Tuesday, June 28, 2022

“Lempicka…A New Musical” At La Jolla Playhouse, An Arousing Tribute to Tamara de Lempicka!

 Robust rumors are circulating that “Lempicka A New Musical” is already scheduled for a Broadway run. With book, lyrics and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould choreography by Raja Feather Kelly and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it is currently at the La Jolla Playhouse through July 24th making its West Coast Premiere.

It made its world premiere in the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018.  While stopping here for its second showing, after a Covid delay, it is hoped with some cuts and possible improvements to the lyrics, before going to The Great White Way it will improve the outcome. 

Tamara de Lempicka’s story begins and ends in L.A.  and segues back to her early life in Warsaw at the beginning of the rise of Bolshevism, to her first marriage in 1917 in St Petersburg to a wealthy Polish lawyer. Tadeusz Lempicki. They lived like royalty until their world was turned upside down. Her husband was arrested by the secret police. Giving her jewelry to them was not enough to free him. They wanted her. 

Eden Espinosa as Lempicka

Once free they left with their daughter, Kizette whom she called her niece so she wouldn’t be considered old enough to have a daughter, to Paris. There she scrubbed floors to keep the family going while Tadeusz looked and looked finally landing a job at the bank doing menial work. It was in Paris that she pursued her painting on a serious level studying with a hard assed domineering teacher, Filippo Marinetti who called her a ‘difficult woman’. 

Before she made her way to her own studio, she was encouraged by wealthy Baron, who later became her second husband, (Victor C. Chan) to keep on painting. From there, at the suggestion of her sister and with help from the Baron, Lempicka decided to become a serious painter. She went on to Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. Now she was fully engaged with Marinetti (George Abud is excellent and almost steals the show with his brilliant singing and acting) as her teacher, the same one who called her ‘that difficult woman’.

Andrew Samonsky and Eden Espinosa

 Nothing much has changed since most hard -nosed men can’t tolerate strong women. Make no mistake, Tamara Lempicka was a very strong willed woman and that’s what makes her so interesting. That and the fact that she found women as seductive as men and openly had affairs with both. Her relationship with her prostitute muse Rafaella, who frequently posed nude for Lempicka, while they carried on their affair was nothing less than blasphemous to her husband, who was also having affairs outside the marriage. Go figure. 

Not long after she gained notoriety for her works in Art Deco forms, the rich and famous Parisians were buying her works for hefty prices.  Once again, her world was turned upside down with the rise of anti-Semitism (she never forgot her Jewish roots) and a Nazi takeover. It was at this point in her life and career that she had to make haste and flee to America where we learn she had residences in both New York and Beverly Hills. 

One can’t accuse Tamara de Lempicka of having a dull life. While some of her story might be exaggerated, the production at The La Jolla Playhouse leaves no stone unturned from Riccardo Hernandez fast revolving sets offset by Bradley King’s fluorescent angular lighting, to Anita Yavich’s stunning and bold costume designs (with the exception of Eden Espinosa’s Lempicka who pretty much wore the same costume and hair style (Tom Watson) from almost beginning to end.

Eden Espinosa and Amber Iman

Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly showed us some pretty different types of dance, oft times sexual in nature but for the most part seemed like an exercise in movement. However, Peter Negrini’s projections brought us back to reality with scenes from Germany’s rising influence.

Matt Gould’s score under the baton of Charity Wicks ten piece orchestra is loud, frenetic and with a fast moving beat with no real ballads that make a connection to the time, was disappointing. Carson Kreitzer lyrics are pedestrian, redundant and don’t really add much to the overall story. They are never developed into anything that holds the story together.  

One or two bluesy numbers sung by Rafaela an extremely talented and beautiful Amber Iman and another of Lempicka’s female amours Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson) who owned the all-female club, until it was destroyed by the Fascists, were out right on track. 

The acting is exemplary by each and every character in the show with Espinosa at the center of this very long production running at three hours, is talented. Amber Iman's Rafaela is fascinating as she seems to be the only one in Lempicka’s world to have power over her (“Stillness”), at least at times. Andrew Samonsky’s Tadeusz Lempicki her husband, has no character development. For the fact that his good looks can carry him for a while, he’s mostly just there.

