Archive for classic

The Sound of Music Live! NBC TV’s presentation of the classic musical

Sound of Music 1a

Last Thursday, NBC presented a live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music, with Carrie Underwood as its star Maria.

Mark McClain Wilson maintains that while The Sound of Music Live! was not nearly as disastrous as the screaming hoard made it out to be, it certainly was not great…  Just not the train wreck as professed.

Here’s why:

Carrie Underwood is a fine country singer, but she simply can’t act. Beyond that, she just doesn’t have that natural luminosity, joy, and magic that this role demands. Maria is like the ‘Hamlet’ of Musical Theatre (slight exaggeration, but you get my meaning). Bottom line—it takes chops. But really, did anyone truly think she’d stick this landing? To those readers who grew up watching this movie, could anyone really ever measure up to Julie Andrews? Not to mention, you throw the guppy in the deep end of the pool with the great white shark of Audra McDonald.

Casting fail, NBC.

Frankly, though, while I certainly didn’t think she succeeded, I thought Underwood gave it a good shot. But if I had been in that meeting where the casting of Carrie Underwood had been put on the table, I would have given the exec who made the suggestion a high five. In the face. With a chair.

While we’re on casting, a note to all television and film casting directors of musical theatre film translations: it oh so very much saddens me that producers don’t think the musical alone will sell, but that it needs that added push of star power. I know this will not change, and it’s here to stay, blah, blah, blah, but seriously, producers? Casting directors? It’s not an episode of The Voice. It’s not karaoke. It’s musical… theater. There’s a reason why the supremely talented ATHLETES who do Broadway are called ‘triple threats,’ because to make a musical work, you need all three elements.

It takes a load of talent to make these complicated productions work the way they’re supposed to, and when they do work, it can be magical. When you put in people you’re your cast who are out of their league, it’s pleasant, at best. How depressing is ‘pleasant’ when you can have ‘magical’? I know the bottom line is just selling aspirin, tires, and bran flakes, but I truly don’t think you have to sacrifice sales for excellence. I really don’t. Nor do I think excellence is an idealistic, pie in the sky notion. I think it’s good business to aim a little higher. Why can you not just trust that?

Sound of Music 2a

Here’s another important point: The Sound of Music did not become a jewel in the crown of our most beloved cultural icons by having a star at the helm. It’s lodged in our collective souls, because Julie Andrews was a brilliant performer; because she had the training and the chops and because she was a creature of the theatre. Watching this thing, I could easily name about five or six women I went to school with who could’ve made that production soar. God knows how many brilliant women from the Broadway stage could have given that show the charge it deserved. And people would have watched and been truly moved, rather than having the experience that I’m sure most Americans had: enjoying it well enough and certainly loving the music, but not being wowed. They don’t know how much better it can be, simply because y’all are a bunch of pussies and don’t trust the work and the talent to bring in the audience. Sad, truly, and actually, pathetic. And in this instance, misguided. People will watch the Sound of Music because it’s the frickin’ Sound of Music, so why not give it to them in a manner it was intended, where it can really enter some souls and raise some goose bumps?

Okay, I’ll admit, truly, that I’m an idealist, but I don’t think it’s a pie in the sky idea that if networks made a conscious decision to sell talent, the public would buy. Marketing is everything. And if the marketing is right, people will buy anything. The problem is that networks and suits are pussies. They want what’s easy, safe, and guaranteed. That is to say, they don’t wanna work. They’re lazy. It’s sad, because I know in my gut it doesn’t have to be this way. The Weinsteins, for example, have bucked the trend for twenty years now by putting money behind talent, and they’re still standing quite tall.

This was the first time I’ve actually seen the stage version and I was surprised by how much Max and Fraulein Schneider get screwed in the movie version. Two songs cut. Damn! Speaking of Fraulein Schneider, she’s a much bigger bitch in the movie…

I hope the ratings were huge. More live theatre on TV, please.

So, “I Have Confidence” was just a little ditty they whipped together for the film version? Sweet Jeebus, Rodgers and Hammerstein were brilliant.

Yes, it looked like the set of Days of Our Lives. It’s a sound stage, what’re ya gonna do? The lighting issues bugged me a lot more than the sound problems.

Frankly, I thought the biggest travesty of the evening was that bizarre Sound of Music Walmart ad series with the weird family of 600. Then again… it’s Walmart.

