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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Tuesday, August 2, 2011



“I just can't understand critics. If a musical isn't completely unique it gets trashed. I read some of the reviews and could not believe what I read. Good Songs, Good Acting, Good Chemistry, Good Creative team, etc, etc, etc. So what was wrong? Well, the answer is … nothing!” customer Lance J. Hermus took the words right out of my mouth in reviewing the Original Cast Recording of High Fidelity—and for proof that this Broadway flop does in fact do everything right, simply head on down to Fullerton for an out-and-out sensational High Fidelity that puts New York Times Theater Critic Ben Brantley to shame.

Granted, a musical about the owner of “The Last Real Record Store On Earth” may well be TGFB (Too Grungy For Broadway) and ought perhaps to have opted for an off (or off-off) Broadway run. As a matter of fact, High Fidelity probably works best in a venue like Hunger Artists’, hidden inside a Fullerton industrial park and therefore not all that far removed from Championship Vinyl, the used record shop where our antihero Rob and his ragtag band of friends and customers hang out from dawn to dusk.

Even so, with music as eminently hummable as Tom (Next To Normal) Kitt’s, lyrics as clever as those written by Amanda Green (daughter of fabled lyricist Adolph), and a book as winning as David (Rabbit Hole) Lindsay-Abaire’s (based on Nick Hornby’s popular novel), High Fidelity deserved a far, far better fate than a mere month on Broadway, and there ought to have been dozens of regional productions over the past five years, rather than a mere handful before Hunger Artists’ auspicious West Coast Premiere, directed with energy, imagination, and verve by Anthony Galleran.

High Fidelity opens with the introduction of the aforementioned Rob, a 30ish dude whose life consists of “cable and a girlfriend who is pissed off (but she's hot), records that it's taken me a lifetime to amass,” and Championship Vinyl. Assisting Rob in his day-to-day labors are Barry and Dick (“They came as temps. But then they started showing up here every day! It's been four years. They just won't leave.”) As for the threesome’s lives afterhours, Rob’s rent check has just bounced, Barry still lives at home, and Dick stays up all night watching Mary Tyler Moore. Not unexpectedly, their love lives aren’t all that much better. (Rob’s girl holds out, Barry’s inflates, and Dick thinks he had sex once but he’s not sure.)

All this we find out in “The Last Real Record Store,” an opening number so exciting and imaginative that most musicals could only wish they had one half this good. With thrilling melody, rhythm, and key changes coming one after another, Kitt and Green’s humdinger of a song gives us ten of the most exhilarating minutes ever to open a tiny little musical, fills us in on exactly what life inside Championship is like, and promises one heck of an entertaining ride to come.

Rob soon informs us (in one of his many heart-to-hearts with the audience) that a) his girlfriend Laura has broken up with him and that b) if he were to make up a list of his Top Five Breakups, she wouldn’t even make the Top Ten. (Of course we know he’s lying, since it’s clear from the get-go that he and Laura are MFEO.) In any case, regardless of the veracity of his claim, it serves as a pretext for a Musical Number #2, one that nearly matches the first in sheer high-spiritedness, as Rob enumerates his “Desert Island Top 5 Break-Ups,” backed by a quintet of exes who can sing and move as good as they look—which is pretty darned good indeed. (We’ll see more of this “Greek Girl Chorus” as the show progresses, and ingeniously so.)

Rob's story arc, as conceived of by Hornby in his novel and Lindsay-Abaire in his ingenious musical stage adaptation, is far more a journey towards adulthood, towards adult commitments, than a simple boy loses girl, boy gets girl back cliché—and is all the richer for not taking the easy romcom route (though we do indeed follow Rob’s efforts to win Laura back as well as his two coworkers’ attempts at forging lives for themselves outside the shop). Supporting characters include Rob’s ballsy best friend Liz, his new-agey upstairs neighbor Ian (who has a thing for Laura), and Championship Vinyl denizens Middle-Aged Guy, TMPMITW (The Most Pathetic Man In The World), Hipster, and Mohawk Guy.

