Tag Archives: theatre

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Is Sweet Laughter At The Pantages

Joan Marcus Photo

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is tremendous fun!  At Wednesday night’s Pantages premiere, we were all kids in Charlie’s candy store, gorging on one delightful comedic moment after the other, and leaving with a bellyful of laughs.

Noah Weisberg (Willy Wonka) found the right balance between zaniness and warmth, and displayed impeccable timing.  He delivered his rapid-fire lines with a crispness rivaling that of Robert Downey Jr.  Henry Boshart (Charlie Bucket) was perfect as the young boy with a heart as golden as his golden ticket, a lad who doesn’t know how to be other than completely himself.  He was the perfect foil not only for Willy Wonka but the hilariously spoiled brats who were competing with him for the grand prize.

Small wonder that when Weisberg and Boshart took their bows, the audience’s vigorous applause soared to a standing ovation.

The whole cast was an irresistible box of chocolates—with an abundance of nuts– for anyone with a sweet tooth for humor. And as for the Oompa-Loompas:  Let’s just say that they alone are worth the price of admission.  Indeed, all the imaginative elements in Road Dahl’s beloved story are wonderfully captured in the production values as well as the cast.

Madeline Doherty (Mrs. Teavee) made for a delightful dipsomaniac, Jessica Cohen (Veruca Salt) is not only a ballerina, but even more impressive, a comedic one.  Brynn Williams (Violet Beauregarde) made girlish vanity charmingly humorous, underwriting it with her considerable talent.  Matt Wood (Augustus Gloop) carried great comedic weight and Daniel Quadrino (Mike Teavee) may have driven mom to drink, but drove the rest of us to mirth.

James Young (Grandpa Joe) was endearingly eccentric, and Amanda Rose (Mrs. Bucket) provided a moving counterpoint to all the fun as a widowed single mother who does not allow her grief to overshadow her love for Charlie.

Beneath all the chocolaty humor and charm is a crunchy core of 21st truth that would not have surprised Roald Dahl. Visionary CEOs face the problem of finding equally visionary successors.  Willy Wonka could be Steve Jobs in a funhouse mirror.  And those seeking success at Google or other high-tech Shangri-La may share the bewilderment, if not the narcissism, of the chocolate factory contestants.  And with a nod to the “golden ticket” college admission scandals that have hit the news, we can see the same spirit of corner cutting among some of the parents of Charlie’s rivals.

As for Charlie himself, can a mere letter set him on the path to sweet success?  Well, a “mere” poem about a hurricane moved patrons to put Alexander Hamilton on a path from poverty to greatness.  But is Charlie’s love for the product itself—with no interest in treating it as a means to wealth and fame—enough?  I suspect Jobs would say that such a love is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient.  And as fans of the story know, without that love one’s hopes are likely to explode, be shredded or shrink drastically.

Charlie can learn other life lessons later on.  For now, let’s enjoy his sheer spontaneity and unabashed love of Everlasting Gobstoppers.

So if you long for an evening of pure laughter, a brief respite from the anger and distress roiling the rock we’re on, then put Charlie Bucket on your Broadway bucket list and go to the Pantages.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Three weeks only, from March 27 to April 14, at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 2019 Hollywood Blvd., near Vine. Tickets for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are available at www.HollywoodPantages.com/Cats and www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 982-2787or in person at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Box Office (Opens Daily at 10am PT).

Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8p.m., and Sunday at 1p.m. and 6:30p.m. Recommended for ages 6 and up. Children under 5 will not be admitted.

All patrons must have a ticket, regardless of age. Individual tickets start at $35. Prices are subject to change without notice.

Parallel Lives Is a Comedic Journey You Don’t Want to Get Off

Parallel Lives at the Falcon Theatre, is a two woman, two-act comedic play with ten different scenes, several costume changes, multiple accents and a lot of laughs. The play is based on the Off-Broadway production written by Kathy Najami and Mo Gaffney, and directed by Jenny Sullivan.

Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter (Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter
(Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

Crista Flanagan (MadTV) and Alice Hunter (House of Lies) take it way back to Creation to start it off. The two Angels discuss what color people should be and who should have the baby. Once they determine who should be parent, it is time to figure out how she will do it. Since the woman gives the birth, which they think is very special; the Angels don’t want the man to feel left out. Therefore, they give him something that will make him feel better about not being the one to have the baby. Can you guess what they give him?

As we know, one of the things women get so that they can have a baby is their period. Even though, every woman gets it for a majority of her life, it is still something she is embarrassed about getting. Flanagan and Hunter act out what it would be like if male jocks got their time of the month, Aunt Flow, The Curse or whatever you call it.  It is an original way to deal with the original problem women have been suffering with since the dawn of time.

Women get their, you know, when they are teens and teens have an interesting way of looking at their first loves. Two teenage girls watch the classic musical West Side Story and wonder how far they would go for the love of their lives if they were in the same position as Maria and Tony. Would they still love him if he killed their relatives? There are a lot of one liners in this sketch that includes some of the best teen New Yawk accents I ever heard. I am from New York City, so I would know.

Alice Hunter and Crista Flanagan (Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

Alice Hunter and Crista Flanagan
(Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

Talking about death, the next scene introduces us to two sisters, who are hiding out from their family, during their Grandmother’s funeral. As the family members come to offer their condolences, the sisters make small talk with them as they try to get away from their loved ones. Then their third sister (which means a costume change for Hunter) comes home and she is unlike other two. Even though they are related, they don’t talk or see each other very often. This gathering brings them together and they have a much-needed heart-to-heart conversation. This emotional raw talk takes a break from the comedy to give the audience some heartfelt drama.

The drama doesn’t last long because the final scene in the first act brings the humor back as two elderly women, who are taking Women’s Studies classes, meet up with their classmates at a New Age restaurant. The two best friends, who sound and act like they have been living in Miami Beach since before Miami Vice aired, tell the Hostess their whole story before sitting down at their table. Then, they try to order food at this Vegan restaurant, from a Waitress who has no sense of humor. Finally, their teacher arrives and it is time for another costume change. The old women transform into the performers of a Female Power show to close out the first act.

There is a ten-minute intermission for you to walk around the theater. Make sure you check out the memorabilia from Garry Marshall’s collection.

The second act starts out with a scene that every mother, who has raised her daughter to become a Disney Princess, can appreciate. It is a support group for the Mothers of Disney Princesses. Ever notice that most of the mothers either are dead before the movie starts or die shortly afterwards? I didn’t until this sketch and I will never watch the movies the same way again. These moms are not necessarily bitter as much as they want the best for their daughters. Their confessions are as hysterical as the names the writers came up with for the moms. Can you guess what name they gave Snow White’s mother? Be prepared to say, “OMG,” several times with laughter.

Talking about the man above, the next scene is a look at religion and two women’s outlook of it from their early years until they are in their 30’s. All leading to a shocking ending.

Now it is time to switch things up, for the next scene, as one of the actresses plays a man and the other a woman. They play a couple in bed, who are having relationship problems. Whoever came up with the concept for the set design of the bed deserves a Tony because it was brilliant.

Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter (Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter
(Photo courtesy Sasha A. Venola)

As we put that scene to bed, it is time for the actresses to switch sexes and go to a Southern bar. An intoxicated Hank keeps asking Karen Sue to marry him and she keeps telling him no because she knows he doesn’t mean it. This scene really challenges Flanagan and Hunter and the women are up for the challenge even this late in the show.

Finally, it is time for our Angels to take a look back at all they have done throughout the centuries, and we give Flanagan and Hunter a standing ovation for a job well done.

People say Meryl Streep is a brilliant transformer, but these two actresses gave us over 20 characters in a two-hour period and each was different from the one before and after. With performances like the ones that they gave, it is hard not to jump up and cheer them, for the outstanding accomplishment they just achieved.