Sound of Music 3aFinally:  I know it’s all about the bottom line, it always is, but listen, America watches what the monsters tell them to watch. With another musical perhaps (let’s say, Camelot) I agree that ratings may not been as strong with an unknown, but The Sound of Music is a movie they air every year at the holiday. The musical, itself, is what people hold dear (and Julie Andrews, of course) so I genuinely think that even with an unknown, talented, Broadway star, they could’ve racked up ratings. Also, remember, the only thing America enjoys more than a star is discovering a star. Hell, that’s the entire basis of the long-running hit TV show American Idol.





A fun & frothy romp – “The Liar” at Antaeus – Los Angeles theater review


Photo by Geoffrey Wade.

David Ives’ dazzling translation of Pierre Corneille’s farcical play by (first performed in 1644) is vividly brought to life by two casts at Antaeus. Here follows a review of the ‘Tangerines’ cast.

There is so much fun to be had with this hilariously sexy play. The language is so fresh and lively – and in rhyming verse, no less – that you almost can’t believe you are hearing a translation from 17th Century French, complete with silly puns and in-joke references to Molière and Shakespeare.

The story itself is a classic comedy of errors / mistaken identity nonsense that resolves happily by the end.

Set in the houses and public gardens of high society Paris, circa 1643, we meet Dorante (Nicholas D’Agosto) a compulsive fabulist whose elaborate lies get him deeper and deeper into trouble with his wealthy father Geronte (Peter Van Norden). After meeting two women, Clarice and Lucrece, in the royal Tuileries gardens in the heart of Paris, Dorante decides to woo Clarice (Kate Maher), mistaking her for Lucrece (Joanna Strapp). He employs a witty valet Cliton (Rob Nagle) to assist him with his quest. Cliton is impressed with his new master’s skills for improvisatory invention, given he has “…a tragic flaw—I cannot tell a lie!” Meanwhile, Cliton attempts to woo the ladies’ identical twin servants Isabelle and Sabine (Gigi Bermingham) and Dorante is unaware that Clarice is secretly promised to his swaggeringly comical best friend Alcippe (Bo Foxworth).

Above all, the actors seem so comfortable in their roles. It’s clear they all had sufficient rehearsal to be able to forget the mechanics and the complicated text and just have fun with their performances. D’Agosto as Dorante is super-charming and brash, also cocky, glib, witty and cheeky—lunging at every moment and interaction as a challenge to “finesse.” It’s a superb performance.

Director Casey Stangl enlisted her design team to concoct a two-level dingy nightclub set (by Keith Mitchell) and ‘Goth-rock’ inspired costuming (by Angela Balogh Calin)—all black on black—and, married with François-Pierre Couture’s lighting design, it all serves the play very well.

Do not miss this production!


Photo by Geoffrey Wade.

Photo by Geoffrey Wade.

The Liar by Pierre Corneille, adapted by David Ives.


Thursdays @ 8 pm: Oct. 24, 31; Nov. 7, 14, 21 (dark Nov. 28)

Fridays @ 8 pm: Oct. 25; Nov. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29

Saturdays @ 2 pm: Oct. 26; Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 (no matinee on Oct. 5 or 12)

Saturdays @ 8 pm: Oct. 26; Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Sundays @ 2 pm: Oct. 27; Nov. 3, 10, 17, 24; Dec 1


5112 Lankershim Blvd.

North Hollywood CA, 91601

(1½ bocks south of Magnolia)


$7 in the lot at 5125 Lankershim Blvd. (west side of the street), just south of Magnolia.


Thursdays and Fridays: $30.00

Saturdays and Sundays: $34.00

(818) 506-1983








“Sunshine Boys” Neil Simon’s classic restaged with Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch – Los Angeles theater review

Photo: Craig Schwartz.

Photo: Craig Schwartz.

Legendary comedy writer Neil Simon’s 1972 play The Sunshine Boys has an excellent premise: two old vaudevillian stars who worked together for over 40 years, but who haven’t spoken in over a decade, are reunited for a TV spot. (In fact, it was a good enough premise for Fellini to copy for Ginger e Fred for his comedy/drama in 1986. But that’s by the by…)

Simon’s play is a tribute to the early days of comedy, when tried and tested routines were played out over and over again on vaudeville stages across the nation. The Marx Brothers famously took their shows on the road, testing the gags and bits and gauging audience reaction before laying them down on celluloid.

Whether or not this play is for you depends on a fondness for Neil Simon-style comedy (with its sit-com-esque standard of set up lines and punch lines) as well as your tolerance for a plot that is driven by the rehashing of simmering resentment and the nursing of grudges between two old men. There’s even a bittersweet ending that feels like a glacé cherry on top of a sugary cupcake.

This re-staging, now at the Ahmanson, retains the play’s (formerly contemporary) 1972 setting, though the casting of these two leads seems to have toned down the thick, New York “Borcht Belt” accents from previous theatrical versions.

