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: 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?

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Review: The Con is On with 'DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS' at Musical Theatre West

Michael L. Quintos

  • OnStage Los Angeles Critic

Long Beach, CA - The con is on! With plenty of wit, charm, and double entendres galore, Musical Theatre West's new regional production of the 2004 Broadway musical comedy 'DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS' is one enjoyably silly romp. The show which features a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbeck continues its limited run at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Long Beach through July 24.

Based on the 1998 film comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the stage adaptation (which had its pre-Broadway debut at San Diego's Old Globe) eventually garnered 11 Tony nominations during its run. For MTW's fun local revival, the title roles—a couple of con men who've taken to swindling the riches off of easily-seduced women in the French Riviera—are embodied by stage vets Davis Gaines (now a multiple fixture at MTW) and the incredibly funny Benjamin Schrader (The Book of Mormon). 

The casting is inspired. Gaines plays suave ladies' man Lawrence Jameson, whose seemingly opulent lifestyle and Brit phrasing act as an enticingly posh smokescreen for his ability to romance women from their cash. Schrader—in one of the most showy, funniest performances I've seen this year—plays Freddy Benson, a younger, less-sophisticated yet still brilliant con man who tugs on women's heartstrings of sympathy to gain their trust. Lawrence, perhaps seeing a little bit of his roguish young self in him, takes a liking to Freddy upon witnessing him in action.

Thus a partnership is born. Freddy wants to learn from the more seasoned Lawrence—especially after seeing Lawrence's mansion and the "great big stuff" in it. Lawrence in turn likes the idea of a protégé, much to the dismay of Lawrence's long time Frenchy assistant André (Kyle Nudo). The two new partners collaborate in one of the show's most hilarious sequences that has Freddy pretending to be Lawrence's very, um, eccentric "special" brother Ruprecht in order to repulse a rich, gun-toting Oklahoman (Jennifer Kranz) named Jolene Oakes from marrying Lawrence.

But, as one might expect, they soon learn that having a partner to rely on (and to split profits with) is perhaps not the best idea, especially since each guy thinks the other, well, isn't as good at the con game as they initially thought. 

So both men devise a bet: the first man to successfully swindle a huge sum of money ($50,000) from the newly-arrived "soap queen" Christine Colgate (the luminous Rebecca Ann Johnson) wins the right to stay in town, while the other must pack up and go. Naturally, the two men go at this scheme pretty hard, culminating in one hilarious con sequence after another as they try their best to one-up each other. For his part, Freddy pretends to be a war vet paralyzed from the waste down and confined to a wheelchair (cue the "awwwws" please). Lawrence, in a brilliant bit of piggy-backing (much to the anger of Freddy), pretends to be the very fictional Dr. Shuffhausen, a German specialist that Freddy said himself to Christine has some kind of miracle cure for his ailment.

Meanwhile, as the two scoundrels square off with each other, a dejected André finds himself falling in love with one of Lawrence's previously discarded victims, Muriel (Cynthia Ferrer). It's a cute pairing, sure, that adds some, well, extra padding and breathing room to the story, I suppose.

Amusingly droll, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is a lively musical comedy that offers plenty of harmless silliness for an entertaining evening. Director and choreographer Billy Sprague Jr. doles out sequences with well-paced ease, allowing funny sequences to shine and not letting other, not-so-funny places linger (though, admittedly, a few do here and there, which could have used some more oomph overall). Yazbeck's music, while not too memorable, sounds fantastic from the pit under the direction of musical director John Glaudini. The hues of the French Riviera are replicated wonderfully in Karen St. Pierre's costumes, Jean Yves Tessier's lighting, and Kevin Clowes' sets. My only real gripe is not seeing the train sequence (and its set) which has been excised from this particular production.

What the show lacks in edginess, it makes up for it with rousing musical numbers from a very enthusiastic ensemble, a few outrageous sequences, and, of course, the goofy, over-caffeinated antics of Schrader, whose limber comedy stylings are a bust-your-gut laugh-riot throughout the night (his "Ruprecht" and wheelchair cons are highlights). Gaines, far more reserved (perhaps purposely so), provides a worthy calmer counterpoint—a Prof. Hill with a far better, more chic wardrobe. Even his ill-timed "whacks" of a stick on poor Schrader feel so silly that their out-of-sync sound effect during the opening night performance feels almost too absurd—that it ends up being even funnier. Even the sexual innuendo feels tame and cheesy by today's standards, but, for me it's actually kind of adorably charming. If you need a smile, this show induces them.

