Thursday, November 16, 2017

“Fly By Night A New Musical” Makes West Coast Premier at Coronado Playhouse.

Whenever there is a chance to catch a new play that comes to San Diego, it’s a pretty good idea to see what it’s all about.

“Fly By Night A New Musical”, (conceived by Kim Rosenstock, written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock) is referred to as a Metaphysical Musical. It is making its debut at the Coronado Playhouse through Dec. 10th and true to form, I would suggest that, for an evening of fun that will surprise you and yes amuse you, that you see it. Just for starters, "Our tale tonight circles around a triangle composed of two women."

When the narrator,  (an excellent Michael Van Allen) who weaves in and out of the story, opens with “I never know where to begin… There is an invisible world woven into the fabric of our daily lives. Don't go looking for the invisible, because you won't find it. Because it's invisible...” my mind raced to find a parallel that might match a word I’m familiar with. The Hebrew word Bashert loosely translated ‘meant to be’ came to mind.  Maybe not. I’m not usually that intuitive, but let’s pretend. In any event the play spans one year, from Nov. 9th 1964 to Nov. 9th 1965

Michael VanAllen as narrator and guide
Any story that starts off where one of the leading characters is at his mother’s funeral has no place to go but up. That would be Harold McClam (Weston Bennett). Harold is a sandwich maker by day working at Crabble’s (Thomas Fitzpatrick) sandwich stand in N.Y.

Back at his home going through some of his mother’s belongings he finds her guitar and voilà history is about to be made. Before we know it, Harold is in a smoky club standing in front of a mic announcing that he will be playing a song he wrote about a sea turtle.

Back at the farm in South Dakota Daphne (Tara Brown-Sampson) is announcing to her mother that she is leaving for NY to become an actress. She drags her reluctant sister Miriam (Catie Marron) whose passions are anything but star -struck, as in acting. Miriam is a simple gal interested in the stars, as in astronomy. She’s a waitress.

Michael Van Allen, Andrew Paiva and Tara Brown-sampson
Daphne begins her acting career by selling coats and shoes in a downtown clothing store. As fate would have it, Harold needed a winter coat and, sure enough he meets Daphne selling coats. They meet again and they are smitten. After a fashion they move in, Daphne lands a part in a new play by a budding playwright, Joey (Andrew Paiva) and all seems right with the world.

Then by chance, Harold bumps into Miriam at her restaurant and the stars take on a new light and meaning. In convoluted and overlapping plot twist and a salute to young love, the book bounces back and forth in time going over the same material only from a different perspective. It’s cute, but gets tiresome and adds at least 30 minutes to an already long show.

Suffice it to say things get a little sticky when Daphne, who is now engaged and living with Harold, is away most of the time rehearsing for a part in a play. Harold left to his druthers, finds himself more and more with Miriam as she helps him collaborating on his music.

Back at home in Brooklyn Harold’s father (John Craig Johnson) lonesome for his deceased wife walks around with his hand held record player and his favorite recording of “La Traviata” (Libiamo, Libiamo, Ne’Lieti”). Johnson, a tall and lanky guy (almost Lincolnesque in stature) has a rich baritone voice that unfortunately sounded somewhat muffled on opening night.

Johnson is a voice teacher and artistic /Music Director/Conductor for Point Loma Opera Theatre.  

Thomas Fitzpatrick and Weston Bennett
Harold’s boss Crabble is about fed up with Harold for many reasons that we hear about over and over and over again, but they’re funny as is Fitzpatrick in his broad New York gruff way.

Rounding out the cast Joey, the playwright that hired Daphne is never quite satisfied with his play. He's always rewriting until he writes himself out of a play. 

The music, and there are 14 numbers in the first act and about the same in the second move the story along rather than stand on their own. They serve a purpose and in the realm of metaphysical are right as the play takes on almost a life of its own navigating somewhere between here and, as the narrator says, ‘in the invisible world’.
Tara Brown Sampson, Michael Van Allen and Weston Bennett
Both Ms. Brown-Simpson (“I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change”) and Marron (“Avenue Q) present a perfect contrast in sisters and both serve their respective roles well. At the tip of the romantic triangle, Bennett (“Hunchback of Notre Dame” at La Jolla Playhouse) is perfect just this side of quirky/nerdy but cute enough to have both sisters head over heels.

The characters are engaging and fun to be with yet pretty stock. The live musicians on stage under Emily Awkreman’s musical direction are top notch, director Manny Bejarano keeps a tight reign overall and much to my surprise I was completely drawn in to the lives of these young folks and even rooting for…well I won’t give anything away.

