Arts In LA
Theater Reviews
Pizza Man
Pop Up Theater at an undisclosed location

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal

Emma Chandler, Freddy Giorlando, and Raleigh West
Grafton Doyle

Misogyny, mania, mayhem, oh my! All are on full display in playwright Darlene Craviotto’s cleverly crafted snapshot of the mental states of two women, each at the ends of their individual ropes. In keeping with this company’s unique choice of venues, the piece is presented in an oversized, loft-like apartment located deep in the heart of Hollywood. Amid the complete trappings of this actual living space, director Jamie Lou and a more-than-capable cast of three pull off a uniquely engaging production.
   Julie and Alice, played by Emma Chandler and Raleigh West, are a seemingly mismatched pair of roommates. Julie has lost her job as the result of having spurned her boss’s crude romantic advances. Though she is normally the levelheaded member of this unlikely duo, the result is a series of reactions that skyrocket from depression to destructively violent behavior. To her credit, Chandler pulls it off with admirable aplomb even when Craviotto’s script requires near uncontrollable rage.
   Balancing the tale is Alice, dumped by a married man who, after a 13-month tryst, has decided to return to his wife. The perfect foil to her roommate’s unpredictable displays, Alice is at times wisely sympathetic, almost maternal in nature, and at the very next moment hilariously obtuse. West’s top-notch comedic sensibility and timing offer countless moments of respite from what could have been merely a melodramatic tale of wallowing self-pity.

As the two come together to support, cajole, even harass each other over the depths to which their lives have disintegrated, it becomes obvious that the male gender is the root of all evil, or so they opine. What’s the answer? Why, revenge, of course! And who better to take out their frustrations on, with Julie dragging Alice along compliantly, than the title character who arrives bearing culinary sustenance.
   As Eddie, the soon-to-be hapless target of Julie’s rage, Freddy Giorlando holds his own in the face of this tidal wave of estrogen-fueled malevolence. Just as with his two female counterparts, Eddie ricochets between excitement over his good fortune in being “taken advantage” by two attractive women and unbridled fear when the situation start to go south. Giorlando is consistently believable in this occasionally farce-like set of circumstances, which lends great credibility to the play’s climax and resolution.
   Given the true-to-life setting, production values are, in a word, “realistic.” Lou does a fine job of allowing her cast to utilize numerous spaces around this locale, all of which are within eyesight of her audience. It’s an intriguing way to experience a play that is anchored by a trio of very fine performances.

February 8, 2018
Feb 2–24. Fri-Sat 8pm. $25 for general admission, $35 for reserved seating.



Daddy Long Legs
International City Theatre

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

Ashley Ruth Jones and Dino Nicandros
Photo by Tracey Roman

In the early 1900s and beyond, a series of coming-of-age books were written for girls that portrayed spunky, independent characters. With appellations like The College Girl Series or The Outdoor Girls, they generally included romance, as well as some light social commentary.
   Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs fits into this category, and because the writing is witty and appealing, it has endured over the years in many variations. In 2007, John Caird (book) and Paul Gordon (music and lyrics) adapted the story at Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, Calif., and it has become a popular two-person epistolary production.
   Jerusha Abbott (Ashley Ruth Jones) has grown up in an orphanage with no knowledge of her origins. Her name was selected by Miss Lippett from the phone book and a gravestone. At play’s opening, Jerusha bemoans her fate, “The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home,” when she is summoned to learn that she has a benefactor who will pay for her to go to college based on her teachers’ opinions that she is a fine writer and should be further educated. She catches a glimpse of his shadow, and his tall lanky image causes her to dub him Daddy Long Legs. She is instructed to write him a letter each month detailing her progress, but she is cautioned that he will never respond to her in return.
   Her letters are lively and intrigue her benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Dino Nicandros). Against his better judgment he arranges to meet her through his niece, classmate Julia, but he remains incognito. Over the course of her college life, he sees Jerusha and falls in love. The dilemma is how to reveal himself.

In International City Theatre’s adaptation by director Mary Jo DuPrey, the musical exchanges take place as Jervis and Jerusha reveal her letters with both actors delivering the dialogue. On the same stage and often in close proximity, their evolving relationship is presented with the letters but also as a young couple learning to know each other face-to-face.
   From the rear of the stage, musical director Bill Wolfe (piano), accompanied by Blake Baldwin (guitar) and Daniel Smith (cello), enhances the storyline in the nearly sung-through play. The music and often humorous lyrics enliven the predictable story as each character matures intellectually and personally.
   Jones is delightful vocally as she portrays the naive young woman’s budding interest in learning and frustration as she pours out her heart to the graying old man of her imagination. Jones’s spirited transformation from unsophisticated miss to confident young woman gives the story resonance.
   Though Nicandros belies the physical image of Daddy Long Legs and is far from old, he more than makes up for that deficiency with a strong voice. As directed, both characterizations are largely effective because of the talent of the principals. The poignant “Like Other Girls” effectively showcases Jerusha’s orphan status and sets the scene for her growth. Also lively is Jervis’s “She Thinks I’m Old.” “The Secret of Happiness” weaves throughout both acts as the two characters explore their growth and maturation.
   Ellen Lenberg’s simple scenic design consists of a bed (orphanage and college) and a desk (office of Jervis). Both serve to center the characters as their stories unfold. Donna Ruzika’s lighting design and Dave Mickey’s sound are effective.
This production is an idyll in the canon of musical theater. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it follows Webster’s book much more carefully than several other adaptations, including the 1955 movie starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. Touches of humor and the right amount of romantic tension make this production a durable choice for ICT’s 33rd season of Hope, Humor, and Heart.

