Review: "A Bronx Tale" at Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Review: "A Bronx Tale" at Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Broadway’s coming of age hit A Bronx Tale is filled with exciting choreography by Tony Award nominees Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet and Jersey Boys). The toe-tapping numbers and catchy musical tunes by Oscar, Grammy, and Tony Award winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid), and lyrics by Grammy Award winner and Oscar and Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater (School of Rock, The Little Mermaid and Sister Act) lend to its success. Directed by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, A BRONX TALE has the audience walking out of the Pantages smiling.

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Review: New Stage Adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” Stops at La Mirada

Review: New Stage Adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” Stops at La Mirada

Perhaps one of the most well-known detective mysteries ever published, Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” essentially became the subconscious blueprint for similar whodunnit stories that came after, particularly those that involve a confined room full of plausible suspects that are all under investigation by a brilliant sleuth.

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Review: Musical Theatre West presents Regional Premiere of Endearingly Powerful Musical "Bright Star"

Review: Musical Theatre West presents Regional Premiere of Endearingly Powerful Musical "Bright Star"

Unless your heart is as cold as ice, "Bright Star" will handily win you over right from the start, then make you emotional, and then even later, embrace you tightly in a great big bear hug, as if to ensure you that even in the bleakest of situations, there is always a bright light in the distance that can guide you to where you need to be.

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Review: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Ahmanson Theatre

Review: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Ahmanson Theatre

The cast is splendid in their roles and the songs soar filling the entire theatre, yet the story line fails at the end with its weak consequence for such a selfish plot by a teenage boy. While creating an important role for himself to feel a sense of belonging, the boy gets girl and then loses girl, disappoints many because of his dishonest actions.

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Review: “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE” Brings Sibling Hilarity to South Coast Repertory

Review: “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE” Brings Sibling Hilarity to South Coast Repertory

Shocking it is to admit, my personal familiarity with the classic works of playwright Anton Chekhov is basically slim to none.

Thank goodness my lack of knowledge of his library of theatrical plays and fictional stories didn't prevent me from enjoying Christopher Durang's wildly hilarious, Chekhov-inspired “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE,” a modern-set play that won the Tony Award for Best Play back in 2013. Apparently filled with casual allusions to past Chekhov works—from character names and one-off references to thematic motifs—the play does offer, at its core, a laugh-a-minute comedy about a dysfunctional trio of siblings trying to face the apparently troubling onset of middle age…and the possibility that they may not have done enough in their lives to deem it a satisfactory one.

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Review: OC's Chance Theater Presents Intense Drama “THE OTHER PLACE”

Review: OC's Chance Theater Presents Intense Drama “THE OTHER PLACE”

In award-winning playwright Sharr White's intriguing 2011 psychological drama “THE OTHER PLACE,” the play's compelling central figure, 52-year-old laboratory scientist turned drug company marketing exec Juliana Smithton, narrates her own fascinating story directly for the audience.

At first, she is introduced with the poise and prominence of a seasoned TED Talk orator, with even hints of a sharp stand-up comic that's adept at self-effacing observations and commanding an audience of drunken doctors. It certainly makes sense, considering it seems to be what she does for a living, at least for the moment: getting up on stage in front of medical conventions and neurological conferences near and far to pitch her revolutionary miracle treatment to attendees in the same way Tony Robbins, Suze Orman, or even Oprah or Dr. Phil might address a room.

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Review: "The Cake" at the Geffen Playhouse

Review: "The Cake" at the Geffen Playhouse

Walking into the smaller Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater inside the Geffen Playhouse, I admired Peter Hickok’s set for The Cake. It was so detailed that I thought I was walking into a soundstage to watch a taping of the Cake Wars baking show. The Tiffany blue walls and bright pink bakery counter were pleasing to the eye, and the two bedrooms on either side of the bakery lent an air of intrigue.