Any story that begins with the death of a parent and ends during the Northeast Blackout of 1965 where a mass electrical failure left the east coast in total darkness and anything that might go wrong did, might just make you want to go back and have a do over. No so much.
Catie Marron, Tara Brown-Sampson and Michael Van Allen
As in life, we only get one go round and right off the bat the writers and collaborators of “Fly By Night” give us a clue when Miriam confesses that a gypsy fortune teller tells her that she’ll ‘meet the man of her dreams, but their romance will be doomed’.
So much for party poopers!

Some shout-outs: Kari Bunker for set design, Manny Bejarano, costumes, Caitlin LaMar sound design and Josh Olmstead for outstanding lighting design keeping the scene changes in perfect harmony.  

 Looking for something different in a musical, say a metaphysical, non-traditional love story, “Fly By Night A New Musical” might be just your cup of tea.
Weston Bennett and Tara Brown-Sampson

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 10th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619.435.4856
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA
Ticket Prices: $20…-$27.00
Photo: Ken Jacques

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

“Falling”: Life In The Real World of Autism.

In the normal ebb and flow of family life, with more than one child, there is always one dominant and one follower. In a Nanosecond that dynamic can change and the reverse will happen. In the Martin household, that energy never changes it shifts, not between siblings but between the parents.

Tami (D. Candis Paule) and Bill (Steve Schmitz) are still working out code words to keep their 18 -year old autistic son Josh (Robert Malave) from becoming violent, hurting himself or one of them or destroying everything they have invested in over the course of his lifetime and that includes inadvertently disconnecting all emotional ties from each other and their teenaged daughter Lisa. (Alanna Serrano hits all the right notes and all the right body language of a teenager whose life is too complicated to deal.)  

Inner Mission Productions in University Heights is presenting a birds-eye look into the lives of parent (s) and family with (special needs) autistic children.

“Falling” is by mom Deanna Jent who has a 17 old with autism and deals with it on a minute -to minute- basis.  At the helm directing this 70 minute hold on to your seats play, Samantha Ginn is a teacher for ‘individuals on the spectrum' and deals with autistic children on a daily basis. Both know from whence they come.   

“Falling” is a family reality looked at through a mother’s eye. It’s a story that engulfs the entire family including Josh’s grand-mother Grammy Sue (Kathi Copeland) who will be staying with the Martins while her place is being fixed. Her fix for Josh is prayer and talking to God.  

For Tami and Bill it’s a question of how long they can go on keeping Josh at home and looking after his well -being. It is only a matter of time…time before one of them really gets hurt (at one point Josh grabs Mimi’s hair and throws her against the wall) or Lisa moves out with Grammy Sue, or Tami and Bill’s (“You keep me out of the loop”) marriage, already strained, completely dissolves.

B: “I have to believe there is help out there for him if you’d just trust them.”
T: “How is it better for Josh if he’s someplace where no one loves him?”

Wanna have your heart broken?
D. Candice Paule and Robewrt Malave
Ginn’s direction is straight on and the solid cast of five move through the daily business of keeping on schedule, keeping Josh safe and still managing a certain sense of civility and, if you will order.

Robert Malave’s Josh bursts on to the scene somewhat like a twister sucking everyone into his orbit, prepared or not. Most of the time they are ready, almost anticipating his moves by having ear phones at hand if Josh hears a noise that freaks him out, or his school schedule posted on the wall to remind him of a day he has to get on the bus or pick up feathers from his feather box looming over the threshold from living room to hallway or giving him another marble adding to his already collection.  

Malave’s Josh functions at the low end of the spectrum, although not all with autism do, and Malave is a bundle of constant energy, hands moving, arms flailing at times, fingers in motion, no holds barred if he feels like pulling up his shirt to expose his upper torso or play with his genitals. What a bravo performance he puts in. Hats off!
D. Candic Paule with Robert Malave
And while all this activity is swirling around, Tami and Bill hold each other tightly to keep them from falling. As can be expected Schmitz’ Bill (right on target) wants to feel a little more, say affection from his wife. Candis’ Tami has all she can do to hold herself together (and does it beautifully and courageously) without falling apart. It’s painful, eye-popping and resolute.

Never once did I get the impression that it was Jent’s idea for us to feel sorry for the family but to put it out there for a civilian, if you will, to enter into another world, especially if one has never been exposed, yet feels justified in expressing what the family should do.
It’s like someone splashing ice water in your face while you weren’t expecting it.

There are some light moments and some heartbreaking as when Lisa wants to get a dog but the barking freaks Josh out and the entire household is in a tizzy; so no dog for now.