Parallel Lives is playing at the Falcon Theatre until Sunday, September 18th. They have performances, Wednesday through Saturday at 8p and Sundays at 4p. Grab your friends and family, and make sure to see it before it closes. Reasonably priced tickets are available at Falcon Theatre’s site or call the Box Office at (818) 955-8101.

Burbank’s Theatre Banshee is a Hidden Gem


Caution: Women Are Gathered & Talking” is now playing at Theatre Banshee

On the corner of Magnolia Blvd. and Avon Street amongst antique stores and novelty shops sits the quaint Theatre Banshee.

The Theatre Banshee was founded in 1994 and has been the recipient of many accolades, including nominations and awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Backstage West and the Ovation Awards, among many others.

The theatre is a hidden gem in Burbank. Good community theatre is hard to come by, and the Theatre Banshee has truly made its mark with productions like “The Crucible” and “Of Mice and Men.” While the theatre brings many well-known productions to the stage, they run original productions as well.

Theatre Banshee is currently running the production of “Caution: Women Are Gathered & Talking,” a play about three women who spend an afternoon discussing why their friend should refrain from getting married to a man they deem unworthy.

Comically, three men sit at a bar off to the side of the stage and serve as a “Greek Chorus,” offering male insight to the grievances that the women have about relationships, and men in particular.

Complaints the women have about men vary from issues in the bedroom, to weight insensitivity, to leaving the toilet seat up in the bathroom. While these gripes are certainly clichéd, it obviously hit close to home for some, as the audience roared with laughter.

The realist in the whole conversation was Joanna, (Caroline Lindy) the daughter of one of the women. Studying psychology and truly interested in the insight of her loved ones, she asks the women questions about men and past relationships. While seemingly instigating the intense discussion, Joanna remained the voice of reason in the conversation, as she often pointed out to the women that they were being just a tad insensitive toward men. She was a valuable reminder of the old idiom, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” and maybe women don’t have all the answers.

Lindy’s performance was authentic and comedic, playing the overwhelmed daughter that would prefer her mother and grandmother refrain from talking about such intimate subjects in front of her. She was a breath of fresh air to a storyline that has been done before. However, the particular truthfulness in the actors’ portrayals of their characters balanced the story out nicely.

The play reveals an important lesson when it comes to relationships. While the majority of the dialogue is centered around the stereotypical problems with men, a psychological question arises: Is the problem really about men, or the way women harshly judge men? Does anybody have the answer to the age-old problem of messy relationships?

“Caution: Women Are Gathered &Talking” runs through Sunday, Oct. 13. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

Theatre Banshee is a great place for Burbank residents to catch some good theatre and have a fun time. Check out http://www.theatrebanshee.org/index.html to read about the theatre and upcoming productions.

Breath And Imagination Blows Away The Colony’s Opening Night Audience

The Colony Theatre’s Breath and Imagination is one of the finest shows on offer in greater LA.  It’s one of the finest shows Burbank has ever seen. Musical Director RAHN COLEMAN wasn’t exaggerating when he said to me just before the opening night’s performance, “Nothing will prepare you for what you’re about to see.” He was right.

But first, a little background.

Breath and Imagination is about a pioneering artist and largely forgotten American hero, ROLAND HAYES. He was born in 1887 Georgia, one of seven children. His parents were struggling tenant farmers on the same plantation where his mother had been a slave. His father died when he was 11. He had told him “to use your breath and imagination and call the birds to you.”  His widowed mother moved the family to Tennessee. He had to leave school to work in a local iron foundry, where a conveyor belt pulled him into the machinery and injured him badly.

But before his life was over, Roland Hayes had become the first world-renowned, African-American classical singer, who headlined at Carnegie Hall and wowed Europe’s royalty.

Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES, written by Daniel Beaty and directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank  (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES, written by Daniel Beaty and directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

As the play opens, it is 1942. Roland Hayes is back in Georgia. He had recently purchased the plantation where his parents had toiled. There, he had just established a musical conservatory where students of all races could study together. Now he is facing his hopeful students. Facing us. He tells us his wife and daughter have just been arrested for trying on shoes in a “white’s only” section of the store. He wonders if, for the safety of his students and family, he should shut down the conservatory.

