Review: Spencer Liff-Directed "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" at La Mirada Rekindles That Glorious Feeling

Review: Spencer Liff-Directed "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" at La Mirada Rekindles That Glorious Feeling

When the house lights finally came back on after the entire cast treated the appreciative audience a peppy, rain-soaked reprise of the show's title song as an encore, I turned to my friend beaming and said "I could not stop smiling the whole time!"

It is probably a safe assumption—judging from the thunderous applause of its recent opening night performance—that my happy reaction to McCoy Rigby Entertainment's joyfully buoyant new production of "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN"—now on stage at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 12, 2019—was not a solitary feeling I alone felt after that performance.

Read More

Review: “1776,” America’s Tuneful Origin Story Gets Vibrant New Staging at La Mirada Theatre

Review: “1776,” America’s Tuneful Origin Story Gets Vibrant New Staging at La Mirada Theatre

As of the writing (and perhaps publishing) time of this review, the United States government, mere weeks into 2019, continues to be shut down—an unfortunate by-product of our current combative, unwilling-to-compromise political climate that’s more about the attainment (and retainment) of party power rather than the actual pursuit of overall prosperity and goodness of the country. In the midst of these troubling times, what hardly no one can argue against, though, is the fact that thousands of livelihoods are now being negatively and perilously affected by this mess, and that, hopefully, a resolution happens very soon rather than much, much later.

Read More

My Top 5 Touring and Original Productions in LA/Orange County of 2018

My Top 5 Touring and Original Productions in LA/Orange County of 2018

All that hype and endless accolades and awards? Completely justified. A work of genius from start to finish “HAMILTON” will certainly go down in history not only for its incredible music and storytelling but also for its purposeful vision of depicting America's past with the faces of America's present.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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."

Read More

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!"

Read More

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

BigFish001-chance.jpg

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.

BigFish003-chance.jpg

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.

——-

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: 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.

Read More

Review: Beautifully-Sung Revival of THE COLOR PURPLE Enraptures the OC

Review: Beautifully-Sung Revival of THE COLOR PURPLE Enraptures the OC

First, a confession.

My favorite movie of all time happens to be "The Color Purple," the deeply moving 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel directed by Steven Spielberg.

Filled with riveting performances, marvelous period music, and an absorbing, emotionally-stirring story of resilience and spirit that spans decades, the film went on to earn 11 Academy Award nominations including two nods for its brilliant stars Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg—both of whom made their big screen debuts in the film.

Read More

Review: Lively New Production of NEWSIES Carries the Banner in La Mirada

Review: Lively New Production of NEWSIES Carries the Banner in La Mirada

Keeping much of the original stage show's inescapable excitement and joyfulness intact, McCoy Rigby Entertainment's new local production of “NEWSIES”—which continues performances at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through June 24—is a wonderfully caffeinated jolt of a stage show, highlighted by a remarkably talented and athletically-blessed ensemble that leaps and belts one show stopping number after another. That's no exaggeration—the show had so many moments when the show had to pause for enthusiastic applause.

Read More

Review: OC's Segerstrom Center for the Arts Finally Becomes the Room Where “HAMILTON” Happens

Review: OC's Segerstrom Center for the Arts Finally Becomes the Room Where “HAMILTON” Happens

Like most Broadway and musical theater fans who live on the west coast without unlimited access to a jet plane or a big enough disposable income to go to New York constantly to see every theatrical offering on the Great White Way, my first exposures to new Broadway musicals are usually either by viewing short clips online or, even better, by listening to the original cast album.

So, naturally, when a very buzzed-about, Drama Desk-winning new musical from Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda finally moved from its off-Broadway home at the Public Theater to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2015, I was more than excited to know that the cast album for this monumental project will finally be available for those of us common folk unable to snag a flight or a ticket to experience it live in New York.

Read More

Review: The Phantom Stages A Comeback in the Perplexing “LOVE NEVER DIES” at Segerstrom Center

Review: The Phantom Stages A Comeback in the Perplexing “LOVE NEVER DIES” at Segerstrom Center

First, let's get some pleasantries out of the way.

There are many, very obvious spectacular things that stand out while watching “LOVE NEVER DIES,” Andrew Lloyd Webber's infamously, uh, troubled 2010 musical follow-up to his long-running global hit “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA,” now continuing its two-week engagement at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through May 5, 2018.

Read More

Review: Appealing New Production of SOUTH PACIFIC Sails Into La Mirada Theater

Review: Appealing New Production of SOUTH PACIFIC Sails Into La Mirada Theater

Armed with a grand, sweeping songbook from the masters of classic musical theater Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and a romantic, progressive-for-its-time book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, it is difficult not to be continually enchanted by SOUTH PACIFIC, the groundbreaking 1949 stage musical based on James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Even better… sandwiched between timeless memorable songs, intensely romantic interludes, and cheeky, comedic banter is the show's surprisingly candid exploration of race relations—a topic that is, of course, still very much top-of-mind in today's seemingly more divided world.

Read More

Review: Haunting World Premiere Play “LITTLE BLACK SHADOWS” Sees the Light at South Coast Repertory

Review: Haunting World Premiere Play “LITTLE BLACK SHADOWS” Sees the Light at South Coast Repertory

A gorgeously stylized rendering of a poignant and deeply moving narrative that blends bits of welcome humor, inspiring theatricality, historical context, and vibrant, magically-tinged storytelling, “LITTLE BLACK SHADOWS” is an excellent first production of this fresh new play that I predict will only continually improve as it sees new future productions on the horizon.

Read More

Review: Musical Theatre West Surprises with the Delightful “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”

Review: Musical Theatre West Surprises with the Delightful “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”

Once in a while, you come across a stage show that, on paper, may not have had the buzz that other high-profile shows may have had initially, but then you see it … and it just completely surprises you in the best possible way.

That pretty much sums up my recent experience with the oh-so delightful “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT,” Musical Theatre West's buoyant and sublime new regional production of the 10-time Tony Award-nominated 2012 musical comedy now on stage at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Long Beach, CA through April 22. An irresistibly silly and infectiously tuneful stage show that will have you smiling from start to finish, this roaring 20's throwback with modern sensibilities provides lots of zany antics, lots of witty one-liners, and lots of spectacular song-and-dance showstoppers that will have you wondering—where has this show been all my life?

Read More