Zoot Suit (Mark Taper Forum)

IMG_7759CTG’s Zoot Suit by Luiz Valdez is everything you could want and more. The play is just as relevant as it was when it first premiered at CTG under Gordon Davidson. The play gives a voice and perspective to the Chicano and entertains regardless of your background.

I studied Chicano Theater when I attended UCLA and read many of Valdez’s works. I learned that Valdez is excellent at being truthful to the culture while adding magical realism. His company, El Teatro Campesino, would perform plays for the farm workers in the fields on the back of truck beds and helped Cesar Chavez with his National Farm Workers Association. Valdez is an activist and presents powerful messages for his audiences. If you miss out on hearing Zoot Suit’s message at the Mark Taper, don’t worry because Valdez’s Valley of the Heart will be presented at LATC in the future, and I would be shocked if this Zoot Suit production didn’t travel to Broadway like its predecessor.

-Trevor

Freaky Friday (La Jolla Playhouse)

unnamed (4)Freaky Friday is a real delight at the La Jolla Playhouse. The production is trying to go to Broadway and I definitely think it is worth seeing at this stage. It is not a perfect piece of theater, but it has a lot going for it. The biggest thing is the music. The team that won the Pulitzer for Next to Normal (Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey) have created some really wonderful songs that will stay with you. One favorite is “Oh, Biology” which takes place in a biology class and has a great beat that really gets the cast and audience going.

I haven’t seen the movies in a while, but I’m positive the musical has taken liberties that I feel are welcome. I don’t want to list them all, but one great example is that the daughter is over-weight, which helps add another dramatic layer to the mother-daughter dynamic. There is a theme of body issues which I believe is great for all the young females who will inevitably be watching this show with their mothers.

The cast is very strong and often doubles up on parts. My favorite though is Heidi Blickenstaff,  who plays a wonderful mother and portrays an angst filled teen with comedic ease. She is a magnet to the eyes and every scene she inhabits is stolen by her talent.

If you have a chance to see Freaky Friday it is a fun night out for the family. When we went the cast received an immediate standing ovation, which is rare these days.

– Trevor

Beauty Queen of Leenane (Mark Taper)

Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen of Leenane is another hit for the Taper. McDonagh is such a master at dark comedy and it is played to perfection in the Druid’s production. Broad comedy is on display with Aaron Monaghan’s antsy brother and subtle comedy with Marie Mullen, Marty Rea and Aisling O’Sullivan’s nuanced line deliveries and guttural noises. Another quality of McDonagh’s work that is sometimes overlooked is his knack for dripping horror and suspense into his pieces. You know you’re seeing a great show when the audience gasps multiple times.

I thought the play was executed brilliantly minus one part where a certain character didn’t scream after getting tortured, but other than that – go see this tortured relationship between a mother and daughter. It will make you feel much better about your relationship with your parents, to say the least.

-Trevor

Akhnaten (LA Opera)

Akhnaten by Philip Glass might be my favorite opera I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I just wrote that for a show I didn’t even want to see! After hearing multiple rave reviews from friends and strangers (I talk to A LOT of people) I decided to get us tickets and was happy all the positive reviews were correct. The score by Philip Glass is hypnotic and immediately pulls you back in time. The staging by Phelim McDermott was slow and deliberate which helped one focus on all the little details sprinkled throughout the show. The performances were bold and provocative with Anthony Roth Costanzo full on naked for the first 5-10 minutes of the show. The best part though was the juggling. To see the precision and perfection of the jugglers was just icing on the cake. They juggled things that I didn’t even know was possible and made it look so effortless. My favorite scene was when Akhnaten was singing under the giant moon with fog surrounding him and jugglers were throwing giant balloons in the air. It was phenomenal and something that I know I’ll be talking about for years to come.

-Trevor

A View From The Bridge (CTG)

Ifullsizerender-5 can’t think of another time I have heard so many different opinions of a production of A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller. Some people LOVED it and others HATED it. I heard so many different polar that I wanted to see for myself how I would react to the piece.

The show is stripped down and minimalist, which is great and really shows off the brilliant writing of Arthur Miller. At moments of tension there is a drum that reminds me of kabuki theater. Some scenes are underscored with Greek chorus-type singing which really drives home the fact that this is a modern Greek Tragedy. With that said, I feel like there were more things I disliked than liked about this production.