Reprising his recent London performance, Danny DeVito is really great as Willie Clark, a cantankerous old shut-in, his silver hair fluffy and uncombed, his PJs and dressing gown rumpled. When his agent nephew stops by for his weekly Wednesday visit, Ben (Justin Bartha) mentions a TV show is doing a tribute to comedy and wants the famous pair—known as “Lewis and Clark”—to appear. Willie is dead against it. Ben begs him—a refusal would stain his reputation as a talent agent if he couldn’t even get his own uncle to sign on the dotted line. Plus, they’re offering a wad of dough. Willie relents, provisionally…

Judd Hirsch plays Willie’s old partner Al Lewis with just the right degree of dignity and humanity. In the substantially larger role, Willie is the provocateur—the troublemaker—and DeVito plays that element to the hilt. My only misgiving is that the tone of the play seems overly serious. I craved more of a hint of mischief beneath the needling between the characters. Willie keeps getting the names of his nephew’s children wrong because he’s doing it on purpose just to aggravate him and because it’s a funny gag to repeat; the names he throws out are different every time. That same notion of deliberate mischief could have been applied to all the arguments within the play, levitating them above the too-serious plane.

Despite this foible, Thea Sharrock directs the show extremely well and the entire cast gives really solid and great performances. Some highlights include a few scenes of comedy pantomime, such as when the old guys rearrange Willie’s apartment furniture to undertake a rehearsal.

Added resonance is in the clever casting: Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch last performed together the TV sitcom Taxi, about 30 years ago…

The Sunshine Boys is good for some solid laughs.

Photo: Craig Schwartz.

Photo: Craig Schwartz.

The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon

Ahmanson Theatre

135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. (Please call for exceptions.) Ends Nov. 3.

Price: $20-$115 (Ticket prices subject to change.)

Contact: (213) 972-4400

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes





Theatre review for LA Weekly – Antony and Cleopatra at ANW

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz


Dear readers!

This week’s theatre review for the LA Weekly is for Shakespeare’s classic romantic tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, now playing at the A Noise Within’s glamorous new theater in Pasadena.


Click here and then scroll down a little bit to read it.


~ OR ~


You can just read it here!!



Antony and Cleopatra

Fast-paced and chaotic, A Noise Within’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy plays up the comedy and bacchanalian passions of its mature leading pair of star-crossed lovers at the expense of its dramatic civil war plot line.

Flanked by handmaidens in jingly harem-wear and clad in gorgeous, flowing ombre silk gowns plus wigged with a mess of curls, Susan Angelo’s Cleopatra is feisty and capricious, voracious and high-maintenance. Yet even when she later switches to the familiar blunt-fringed bob wig and sleeker dress (incongruously teamed with capri leggings), Angelo fails to command the stage with the regality expected of the Queen of the Nile.

A vivid recounting of Cleo’s opulent and entourage-laden floating barge only demonstrates the gulf between the stage embodiment and the myth of the royal personage that captivated the imagination of so many poets and warlords.

Providing a backdrop to the romance is the intrigues of war involving the Roman Empire, while triumvirate member Antony’s loyalties are split between his Egyptian mistress and his country. Playing Antony, Geoff Elliott shares directing duties with his wife and company co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. Designer Tom Buderwitz’ glowing oblong pond downstage center, faux-marble tiled floor and bi-level scaffolding set permits some interesting staging options, including thrilling entrances via ropes from the ceiling catwalk. Battles and swordplay are well choreographed by Ken Merckx, but poorly executed by a timid ensemble of centurions.

Laura Karpman’s gorgeous, ethnic-flavored score features plaintive duduk melodies and beautifully drives the action with its pounding rhythms. Max Rosenak shines as Octavius Caesar, thanks to his quiet but commanding presence.


Antony and Cleopatra

A Noise Within

3352 E. Foothill Blvd.,

Pasadena, 626-356-3100


Sat., March 3, 2 p.m.;

Thu., March 22, 8 p.m.;

Fri., March 23, 8 p.m.;

Fri., April 13, 8 p.m.;

Sat., April 21, 2 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., April 29, 2 & 7 p.m.;

Fri., May 4, 8 p.m.;

Sat., May 12, 8 p.m.;

Sun., May 13, 2 p.m.




Resolutely unsentimental – Our Town at the Broad

“Nothing much has changed, except people lock their doors at night now.”

Considering it’s generally required reading on the school curriculum, and frequently staged by amateur as well as professional companies, it’s a safe guess that most local readers and LA audiences will be familiar with Our Town, the compelling play written by Thornton Wilder in 1937 and set during the early years of the 20th century.