Roland Hayes reflects back on his life, sharing his life’s story with us…

What. A. Voice. ELIJAH ROCK is Roland Hayes reborn. He had to be. Early on, we hear an actual phonograph recording of the singer that had inspired Roland Hayes: the great Enrico Caruso at the peak of his powers. And so Breath and Imagination throws the cap over a very tall wall for its lead actor. But Elijah leaps over it. And from the moment he dons the cap that recalls Roland Hayes’ boyhood days, we follow him on his hero’s journey.

There are 26 songs in Breath and Imagination, from Spirituals and original pieces to Schumann, Scarlatti, Gluck and Faure. One of Roland Hayes’ biggest artistic struggles was learning to embrace his own African American voice. He had to. Merely imitating the vocal skill of his white counterparts would not be enough. If Roland Hayes was to succeed at all, he had to show the world how his distinctive voice enriched the musical heritage of Europe.

Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES, written by Daniel Beaty and directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

Karan Kendrick and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

And succeed he did. Nothing prepared his audiences of the 1920’s for the breakthrough singing they were about to hear. Roland Hayes infused classical songs like “Ich grolle nict” with the pathos of the Spiritual while keeping intact the traditional virtues of the German songbook.

And so does Elijah, who succeeds in recreating the magic that enthralled the audiences of 90 years ago. “My own grandmother was a sharecropper,” Elijah said. “My mother was the eldest of 12, and she wanted me to be a preacher just like Roland’s mom.” Elijah spent many a childhood summer in Georgia and felt “the ancestral pull and energy” that Roland Hayes had tapped.

KARAN KENDRICK is an absolute sensation as Roland Hayes’ “Angel Mo’”. It’s her angelic voice that we hear first in Breath and Imagination, and one that takes our breath away in her duets with Elijah, beautiful beyond imagination. “I was raised on hymns and gospel singing,” Karan says. And it shows. As does her ability to convey the richness of Angel Mo’s character. She makes us see the mother who saw the genius in her son, even if she wanted him to express it as a preacher.

KEVIN ASHWORTH is brilliant as the piano accompanist and as the portrayer of all the diverse roles that frame Roland Hayes’ story. Kevin is equally convincing as the snarling Georgia sheriff, the loving-but-doomed father, the rousing preacher man, the sensitive-but-demanding mentor, the visibly-moved-yet-dignified monarch, and in a female turn, the benefactress Miss Robinson.

What a remarkable trio of actors that filled the stage to overflowing with their talent and presence.

It would’ve been easy for the music, enhanced by Rahn’s sensitive arrangements, to overwhelm the play. But Director SAUNDRA McCLAIN kept the audience riveted on her characters whether they were singing or talking. “I always look for the subtext,” Saundra says.

And there are compelling subtexts. Roland Hayes was deeply torn between his need to develop himself as a singer and his felt obligation to look after his mom. It’s the kind of dilemma that has plagued countless families under the heel of poverty and discrimination, and one that came close to derailing Roland’s career. And the Roland Hayes of 1942 is torn between his need to create a lasting legacy and his felt obligation to protect his family. This, too, is a dilemma that has faced many people of color.

By making her characters’ struggles so vivid, Saundra makes their heroism as visible as their talent.

There is another subtext as well. The African slaves grappling with a strange new religion—Christianity—ultimately enriched it with a depth of feeling born out of their suffering, paralleling their impact upon Western music. Playwright DANIEL BEATY’s Breath and Imagination is that rare work that can be taken as a secular sermon or a religious one.

