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
Aug

AIN'T TOO PROUD

With the slick multi-award-winning director and choreographer of the megahit "Jersey Boys" onboard, "Ain't Too Proud" is already ahead by miles in its pre-Broadway run here at the Ahmanson. Based on the memoir by Patricia Romanowski and The Temptations' founder and last surviving member Otis Williams, the Great White Way's latest contender in the jukebox musical sweepstakes has a guaranteed future, surely making anyone in attendance for the glittery and star-studded opening night performance feel as though they were privy to what is about to become musical theatre history.

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Aug

Jews, Christians, and Screwing Stalin

The story is interesting, but the play is not. It's obvious the characters are all based on the real family members and boarders at the Brighton Beach home of cowriter/director Mark Lonow's eccentric Trotskyite grandparents when he was a kid growing up in the 1950s and '60s, but one has to wonder what made this troupe of veteran actors give up their fall evenings to be a part of this tremendous waste of time and talent.

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Aug

YELLOW FACE

Director Robert Zimmerman does a masterful job navigating the action around the restrictive playing style without detracting from the storyline, the inventiveness of his staging actually adding to the magic of the theatrical experience. Still, it is the rule-defying work of David Henry Hwang, a guy who obviously never feels the need to color within the lines, that emerges as the most memorable aspect of Yellow Face.

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Aug

WAITRESS

A diner waitress in BumFuck, USA dreams of a better life and, luckily for her, she gets to dream lost in Sara Bareilles' lovely landmark score. A little Carole King, a little Roberta Flack, and a lot Dolly Parton, the six-time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter makes an auspicious debut here as a Broadway composer with a rich, evocatively ballad-heavy folk-rock score that is the real star of the musical. Jessie Nelson's book also finds the heart of the late Adrienne Shelly's original story as she gently guides us to understand the plight of someone stuck in the mud in a nowhere town, in a nowhere job, and in a nowhere marriage—something exacerbated early on when she abandons her tables to pee on a stick in Joe's restroom and realizes she's now stuck even deeper in the muck of ya'll-ain't-goin'-nowheres-ness. Under the fluid, incredibly free and inventive direction of Diane Paulus, Oakley is a star in the making, somehow reminiscent of Betty Hutton and Ann Sothern rolled into one and possessed of a voice loaded with confidence and ‘bout the size of all outdoors.

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Jul

Hershey Felder: Beethoven

The remarkable Hershey Felder does not just tell the sad story of Beethoven's life, he sits down at the Steinway to expertly play selections of the great man's music, accompanying them with a play-by-play of what was going on as he was creating it and making us able to understand the sorrow, the sweetness, the anger, the frustrations as his thoughts and crushed dreams became part of musical history forever.

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Jul

Arrival & Departure

Featuring the indomitable Troy Katsur in its leading role, perhaps the finest non-speaking actor of his generation, cast here opposite his talented real-life wife Deanne Bray, "Arrive & Departure" is simply nothing short of brilliant. Stephen Sachs' script is both austere and accessible, revealing his clear understanding of the fragility of the human condition yet possessed of a poetic lyricism that shines through his down-to-earth dialogue.

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Jun

SLAUGHTER CITY

For one of the badly mistreated workers toiling in the trimming room of a nightmarish slaughterhouse at some unspecified period in time, this seems like a good life. The daily routine of “waking, working, shitting, sleeping” makes her very happy, she says, although whether she is trying to convince herself of that depends on how you interpret the character. Yet, for most of the trapped inhabitants of Naomi Wallace's 1996 prophetically dystopian treatise, life is anything but that.

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Jun

THE HUMANS

Stephen Karam's troubled Blake family is the quintessential descendant of those classic American theatrical families created in the fertile minds of misters O'Neill, Miller, and Letts. Karam's contribution to theatrical history was a perfect choice for Pulitzer consideration because the play chronicles exactly who we are in this country at this particular juncture in time: a people more and more disenfranchised and discouraged with our crumpling society and the death of the proverbial American Dream.

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Jun

Long Day's Journey Into Night

As the American theatre's most challenging 20th-century anti-heroine, Lesley Manville gives the performance of the year--if not the decade--in the truly stellar transplanted Bristol Old Vic production of Eugene O'Neill's personal attempt to exorcise his family demons, under the inspired direction of Richard Eyre and featuring a towering turn by Jeremy Irons as her overbearing husband James.

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Jun

Cabaret

Under Michael Matthews' visionary direction, the production's single playing space easily transforms from the club into the train station where Cliff prophetically first meets his nemesis Ernst and then morphs into the parlor of Fraulein Schneider's rooming house with little set changes applied beyond lighting and sound cues. All the dramatic scenes unfold in this shared area, although it's hard not to wait patiently to return to the Kit Kat, where the huge and jarringly sensual production numbers choreographed by Janet Roston are the true wonder of this excellent and surprisingly fresh revival.

