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.
Next up is a fun little interlude of songs from Luhrman’s first film, Strictly Ballroom with the cast dressed in dance costumes and giddily bopping around the venue to songs like Happy Feet and Love is in the Air.
After a short break, Act Two is all about Moulin Rouge. Also staged as a sort of mini-musical, the cast cleverly uses the space to make the movie come alive—even using the tree outside the main window of Barre as a set piece. Covering 16 songs from the film, the cast gamely mimics the actors from the movie itself, while adding their own twist to them. Standouts from this portion of the evening include Steve Mazurek’s velvety-voiced take on Ewan MacGregor’s Christian, Ginifer King’s lovely and goofy Satine and Michael Motroni’s energetic and over-the-top portrayal of Zidler. Rogelio Douglas Jr’s performance of “Roxanne” is a knockout as well.
In fact—the entire evening is a slam-dunk night of amazing vocal performances and clever and dexterous staging. Special note goes to the performers who must navigate the spaces between the tables in order to get to their marks on time and have enough room to perform choreography without knocking an audience member out. What is most impressive is that while you are almost guaranteed to be bumped a little, the cast will place their hand on your shoulder or arm—without breaking character—as an almost respectful way of saying, “Sorry for elbowing you in the back.”
While the Baz Luhrman show plays every Wednesday through Sunday until March 4, the company’s popular For the Record: Tarantino edition runs every Tuesday through Feb. 21. With songs from the soundtracks of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds, the Tarantino show is a hilarious and perfectly executed night of music. As with each show, eight performers rotate each week assuring you get a different experience should you return more than once. But no matter when you go, every single performer is outstanding. Sincerely, these are some of the best performers and vocalists in L.A.—many of whom have been on the Broadway stage—if not the nation. You will never worry about singers hitting the notes or being “pitchy.” These are class-acts that soar.
On the night I saw the Tarantino show, this fact could not have been more in evidence: matinee-idol handsome Steve Mazurek took on a variety of key roles and stood out with his rendition of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.” Margaret Spirito killed it as Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace performing the songs “If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)” and Shivaree’s “Goodnight Moon.” Jason Paige rocked the house with Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha” and Santa Esmeralda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” The hilarious Anneliese van der Pol gave us a beautifully understated version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Tawny Dolley as Jackie Brown doing Randy Crawford’s “Street Life” was both hilarious and made you want to get up and move. Ben D. Goldberg played many of the film’s heavies and among his numbers, performed “Stuck in the Middle with You” as a duet with the cast’s Von Smith while acting out the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs.
One of my gay man crushes is on the company’s Kristolyn Lloyd who grooved it out with Pam Grier’s “Long Time Woman” from Jackie Brown. Lastly, you cannot say anything about Von Smith (of American Idol fame) except… wow. The man’s voice is absolute perfection and sends chills through your body in every solo. Johnny Cash’s “A Satisfied Mind” was the incomparable standout of the night and—if you could get out of your chair without knocking things over—would have been the time for a standing ovation. That’s not to take anything away from this remarkable cast because they are all excellent, but this guy was a stunner.
For audiences, though, the For the Record series is our gift. A truly special night of music, laughs and amazing vocals, it’s a show that can really be enjoyed by anyone. Whether you are a fan of a particular director or not (they’ve also done directors Joel and Ethan Cohen and John Hughes), or fear it might be too much like a “musical,” this is an experience all its own. Not only will you be coming back again and again, you’ll be bringing all of your friends with you as well.
Special notice must go to the awesome band and the behind-the-scenes crew that do so much with lighting and sound in a small space that larger theatres should be jealous.
The For the Record series is quite simply the most exhilarating night out you can have in Los Angeles. And look out, because it’s about to hit Austin SXSW and Palm Springs. Who knows where it will go after that?
For the Record: Baz Luhrman runs Jan. 12 through March 4, Wednesday and Sundays at 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 9 p.m. For the Record: Tarantino runs every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. through Feb. 21. For more information or tickets, visit showatbarre.com or call (310) 652-5252.