Friday, July 21, 2017

NVA’s “Buddy The Buddy Holly Story” is a Rock ‘n Roll Marathon

One might ask, “Buddy who?” But the crowd I sat with recently at the opening transfer from the downtown production of “Buddy~ The Buddy Holly Story” to New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, all knew. Just watching their bobbing heads and tapping feet told me that I was in the right place at the right time.

Buddy Holly would have been one year older than yours truly had he not taken that ill fated plane hop from Cedar Lake, Iowa to a concert in Moorhead, Minnesota. The weather was so bad he didn’t feel like taking the bus. 

Holly was 22 at the time and left behind a pregnant wife, a cache of unsung, unwritten and unproduced tunes and a generation of adoring fans. On board were his pals and originals in their own right Ritchie “La Bamba” Valens, who was only 17 (an excellent Shaun Tuazon) and The Big “Chantilly Lace” Bopper (a hoot ‘n howl Manny Fernandes).

Cast of Buddy Holy The Buddy Holly Story with Manny Fernandes, as The Big Bopper, Paul Swensen Eddy (center) as Buddy and Shaun Tuazon as Richie Valens
From “Peggy Sue” to “That’s All Right”, to “Teenager in Love”, “Maybe Baby” and “Not Fade Away” he was a rebel with a cause. He wanted to write his own music to the beat he heard, not someone else’s. His journey is chronicled in Alan James’ “Buddy The Buddy Holly Story”.

This year’s “Buddy The Buddy Holly Story” originally opened downtown at the Horton Grand under the direction of Christy Yael Cox and was from the start a two for one theatre treat in that after the run downtown it would then transfer to Carlsbad at the New Village Theatre. What a great sharing.

Thanks to Christy Yael-Cox co-founder and artistic director of Intrepid and Kristianne Kurner, co-founder, artistic director of New Village Arts Theatre more Buddy Holly fans will be are able to see this production perhaps even more than once. I would. 

Casting is spot on with very few changes from the south to north transfer. The live and high -energy musical score as well as some pretty authentic acting with all participating in both makes this Holly presentation a ‘Rock ‘Roll marathon. Wow what a treat.

The amazingly talented Paul Swensen Eddy, who plays Buddy, and the electric guitar and sings, belts out with his group (The Crickets) and rapped out no less than 28 songs. Eddy, making his San Diego debut, already has his following after his superb performance as the bespectacled Holly.

He is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a talented musician as well as knows how to put a song over. His poise and an amazing amount of energy propel this show to the top ten of the list in jukebox musicals seen not too long ago at OnStage in Chula Vista where Noah Zuniga-Williams played the lead.

Then as now he’s all over that standup bass; sitting on it, standing on it and swirling it around a la showmanship. He is now the backup Buddy but also noticeably on the stage as Joe Mauldin (one of the Crickets). He is also studying tuba now at Cuyamaca Colege. Keep your eyes peeled on that one to do great things. 

Holly, a native of Lubbock, Texas started out as a country singer but soon switched over to rock music using his own arrangements. By the time he was sixteen he was a seasoned performer.

The movers and shakers in Lubbock at KDAV Radio Studio, Hipockets Duncan (Manny Fernandes) turned a blind eye to him for his non- country recording session of “Peggy Sue”. Dunkin, a softie bur exasperated by Buddy, did arrange for the eager beaver youngster to get in touch with the powers that be at (Decca) where he also took flak. (Christopher Scott Murillo created the sliding set, Alex Crocker-Lakness, the lighting design and Chad Goss, the sound.)

 By this time Elvis Presley came on to the scene. That had a huge impact on the bespectacled youngster from Lubbock, Texas who later became an opening act for The King of Rock ‘n Roll on three different occasions.

The Holly Story precedes “Motown”, Jersey Boys and “Memphis” but seems more closely associated with Memphis (Dewey Phillips) especially in 1957 when the Crickets (boyhood friends of Holly’s) were booked into the Apollo Theatre and the owners thought they were black performers.

That was a little awkward moment when three more musicians Eboni Muse as Marlena Madison, Jasmine January and jazzy Benjamin Roy as Tyrone Jones had just finished up with their gig and looked a bit flabbergasted when they saw the white musicians backstage. 

Eboni Muse, Benjamin Roy and Jasmine January
They tried escorting them out of the theatre, but curiosity gave way to believing. Needless to say when they heard the sounds created by Holly and the Crickets (Jerrod Alexander on drums, Ross Martin, lead guitar and Zunga-Williams upright bass and tuba) were blown away and what followed was love fest sing- along into the night.