Kevin Ashworth and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES, written by Daniel Beaty and directed by Saundra McClain and now playing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

Kevin Ashworth and Elijah Rock star in the West Coast Premiere of BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lamont)

Everything about Breath and Imagination works. The set itself is amazing. “The director wanted it to be elegant and Art Deco, but at the same time rooted to Roland’s upbringing,” explains Scenic Designer SHAUN MOTLEY.  And indeed, the set was able to take us through the Georgia woods or into Angel Mo’s humble home as well as the swanky stage.  Shaun credits Lighting Designer JARED SAYEG with “doing a great job with the lighting. I provided the canvas but Jared nailed it for us.”

By the end of Breath and Imagination, there were a lot of lumps in a lot of throats. Those of us who go on to learn a bit more about Roland Hayes are not surprised to discover that he also pioneered de-segregated seating back in the mid 1940s during his concerts.

And so the circle is complete. We in 2013 Burbank, an audience of all races coming together in the Colony Theatre, had just received an unforgettable “conservatory” lesson on what it means to be a transformative singer. And we gave an extended, tear-streaked standing ovation to a performance that put “breath and imagination” into a great man’s life, one that deserves a much larger place in our collective American memory.

PERSONAL POSTSCRIPT: I’ve been to Broadway and London’s West End. The Colony’s Breath and Imagination would be a credit to either of these iconic venues. Fellow Burbankers, you have a treasure in your own backyard. You Westsiders, put up with the September heat, come to the Colony and see for yourself.

And to think we nearly lost the Colony! We join Artistic Director BABBRA BECKLEY in thanking Executive Director TRENT STEELMAN and the MARILYN P. & WAYNE H. MEMORIAL FUND for making sure that did not happen.

Breath and Imagination continues through Sunday, October 13. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Prices range from $25 to $45, with various discounts available. The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third St. (at Cypress). For tickets, call the Colony Theatre Box Office at 818-558-7000 ext. 15 or go online at www.ColonyTheatre.Org.

Enter The Laughter Zone At The Falcon Theatre

Twilight Zone UnScripted is so hilarious, you should make it part of your diet. You’ll probably lose five pounds just from laughing so hard.

The Ensemble of Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.  (Photo Courtesy of Dan O’Connor)

The Ensemble of Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre. (Photo Courtesy of Dan O’Connor)

Falcon Theatre’s latest gift to Burbank is the Impro Theatre, and it really does put the “pro” in “impro.”  The audience gives the actors a word or short phrase—some person, place or thing—and then the amazing ensemble proceeds to improvise a 30-minute Twilight Zone episode on the spot. Before the performance is over, they will have done this four times.

And what the Impro Theatre does is the comedy equivalent of a high wire act. Except that in the case of this super-talented ensemble, somebody deliberately shakes the wire every so often. And once in awhile, somebody teeters on one leg, as if about to fall. Except that no one does. (Or at least they to grab on to the wire in the nick of time.)

Nick Massouh and the Ensemble of Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.  (Photo Courtesy of  Chelsea Sutton)

Nick Massouh and the Ensemble of Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre. (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

To draw humor from the very act of on-the-spot improvisation without sacrificing the humor within the story being improvised—well, that has to be one of the most difficult comedic challenges you can imagine. And the cast of Impro Theatre pulls it off, giving us a double dose of laughter.

The original Twilight Zone was brainchild of the late, great Rod Serling, with his distinctive voice and opening patter. In its day (late 50’s/early 60’s), Twilight Zone was arguably the most original, inventive show on TV. Perhaps because of its sci fi/fantasy themes, the series could comment on social issues that other TV shows wouldn’t dare touch. The Improv Theatre’s comedic inventiveness pays a very fitting homage to a series still beloved by so many of us.

Stephen Kearin, Jo McGinley, Kelly Holden-Bashar and Brian Lohmann in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.  (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

Stephen Kearin, Jo McGinley, Kelly Holden-Bashar and Brian Lohmann in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre. (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

You don’t have to be a Twilight Zone aficionado to enjoy this show. But if you are, you’ll have the additional pleasure of hearing improvised dialogue that captures the Twilight Zone’s cadences and conventions.