And as a trio, Gaines, Schrader and Johnson make for a very beguiling triangle. But, bottom line, the show itself becomes much more amped up with every presence of Schrader, the show's true reason to see this particular production. Get this guy a sitcom, stat! 

Overall, MTW has another winner with DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.


Follow this reviewer on Twitter/Instagram: @cre8iveMLQ.

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre West

Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS continue through Sunday, July 24, 2016 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is performed at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at www.musical.org.

Review: 'SISTER ACT' Brings Joyful Noise to Musical Theatre West

Michael L. Quintos

OnStage Los Angeles Critic

~~~~~~~

LONG BEACH, CA - One of the things that made the 1992 hit film comedy Sister Act such a laugh-riot was seeing Whoopi Goldberg play a sassy Vegas lounge singer who disguises herself as a nun that goes on to reinvigorate the convent's badly-run (and bad-sounding) choir with the aid of some classic R&B/pop hits. Even funnier? These classing songs were humorously repurposed with different lyrics that were more, um, appropriate for a church setting.

Though that comedy device of rewritten song lyrics is (unfortunately) not utilized for the film's musical stage adaptation, still, much of the spirit and basic plot architecture of the original movie remains in 'SISTER ACT' - THE MUSICAL, which features all-original songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, as well as a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with additional material contributed later by playwright Douglas Carter Beane). The show started with an out-of-town tryout at Pasadena Playhouse a decade ago before being heavily re-tooled for its eventual West End and Broadway productions. 

Goofy and full of cutesy charm, 'SISTER ACT' was, for me, a pleasant surprise when I first experienced the show during its national tour stops in Los Angeles and Orange County a few years ago. I was initially worried upon learning about its rocky early beginnings and finding out that the plot has been shifted backwards time-wise to the 1970's, giving the musical a new disco-flavored environment. That latter aspect, actually, proves to be one of the show's smartest decisions, adding an added layer of comical touchstones to skewer (the hairstyles, the outfits, the decade's musical attributes), and distancing itself enough to be its own individual entity for those expecting an exact replica of the hit movie and only to realize they're not really getting one.

Which brings us to the present. Currently, Musical Theatre West's admirable regional production of this Tony-nominated Broadway musical comedy is finishing out its final weekend of performances at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through April 24. Helmed by director Michael Matthews and features lively musical direction by David Lamoureux and energetic choreography from Daniel Smith, MTW's new production is a fun, frothy presentation with lots of laugh-out-loud moments for an entertaining evening (or matinee) in the theater.

So what makes the show enjoyable? Well... for lack of a better phrase... it's all about the nuns.

Yes, just as in its cinematic origins, 'SISTER ACT' entertains the most whenever the focus shines on the wonderfully colorful (though mono-hued draped) nuns of the convent at the heart of the story. While the show tends to slow down a bit and lose some comic momentum whenever other non-habit-wearing periphery characters enter from the wings, the nuns always manage to perk things back up again. Need a reason to see this production? These gals are definitely a good reason.

We first meet these ladies when they themselves all get their first meeting with spunky new convent newcomer "Sister Mary Clarence"---who, of course, is really Deloris Van Cartier (instantly likable spitfire diva Constance Jewell Lopez) in disguise. She's hiding out in the convent reluctantly, forced to seek refuge here after witnessing a brutal murder committed by her married gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Gerry McIntyre). 

Naturally, the excited nuns are curiously infatuated with their new Sister.... well, except for the very skeptical Mother Superior (the gloriously acerbic Mary Gordon Murray, blessed with the snarky delivery of a seasoned stage vet), who sees Deloris as nothing but trouble herself. 

Naturally, as comedy dictates, it doesn't take long before the other nuns take a real liking to Sister Mary Clarence, whose less-than-holy behavior suggests that she seems to have come from a much more progressive order than they're used to at their own traditional parish. Particularly taken with the new nun are bubbly, over-ecstatic Sister Mary Patrick (joy-buzzer Cindy Sciacca), loopy Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (hilarious J. Elaine Marcos), oldest nun Sister Mary Theresa (standout Sarah Benoit), and shy, young postulant Sister Mary Robert (belt-tastic Ashley Ruth Jones), who would blossom within their midst. Even cantankerous Sister Mary Lazarus (the very funny Cathy Newman) eventually likes her too, even after Sister Mary Clarence usurps her position as the director of the church's very very bad choir.

