Sunday, June 17, 2018

Moonlight’s “Mamma Mia” Summer Fun For The Whole Family.

To the delight of Moonlight fans and in celebration of Moonlight Stage Production’s 38th summer, producing artistic director has chosen a clear crowd pleaser by all accounts by mounting the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!”
Karyn Overstreet, Bets MAlone and Barbara Schoenhofer
It’s a fun musical with the songs and music of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus written originally for ABBA and are the main attraction. The book by Catherine Johnson, is so ho hum that after a while, you just look forward to hearing the music which is made to fit around the story of the young Sophie Sheridan (beautifully soprano voiced Katie Sapper) who is planning a conventional wedding to the handsome and muscular Sky (Nicholas Sloan  “Lay All Your Love On Me”) and always dreamed about having her Dad walk her down the isle.
The Dads Lance Arthur Smith, Roberrt J. Townsend and JAson W. Webb with Katie Sapper
No problem for those who know who their Dad is. Not so in the life of Sophie. You see her mother Donna (Bets Malone) is feisty, forty- something and used to be part of a singing group called the “Dynamos”. She is still single but way back then she had a tryst with three different young men when they were all young and foot loose.  It all happened somewhere on a small Greek Island 21 years ago.
Katie Sapper and Robert J. Townsend
Donna never told Sophie about them but for the sake of expediency Sophie gets hold of an old diary of her Mom’s. After reading it Sophie finds out the names of the there men in her mom’s life, who at that time she was gaga over and possibly had affairs with, and sends all three an invitation  (that was supposed to come from Donna) to the wedding.

The mystery: Donna knows nothing of this and the three men, now into the same forties as Donna are flummoxed as to why they have been invited to a wedding of someone they know little about.

There is Sam (Robert J. Townsend “Knowing Me Knowing You”), Bill, (Lance Arthur Smith) and Harry (Jason W.Webb). All three left the island leaving Donna behind. She now runs a nice little hotel and cantina and ekes out a living for both herself and Sophie. 

None knew she was ‘with child’ and now they, all three potential Dads’ show up thinking Donna invited them. She’s as confused as they, especially after Sophie asks all three to walk her down the isle.  (“Thank You For The Music”)
Nicholas Sloan and Katie Sapper
Needless to say, it all works out; conundrum aside, and ABBA fans get to hear no less than 23 favorite songs including “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia”, “Take A Chance On Me”, “Winner Takes It All” “Voulez-Vous”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, and  “Slipping Through My Fingers” among others all under Musical director and conductor Lyndon Peguda’s baton.

The production is filled with a combination of youthful energy and mature and over the top funny/ hysterical shenanigans.  On opening night the entire ensemble was on top of their game that left the audience on their collective feet when the whole cast came out for curtain call in their full on pull up Lycra costumes coordinated by Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renatta Lloyd, designed by Alexandra Johnson and provided by 3-D Theatricals.

Sapper, looking heavenly in her wedding dress, whose credits include” Sunset Boulevard” and  “Titanic” has a gorgeous (“I Have A Dream”) voice and with acting credits to go along; “I want my Dad to walk me down the isle” bit.
Bets Malone and Cast
There is strong chemistry between Bets Malone’s Donna and Sapper’s Sophie that lends credibility to their mother daughter relationship. (“Slipping Through My Fingers”). Ms. Malone has the right chops for the Abba sound and uses them to her advantage.

Donna’s old girlfriends and singing buddies (the “Dynamos”) Tanya and Rosie (Barbara Shoenhofer and Karyn Overstreet) who were also invited to the wedding helped steal the show with their antics and good humor, (“Dancing Queen”) especially Shoenhofer, whose legs don’t stop and what a terrific dancer. Overstreet is a hoot as the prankster of the three and her little shtick with Smith’s Bill is a hoot. (“Take A Chance on Me”)

Other than that the three ‘father’s’ are about as exciting as watching grass grow. They come, they go, and they bring little pieces of forty- year history with them that refuses to be reconciled any time soon.  

