Klansmen set about lynching one of the opening number’s dance duo, an African American about to head north with his pregnant white girlfriend. The expectant mother soon finds herself on the steps of the Parish House Orphanage, where she dies giving birth to a son. A decade later, the parentless mulatto child, who’s been named Twist, has been fooled by his fellow orphans into asking for meat on his tenth birthday, leading to a high-energy song-and-dance show-stopper entitled “Meat On The Bones,” one which outdoes anything Annie’s girls or Oliver’s boys ever did on the Broadway stage.

Though the remaining two and a half hours of Twist: An American Musical don’t live up to those spectacular opening numbers, and though there is room for a good deal of improvement in this not-yet-ready-for-Broadway musical, what is already up there on the Pasadena Playhouse stage provides more than enough entertainment to warrant the standing ovation the show received on its Opening Night.

Book writers William F. Brown and Tina Tippit have taken as their inspiration both the Dickens classic and (unofficially) its stage and screen musical adaptations. Twist (Alaman Diadhiou) is sold by orphanage caretakers Potlatch (Paul Aguirre) and Miss Cotton (Diane Delano) to an undertaker named Crazah Chesterfield (Cleavant Derricks), only to end up on the streets of The Big Easy. There he meets Artful Dodger stand-in Pistol (Joshua Bolden), who introduces Twist to bootlegger Boston (Matthew Johnson), who just happens to have been the dance partner of the lynched Roosevelt (Jared Grimes). As a fledgling member of Boston’s gang of youthful rum-runners, Twist is soon sent to jail, then rescued by Mr. Prudhomme (Cliff Bemis), who just happens to be lawyer to Twist’s mother’s family, and who recognizes something in the ten-year-old that rings a bell. Meanwhile, Twist’s evil uncle Lucius (Pat McRoberts) plots to prevent his nephew from inheriting his late sister’s half of the family fortune, his own half of which he has squandered till there’s hardly a cent left.

The closer Twist adheres to Dickens’ original, the better it is. It’s when introducing its own characters and plot twists that the show could stand a return to the source. In the musical Oliver, we know exactly whom to root for (Oliver and Nancy), whom to hiss (Bill Sykes), and whose comic presence to simply enjoy (Fagin). Here, the lines aren’t so clearly drawn, with Boston’s moral ambiguity proving particularly frustrating. Also, in Oliver The Musical we knew exactly where our young hero’s happy ending lay—with Mr. Brownlow, his grandfather. By making Twist a biracial child in the segregated 1920s, there’s little likelihood of a happy reunion with his Caucasian mother’s family, and the book writers seem stumped about what constitutes happily ever after for young Twist. As of Opening Night, it’s frustratingly unclear who will take care and custody of the lad.

Make no mistake, Twist has a heck of a lot going for it, first and foremost Debbie Allen’s dynamic choreography, executed by a cast who don’t seem to know the meaning of “No Can Do.” Among the evening’s dance showstoppers are a spooktacular “Coffin Nightmare” (though opening night technical difficulties prevented the deceased from levitating as shown in production stills), “Heir To The King” (featuring Pistol, Twist, Boston’s Boys, School Girls, and just about everybody else in the 32-member cast), and a “Mardi Gras” celebration with an entire stageful of N’Orleans revelers.

Twist’s songs (lyrics by Tena Clark and music by Clark and Gary Prim) are full of hummable hooks, but there are just too many of them—seventeen songs in Act One alone, some of which stop the show (literally) when they ought to be advancing the plot. An Act Two song-and-dance dream sequence featuring Roosevelt, Al Jolson, and Josephine Baker, while performed with ample pizzazz by Grimes, Robert Loftin, and Vivian Nixson, seems ill-conceived from the get-go. Are we really supposed to believe that a white 1920s lawyer has converted one room of his house into a shrine to African-American performers, and that he has hung a huge framed photograph of a blackfaced Al Jolson next to equal sized photos of Roosevelt and Miss Baker? Though the number does allow Twist to get to know his late father, it truly needs rethinking.

Still, despite its current “Diamond In The Rough” status, Twist shines brightly due not merely to the dazzle of director/choreographer Allen’s dance sequences but also to an all-around phenomenal cast.

Diadhou, who originated the role of Twist in its World Premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater last September, is such a natural charmer that he earns audience love and sympathy from his first appearance. Johnson and Grimes deserve a standing ovation simply for their amazing, seemingly inexhaustible footwork in “Back To Demand,” Johnson getting extra points for vocal prowess in several solos and duets. McRoberts, who created the role of Lucius in Atlanta, makes for a vocally strong, easy-to-hiss villain, and Bemis is an equally strong though considerably more sympathetic Mr. Prudhomme.

Adding Broadway/TV star power to the Pasadena Production are the stunningly beautiful Gray and legendary powerhouse Derricks. Gray, of American Idol fame, combines Dorothy Dandridge glamour, phenomenal vocal chops, and first-rate acting to make Della the moral center of Twist. Dreamgirls’ original James Thunder Early, Tony-winner Derricks is a veritable force of nature as funeral director Crazah, working himself and the audience into a frenzy in “Death Is Alive And Well” and “Ashes To Ashes.”

Aguirre and Delano are comedic standouts as an oh-so-colorful pair of orphanage caretakers, Aguirre exhibiting gorgeous pipes, and baritone-voiced Delano (so memorable in the Playhouse’s Mask) scoring bonus comedy points for an unbilled and virtually unrecognizable gender-bending turn in Act Two. As Twist’s doomed mother Angela, Ava Gaudet sings a beautiful, gut-wrenching “Why?” before joining the ensemble for the remainder of the show.

The kids in the cast are all-around stupendous teen and preteen performers, headed by a trio of young firecrackers: Bolden as Pistol, Kyle Garvin as Skillet, and Chase Maxwell as Yancy.

Completing the terrific ensemble in both younger and older roles are Kevin C. Beacham, Jr., Nickolas Eibler, John Fisher, Chantel Heath, Joshua Norton, Holly Hyman, Olivia-Diane Joseph (who originated the role of Della in the Atlanta production), Wayne Mackins, Micah Patterson, Malaiyka Reid, Carla Renata (who plays Naomi), Julianna Rigoglioiso, Isaac Spector, Terrance Spencer, Dougie Styles, Dempey Tonks, and Armando Yearwood, Jr. Coco Monroe performs the role of Twist at certain performances.

Though several of Clark and Prim’s songs seem more designed for Adult Contemporary Top 40dom than as representations of a specific 20th Century time and place, they are a highly hummable lot, particularly as performed under the musical direction of Jim Vukovich, who also did the vocal arrangements and conducts the show’s sensational thirteen-piece orchestra.

Tony-winning set designer Todd Rosenthal and costume designer ESosa repeat from the Atlanta production, creating together a vivid sense of Prohibition-era New Orleans. Howell Binkley lights both designs to perfection, with Peter Fitzgerald’s sound design insuring that vocals and instrumentals blend to perfection.

Joe Witt is production manager, Alex Britton production supervisor, and David Blackwell production stage manager.

If Twist: An American Musical still needs work, then so has just about every other Broadway-bound musical in its early, out-of-town stages, including Pasadena Playhouse premieres Sister Act, Baby It’s You!, and Vanities, all three of which moved on to the Big Apple. Even in its still imperfect form, Twist is quite a show, and well worth seeing for its powerhouse performances. (And don’t you dare arrive late, or you’ll miss the most thrilling opening numbers of the year.)

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena.
--Steven Stanley
June 26, 2011
Photos: Craig Schwartz