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Review: South Coast Repertory Presents Charming Stage Adaptation of “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”

Review: South Coast Repertory Presents Charming Stage Adaptation of “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”

To kick off its 55th Season, Orange County's Tony Award-winning regional theater South Coast Repertory is presenting a charming new stage adaptation of the Jane Austen literary classic “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY,” which continues performances in Costa Mesa through September 29.

Winningly likable with plenty of sharp wits and appealing characters, this admirable stage iteration—adapted by UK playwright Jessica Swale and directed here by Casey Stangl—reacquaints audiences with the seemingly erratic and emotionally taxing task of landing a suitable mate in late 18th Century/early 19th Century England.

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Review: "Black" at the Zephyr Theatre

Review: "Black" at the Zephyr Theatre

Sitting in the Zephyr Theatre to watch a touching one-man show by British playwright, actor and storyteller Michael Washington Brown, I felt as if I was attending a Black Studies class at a local college.

With a simple set, this multimedia experience is enhanced with images and music as Brown examines race from a global perspective. The curriculum includes a study of black history, music, sociology, and psychology.

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Review: "The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona" at the Geffen Playhouse

Review: "The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona" at the Geffen Playhouse

Screenwriter and playwright José Rivera (over 26 plays and an Academy Award nominated Motorcycle Diaries) wrote “The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona” with an interesting story line about death and communicating with loved ones in the afterlife. In the Playbill, Rivera was interviewed by Rachel Wiegardt-Egel about his inspiration for the play. About ten years ago, while looking through Harper’s Magazine, he noticed a company whose service was to connect people who are dying, with people who want to send a message to the other side. This fascinated him, and soon he began writing a creative play about exploring the afterlife where untranslatable secrets are told.

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Review: "Sweat" at the Mark Taper Forum

Review: "Sweat" at the Mark Taper Forum

It was a homecoming for director Lisa Peterson of The Pulitzer Prize-winning play SWEAT as she watched her nine actors perform on opening night at the Mark Taper Forum. She was once the Resident Director at the Taper for ten years from 1995-2005. A lot has changed in the nation since she was last directing in Los Angeles, making this American drama so compelling and enlightening for the audience.

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Review: “ON YOUR FEET” Pulsates with High-Energy Rhythms at OC’s Segerstrom Center

Review: “ON YOUR FEET” Pulsates with High-Energy Rhythms at OC’s Segerstrom Center

I believe the best way to describe the sensation one gets when experiencing the Broadway stage musical adaptation of multi-platinum selling recording artist Gloria Estefan's life story is to actually use one of her very famous songs: "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You."

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Review: "Waitress" Appeals to Your Senses

  Joan Marcus

Joan Marcus

Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

Immediately while walking into the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, I smelled the aroma of warm golden brown and flaky pie crust, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, burnt sugar and maybe hint of apple wafting through the air.

While taking a seat, I looked onstage and noticed the house curtain was a checkerboard of cherry pies. Appealing to my senses, I was excited to see the National Touring company of Waitress. The musical has been enjoying a two year run on Broadway, and now the all-female creative team has a National Touring Company in Hollywood until August 26, 2018.

The inspiration for Jessie Nelson’s book Waitress is based on the 2007 motion picture of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly. It’s also influenced by the writer’s experience serving customers food and coffee for 10 years before her writing, directing and producing career took off.

The Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin, Finding Neverland) does her best with this lively musical production about Jenna (Desi Oakley), a waitress and expert pie maker. We learn Jenna’s loving departed mother taught her everything she knows about dreaming up new pie recipes. Living in a small town, Jenna has a sisterhood with two other waitresses Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman). She dreams of a better life than waitressing, maybe even opening her own pie shop one day.

Suffering in an abusive and loveless marriage, when she discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t want “Earls Baby Pie” baking in her oven. Earl (Nick Bailey) wants his wife home, barefoot and baking pies. He is an insecure “Promise me you won’t love that baby, more than you love me” jerk. Bailey probably is a nice guy in person, but he sure knows how to play a loser onstage.

Almost like a “Mamma Mia!” plot, her two girlfriends help lift up Jenna’s spirits throughout the nine months.