It’s difficult to single out any one of the sixteen talented performers on stage at any given moment or in the final rock ‘n roll clap-a-thon, the talent runs just that deep.

Consider Wendy Maples who is a gal Friday to Eddy Yaroch’s Norman Petty. He gave Holly all the space he needed to record and ultimately became manager of the group.

Back to Maples, when they needed the piano sound she sauntered over to the keyboards and began accompanying the musicians and never looked back. She is an important member of the ensemble.

And who would have known that our own Eddy Yaroch (“Circle Mirror” “Wait Until Dark” and “Enron”) plays a mean Sax. Loved being a part of that.

Multi talented musical director Tony Houck (“Oklahoma”, “Big River”, “Sylvia”) appears on stage as well playing accordion, keyboards and trumpet. With a cast this size hat’s off to Houk and choreographer Nadia Guevara.

Several ensemble members also doubled down and play multiple characters with changes in wigs and costumes. (Peter Herman and Jeanne Reith.)

Everyone in the cast plays an instrument making this “Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story” come to life. It’s a happening and should be on your must see list if you are ready for a trip down memory lane and some great sounds!

Feb. 3rd. 1959 the day of that ill -fated plane crash was also dubbed “The Day The Music Died”.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 27th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Phone: 760.433.3245
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices:
Photo: Daren Scott

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Moonlight’s “Little Mermaid” fun for all ages

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” now on stage at Moonlight’s outdoor venue in Vista through Aug. 5th has something for everyone. Moonlight is celebrating its 37th season and it's been a great one so far.

For the little princesses in the audiences their heroine is Ariel the mermaid that wants to be a person, live on land and have a pair of legs. Chassey Bennett plays Ariel with childhood innocence and charm. “The World Above” and “Part of Your World”.  

Her best friend is Flounder (Connor Marsh) the anxiety ridden and adventurous fish that is at her side through thick and thin. Marsh is perfect as her ahem, flighty but loyal to a fault protector. The friendship goes both ways.

Paul Oakley Stovall as King Triton, Cassey Bennett is Ariel and Connor Marsh is Flounder
For those more sinister, the spiteful and evil sea witch aunt Ursula is played with willful glee by Randall Hickman (a stroke of genius by director Steve Glaudini). He brings the house down with “Daddy’s Little Angel” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

Some panache that one has strutting around in her glittery octopus gown, with tentacles spreading over the edges of the stage and held by her two pals, Flotsam and Jetsam (Sarah Errington and Rae Henderson) the electric-eel minions. Hickman owns the stage every time he ‘floats’ on. Hats off to superwoman Renetta Lloyd for building that spectacular costume.

For those fun lovin’ Seagull watchers Luke Harvey Jacobs’ Scuttle is the perfect bird leading his entourage in one of the shows highlight, showstopper tap dance numbers “Positoovity”!  It’s positoovity delicious.

Randall Hickman with Flotsam and Jetsam 
Credit Karl Warden for the snappy choreography and Leon Dobkowski for costume designs. Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd are the dynamic trio coordinating those costumes.  J. Branson’s eye catching underwater set and Dobkowski’s costumes are from the Music Theatre of Wichita. I was especially taken with the umbrella jellyfish and hand held sting ray. So much imagination!

For those looking for their ‘knight in shining armor’, David Burnham (“Light in The Piazza”) is the handsome Prince Eric on the lookout for a voice (“Follow that voice to the ends of the earth if we have to”) he heard from the ocean only to find his true love voiceless. His voice is awesome. “One Step Closer”, “Her Voice”.

Luke Harvey Jacobs, Chassey Bennett and David Burnham
For some comic relief Cornelius Jones, Jr., is the musical mastermind calypso singing crab, Sebastian. His job is to keep his eyes on Ariel, the slippery little independent mermaid who is the star mermaid of her father’s eye, lest she leaves the watery edge to become landlocked.

King Triton (a powerful performance by Paul Oakley Stoval) Ariel’s father has six other daughters, The Mersisters. Each one is jealous of their younger sister whose beautiful voice ‘daddy’s little girl’.  "If Only (Tritin's Lament)". Stoval's strong baritone voice is simply beautuful. 

“The Little Mermaid”, a Disney Production, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright is the second of Moonlight’s ambitious productions of this summer season. It is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale of the same name.

Cast with Chassey Riley and David Burnham
If you count them, the huge cast boasts eighteen with some in speaking roles and some in the large ensemble and the children’s ensemble boasts sixteen. All are in sync and all are engaged and eager. Every one of them makes a difference in this production.