So, yes, like in the film, Sister Mary Clarence---trying to find an activity at the convent that might make use of her talents---stumbles into the rehearsal of a very disorganized choir, where the voices are screechy and the harmonies are non-existent. With a quick fine-tuning (literally), some singing lessons, and an injection of showmanship (the kind she's used to with her own stage persona), she took a mess of a chorus and reinvented them as a must-see attraction of the church---much to the continued trepidation of Mother Superior, but to the hopeful delight of Monsignor O' Hara (playful Tom Shelton), who sees this exciting new development as the church's answer to dwindling attendance and a dilapidated, crumbling structure in danger of being shut down.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the musical, Deloris' former high school classmate, policeman Eddie Souther (Anthony Manough) continues his investigation of Curtis' activities, while keeping tabs on Deloris, whom he personally arranged to be hidden in the convent. We quickly find out, though, that Eddie has an extra investment in keeping Deloris safe. It seems Eddie---whom Deloris knew back in high school as "Sweaty Eddie"---still harbors a major crush on her (awww).

For Curtis' part, he deploys three of his most trusted (well, present) henchmen to go looking for Deloris: Spanish-speaking Pablo (Elijah Reyes), sensitive thug Joey (Spencer Rowe), and dim-witted nephew TJ (John Wells III). The funny, unexpected twist? The three tough guys form one incredible doo-wop-loving singing group, as showcased by their standout number "Lady in the Long Black Dress" and as back-up for Curtis' funny-but-murderous "When I Find My Baby."

But, it begs to be repeated: in every moment the sisters are on stage, 'SISTER ACT' is instantly infused with infectious joy. The show's best moments involve them, including the very rousing first act closing two-fer "Raise Your Voice" and "Take Me To Heaven (Reprise)" and, of course, the show's finale "Spread the Love Around."

Winningly sophomoric, harmlessly quirky, and gosh-darn adorkable in its best moments, MTW's regional production definitely brings in the (joyful) noise and the funk to Long Beach. If you have yet to see this musical, this is a good one to be blessed with while it's around. 


* Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ *

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre West. Review originally published in OnStage.

Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of SISTER ACT - THE MUSICAL continue through Sunday, April 24, 2016 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. SISTER ACT - THE MUSICAL is performed at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at www.musical.org.

Review: Musical Theatre West Stages Irresistibly Beguiling MY FAIR LADY

Michael L. Quintos

When Musical Theatre West's Executive Director Paul Garman declared that their current season-opening production of the 1956 Broadway classic MY FAIR LADY is actually the regional theater company's fourth time presenting the beloved musical comedy in their 63-year history, I had two initial thoughts: first, I wondered... wow, maybe their version is just so amazing, that it deserves repeat productions. Secondly... I thought that, perhaps, the show itself is so darn easy to put on and such a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, that a quickie production would be a cinch to recreate.

Well... whatever the motivation may have been, it doesn't really matter. I'm just ecstatic (and quite relieved) to report that MTW's irresistibly beguiling, top-notch local revival—now on stage at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Long Beach through November 8—is a thoroughly enjoyable production from start to finish. While their 2015 regional mounting may not offer anything fresh or revisionist to the nearly 60-year-old theatrical staple, MTW's winning, nostalgia-baiting effort nonetheless retains the effervescent wit and jubilant spirit of the original, reminding audiences and long-time fans just how loverly this show is and continues to be.

Some shows, admittedly, cry out for a much-needed update or a clever reboot—offering a new twist or a 21st century tweak. 

Not this. 

Wisely, Director/Choreographer Daniel Pelzig has staged a production of the musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's humorous play Pygmalion that feels as if it was plucked directly from its mid-century origins: from its time-worn yet still effectively antiqued backdrops and sets, to its gorgeous, convincingly vintage-looking costumes by Karen St. Pierre. The massive-sounding pit orchestra—conducted spritely under the baton of musical director Julie Lamoureux—revisits the incredible classic MY FAIR LADY songbook written by the legendary duo comprised of composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner (who also wrote the book) with buoyant, infectious glee. Upon hearing that incredible overture, I instantly got goosebumps. And just try to keep "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "With A Little Bit of Luck," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Rain In Spain," "Get Me to the Church On Time," and, of course, "I Could Have Danced All Night" out of your head after hearing them performed beautifully again in this show. Just you wait!