What I found disturbing was Jenna’s relationship with her OB/GYN Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart). I wonder if other Los Angelenos were sensitive to their forbidden relationship, especially with the current scandal between USC female students and one of the University’s OB/GYN physicians. I would have been uncomfortable seeing this with my teenage daughter.

Memorable characters include taciturn short order cook Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) amusingly shouting out “Put some hustle in your bustle” to his servers. His playful banter with Jenna softens a little more after a little loving with Becky.

The actor who gave it his all and won over the audience in his first scene is the hilarious, charming twinkle toes Ogie (Jeremy Morse). He sings, dances and recites spontaneous poetry, that has us belly laughing and applauding while he woos shy Dawn throughout the show.

Grumpy Joe (Larry Marshall) is the owner of Joe’s Pie Diner. He sees Jenna’s goodness and offers fatherly advice. He is her biggest fan, enjoying a daily slice of her “27 different types of pies, including breakfast pies, fruit and cream pies, and a new pie each day.”

The talented ensemble includes Skyler Adams, Law Terrell Dunford, Patrick Dunn, James Hogan, David Hughey, Arica Jackson, Kyra Kennedy, Emily Koch, Maiesha McQueen, Gerianne Perez, Grace Stockdale.

Nadia DiGiallonardo the music supervisor and arranger along with Sara Bareilles and the Waitress Band perform onstage throughout the show. Bareilles is a 6-time Grammy nominated singer and songwriter. Graduating from hometown UCLA, she also is a New York Times bestselling author. Waitress is her first Broadway show. Her group of pop and theatre singers, multi-instrumentalists, writers and producers include Rich Mercurio, Lee Nadel, Yair Evnine, Rich Hinman and Jamie Edwards.

My three favorite dance scenes by choreography Lorin Latarro (Les Dangereuse Liasons, Waiting for Godot) include the pregnancy stick number, Ogie and Dawn’s courtship and the spoon skit.

Scenic designer Scott Pask replicates a diner with counter, stools, kitchen and dining area. Within minutes the stage is changed to a doctor’s office, blue-collar apartment, and hospital delivery room. Lighting designer Ken Billington enhances the set with the prettiest sunsets along the back curtain.

Even though the show offers 19 entertaining songs, not one was memorable enough to hum on the way home. Both Oakley and Dawson have the strongest singing Broadway voices, yet the only song I could recall while walking out of the theatre was the echo of “Sugar.”

Let me tell you right now if you go to dinner before the show, don’t order dessert. Out in the lobby during intermission are little mason jars filled with apple and salted caramel pie. A salivating line of people wait patiently to get their pie fix for $10.

Waitress does a good job appealing to all of your senses with the smell of pies being warmed up, pies being made and eaten with sublime bliss. I just felt it was a little corny at times and a little too long.

The performance schedule for WAITRESS is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. WAITRESS is recommended for ages 12 and up, especially with the OB/GYN office scenes. Tickets are available at www.HollywoodPantages.com/Waitress and www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 982-2787 or in person at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Box Office the it opens daily at 10am.

Review: Hershey Felder Unveils "Beethoven"

Review: Hershey Felder Unveils "Beethoven"

At the age of nine, while attempting to play one of Beethoven’s most recognized and beloved piece’s Fur Elise, Hershey Felder developed an interest in one of the world’s greatest composers.

Not only is Felder a brilliant actor, concert pianist, storyteller, he also is a historian. Right now at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, he is telling a masterful story about the life of Ludwig van Beethoven.

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Review: Fun and Endearing “SCHOOL OF ROCK” Surprises at Segerstrom Center

Review: Fun and Endearing “SCHOOL OF ROCK” Surprises at Segerstrom Center

When it comes to seeing a fresh new show with low or even non-existent expectations, nothing is more pleasurable and satisfying than walking out at the end of it with a huge, beaming smile on your face and a somewhat gobsmacked feeling of "my gosh, I can't believe I really liked what I just saw!"