Musical director and conductor Elan McMahn’s orchestra, always at the top of her game, continues to helm a full sounding Menkin score. Ashman and Slater’s lyrics oft times went over my head a bit. And the ones I did get were clever with a twist or a turn on a phrase bringing it back to the ocean life.
Cornelius Jones Jr., Chassey Bennett and David Burnham
There are many fish in the ocean and we get to see a fraction, again all dressed in multicolored costumes some more detailed than others singing, dancing and swimming upstream against projection designer Jonathan Infante’s underwater fantasy with J. Branson’s set design, Jim Zadai’s sound and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting.  (Check out the shark that hovers over Ursula’s underwater cave.)

“The Little Mermaid” is highly polished production that defines Glaudidni's talent as a director.  The show pretty much follows the movie version that yours truly saw eons ago when grandsons, now 26 and 25 were quite young. 

The story of a mermaid who dreams of a world above the sea and is willing to give up her voice to find true love and a prince who would rather go sailing with his buddies than rule a kingdom has a feel good ending when all is said and done. I suppose it would be golly -gosh to say they all lived happily ever after, but I will anyway. Even with its updated, songs and a few tweaks, it still plays out well for the young at heart.

As a side note, Glaudini's choice of Hickman (who played Edna Turnbald in “Hairspray”) elevated a child’s Disney fantasy film into a bustling and rousing stage production intended for the entire family.  Enjoy!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug.5th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Phone: 760.724.2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Dr. Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $23.00 (general lawn start at$17.00)

Photo: Ken Jacques

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“At This Evening’s Performance” premiers at North Coast Rep.

“At This Evening’s Performance” is making its North Coast Repertory Theatre’s debut, directed by the experienced and well -respected Andrew Barnicle.  It’s playing through Aug. 6th.

Would that Barnicle had a better piece given him than this almost funny play that isn’t sure of what it wants to be. And would that we could figure out just what he wanted the play to do under the circumstances. Credit to the seasoned cast that goes out of its collective way to bring home the goods even though it would take more than that to save this play.

Richard Baird and Bruce Turk
It looks like a farce, sounds like a political satire (“We know all about the illegal emigrations. The intellectuals, the scientists, the Jews…sneaking out to tell lies …”) and has some (very little) comic relief that comes at the very end, but trying define it would take more time than necessary. 

Nagle’s 1983 play takes place backstage in a playhouse in rural Dunsk (recently annexed to socialist Strevia). Between acts we met up with a motley set of Bohemian actors performing old and second- rate melodrama’s that must be spoken in verse, because modern drama has been banned by the incoming regime. 

Typically in farce doors slam, walls separating the men’s dressing room from the gal’s are as thin as tissue paper allowing for ears against the walls to overhear what’s going on over there. In most farce there are at least four or five doors. Here two? (Marty Burnett designs one of his split screen dressing rooms perfectly)

 Usually a frenzy of back and forth comings and goings becomes dizzying almost slapstick. Not so much here, but an added layer of foreign intrigue is thrown in just for the you know what giggles.

Hysteria sets in when it is discovered that someone in the company is a spy. A particular line in the third act of ‘at this evenings performance’ will trigger a killing from someone in the audience to someone on stage to get rid of that someone some think is sending out covert messages, somehow. You figure that one out.

Here are some of the facts that we do know: The older actor and head of the company Gunther (Bruce Turk) is having a tryst with the younger ingénue Saskia (Sierra Jolene) while the younger male lead, Piers (Paul Turbiak) is shtupping Gunther’s prima donna wife Hippolyta (a fine over the top Katie MacNichol). Unbeknownst their elders, the two young ones are making their own future wedding plans.

The last and seasoned character actor in the troupe is Oskar (Kyle Colerider-Krugh). He’s not so much a person of interest until a revealing last scene confession. In between, his prosthetic ears and chin get lost as does most of that bit of nonsense, sooner rather than later.
L. to R. Bruce Turk, Richard Baird, Katie MacNichol, Sierra Jolene, Kyle Cotrider-Krugh and Paul Turbiak
Richard Baird is the all dressed in black menacing looking Valdez. He is a holdover from the former government. He plays the dumb and heavy-handed stage manager. (Forgive me, my stage manager friends). Baird enters as an angry- mad, no- nothing stagehand bent on causing confusion and exits, well… no spoilers here.