That overused cliché—if it ain't broke, don't fix it—certainly applies here. Why mess with a near-perfect classic? 

So how good was MTW's production exactly? Well, I did notice throughout the show that I could not stop smiling! Even in the show's minor melancholy moments, it almost feels as if this musical wants nothing more than to constantly shower its audience with great big bear hugs while lulling them with lovely songs and amusing dialogue. Filled with wit, charm, memorable tunes, and timeless, often uplifting humor, MY FAIR LADY is basically the comfort food of classic musicals.

Of course, it helps that the casting of MTW's MY FAIR LADY—from its outstanding leads to its terrific all-singing, all-dancing ensemble—is absolutely on point. 

Cast as street flower peddler Eliza Doolittle—the young woman who transforms from a Cockney-accented, lower class "gutter-snipe" into a convincing proper society "lady"—the oh-so-loverly Katharine McDonough plays the title character with captivating charisma, heart-tugging vulnerability, and a stunning singing voice that soars to the rafters. This darling actress matches wits and barbs effortlessly with the equally superb Martin Kildare, who plays the gruff, unabashedly opinionated Professor Henry Higgins. As in Shaw's Pygmalion, Kildare's sublimely snobbish, upper-crust London linguistics expert concocts a bet with fellow aging scholar Colonel Pickering (the adorable Richard Gould) that he can improve the social status of a minimally-educated woman simply by improving her speech. 

The Professor's seemingly foolish hypothesis is, understandably, met with some skepticism, particularly from Eliza's often absent (and often drunk) father Alfred (played by the robust Matthew Henerson), as well as the Professor's own head maid Mrs. Pearce (Debra Cardona). Even the Professor's own disagreeable mother Mrs. Higgins (Tony nominee Mary Gordon Murray) thinks this whole thing is quite an odd experiment.

Meanwhile, Eliza's alluring public display of unexpected boldness at the Ascot racetrack intrigues young Freddy Eynsford-Hill (adorkable Eric Michael Parker) who becomes instantly smitten, and then proceeds to stalk Eliza (harmlessly enough by musical theater standards, I guess) outside Professor Higgins' London flat. Unfortunately for Freddy, Eliza has no time to entertain gentleman callers, because she is simply too wrapped up in trying to get acknowledged by the one man she wants approval from desperately: Professor Higgins.

Miles above your typical community theater retread, MTW's exceptional, high-quality production makes it easy to fall in love with the musical all over again—a quality the last major national tour that visited So. Cal. had a very hard time accomplishing, despite having a cast that featured the one and only Marni Nixon, the often-used singing voice dubbed in for non-musical movie stars Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and, yes, Audrey Hepburn herself in the MY FAIR LADY big-screen adaptation. Here, MTW's bright musicality and vibrant, expressive performances help elevate the production and causes lots of uncontrollable smiling.

Alas, to love MY FAIR LADY—marbles and all—also requires a bit of forgiveness for many of its more antiquated displays of old-world human behavior, much of which may make audiences cringe a little by today's modern standards. It's a bit creepy to think that two grown, aging bachelors can simply just take in a 21-year-old off the streets and essentially play "dress up" with her—like their own personal living doll (an observation keenly brought up by Higgins' own mother in the play) while providing her food, shelter, and tutelage in becoming a proper lady, one that's palatable and acceptable to the VIP set. Today, it seems only Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump could possibly get away with such activities, though not without its own share of ickiness and judgment.

In addition, the show also highlights the great class divide (the rich revel in their finery at the Ascot races; the poor rise with the dawn to sell their wares in the dingy London streets), the lowly servitude of domestic servants, and... yep, a stalker guy hanging out  "on the street" where his object of obsession resides. In 2015, that dude would probably be slapped with a restraining order and a blocked Twitter account.

