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.

Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


A would-be screenwriter attempts to navigate the shark-ridden Hollywood waters in Passion And Precision, the second of a matched set of one-acts by Joe Davis Massingill. That the first of the two, Passing Proper, just happens to be a staged version of the very screenplay the writer is hoping to sell is just one of several reasons to check out the two plays running on a single bill at Theatre 68.

Passing Proper stars Massingill and Forrest Lancaster as Bud and Will, a pair of Arizona outlaws who’ve hopped a California-bound freight train with five thousand dollars in stolen bills and no idea of what their next move will be. Before long, a Spanish-accented stranger named Carl (Ray Cosico) has popped into their car and explained the reason for the stacks of long-untouched boxes surrounding them. “Folks call this the ‘Ghost Train,’” Carl reveals. “This baby rolls back and forth across the Southwest, with twenty five cars that carry tons of nothing. Lost, roaming the desert, lost without a purpose.” Sort of like our ragtag pair of antiheroes.

Carl doesn’t stick around for long, and his place is soon taken by Lily (Alex Oliver), a pretty, guitar-strumming drifter who’s fallen in love with the ghost train and made it her home.

It takes only a short while for Lily to provide Bud with yet another reminder of what it’s like to be sidekick to a hottie like Will. (“Women choose to sleep with you, just for the joy of sleeping with you,” Bud has commented earlier on. “To sleep with me, she's either gettin' something else out of it, she loves me, or she's making a mistake that she won't realize till she sees me naked in the morning.”) With Bud still bleeding from a gunshot wound and sexual sparks a-smoldering’ between Will and Lily, anyone who expects the trio to ride off into the sunset together might want to rethink that notion.

Passion And Precision begins Film Noir style with screenwriter Trick (Massingill) flashing us back to his first meeting with up-and-coming literary agent Jake (Lancaster). “I had been in Los Angeles for six months, spinning my wheels,” he recalls. “I saw an ad on-line for a screenplay contest. The only thing I'd written was a play, about a ‘Ghost Train,’ so I adapted it, best I could. Never heard from the contest, but a couple weeks later, I get a call from a guy…”

The scene then shifts to Jake’s mostly unfurnished office as he interviews (and simultaneously hits on) Michelle (Oliver), a smart, sassy, sexy redhead who’s come about a job opening as his assistant. Since Michelle is not only a looker but can give as good she gets, it’s no wonder the job is soon hers.

Enter Trick, whose excitement about Jake’s interest in his work soon turns to disappointment when he learns what The Edge Network really has in mind—an hour-long dramatic series based on his screenplay. Unwilling to sacrifice his principles even if it means giving up big bucks and waiting another five years for his big break, Trick resists Jake’s every effort to wear him down, unaware that the agent’s motivations may well be even shadier than they seem.

Massingill’s dialog crackles, particularly in the Mametian second act, and he has written Lancaster, Oliver, and himself two terrific pairs of roles. Each play could stand some pruning, however, particularly the rather too talky Passion And Precision, whose length dilutes the impact of its nifty payoff. (A two-hour running time including intermission would be ideal for the two-play package.) This reviewer also found it hard to imagine how “Ghost Train” could be expanded into an episodic series, but then again, I’m not a network exec.

No quibbles can be made, however, about the cast’s crackerjack performances, honed razor sharp under Jamison Jones’ assured direction. Lancaster, like Alec Baldwin in his 20something days, possesses leading man good looks, a sexy edginess, and acting chops to match. Particularly in Act Two, the handsome 6-footer manages Massingill’s rapid-fire dialog with spontaneity, fire, and not a moment of uncertainty. Oliver’s folksy, sultry Lily and her smart, sassy Michelle reveal a promising, highly watchable young actress who can more than hold her own opposite any scene partner. She’s also quite a singer-guitarist (and co-wrote “Over The Border” with Massingill). Massingill is, like Jack Black, a character actor with leading man appeal who just happens to have written himself a bang-up acting showcase. Cosico is so dynamic and appealing as street-smart Carl that one wishes the playwright had figured out a way to use him in Act Two. (Poor guy doesn’t even get a curtain call.)

Danny Darst’s original background music enhances Massingill’s storytelling. Design elements are uncredited. Lighting, sound, and costume designs are all first-rate; however, intimate theater aficionados may be disappointed in the two plays’ merely workmanlike scenic designs. Angelica Santos is producer, Kourtney Sonntag stage manager, and Tanya Wilkins and Dan Hutchinson techs.