During the intermission of Friday night’s performance, the delight of the audience in the lobby was palpable. The only bellyaching from this show will be from the comedy crunching your abs.

Kudos to directors JO McGINLEY and STEPHEN KEARIN and their wonderful ensemble cast.

The Falcon Theatre is located at 4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank.  Show runs through September 29, 2013. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.  Weekday prices are $34.50 to $37.00; weekends are $39.50 to $42.00. Student rate is $27.00. For tickets call (818) 955-8101 or go to Falcon Theatre.com.

Brian Lohmann and Mike McShane in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.  (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

Brian Lohmann and Mike McShane in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre. (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

Kelly Holden-Bashar, Jo McGinley, Lisa Fredrickson and Floyd Van Buskirk in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre.  (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

Kelly Holden-Bashar, Jo McGinley, Lisa Fredrickson and Floyd Van Buskirk in Impro Theatre’s Twilight Zone UnScripted at the Falcon Theatre. (Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Sutton)

‘Candide’ Presented by Burbank High School Drama Students

Burbank High School’s Theatre Department is currently presenting Candide by Scott Hunter. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Burbank High School’s Theatre Dept. presented Candide Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening in the schools auditorium. Candide, written by Scott Hunter with more than a dozen actors and actresses, was directed by Brooks Gardner and his wife, Ann.

‘American Fiesta’, OLE!

By Greg Simay

American Fiesta is the kind of entertainment that makes it clear why The Colony Threatre  continues to be one of the nation’s top theatrical venues.

Red, blue, yellow green.  Many colorful plates and bowls on shelves.  A geek chorus of three flat screens. Two rolling tables separating and joining.  A pathbreaking play from a man (PLAYWRIGHT STEVEN TOMLINSON) with one foot in the spiritual and the other in the profane. And one amazing actor (LARRY CEDAR) turning words into 80 uninterrupted minutes of magic.

American Fiesta’s Director David Rose, Main Lead Larry Cedar Colony Artistic Director Barbara Beckley and Playwright Steve Tomlinson, during opening nite gala. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Stephen (LARRY) has hit the big four-oh. He’s going to marry his male partner Leon Alvarez in Vancouver, Canada. (“I’ve never been to Vancouver. I just feel better knowing it’s there.”) But first there’s the trip from their “tribal enclave” in Austin, Texas to Stephen’s tradition-minded parents in Oklahoma. With voice and gesture, wit and humor, LARRY masterfully evokes his no-nonsense lover, his warm-hearted mother and still-waters-run-deep father.

But American Fiesta is more than an engaging domestic drama. (Reader alert: Some of you may prefer to see the play before absorbing anyone else’s take on its deeper meaning.)

American Fiesta shows us how we can reclaim our lives by reclaiming what our possessions mean to us. Especially iconic possessions like American Fiesta cups, dishes and bowls, introduced in the 1930s to bring colorful cheer to families under grey Great Depression skies.  DIRECTOR DAVID ROSE brings out this theme clearly without hitting us over the head with it.

American Fiesta’s Director David Rose, Artist’s Larry Cedar and Playwright Steve Tomlinson, during opening nite gala. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Stephen’s on the staff of Neurometrics, an outfit that figures out what buttons to push in our brains so that we to punch the right holes in the voting booth. There are lots aplenty as the three flat screens show us how marketers also exploit brain chemistry to make us reflexively crave any product…including American Fiesta ware.

But an old antiques dealer (also wonderfully evoked) challenges Larry to ask himself why he really wants a particular American Fiesta bowl.  And that question engages his brain’s more reflective side, one that can find meaning in chips as well as unblemished surfaces. Larry begins to fully possess his life by drawing out what its events mean to him. And in so doing, his American Fiesta set becomes an extension of his deep personal connections.

The colors red and blue have come to stand for opposed constellations of political and social attitudes. Watch what Stephen does at the very end of this remarkable play.

Continues through Sunday, October 21. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20.00 to $42.00. Student, senior and group discounts are available. For tickets, call the Colony Theatre Box Office at 818/558-7000 ext.15 or online at www.ColonyTheatre.Org.