Amber Iman

For her part, Jordan Tyson as Kizette, Tempicka’s daughter is allowed to age beautifully on stage from a young child to a devoted daughter and tell all (to her father) to a dedicated daughter to her mother after her return to Beverly Hills. 

Director Rachel Chavkin is to be applauded for pulling this stunning musical and story off to the degree that Broadway audiences will find it as timely a musical for the ages as did the audiences in La Jolla. With a tweak here and a tweak there, it's a go!

Dates: Through July 14th

Organization: The La Jolla Playhouse

Phone: 858 550 1010

Production Type: Musical

Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive 

Ticket Prices: $25.00 -$95.00 

Web: lajollaplayhouse.org

Photo: Matthew Murphy and Rich Soublet II, La Jolla Playhouse

Saturday, June 25, 2022

“Freestyle Love Supreme” Opens Three Weeks of Improv, / Hip Hop and Rap at The Old Globe.

(from left) Kaila Mullady, Jay C. Ellis, Andrew Bancroft, and Morgan Reilly

 Many, many years ago there used to be an Improv Club in San Diego. I used to go often to see various comedians do their acts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an evening of fun, friendship and getting to see some pretty well known and awesome stars. 

Jack Lemon once said that ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’.  So, if you happen to find yourself at The Old Globe any one of these days through July 10th to see “Freestyle Love Supreme”, don’t think you walked in a ready made scripted Hip Hop /Rap celebration. All of what you will be seeing is performed by a group of musician/ actors in non- stop motion doing their thing. That 'thing' is Improv taken to the nth degree. 

The idea was conceived in 2003 by Anthony Veneziale, Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Yes, that Lin-Manuel Miranda). Now well beyond their college days, the group has morphed into this Tony award winning show now on tour around the country. 

On the way into the theatre patrons were asked to write words on a slip of paper and drop them into a bucket. Why, you ask? Well it seems that some of the words chosen for opening night’s presentation were taken from that bucket and voila a story is created by any one of the performers on stage that night. 

Opening night cast.

According to those in the know, different actors appear on different dates. On opening night Jelly Donut or Andrew Bancroft acted as host. Others that I can remember and did enjoy was singer Morgan ‘Hummingbird’ Reilly who riffed on ‘Seasoned Croutons’. Because every audience will react differently to what’s going on on stage making each performance different, I hope they do that one again.

Two stories that came from the audience was the one about a young boy coming face to face with a cougar while at his older brother’s birthday party in the mountains with his family. The funniest was when an audience member revealed that he had driven two hours from Riverside County to San Diego to meet up with his first date. They met at the Globe that night. That garnered a lot of laughs from the audience (he packed an overnight case...just in case) and the young man looked perfectly at ease. 

The cast had a ball rapping and improving about the story and they were good. Oft times one word could take up no less that fifteen minutes to make the round robin of every cast member having their say on the same word or set of circumstances. Some of the takes went on way too long, but you be the judge. The show is 80 minutes or so with no intermission. 

Full disclosure: Hip Hop and Rap are not my most favorite forms of entertainment. The words come too fast for me to get one rap before the next is out, if you get my drift. My brain doesn’t absorb what my ears scramble to hear. As the rest of the audience clapping beyond loud might say; “Not their problem”.

 “Freestyle Love Supreme” has been around for over twenty years, so what do I know. Twenty years or so ago I might have felt differently, but folks, there you have it. If you enjoy this type of entertainment, go for it. I can tell you that from the audience reaction and participation, they were out of their seats with excitement. 

(from left) Morgan Reilly, Kaila Mullady (back), Anthony Veneziale, and Jay C. Ellis. 

Everything about the look of the production is hi tech. Nevin Steinberg is credited for the sound. Beowulf Boritt, scenic. Jeff Croiter, lighting. Lisa Zanni, costumes and Thomas Kail, directed. 

