Monday, July 30, 2018

(OMIGOD!) New Village Arts “Legally Blonde” Is A Trip!

If you love fluff, fun and lots of high energy, “Legally Blonde, The Musical” is just what our high-powered Hahvahd Lawyers ordered.

 “Legally Blonde The Musical” earned seven 2007 Tony Awards is zippy, fast paced, high-spirited and fun for the whole family. 
Cast of "Legally Blond"
This is New Village Arts Theatre’s eighteenth season opener. It is directed by artistic director Kristianne Kurner and set on Christopher Scott Murillo’s multi purpose design including sorority house and Harvard campus (sort of) hair salon and court room.

With music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hatch ‘LB’ is based on the 2001 Metro-Golden-Mayer film of Amanda Brown’s novel “Legally Blonde”. In 2007 it moved from pre-Broadway tryouts in San Francisco to the Palace Theatre on Broadway where it grossed over a million dollars.
Trevor Rex, Allyce, Catie Marron (center) Joel Miller, Gina Maria Cioffi
This production is highly physical with Kyle Hawk’s choreography that is some of the best seen on a relatively small stage in some time. It wore me out just watching some of the guys and gals going through an exercise jump rope number starring Catie Marron as Brooke Wyndham the workout queen. Just watching her and dance ensemble jump rope to “Whipped Into Shape”(for what must have been at least 10 minutes) was an OMG moment for me.

The show boasts eighteen to twenty musical and dance numbers bringing the production to almost three hours. Some including the whole Irish bit could be shaved off shortening the piece by at least fifteen minutes making it a bit more… well easy to sit through.

Under the musical direction of Tony Houk, who is a hoot when he steps away from the keyboards to make a Cameo appearance as ‘THE’ gay boyfriend Carlos, the music sounds fine (sometimes a bit loud) with TJ Fucella’s sound design.  
Danielle Levas and Sittichai Chaiyahat
The long and winding story, filled with stereotypes from beginning to end has spunky, energetic and cheerful Elle Woods, (sylphlike, Danielle Levas) as a recent graduate of UCLA with a degree in fashion Design/merchandizing.

She was homecoming queen whose favorite color is pink. What’s there not to like about being rich, living in Malibu and just about one of the most popular and respected Delta Nu’s on campus? That’s our leading lady’s MO. (“Omigod You Guys”)

And what could you find wrong with her handsome and wealthy but dull boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Cody Ingram) who really, really loves her and is expected to propose on their next dinner date?  He’s headed off to Harvard to get his law degree and then plans to run for and become a senator by the time he’s thirty (“Serious”)

Bad news for our Elle. It seems that Mr. Worthington III doesn’t see our sweet little Miss Woods in his future because she’s just not ‘serious’ enough (“Serious”), nor is she a Vanderbilt. (“I’m from Malibu. I’m not exactly trailer trash.)

Warner needs to be with someone whose name is Muffy or Fluffy (a girl who is serious, lawyerly and wears black when nobody’s dead) of the Vanderbilt clan that his family decides is ‘right’. So he breaks off the engagement, heads back east (where all the girls have different noses) to Harvard Law School and Vivienne Kensington (Cassie Bleher) his new girlfriend, another law student who is as up tight as Elle is easy.

Not to be out done, Elle decides she too will go to Harvard Law School and show Warner how important she can be throwing the ‘Dumb Blonde’ strerotype out the window proving that she too can be ‘serious’.

 With the help of her sorority sisters/ her Greek Chorus, she jams, takes the entrance exams. With a letter of recommendation from none other than Oprah (huh?) she makes the cut and is accepted to Harvard Law School. Swayed by ‘cultural diversity’ and in the interest of love the admissions board gives her a chance to make good.
L to R: Erin Vanderhyde, Danielle Levas and Allyce
She heads off to Harvard with her pet dog Bruiser. She is dressed (Samantha Viscos) to the nines in pinks and that includes, among other things a pink Playboy Bunny costume with ears to match to slinky and very tight fitting dresses as she proceeds to make a big splash on campus showing off in what nust be her size 2 .