His over the top intimidating looks and actions get a rise out the audience. Even showing us his all too knowing scowls, he’s the so funny, funny foil. “I’m not a detective. I’m a member of the Popularity Force”, he growls. “We’re the ones who march in the parades swinging clubs.”

Turk, another experienced gem, finds himself in a not so wonderful play either on stage or off. Chemistry with other cast members (His real life wife is MacNichol) is vaguely seen and no dots are connected.

Gunther is somewhat of an egomaniac. He exhibits ‘the play must go on mentality’ throughout this over indulged playacting. He’s willing to risk everyone’s life, even his own to keep the company afloat.

As the company head he works overtime to keep his group working and employed in perilous times, much to the chagrin of the others especially when his troupe is offered a chance to be the sole performers in The Esterschnazy Palace (‘an appalling example of aristocratic decadence…’) There are two catches: All the plays have to be penned by the Minister of Culture himself, and they have to stay in this godforsaken socialist state s long as they agree to work for the state.    
Katie MacNichol, Bruce Turk and John Nutten
What would a potential spy/backstage intrigue/ play within a play/ farce about a dictator state be without mention of the Manager of Culture?

John Nutten plays Pankoff, the Manager of Culture (“Who knows what’s true these days?”) similar to the crowd we see on TV these days. It’s all said with a smug smile that one would like to well, erase if one could.

He is the perfect foil for this kind of dictator management role dressed in a tuxedo, flaming red sash across his body and with cape lined in the same blood red. Medals line his jacket with one that honors him for being a ‘Creative Genius’. Finish him off with gloves and top hat. Credit Elisa Benzoni for the costumes.
L. to R. Katie MacNichol, Sierra Jolene, Paul Turbiak, Bruce Turk and Kyle Coterider-Krugh
Most of the fun comes in the last act when the whole company now knows ‘there is a spy among us’. Before that certain cast member, all of who are now on stage for the play within the play’s finale says that certain line, they all line themselves up hiding behind moveable props to dodge that fateful bullet…with the exception of one who is indisposed. That one scene tickled my funny bone. 
Bruce Turk, Sierra Jolene, (front) Katie MacNichol and Paul Turbiak hiding behind the palm tree.
Unfortunately for those of us in our seats, our reality isn’t playing out on some playwright’s yellow pad. We’re living the nightmare in real time.

‘Summer time and the livin’ is easy’ …but not for all. Summer, winter, fall or spring living in a dictatorship where one never sees the sun or is always under suspicion, or heads a third rate acting company in the face of it all, should get out of Dodge immediately, or maybe put this play in mothballs for a rainy day.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 6th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858.481.1055
Production Type: Farce
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Ste. D Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at $46.00 (Sr., student, military discounts available)

Photo: Aaron Rumley

Saturday, July 15, 2017

“Spring Awakening” comes alive at OnStage Playhouse

Never underestimate the power of small. We here in San Diego are lucky to have a variety of sizes of theatre venues to chose when deciding what interests us. We have the regional Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse right in our own backyards, not even counting South Coast Rep. to the north. If really ambitious, there is Los Angeles.

There is in between: Lamb’s, North Coast Rep. and then those without a permanent home, Intrepid, Roustabouts and Backyard Renaissance come to mind easily. I’m sure I’m missing some so forgive, please. In the scheme of things, though there are local small (lets say less than 100 seats) theatres like Moxie and Ion that many of my friends and acquaintances are just now learning.
Outstanding set design (photo Jean Lowerison) 
On the small side resides a 60-seat theatre in Chula Vista, OnStage to be exact. Recently it has produced some daring, thought provoking and excellent work in a tight space that has a long stage and no backstage for the actors to get from one side of the theatre to the other without having to run around the block in back of their building to enter from another side.

Teri Brown artistic director at OnStage is a risk taker. She’s also excellent at what she does leaving no stones unturned. Her current production of “Spring Awakening” that she skillfully directs is an adult musical for teens. It rocked the theatre world when it first sprang to life. It was in concert form then. That was in the 90’s.

Fact: It began as a workshop at The La Jolla Playhouse in 1999.
Back then it was billed as this generation’s “Rent” and last generations “Hair”.

“Spring Awakening” with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Dunkin Sheik and based on the late 19th century play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, is controversial to say the least. My guess is that in some circles even today it would it banned, as it was in repressive Germany in the late 1890’s.

Peter Armado and Truly Bailey
Abortion, homosexuality, child abuse (think molesting), rape masturbation; coming of age isn’t easy especially when children are left to their own resources or never had the ‘mother/daughter, father/son talk’. . Let’s get real.