It’s another reality for a petulant Lisa who comes on to the scene after the audience is introduced to Josh. Serrano’s actions match the distanced attitude she uses as a shield. She follows the rules, but is clearly annoyed by them. “Does Grammy know to bring her helmet and shield?”

Kathi Copeland’s (recently seen at Scripps Tanch Theatre in “Good People), Grandma Sue tries to put on a good face (“We can ask God for a solution.”), but is at first curious when she hands Josh a present she brought for him (a 1000piece puzzle) topped off with a glittery bow. Josh immediately pulls off the bow and fondles it while the puzzle is forgotten on the coffee table in the living room (Alondra Velez).   

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a scene showing a Tami moment, unencumbered by marriage or children, lip-syncing to an old song she knew years ago and having a blast. And back to reality when she is able to manage a small bit of affection from Josh when he leans into her and hugs. What more can a mother ask?

“Falling” is much more than a story about autism and yours truly cannot do it justice buy throwing out a few tidbits of impressions. I urge you to hasten it to InnerMission soon. It’s an all around excellent albeit different toned play than many have come to expect and tht's not a bad thing.
Robert Malave in "Falling"
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 25th
Organization: Inner Mission Productions
Phone: 619.324.8970
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Venue: Diversionary Black Box
Photo: Adriana Zuniga-Williams

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

“Something Rotten”: Spoof, Upon Spoof, Upon Spoof.

After the opening night performance of “Something Rotten”, I asked one of the cast members how many Broadway shows were spoofed or referred to in this new musical (“A Musical”) by Academy Award nominees Wayne Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics) and Karey Kirkpatrick (book) with best selling author John O’Farrell now on stage at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, and he mentioned 90.

Funny thing, I recognized almost all of the snippets in this fun filled, over the top, and irreverent nod to Shakespeare, but as is the case in most fast paced (Casey Nicholaw directs) and ever so bouncing off the ceilings shows, it’s difficult to keep up while you are chortling in your seat. 
"Welcome To The Renaissance"
The opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” sung with puck and verve by the entire cast sets the tone: “Welcome to the Renaissance/
Where we ooh and ahh you with 
ambiance /We're so progressive (the latest and the greatest)
(We bring it to you) with 
much ado (Welcome to the Renaissance)
Where everything is new”

The Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti) are aspiring playwrights in a theatre troupe.  They are anxious to make a name for them like their former troupe member, Shakespeare, who as of now has cornered the market and is still reveling in his “Romeo and Juliet”.  Their quest is to write a play about something that Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) has not already written. (“God I Hate Shakespeare”)

While Nick searches the countryside high and low for ideas Nigel continues to write without consulting Nick. On his travels, Nick checks in with the soothsayer Nostradamus (Daniel Beeman), no not that one, but Thomas Nostradamus, who sees that the next play Shakespeare will write is called “Hamlet” but screws up and calls it “Omlette”. “Like with eggs?”  Assuring, he predicts it will be a great musical where everyone breaks out in song.
Josh Grisetti and Rob McClure
With the idea firmly planted in Nick’s mind, he now needs money to finance his project.  He tries to enlist the services of…why not? Shylock (Jeff Brooks) the money- lender…but runs into a sort of brick wall when they are informed that the money- lender is not allowed to ‘invest’ or profit from his cash.

In the meantime Nick's wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) is a go -getter and wants to earn some money on her own  to add to the family coffers  by working outside the home. OMG in Renaissance time? Declaring that it’s the ‘90s and there’s a woman on the throne, she disguises herself as a man and goes off to work. Sounds like an oxymoron, but OH WELL! 
Autumn Hurlbert and Josh Grisetti
Not to be out done, Nigel’s love interest Portia (Autumn Hurlbert) is a bit more interesting. Her Puritan father, Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote) is a hoot and a half as he tries to visit his puritanical values on his love crazed daughter by shrugging her off with an over the shoulder snub that had your truly in hysterics. But the real laughs come when Nigel reaches into his oversized codpiece and pulls out… his love sonnet to Portia. Not with standing, both women were in fine tune with beautiful singing voices.

Back in the city (Scott Pask’s scenic design is more cartoon than reality), short on ideas as well, the strutting rock star (“Will Power”) Shakespeare is disguised in some weird getup (Gregg Barnes) and proceeds to follow Nigel in order to well, glimpse the ideas that he, Nigel keeps safely tucked away so no one can plagiarize, (hint, hint).
Adam Pascal as Shakespeare the Rock Star
It seems Shakespeare is also having writers block. References abound about Shakespeare who may or may not have written all that he’s been given credit for; think Christopher Marlow. It’s pretty much spelled out in the movie “Shakespeare In Love” as well.