But with all kidding aside, overall, if your taste aligns with old-fashioned musicals, beautiful Lerner and Loewe showtunes performed with excellent orchestrations and ebullient singing voices, time-honored witty banter, and classic musical theater elements, then you will absolutely be enchanted by MTW's latest Broadway-caliber offering. Just be forewarned... you'll be humming these tunes long after you've left the theater.

**Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre West. Review originally published in OnStage.

Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of MY FAIR LADY continue through Sunday, November 8, 2015 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.Tickets start at $20. Musical Theatre West performs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at www.musical.org

Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits the Glorious Feeling of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Michael L. Quintos


As the cliché goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

That is perhaps partly the philosophy behind the rather faithful stage adaptation of the gloriously wonderful movie musical SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, now once again charmingly replicated in a smile-inducing local production at Musical Theatre West that continues through July 26 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. 

An almost scene-by-scene, note-for-note recreation of the superb Gene Kelly/Donald O ‘Connor/Debbie Reynolds cinematic masterpiece that pokes cheeky fun at the movie world's initially awkward transition from silent films to sound-enabled "talkies," the musical theater iteration of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN smartly and painstakingly reenacts every key moment and memorable musical happenstance from the 1952 movie that many have since heralded as one of the best movie musicals of all time. This direct translation of such a beloved classic may seem like an easier route to navigate, but one can’t deny that adherently doing so ensures an endearing, nostalgic connection to its source material which all but guarantees to reignite people’s deep fondness for the film—and, therefore, transfer that affection for the stage show, too. 

It certainly helps that the legendary Broadway dream team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green—who also wrote the snappy screenplay of the original film that was directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen—have returned decades later to adapt it with winning aplomb for this stage version, essentially creating a thoroughly engaging old-fashioned jukebox musical featuring the same MGM catalog songs mostly written by Nacio Herb Brown.

The results are extraordinary. Not only are these recreated key scenes just as funny and delightful to behold on stage, this adaptation itself allows for true classic Broadway-caliber “hoofer” talents of today to shine. And with MTW’s latest revival specifically, director/choreographer Jon Engstrom has helmed a joyful production worth experiencing, whether it’s your first or hundredth time.

Set in the pre-social media days (!) of the late 20’s, celebrity and image is depicted as an even more heavily-protected (and carefully curated) commodity of the Hollywood studio system. It’s the kind of environment—one ruled by silent movies—that has made huge movie stars out of two attractive marquee actors, Don Lockwood (here played with slick, antiquated charm and era-appropriate vocals by Leigh Wakeford) and the gorgeous, but ridiculously irritating diva Lina Lamont (scene-stealing Rebecca Ann Johnson, who should probably leave some room on her mantle now for an Ovation Award). The fascinated public can't get enough of not only the pair's ultra-romantic silent films, but also their supposed equally amorous off-camera relationship, which we soon discover is all a figment of the studio’s manipulated imaginations in order to further fuel the public’s fandom. 

Trying to dodge fans and reporters after the red carpet premiere of the latest anticipated Lockwood-and-Lamont hit, Don ducks out of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater—with an assist from his best friend and former vaudeville partner Cosmo Brown (the wonderful, outstandingly limber Justin Michael Wilcox)—only to have a written-in-the-stars meet-cute with the lovely Kathy Selden (the beautifully talented Natalie MacDonald, who at times resembles the twin-image of Debbie Reynolds in the film), an aspiring actress who doesn’t seem to be fazed at all by the cult of celebrity nor does she appear easily charmed by this Don guy flirting with her (yeah, sure, Kathy). In a tirade against the Hollywood machine, Kathy claims that these silent film superstars of today know nothing about real acting and working your way from the bottom, and that serious work is much more tied to the world of the legit stage (here, here, Kathy!). For his part, Don seems as smitten as ever, despite Kathy’s insults.