February 26, 2018
Feb 23–March 11. 330 E Seaside Way, Long Beach. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $35-$49. (562) 436-4610.



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Guys and Dolls
Musical Theatre West at Carpenter Center

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

Blake Joseph, Matthew Henereson, and Andrew Metzger
Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography

Based on Damon Runyon’s short stories “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” Guys and Dolls has enjoyed nearly continuous revivals worldwide since its Broadway production in 1950. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book co-written by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, the universal appeal of couples working out their romantic problems amid Runyon’s colorful New York denizens makes it nearly timeless.
   Nathan Detroit (Matthew Henerson) is looking for a place to hold his famous “oldest established permanent floating crap game,” and frustrated cop Lt. Brannigan (Kenny Landmon) is hot on his trail. Aside from his crap-game dilemma, his 14-year fiancée Miss Adelaide (Bree Murphy) is pressing him for a marriage date.
   Along comes Miss Sarah Brown (Madison Claire Parks) and her missionary co-workers who hope to provide salvation for the gamblers, showgirls, and street folk who populate Broadway. Because of a bet Nathan makes with gambler Sky Masterson (Jeremiah James) that Sky can’t take Miss Sarah to Havana, Guys and Dolls has two sets of leads who can deliver Loesser’s impressive collection of songs. While their stories might be enough to carry the show, Runyon’s penchant for creative names and outsized personalities adds an irresistible charm to the supporting characters. Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Andrew Metzger), Benny Southstreet (Blake Joseph), Rusty Charlie (Bobby Underwood), Harry the Horse (Ted Barton), Angie the Ox (Michael Stumfig), and Big Julie from Chicago (Phil Nieto) all distinguish themselves as prototypical gamblers. Director Mark Martino has a skilled comic touch, and he balances romance and burlesque successfully.

Loesser created sure-fire standouts among the songs. Murphy’s “Adelaide’s Lament” over her recurring illnesses, Henerson’s “Sue Me” as he tries to win back Adelaide, Parks’s carefree “If I Were a Bell,” and James’s ardent” Luck Be a Lady” are notable and enjoyable moments in the show. Loesser’s “Fugue for Tinhorns” also makes a winning opener with its colorful and lively choreography by Daniel Smith.
   Of course, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is always a highlight, led here by Metzger, and in this production another appealing number is provided by Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy (Fred Bishop), whose wise “More I Cannot Wish You” is warm and sentimental. Though Parks has a beautiful classically trained soprano, in “I’ll Know” her power overwhelms James, taking away from the appeal of the back and forth of this budding attraction. Martino might have downplayed this to greater effect. They are better balanced in “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”
   From the Hot Box Girls (Judy Fernandez, Veronica Gutierrez, Katie Marshall, Veronica Musselman, Isabella Olivas, Alissa Wilsey) to the Crap Shooters (Joven Calloway, Danil Chernyy, Brandon Taylor Jones, Joe Komara, Tanner Hampton, Darren Shin), Smith includes impressive acrobatics in his production numbers. When combined with music director Benet Braun’s fine orchestral accompaniments, the show is big, bold, and delightful. Colorful costumes by Tamara Becker, fine sound by Audio Production Geeks LLC, and key lighting by Paul Black round out the noteworthy elements of the production.

This is Musical Theatre West’s 65th season, which by any standard is an impressive accomplishment. Its consistent quality and artful choices keep audiences and supporters faithful. In Guys and Dolls, humor, great music, and well-cast characters combine to produce a highly entertaining revival.

February 20, 2018
Feb 16–Mar 4. 6200 E Atherton St, Long Beach. Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm. Running time approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, plus intermission. $20–92. (562) 856-1999, ext. 4.



The Chosen
Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Harker Jones

Sam Mandel and Alan Blumenfeld
Photo by Ed Krieger

Based on Chaim Potok’s classic novel of the same name, The Chosen is an intimate four-character play about two Jewish boys coming of age through the backdrop of World War II. Our hero and narrator, Reuven (Sam Mandel), fatefully meets his BFF Danny Saunders (Dor Gvirtsman) through a heated street baseball game in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1944. At first adversaries, the two boys, who couldn’t be more different despite growing up only five blocks from each other, realize they have more in common than they would have ever thought.
   Reuven is a smart-aleck Orthodox math whiz. Danny, wildly smart with a photographic memory, is a Hasid on track to replace his father as rabbi and tzaddik, a religious leader and spiritual master, even though Danny wants to study psychology. Reuven’s father (Jonathan Arkin) is kind, open-minded, and generous, while Danny’s (Alan Blumenfeld) is pious, closed off, and cold. But times are changing, and none of the men swept up in them are able to resist change.
   Marking the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, the play (adapted into a well-received film in 1981) is a story we’ve seen countless times before, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t merit in it. The themes of religion versus science, fathers versus sons, tradition versus progress are always relevant. Potok’s play, which he and Aaron Posner adapted from his novel, paints deft portraits of the characters without falling into melodrama.