Though no writer enjoys deleting pages of dialog he’s worked hard to create (and no actor enjoys losing them), Passing Proper and Passion And Precision represent a case when less might add up to considerably more. Even at a longer than optimum running time, however, they introduce a talented new playwright to Los Angeles audiences and some exciting new L.A.-based performers as well.

Note: Sunday evening performances feature an alternate cast of seven actors, each playing a single role.

Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Through August 21. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 3:00 and 8:00. Reservations: 323 960-5068
--Steven Stanley
August 7, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011



I’ll admit it. I was a Doubting Thomas. As curious as I was about seeing a fresh new take on Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, the one production I’d seen previously at Long Beach’s Garage Theatre had not boded well for a second, nor did the discovery that the show was being helmed by a young actor making his directorial debut. Still, the chance to see Corpus Christi again was too tempting to turn down, and August being the quietest theatrical month of the year, this skeptic decided to give the Garage a second chance.

Now I’m not sure if the Biblical Doubting Thomas had a hat to eat, but having now seen Corpus Christi at the Garage, this reviewer humbly eats his chapeau. I was blown away by Tito Ortiz’s brilliant directorial debut in a beautifully conceived, designed, and executed production of one of McNally’s most loved, hated, and misunderstood plays.

Corpus Christi is the Tony Award-winning playwright’s highly controversial reimagining of the Gospels as set in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas—written to be performed by an all-male cast playing both disciples and supporting roles, male and female.

Where McNally and his play drew the ire and protests of religious fundamentalists was in its depiction of Jesus as a gay man, at least some of whose disciples were also gay, including Judas, whom McNally imagines to be the proverbial love of His life.

Protestors, virtually none of whom had seen or read the play, missed the point (as they seem to do so well in matters Biblical). Corpus Christi is not about a “gay Jesus” per se, nor does it “defame His Holy Name” as picketers insisted. What it does do—with humor, drama, and more than a few four-letter epithets—is present Jesus’ life and words in a new context, and to an audience whose experiences with organized religion may have made them resistant to what is in essence a very humanity-affirming message.

This message has now come to Long Beach in a production that deserves to be seen by any lover of fine theater within driving radius of the Garage. Corpus Christi’s message spoke so strongly to the production’s 20something fledgling director that he convinced the Garage, not only to include Corpus Christi as part of its current season, but also to entrust him with its staging, a decision whose wisdom is borne out by this quite miraculous production.

Ortiz has reconfigured the black-box Garage so that a mere two rows of thirteen seats each—running lengthwise opposite sides of its rectangle—make its audience an extension of Corpus Christi’s cast of thirteen, a concept particularly effective when the Last Supper is performed at one end of the rectangle, the table extending to include the entire audience as supper guests.

Corpus Christi begins with one of its actors informing those in attendance that “there are no tricks up our sleeve. No malice in our hearts.” Then, as another actor begins to sing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” each performer is welcomed into the play by the actor portraying John The Baptist with the words, “I bless you. I baptize you and recognize your divinity as a human being. I adore you, and christen you …,” followed by the name of the disciple he will be playing.

Ortiz gives his actors free rein to enjoy these opening moments, as the baptized receive anything from a few drops of water to a real drenching, a joyously irreverent (though by no means sacreligious) tone that will be maintained throughout the production’s engrossing, intermissionless hour and forty minutes.

Whatever initial qualms this reviewer had about the production’s entirely non-Equity cast were erased from the moment each one first spoke. Whether BFA grads or theatrical neophytes, Ortiz’s cast display a naturalness and ease with McNally’s words which belies their youth and (in some cases) lack of a lengthy résumé. Twelve very different actors, each with a distinctive take on his role(s), and at their center, Jeffrey Fargo’s revelatory work as Joshua, as McNally has rechristened the Jesus of Corpus Christi.

Words cannot suffice to describe the many ways director Ortiz, his cast, and his topnotch design team have brought Corpus Christi to such vivid life. As a director, Ortiz is unfailingly imaginative, particularly considering the production’s obvious shoestring budget. Yammy Swoot’s lighting design (Swoot’s name seems suspiciously close to assistant director Jamie Sweet’s) and Matthew Anderson’s sound design combined with Geraldine Uy’s costumes and highly ingenious props work wonders with Ortiz and Sweet’s simple but effective set design.

