Writer: Travis Michael Holder

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER is Opinionatedasswipe-in-Chief for the new handydandy arts-oriented website TicketHoldersLA.com. He has been a LA theatre critic since 1987 and has taught acting at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus since 2010. He was Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today for 21 years, reviewed for BackStage for 12 years, and is also currently a contributor to ArtsInLA.com. As a writer, five of his plays have been produced in LA and his first, "Surprise Surprise," became a feature film in 2010, for which Travis wrote the screenplay and appeared in a leading role. An actor since childhood who originally came to LA under contract to Paramount Pictures, he has appeared in six Broadway productions and has traveled extensively in everything from "Bye Bye Birdie," "Hair," and throughout Europe and Asia in "Hello Dolly" to touring as Amos (Mr. Cellophane) Hart in "Chicago." Locally, Travis received the LA Drama Critics’ Circle Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of "Nasty Little Secrets," a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in "Of Mice and Men," and he has also received six acting nominations from LA Weekly; a Sage Award; Ovation, GLAAD, NAACP, and five Garland Award nominations. Regionally, he was given the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in "Fifth of July," three awards for direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in "Equus," and he was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the premiere of "Oscar & Speranza." His first novel "Waiting for Walk," a memoir of growing up as a child actor, has been sitting in a desk drawer since its completion in 2005, proving there is often a deep divide between talent and functionality. www.travismichaelholder.coms
Nov

HANSEL AND GRETEL

Besides Doug Fitch's massive, fanciful creatures and equally huge cartoon sets which roll in and out with astonishing regularity, there's the fact that Engelbert Humperdinck's enduring though not monumental score is conducted by the legendary James Conlon leading the impressive LA Opera Orchestra and, at the piece's finale, all of the Witch's pintsized victims who have been turned into gingerbread men emerge as a glorious band of survivors beautifully voiced and sweetly performed by members of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus.

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Nov

Blacktop Highway

The return of John Fleck's astonishing solo performance piece, which he describes as a gothic horror “screenplay'd on one man's body,” is a 90-minute 3-D acid trip into wildly creepy absurdity. Here, with the help of Heather Fipps' Warholian video projections and Bosco Flanagan's eerie lighting, the master storyteller plays all parts, even mimicking the cries of all the exotic animals the tale's deranged and incestuous siblings keep in cages in the dark basement of their former veterinarian clinic transformed into a taxidermy studio.

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Nov

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

I have a new favorite one-person show and, without a doubt, I have also seen the best production of anything presented on any Los Angeles stage this year. And guess what? It's that familiar old warhorse A CHRISTMAS CAROL in a jaw-dropping, fresh new world premiere production created specifically for the Geffen Playhouse starring the unearthly Jefferson Mays. Created with his wife Susan Lyons and wunderkind director Michael Arden, the genius Mr. Mays takes on nearly 50 different roles in this incredibly brilliant adaptation based on the edited version Dickens himself would use for public performances of his story.

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Nov

A BRONX TALE

The bigassed Broadway musical version of Chazz Palminteri's once-humble 1989 one-man performance piece, co-directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks and with an infectious Motown-meets-JERSEY BOYS score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, had its bareboned beginnings right here in good ol' El Lay. There's nothing earthshattering or new about the ultimately formulaic production, but it is remarkable that such a charming, comfortable little tale could, under the watch of some considerably talented dramatists, morph from a simple one-man show to become a huge, incredibly glitzy and exciting major musical production without losing its heart—or the impact of Palminteri and director Mark W. Travis' original concept.

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Nov

VALLEY OF THE HEART

There's another culture clash that hangs over Luis Valdez' epic and often leaves it feeling rudimentary and basically unfinished. Despite the exceptionally slick production values available to and implemented by the venerable Center Theatre Group, there's a clash between those spectacular theatrical appointments and the simple folksy nature of Valdez' script, a feeling, especially considering the glaringly uneven performances delivered by the ensemble cast, that leaves the piece seeming as though it might still be more successful being performed in the back of one of those flatbed trucks in the middle of a field in Delano in the storied early days of El Teatro Campesino.

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Nov

Cost of Living

All four actors are superb and Martyna Majok's dialogue is tough and hard and relentless, yet her genius for bluecollar drama is continuously underscored by a lyricism and poetic quality that makes her play, indelibly aided by the Fountain's usual impressively loving and beautifully designed production and director John Vreeke's sturdy, literally in-your-face staging, an instant classic.

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Nov

Cleo, Theo & Wu

Vangsness' quest for righting some tilting ancient windmills once turned by remarkable female rulers could not possibly stay lingering in the many-cylindered chambers tucked into the deepest crevices of their mentor's volcanic mind. If you look up the term “force of nature” in the dictionary, don't be surprised if the entry includes a photograph of Kirsten Vangsness.

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Nov

Steambath

When it was originally presented, Bruce Jay Friedman's brazenly sharp-edged and then considered obscene humor camouflaged his play's rather slim premise that these typically dysfunctional humans continue to obsess about the same petty crap that obsessed them before they Bit the Big One. In this revival, the play's shortcomings are glaringly revealed by the passage of time since it was written and the slings and arrows of our own daily lives as our world spins off to oblivion, something accentuated further by the characters' lack of community. For Steambath to succeed in the era of Trump, #METOO, Samantha Bee, caravans from Guatemala, and the imminent devastation from climate change, it needs something new and fresh and inventive to make it work again. Ron Sossi's skillfully realized production, although certainly reverent to the original, is done in by the world in which we exist today.