Theatre Doyen David Elzer Chats With BNB

When native Angeleno DAVID ELZER was growing up, his parents and grandparents took him to the theatre often.  One unforgettable night, he watched Anthony Hopkins play Prospero in The Tempest at the Taper. Fast forward a few years, and David is a tireless booster of the live theatre scene in and around LA, cajoling critics to give the latest offerings a serious look. (And his information sheets are great for helping them keep names and facts straight.) David’s also a producer and playwright. BurbankNBeyond’s Greg Simay had the pleasure of interviewing him recently.

David Elzer

BNB: How would you answer those who say live theatre in LA is nothing more than glorified auditions for film roles?

DE: Showcase theatre was much more common than it is now, and you used to see a lot of it in the 99-seat world. The Colony Theatre was one of the few glorious exceptions. But in those earlier days, a lot of actors doing theatre were doing it hoping to get an agent.

BNB: But it’s different now?

DE: Yes! From the late 90’s onward, there’s been an explosion of serious theatre artists. Theatre companies came here from New York, Chicago, and they really wanted to do theatre because they loved it. And it showed in the amazing work they’ve been doing. I can now say that some of the best experiences in my life have been in a 99-seat theatre. Also there are quite a few actors who’ve already made their mark in film. They’re doing the art because they love it. Not because it will get them an agent.

BNB: We know you’re constantly letting the media know about the latest plays in the greater LA area, and sometimes beyond, but what do you think really puts people in the seats?

DE: Good shows find their audience, word-of-mouth is everything. And social media’s the ticket that gets people to buy the tickets. Believe me, there’s a lot of amazing work being done in LA theatre. Don’t forget, moms from 40 to 80 are still the prime ticket buyers for their families.

BNB: So how did you learn the ropes in doing so much PR for the theatre scene?

DE: Right out of school I wanted to be an actor. I started out working for Columbia in the home video department and later switched to the photo department. Then I joined an independent company, Andrea Jaffe & Associates, which was the top public relations firm at the time for film and individual clients. As Andrea’s assistant I got closely involved with all the big films and stars. I found I had good PR instincts. Andrea wanted me to follow her to 20th century Fox, where she was to be the president of marketing. It was a great opportunity and I got involved in nationwide publicity for films like True Lies and Mrs. Doubtfire. Then I went over to Trimark and did worldwide publicity as a senior veep just as the independent film world was really exploding.

BNB: But so far we’re talking film. What got you into live theatre?

DE: Well as I was approaching 40, the little boy in me said, “What are you really doing with your life?” This is when I left Paramount Classics over “creative differences” and a friend told me about Disney needing someone to do publicity for Lion King in LA. Three interviews later, I got the job and became good friends with the Lion King’s producer, Peter Schneider. Then friends started asking me if I could help with the publicity for their play. Other friends started calling. And that’s when I found my calling as the Theater PR person. I started up DEMAND PR and became its president, chief cook and bottle washer. The Colony Theatre was one of my first big accounts. Today, I have about 20 accounts.

BNB: You’re doing more than PR, though. What got you to reconnect with your dreams of acting?

DE: When you see theatre work that’s great, you want to do great work yourself. I guess I connected more with my producing and writing side. I produced The Marvelous Wondrettes which ran in El Portal for almost two years [BNB: It won the Ovation Award for Best Musical and is now part of regional theatre.] I’ve gone on to produce other shows as well.

BNB: And now you’ve co-written story and book for a new musical.

DE: Yes, Justin Love, which will have its world premiere at the 99-seat Celebration Theatre.

BNB: So what would your publicity sheet say about Justin Love to entice the jaded critic?

DE: What if Hollywood’s biggest star has a secret (he’s gay) and has a beautiful model for a wife (married under contract)? And what if he falls in love and she falls in love (but not with each other)? And what if all this takes place in a TMZ-crazy culture. Can our hero come out of the glass closet, be true to himself and find true love?