No Corpus Christi can succeed without a commanding leading man, and Fargo’s performance commands attention from his first words, despite (or perhaps because of) being cast against type. Where other productions may have cast a more traditional leading man in the role, Ortiz’s choice of an actor more easily imagined as math geek or theater nerd proves inspired. McNally does after all paint Joshua as a bullied misfit of a child, one more likely to break out into South Pacific’s “I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy” than play football with the jocks, and it’s precisely because Fargo is not the first actor you’d imagine playing Jesus that his performance works so well, that and the indefinable something called talent that commands an audience’s attention and wins their hearts.

Supporting Fargo are Paul Anderson (Bartholomew, Motel Manager, Peggy Powell, Nun), Jeff Budner (James The Less, God, Billy Brown, Poor Woman), Matt Craig (Andrew, Bert Moody, Pilate’s Wife, Crucified Man), Robert Flores (Thaddeus, Room Service #2, Centurion, Barabbas), Will Gorin (Matthew, Coach/Priest, Truck Driver #3, High Priest) , Matt Guerra (James, Woman Next Door, Mrs. McElroy, Little Boy), Brandon Kasper (John, Dub Taylor, Simon of Cyranae), Beau McCoy (Philip, Joseph, Beau Hunter, Truck Driver #2, Carpenter, Pilate), Raymond McFarland (Judas), Will Proctor (Thomas, Room Service #3, Patricia Rudd, Sister Joseph, Lazarus, Soldier), Shawn Stenger (Simon, Room Service #1, High School Singer, Penny, Crucified Man), and Evan Wallace (Peter, Mary, Spider Sloan, James Dean).

While each of the above contributes immeasurably to Corpus Christi’s success, a number of cast members stand out in particular. Gorin’s versatility shines as a bullying coach/priest, a blind trucker with a Texas twang, and a menacing high priest; Guerra’s drama teacher Mrs. McElroy is a fluttery delight; McCoy gives power and stage presence to hustler Philip and a half-dozen others; Proctor makes for an adorably dorky Patricia and a divine Sister Joseph; and Wallace’s chain-smoking tough gal Mary and sexy James Dean are both star turns. Finally, McFarland positively smolders as a smooth-talking, muscular, nipple-ringed Judas, whose interracial relationship with Joshua adds an extra layer of edginess to McNally’s already envelope-pushing play.

A Word To The Wise: A mere twenty-six seats are available for each performance of Corpus Christi’s remaining three Thursday-Friday-Saturday weekends, adding up to a total of only 234 very lucky ticketholders (barring an extension or move to another space, either of which this reviewer highly recommends).

Tito Ortiz and company have turned this Doubting Thomas into a True Believer just as they have turned this production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi into something quite miraculous indeed.

Note: Thursday performances are Trevor Thursdays. 1/2 of all ticket sales will go to help The Trevor Project. All Thursday performances will be followed by a talk-back with the cast and crew of Corpus Christi.

The Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach. Through August 27. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Reservations: 866 811-4111
--Steven Stanley
August 5, 2011

Sunday, August 7, 2011


When Andy Warhol spoke about a future in which everyone would get his or her very own Fifteen Minutes Of Fame, he might well have been talking about today’s World Of Reality TV—a universe in which no-talents like the Kardashians, the Hiltons, and John & Kate can become overnight sensations just by being themselves.

Though admittedly it does take more than mere luck to become a finalist on American Idol, many a gifted vocalist has discovered that talent alone cannot guarantee enough Yes votes to reach even the semifinals, a fact that may have inspired Lisa Marinacci and Jeremy Lewit to write The Devil And Daisy Jane, their clever, biting, always entertaining pop/rock satire of A.I. and its many imitators—a musical that transposes the legend of Faust into the world of 21st Century pop.

Daisy Jane (Marinacci) and boyfriend Ben (Harley Jay) are contestants 9,000,006 and 9,000,007 to vie for a top spot on America’s Next Super Pop Star, a show that has already brought pop stardom to diva divine Zora (Katherine Malak) and The Pop Tartz (Gina D’Acciaro, Jayme Lake, and Cloie Wyatt Taylor). Unfortunately, the acoustic pop sound of Daisy and Ben’s self-penned “Enough” (“The guitar is my blanket, I live inside my song”) gets them cut off almost immediately by judges Zora (“Can we talk about what you’re wearing? Where’d you even get that?”) and Mo (“Take your tambourine back to your local karaoke bar, because that’s as far as you’ll ever get in this business.”) and host Bobby Shrub (“We’ll be back with more stars-in-the-making and pathetic wannabes right after these messages.”).

