Wednesday, January 30, 2019

This Land Is Her-Land, This Land Is My-Land

“Herland” by Grace McLeod is making a rolling world premiere at Moxie Theatre through Feb. 17th. It will also be making the same world premiere at the Redtwist Theatre (Chicago) this year and the Greenway Arts Alliance /Greenway Court Theater (Los Angeles) McLeod is the youngest playwright at 23 ever to have this honor from the National New Play Network.

Oh, how we see the world through different lenses when we are 17 than when we are 70+. Playwright McLeod, a mere child by this octogenarian’s timeline, seems to have passed over  a world most seem to want to keep young with a series of drugs and injections, tummy tucks and breast augmentation and zeroed in  on a group of independently sound minded seniors who seem to be pretty comfortable with themselves and who want to hold the world with their own hands and in their own time.

Jill Drexler, Loie Gail and Rhona Gold
While this homage to youth and a society that genuflects to it, to commercials and mailers urging seniors to move into ‘senior living housing where everything is provided for you’ and yadda, yadda, yadda (and to hell with that), McLeod’s “Herland” is a funny, touching and heartfelt essay on what three seniors want most, or think they want most, as they move forward with the next phase of their lives, in whatever time they have left.

Jean (Rhona Gold), Terry (Loie Gail) and Louise (Jill Drexler) have been friends since high school. They know more about each other than they remember about themselves. (I have a friend like that in LA who keeps reminding me about things we did…well).

Jean is exploring the idea of all of them living together in a retirement home designed by the three that will include all of their favorite things. When Louise shows Jean pictures of retirement homes and the amenities they have like a pool, Louise insists theirs must have a Jacuzzi.

Loie Gail, Jill Drexler, Rhona Gold and Christine Cervas Nothanson
The combination of the three is an ideal package with three senior actors, all on top of their game, and ready for the kill as each brings out the best in each other. The dialogue is sharp, efficient and more often than not spot on.

They never miss a beat even when they discuss Terry’s being a lesbian or her deceased husband ( or Natalie’s secret meeting with a perspective date Bacca (Meg Stoll Torn), or when Jean ‘does her best Bruce Springsteen impression” or when they all let it hang out in an la ‘sex, drugs and rock n’ roll dream sequence. (“Born To Run”)

The show opens in Jean’s garage (Julie Lorenz) at her small family bungalow in Holland Mi.; the same garage her X, Bob used as a recording studio of sorts where he and his friends paid homage to Bruce Springsteen.   

Jean was never allowed in there except to bring beer and snacks. Now she is using it for her office (‘the house is too big. Too much space to lose everything”) and all of Bob’s ‘stuff is packed away or covered over with an assortment of other things and disguised as organized junk.

Now Jean is in the organizational stages of putting her idea on paper to eventually seeing it become a reality. She ‘hires’ a young recent high school graduate, Natalie, (Christine Cervas Nathanson) who is totally down with the idea of working or freelancing as an intern before entering her first year of college.

Eighteen -year old Natalie (dedicated, efficient and well organized) thinks Jean is cool and jumps right in after a brief introduction and an offer of Coors Beer or some other form of hard liquor.  She feels completely at home with all three when they all finally come together in the garage to get a plan together.

She also tries to keep them focused, but that takes a bit more concentration since her mind is elsewhere at times as well. While the ‘elders’ are trying to figure out what they want in the ‘utopian retirement community, (a nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 utopian novel where she visions a world with only women) Natalie is coming to grips with her own sexuality.

Artistic director Jennifer Eve Thorn and her gang of three go back and forth with their kvetches, their gossip (Louise-or Geez Louise), their insecurities and shyness (Terry) and their off the wall comments about family (Jean) as reality sets in later on in the play that will change the dynamic leading to their worst reality.

Rhona Gold, absent from the stage for some time, is back in rare form as the ditzy Jean whose idea of using her house as a retirement home sets the play in motion. Gold, a seasoned actor for as long as I can remember has not lost her jovial awareness in this, a role especially up her alley. Welcome back!

