Review: "CATS" Lacks its Magic

Review: "CATS" Lacks its Magic

I was so excited to take my teenage daughter to see CATS at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. CATS was a Broadway sensation for over 18 years and the fourth-longest running show in Broadway history.

The first time I saw the musical was in the 1980s. Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, I shared some of my favorite “memories” of the show with my daughter while driving to the theater. Director Trevor Nunn and lighting designer Natasha Katz excitedly open the show with a multitude of large green cat eyes prowling up and down the aisle before they prance upon the dimly lit stage.

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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: "SCHOOL OF ROCK" is now in Session

Review: "SCHOOL OF ROCK" is now in Session

It’s been a while since I’ve walked out of a theatre humming a song from a musical. After seeing School of Rock on opening night, I found myself not only humming, but singing “Stick it to the Man” while driving home. The next day, I sang it again while doing chores around the house. Not only is this song catchy, it had the audience up and out of their seats at the end of the show.

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Review: KINKY BOOTS Tour Makes Triumphant So. Cal. Return to Hollywood's Pantages Theatre

Michael L. Quintos

OnStage Los Angeles Critic

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If it was possible to like... or rather, LOOOVE... the Broadway musical 'KINKY BOOTS' even more so than one already does, the lovable, fresh-faced cast of the musical's current first national tour is certainly making a really good case for it.

An all-around spectacular stage show in every sense of the word, the 2013 six-time Tony Award-winning Best Musical's current North American traveling company—now back in Los Angeles for an all-too brief two-week run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through April 24—very much lives up to its rousing, crowd-pleasing reputation thrice over. 

Based on the charming 2005 true story-inspired independent film by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth (which also happens to feature early starring roles for actors Joel Edgerton and future Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), the splashier, more colorfully vibrant music-and-dance stage adaptation amplifies the celebration of self-discovery, open-mindedness, and living authentic lives with spectacular costumes by Gregg Barnes, incredible sets by David Rockwell, melodic arrangements and orchestrations by the super-talented Stephen Oremus, and, of course, high-energy, full-out choreography and direction by Jerry Mitchell. 

But perhaps most importantly, the musical comedy's message of tolerance, acceptance, and perseverance is superbly aided by a funny and, yes, even an often touching book by the very witty Harvey Fierstein, and terrific, memorable music and lyrics from legendary pop music superstar Cyndi Lauper. And in a bit of only-in-Hollywood timing, both Fierstein and Lauper happen to have just received (finally!) their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week—just one day before KINKY BOOTS's Los Angeles return, only steps from the entrance of the Pantages Theatre!  

Not too surprisingly, my jaw dropped at just how genuinely enjoyable this show continues to be, and was giddy at how utterly delightful this current touring production is playing out, even compared with my first experiences seeing the show both on Broadway with the original cast and during the initial leg of its tour that made heralded local stops in Southern California. Its recent opening night performance truly deserved every scream and ovation it received.

Much of the kudos, though, for why KINKY BOOTS is still so enjoyable even after almost two years on the road can be attributed to the new tour cast members that are now breathing new life into these roles. It's always fun seeing fresh actors in the roles, who offer new, subtly different interpretations to characters we all think we already know.

For this new go-round, the role of the fabulous Lola—the unapologetically out-and-proud statuesque drag queen that inspires the musical's title and plot—is excellently played by J. Harrison Ghee, a gifted triple-threat actor blessed with sassy comic timing, fearless dance moves (in stilettos, thank you), and a beautiful, richly-layered singing voice that fits his stand out character like a tight, form-fitting gown. 

From Lola's first introduction in the dark (where some homophobes are accosting her outside a club) to her final triumphant bow at Milan Fashion Week, Ghee can morph from sexy and stunning, to hilarious and confident, to visibly shaken and emotionally spent with such remarkable ease and credibility. Even the tone of his singing voice is perfectly matched to the mood of the given moment: he is unbelievably fierce in "Land of Lola" and "The Sex Is In the Heel" and reduces grown folks to tears in the heartbreaking "I'm Not My Father's Son" and the divalicious 11 o'clock Whitney-esque ballad "Hold Me In Your Heart."

Across from Ghee is adorable former Newsie Adam Kaplan, who has traded in his heavy New Yawk accent for a more British one, graduating into the neurotic shoes of Charlie Price—the twenty-something young man who (reluctantly, at first) inherits his family's failing men's shoe factory business that he later tries to turn around by reinventing itself as a boots-for-drag-queens design house (inspired idea, right?!).

Instantly endearing right from his first appearance, Kaplan possesses the discernible vulnerability of a shy, soft-spoken, yet level-headed man aching to let loose while at the same time trying to live up to expected adult responsibilities. With a slight aww shucks squeak of nervousness in his voice and a likable personality beaming from a comforting baby-face, Kaplan channels a much more adorkable nervous-nelly Charlie than prior actors have essayed—who's much more fearful of disappointing his dad and his "family" of factory workers counting on him to save the business. And to top it off, the guy can belt the bejeezus outta the high notes in "Step One" and "Soul of a Man."