Townsend’s Sam and Malone’s Donna dance a dance but seem miles apart until the last scenes (no spoiler here in case you’ve never seen the show). He wants to talk, she wants to have nothing to do with him, or so it seems. (“The Winner Takes It All”)
Lance Arthur Smith and Karyn Overstreet
The talented ensemble of young people, who do a good amount of dancing (and with fins on their feet to boot) create some semblance of excitement on the island with Nicholas Alexander’s Pepper making a big pass at Tanya as she plays him like a violin.

But it’s the dancing (by director/choreographer John Vaughn) along with the 23 or so Abba songs that give this particular musical most of its pizzazz. With an ensemble of fifteen strong acting as chorus behind a wall that separates land from ocean (Stephen Gifford) and Jean-Yves Tessier’s smart, colorful and playful lighting/spots et al that adds another dimension to the spirit and overall look of the production.
"The Dancing Queens"
So what’s not to like? Nothing!. 

Go, see, enjoy, sing along and have fun, it’s Abba after all.  

Coming up next “1776” 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 30th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Phone: 1-760-724-2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, CA 92084
Ticket Prices: Start at $52.00
Photo: Ken Jacques and Adriana Zuniga

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Anita Bryant Slowly Fades From The World Stages In “The Loneliest Girl In The World”

Raise your hand if you remember Anita Bryant! That Anita Bryant; the one that pushed Florida orange juice, came in second in The 1959 Miss America Beauty (“A Pretty Girl Is Like A Memory”) pageant losing out to Mary Ann Mobley and wore her anti-gay stripes on her sleeve for the whole world to see, hear and react.

OK, not so much?
Sam Heldt and Allison Spratt Pearce
Join the cast and crew of Diversionary Theatre in University Heights for the brand spanking new musical story, “The Loneliest Girl In The World” by Gordon Leary (book and lyrics) and Julia Meinwald (music) and directed by over the moon thrilled director Matt M. Morrow through July1st and learn probably more than you ever needed or wanted to know about the bible thumping, no holds barred one woman crusader that railed against homosexuals and homosexuality.  

The all out wonderful cast in “L.G.I.T.W. stars Allison Spratt Pearce as Anita, Sean Tuazon, Lauren King Thompson, Steve Gouveia, Sam Heldt, and Marci Ann Wuebben  (all except Spratt Pearce and Heldt play multiple roles).

The production is staged on Robin Sanford Roberts’ cartoon looking set with TV’s lining the back-walls, some reminiscent of the TV show “Laugh In” (highlighted by Christopher J. Martin’s lighting design) with characters peeking through open window/doors.

Those whose faces we saw included (Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk and Kathy Lee then Johnson). They are wearing cardboard cutout hairstyles to define and on occasion.

Full body cardboard props (Bonnie Durben) are used (very clever touch) on other occasions, as when Gouveia (who also plays Anita’s husband Bob) is emcee of the pageant and Tauzon is one of the contestants and all we see are their faces through the cutout of the full sized body boards they carry.
Sam Heldt
 The one character that yours truly never knew too much about was the character Tommy or Thom Higgins (a wonderful Sam Heldt) the young man who in 1977 threw a fruit pie in Anita Bryant’s face during an interview as rep. for the Orange Citrus Commission. 

At the same time she became an outspoken opponent of gay rights ‘and ran the Save Our Children campaign to repeal a local ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.’ It was the beginning of the end for her.

While he made history with his pie in face incident and went on with his life, his story in her life is pretty much fictional. It’s a clever beginning to get us hooked as in hook, line and sinker.

On one track the rise and fall of Bryant dressed in Elisa Benzoni’s get up’s and in Peter Herman’s wigs plays out in all its glory. Most of her career as shown in backstory, is no mystery.
Allison Spratt Pearce
She recorded over 40 top hits in the late 50’s early 60’s with her most memorable “Paper Roses” reaching # 5 on the charts. Her ambassadorship with the Florida Citrus Commission lasted well over ten years and Good Housekeeping Magazine declared her one of the most influential Women in America. But then…

Ms. Pearce, one of the most versitile of San Diego performers, having appeared in  "The Last Wife" and "My Fair Lady"  at Cygnet Theatre and her award winning performance as Maria in "The Sound of Music" shows off her acting chops as "The Lonliest Girl In The world".   