As can be predicted, Elle scores big in her classes even though she doesn’t fit in right away with her classmates. With some help and support from her Delta Nu’s (“Positive”) some new friends and legal assistant Emmett Forrest, she soon realizes her potential. In the process she comes up with some real, honest to goodness legal terms like “I Object” “Exhibit ‘A’ and “Your Honor, may I approach?”

Her new admirer, alumni teaching assistant Emmett Forrest (handsome and steady Sittichai Chaiyahat) who mentors her through her rough personal and professional ups and downs convinces her that she has more potential than she credits herself for and encourages her to use her determination to succeed to become a serious student and change her priorities. (“So Much Better”)

He helps ground her and shows her that with her ‘can do attitude’ she can break through typecast. She finally realizes that she can make a difference. (“Legally Blonde”). He also helps her out when the sleaze professor and maker and breaker of careers, Callahan (Steven Freitas) sexually abuses her. 

But in the end, should I say 'all's well that ends well'? Well, it does. 
Danielle Levas, Erin Vanderhyde, Cody Ingram, Cassie Bleher, (seated) Stevan Freitas, Catie Marron and Sittichhai Chaiyahat.
Shout out’s to Marlene Montes as Paulette, who is a hoot and a half, the hairdresser (in the Harvard Yard?) and salon owner, on whose shoulder Elle gets to cry in a turn about is fair play when Paulette needs some help herself from her lazy ex, Dewy (Trevor Rex) who has custody of their dog Rufus. (Yup, there are 3 dogs. Bruiser, Rufus and Bubba all well behaved.)

Joel Miller nearly brings the house down in his Fed Ex delivery outfit, brown shorts, short sleeve shirt and long muscular legs. As most in the audience did, Paulette couldn’t contain herself, which led to the hilarious “Bend and Snap” number. OMG!

Elle’s sorority sisters Serena, Margot, Pilar, Kate, (Gina Maria Cioffi, Allyce, Molly O’Meara and Erin Vanderhyde) all worked their little Alice B Toklas’ off singing dancing and supporting their Delta Nu sister.
Danielle  Levas (center) 
Listening to the reception it received opening night at NVA, Broadway and the movies aren’t the only places it’s been appreciated. I didn’t see one frown on the face of anyone exiting the theatre. In fact both young and old alike seemed bubbling over with enthusiasm and chattering up a storm.  

(Eighteen in Hebrew is Chai or Life and NVA is breathing new life into a fun filled, just what the doctor ordered for sweltering summer nights, evening of theatre.)


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 9th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Phone: 760-433-3245
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: $44.00-$47.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bittersweet “A Man Of No Importance” Opens at Coronado Playhouse

In Oscar Wilde’s mind it was important to be earnest, of little or no importance to be a woman and in Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Terrence McNally’s musical "A Man Of No Importance" Alfie Byrne was, according to his friends, a man of no importance. To the contrary, he turns out to be somewhat of a local celebrity.   

Alfie, (Barron Henzel), the central character in the musical “A Man Of No Importance” currently on stage at Coronado Playhouse through Aug. 26th, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and book by Terrence McNally and based on the 1994 movie starring Albert Finny, is a simple guy. He's not from your upper crust society. He's just the opposite of many of the characters, flouting their flamboyancy and showing contempt  for the privileged class as seen in many of Wilde’s plays.
Barron Henzel and Ralph Johnson (Bckground)
The play ran off-Broadway for three months from December 2002 to December 2002 in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center. It did walk away with an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway of that same year.

It moved to Toronto in 2008 and was transferred to the Arts Theatre, the West End for a limited run in 2010. It’s been around for some time and was produced locally at San Diego State’s Experimental Theatre (Southern California Premiere) in 2004. Rick Simas directed.

Alfie lives a somewhat ordinary life if you don’t count his love of everything Oscar Wilde, his passion for the theatre and the fact that he is a closeted gay (“Man In The Mirror”) in a time when being gay was open season to being accosted, beaten and even raped by those pretending to be friends.