Daisy Jane’s failure is the only cue needed by Soul Blaze Records president Lucas Smith Jr. (Anthony Manough) to offer the singer-songwriter an exclusive deal—and certain stardom, and all she has to do is drop appendage Ben and become Luc’s exclusive property. Though at first Daisy isn’t all that sure she wants to leave her boyfriend/song partner in the lurch, a glimpse at the homeless subway rider Luc offered a deal to years ago (“but he wasn’t willing to do what it takes”) is enough to convince Daisy to sign on the proverbial dotted line.

Before long, Daisy Jane has become Pop Tart Number Four, taking lessons from Zora in “Altitude” (“You gotta own the stage, you gotta strut and flaunt”) and demonstrating so much starisma that Lucas offers her very own solo album deal, that is after he cancels Zora’s tour, the better to focus all eyes on Daisy.

As for Ben, his every effort to get past Luc’s gay assistant Byron (Patrick Hancock) proves in vain (“The doors are always locked, There’s no way in”), and he can only watch as Daisy begins dating “super-hunk” Chad Hammock, appearing on shows like the Performer’s Pick Awards, making music videos, and becoming America’s “biggest baddest star.”

Will Ben find a way to get even one of his love letters into Daisy Jane’s hands? Will Zora ever get out of rehab and back to the top of the charts? Will Daisy regret her decision to sign with Luc?

The answers to these (and other) questions may not be all that hard to divine, but in The Devil And Daisy Jane, the fun is in the getting there, and considerable fun that is, thanks to Marinacci’s rocking good songs, the clever book she’s written with Lewit, and the all-around sensational work being done on stage by the Daisy Jane cast (under the devilishly inspired direction of Robert Marra) and musicians (under Brent Crayon’s splendid musical direction).

You know you’re in for an evening of fun when even character names (Bobby Shrub, Chad Hammock, Juliette Della Pants) get laughs, but Marinacci’s and Lewit’s book is jam-packed with hilarious lines from start to finish. Here are some personal favorites:

Luc: See Zora, it only took you a month to turn bright and shiny into slick and skanky.

Bobby Shrub: Stay tuned for more updates from inside the litter box. We’re sniffing out the poop and giving you the scoop. I’m Bobby Shrub.

Luc: Remember Alanis Morissette, the queen of anger? She started saying things like “Thank You India” and poof, no one cared.

As the last quote suggests, the talent behind The Devil And Daisy Jane know well the music industry about which they write, and their musical is all the more entertaining for being incisive—as well as loads of fun. It may also be the most PG-13 show (with an emphasis on the 13 for adult language and themes) ever staged at Actors-Co-op , though it comes nowhere near an R, in case you’re worried about taking teens to see it.

The performers assembled on the Crossley Theatre stage by Actors Co-op simply couldn’t be better, or better cast, beginning with Marinacci, whose girl-next-door prettiness and powerful rocker’s voice make her the perfect Daisy Jane. Jay brings his boy-next-door-with-an edge charm and terrific pipes to the role of Ben, leaving one only to wish that the role offered the StageSceneLA Award winner a chance to show off his Footloose footwork. As for the titular Devil, no one in L.A. theater sings more dynamically or soulfully than the charismatic Manough, making Daisy’s decision to sign on the dotted line a no-brainer.

A trio of performers provide the scene-stealingest supporting turns in parts any comedic actor would make a deal with the Devil to book. Byron is easily the most flamboyantly gay character ever seen at the Co-op, and Hancock plays the role with such infectious joie-de-vivre that you want to bottle his performance, take it home, and savor it whenever you’re feeling “a little self-conscious anxiety resulting in non-specific sadness.” (Theater queens will get the reference.) Malak virtually redefines Pop Diva in the role of Zora, a part she plays with the ferocity of a tigress and the outrageousness of a Saturday Night Life comedienne at her most outrageous, along with one-of-a-kind dance moves that even a thousand words could not properly describe. Tauzin lucks out with a grand total of eight cameos, ranging from street-talking Mo to dazed-and-confused Homeless Musician, to fabuleux French Music Director to heavy metal guitarist G-String—each and every one a dazzler.

As the Pop Tartz, D’Acciaro (ghetto girl Shalisa), Taylor (dumb blonde Tanya), and Lake (sexy stoner Carmen) are fabulously funny and fiercely fabulous, with vocal chops to match. Kyle Nudo’s hilarious Bobby Shrub is the epitome of every slick-surfaced, vacant-eyed TV personality ever to host a reality show. Lovely Megan Yaleney is a hoot in half-a-dozen cameo roles, my personal favorite being the abovementioned Juliette Della Pants, the amalgam of every glamour-gowned showbiz reporter to red-carpet interview Hollywood celebs.