 That pie in the face incident that made the headlines from coast to coast segues from her losing the Miss America Pageant to a very young and impressionable Tommy and his mother (Wuebben) baking together.

Tommy’s obsession with Bryant begins to take form with letters to and letters from convincing Tommy that she really appreciates his being a fan. Tommy is a closet gay, but after months of trying to hide it from his doting mother he finds himself at Kyle’s apartment (Shaun Tauzon) and the two begin a relationship.

Heldt’s performance moves from skinny and shy boy to mature and purposeful adult. His growth to adulthood is a tribute to Leary’s book and he does it with ease. While the two protagonists it seems were destined to come across each other at some point and the splintering off of their personalities and differing paths taken, is a beshert moment.

For a brand new musical, right out of the chute and after many years of work shopping, it hit the stage at Diversionary full force. With the beautifully nuanced voice of Allison Sprat Pearce making her way through some very difficult and oft times non melodic music the show flows easily through her rise and fall from fame paralleling Tommy’s coming of age and importance on the world stage.
Allison Spratt Pearce and Steve Gouveia
Fine work comes from Lauren King Thompson who plays Bryant’s sister Kay and a bevy of other characters. She’s a standout comedian with excellent timing and a perfect stage presence showing up when least expected.

The rest of the first-rate cast, left to their own devices and under Morrows direction shine in waves of glory at telling both stories along the parallel lines.

Musical director Patrick Marion with Matt Lescaul-Wood’s sound and choreographer Stephen Brotebeck capitalize on Meinwald’s musical score to its advantage with no less than 20 musical numbers in all. (Some could be cut or shortened thereby shortening the running time that was well over two hours )

As a sidebar in 2018 it was recently announced that the United States Supreme Court sided with a baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple sighting ‘First Amendment Rights’: Quoting that ‘Same Sex marriage was at odds with his religious beliefs.’ Looks like we’re headed in the wrong direction once again.
Allison Spratt Pearce
But maybe not, though when creative juices are at work and theatre’s like Diversionary can count on their audiences to support new works and spread the word and show the world, including the narrow minded that it still takes all members of society to make it whole.

Congratulations and Happy Pride Week!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through July 1st
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. #101 San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$55.00
Photo: Simpatika

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Heart At The Center Of “Once” At Lamb’s Players Theatre

The musical play “Once” is based on the Academy Award winning film of the same name. It is a love story that takes place over the course of a week between the two protagonists, Girl (Catie Brady) who is a Czech national and busker Guy (Michael Louis Cusimano) who is an Irish street musician/ Hoover repairman. (“Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer”)

They meet up in an Irish Pub after she wanders on to the scene where he is playing his latest work. In spite of all that says no, they venture into a friendship that leads to a short- lived love almost fairy tale affair. (“Falling Slowly”).
Catie Grady and Michael Louis Cusimano
“Once” described as charming, different, whimsical, original and daring is based on the 2006 movie of the same name, sans music. The stage adaptation with book by Edna Walsh and songs by Markéta Itglová (including the Academy Award song, “Falling Slowly”) premiered in 2011 at The New York Theatre Workshop and moved to Broadway 2012 where it won 11 Tony Award nominations.

It came through San Diego via Broadway/San Diego in 2014 on its National Tour and yours truly was more than disappointed in the production staged in the too large, no connection to any of the characters, venue of the Civic Theatre. It’s a small and intimate show.
Cast of "Once" at Lamb's Players
Enter Lamb’s Players Theatre and their amazing and exceptional ensemble, and astute and talented in her own right, director Kerry Meads who gives this production, yes, heart and choreographed by Colleen Kollar Smith and voila! All is right with the world with one exception, the sound (Patrick Duffy) was oft times inaudible and it was difficult to make out the lyrics.