Not this critic. I went into director David Cromer’s innovative and intimate production knowing nothing at all. Nothing about the plot, the characters, the premise – nothing. All I knew was that Helen Hunt was cast in the role of Mr. Morgan, a role usually played by a male. Radical!

I was rewarded by a superlative production of a superb and classic drama.

Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winner Helen Hunt who plays the stage manager and narrator of the drama, is backed by a talented supporting cast of around twenty actors.

Written by Thornton Wilder, Our Town explores the lives of people living in a small, quintessentially American town (specifically a small New England town) as depicted through their everyday lives (particularly George Gibbs, a doctor’s son, and Emily Webb, the daughter of the town’s newspaper editor and George’s future wife). Covering a 13 year period, Wilder uses the actions of the Stage Manager to create the town of Grover’s Corners for the audience. Scenes from its history between the years of 1901 and 1913 play out. The play is divided into three aspects of the human experience: Act One – Daily Life, Act Two – Love / Marriage and Act Three – Death / Loss. It was first produced in 1938 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

For his production, David Cromer has made many innovative choices to enhance the intimacy of the experience. The play is generally staged with little scenery, no set and minimal props. Some of Cromer’s unique touches include modern costuming for the characters, so that we can identify with them minus the distancing effect of period (turn-of-the-century) dress.

The majority of the audience of close to 400 is seated on bleachers in rows facing opposite each other (some are seated on and beneath the balcony, at one end of the long, school hall-like room of the Broad). There are pathways between the first and second rows of the audience, who are seated at floor level, permitting characters to boisterously run back and forth (from imaginary house to house) behind the audience. Most notably, from the top of Act One the lights are brightly illuminating the whole space, so that the audience can observe the reactions of those seated opposite them. Gradually, the lights dim by the end of the Act, and the lighting is quite different (though still uniform) for the remainder of the three-act play. There is little music, just some simple piano themes composed by and played by the Choir Organist (Jonathan Mastro in a stand-out performance as Simon Stimson).

It’s an immersive experience, yet a resolutely unsentimental one.

Hunt’s job, as Stage Manager, is to set the scenes and describe the location and action at times. She explains the layout of the little town, pointing out hitching posts, horse blocks and train tracks, to animate our imagination, but what she doesn’t do is excite our involvement. Her tone is too brisk and matter-of-fact to be sufficiently engaging.

But even minus any shred of sentimentality, the story itself hooks you in. I was unprepared for the surreality of Act Three, as well as an astonishing reveal that is best left unexplained for maximum impact.

Despite expensive ticket prices, David Cromer’s production of this iconic American classic is well worth experiencing.


Production photos by Iris Schneider.



Our Town

Eli Broad Stage

1310 11th Street,

Santa Monica, CA 90401


Runs until Sunday, February 12, 2012

Running time:

Approximately 2 hours, including 2 x 15 minute intermissions



*** Evening shows start at 7.30pm

TU/WED/THUR: $50-$100;

FRI/SAT 2pm Matinee: $65-$125 and

FRI/SAT Evening: $85-$150.00

SUN 2pm Matinee

Box Office:

Purchase tickets here or call (310) 434-3200


Parking is FREE.




About The Broad Stage:

Under the leadership of Director Dale Franzen and Artistic Chair Dustin Hoffman, The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center opened its doors in Santa Monica in October 2008.

Inspired by Italian ‘horseshoe’ theaters, yet conceived in an absolutely contemporary vernacular, The Broad Stage is an artist’s dream and an audience’s delight. Unlike any performance space in the country, it is sublimely intimate with 499-seats and strikingly grand at the same time – allowing eye contact with artists from the boxes to the back row -forging a new kind of artist and audience experience in Los Angeles. Theater, dance, film, jazz, operas, musicals, symphony, chamber orchestras and world music are presented on one of the city’s largest proscenium stages. The space was conceived as a global theater and community hub and was designed without compromise to embrace the artistic process from inspiration to opening night.

In addition to The Broad Stage, The Edye Second Space, a smaller black box theater, presents new, developing and innovative work in theater, music and dance as part of the Under the Radar Series. Featuring younger, innovative artists and chamber pieces and plays, programming at The Edye is intentionally spontaneous, reflecting the dynamic nature of the space and allowing the latest, most exciting artists to be booked on short notice.

The Broad Stage ARTS INSIGHTS education and outreach program offers opportunities for cultural exposure through six initiatives. These include Student Matinees, In-School Workshops, Master Classes, Open Rehearsals, Family and Community Events, and Conversation Pieces. ARTS INSIGHTS currently reaches 12,000 students and diverse community members annually through over 30 free and low-cost events.