A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER (AHMANSON)

13064502_998557986030_2103053282231022372_oA Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a wonderful show that deserves to be seen if you get the opportunity. Most musicals, you go for the music. Gentleman’s Guide isn’t like most musicals. The comedy, direction, precise choreography, and fun gimmicks entertain just as much, if not more, than the music.

Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s musical is sure to bring a smile to your face. The comedy is top notch; John Rapson does a lot of the heavy lifting, playing all of the family members that Kevin Massey’s Monty must “murder” to win the “love” of Kristen Beth William’s Sibella. A stand out is Kristen Mengelkoch who plays Lady Eugenia, the horrible wife of Lord Adalbert. If you watched the Tony performance, you probably remember the door number featuring Monty and his two love interests. That fun scene doesn’t disappoint in person and received a rousing applause. The choreography is so precise – credit is definitely due to Peggy Hickey and Darko Tresnjak!

Darko Tresnjak is becoming a modern day Harold Prince. Directing big projects like this one, or Patti LePone in Ghosts of Versailles, and soon Kevin Bacon in Rear Window!! You don’t normally think of direction when seeing a show, but Darko might be the star of this production. There is a reason why he won the Tony Award. Without his influence I don’t think this show would have won its Best Musical Tony Award, either!

Jerusha: This was a fun show! The music wasn’t super memorable, but the choreography, staging and design elements were top notch and definitely showcased the current projections & theatre magic trends.

We went with our friends Mike and Ian, who both work in theatre, and here are their thoughts.

Mike: The direction was sooo good. I remember all these little details that I feel like get overlooked in most productions. Things flowed so nicely. It makes me want to be a better director.

Ian: The set and lighting were really cool. The moving stage was a nice touch, but I wish they utilized it more.

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OFFICE HOUR (SOUTH COAST REP)

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If I was a betting man (which I am), I would put money on Julia Cho’s Office Hour going to New York City in the foreseeable future. In this drama, English Professor Gina (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy) has a tough conversation with troubled student Dennis (played by Raymond Lee), who other professors worry may be a shooter (like Virginia Tech and UC Santa Barbara). Gun violence on American campuses, unfortunately, is a very relevant issue that plagues our country. Cho also packs into a tight  90 minutes, discussions about America’s “white” culture, gun control, mental health, and fear.

Director Neel Keller is a master at creating fear on stage, as well as dark comedy. I still feel haunted by his creepy direction from The Nether a couple years ago (I would love to see him direct Deathtrap by Ira Levin at some point). The scenic design at SCR is ALWAYS top notch and Takeshi Kata and Se Oh do not disappoint.

I loved this production; the only thing that bothered me about the show was Raymond Lee. His acting is top notch and he really brings it with the raw emotion, but after seeing Mr. Lee kick-ass (metaphorically and physically) in Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone earlier this season, it is hard to believe he is this outcast that he is supposed to be portraying in Office Hour. The two characters are polar opposites. Alex Jaeger does his best to cover up Lee’s good looks with baggy clothes and acne marks, but those charming features still stuck out to me. Lee is an amazing actor and it kills me to say this, because I’m a huge fan of his work, but I think SCR could have found someone who looked the part a bit more convincingly.

Whiteness, culture, gun control, mental health, and fear are hard topics for an audience to confront; which is why it is even more important for people to see this show. I hope theater-goers will show up to see Sandra Oh’s acting prowess (she carries and drives a majority of the show) and walk away willing to discuss and change their way of thinking. Like most great theatre, Office Hour makes you ask yourself “what should
WE do?” We can’t solve the issues that Cho brings up if we ignore them or pass them off to someone else to deal with. Don’t pass or fail to show up to Office Hour, you won’t regret the things you see or learn.

Jerusha: This one hit too close to home for me. I wasn’t in the mood to be reminded about the state of gun control in our world. As always, SCR kills it with their production value, but I just couldn’t get into this one. And what a rowdy crowd for a Wednesday night!

 

STAGE KISS (GEFFEN)

FullSizeRender (2)I want to start off this review by stating that I am lukewarm when it comes to Sarah Ruhl’s work. I think she is extremely talented and ambitious, the plays are uniquely hers and are honest with strong themes/messages; but whenever I see a Sarah Ruhl show I feel like someone is showing me a beautiful painting with one corner covered up. I tend to walk away thinking, “I wish she explored that theme more,” or “the play didn’t feel complete-like scenes were cut out.” Stage Kiss is a completely different story.

Stage Kiss is Sarah Ruhl’s most complete and satisfying work to date. The themes are fully explored, the mapping is perfect, and the surprises are not telegraphed. Bart DeLorenzo is a spectacular director who masterfully navigates the high comedy with the tender heartfelt moments. The cast has stars who shine as a unit instead of as individuals. It truly is an ensemble show, when it could have very easily been stolen by Tim Bagley’s hilarious asides, the eagerness of Matthew Scott Montgomery’s Kevin, Melody Butlu’s angsty Laurie, the delightful Midwest teacher portrayed by Emily James, Stephen Caffrey’s over-the-top husband with moments of honesty, or the school yard love that is perfectly portrayed by Barry Del Sherman and Glenne Headly.

It is hard to not walk out of the Geffen Playhouse smiling after seeing this wonderful production which plays until May 15. I feel like I could give Sarah Ruhl a Stage Kiss myself!

– Trevor

Jerusha: The Geffen is easily winning “best in show” so far this year! And it was lovely to see Bart DeLorenzo’s work again, which I’ve missed since leaving the Odyssey.

 

 

 

 

TICK, TICK…BOOM! (AFTER HOURS THEATRE)

IMG_3975Warning, I may be biased…because I knew at least 1/2 of the people involved in this production. Tick, Tick…Boom! was performed at the Hudson (one of my favorite theaters on the Row), and produced by some dear friends from UCLA. Not to mention the brilliant director is my long-time friend and once roommate, Becca Kenigsberg!

If you’re not familiar with TTB, it’s Jonathan Larson’s (of Rent fame) lesser-known work. It can read more like a song-cycle at times because it was never fully workshopped – you can google him and find out about his untimely death. It also hits home with me (and I’m sure other artists my age) because it touches on themes like “starving for your art” and pursuing your dreams vs. reality.

I love the show, I love the artistic team, so it’s hard for me to be impartial. But I’ll try! The cast and band were strong – all local LA talent and rising stars. The space was perfect for the show and the set design, minimal (which the show calls for) but effective. My only complaint is that the band was loud – so loud that many times I couldn’t hear the actors (which would have been a major problem if I wasn’t so familiar with the show). I would love to see this production get an extended run (they ran for a limited engagement – just 2 weekends!). Becca’s directing chops shine through and I can’t wait to see what else she accomplishes – she’s off to NYU soon to pursue her Master’s!

#LAThtrCouple also had a plus one for this night out – our hilarious friend Darren, who made for a nice little change to our sh0w-going routine. Favorite moment – when Hudson venue manager Mike was looking for extra chairs (the performance was oversold!) and Darren pointed to the set-piece chairs on stage and said, “two people can sit there!” That guy!

– Jerusha

Trevor: I was skeptical about the show because I suffer from Rent fatigue, but the songs were a breath of fresh air, the band was rockin’ and so was the audience!