If you are so inclined, give it try for something very different. 

Dates: Through July 10

Organization: The Old Globe 

Phone: 619-234-5623 

Production Type: Hip-Hop /Improve

Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Ticket Prices: From $52.00

Web: theoldglobe.org

Photo: Joan Marcus

Thursday, June 16, 2022

“The Outgoing Tide” At North Coast Rep. Is Bittersweet And Heartfelt

 72 year old Gunner Concannon has a sure fire plan, all thought out in detail, to end his life and leave his family well off. Peg, his wife of fifty years (give or take) has other plans for Gunner. Her plan is to keep him safe and cared for as his dementia gets worse. Brochures of nursing homes are all over the house. Gunner will have none of it. “It’s like a roach motel, ya check in but ya don’t check out.”

Their fifty (give or take) year old son Jack is in the middle with his own tsuris to deal with. He’s in the throws of a divorce and the conflict between his parents has put him in an untenable family situation. It’s not exactly like walking on eggshells but at times it feels just like that especially when both parents tell him things they don’t want the other to know this or that. It’s kind of a running joke. 

Gunner loves throwing stones into the ocean to see how many times they skip over the water. (I did that as a kid as well only in a lake.) He loves fishing on the beach of his now permanent home on Chesapeake Bay just a walk away from everything he loves and knows, or not.  

Andrew Barnicle and Leo Marks

One thing he does not love and that’s that the idea that he be sent off to a nursing home for people with Alzheimer’s.  His wife Peg seems to think would be good for him; it has a pool; a gym and you have your own apartment. Of course, that’s when you are healthy.  But then there is A Wing…The hospital part.” It’s so depressing”. 

The tides along Chesapeake Bay are as predictable as Gunner is unpredictable; but it wasn’t always that way with Gunner. Oh, sure he always loved a good joke (PC or not,) his television likes included episodes of Cops”, he never could relate to his 50 year old son Jack, in fact when we first meet Jack along the shores of the Bay where Gunner is fishing, there is no acknowledgement of a relationship between father and son. It’s like a stranger happened along. 

Linda Gehringer

And when he tried to watch one of his shows on TV (he even put new batteries in the clicker) and it didn’t work he was convinced the TV was broken until Peg told him it was the Microwave he was pointing at. Or when he came out into the kitchen without his trousers. But ask him something that happened fifty or so years ago, he’s on top of it. 

Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” is a bitter -sweet and yes significant play about family, about promises, and end of life issues; no holds barred. It is beautifully performed by a strong cast of three and deftly directed by Nike Doukas.  Oft times not an easy to digest topic especially when Gunner and Peg, whose love affair has always been on solid ground, is at crossroads with how and what decisions must be made.  

Seasoned cast members Andrew Barnicle and Linda Gehringer fit into the roles of Gunner and Peg like hand and glove, complementing each other and showing affection throughout. Neither role is an easy task albeit the topic, a red hot one these days and both are up to the task of convincing us they are in the middle of it.

Linda Gehringer and Leo Marks

Leo Marks has the difficult role of referee, son, father (back home in the burbs of Philly he has an incorrigible son who won’t even bathe) and his EX has not signed the divorce papers. But he hangs in there for his parents, like it or not, and things do manage to come full circle for the family but not without a lot of compromise, hugs, sobbing and resolve.  

Marty Burnett’s set is spot on with cat tails and sprigs of greenery oft seen along the waters off the Atlantic. Another high five for Burnett, Matt Novotny’s lighting, again is spot on, Elsa Benzoni’s costumes, casual beach wear and Aaron Rumley’s sound design has us actually hearing the sounds of the tide. Well done all around.

Andrew Barnicle and Linda Gehringer

Hats off the North Coast Rep. for bringing another great production to our fair city. 

Two thumbs up.

Dates: Through July 3rd

Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre

Phone: 858 481 1055

Production Type: Family Drama

Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, Ca. 92075

Ticket Prices: Start $60.00

Web: northcoastrep.org

Photo: Aaron Rumley

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Oh, Kate! Who Art Thou? Art Thou Shrew or Art Thou Shrewd?