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Nov

The Little Foxes

Beyond all the world-class Antaeusian accoutrement delivered in this smart and sumptuous production, what lingers the most after the final curtain descends is the classic script by Lillian Hellman, who so clearly understood the Southern mentality and, despite the political incorrectness of exposing it, more importantly saw the dangers of not calling it out.

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Oct

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

With a wonderfully insightful and intelligent book by Steven Levenson and a breathtaking score for the ages by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Oscar and Golden Globe-winning composers of La La Land), to simply say experiencing Dear Evan Hansen provides an amazing journey of the heart and soul is a terrible understatement. It offers the kind of message capable of changing a life if heard at a time such as this, a time when it's so desperately needed to help encourage and empower the young people of today and aid in the survival of this next generation soon to be challenged in ways we cannot even possibly imagine.

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Oct

BABY EYES

Baby Eyes is a courageous leap into basically uncharted territory and nobody producing theatre in LA is better at dealing with such exciting, promising material than the amazing Jon Rivera and his always provocative, admirably committed Playwrights' Arena.

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Oct

Sell/Buy/Date

The Tony-winning Sarah Jones' work goes way beyond raising funds for the worthiest of causes, however. She instantly elevates the genre of one-person shows showcasing their creators' talent to a heroic level, launching her unique performance art into George Carlin strata with a gentle jab of social protest peeking through her signature talent and humor.

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Oct

Johnny Got His Gun

Tim Robbins' riveting rethinking of Johnny Got His Gun is what creating art is truly all about, not fame or fortune or awards, living proof of which surely Mr. Robbins is the ultimate posterchild. Theatrical expression was always a risky artform for anyone with an alternate point of view to attempt, once germinated in public squares and makeshift outdoor stages many centuries ago while warily looking out for the monarch's soldiers poised to take them off to the stocks. That practice lives on at the Actors' Gang with enormous respect and gratitude for the effort going to Robbins.

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Sep

Showpony

Judith Leora's wonderfully insightful play helps balance the gender-lopsided scales of corporate America and makes us hope for a big blue boost in November toward fairness and equality in both the world of business and in our long-hidden racist and chauvinistic society. Tom Ormeny and the ever-prolific, bravely cutting-edge Victory proves once again to be the quintessential choice to slickly and lovingly introduce this urgently topical new work and introduce us all to the promise of Leora.

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Sep

The Rescued

Blessed with one of the most impressive ensemble casts of this year led by the insightful and crafty direction of Marya Mazor, "The Rescued" at the Road may be an underdog (sorry) but proves itself to be both thought-provoking and a great treat for LA theatregoers, reminding us that although the world spins way too fast around us, we should take a moment to consider the plight of those less fortunate, all of whom have their own story and their own desperate need to belong.

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Sep

The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona

If only Jose Rivera had stuck with the situations and questions which ended the first half and didn't leave us wondering what religious dogma from his childhood he was trying to exorcise with this play or what must have been “on” when he wrote Act Two, I might have been less ready to wish I'd left at intermission since the things left hanging were better left a mystery than having to sit through his unfathomable and masturbatory second half.

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Sep

BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL

Then there's Sarah Bockel, who all but channels the real Carole King. To say she radiates everything Carole was about is a major understatement. At once shy, vulnerable, loving, and yet subtly charismatic and strong as an ox as her living legend counterpart navigates fame, fortune, and a mess of a personal life, Bockel is miraculous. Add in a voice that reaches the heights, finds the raspy riffs, and still mines the personal depths of insecurity and emotion that made King's music some of the most enduring of all time, and her performance is the stuff for which they give out awards.

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Sep

Native Gardens

Karen Zacarias has accomplished something crafty, as there's a prickly societal agenda lurking just behind the gentle humor. On the surface of things, "Native Gardens" is a throwback to the old days of the family-friendly 1970s-style TV sitcom as two neighboring couples fight over property lines but, beyond that, there's a gentle and hilarious morality tale of how quickly the thin veneer of civilization can wear itself off even for the most enlightened and educated among us.

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Sep

SWEAT

In real life—such that it is these days—playwright Lynn Nottage spent time in Reading, Pennsylvania getting to know and talking to displaced steelworkers before she began to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning play and surely this insight in the conditions they were forced to endure plays a heavy role in why "Sweat" makes such a powerful statement. The situation, though horrendously awful and morally sickening, is not hard to imagine these dark days, something the writer clarifies by creating exceptionally real dialogue and characters who are the kind of people many of us avoid when we choose not to go “home” for Thanksgiving.

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Aug

MARIAN, OR THE TRUE TALE OF ROBIN HOOD

As is usual for NOTE, the ensemble is golden, especially the indominable Kirsten Vangsness in the title role—er, roles, as Mr. Hood is indeed Marian in disguise in this version—and Joel Sher as a bejeweled Paul Lyndian Prince John, who can't keep from screaming out the name of his exiled brother Richard whenever he releases his royal seed into the honeypot of his favorite court concubine. Adam Szymkowicz' welcome and well-timed gender-bending script might be better than it comes off here, but what he has to say is so buried in the bizarrely misfired staging by Christopher Johnson that it's hard to tell.

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