Blogosphere / Way Off Broadway

 

Jekyll & Hyde

Taking a grand musical theater piece and placing it into an intimate space can be a daunting task. While shows in the past have done this to nice effect (Chess, The Color Purple), it is not always an easy feat to manage. This summer the DOMA Theatre Company has chosen to attempt this sort of undertaking by mounting the 20-year-old musical Jekyll & Hyde on a stage that is more suited for intimate dramas than big production numbers. As impressive and honorable as this effort is, it frequently threatens to burst at the seams.

With music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, Jekyll and Hyde began as a concept piece in the late '80s.  When it finally had its debut in the early '90s, it did so to mixed reviews, although it was still Tony-nominated. While the show certainly has memorable songs, the book is where its problems lay. 

Opening with Jekyll (Chris Kerrigan) trying to understand the madness that inflicts his father, he faces a Board of Governors asking to take a patient at the mental asylum in hopes of using a potion he’s developed that will separate the madness from the man. He is (of course) denied this request and his dreams are shattered. Meanwhile, he is engaged to be married to one of the board members' daughters, Emma Carew (Amber Gildersleeve), and soon enough he is at his own engagement party. Having tunnel vision, Jekyll heads off to what can only be assumed is some sort of bachelor party at the local whorehouse. There he meets Lucy Harris (Cassandra Nuss), a sexy sinner with a heart of gold whom he takes a fancy to. 

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For the Record: Coen Bros.

L.A.’s best theatrical experience—Show at Barre’s For the Record series—continues its rotation of cabaret-style shows with the return of one of its most popular: For the Record: Coen Bros. Taking songs from the film’s soundtracks and rearranging them into a phenomenal interactive concert experience is just one of the many pleasures of this innovative series.

Featuring songs from films such as O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, the Coen Bros. would seem at first to be an odd choice for a concert event. But interestingly enough, the music the directors chose for their films perfectly captures the essence of the film itself. What the For the Record casts do with those songs, however, is the real surprise.

Opening with songs from O Brother starts the night off with a rousing good time with the entire cast contributing to various numbers as well as three of the guys taking on the roles made famous by George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. Likewise, the gals of the cast collaborated on a head-nodding version of “Don’t Leave Nobody But the Baby.” But it’s the more interesting change-ups that brought the biggest surprises. “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” made famous by Nancy Sinatra, here, is given a rousing male version by Jason Paige. In the same vein, hearing Danielle Truitt sing a slightly bluesy and powerful take on “Danny Boy” from the film Miller’s Crossing is to hear the song for the first time.
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Theatre Unleashed's 'The Spidey Project'

Let’s be clear: Julie Taymor and U2’s collaboration train wreck of a success Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is not playing in Los Angeles. No. But the original and first Spiderman musical is. It’s called The Spidey Project and had an initial run off-Broadway a few years back. Instead of the elaborate and self-serious plot and musical numbers (that frequently had cast members of the big budget Broadway musical in the hospital), this version is strictly tongue-in-cheek, and low-low-low-budget fun.

Playing at Theatre Unleashed’s space at the Studio/Stage in Los Angeles, The Spidey Project is having its Los Angeles premiere from March 8-April 14.  Part parody, part heartfelt musical, this experiment in combining comic book characters with the musical format comes back to us with mixed results.

The story is familiar and simple: Geek social misfit Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider which transforms him from nerd to super human faster than you can say “web-slinger.” Soon enough he has become the hero of his city, fighting crime and amassing an ego the size of a skyscraper. Along the way he attempts to court his high school love Gwen Stacey, work at his internship at the Daily Bugle as a photographer and defend the city from all sorts of mutant-like bad guys. There’s a lot going on for sure, and for a scant running time of 75 minutes, it certainly is a lot to take in.
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For the Record: Baz Luhrman & Tarantino

The best theater experience in Los Angeles kicks off the year with two of their best shows. Created by Shane Scheel and Christopher Lloyd Bratten, the For The Record series at Show at Barre (located inside Vermont Restaurant in Los Feliz) is a wildly popular cabaret-style production that has only increased in popularity since it’s inception about a year and a half ago. Using the soundtrack songs from various directors' filmographies, the show is a clever combination of acted scenes and amazing vocal performances by some of the best vocalists in Los Angeles.