Kaplan's perfectly chosen acting nuances are an excellent contrast to Ghee's more assertive, sensually confident delivery—and the pair have an absolutely believable chemistry as impromptu business collaborators and (eventual) best friends who, surprisingly enough, share a fairly similar childhood (sans heels for one of them, of course). After seeing these two outstanding musical theater actors in these lead roles, I can honestly say that they both earn top spots as two of my favorite actors to ever take on the roles of Lola and Charlie, respectively.

Oh, and surprise! There is not a single weak link in the ensemble either. 

Among the cast standouts include hilarious scene-stealer Tiffany Engen as factory worker Lauren, who harbors a secret crush on Charlie; the awesome-voiced Aaron Walpole as über-macho factory worker Don, who taunts and teases the more effeminate Lola; the very funny Jim J. Bullock (TV's Too Close For Comfort) as the excitable George, the factory's semi-sexually ambiguous floor manager; and Charissa Hogeland as Nicola, Charlie's posh girlfriend determined to see Charlie ditch the factory for a more hip life in London. 

And, of course, at the heart of the show are Lola's gorgeous, fashion-forward glamazons she dubs her "Angels"... Joe Beauregard, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, JP Qualters, Sam Rohloff, and Juan Torres-Falcon, who all vigorously dance and strut up a storm in outfits the Drag Race gals would surely envy.

An overall appealing, smile-inducing show with characters you want to wholeheartedly root for (and everyone gets a nice, tidy-with-a-bow ending), KINKY BOOTS will pretty much win you over, even if you don't necessarily agree with the motivations or ideologies of the characters. A musical ode to living a genuine, "be true to who you are" kind of life, there is lots to truly love about a show that encourages acceptance, reinvention, and diversity. While, sure, this isn't new territory—particularly in the more open-minded realm of Broadway—KINKY BOOTS at least gives it to you with humor, hubris, heart, and lots and lots of sparkle.

Still haven't seen this incredibly entertaining, surprisingly heartwarming show on tour yet? What are you waiting for?

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos from the current National Tour Company of KINKY BOOTS by Matthew Murphy. Review originally published for OnStage.


Performances of KINKY BOOTS at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre continue through April 24, 2016 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at HollywoodPantages.com, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets. The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street. For more information, please visit HollywoodPantages.com

Review: Winning Non-Equity BULLETS OVER BROADWAY National Tour Kills in L.A.

Michael L. Quintos

It's always a delightful surprise walking out at the end of a show feeling as though you've sat through something relatively entertaining after first walking in with little-to-no expectations. In addition, it is also quite satisfying to up-end being (perhaps) unfairly prejudiced for a show with the prior knowledge that it's a non-equity touring production of a mildly-received, short-lived Broadway musical. 

Well, I can happily declare that after experiencing the Los Angeles opening night performance of the bus-and-truck version of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY - THE MUSICAL—the quirky and highly-amusing stage musical adaptation of the 1994 big screen comedy penned by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath—I am starting to wholeheartedly believe that not all touring shows should immediately be judged by it's non-equity cover. It should always be about the end product, right?

While certainly far from a perfect show (both in staging and execution), this nonetheless supremely fun and engaging stage iteration had me in stitches for much of its two hilarious acts, which have been enhanced by lots of silly, old-fashioned antics and an array of surprisingly top-notch musical/acting performances from a solid, mostly young cast. I can honestly say that this production—now having its Los Angeles premiere performances at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through January 24—is quite possibly the most enjoyable non-equity first national tour I've watched in a long, long time—a wonderful surprise considering such enterprises have a long, contentious history of enticing lots of industry controversy and skepticism even before the curtain goes up (as in, why should theaters charge the same ticket prices for an equity Broadway tour show vs. one that's, well, not?) 

So what's to love about BULLETS? On the creative side, the show certainly feels as if it is a faithful, direct transfer of its original 2014 Broadway roots. Besides the stage show's fairly witty and cheeky book adapted for the stage by Allen himself, the touring company smartly repurposes the gloriously high-caliber, eye-popping period costume designs by Tony Award winner William Ivey Long back into the tour, along with Tony-winning theater titan Susan Stroman's original direction and rousing choreography (which have been "recreated" here by tour director Jeff Whiting and tour choreographer Clare Cook, respectively). The vintage-ornate sets—a coincidental compliment to the artistic retro opulence of the Pantages Theater's interiors already—are the fine work of Jason Ardizzone-West, while the tour's admirable lighting design is provided by Carolyn Wong, adapting the original Broadway schemes designed by Donald Holder. 

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Meanwhile, in the pit, musical director Robbie Cowan conducts Doug Besterman's lively orchestrations and Glen Kelly's lovely arrangements in grand, big-band style. While technically a jukebox musical (with additional new material provided by Kelly), BULLETS OVER BROADWAY somehow feels like a modern revival of a classic original musical from the era in which its story takes place. Admittedly, I have only ever heard of two or three of the turn-of-the-century-era songs in the show's jazz/standards-heavy songbook, adding to the show's freshness for a 21st-Century audience.