Orchestrator/music director extraordinaire plays live onstage keyboards alongside guitarist Chris Mello, bassist Oliver Steinberg, and drummer Jim Hardiman, giving cast members the best possible musical backup.

Mark Svastics has designed a dramatically effective set, with metal scaffolding which morphs quickly into a bunch of different locales, aided by Kris Fitzgerald’s visual media design and Svastic’s own Vegas-style lighting design. Ariel Boroff’s costumes are eye-catching treats. Opening night sound problems plagued several characters, making it hard to comment accurately on live audio technician Anna Gramlich’s sound design. Fritz Davis is audio/video technician, Kevin Cantens audio technician, Caitlin Barbieri stage manager, and Jacquie Adorni assistant stage manager. Audio/video systems have been provided by Digital Theatre Technologies. The Devil And Daisy Jane is produced by Marinacci and D’Acciaro.

A Daisy Jane reading last January prompted this reviewer to write, “Can't wait to see it in full production and give it a WOW!” Now a featured selection of the Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals, The Devil And Daisy Jane does indeed get an enthusiastic WOW! in fully-staged form. As for its future life beyond its current all-too-short two-week run, no pact with Satan need be made to insure its future success. With its combination of pizzazz and bite, The Devil And Daisy Jane makes for one deliciously devilish (and devilishly delicious) show.

Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Through August 14. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00. Sundays at 2:30. Saturday matinees are May 14 and 21 at 2:30. Reservations: 323 462-8460 x 300
--Steven Stanley
August 4, 2011

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

Monday, August 1, 2011



Hal Linden and Christina Pickles as Norman and Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond. What more needs to be said? With stars like these in a play as beloved as Ernest Thompson’s Drama Desk Award-winning Outstanding New Play of 1979, Burbank’s Colony Theatre could well have its biggest hit ever, and justifiably so. Linden and Pickles deliver award-caliber performances in a play that hasn’t lost an iota of its humor or charm, directed to pitch perfect perfection by Cameron Watson, and featuring a supporting cast every bit as wonderful as its two stars.

If ever there were a play that hardly needed synopsizing, it’s On Golden Pond, the reason being of course its 1981 film adaptation, second only that year to Raiders Of The Lost Ark in box office receipts. Is there anyone who hasn’t seen Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as the long-married Thayers enjoying perhaps their last vacation On (Lake) Golden Pond, accompanied that summer by their daughter Chelsea’s thirteen-year-old stepson-to-be? It’s hard to imagine a Colony theatergoer who doesn’t remember Ethel’s “Don’t be such an old poop” or Norman’s “‘Ethel Thayer.’ It thounds like I'm lithping, doethn't it?,” or teenage Billy’s revelation to Norman that when he and his friends “cruise chicks,” it’s cause they want to “suck face”?

Yes, indeed, On Golden Pond is the kind of play that brings back a flood of memories … to people who may well never have seen it live on stage—all the more reason to not to miss this superb revival.

Diehard movie fans may carp that some of the film’s most famous scenes are missing. You won’t witness Norman’s immediate terror as he finds himself lost in the woods, or Chelsea’s finally managing the back flip she could never do as a child, or the slap Ethel gives Chelsea when she feels her daughter has disparaged her father once too often. Missing too, for obvious reasons, are the film’s many scenes On Golden Pond itself, including those wonderful bonding moments between Norman and his surrogate grandson, fishing poles in hand.

Even in its original one-set form, however, On Golden Pond is about as sure-fire a crowd-pleaser as you’re ever likely to see on stage, and play-to-movie buffs will relish seeing how then thirty-year-old playwright Thompson was able to tell the same story he did in his screenplay without ever leaving the Thayer’s summer living room, and how he explored themes of mortality, marriage, and intergenerational miscommunication with equal depth and finesse.

It takes two powerhouse performers to stand up to memories of Fonda and Hepburn, but Linden and Pickles deliver the goods from delightful start to poignant finish, TV’s Barney Miller and (St. Elsewhere’s) Nurse Helen Rosenthal possessing the requisite charisma and virtuosity to make Norman and Ethel their own. That Linden and Pickles are the ages of the characters they play (and in one case several years older at that, though you’d never guess) adds to the production’s realism—and power. (The original Broadway stars Tom Aldridge and Frances Sternhagen were respectively 29 and 20 years younger than their roles back in 1979.) Not only are Linden and Pickles on top of their parts in a way actors half their age might fail to be, they make us feel almost as if we were discovering these iconic characters for the very first time, the two stars convincing us that this cranky old man and his long-suffering but adoring wife have truly been married for forty-eight years.