BNB: Yes, it seems like one’s sexual orientation can still be a problem in major sports and entertainment.

DE: They’re the last glass closets.

BNB: Glass?

DE: Everyone knows what the real situation is, and everyone pretends not to see it.

BNB: Well we hope everyone comes to see Justin Love.

DE: Thanks. It starts Friday, September 21.

‘SLOW DANCE IN MIDTOWN’ – A Fast Ticket to Unforgettable Theatre

Nick Stabile and Don Swayze star in the World Premiere Play "SLOW DANCE IN MIDTOWN," written and directed by Elizabeth Sarnoff and now playing at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. PHOTO CREDIT: Ty Donaldson

The fully realized dive of a New York bar draws you in, even before the play begins. (“Nice set”, remarked a woman as she took her seat.)  And the actors keep you there for a riveting two hours of heightened reality.  Writer/director ELIZABETH SARNOFF brings the same genius to the stage that raised the bar for television (Lost, Deadwood, Alcatraz). Slow Dance in Midtown is a triumph and a vibrant rebuke to the tired cliché that the LA stage is glorified auditioning for film.

Sal (NICK STABILE) and Frank (DON SWAYZE) are family members stretched on the rack of opposing, equally compelling loyalties. Former best friends Maria (MEREDITH SCOTT LYNN) and Kate (TRICIA SMALL) confront a searing betrayal and volcanic feelings no longer dormant.  The masterful unfolding of the characters and their

Meredith Scott Lynn and Tricia Small star in the World Premiere Play "SLOW DANCE IN MIDTOWN" PHOTO CREDIT: Ty Donaldson

predicaments is a seductive slow dance of language, leading us around the stage floor to every corner of emotion.

Slow Dance in Midtown has a richness that repays a second visit. With artful recollections of past atrocities and sly allusions, Sarnoff draws the connection between the world’s unforgettable atrocities and how we face the enduring pain from those we love. In her Director’s Notes, Sarnoff wants to celebrate the miracle that “through all our hurt, our wounds our incredible, fragile and flawed humanity, we somehow find the strength to keep trying”.

Slow Dance in Midtown summons that miracle with inspired acting and language beautifully profane and brutally honest.

Tickets $20. Continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. thru May 12 at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd.  Call 818-990-2324 or visit slowdanceinmidtown.com.

Writer/Director Elizabeth Sarnoff Talks About ‘Slow Dance in Midtown’

Only a few writers are in the elite ranks of being their own top competition. ELIZABETH SARNOFF (Lost, Deadwood, Alcatraz) is one of them. In 2005, both Lost and Deadwood were nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Dramatic Series. (Lost won.) But perhaps being multitalented (writer, director, producer, actor and bass-playing musician) has something to do with it.

Just prior to being the writer/director for Slow Dance, Elizabeth had served as the Co-Creator and Executive Producer of the Fox television sensation, Alcatraz.  BNB’s Greg Simay caught up with her at the opening night party at La Loggia.

Elizabeth Sarnoff

Q: How did you handle being the writer and the director for Slow Dance In Midtown? Does the “writer” part of you quarrel with the “director” part?

ES: I think the two roles blend. And it’s wonderful to have a thought and not have it run the gauntlet of being re-interpreted by a dozen different people. It’s a liberation!

Q: During the play, I really enjoyed the eloquent-but-natural dialogue. It reminded me of [the critically-acclaimed HBO Western] Deadwood.

ES: Well, my Dad talked that way, so it seemed very natural to me. And working with a fantastic mentor and writer like David Milch really helped me tap into the all the wonderful ways with words I heard growing up.

Q: You certainly didn’t need a play to put yourself on the map.

ES: Slow Dance In Midtown was totally a labor of love. I wrote it (back in 2000) at a painful time of my life, and I was dealing with loss and betrayal like the characters in my play. And last November I had quit the show (Alcatraz) that I had created, and was looking for a new creative direction. And then came the opportunity to direct Slow Dance In Midtown.