For a relatively new presentation, BULLETS does feel as though it has existed already as a stage show—a hyper mashup of old-fashioned gangster film tropes, old Hollywood screwball comedies, and antiquated, backstage narratives. The humor is replete with cheesy but charming yuks and lots of PG-13 rated bawdy, semi-risqué double-entendres your grandparents will get a kick out of and won't object to that much (no worries, the adult jokes will likely go over younger kids' heads, though young'ins will instead likely find the over-the-top hammy characters amusing). Even the perceived violence these menacing gangsters pose in the show is played more like Guys and Dolls and less like Goodfellas. And, yes, the show's gorgeous gals, molls, and usherettes are about as, um... ribald as the Radio City Rockettes. So, yeah, let's just say the show has lots of appeal for pre-teens and beyond.

Following the exact plot of the similarly-titled film that inspired it, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY - THE MUSICAL, set in 1929, tracks the humorous behind-the-scenes drama of the making of the soon-to-open Broadway play God of Our Fathers. Nervous, first-time playwright David Shayne (an endearing Michael Williams) displays some understandable reluctance upon learning that his producer, Julian Marx (Rick Grossman) has secured total sole financing for the play from notorious gangster boss Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino)—that is, with the strict proviso that Nick's dumb-as-a-post girlfriend Olive Neal (marvelous scene-stealer Jemma Jane) be cast as one of the play's leads.

Despite having an awful speaking voice and absolutely no flair for acting, Olive dives right in alongside perpetually hungry leading man Warner Purcell (the funny Bradley Allan Zarr), loony supporting actress Eden Brent (the terrific Rachel Bahler), and demanding stage veteran—and the true star of the play—Helen Sinclair (the exquisite Emma Stratton). And to ensure his investment is followed through, Nick enlists one of his tough-guy goons, Cheech (the superb Jeff Brooks, a surprise song-and-dance man underneath a gruff exterior), to keep an eye on Olive and to make sure Julian and David keep their promise as they proceed from initial rehearsals and out-of-town tryouts, to opening night back at the Belasco Theater.

Of course, hilarity and mayhem begin to unravel—though in not quite what one would expect (that is, unless you're familiar with Allen's cinematic original): seemingly unrefined gangster Cheech, it turns out, is himself a budding storyteller, and has no qualms telling jittery David the many ways to vastly improve the play (on the hush-hush to everyone else, of course). 

Cheech soon provides—or, rather more accurately, forces—multiple edits and directives to David, which, surprisingly, are met with great enthusiasm...except for Olive, whose role in the play seems to be getting smaller and smaller with each new revised draft. Eventually, David begins to resent Cheech's deep involvement in the play's evolution, even though this involvement is truly keeping the show humming along.

Meanwhile, Warner's appetite for tasty, high-calorie on-set treats—and co-star Olive herself—seem to be growing exponentially, while the much older diva Helen initiates a romance with the play's young author. Uh, oh... that can't be good... considering David already has a steady girl, Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri) back home!

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Bursting with enthusiastic, goofy energy, fantastic singing and dancing, and a surprisingly exceptional lead cast of relative newcomers, this touring BULLETS is definitely a fun, ecstatic time at the theater. Though it certainly has many standout moments of wit, charm, and spectacular showmanship throughout (including the awesome "Let's Misbehave" duet between clear audience favorites Warner and Olive), the few moments the show tries to be earnest and poignant falls a bit short and can't quite find its footing. 

But, boy, the show certainly gets silly antics right. 

And though the show's hodgepodge of disparate—though greatly enjoyable—songs are indeed appropriate for the era, a number of them rarely service the forward momentum of the story, however fun they may be. But, frankly, it's an easily forgivable, minor gripe thanks to the undeniably boisterous and often exuberant staging of these very numbers. As BULLETS hurls toward intermission during this winning show's opening night performance, I began to truly look upon my experience of the show more as a casual theatergoer rather than a critic—realizing that it's futile to deny that I was having a terrific time laughing and giggling through this show, while still cognizant of its flaws and shortcomings (like, for example, the bland relationship "troubles" between David and Ellen). 

By the time the show rushes to its wacky climax after all hell breaks loose, so to speak, the laughter has all but drowned any traces that the ending feels just a tad bit shoddy and slapped together. By then it's too late... The audience and I are cracking up so much it's hard not to surrender to the show's infectious silliness. If you're in a similar forgiving mood, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY will surely win you over, too.


Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos of the National Tour Company of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY - THE MUSICAL by Matthew Murphy. Review originally published for OnStage.

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Performances of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY - THE MUSICAL at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre continue through January 24, 2016 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. 

Tickets can be purchased online at HollywoodPantages.com, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets. The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street. 

For more information, please visit HollywoodPantages.com.