Supporting these two virtuosos are four of L.A.’s finest acting talents, beginning with the incandescent Monette Magrath as Chelsea, whose powerful scenes opposite Linden and Pickles reveal decades of a daughter’s built-up hurt and resentment. Brentwood School sophomore-to-be Nicholas Podany is, as they say, a find, bringing to the role of Billy a real-life teenager’s spontaneity, authenticity, and bravado. (It’s a shame the talented newcomer is given less to do than Doug McKeon was in the movie, because who wouldn’t want to spend more time with such a great kid?) As Chelsea’s fiancé Bill, Jonathan Stewart takes a part that might well come across a caricature in less skilled hands and makes the loquacious California dentist a real, sympathetic individual. Last but most definitely not least is Jerry Kernion’s brilliantly achieved featured turn as Charlie, Maine’s jolliest mailman, whom Kernion (so memorable a few years back in Rounding Third) gives a hilariously syncopated six-beat laugh that is only one of multiple reasons his work earns him a spontaneous round of applause on his first exit—and eager anticipation of his next entrance.

As for the sense of place so gorgeously rendered on film three decades ago, the Colony’s crackerjack design team come pretty darned close to matching it without a single exterior scene. Scenic designer John Iacovelli has created a living room set rich in the lived-in look the Thayers’ lakeside home would have had after half a century or more of use, with MacAndME’s marvelously detailed properties design and set dressing aiding immeasurably. (Only a 1990s-style cassette player seems out of place.) Lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg bathes the set in vivid summer hues, with distinctive patterns for each month and time of day, and a gorgeous approximation of the ripples of Golden Pond between scenes. Rebecca Kessin’s excellent sound design situates us smack dab in the middle of lake country, with its haunting loon calls, so integral to Thompson’s script. Ryan Shores’ original music has just the right “watercolored memories” feel to it. Terri A. Lewis costumes the cast in just-right late 1970s garb, with attention paid to each character’s age and personality traits. Alexander Berger is production stage manager.

On Golden Pond harkens back to the plays and productions that made the Colony’s reputation back in its 99-seat plan days, with the bonus of a considerably larger Equity budget. Older subscribers will find this particular Colony offering particularly up their alley, but anyone of any age will discover characters with whom to identify. Many are going to dub this production “Broadway caliber,” however since these days that might not be the compliment it once was, I’ll simply say that the Colony Theatre’s revival of On Golden Pond is Los Angeles theater at its very finest—and that is very fine indeed.

Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank. Through August 28. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 818 558-7000X15
--Steven Stanley
July 30, 2011
Photos: Michael Lamont

Sunday, July 31, 2011



Five 20somethings work on resolving personal issues via "free group therapy" as Mechanicals Theatre Group presents Out Of My Head, Ryan Scott Oliver’s highly enjoyable “song-cycle about breakdowns and breakthroughs.”

Though technically Out Of My Head's Los Angeles Premiere, all but three of the songs come from Oliver’s Making Beautiful, which played the Powerhouse Theatre back in 2005, about the time the Pasadena native and UCLA grad moved to New York to pursue his MFA studies at NYU. Unlike Making Beautiful, however, Out Of My Head gives each character a more clearly defined storyline thanks to Kirsten Guenther’s and Oliver’s fresh new book (and several new songs).

Under Jacob Harvey’s nuanced, imaginative direction, Out Of My Head introduces Angelinos to fourteen RSO creations as performed by an all-around terrific cast.

Jeni Incontro is the The Therapist (the only character who doesn’t sing), to whose “Facing Our Issues Head-On” therapy group our quintet have come, each with different issues to face.

They are (in order of first solo):

Anna Bowen as Woman 1, a painter struggling to get her inner thoughts and feelings out of her head and onto canvas, a young woman seeking to find herself as both artist and human being.

Gary Brintz as Man 2, a “Love Killer” who’s looking for someone “smarter and funnier and better” than he is, yet so unwilling to lower his standards that he ends up cheating on the perfect woman—because of her “cankles.”