Later, Don finally arrives at the after-party thrown at the home of his boss, the studio chief of Monumental Pictures, R.F. Simpson (Jeff Austin) who is deeply troubled by the latest news: Al Jolson has just scored an enormous hit with "The Jazz Singer" a brand new “talking” picture that features perfectly-synced dialogue and music. His immediate solution to this technological advancement? To immediately convert the next Lockwood-and-Lamont picture, The Dueling Cavalier into a “talkie.” Seems like a fine idea—except for the fact that while Don has the regal voice of a thespian, Lina…well, most certainly does not. 

Meanwhile, Don is surprised (but delighted) to find Kathy popping out of a “cake” as part of the evening’s party entertainment. Irritated with Don, the feisty Kathy tries to throw a piece of cake at him, only to accidentally hit Lina. Understandably irate, Lina gets Kathy fired, leaving Don feeling guilty enough to later convince Cosmo to try to give Kathy an audition at the studio (she, to Don’s and our delight, accepts the call).

As shooting on the studio’s now sound film finally arrives, director Roscoe Dexter (Steve Owsley) is becoming increasingly frazzled and frustrated—and for good reason. With a voice so shrill that it sounds like a cat being strangled, Lina’s cartoonish voice is simply not suitable for this new cinematic innovation. So how do they fix it? Why, to get Kathy to dub all Lina’s lines, of course! And, heck, while we’re at it… why not turn the horrendous The Dueling Cavalier into The Singing Cavalier—and make it a movie musical vehicle for Don and the increasingly valuable Kathy?

A pleasant throwback musical that's like a nice warm hug mixed in with a goofy, screwball comedy, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a genuinely entertaining stage show that displays an enormous grasp of wit and snark, while at the same time, unabashedly revels in its adorably square, old-fashioned sensibilities. And with MTW’s excellent new production—filled with superlative aspects from Michael Anania’s effective sets, Karen St. Pierre’s period-perfect costumes, John Glaudini’s musical direction over the lush sounds of the orchestra, and Engstrom’s own choreography—the show mines that nostalgia to lovingly pay homage to the kinds of musicals of a bygone era… those ones that feel less of a go-to in today’s age of theatrical complexities and innovation. 

Funny enough, as old-fashioned musicals go, this one surprisingly involves (or should I say demands) an intriguing theatrical trick to accomplish its signature scene that celebrates the blossoming possibilities of new romance—the very one that its title is hinging on to make good. When that first act closing scene finally happens—seeing Wakeford leap, jump, and twirl with the lightest of ease across the stage underneath a man-made torrential downpour cleverly contained just within Kathy’s neighborhood—it’s a giddy sight to see. Bravo to all for getting this marvelous scene right (and to top it off, MTW repeatedly wanted patrons to know that in the wake of the severity of California’s drought, the water used in this scene is indeed repeatedly recycled back into itself).

With swift, zippy pacing, and cheeky humor that seems to transcend the varying ages of the audiences in attendance, MTW’s effervescent SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN—as delivered by this hard-working, infectiously happy Broadway-caliber ensemble—should definitely continue to enjoy being showered in praises.

Review originally published for OnStage Blog. Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre West.

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Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN continue through Sunday, July 26, 2015 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.Tickets start at $20. There is a $3 service charge per ticket. Prices are subject to change without notice. Group rates are available for 12 or more.

Musical Theatre West performs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA.

For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at www.musical.org

Admirable Regional Production of LES MISERABLES Storms into MTW

Michael L. Quintos

If by chance you happen to make travel plans in the next few weeks for New York City to see a Broadway show, one of the available options to see is the recent, much-lauded (and reportedly much re-worked) 2014 Broadway revival of the epic Claude-Michel Schönberg / Alain Boublil musical LES MISÉRABLES, that unabashedly grandiose, all-singing, all-emoting stage adaptation of Victor Hugo's massive novel set in 19th Century France.

But if your plans are a tad more local—say, Southern California, perhaps—then your best bet is to catch Musical Theatre West's rather admirable regional production of the musical, which continues its limited run at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through April 26, 2015. This highly-commendable local production is directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury and features a superb-sounding 30-person cast, an impressive arsenal of lighting, set, and costume designs, and strikingly lush musical accompaniment from a 16-piece live orchestra conducted by musical director Andrew Bryan. 

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre 

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre 