Jill Drexler is a perfect Louise, the one time trinket store –owner and independent woman who owns her own home and has a credit card with her name on it.  She is sharp, funny relaxed and oh, so natural as she shoots out the one liner’s that but for a less seasoned actor might steer us into sit-com territory.

Loie Gail is more lay back and quietly observant but comes through for Natalie when all is said and done. 

Miss Nathanson’s Natalie is mesmerizing as she steers the group through the many phases of their developing a project dear to them without getting in the way.

Her sense of timing and her sweet, knowing and comfortable comportment are impressive for such a young talent. For those questioning her familiar look, she is the face of Moxie’s Box Office and office manager. What a hidden talent.

Meg Stoll Tron’s Becca serves as the ground breaker into Natalie’s new and unexplored alternative world as the two struggle to find some comfort on Jean’s desk as the two try to make the best of their would be date.

The Moxie team with Julie Lorenz’s cluttered scenic design, Ashley Bietz’s lighting, Anastasia Puatova’s costume design and Lily Voon’s sound design (“Thunder Road”, “I’m On Fire”) round out an evening that was fun, funny and poignant; striking a familiar chord leaving yours truly convinced that it’s OK to be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do and say whatever you want to say when you grow up

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb.17th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858-598-7620
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 6663 El Cajon Bl. Ste. N. San Diego CA 92115
Ticket Prices: $18.00-$44.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

“A Jewel In The Crown City”: A Nostalgic Look Back At the Best of Lamb’s.

It was ‘Some Enchanted Evening” at the opening night of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s 25th anniversary celebration honoring itself.

Highlighted shows from “West Side Story” (“Something’s Coming”) “My Fair Lady” (“I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Get Me To The Church on Time”), to “Le Miserable” (“I Dreamed A Dream”), “Hello Dolly” (“Put On Your Sunday Clothes”), to “Joyful Noise” (“Hallelujah”), “Into The Woods” (“Children Will Listen”) and “Time To Remember” from “The Fantasticks” are but a few of the twenty-six or so shows this company has performed over the years taken from its twenty-five year musical history yearbook.

With a somewhat brief history narrated and interwoven throughout the evening by Robert Smyth, (who joined the company in the early 70’s and is and has been producing artistic director since 1976), of the how and the why the company moved from their small space in National City to another venue to accommodate a growing audience, we were privy to groundbreaking photos and slides to projections (Ken Jacques and Michael McKeon) of the shows highlighted, on an overhead canopy as part of the scenic design by resident designer Mike Buckley.
Luke Monday and Angela Chatelain Avila
With an all star studded cast of sixteen seasoned Lamb’s players to those fairly new to the company, most dressed in variations of black (I understand since black is my color of choice) and looking very spiffy (resident Jeanne Reith, thank you) the show, all rolled into one fantastic package is fast paced, up scale, perfectly executed and beautiful to look at. 

Conceived and staged by Robert Smyth, Deborah Gilmour Smyth, Kerry Meads and G. Scott Lacey one musical number after another from the above mentioned shows ran the gambit from solo’s to near production numbers to some cast members blending into the orchestra to play an instrument or two.
I Got The Horse Right Here
The Lamb’s Band composed of  Cris O’Bryon (band leader/keyboards), G. Scott Lacy, Rick Ogden (guitar and reeds), Dave Rumley (percussion) and Oliver Shirley (bass) is intricately meshed into the show with O’Bryon stepping out occasionally to sing.

Catie Grady and Michael Louis Cusimano recreated “Falling Slowly” from their award nominated “Once”; Brian Barbarin was bigger than life in his rendition of “Hollow” from Lamb’s original “Oz” with music and lyrics by Jon Lorenz. He also brought the house down with his Louis Armstrong voice in “Well Hello Dolly”.
Cashae Montoya (center),Angela Chatelain Avila, Joy Yandell and Catie Grady
Deborah Smyth’s moving “Children Will Listen” from “Into The Woods” and “Divining Day” from “Light in the Piazza” and “Cluster of Crocus” from “Secret Garden” moved me to tears and Joy Yandell’s “I Dreamed a Dream” from ‘Le Miz’ was heartbreakingly beautiful.