In addition to their opening pair of showstoppers, Kitt and Green have written a number of terrific follow-up songs, including the joyously rocking “Nine Percent Chance” (these are the odds Laura gives Rob of coming back to him), “I Slept With Someone (Who Slept With Lyle Lovett” (which has Rob nearly jumping for joy to be “sleeping with a rock star. Well, a rock star once removed…”), the power-ballady “Cryin’ In The Rain,” and the soft-rocking “Turn The World Off (And Turn You On).” “Conflict Resolution” crosses over to Heavy Metal territory, and therefore is one I usually skip over on the CD, but with its repeated fast-rewinds performed live by some amazingly dexterous actors, it adds up to a good deal more fun on stage than on disk.

Of course none of the above would matter a whit were Hunger Artists’ intimate staging not blessed with a star-making lead performance by Sheldon Morley heading an all-around splendid cast, a trio of rockin’ good onstage musicians, and designers who make the very most of an obviously limited budget.

About Morley’s performance in The Full Monty a few years back, I wrote, “Sheldon Morley is the first Jerry I’ve seen who truly looks the part. (He) is also an excellent actor,” remarks which explain just two of the reasons he once again merits raves for his star turn as Rob. It’s easy to buy this big, scruffy dude as owning a rundown record shop, loving his 45s more than life itself, and screwing things up with a babe like Tara Pitt’s Laura (just as it’s easy to believe that Laura would fall for this Rob’s big big heart). Effortless at chewing the fat with the audience and never anything less than spontaneous in his interactions with other characters, Morley happens also to have just the right rocker pipes to belt out Rob’s songs precisely the way they should be belted.

Pitt is as lovely and engaging as ever, making the pre-Broadway excision of Laura’s big ballad “Too Tired” all the more regrettable. (Pitt deserves that song, and I would have loved to hear her sing it.) Lindsay Lee Lusk, Andrea Martyn, Katt McLaren, Sandy Moore, and Jennifer Pearce are Rob’s five exes, and as super as they are individually, they are even more terrific as a group, their “girl power” multiplied by five. Martyn doubles to fine effect as Rob’s tough-love bestie Liz, a sweet, sexy Moore also gets to play songstress Marie (the one who slept with Lyle Lovett), and the charming Lusk’s second role is as Anna, a cute nerdette who gives Dick hope that there may be a “a point, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, one percent chance she'll say yes.” As for Dick, Max Obita looks like he could easily have wandered in from a nearby record shop (or video arcade) were it not for his first-rate acting chops and vocals that make you realize, “Hey, the dude is a bona fide performer!” Duncan Hutchinson and Rocky Balboa too are absolutely believable as daily fixtures at Champion Vinyl.

A pair of supporting performances deserve special mention. Jeffery R. Rockey is a hoot and a half as Ian, milking the love guru’s every hippy-dippy moment for all its worth, and Topher Mauerhan, in addition to his bang-up work as Big Bad Barry, makes the show his own for five or so minutes as The Boss himself, Bruce S., in the showstoppingly Springsteenesque “Goodbye And Good Luck.”

Steeve Jacobs (TMPMITW) performs in the production’s excellent onstage three-piece band led by musical director Sarah Weinzetl, and sings a mean Neil Young. Though there’s more “movement” than dancing in High Fidelity, choreographer Katheleen Switzer has her entire cast moving to energetic perfection.

Ashley Martin’s scenic design has the look and feel of a rundown record store, and converts effortlessly and effectively into the High Fidelity’s other locales. Designers Nicholas Saiki (lighting) and Kris Kataoka (sound) get thumbs up for their excellent work, as does Mary Poplin for costumes that are exactly what you’d expect these folks to have bought for themselves. Jessica Kelly is stage manager.

Though High Fidelity may never be able to completely overcome the stigma of its untimely death by Brantley on the Great White Way, it more than merits a long afterlife in regional theater. St. Louis, Chicago, and Washington DC productions have garnered it the kind of positive notices that might have made it a New York hit the first time round. Then again, perhaps High Fidelity was never meant for a Broadway audience, but rather for folks like Rob and Barry and Dick themselves, each of whom would surely give the show a high five of approval. Then again, I’m as big a musical theater fan as they come, and it gets a high five from me too—and who knows? It might even get one from Ben Brantley, that is if he could ever be persuaded to give the show another look-see.

Hunger Artists Theatre Company, 699-A South State College Blvd, Fullerton. Through August 28. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 7:00. Special Thursday Night Performance, August 18 at 8:00. Reservations: 714 680-6803
--Steven Stanley
July 31, 2011
Photos: Thai Chau