As the central character in ‘Importance’, he is a bus conductor by day as well as a minor actor/producer in his town’s theatrical productions held in the social hall of the local church St. Imelda.
Ralph Johnson and Jenny GrayConnard
He is single, celibate living with his sister Lily Byrne (Jennie Gray Connard), loves poetry so much so that on his daily runs as conductor, he reads poetry and passages from Oscar Wilde’s writings. He loves to cook foreign dishes for his sister Lily who has postponed her own marriage plans waiting for Alfie to settle down with a wife.

Back at the church, the disband group of actors, reminiscing about old artifacts, want to start up their acting again after Father Kenney (Thomas Fitzpatrick) all but abolishes the group from using the social hall.

Convinced that they can get the something going, Alfie wants the group to perform Wilde’s “Salome” against the priest and his sisters wishes. It’s too risqué for their liking. (“You should have told me this “Salome” was a dirty play”)  
The Compny
Sounds like a simple set up, but nothing in this seldom produced, odd, yet bittersweet musical is as simple as it appears. Aside from the fact that the characters and troupe members/Greek Chorus are town-folks as well as actors in this productions, almost all play more than one character and speak in broad Irish accents. That somewhat complicates matters in keeping track of who is who and who’s what and what’s said.

The large but uneven cast boasts fourteen members and the characters number about twenty. The few songs and lyrics that are most memorable “Love Who You Love” and “Man in The Mirror” define Alfie and give us a bit of insight into a picture of a lonely, long suffering man itching to be himself against all odds.

Manny Bejarano and his large cast, that give it their all, as has been the spirit of this can do theatre company in the past, didn’t seem quite ready for prime time on opening night. By this writing, all should be in sync.
Ralph Johnson and Barron Henzel
On the plus side Barron Henzel (also board president of the Playhouse) has the right look and mournful presence as Alfie, yet the confidence as Wilde when the roles are reversed. Jenny Gray Conrad stands out as Alfie’s sister, first showing her loyalty and protectiveness toward him, after a time, even when he ‘comes out’. “Why did you never tell me?” “You must have known I’d love you all the same.”

Ralph Johnson’s at ease as Mr. Carney, Lily’s love interest and looking quite dapper as Oscar Wilde, (Marcene Drysdale designed the costumes) had a small role as the butcher as well. Michael Van Allen was heartfelt and credible as Baldy, another townsfolk and actor in Alfie’s amateur productions, lost his wife years ago but still visits her grave. (“Cuddles that Mary Gave”)
More Company
Musical direction under the baton of Kirk Valles and his six piece band, and some physical choreography by Patrick Mayuyu add to the overall production values including the sprawling set created by Karl Bunker with lighting by Anthony Zelig that illuminates and defines so many of the locations.

Life’s lessons take on many colors. For Alfie, it was ‘to thine own self be true’. Secrets out of the bag; friends coming to stand by your side and embracing life is still about all a man can ask, even one of so called no importance.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 26th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-434-4856
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, 92118
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$27.00
Photo: Ken Jacques

Thursday, July 19, 2018

“ Comedy Tonight”: The Name Of The Game At North Coast Repertory Theatre.

“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” is Sondheim’s 1962 Broadway musical hit that won Tony’s in Best Musical, Best Author of a Musical. It is now in a new revival on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach through August 12.

It’s one big, long farce wrapped in Roman togas. There are more clowns (13 cast members, NCR’s largest yet) in this total production than one might find at 'Clown School'.  Fortunately not one weak link, not one flaw…well unless you consider the flawed characters. But suffice it to say in this particular madcap show, that is chuckle and a guffaw from opening to closing, the cast and crew defy us not to like it.

Directed by artistic director David Ellenstein it just happens to be North Coast’s final production of its 36th season and something Ellenstein has wanted to stage for a long time. When the season was announced, another show was penciled in but fell through…so why not a comedy, a farce, a something for everyone?

Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart wrote the book inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwright Plautus. If you love farce, this is a show for you. If you are not so inclined, suck it up you won’t be sorry.
The cast of "Forum"
The opening number suggests “There’s something for everyone; something familiar, something peculiar, something appealing, something appalling, something convulsive, something repulsive, something esthetic, something frenetic, nothing that’s formal, nothing that’s normal”.
John Greenleaf
The story is as convoluted as it is outlandish. Marty Burnett’s set of three houses at the rear of the stage ‘on a street in Rome’ and lit by Matt Novotny set the tone. One house belongs to Erronius (an exhausted looking John Greenleaf), whose children were kid-knapped by pirates when they were babies. He’s been searching for them for twenty years and he has a beard long enough to show for it.
Melinda Gilb and Andrew Ableson
The house in the center belongs to Senex (Andrew Abelson) and his wife Domina (a strong and funny as hell Melinda Gilb) and son Hero (starry eyed and naïve to a point of childishness Chris M. Kauffmann).

Senex is wealthy enough to have a slave Hysterium (Kevin Hafso Koppman who he lives up to his name). Senex’s son Hero also owns his own slave Pseudolus (Omri Schein), whose one desire is to be free.

Senex is no goody two shoes, in fact he lecherous old man and Ableson plays him well. Domina is suspicious of everything and has every reason to be, as we will find out as the play progresses.   When they take off to visit her mother, it’s Pseudolus’ turn to shine (Shein) and make way for Hero to lose his virginity. Game on.
Omri Schein
Pseudolus is the one character this silly ditty revolves around. He sets the tone and weaves the way for Hero to meet up with Philia. Shein carries the show with his perfect vaudevillian comic routine; facial expressions that look like someone just twisted it like a pretzel and an intensity that convinces us he can carry it off.  As mover and shaker, he has a big stake in the outcome.
Noelle Marion and Chris M. Kauffmann
His schemes to get Hero and Philia together can’t come off any funnier or crazier. It would take two very clever minds like Shevelove and Gelbart to come up with something as outrageous, and a character actor the likes Schein to pull it off.  His shenanigans are so over the top that just the act of his falling takes at least five minutes.  It’s almost like watching the hero of an opera die.

The third house belongs to Marcus Lycus (a delicious David McBean). His Eunuch (Luke H. Jacobs) takes on several roles and is a hoot in all. “If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times; do not fan the girls when they're wet! But you'll never learn, you'll be a eunuch all your life.”
David McBean and Kevin Hafso Koppman
Lycus buys and sells high-class prostitutes. Among his courtesans one Phila (Noelle Marion) is waiting for her intended Miles Gloriosus (A very handsome and concieted looking Jason Maddy). Lycus is keeping Panacea (Amy Perkins), Vibrata (Missy Marion) and Titania (Jean Schroeder) tucked away for future high stake buyers.

As fate would have it, Hero only has eyes for…you guessed it Phila. Unfortunately she was sold to Gloriosus and belongs to him. So… how to get Hero and Philia together in order for Pseudolus can gain his freedom is the question?

And for the answer: ANYTHING. That’s the long and the short list of his off the wall capers that keep this farce alive. He narrates, he navigates and he promote it all with the intention of freeing himself.
Luke H. Jacobs, Omri Schein, Jason Maddy and Perkins
Most of the time he gets himself deeper and deeper as the plot thickens but not so deep as to lose sight of the great job Ellenstein has done in moving his large cast around on a relatively small space or that choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith can’t make her dancers (Luke Harvey Jacobs as Eunuch and Protean) taking on several heavy roles), Amy Perkins and Missy Marion, look like they have all the room they need.
David McBean, Jason Maddy and Omri Schein
With four musicians tucked away backstage under the direction of Ron Councell, and with Aaron Rumley’s sound design,  “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid”, I’m Calm”, The Dirty Old Man”, and “Comedy Tonight”, everything sounded clear to my ears on opening night. Costume designer Elisa Benzoni’s get ups are just as outlandish as the play, Peter Herman’s wigs and hair does everyone justice, Roman style, and the cast and crew deserve a big BRAVO! for a show well done.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 12th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 387 Lomas Santa Fe Drive.  Suite D, Solana Beach, CA
Ticket Prices: $49.00-$56.00
Photo: Aaron Rumley