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Review: Musical Adaptation of “BIG FISH” Makes OC Premiere at Chance Theater

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Michael L. Quintos

  • Associate Los Angeles Theatre Critic

An endearing musical with an even more endearing story, “BIG FISH” is a winsome stage production that is currently making its Orange County regional debut at Anaheim's Chance Theater through July 29, 2018 helmed by its own resident executive artistic director Oanh Nguyen.

Filled with hard-to-believe, imaginative tales that skew more wonderful rather than odd, this cute, warm hug of a musical is based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace that also inspired a 2003 big-screen adaptation directed by Tim Burton. The musical—which debuted on Broadway in 2013—features Southern-fried music and lyrics from Andrew Lippa and a book by John August, who also wrote the screenplay to the film adaptation.

For Chance Theater's scaled-down, small space iteration, Nguyen has fashioned a relatively appealing production that is generous with heart and admirable in spirit.

Right away, “BIG FISH” presents itself with the kind of whimsical wonder and appealing charm that makes audiences curiously attentive to its story, which centers on the uneasy relationship between Edward Bloom (Jeff Lowe) and his only son Will (played as an adult by Jared Price and as a child by Jason Brewer).

All throughout Will's childhood, Will didn't feel as much of a closeness to his father as probably most of his peers, considering his father was often absent from their home in Alabama—the unfortunate side-effect of being constantly on-the-road as a traveling salesman. But on the rare occasion when Edward is finally back home, he is enthusiastically dispensing stories from the road, peppered with lots of outrageous, fantasy-like details that defy any normal logic to the rapt attention of his young son.

Perhaps as an attempt to make himself look much more awesome to his young, impressionable kid, Edward spins countless too-strange-to-be-true tall tales about himself performing incredible feats of heroism and astounding derring-do… all while interacting with a giant or a mermaid here, or a werewolf or a witch there. And, yes, even gigantic big fish. For some reason, Edward Bloom's life is one amazing occurrence after another!

While his dad's yarns did fascinate young Will, part of him probably already had suspicions about the validity of such wild stories. This, alongside his father's constant absence, eventually increases his slight resentment and cautiousness towards his father, despite the fact that his doting mother, Edward's lovingly devoted wife Sandra (Laura M. Hathaway), continues to be madly in love with Edward and doesn't seem at all fazed by his wild, outlandish stories. Heck, she doesn't even dispute Edward's outlandish version of the story of their first meeting.

As expected—though Will truly adored his father as a child, looking up to him with a sense of wide-eyed wonder—the same can't be said for the adult Will, now a grown man about to get married—and, supposedly, about to become a father himself.

Adult Will grows up to become a journalist, the sort of person that prefers empirical evidence to support theories and stories. And as you may have gleaned already, Will still does not believe any of his father's tall tales from the past—and the annoyance and deep-seeded frustration that these stories have caused continue to color his view of his father in the most unflattering light. It doesn't help the situation that Edward insists his stories are not fiction, even years later in the present day.

When “BIG FISH” begins, we meet father and son by the banks of a river. As an aging Edward playfully skips rocks on the water, Will is trying to find the courage to ask his father sheepishly to, well, basically not give a toast at Will's wedding, worried that his father might cause some kind of scene that will embarrass him and his fiancé Josephine (Monika Peña).

In other words, Will wants his dad to cool it with his tall tales. Edward doesn't understand this requested censorship, but complies nonetheless—well, at least promises to do so.

Let's just say Edward just couldn't help himself and not only spills the beans on a piece of news during his toast that Will and Josephine wanted to keep hush on, but Edward also manages to let one of his tall tales spin out for all the guests to hear.

Understandably, Will is infuriated—which, as expected, widens the rift between himself and his dad.

But soon, this rocky father-son dynamic is put to the ultimate test.

Little does Will know that his father—SPOILER ALERT— has actually been living with cancer, which has recently gotten worse. The scene is a heartbreaking one: just as Will celebrates the notion that he is soon going to be a father himself for the first time, Edward back home is told by doctors that his cancer has strengthened and that he is terminally ill. Will learns the bad news from a frantic call from his mother.