Mission Control! We’ve got a conundrum at hand. Shakespeare’s problem play, “The Taming Of The Shrew”,  the most misogynistic  of his plays is back in town on the Festival Stage in Balboa Park, no less, with director Shana Cooper’s reimagining of it to make it less so.  

In subterfuge, there’s lots of shimmering, slapstick, overzealous swaggering, strutting, over- exaggerated humping and pumping with musicians galore with music from "Kiss Me Kate" and Abba to name a few.

Somewhere in the mix, is Kate or Katherine (Deborah Ann Woll) the object of The Bards ‘Shrew’, a haughty, man hating female who of course has to be tamed so that her easy going, beautiful and younger and seemingly tame, sister Bianca (Cassia Thompson) may marry. And who better to tame her? Why the only one who measures up to the task, Petruchio (the youthful and somewhat charming James Udom) from Verona, who came to ‘to wive it well in Padua’. He’s also looking for someone with a huge dowry. 

Bada Boom!

“Shrew” is what “Shrew” acts, says and does and no matter how loudly she doth protest or how much progress women think they have made, Kate, as in ‘the shrew’ still serves ‘tamer’/master/ husband Petruchio. Call it comedy, if low ‘comedy’ is your thing, (it is one of Will’s earliest, and has all the elements of his later ‘romantic comedies’ including the ‘happy ending’). We can debate that point later. 

In case background info is essential this is the one about Petruchio who upon arriving in Padua from Verona discovers that Baptista Minola, (Armando Durân) a very rich Lord in Padua, has two daughters of marriageable age. The eldest is the tempestuous, ‘fiend of hell’, Kate. 

No guy would even consider marrying that one nor, is she interested. Her younger sister, the beautiful and forever wooed Bianca has at least two (that we know), men wishing to marry her, Hortensio and Grumio (Orville Mendoza and Jessie J. Perez). Did I mention that gender bending comes with the territory?  

Also, did I mention the arrival of Lucentio (a handsome suitor Jude Tibeau) has arrived in Padua to attend Padua U. but falls madly for Bianca. Oh, so many plots and subplots. This plays out to many laughs.

Before the wedding and during the (ahem courtship), Petruchio has his own way of taming Kate (“If I waspish, beware my sting”). After the wedding he drags her off to Verona but not before telling all within earshot that she is now his property and may do with her as he pleases. Back home in Verona he refuses to allow her to eat or sleep until she is completely broken (and that is supposed to be funny) and the circus of who will marry Bianca continues. 

Bringing us in and up on all the news that’s fit to print is the peppy and wordy and most of the time drunk Grumio who also happens to be Petruchio’s go- to guy er…Several other characters play multiple roles and some are quite laughable while others are not. 

All of the above is the essence of Shakespeare’s early works, however director Cooper has put a different spin on the same set of circumstances by giving Kate a few more tools by agreeing not to agree with Petruchio but having him turn some of his thoughts inside out so they both agree to agree. A clever turn of events and both, after a fashion, return to Padua as a most agreeable couple to the astonishment of the gaggle of onlookers. To the actors credit, there was a bit of a sparkle between the two upon first meeting. That helps to make it a bit more palatable. 

All of this plays out on a set designed by Wilson Chin. Topiaries of life sized men and women dressed in party outfits stand in the background while the actors play out the story on more turf below. 

Asa Bennie Hostetter designed the costumes including the look alike wedding dresses for bride and groom. That was a hoot especially after it looked like he was going to stand her up for the ceremony. 

Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting is perfect but not so perfect were the animals next door at the zoo who decided to come awake for the show. 

All in all, it was entertaining, but this old timer is still stuck in a time warp and is all too familiar with women(and men) who are abused. If I had my druthers I would rather see "Kiss Me Kate", with  music by Cole Porter. 

OH! You be the judge. Is Kate Shrew or Shrewd?