Eileen Bowman’s “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guys and Dolls”, Brian Mackey’s “Trouble” from “Music Man” and “Happiness” from “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”, to John Rosen’s “Get Me To The Church” from “My Fair Lady” and “Matchmaker” from “Fiddler” gave the production some levity. Everyone seemed eager to fill the cast’s pockets when “Tips” from the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes” trio raced through the audience to collect cash for their school outreach program.  
Brian Mackey and Bryan Barbarian
Big as a minute Cashae Monya belted out “Bless The Lord” from “Godspell” moving the rafters a tad with her splendid voice, and the entire ensemble was on hand to render a perfect pitch “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Joyful Noise” that, if I were a church going gal, I might have felt right at home.

Attention was also drawn to costume designer extraordinaire Jeanne Reith as members of the cast paraded on to the stage in some of her most elegant, including an Elvis Presley look with Fernando Vega’s rendition of “Songs Of The King” from “Joseph”. 

Eileen Bowman
Mention of course Nathan Peirson’s lighting, Patrick Duffy’s sound, Javier Velasco’s choreographer and our unsung hero/ stage manager Maria Mangiavellano keeping it all together and there you have it, ‘An Enchanting Evening’ hosted by Jim Chovik and Cynthia Gerber

You’ve come a long way baby since moving into what is now being called “A Jewel In The Crown City” (of Coronado smack dab in the center of town on Orange Ave.) from your old digs in National City.

And yes, Chris O’Bryon did sing  “Some Enchanted Evening” that set the tone for yours truly.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 24th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Phone: 619-437-6000
Production Type: Musical Review
Where: 1142 Orange Ave. Coronado, Ca92117
Ticket Prices: Start at $28.00
Photo: Ken Jacques

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Coronado Playhouse’s “Guys and Dolls” Worth The Drive Over The Bridge.

One of my all time favorite musicals “Guys and Dolls” can now be seen on the stage of the Coronado Playhouse through Feb 24th just in time for Valentines Day. And what a great Valentine’s Day present it will be for some lucky Guy or some lucky Doll.

Based on Damon Runyon’s stories of New York showgirls and gamblers, and adapted by Frank Loesser (music and lyrics), Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (book) this fable is by far one of the all time perfect musical comedy classics.

It’s clever, smart, and gruff yet loving, with a language all unto its own known only to those characters shared to us by Runyon. It is marked indelibly into our collective memories and it wouldn’t be out of character for yours truly to start humming “I Got The Horse Right Here”, if something reminded me of the show.

The musical is based on “The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown”, a short story by Runyon. It was first produced on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre where it opened on November 24, 1950.

Initially, it ran for over one thousand performances and won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. George S, Kaufman directed and the inimitable Vivian Blaine starred as Adelaide, the gal who suffered with a fourteen year cold (“Adelaide’s Lament”), while waiting for her man, Nathan Detroit to show up at the church to get married and give up gambling.

In his review of “Guys and Dolls” John Chapman of The Daily News said, “The big trouble with “Guys and Dolls” is that a performance of it lasts only one evening, when it ought to last about a week”. …. “For here is New York’s own musical comedy…."

The characters, and I mean characters have been permanently etched in my minds eye from the first time I saw the show: “Harry The Horse”, “Big Julie”, Nat’n Detroit”, “Liverlip Louie”, “Nicely, Nicely”, “Jimmy The Greek”,  “Benny Southstreet”.

Dave Rivera and Alyssa Anne Slagle
Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit are the ‘guys’ at the center of gravity in this gangsta, small time gambler gig. The main ‘dolls’ are Sarah Brown and Adelaide, the Hotbox Girls and Save –The- Soul –Missionaries.

They orbit around Masterson and Detroit taking turns at first ignoring and then loving (Sarah and Sky) and then at loving/hating (Adelaide and Nathan) and then loving. All the dancing and action (Mary Allison Dunsmore choreographs) happens on, in and around the streets, in the Mission (“Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat”) and storm drains (“Luck Be A Lady”) of Broadway in the 40’s.