The news sends both men spiraling.

Both soon gravitate towards different goals moving forward: for Will, it is to make sure his family's affairs are in order, and to, perhaps, learn more about his dad—the real Edward Bloom—in the process. For Edward, his goal before passing away is to make sure Will remembers every detail and nuance of his "stories" from top-to-bottom so that Will can share them with his own future children, and so that people won't ever forget who Edward Bloom was and what a full, heroic life he led…regardless of whether people want to believe the validity of his tales or not.

As one of many movies-turned-into-musicals, “BIG FISH” certainly ranks as one of the better, more engaging ones in recent memory. Though much of it also displays a through-line to traditional classic book musicals, “BIG FISH” juggles non-traditional parallel timelines by inserting flashbacks that also double as Edward's tall tales. There's a sort of plucky charm to them that keeps the show quite likable as it moves from one vignette to another. Even more compelling is that when the musical dives back into reality, where it's a contrasting necessary jolt. Lippa's music reflects these mood shifts quite well, populating the show with both fun country jamborees and lovely emotional ballads.

Though I'm not sure whether the musical truly finds a balance between fantasy and reality, I do feel there's enough here to merit an enjoyable, if acceptably imperfect theater piece with plenty more pluses than negatives.

Personally, the Chance Theater production of “BIG FISH” is the first time I am experiencing the show in a smaller footprint (I first saw a full-scale production many years ago that used the original Broadway sets and costumes). Probably my biggest concern going into this production was how Chance's much smaller space would be able to handle all the wildly fantastical elements of the musical.

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I'm glad to report that none of the show's whimsy or fantasy fades much, mostly because of several factors that compensate for its smaller footprint. First, the delightfully animated projection designs by Nick Santiago—paired alongside Bradley Kaye's functional scenic design and Masako Tobaru's lighting designs—all came together to fill that smaller stage with the story's fantastical moments without the need for larger imposing sets or huge special effects. I am continuously impressed by how much this black-box theater could employ (and, wow, afford) such high-end digital projections so masterfully.

Also, the fantasy elements all came to life by sheer storytelling pluck and, okay, some really neat costumes from Bradley Lock and Puppet designs by Matthew Aldwin McGee and Aaron McGee.

Much of the joy of being immersed into the Edward's tall tales is to fill in a lot of the visual "blanks" or to, basically, let yourself be swept up in the theatrical magic and trickery, consciously ignoring some of the visible machinations utilized to make something come to life. Yes, the magically jumping fish from the river are thrown by cast members. And, yes, that "giant" has a visible dude controlling his arms and speaking for him—but who cares? Isn't that a neat way to introduce the giant into the story? My only gripe is the production's treatment of mermaids in the story—which feel a bit of a projected footnote here rather than a bigger deal than it should have been.

Additionally, the terrific orchestra—led by musical director Robyn Manion—performs Lippa's rousing score beautifully, while Kelly Todd's choreography made the cast move efficiently within the stage's tighter area.

The ensemble cast itself is an enthusiastic bunch, all of whom collectively bring a charismatic vibe to Chance Theater's production. Though things start a bit awkwardly in the first number during the show's opening night performance, the cast quickly gels into the show as it progresses. 

As Edward Bloom, Lowe does an admirable job as the show's dominant center character, injecting the role with plenty of palpable charm and intensity. Price, as Edward's adult son Will, does a great job with an otherwise mostly underwritten character, but providing the audience with a terrific vocal in "Stranger." Together, Lowe and Price project a great dynamic as a father and son (respectively) at odds with one another.

Also worth noting: Hathaway as Sandra, a beam of light whenever she appears on the scene. Her vocal work in "I Don't Need A Roof" is a lovely moment of love, loss, reflection, and sincerity. John Carroll also provides great, hard-to-miss work as Karl the giant, and Mandy Foster is excellent as Jenny Hill, a (real) woman from Edward's past. Other standouts include the adorable Brewer as Young Will, Peña as Will's wife Josephine, Michael J. Isennock as circus ringmaster Amos Calloway, Rachel Oliveros Catalano as the future-seeing Witch, and Matt Bolden as Edward's longtime nemesis, campus hottie Don Price.

