Orange County Theatre Reviews

Merrily We Roll Along @ Cal State University Long Beach – Review

Merrily-review

photo courtesy : Keith Ian Polakoff Joseph Ruggiero as Frank and Emily Turner as Gussie

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Cal State Long Beach’s production of Merrily We Roll Along boasts some great performances that are ultimately overshadowed by serious blocking issues, that make the performance a little less “Merry” and a lot more disappointing.  

 

Merrily We Roll Along follows the twisting tale of wealthy and influential songwriter and film producer, Franklin Shepard.  The show opens with a party being thrown in Shepard’s honor, only to reveal to the audience that despite his popularity and financial success, the most valued relationships in his life are now in shambles.  The show begins to go backwards in time to reveal episodes from his past that might answer the question of where it all went wrong. At its most basic level, its the story of success not being the end all be all in life.  

 

Working backwards scene by scene, I was reminded a little of movies like Citizen Kane that follow a similar storyline.   And while the question of “where did it all go wrong?” is never definitively  answered, the everyday occurrences of life might be enough to hold our attention if not for one simple thing–the blocking.

 

The staging was distracting beyond belief.   It would appear that someone for some reason thought that large, strange set pieces/walls with holes and little windows would serves as artistic, creative, and avant garde.  While the pieces certainly resembled many other art pieces/paintings that can be seen any number of times in a modern day art exhibit, they do little to enhance the enjoyability of the show.  This is due to the fact that the stage is set in the middle of the audience and the set pieces block at least half of the performance at any given time.   While the pieces were utilized as both “boards”  to write the year on and props (such as doors) I would rather see the performers over the backs of boards any day.  

The strongest performances came from the actors playing Mary(Colleen McCandless) and Charley (Daniel Nakawatase), the blocking and dancing from the rest of the performers was somewhat stilted.  

 
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“Into The Woods” Celebration (Into My Heart) – Preview

(Left to Right) Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters in a scene from "Into the Woods" at the Martin Beck Theatre.

(Left to Right) Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters in a scene from “Into the Woods” at the Martin Beck Theatre.

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

A celebration of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods will be presented  on November 9th at California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   The evening will be part conversation and part musical selection and (drumroll please) will feature original cast members Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, Bernadette Peters, Robert Westenberg, Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, and of course, the inestimable composer and lyricist Mr. Sondheim himself, as well as Bernadette Peters.  So essentially every character you immediately think of when you think of Into the Woods.   Continue Reading

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Stripping with Style: Gypsy @ The Gem Theater in Garden Grove – Review

Nicole Cassesso

Nicole Cassesso in Gypsy at The GEM Theater Courtesy: Gem Theater

Written by Alina Mae Wilson  
From picking up my ticket to driving away my experience with Gypsy at the Gem Theater was a pleasant one.  With a well acted script and some pretty costumes, the relatively minor sound and lighting issues were easily overshadowed.

Gypsy is a musical loosely based on the mother daughter relationship between revered burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee (Louise) and to a lesser extent her little sister June Hovick and her abrasive stage mother Rose Hovick. Burlesque existed before Gypsy Rose Lee but the classic witticisms she interjected into her routine put her in a class of her own.

 While it is true that Beth Hansen who played Mama Rose lacked consistent emotion in some of the earlier numbers (“Some People” for example) I would imagine this can either be attributed to her conserving energy for some of the later numbers or to her just warming up in the beginning.  While I would have liked to see such utter “oneness” with her character from start to finish, watching her go off her meds onstage for “Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” is just so enjoyable I almost don’t mind the earlier slips.  My heart was fairly welling with emotion for this person at the end of the show.

I felt Nicole Cassesso was convincing as Louise.  This is a huge deal because while Mama Rose has the leisure of having singularly driven tunnel vision, Louise is seen feeling differently at vitally different points in her life.  I have always considered Louise to be more like three characters than one.

On the subject of Louise’s baton twirling sister June I will say this– I wish June had been less obnoxious.  I realize that to a certain degree this is intended, but easing up just a notch would have made the character more identifiable and believable as not only a real person but as a member of the family.  Louise and Rose receive the courtesy of not being treated as caricatures, and I wish June did as well.

They had an interesting take on Rose’s love interest Herbie.   His mellowness throughout did not always seem to jive with his identity–mainly in that his moments of anger appeared disingenuous.  This effectively distanced me from these supposedly tumultuous moments.  Having said that  the sweeter interactions  between him and Rose were clearly loving and affectionate.

So the technical issues–they were there, but pretty minute.  There were maybe two songs where the live band overpowered the singing, and only one scene where the lighting irritated me.  This was particularly noticeable as this was the last scene and in order to emphasize the drama and emotional state of the character onstage they lit everything up as brightly as they possibly could.  This would have been fine except this also lit up about half of the audience, giving the illusion that the show had ended prematurely.  I get the need to set the scene but they definitely could have afforded to tone it down a bit.

I am very glad that I saw this production.  I went in expecting a fun and engaging musical performance and I was not disappointed.  Just overlook the few and far between moments of sound and lighting troubles and you will find yourself bobbing your head and awing in sympathy for the conditions of the main characters in this exciting  American story.

side note:

On a slightly different topic, but definitely in relation to the overall atmosphere, this place had the best concession stand I had ever seen inside a theater, community or not.  They had cakes.  Many cakes, baked by volunteers working backstage.  And the typical cookies and brownies.  That and the fact that they did not rush the audience made for a relaxed intermission.

The ticket price $25.00 per ticket,$20 for seniors over 60 years old, $15 dollars for children 12 years or younger and $10 student rush tickets.

Ticket info at the website :

http://www.onemoreproductions.com/

Location & Dates :

12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA 92840

August 21 – September 14, 2014

8.2/10

(from right to left) Margie Ikerd-Gyorgy, Fiona Claire Wynder,Carmen Tunis Courtesy : Gem Theater

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Gypsy at the Gem Theater – Preview

gypsy

Photo by George Skadding//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Written by: Alina Mae Wilson 
 

It is 12:45 pm.  In just 2 days, 17 hours, 14 minutes and 7 seconds I will be seeing Gypsy at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove.  Having heard the songs and being familiar with the show’s reputation, I am very excited.

 

Set in the 50’s Gypsy is a musical loosely based on Rose Louise Hovick’s glorious ascension from less-talented-second-fiddle-playing-runner-up-child  to Queen of Burlesque Dancing.

 

Having spawned a critically acclaimed Broadway musical and two movies (plus the very loosely inspired film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) you can be pretty well assured that the story holds up. Whether the set work or the acting does this play justice. That remains to be seen  but with such a fun score and classic story I anticipate nothing but an entertaining night.

 

Location & dates :

 

August 21st – September 14th

 

12852 Main Street
Garden Grove, CA 92840

 

Admission : $25 general admission, $20 for seniors, $15 children, $10 student rush tickets

 

buy tickets @ this link GEM 

 

Below is a broadway version of Gypsy with famous song – EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES sung by  Patti Lupone


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Little Chapel of Errors, Holds You With Spirit : Hair @ The Mysterium Theatre in Santa Ana – Review

hair1Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

Tonight I had my first experience with Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical at the Mysterium Theater in Santa Ana.

Yes that is correct, my first time seeing this iconic musical known for naked singing hippies, and I chose to see it in a little chapel.  There were multiple technical problems,  but the zeal of the people on stage balanced it out a bit.   Continue Reading

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