Saro Badalian as Man 1, a young gay man attempting to reconcile his religious beliefs with his sexuality, someone who hears sexual innuendos everywhere, all the while dreaming of finding a Jesus Freak who’s “hot as hell.”

Emily Clark as Woman 3, who calls herself the “Helen Keller of gaydar” for her inability to distinguish between straight and queer. Although she’d rather date “someone who’s not homosexual,” it may be easier to be rejected for being the wrong gender than for being the wrong woman.

Robyn S. Clark as Woman 2, a hypochondriac’s hypochondriac, who imagines how perfect her life would be if she could find someone who’d love her in spite of her “Overly Dramatic Ways.”

Over the course of Out Of My Head’s seventy-five minutes, these five very different young people sing their hearts out—and grow stronger and braver and more fulfilled in the process.

Song highlights include the opening ensemble number “Making Beautiful” (“I can make something out of me. I’ll show the world that I’m making beautiful.”), Anna’s “Crayon Girl” (“She said it was the neatest bird a sky had ever seen. And I said ‘Mom, it’s not a bird at all. It’s me.’”), Gary’s “Love Killer” (“I’m a love killer, cause I kill love”), Emily’s “Perfect” (“Justin, Blake, Timmy, Beau, they were perfect … and they were perfectly queer.”), Saro’s “Deny Your Creation” (“How can you deny your creation? Why put the apple there and forbid it?”), and Robyn’s “Hypochondriac Song” (“If you can catch it, then I’m sure I’ve caught it, or at least I’ve thought it.”).

“Quartet” has Emily, Gary, Robyn, and Saro revealing all their doubts and confusions about love in gorgeous four-part counterpoint. The amusingly titillating “Kama Sutra” has Saro reading from the infamous love manual as the three woman (faces hidden by feathered masks) undulate to Sydney Blair’s cleverly choreographed moves. “Some Other Way To Feel,” sung in Making Beautiful by the gay character and Woman 3, is now a duet between Men 1 and 2, thereby expressing even more effectively that love is essentially the same for us all, regardless of our sexual orientation.

By the end of the evening, Out Of My Head has allowed us to know all these characters a bit better, even as they themselves have done the same. We’ve also gotten a glimpse of songwriter Oliver’s talents, and those of the all-around terrific ensemble, each of whom couldn’t be better cast, or perform his or her role with greater finesse and pizzazz.

Ryan Cantwell provides impeccable musical direction, accompanying the cast on offstage piano with help from Brian Boyce on drums.

Maxwell T. Robin has designed a splendid therapist’s office set which looks great on the Pico Playhouse stage, especially as lit by the oh-so talented Ric Zimmerman. Cantwell gets additional snaps for his excellent sound design. Kudos too to costume consultants Kathie Urban and Alexander Cole Gottlieb. Out Of My Head is produced by Courtney Bell. Sabba Rahbar is stage manager.

If I have any gripe with Out Of My Head, it’s with its choice of setting. Since there’s nothing intrinsically Big Apple-esque about its characters or songs, why not set it here in L.A., particularly since it was originally written here, by an Angelino no less, and is being performed in Los Angeles by an L.A. theater company? Robin’s excellent projections could just as easily have shown the Los Angeles skyline as Manhattan’s, so why not?

Other than this minor caveat, I heartily recommend Out Of My Head as an introduction to Ryan Scott Oliver’s clever songs, and to some particularly talented young triple-threats, most or all of whom may be new to you, but certainly won’t be for long.

Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Through August 21. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 7:00. Reservations:
--Steven Stanley
July 29, 2011
Photos: Matthew Murphy



You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes fan to deem Jaime Robledo’s Watson theatrical magic, as its return engagement at Sacred Fools Theater Company makes abundantly clear. No wonder Watson (aka The Last Great Tale Of The Legendary Sherlock Holmes) won a pair of coveted LA Weekly Awards—for Robledo’s direction and Henry Dittman’s bravura comedic work—in its initial run last fall. Robledo’s comedy thrills and astonishes again and again, making its midsummer encore the best possible news for Los Angeles theatergoers in the mood to be dazzled.

Developed over a period of twenty-one weeks as part of Sacred Fools’ hit late night series Serial Killers, Watson features a plot that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have been proud to call his own.