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Jun

SOFT POWER

After LA and San Francisco (where I'm going to see it again later this month), when this visionary effort hits New York, there'll surely be many comparisons made to "Hamilton," another rule-defying, groundbreaking musical that dazzles the senses yet clearly slips in its political morality message while telling its story in the most entertaining way imaginable. Those comparisons will be valid and, like its namesake musical within the play, Hwang and Tesori's masterwork is destined to become a classic.

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Jun

Wiesenthal

Though we might occasionally squirm in our seats while hearing about this legendary man's courageous struggle, under Jenny Sullivan's simple but evocative direction, the return of Tom Dugan's brilliant solo turn holds even more special meaning today in the midst of our current political debacle, something that had not yet reared its ugly head and embarked on its soulless mission to destroy our country and its integrity back in 2011 when it first debuted. We are reminded by Dugan's improbable hero that if we don't try to talk about how this atrocity was allowed to happen some 75 years ago, "it can happen again now."

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May

Forever Bound

Steve Apostolina's sharp humor is amazingly topical in a clever subterranean way. As our country goes to shit at the hands of a mentally-challenged madman and we are all collectively questioning and redefining our morality on a daily basis, though the laughs are frequent in Forever Bound, we are ultimately left with a reason to contemplate what is moral and what actions are truly acceptable in the world today.

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Apr

LOVE NEVER DIES

This production is absolutely gorgeous and Lord Andrew's gossamer score, a little Bizet, a little Romberg, and far less Jimmy Page than its predecessor, is without a doubt his loveliest and most lyrical work since the too-often ignored genius of Aspects of Love. Dazzlingly complemented by the extraordinary, incredibly evocative Cirque du Soleil-esque sets and costuming by Gabriela Tylesova, whatever disappoints here—mainly the rather predictable and even soap opera-y book by Ben Elton—gets swept away in the sheer beauty of the music and visual wonders filling the stage.

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Apr

The Mouse Trap

Despite any druthers, this is a charming, well-meaning, mostly successful presentation. As it has while holding court in London for all these years, The Mouse Trap can lift away all the crappiness of our current world situation and help us set aside our collective frustration with the trap from which all us American mousies find ourselves squirming to loosen our necks from its deathly grasp. Christie knew how to spin a good yarn and here, the good folks at Crown City are presenting her enduring record-breaking classic directly from their big and prolific hearts.

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Apr

El Nino

In his long overdue dark comedy El Nino, LA's own theatrical free spirit Justin Tanner returns at the top of his game. This kind of writing would make any actor willing to take a chance, beyond selling tampons on TV or singing about bright golden hazes on the meadow, shit his or her pants to assay and this could not be more evident than with the stable of gifted Tannerites who would crawl through the desert—or even park at Santa Monica Blvd. and Oxford—to say the words written by Tanner.

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Mar

Laughter on the 23rd Floor

Lovingly remounted at full goofy gallop and led by the uber-kinetic Marx Brotherly direction of the prolific Michael A. Sheppard, the resurrection of Neil Simon's last coherent play provides welcome respite from the deluge of Tweets spewing from our current Madman-in-Chief that make most people want to go back to bed and pull up the covers.

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Mar

An Undivided Heart

What could be a fascinating journey is instead a confused and uneven mishmash, further exacerbated by Yusuf Toporov's indulgent and not-too subtle preaching about religion and the differences between the conflicts of Catholicism and the serenity of Buddhism. Even if meant to be the overlying point here, it would be easier to take if Toropov didn't insist on tackling the issue as though offering a preliminary starter course in Zen 101.

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Mar

Unemployed Elephants - A Love Story

Wendy Graf's dialogue is continuously spiky and her characters, though inexplicably linked for no reason except to illicit a happy ending, are suitably charming. There's no doubt this is funny and entertaining, but the biggest problem is that the story itself is agonizingly predictable. There was a time when this kind of romantic sparring was refreshing onstage, particularly if accompanied by such crisp and clever wordsmithery, but that was before television comedies offered much better and less formulaic writing than during the restrictive family-oriented sitcom days of yore.

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Mar

Jackie Unveiled

Saffron Burrows is sensational as Jackie, who wonders if she, like her aunt and cousin Big and Little Edie Beale, will end up wandering around her own personal Grey Gardens as mad as they became. With an uncanny (onstage) resemblance and adopting an American accent that recalls all the signature vocal intonations without resorting to the usual breathy bad imitation, under the exquisitely subtle yet kinetic direction of Jenny Sullivan, Burrows grabs us with a strength and resiliency few successfully realize.

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