Using the small space to their advantage, the eight performers (in a rotating cast of 22) dance and sing on small stages, the bar and in between the tables squeezed into the tiny lounge. But what might seem awkward and a bit uncomfortable (it is, but you don’t care) actually makes the experience that much more thrilling. The audience becomes a part of the show and the energy of the performers and the live band is infectious.

What’s amazing about the show is how it showcases the talents of the film’s music supervisors and how they intelligently chose songs that truly fit the emotions that were occurring in the story. It is easy to see how Romeo + Juliet could become a musical simply by using the songs from the film, and musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten does an amazing job of incorporating the songs into the show as well as altering the arrangements to thrilling effect. 

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Jesus Christ Superstar

In a time when religion and politics seem to be fatefully intertwined, along comes a startlingly relevant musical that is—oddly—40 years old. What began life as a concept album, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar became something of a sensation with a popular album and Top 40 hit single. After a fairly successful Broadway run and movie adaptation, Jesus Christ Superstar has been a mainstay in theatres around the globe ever since. Read more...

Cirque du Soleil's IRIS

While Cirque shows seem to have found homes in Canada and Vegas, Los Angeles has only ever been a stop-off point for any number of touring versions. But as of Sept. 25, L.A. is now the birthplace to one of its own: Cirque du Soleil’s IRIS Read more...

Shrek The Musical

A hit on Broadway, the touring version of the show has come with a myriad of changes: The book by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the relentlessly depressing play Rabbit Hole) has been re-worked, the sets made simpler and the song order has been changed in an attempt to make the show more streamlined. Luckily I went to see this version with someone who had seen the Broadway production and was able to point out the differences in a compare-and-contrast way. In her words, the humor was dumbed down and the emotional connection seemed a bit lost in the switch-up of songs. She also thought the sets were oversimplified whereas the Broadway version was very intricate.  Read more...

Krunk Fu Battle Battle

The show opens with Jean Lee (knockout singer Joan Almedilla) and her son Norman (Lawrence Kao) as they move back to a small apartment in Brooklyn—a far cry from their previous Connecticut address. There, Jean runs into an old high-school friend, Sir Master Cert (Blas Lorenzo), the complex's repair man who harbors not just a crush on Jean, but a bigger secret he hasn’t let on.    Read more...

The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill

Set in 1865, the action takes place in and around the front porch of a house in a Kentucky border town on the eve of the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. But this isn’t a play about African-American civil rights. No. The emancipation of one particular slave is used as a metaphor for the right of gay couples to marry as well as gay rights in general.  Read more...

'The Columbine Project' & the Lie of the American Dream

It’s hard to say anything bad about a play that has its heart so firmly in the right place that to say anything even remotely negative is to betray it. Not that I have anything that terrible to say about the latest production of the award-winning play The Columbine Project, which, if you haven’t already assumed, deals with the tragedy that occurred April 20, 1999.  Read more...

'Burn the Floor'

I’m pretty sure the TV dance competition craze led to the latest Broadway offering now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. And I’m also pretty sure that’s not a bad thing. When the TV staple So You Think You Can Dance hit summer airwaves a number of years ago, attention was turned from the all American singing idol to all things dance. While not an immediate hit, SYTYCD (as the insiders like to call it) has a built in reputation and popularity Read more...

'The Mercy Seat' & Trying to Disappear

Ben (Johnny Clark) is a mid-30s businessman with a wife and two kids who was supposed to have a meeting in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Instead, he went to the loft of his boss and lover Abby (Michelle Clunie) for a bit of fun.  When the towers came crashing down, he thought to himself that this could be his way out of having to tell his wife their marriage was over. And be with Abby.  Read more...

'The Adventures of Pinnochio' & Finding the Magic

To celebrate its 20th Anniversary, Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood brings us a most magical production: a new version of The Adventures of Pinocchio written by Lee Hall and based on the 1883 Carlo Collodi novel. As directed by Stephen Rothman, the new play combines farce, slapstick, high-drama, improvisation, puppetry and the artistry of deaf theatre to create a special night that is not only enchanting, but inspiring.  Read more...

'The Sonneteer' and the Secrets That Kill Us

The hate and ignorance of one person can have an amazingly long reach in the lives of those around them. One comment or one opinion—heard by random ears or directed at a loved one—can be so instrumental in the development of another that in one moment, a future tragedy can be born.  Read more...

'Rock of Ages' & Living in the '80s

In the now long tradition of Jukebox Musicals (read: pretty much the only thing Broadway churns out anymore) along comes Rock of Ages, a tongue-firmly-pressed-in-cheek parody of life in '80s Hollywood.    Read more...

