Registered Critic: Daniel Faigin

Daniel Faigin has been regularly attending live theatre since he went with his parents to the LA Civic Light Opera production of "The Rothschilds" in 1972. Since 2004, he has been writing up every live performance that he attends -- theatre and concerts -- on his blog at http://cahighways.org/wordpress/?cat=51 . In real life, he works as a cybersecurity professional; in addition to theatre, he has a love of the California highway system.
Feb

The Joy Wheel

This is the second show we’ve seen at Ruskin (the first was Paradise), and they are two for two. This production was funny and touching and just a joy to watch. As usual, there are many factors that contributed towards this.

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Feb

ANNA KARENINA

For me — and I’ll emphasize that this is my opinion — the story just didn’t grab me. I really can’t get into a complex tale of infidelity, shifting affairs, Russian societal position, and a fair amount of depression and lack of self worth. It just wasn’t my thing, but I’ll emphasize that’s why we subscribe to theatres: it brings us to shows we might not normally seek out on our own. But that also brings the risk that we might not like everything we see.

But just because I didn’t get into the story doesn’t mean I didn’t like the performances. Chesley brought out great performances in her acting team, and they were believable as their characters. This is especially true for the two leads: Eva Abramian (FB) as Anna Karenina and Joseph Barone (FB) as Constantine “Kostya” Levin. The two had good chemistry together and were fun to watch.

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Feb

1776 THE MUSICAL

[Note: This is a review of the La Mirada production, which was also presented at The Saroya, formerly the Valley Performing Arts Center, in Northridge] So I think we have established that 1776 is an important musical to be seen — in the abstract. So why this production, and why now? First, because to see live theatre at the Saroya (nee VPAC) (FB) demonstrates that the San Fernando Valley wants first class musical theatre in the heart of the valley. Second, because in the political times we are facing today, it is important to remind ourselves of the need to compromise with those with whom we disagree, in furtherance of a larger and more important goal. Third, because the production team behind this production, McCoy – Rigby (FB), has a proven track record of doing strong theatre both at the southern edge of Los Angeles County, and now here in the valley. Lastly, because this production itself is very strong (I had only a few minor quibbles). Alas, however, the Saroya only bring in these shows for one weekend. We need to encourage them to do more theatre — both bringing in productions, as well as presenting on the Saroya stage, for the Saroya audience, more of the excellent work done by the Theatre department on campus.

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Feb

HELLO DOLLY

If you’re like me, you always thought you had seen Hello, Dolly!. Sure, you listened to the cast album zillions of times. Sure, you’ve seen the movie … well, sometime in the past, and you thought Barbra Streisand was too young for the part, and why would she want Walter Matthau anyway? But you didn’t remember it that well. But when did you last see Hello, Dolly!, well done, on an actual stage?

If you’re like me, it was, well, I can’t remember if I have.

Seeing Betty Buckley (FB) in Hello, Dolly! Sunday evening at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) was a revelation. It was a reminder of what theatre was in the golden age — the days of Gower Champion and David Merrick. It was also a reminder about how what you might remember as a fluff of a show — a star vehicle — has surprising relevance over 50 years after it first premiered.

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Dec

COME FROM AWAY

We’re in crappy times. But we will get through this together, through the simple act of welcoming the stranger. What better sentiment to be sharing at this time of year. Don’t build the walls to drive us apart, but say “Welcome, come in, have some tea, and the whisky is in the cabinet downstairs.” Go see this. You will be uplifted.

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Dec

Clarissant

Although improvement is possible, this is a good and interesting production of new work, and that always makes it worth seeing. For those of enjoy the Camelot milleau, this is certainly worth seeing. For those that want to support women in the theatre — both on stage, at the author’s table, and on the production team — this is also worth seeing. Looking back, I enjoyed it.

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Nov

Remembering Boyle Heights

So while, when viewed as purely theatre, there were some minor structural and performance problems, those faded into insignificance when compared to the message and the story that was being told. Los Angeles does have a racist history that must not be forgotten, but it also has a rich and diverse multicultural story to tell — a story of different cultures coming together in communities like Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Watts, Inglewood, Pacoima, Arleta — working class communities where it was hard work that mattered. As an (amateur) LA historian, this show was a pure delight. As someone with a connection to Boyle Heights, … well, it was even better. […] If you are a lover of Los Angeles, and especially if you love Los Angeles history, this is the show for you.

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Nov

Steambath

Although the show is dated and politically incorrect, it is also very very funny and well worth seeing.

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Nov

SHE LOVES ME

Under the direction and choreography of Cate Caplin (FB), the actors were clearly having fun with the piece, and that fun was projected to the audience. The overall company was quite fun to watch, and there was lots of joy in the production.

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Nov

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

My wife left the show lukewarm to the story — the whole notion of lying and the construction of the house of cards really bothered her. It nagged at me, but I found the overall messages of the show to be quite powerful: the importance of not forgetting people, the importance of seeing people, the importance of listening to people, the importance of telling the truth of what is going on in your lives to those around you. I saw the message this show imparted about the damage that can be done to not only you, but to your friends and family, if you construct that house of cards to protect you. I saw the power of the love of a family to heal.