I think it's safe to say that LES MISÉRABLES is arguably one of the most popularly-liked stage musicals ever, and there's little doubt that MTW's high-caliber presentation will genuinely please audiences familiar with the epic drama and gorgeous songs that have become synonymous with the show. But as more and more regional theaters are able to acquire the theatrical rights to produce their own locally-brewed versions of this musical, it's certainly becoming more intriguing to discover what differentiates each production from the other.

Lately, it seems finding just the right sound mix has been a, well... challenge for lots of otherwise amazing regional productions staging their own epic-sized local revivals of various shows. While live theater, sure, has proven time and again to be quite unpredictable, there are certain things, I would hope, that can be tweaked and improved. 

I must say, right off the bat, this massive production of LES MIS—more than anything else—sounds absolutely exquisite from start to finish. What a sigh of relief it is to hear how wonderful this show sounds (and is supposed to sound), a rather important aspect considering how reliant this sung-through musical is on how its audiences hear every bellowing outburst, every anguished plea, and every emotionally-sung declaration.

During its opening night performance, this fine LES MIS beautifully combines its powerful lead and ensemble vocals with its rousing orchestra in a perfect aural mix, automatically elevating the production to a high plain. From the quiet ballads to its hard-charging anthems, the ear candy produced by this exceptional collective had me floating in euphoria.

Do you hear the people sing? Hell yes!

Leading the charge is Michael Hunsaker, whose portrait of downtrodden ex-convict Jean Valjean—the show's tormented spiritual center—is quite praiseworthy. Though some of his high notes at the top of the show may jolt and surprise some, he sounds simply magnificent during his gripping rendition of "Bring Him Home," reducing many to tears. Opposite him, Broadway vet and frequent MTW fixture Davis Gaines provides powerful vocal and acting work as Valjean's obsessive pursuer and nemesis, Inspector Javert. His performance of "Stars" is certainly one of the show's many musical highlights and proves once again what an asset he continues to be for So. Cal. theater.

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre 

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre 

Also worth mentioning are cast standouts Cassandra Murphy, reprising the role of the ill-fated Fantine she so beautifully portrayed at La Mirada's epic production last year (her "I Dreamed A Dream" is heavenly); Emily Martin, whose gorgeous vocals on the much-anticipated "On My Own" as the doomed Éponine is a memorable highlight; Steve Czarnecki as the intense leader of the student uprising Enjolras; Devin Archer as faithful student and Éponine's best friend/crush Marius; and, finally, Madison Claire Parks as the older Cosette, who as Marius' future paramour sings with a pristine, angelic soprano voice that is just so enchanting.

And let's not forget... providing some welcome, side-splitting relief from all the miserable are the hilarious duo of Norman Large and Ruth Williamson, who play the devious innkeepers/grifters the Thénardiers. Both accomplished Broadway vets have arrived at their roles having played them in previous productions—Large, who did the role as the first replacement in the original Broadway company, and Williamson, who took on the same showy role for the star-studded Hollywood Bowl production.

But, honestly, my most favorite parts of this production is whenever the ensemble sings together. Listening to their harmonies and collective musical eruptions are reasons enough to experience this MTW revival for yourself. From the chorus at the top of the show to their battlecry of revolution in "One Day More," this company delivers with power and palpable passion that makes the entire lengthy show enjoyable to watch.

Overall, MTW's production of LES MIS is indeed a Broadway-caliber, first-rate iteration, even though there are times when the show's forward ebb and flow feels oddly choppy—as if entire chunks of the show were spliced off revealing a few visible seams here and there. It's a minor, albeit slightly jarring flaw in an otherwise exemplary undertaking. 

But, really, once you hear these people sing... this production proves just too enthralling to resist.

Review originally published on BroadwayWorld. Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

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Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of LES MISÉRABLES continue through Sunday, April 26, 2015 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., and Sunday evening at 7 p.m. DUE TO OVERWHELMING DEMAND, A SECOND PERFORMANCE HAS BEEN ADDED FOR SUNDAY, APRIL  26 at 7PM. Musical Theatre West performs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA.

For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit MTW online at www.musical.org.