Dates: Through July 10th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619 -234-5623
Production Type: Romantic Comedy
Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: $30.00 and up
Web: theoldglobe.org
Photo: Jim Cox

Monday, June 13, 2022

Mother -Daughter Team Face Off In Roustabouts Psychological Drama, “Iron”.

Rosina Reynolds

 The first sounds one hears in Roustabouts “Iron” by Rona Munro (Dr. Who: Survival) and directed by Jacole Kitchen, are the slamming of prison bars or cell doors closing. Behind those iron doors and/or bars is a lifer, Fay (Rosina Reynolds).

In a fit of uncontrollable rage, brought on by her husband’s dismissal of her, she plunged a knife into his stomach killing him. Did/does she regret it? Absolutely yes. Did /does she still love him? More than ever. Does she want to put the incident behind her? No contest. 

Outside the doors is Josie (Kate Rose Reynolds) Fay’s 30 year old daughter. Josie was a child when all this went down, and would like to jog her memory of her father, whom she barely remembers and how it was that her mother killed her father. Josie was raised by her Gran(her father’s mother), whose recent death has left Josie alone. Her only living relative, to her knowledge, is her mother. 

Rosina Reynolds and Kate Rose Reynolds

Without any pre planning Josie shows up at the prison to visit her mother after a 20 year absence. After a long discussion about prison protocol with one of the guards (Richard P Trujillo) she returns, papers filled out, for that long awaited visit. What follows is a series of visits and discussions/ disclosures between the two.  Sometimes they go smoothly, other times, no much.

Kate Rose Reynolds and Rosina Reynolds

Both women, (real life mother/daughter) seem to be coming from different ends of the spectrum; Josie wants to know more about her father whom she barely remembers and Fay wants to know about Josie and what her life is all about. 

As the visits become a weekly thing, Fay manages to redirect all of Josie’s questions into events in her life that Josie can’t help but buy into especially when Fay asks Josie if she remembers all of those times. If not, Fay fills her in on the details so another chapter of Fay’s life is thrown back into Josie’s lap.  This without once getting to the source of the killing. 

Both actors are exceptional in their respective roles. As a long times presence on many San Diego stages Rosina is considered one of the outstanding actors to play on our many stages here, even having won the San Diego Theatre Critics Award for “Angels In America”, “Golda’s Balcony”, “Wit”, “Shirley Valentine” among others. In this particular production she shows us why. She is so exceptional. Almost the iron lady she manages to knock Josie on her heels with revelations of the 20 year ago event on the one hand and on the other she shows us her frailties and insecurities when Josie prods on. She is definitely at her best at both. 

Rosina, Richard J. Trujillo, Jada Alston Owens and Kate Rose Reynolds

For her part, Kate, (Margin of Error) shows us her stuff as she is able to turn on a dime with her facial expressions, so telling that words are often not needed. Even in her joy at making her mother smile as she gives into her mother’s whims, she is all too expressive. She too is truly her mother’s daughter. 

Set in a women's prison in Scotland(yes, the accents sounded very real to these ears), Tony Cucuzzella’s prison set is stark in gray tones with a table with chairs for the purpose of the visits, a desk for the two prison guards, (Guard 1 Richard P. Trujillo and Guard 2, Jada Alston Owens) who are in charge of Fay’s every move including her visits with Josie. Both do yeoman’s work. 

Michelle Miles is responsible for the lighting, Pamela Stomploy-Ericson designed the costumes and Ron Christopher acted as flight choreographer. 

Both mother and daughter deserve a Brava for fine acting in a play that captures the true nature of the push me pull you decisions each has to make on a dime on issues like mental health, separation, uncertainties, fear, hope and belonging.

It’s a long sit, but well worth it. The play runs over two hours of intense dialogue with a bit of hometown humor thrown in for some levity.

Do yourself a favor and head out to Moxie Theatre and bring your friends to see the well directed, and exceptionally acted, “Iron”. 

Dates: Through June 25th
Organization: Roustabouts Theatre Company
Phone: 619. 568.5800
Production Type: Drama
Where: Moxie Theatre, 6663El Cajon Blvd St N
Ticket Prices: $45.00
Photo: Daren Scott