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.

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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.

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Review: "Love Actually Live" at the Wallis

Review: "Love Actually Live" at the Wallis

For an enchanting holiday experience that will have you clapping and singing in your seats, “Love Actually Live” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will lift your spirits.

As soon as the show opened on December 4, it started getting a favorable buzz. Celebrities Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson sat in the row in front of my daughter and me, as we watched 16 talented musicians and the all-star cast perform. The show begins with a bang as the ensemble march down the stairs and appear next to audience members singing “Love Actually Is All Around.”

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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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