Director Simon Levy gets sensitive performances from his ensemble. Gvirtsman’s Danny is open, soulful, and tortured between his obligations and his yearnings. Gvirtsman is a good listener, too. Blumenfeld, as his father, is pitch-perfect as a man guided by God to lead his people and struggling to understand how not just the world but also his son are changing.
   Levy stages much action and many locations—two homes, a hospital, a softball game, and a college campus among others—with one backdrop. It’s a beautiful, sumptuous set of a wooden library with countless books, showing off how learned both of the boys’ families are. And that’s one of the things that creates such friction between the boys and their fathers, and between the families: Both are intellectual and have been steeped in education. Lack of knowledge is not an issue. Finding compromise is. And who isn’t that true for?

January 30, 2018
Jan 20-May 7. 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles. Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Mon 8pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $20-$40. (323) 663-1525.



Disney’s Aladdin
Pantages Theatre

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

Adam Jacobs
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann & Deen Van Meer

The stage production of Disney’s Aladdin, now playing at the Pantages, is charismatic family programming that highlights the 1992 film’s score by Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. But the evening cannot compete with the grandeur and limitless nature of animation, nor can it reincarnate the film’s greatest special effect, the gargantuan portrayal of the Genie by the late Robin Williams.
   In fictional Agrabah, a fanciful Middle Eastern city, a street hustler (Adam Jacobs) finds a genie (Michael James Scott) in a magic lamp who grants him three wishes that he uses to charm his true love, the princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla). If only he can thwart the evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and his sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon) from exposing him for their own nefarious machinations.
   The score features all the great songs from the film: “A Whole New World,” “Prince Ali,” and the showstopping Act 1 finale, “Friend Like Me.” The new songs, some written specifically for the stage show, fit the original style and are welcome additions. “Proud of Your Boy,” which had been written for the movie by Menken and Ashman before being cut, ranks with the beloved princess who long songs like “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid and “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast.
   Chad Beguelin’s book is problematic, mostly because the added characters add no dimension. Aladdin’s friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim have several fun numbers (two, like “Proud of Your Boy,” had been written by Ashman during the film’s genesis), but their characterizations are of thin architypes. They are given too much stage time not to be fully fleshed people. The villains have been rewritten to be bland and feckless. Though much of their dialogue comes from the movie script, here Beguelin (book and lyrics) keeps the conversations between Aladdin and Jasmine charming and heartfelt. Weir projects zero menace as Jafar, and De Leon is so wishy-washy one wishes for Gilbert Godfrey to reprise his film role.

Jacobs is winning as the title character, a role he originated on Broadway. With a grin wide enough upon which to project a Cinerama movie, Jacobs balances the boy’s coyness, desperation, and good-heartedness. McCalla is empowered as the princess who follows her heart and mind, not the laws written to imprison her. Scott is as suave as a gambler from Guys and Dolls, doing his best to shatter the image of Robin Williams, but he feels earthbound, particularly when repeating lines Williams launched into outer space. Not the fault of his performance, but the Genie doesn’t carry the show as he does in the movie.
   Casey Nicholaw’s choreography is inventive and rollicking, borrowing from Middle Eastern, Bollywood, and Broadway techniques. His direction keeps the musical moving to a jazzy beat. But he doesn’t go grand enough. The show needs more razzle-dazzle, more magic. The ensemble is too small, particularly in the “Prince Ali” number as well as other crowd scenes. Even with the same size cast, Nicholaw could have found innovative ways to simulate a cast of thousands as Harold Prince did in the Masquerade number of Phantom of the Opera or even in a goofy way like Tommy Tune had with his football players/cheerleaders in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Though the director has the ensemble change clothes and run back into the procession, once everyone gathers on stage, the number feels too intimate.
   Gregg Barnes’s costumes are stylish and colorful. He utilizes the breakaway effect well. Bob Crowley’s sets are ordinary and seem like 1950s painted backdrops, except for the Genie’s lair for the Act 1 finale, which evokes depth and splendor. Illusionist Jim Steinmeyer has one ace up his sleeve, and it’s a doozy. It’s impossible to comprehend how he made that carpet fly, but neither beams nor cables were visible to the audience for keeping that traveling rug up in the air. The effect is not even shrouded in darkness. The rug floats in front of a large, bright moon where even a keen observer must admit that only the supernatural could invoke that contraption to defy gravity. The show needs more spectacle like that.

A polished return to the old-fashioned musicals of the 1950s and ’60s, Aladdin will delight children and keep adults tapping their toes. Though the creators were unable to vanquish the ghosts of the movie, the cast drags the audience into this fantastical world.

January 13, 2018
Jan 11–Mar 31. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission. $35–$205, “subject to change.” (800) 982-2787.


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