We first meet our titular hero (Sherlock Holmes playing second fiddle for perhaps the first time in his life) in the purportedly deceased detective’s Bakers Street digs. The discovery of a journal of the pair’s last adventure together sends Watson (and us) flashing back in time, back to when Her Majesty Queen Victoria sent detective and sidekick on a journey across Europe to the Middle East. Their mission: To transport a mysterious puzzle box to an international conference between Ottoman chief Abdul Hamid and Russian Czar Alexander III, both of them vying for possession of Cyprus. Watson and Holmes’ seemingly simple task soon turns into a transcontinental chase, the adventurous pair pursued by legions of evil Turks and various other villains—including arch Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty, aka The Napoleon Of Crime.

Got that?

No matter if you didn’t. The real fun in Watson are in the theatrical pyrotechnics unleashed by Robledo, his cast (in particular a quartet of thesps who give new meaning to the term “ensemble”), and the production’s gifted designers.

Here’s a taste of what’s in store for you in the 99-seat house Sacred Fools calls home:

• Holmes and Watson searching in vain for each other in possibly the densest London fog in theatrical history.
• A thrilling fistfight between hero and villain atop the cars of a speeding train.
• A band of treacherous Turks pursuing our intrepid heroes on horseback.
• Holmes and Moriarty engaged in a daring duel of wits at the edge of the Cliffs Of Dover.
• Our heroes on a sky-high hot air balloon ride over Europe.
• Two of the above clinging for their lives from the rooftop of a Turkish minaret.

As to how all this is accomplished, I will simply say that none of it could be done without the abovementioned quartet of ensemblists, who work hard indeed for their gas fare as they maneuver assorted trunks, chairs, a chandelier, and a particularly large white bed sheet (courtesy of prop master C.M. Gonzales). Add to that the contributions of composer Ryan Johnson and a trio of prerecorded musicians, designers Matt Richter (lighting) and Ben Rock (sound), and fight choreographer Andrew Amani, and you’ve got one heck of a team of creative artists creating theatrical marvels on a shoestring budget.

Besides adventure, Watson offers laughter galore thanks to some of the most brilliant comedic performances of the year (and some off-the wall dialog thrown in for good measure).

A seemingly inexhaustible Scott Leggett gives us a Dr. John H. Watson no longer the bumbling sidekick we remember from countless Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but rather a loving husband, faithful friend, and courageous adventure hero. As Holmes, rubber-bodied Joe Fria is every bit as outrageous as Leggett is understated, Sherlock’s cocaine addiction offering the award-winning actor the chance to perform some of the most inspired physical comedy since the silent movie greats showed us how back in the 1910s and ‘20s. LA Weekly-awarded Dittman makes for a deliciously fiendish Moriarty, but it’s his tour de force turn as a Londoner, his wife, a train conductor, a pint-sized street urchin, a police “bobby,” and a pair of foppish twits—all in the space of a few dazzling minutes and achieved only with the switch of hats and some breathtaking acting versatility—that make his the production's most talked about performance.

Eric Curtis Johnson (Mycroft Holmes), Rebecca Larson (Irene Adler), and CJ Merriman (Mrs. Dr. Watson) provide Grade A support, while the one-and-only French Stewart brings both Queen Victoria and Sigmund Freud to outrageously quirky life, stopping the show time and again with his inimitable French Stewartisms.

As for the ensemble, the stellar Lisa Anne Nicolai, Colin Willkie, KJ Middlebrooks, and Laura Napoli get the workout of their lives creating illusions it would take multi-millions of dollars to bring to the silver screen, acting various minor roles, and giving new meaning to the word “stagehand.” (The window-frame scene in Freud’s office alone is nearly worth the price of admission.)

Choreographers Natasha Norman and Caesar F. Barajas add to Watson’s many visual delights, aided by Merriman’s dance gifts in simulating Holmes’ cocaine trances. Jessica Olson’s costumes are yet another treat for the eyes, and Ruth Silveira’s puppets are terrific too. Watson is produced by Brandon Clark, Stewart, and Brian Wallis. Monica Greene is assistant director, Suze Campagna stage manager, Nicole Agredano scenic painter, Fria Suzuki trainer, Padraic Duffy dramaturg, and Joseph Beck associate producer.

With a publishing deal already signed, it’s a sure bet that Watson’s return to Sacred Fools is only the latest step on its road to national and maybe even international hit status. If you’ve not seen Watson yet, do it! And if you’re one of the lucky ones who caught it the first time around, here’s your chance to do it again. Newbies and return visitors are likely to find themselves in perfect agreement that there's not a more magical show in town.

Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood. Through August 20. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Reservations: 310 281-8337

--Steven Stanley
July 29, 2011
Photos: Brian Taylor