Some in the song list include: "The Guilty Ones" , "Whispering", “The Bitch of Living” sung with animation by Seejay Lewis as Moritz and “Totally F**cked” by the boys. No holds barred here. 

Suffice it to say, parents must be prepared for ‘the conversation’ with their offspring as they are trying to cope with the confusions of their adolescence, the stirrings in their groins, and what to expect as they come of age especially when Wendla (a charming, shy and talented Truly Bailey) approaches her mother (Rebecca Miller plays all the adult women roles) about where babies come from (“Mama Who Bore Me?”).

When Mama is too embarrassed to tell her daughter about the birds and the bees, there’s a serious disconnect. Without any adult guidance she is left to her own devices and, you guessed it, someone was there to fill in the blanks (“The Word of Your Body”).

Wendla and Melchior (Peter Armando “All That’s Know”) make it happen by playing the scene out beautifully, realistically and with ease. It’s just one of those capturing moments in a production filled with highs. R. (back row)Alex Dunbar, Liam Galleher, Noah Filey, (front row) Jake Strohl, Peter Armado and Seejay Lewis
As the play explores the confusion and agony of these young people dealing with their own, and even each other’s sexuality, it takes a downward turn when Moritz, who is confused by his sexual fantasies, is flunked out of school as an expedient move by the headmaster (Anthony Donovan plays all the male adult rolls) even though he passed his grade. Moritz decides to end it all (“Don’t Do Sadness”).

Wendla becomes another statistic of what happens to innocence when ignorance takes its place. She too, becomes a victim of her own mother’s refusal to deal when she takes her daughter to a back street hack, who botches her abortion. 

Wedekind referred to the drama as “a tragedy of childhood” as it deals with this a group of school children just entering the age of puberty.  They explore the mysteries of life that they learn only through their own discovery, by way of sharing experiences and secret findings.

Others in focus include Marta (Kaitlyn Summers, singing the aching “The Dark I Know Well”). “For God’s Sake,… Papa will beat me to a pulp and Mama will lock me in the coal cellar for three nights.”

Ilse is another friend who runs away to live in an artist’s colony, (Sarah Ah Sing’s soulful and moving “Blue Wind” is heartbreaking as she realizes that there is no ‘there’ there’) and Jake Stroh’s shy and gentle Ernst and his love interest Hänchen (Alex Dunbar), is tender and telling as well. (“The Word of Your Body”. Reprieve) For the most part though, Moritz, Melchior (“Left Behind”) and Wendla are the main focus.

Seejay Lewis, Peter Armado and Truly Bailey
The musical moves along in part like a dream sequence. Credit Chad Oakley’s lighting design that focuses on some while others are moving about in darkness.

Patrick Mayuyu’ choreography noticeably different than anything seen in similar productions is more subdued with more hand expressions is eye-catching/ mesmerizing.
Musical direction is by Martin Martiarena. There are five very young (ranging in age from 17 to 22), extremely talented and disciplined musicians on stage keeping the music alive and the cast in touch. Julian Sink designed the sound.

Photo by Jean Lowerison
Speaking of stage/set a big Bravo goes out to Chad Oakley for the most imaginative and eye popping set design. On either side of the stage two book trees, (drilled through so cable wires are strung through) are suspended from the rafters.

On the stage floor itself, in what looks like a chalkboard, Melchior’s daily diary entries are scrolled from end to end. Pictures and rolling ladders are on and off to the sides as props for the actors. Knick-knacks filling the cubbies across the back walls are surrounded by painting recognizable and not. Chairs are brought in/chairs are removed depending on what the scene needs. This is a see to believe set, especially the book trees.

L. to R. Kaitlyn Summers, Noah Filley, Truly Bailey, Liam Gelleher and Pamela Basurto
The costumes, designed by Pam Stomploy-Erickson, were the only production values that didn’t seem to jive with my senses. Each of the boys, even though in a tough regimented school setting where discipline would have been key, wore clothes that didn’t match or follow a strict dress code.

The finale, “The Song of Purple Summer” the most poignant, is one of moving on… “a time when the painful spring of adolescence reaches the maturity of summer”. (Sater).

Hope springs eternal.

Bring tissues; it’s a tear- jerker. The 13 -member ensemble, some with more finesse than others, are youngsters themselves. Guessing they know from whence they came.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 12th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Phone: 619.422.7787
Production Type: Musical Drama
Where: 291 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: $25.00

Photo: Adriana Zungia-Williams