Heartwarming and quite appealing, Chance Theater's “BIG FISH” may dazzle with its fantasy, but at the end of the day, the real takeaway is its emotionally-tinged story that focuses on the love-slash-frustration we have over people in our family.  It's true that adults look on their parents differently as they did as children. We all, in our own way, wish to continue to view them as our heroes and protectors, and, perhaps, vice versa.

In a sense, Edward's folksy tall-tales may seem far-fetched and quite outlandish, but they certainly speak volumes of all our human need to appear better (really, heroic) in our children's eyes. What parent doesn't want to seem super extraordinary to their kid, even if it means adding embellishments about themselves? Unfortunately for Will, as an adult these stories become less awesome and more of a liability, keeping him at arm's length from learning who his father truly is. Perhaps "ordinary" just isn't good enough to be for Edward—particularly now that he feels the need to leave behind a memorable legacy.

This miscommunication between father and son is the constant theme running throughout “BIG FISH”—a deeply charged motif that makes “BIG FISH” a truly relatable story in spite of the fantasy elements that dominate it.

But, overall, all Will ever wanted was a truth-telling, present father, but all Edward thought Will needed—perhaps as compensation for being so maddeningly absent—was a father explaining his absence by creating a persona that was much more extraordinary than he truly is in real life. While these stories certainly aren't good enough to compensate for his absence, in a way, that's exactly what Edward becomes... a truly extraordinary person living quite an amazing life.

Heartfelt at its core, Chance Theater's “BIG FISH” may swim in a small pond in Anaheim, but it is still a lovely, satisfying view.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ.

Photos from Chance Theater's production of “BIG FISH” by Doug Catiller/True Image Studio.

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Chance Theater's Production of “BIG FISH” continues on the Cripe Stage through July 29, 2018. The Chance Theater is located in the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, CA 92807. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 777-3033 or visit www.ChanceTheater.com.

Review: "On Your Feet" - National Tour (Hollywood Pantages Theatre)

Review: "On Your Feet" - National Tour (Hollywood Pantages Theatre)

Los Angelenos enthusiastically embraced the cast of “One Your Feet!” last night at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. The Opening Night of this Broadway touring show had adorning fans ten rows deep, outside the theatre hoping to get a glimpse or photo of seven-time Grammy winning international superstar Gloria Estefan and her Grammy winning husband, producer-musician and entrepreneur Emilio Estefan.

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Review: Musical Theatre West Salutes Old-Fashioned "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

Review: Musical Theatre West Salutes Old-Fashioned "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

If you've ever made your way to New York City's overcrowded Times Square, you have no doubt seen the bronze statue of a smiling George M. Cohan erected prominently at its center, surrounded by the flashing lights and loud city noises of this busy tourist destination. Below his name and the years of his birth and death is a simple etching: "Give My Regards to Broadway"—which is, of course, both the title of one of his many well-known songs as well as being an appropriate motto that fits his very existence.

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Review: "Our Very Own Carlin McCullough" at the Geffen Playhouse

Review: "Our Very Own Carlin McCullough" at the Geffen Playhouse

What does actress Amanda Peet know about playwriting? Actually a lot. In her new world premiere play at the Geffen Playhouse, she tells quite a good story with director Tyne Rafaeli and a talented cast.

The show opens with a scruffy tennis coach Jay (Joe Tippett NBC's Rise) in his 30s and a precocious 10-year-old girl Carlin (Abigail Dylan Harrison). Raised by a single mom Cyn (Mamie Gummer in HBO’s True Detective and also Meryl Streep’s daughter), Carlin takes up the game of tennis at the local park courts, and Jay notices her talent. Once a tennis star and now a bartender, he believes he can nourish Carlin’s tennis potential.

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