I felt that Eddie was miscast. He is too good looking. The Italians don’t have accents which is fine, but only if no one has an accent. Eddie and some of the other characters had New York accents, which doesn’t work for me – if the Italians don’t have accents, then no one should have an accent. I thought some stuff was too heavy-handed. For example, at one point Catherine is drying the floor with a towel, but her skirt is short she is blatantly and repeatedly revealing her underwear (or as my friend Brooke said, “her vagina is hanging out!”). A little distracting to say the least.

There were a lot of things to like about this production, and I would love to see an Ivo Van Hoe production of All My Sons. But there were a lot of moments where it felt like a stereotypical high school production.

– Trevor

Jerusha: It was a rare treat to get to see this show with our friends Brooke and Alex – a little double date! It’s always nice to debrief the show after viewing, and hear everyone’s opinions, insights and perspectives. My interpretation of this production is that it was meant to view like you were reading the script. Hence the decision to give the Italians no accents and the minimalist design aspects. Having never read or seen the show before, I also thought the narrator’s stage direction-type lines also played into this.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (CTG)

IMG_5755.JPGI had my reservations about seeing August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom  because I didn’t think it was Wilson’s strongest work. I was on the fence about Phylicia Rashad’s direction after seeing her production of Joe Turner which was very good, but weak in some areas. This production blew us both away! The emotions and life that Rashad brought out of her actors was spellbinding. The story felt fresh and relevant even though it took place in 1927. Ma Rainey definitely raised in my ranks of Wilson’s Cycle.

This was Broadway level quality. You could take this production, move it to New York, and I guarantee Lillas White and Gylnn Turman would receive Tony Award Nominations. CTG does a wonderful job of bringing August Wilson’s works to life with their productions and Monologue Competition. Keep up the powerful work!

– Trevor

Jerusha: Fun fact, Trevor was once an intern for the August Wilson Monologue Competition program at CTG….awwww!

District Merchants (South Coast Rep)

img_5736District Merchants by Aaron Posner is a solid piece of theater. The last production that we saw of Mr. Posner’s work was The Tempest and it blew us away – there was magic that Teller from Penn & Teller fame helped create, live music that was written by Tom Waits, and even two dancers who played Caliban. So our expectations were very high for District Merchants and it didn’t quite hit it. Like all SCR productions, the sets and costumes are fantastic. The acting was superb and the highlight was seeing each of their monologues or asides to the audience. They gave us insight into who these people are. For Shylock, you felt sympathetic to a character who is usually portrayed as the antagonist. For other characters like Lancelot, you couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

To me the villain of the play was not Shylock, but the racist beliefs and world that they all lived in. Each character had varying levels of racism and it was interesting to see how that influenced how they interacted with one another.

The best parts of Posner’s Merchants is when the show deviates from the Shakespearean tale.  Having to stick to the plot of Merchants of Venice took the wind out of the sails for me. The show felt most alive when it deviated from the Shakespearean classic and went into uncharted areas. It was a little too safe for me, but I still enjoyed it. Get rush tickets so you don’t have to pay a “Pound of Flesh.” 😉

– Trevor

Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary Screening

Trevor: This wasn’t live theater. It was one of those live theater broadcasts that they have at the movie theater. I liked the idea of them, but was skeptical. It doesn’t beat a live experience, but it is definitely worth seeing a show that would be very difficult to attend unless one lives in London or NYC and has a lot of money.

Miss Saigon is from the same creative team as Les Mis, and I am not a fan of sing-throughs (let’s get some dialogue please). I wasn’t familiar with the story, but when the screening started I was sucked in. Everyone in the audience was super excited and applauding after numbers. Jerusha was squeezing my leg and squirming with excitement over special guest appearances. I totally fell in love with it and can’t wait to see something else at the movie theater.  Here is a link of shows that are coming to a theater(hopefully) near you!

Jerusha: I first saw Miss Saigon at the Starlight Bowl in San Diego, with my mom and sister. We bawled like babies. Tonight’s screening was magical for me! I’m a sucker for anniversary reunions, so the bonus performances by the original cast members was extra special!

Barbecue (Geffen)

I had no idea what to expect from Barbecue written by Robert O’Hara. I knew that it was a comedy that played in New York and had a twist so big that they didn’t hand out programs until intermission. The Geffen did hand out programs which is a HUGE MISTAKE!! If you go, do not look at the program before the show!!! Even though I think the Geffen messed up on the programs, everything else was PHENOMENAL!!!

Barbecue is everything that I love about theater. It is highly entertaining, has a message, and makes you think. The comedy is so vibrant and Colman Domingo does an outstanding job with his talented cast. The performances that he elicits are hilarious and over-the -top, but still have the grounding to make it believable. Robert O’Hara has a refreshing play that does something I have never seen before.

I don’t want to give anything away, but after the big twist, there are additional reveals and turns that will have you frequently surprised. The only knocks are that some people might be offended by the language (O’Hara’s pre-show announcement was PERFECT and set the tone of the show). Also, I can see the Pasadena Playhouse or CTG doing this show, but I don’t know if it fits the Geffen. There were some people in the older age bracket that left at intermission. I have seen this at multiple Geffen productions – patrons leaving during the show or at intermission. This usually happens at Geffen shows with strong language. If those patrons had stayed, they would have learned not to judge based on first impressions. There is a rich and compelling story within everyone, but a majority of the time we miss it because we judge or assume we already know. Randall Arney didn’t judge, and I applaud him for bringing this story to the Geffen (but please tell the ushers not to hand out programs)!

-Trevor

 

SUMMER ROUND-UP

We’ve been bad recently. No reviews and few photos. It’s like after the Fringe craziness, we couldn’t catch up. So here’s a short round-up, with one-sentence reviews, and a promise to be better!

May 15 – HAIRY APE (ODYSSEY)
Trevor: The direction and staging felt fresh for this O’Neill classic that still shocks today.
Jerusha: I had never read the play and went in blind…a shocking piece, in a good way.

13301313_10100102069340420_2716217497001946496_oMay 25 – LA BOHEME (LA OPERA)
Trevor: A timeless classic that everyone should see at least once.
Jerusha: I loved it! I’m obsessed with Rent so it was so nice to finally see the source material on stage. Beautifully done. Colorful, dramatic, grand, sweet, all the good adjectives!

 

13320525_10100102474219040_3599500413541571886_oMay 27 – NEWSIES (SEGERSTROM)
Jerusha: I went with Jules & Alisa to this one. It was fun to see Newsies again – I saw it last year at the Pantages. The acoustics are WAY better at the Segerstrom, and it was fun to see it on a Friday night with an audience full of kids. Disney magic!

 

13510841_10100109526186840_2457380075784113289_nJune 22 – BEAUTIFUL (PANTAGES)
Again, I went with Jules and Alisa. I’ve been DYING to see this. I grew up on Carole King. The show made me cry, I sang along to the whole thing, and the minute we walked out I was ready to see it again. I’ll try and catch it again at the Segerstrom in the fall!

 

July 8 – BAD JEWS (THEATRE OF NOTE)
Jerusha: We saw this show because two of Trevor’s acting class friends produced/starred in it. I was pleasantly surprised! The show was very well produced for a <50 seater. As I write this review over a month later, I can’t really remember the premise, other than it’s a family drama lol. BUT! The quality stuck – I remember being impressed and entertained.
Trevor: I almost liked the direction better than the Geffen production…

13662228_10100115159956720_4988870327423917899_oJuly 14 – GREY GARDENS (AHMANSON)
Jerusha: What a beautiful show! I went in knowing nothing about the musical. I’ve seen both the documentary and the movie though, and was familiar with the source material. Both Rachel York and Betty Buckley were fantastic. The music was catchy – I spent the next week listening to the OBC recording.

 

July 19 – WESTSIDE STORY (HOLLYWOOD BOWL)
Jerusha: I attended this LA Phil show with Jules and Alisa! Minimal staging, but Jeremy Jordan and Karen Olivo – need I say more? I have always and will always love the music of Westside Story. It was a treat to hear it live (with Gustavo Dudamel at the helm!).

July 24 – I LOVE YOU BECAUSE (AFTER HOURS THEATRE) 
Jerusha: My friends at After Hours Theatre produced, directed, designed, starred in this production of the off-broadway hit. While I’m not a fan of the material – the music motifs are inconsistent and the storyline shallow – I’m looking forward to seeing more work from my talented friends! Trevor opted out of this one.

13882501_10100119403133360_2922559874818153272_nJuly 31 – A CHORUS LINE (HOLLYWOOD BOWL) 
Jerusha: I’m a lucky girl and had a girl date with Jules and Alisa again at the bowl, less than 2 weeks after Westside Story. I LOVE the fully-produced shows at the bowl. It’s such a fun time. We sang along the whole time to this theatre nerd classic!

 
13882551_1799383103628399_302639164076829846_nAugust 11 – WIZARD OF OZ (GLENDALE CENTRE THEATRE) 
Jerusha: I went to this show with my co-worker and her kids. It was so fun to see it with children – seeing the wonder of theatre magic for the first time! Pauli sat on my lap the entire show and she loved it!