'Spring Awakening' & the Curiousity of Gay/Straight Sexuality

Awakening is an odd little show: audience members get to sit onstage almost on top of the actors, the music is pop/rock a la Rent, but the action takes place a century ago. Part over-the-top mugginess/part earnest teenage pleading/part serious exploration of a sexual coming-of-age, the show is a strange hybrid that either appeals to you or it doesn’t.  Read more...

'The Break of Noon' & the Inability to Believe

Neil LaBute is not known for subtlety or for playing it safe. His screenplays and plays have always pushed a lot of buttons and have even been criticized for their perceived misogynist portrayal of women. But for what it’s worth, he is a writer that divides critics and audiences, but never bores.  Read more...

HAIR & The Freedom to be Me (and You)

Funnily enough, I relate a lot to what these crazy slackers wanted: To make love not war.  To have the freedom to be who you want to be.  To live life to the fullest outside of the sometimes restricted confines of what society thinks you should be.    Read more...

CAUGHT & Looking for Answers from the Religious Conservatives

I’m happy to say the new play CAUGHT by David L. Ray overcomes these pitfalls and presents a gay-themed play that raises questions that aren’t always easy to answer.  While it sometimes veers toward earnestness, the cast expertly sidesteps these moments bringing the characters to life without making us want to roll our eyes at them.  Read more...

The Santaland Diaries & Co-Workers I've Wanted to Slap

Shitty jobs have always been good fodder for the entertainment business.  What with half the sit-coms on television revolving around the workplace and a wide number of indi films being ensemble comedies centering around a bar, restaurant, chain store, or convenience store, having a crappy work environment is something audiences can relate to.    Read more...

CRIMES OF THE HEART & Having A Real Bad Day

The three gather at the home of Lenny (Elizabeth Liang) the shy, awkward middle sister who has just turned thirty and is swiftly becoming an old maid.  Arriving from Hollywood, older sister Meg (Kimiko Gelman) saunters in smoking her way through conversations about her life in the City of Angels where she was intent on becoming a singer.  While the three sisters report on where their lives are at and deal with their own interpersonal issues, cousin Chick (Hiwa Bourne) keeps interrupting the proceedings with her endless town gossip and thoughts about Babe’s predicament.  On the sidelines are Doc Porter (Tim Chiou) an old paramour of Meg’s, and Barnette Lloyd, the young lawyer entrusted to Babe’s case.   Read more...

THE TRAIN DRIVER & the Phantom of Guilt

Critically acclaimed playwright, actor, and director Athol Fugard brings what he calls his most personal play to The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles.  Best known for plays such as “Master Harold… and the Boys” and “The Road to Mecca,” his book “Tsotsi” was adapted for the screen winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  Read more...

God's Favorite & The Question of Faith

That said, the play I saw was (coincidentally) “God’s Favorite” by Neil Simon.  Originally produced in the 70’s, the play is a retelling of the biblical story of Job where cardboard box manufacturer Joe Benjamin (Steve Gustafson) is visited by a messenger of God.  This messenger is a man named Sidney Lipton (Greg Baldwin) who cracks jokes like a Jewish vaudeville comedian and tells Joe that God wants him to do him one favor: he wants Joe to “renounce” him.  This stuns Joe who is a devoutly religious man and he quickly wonders why God would want him to do such an offensive thing?  As a result, he flatly refuses which eventually causes God to inflict a number of tragic events on him aimed at making him carry out what He’s asked. But while he keeps refusing to renounce God, his family and his livelihood are constantly threatened.  Read more...

RUINED & The Strength of the Women in my Life

I’ll admit, I knew nothing of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning play RUINED.  Directed by Kate Whoriskey, RUINED is a searing portrait of women who take refuge in a brothel in the Congo.  Having been abused, traded into slavery, raped, and/or damaged from all the sexual violence they’ve been subject to, these are women that need a place to feel safe and heal.  Read more...

MYSTERIOUS SKIN & My Abduction By Aliens

Scott Heim’s fantastic book “Mysterious Skin” was an impulse purchase one day about 15 years ago.  I remember devouring the story about a boy who, at age eight, woke up underneath his house with no memory of the last few hours of his life.  I was instantly intrigued.  This is the stuff I love.  And then when the character started thinking it might be because he had been abducted by aliens, well, I was even more fascinated.  

Now, for any Read more...