The star-crossed lovers, Girl and Guy though never admitting it, travel a ‘road not taken’. She is a single mother, not divorced and he is recently alone since his ‘once love’ left him for New York. Both are serious in this new relationship of theirs that doesn’t really come together, but ‘once’ in a lifetime, and not until the end; it’s a work in progress throughout.

He lives with his Da (a soft spoken softie Kent Brisby) above the Hoover Shop and she lives with other Czech nationals, all musicians; her mother Baruska (a peppy and animated Deborah Gilmour Smyth with a wonderful Czech accent “Ej Padá Padá Rosicka”) and young daughter Ivonka (a charming Bianca Rodriguez on opening night).
Michael Louis Cusimano with Bianca Rodriguez (Catie Grady and Deborah Gilmour Smyth in background)
Most of the action takes place in a Dublin Pub/ Music Shop  (designed by Sean Fanning) and belonging to high spirited but hilarious guitar playing Billy (Manny Fernandes.) What else does this talented guy do? His larger than life presence weaves humor throughout.  

In the Pub before the show, patrons wander up to the bar and order drinks while the entire cast, musicians every one of them, sing, stomp, dance and move between patrons until Cusimano walks into the Pub and soulfully sings the song he wrote for his then girlfriend. “Leave”.

He closes his guitar case and heads to the swinging doors when Girl steps in and stops him. From there it’s a push me pull you battle of how she encourages him to continue on in his career as a musician while he supports and encourages her musicianship on piano. “Falling Slowly”.

Cusimano and Grady (Photo by Chris Turner)
Both leads are solid and persuasive with a good amount of electricity between them. Catie Grady’s Girl blew my mind in a role tailor made for her. As a company member and a Lamb’s Associate Artist she has been seen in many roles on this stage, but her heartfelt, heartbreaking performance on opening night took her to depths not seen before. Her performance is absolutely stunning. Her times at the piano are top notch as well. 

The large (12 member) ensemble of musicians are the spirit and backbone of this high-energy show that sports some amazing musicians that play a variety of interesting instruments and sing their way through an assortment of Irish music enough so to warm the heart of any Irishman, and then some, in the audience.
Cast of "Once"
The clever use of the musicians some of who are on stage throughout and every now and then become characters in their own musical. They are also ready during whatever scene changes take place to move props here and there. There are also some pretty active movements along the way creating an easy flow for characters to come and go.

The array of instruments as the mandolin, guitar, banjo, drum set and percussions, accordion and concertina, melodica, ukulele, cello, electric bass, violin and of course piano all speak to a musical show that is at once a rowdy and foot stomping to tenderness and lauding. “Gold”
Manny Rodrigues and Catie Grady
Those with instruments carried on and off stage (musical direction by G. Scott Lacy) Temi Hason has her own carry on cello. Multi talented, she sings and acts and does all with confidence and vim. Luke Monday is wonderful on his violin. James Michael Hale is the banker asked to give Guy a loan so he can rent out a sound studio to make some CD”s. He’s the guy with the fancy guitar (“Abandoned In Brandon”).  

Arusi Santi as Svec (last seen in Moxie’s “Ironbound) is a hoot as he drops his draws to muffle his loud drums. Abigail Allwein, Dave Rumley and Jimmy Marino complete the musically skilled cast.  

Rounding out the all inclusive and all around authentic look of the show are Jeanne Reith’s costumes, Nathan Peirson’s lighting and of course Sean Fanning’s all purpose double deck set overlooking the water from up above and Dublin Bar downstairs where the energy and music overflows and sentiment, hope and love percolates.

Like other award winning musicals Lamb’s Players Theater has mounted, “Once” is high up on the list.

“You’ve gotta have heart” and this one, above all, has lot’s and lot’s of it.

Next up how about “Come From Away”?

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through July 22nd
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Phone: 679-437-6000
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1142 range Ave. Coronado, CA. 92178
Ticket Prices: Start at $28.00
Photo: Ken Jacques