Back with Shylock and with much ado about everything, the money- lender himself would like to become a ‘Producer’. So in some convoluted (as is most of the, ahem story is) he manages around the rules and agrees to finance the cooked up musical “Omelette”. And if you don’t think that’s a scrambled mess, try dancing wrapped up in an omelette costume. 

Coming from the creators of “Book of Mormon” and “Spamalot”, put your thinking caps on and try to imagine this show, but on steroids! Or think “Forbidden Broadway with references to “Phantom”, Mary Poppins”, “Annie”, "Fiddler on the Roof”  “Avenue Q” and “In The Heights”, to mention a few.
“Something Rotten” was nominated for 10 Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 2015, including Best Musical. It’s fluff, it’s fun, and it’s clever, loaded with off colored jokes and filled with rousing production numbers and a talented cast that goes deep. It's well worth the price of admission. It’s also worth seeing if and when it reaches San Diego. 

In the meantime, if you miss “Something Rotten” in Costa Mesa you might want to activate your umbrella App and Mary Poppins it to the Ahmanson where it will be opening on November 21st and will run through Dec. 31st.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 19th
Organization: Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Phone: 714.556.2787
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Venue: Segerstrom Hall
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Sunday, November 12, 2017

'Tis The Holiday Reason, The Whos Are In Town through The Rest of The Season.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the animated television special, won the Peabody Award in 1997.  The book, itself, was published in 1951. In 1998, Ted Seuss Geisel, San Diego’s quintessential Dr. Seuss, is alive and kicking, in living color memory only.  

With a generous sponsorship grant of $250,000, the San Diego Union-Tribune underwrote this new ‘Grinch’ musical that the Old Globe can now boast 20 consecutive years of the mean Green Grinch who goes APE at the word Christmas!

Opening night of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” now on the Shiley stage of the The Globe through Dec. 24th was as exciting as going to a birthday party with several hundred adults and with children outnumbering the adults, dressed to the nine’s all looking forward to this magical event.

I didn’t see one person, big or small disappointed in anything at all/ The all -star cast with local and visitors took no prisoners/ especially this new “Grinch” on the block whose in step lock and stock / It’s a delightful journey into Whoville and of course, the ever- optimistic’s never looking back in remorse.
Edward Watts as The Grinch
In case you missed the story: Just north of Whoville lives the Grinch (the beautifully strong voiced Bah Humbug Edward Watts), he just hates Christmas and all it’s trimmings. He thinks if he steals the presents, food and decorations of the happy folks in Whoville that he can cancel their Christmas.

Much to his chagrin, it doesn’t really matter. He learns lesson later on from the every optimistic Whos, that it’s the spirit and the heart of the holiday that counts. And he learns it big time from little Cindy Lou Who, an irresistible and simply unaffected Abigail Estrella.

The play is narrated by the ever appealing and bright Steve Gunderson (Who)/ who has been with the Grinch and who knew/for the past 15 and so he’s not new/ to the role as Papa Who and graduated to Old Dog, Max and that’s kinda new.
Steve Gunderson and Dan DeLuca 
Young Max (Dan DeLuca), the Grinch’s one antler reindeer after a fashion, is playful and grabs lotsa attention.  Bets Malone and Robert J. Townsend are Papa and Mama Who, and who could ask for a more talented two?

Grandpa and Grandma Who are Larry Raben and Nancy Snow Carr a wonderful pair of elders by far.  John Perry Wishchuk and Josette Candelaria are Boo and Annie Who and hopefully you get the get the picture, I hope you do!

Supporting members Who, who are too many not too few/ round out this absolutely luscious holiday fare in three dimensions and that’s not to mention... (Oh dear! I hope I’m not in detention!)
Cast "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"
John Lee Beatty’s set is right out of the Whoville playbook including dancing and singing puppets appearing over the housetops. Robert Morgan costume designes are apropos and comic book looking.

From a green furry Grinch to hour -glass and lampshade shaped dresses with outlandish wigs to Who looking costumes for the men, these outfits are unique to say the least.  

With book and lyrics by Timothy Mason, music by Mel Marvin and original directed by Jack O’Brien, now the job has been turned over to James Vásquez, this “Grinch” has touched hearts and minds for years and if things continue as they are, they will continue no holds barred.
Larry Raben, Nancy Snow Carr, Bets Malone and Robert J. Townsend
Musical director/conductor Elan McMaham and her lively orchestra, Pat Collins lighting design, and Paul Peterson’s sound bring pleasure, once again as the holiday season kicks off with a small army of Whos showing the overzealous mean spirited green Hulk that the human spirit is strong enough to stave off the scariest of characters.  


See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Dec. 24th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619.234.5623
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $37.00
Venue: Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox