Saturday, July 29, 2017

InnerMission Launches First Musical With “Ordinary Days”

“Ordinary Days’ by Adam Gwon, is not an ordinary musical. According to composer/lyricist/ and everything in between, Gwon describes his piece as a ‘through sung musical’, ‘a narrative musical’ with ‘story songs’. And he’s right, of course! Yours truly considers it a chamber piece and all of the above.

“Ordinary Days” under the direction of Matthew C. Graber, now on stage at InnerMission Productions located just behind the space that Diversionary Theatre occupies, will be playing through Aug 12th. It’s a relatively small musical, by musical theater standards. 

Some liken it to “The Last Five Years” by Jason Robert Brown seen recently on Ion’s stage that had two characters. In both a story is told through the characters’ experiences and perspectives in their every day lives.
Patrick Mayuyu, Jamie Channell Guzman, Kym Pappas and Brent Roberts
“Ordinary Days” has four characters and details the vicissitudes each one living in New York City, the city that never sleeps, experiences while real life around them is happening. ‘Five Years’ is more of a love affair gone badly, in retrospect.

“Ordinary Days” premiered in 2012 and has been making the rounds almost every year in theatres across the country since and now audiences in San Diego are the recipients of InnerMissions first musical and west coast premiere of  this appealing work.
Kym Pappas and Brent Roberts
 Lucky for us as Gwon’s musical is a charming piece, albeit somewhat contrived as in the Clair/Jason relationship that is suspiciously predictable. The Warren and Deb pair adds humor both in personality and nature of their predicaments; so real to life on so many levels.

I remember as a younger version of myself on trips to New York for theatre and visiting friends that it was always a ‘place I loved to visit, but not a place I would love to live’.

In a series of short vignette’s Clair (Kym Pappas), Jason (Brent Roberts), Deb (Jamie Channell Guzman) and Warren (Patrick Mayuyu) (“One By One”), mostly outsiders looking for some companionship, connection and or stability in their lives, cross paths in some of the most unusual ways. 

Mid 30’s Claire and Jason are about to move in together  (both navigating sets of belongings into one small space brought back memories of dorm living). “The Space Between” tells of how easy Jason thought the move in would be,  (there were fourteen blocks between her place and mine’).

He’s ready, we think, for this romance to take off. She, on the other hand (“Let Things Go” -‘you’ve got out -of –date planners and dog eared postcards’) isn’t quite so sure.
Jamie Channell Guzman and Patrick Mayuyu
Twenty something Deb (“Don’t Wanna Be Here”) is a transplant from a place ‘in the middle of nowhere…my hometown was like a suburb of a suburb…I actually lived on a cul-de-sac…that’s the definition of a dead end”.

When she finally ends up in New York, she doesn’t want to be there either. Now she is in grad school after dropping out of grad school in her hometown, reading Virginia Wolf (“Dear Professor Thompson”) and working on her PhD Thesis.

To Warren ‘the city tends to make him invisible’. He’s house and cat sitting for an artist friend…who got arrested for painting ‘pithy sayings across the city’. To him it’s just “Another day out in the metropolis” as he hands out flyers ‘with sayings that his painter friend painted on the sidewalks and walls of buildings. Some call that graffiti.   

Warren also collects bits and pieces of the city that others have either discarded or lost. (”Life Story”) And that brings us to the Deb and Warren connection.

Deb misplaced her composition/hand-bound book with all her thesis notes in it; long Xerox scraps ‘that drips with old school flair’.  You guessed it. Warren found it in Union Station. After looking through it he noticed that the last entry was that day’s date and for good measure an email address.    

In one of the funniest segments after contacting Deb about her binder, Warren suggests they meet at The Metropolitan Museum (“Saturday at the Met”) “in room twenty-one there’s a landscape by Monet”. There he will hand off the notebook. 

After bragging about her ‘irrefutable sense of direction’: “I don’t understand why I can’t find my way through the fu**ing Metropolitan Museum”. It goes downhill from there in a series of wrong turns, confusing artists; “Monet?”  “Manet.” Finally, they accidentally find each other almost tripping over one an other. 

In the meantime Jason and Clair are also at the museum but find themselves in different sections complicating their relationship even further. “He likes the masters.” “I prefer wackier things”.

Throughout the piece, while the couples crisscross each other, they never meet, nor are they seen together except for the final “Rooftop Duet”.

All four experienced actors take their turns revealing their innermost thoughts, ambitions and emotional upheavals to the tunes of Gwon'smusic. 

Mayuyu is perfect as the cheerful hail -fellow -well- met character Warren. He never wavers in his outlook as the ‘seeking beauty and truth’ guy in all he sees even as he contemplates his future, that's hanging somewhere between budding artist and not looking beyond today. (“Beautiful”)

Ms. Guzman has the more difficult of Gwon’s music as she navigates his story songs and patter music in what some might compare to Stephen Sondheim’s dialogue music. Some of the lyrics are difficult to follow but you get the picture.

Her timing is near perfect in spite of oft times playing catch-up with the piano, yet her penchant (facial expressions) for comedy rings true. She is the cynic of the four, but fun to watch, none the less.  Both she and Mayuyu are the engaging and fun to be with couple.

Robert ‘s tenor voice is the most pleasant of the foursome as he tries to make sense of Clair’s moods. They too wind their way through a more down than up relationship.  “Favorite Places” tells the story that his favorite places are the places he’s never been. “All of my most favorite places are places I’ve never been.) That song resonated with me.

Kym Pappas’ Claire is the independent single that wants things her way as she surfaces to be the alpha in that relationship. It takes a while but the chemistry does begin to flow after a comeback between the two hits a more conciliatory, emotional and meaningful turn in “I’ll Be Here”, reaching back to the horrors of 9/11and a loss she suffered then. It's a heartbreaking tune and done especially well by Pappas. 
Jamie Channell Guzman and Patrick Mayuyu
 Hats off to both songster Gwon and director Graber. Gwon’s music with Hazel Friedman, musical director on keyboards coaxing the best out of her singer/actors, and lyrics, while not rhyming but certainly original, addresses the now in terms of reality rather than fantasy.

Graber manages to keep the production moving along at a reasonable pace, coming in at ninety or so minutes. A bit more tightening will come as the show settles in.

For some light, and a thoughtful night of musical stories aimed at entertaining without drowning in sentimentality Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” taps into a different genre aimed at telling it like it is.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 12th
Organization: InnerMission Productions
Phone: 619.324.8970
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Venue: Diversionary Black Box
Photo: InnerMission

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