Stan Soth and Justin Allen Slagle designed the versatile set using what looks like scaffolding to expand and heighten the theatre’s small stage with enough room to house the 13 or so piece live orchestra under the baton of Larry Wilson.

The two most important ‘dolls’ are Adelaide and Sarah Brown. Adelaide and Nathan have been ‘engaged’ for fourteen years.  She is, among other things, the lead singer with the other ‘dolls’ from the Hotbox Club. (“Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink”).

Christopher T. Miller and Olivia Torres
Sarah aka Sergeant Brown is in charge of the Missionaries from the ‘Save-a-Soul Mission’. She and her group canvass the streets looking for souls in need of saving. They march and pound to the drumbeat of ‘Follow the fold and stray no more” in their Red Salvation Army looking outfits (Marcene Drysdale designed and or rented the costumes) and “More I Cannot Wish You” beautifully sung by Tom Welch as Sara’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy, chief drummer in The Save-A-Soul- Band. 

Sarah will end up with the coveted prize, Sky Masterson (“My Time of Day”) but doesn’t know it until after her fortuitous trip to Havana for a lunch date with Sky. Sarah is goodie two shoes and very na├»ve. It’s kind of like when an irresistible force meets the old immovable object …something’s gotta give” (Jonny Mercer).

She and Sky (Olivia Torres and Christopher T. Miller) and Nathan and Miss Adelaide (Dave Rivas and Alyssa Ann Slagle) are the big love interests in the story. All four are well suited for their respective counterparts with the gals a bit stronger than the guys.

Olivia Torres who stands less than five feet has a gorgeous soprano voice the likes of which I never expected from this UCSD Science in Psychology major. Color me blown away.

 She also convinces as the stern but wavering Ms. Brown who lets her hair down when in Sky’s company especially after she goes to lunch with him in Havana. It’s here that she is introduced to Cuban milk-shakes’ or “Dulce de Leche” and things get out of hand. (“I’ll Know” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”)

Christopher T. Miller’s Sky Masterson is convincing enough in a non -aggressive approach to winning over Torres' Sarah Brown. His sweet non-threatening manner is in contrast to Sky’s I’ve known. It seems director Slagle wasn’t looking for the Marlon Brando type. That said, Miller’s look fits the bill and the chemistry is quite convincing. Both are a find. 

The show gets off to a little rough start with a few unwanted notes on trumpet (but recovers well) with the catchy “Fugue for Tinhorns” or better yet, “I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere…” and were off to the races! Nicely, Nicely Johnson (a terrific David Guthrie), Benny Southstreet (Scott Kolod is another great character) are arguing over which horse will win at the races the following day. 
David Guthrie, Scott Kolod, Dave Rivera
They crisscross with the Save-a-Soul Missionaries and before we know it, Nicely and Benny meet up with Harry the Horse (Steven Jensen) who wants to know where the floating crap game is. (“The Oldest Established”) Juxtaposed, Lt. Brannigan (Adam Sheldon), the local cop on the beat can’t wait to nail one of these petty hoodlums for playing craps. He has everyone scattering in different directions.
Floating Craps Game 
These guys are terminally addicted to gambling and Adelaide is terminally addicted to Nathan and between the two, who are well suited for each other there is some easy give and take in their on again -off again relationship. Dave Rivas is convincing as the distracted Nathan forever looking for a place to have ‘the game’. (Loved his red shoes)

Miss Slagle is a natural; just what the doctor ordered as the wheezing and sneezing the ditsy Adelaide.  Her looks and sound resemble somewhat the quintessential Blain exaggerating and mutilating the English language with a heavy New York twang.  

Once again the Coronado Playhouse is staging another Big Time musical, with great sound  (Steve Murdock), lighting (Jerry Wooding)  and set. The male dancers are a bit uneven and the choreography comes up somewhat short yet the show still has universal audience appeal and it’s just plain fun to see it live, up close and personal in this small venue.  
Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat
If you live on the San Diego side of the bridge, it’s worth the drive over it to catch this lively production. If you are within walking distance to the theatre, well than, no excuses.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 24th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-435-4856
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92117
Ticket Prices:
Photo: Ken Jacques