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Nov

A BRONX TALE

I thought it was a good show. Not great, not game changing, but good. It was clearly in the mold of existing musicals. The music was quite enjoyable, and a number of the songs easily stuck in your head. The individual performances were strong. But overall, as a piece, it was … good. Part of that the interracial plot line, which could have been good had it gone somewhere (for a while, I was thinking of the musical Memphis), but it just fizzed away. In terms of long term impact, I felt that Friday night’s show, Dear Evan Hansen, had much more staying power and a much stronger overall message. I liked the message of A Bronx Tale, especially the tag line of “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.” But I think in terms of today’s generation, the former message of “No one deserves to be forgotten, no one deserves to fade away.” has more resonance. So, in my eyes, A Bronx Tale (The Musical) was good and enjoyable, but didn’t rise to the level of great. On the other hand, my wife enjoyed A Bronx Tale immensely. She liked the music, she liked the story, she liked the performances. She had been troubled by the fact that Dear Evan Hansen, ultimately, was built around a lie, and when those walls came crashing down, a lot of people were hurt by the lie. She found that A Bronx Tale had a better message for her: a message about making the right choices, about choosing to do the right thing and growing and benefiting from it.

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Nov

Finks

Plays like Finks demonstrate the power of theatre to remind us of what is important. They show us that the best way to fight back against a government that has taken a wrong turn — in either direction — is to become that activist. They show us the power of standing up for what is right, even at a great personal costs. That’s true for the actors of the Hollywood Blacklist, most of whom were not Communists in the Russian sense, but working for peace and better conditions for workers in all industries. That’s equally true for the Democrats of today, who are working to make the country better for all. This play sends the message of the importance of standing up (or of kneeling, when appropriate) to authority that isn’t upholding the values of America.

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Oct

SHREK THE MUSICAL

In summary, this was a show that entertained the kiddies at one level, with the storytale antics and fart jokes of the original. But for the adults, it was something that transcended the original Broadway production. It brought a level of self-awareness of what it was, with an undercurrent of political meaning, that adults would pick up on. As such, it was very very enjoyable.

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Oct

OPPENHEIMER

Last night was the opening night of Oppenheimer, as well as being the opening night for Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) at their new digs at the Electric Lodge (FB) in Venice, and it was that — electric. Although the show was long — 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission — the time just flew by. The story and the presentation were so engrossing it drew us in; we left thinking this was the best drama we have seen to date in 2018*. Just like our favorite show of 2017 (This Land at Company of Angels), it touched upon an area we love; it also got the facts right and made us think. It left us talking about the show and its ideas, and wanting to strongly encourage others to go see the show. It took a complex issue and made it understandable and entertaining. It showed the power of theatre.

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Aug

WAITRESS

Sitting through the show — I’ll summarize the plot in a minute — I found myself smiling. This was a story that was funny and touching, realistic and empowering, and just likable. Then it hit me during the intermission: the best way to describe this show was sweet — just like the pies it discusses. There are a lot of different flavors touched upon in this show: from unwanted pregnancy to abusive relationships, to the questions of why we stay in relationships and why we don’t, to the power of friendships and the support of friends, to the power of love and accepting people for who they are, and it all just simmers and blends and comes together for a result that is … sweet. So this is a musical that will leave you with a good taste in your mouth. I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

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Jul

Beauty and the Beast

In fact, arguably, Belle works stronger as someone in her mid-20s or early 30s vs the sweet young thing she is in the movie (other than an odd taste for fairy tales). It emphasizes her difference from the rest of the town; it makes their assertion that she’s a strange and special girl much stronger. She’s someone who never married to take care of her father, and retreated into the world of her books. Most of us know folks like that. So the mature Belle works a lot better. It also makes the one “new” song (as in, “it’s not on the cast album” — turns out it was added in 1998 for Toni Braxton), “A Change in Me”, even more significant.

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Jun

Beatniks

[The story is a little confusing, although it doesn’t need to be perfect yet] This is a Fringe musical, in its second mounting (the first was in the UCLA Botanical Gardens). It still has a substantial gestation period and dramaturgy to go through prior to a major mounting. For what it is, the maturity was remarkable. The music itself was pretty strong, although a few songs sounded similar. I particularly liked the “Land of Cardigans” song about Barnard, and the number sung by Kerouac on the ukulele about the blues. For the most part, the songs seemed not to be novelty numbers; they did what songs in a musical should do — move the story along. I’ll note that the group developing this musical is all out of the UCLA Musical Theatre program; as a UCLA grad myself (BS ’82, MS ’85, School of Engineering), I can confidently say the high quality must be in part from the excellent education they received there 🙂 ).

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Jun

The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B

The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B is an example of the other type of Fringe show: a show that uses humor to get across a very serious point. In this case, the humor serves to deflate the power of the cult of personality. Dr. B serves as a metaphor for President Trump, and the dangerous cult that surrounds both, oblivious to the fact they are working against their own interests. This is a show that must be seen, although, alas, in Los Angeles it is so much preaching to the choir.

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Jun

Monday Morning and Cheese & Things

I think this combination of appetizer and main dish is well worth seeing. Cheese & Things is quite funny, and Monday Morning is quite spectacular and topical. They represent — in a more traditional one-act play sense — the best of what Fringe could be.

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Jun

Cowboy Mouth- Fringe Encore Award winner

I’m not quite sure I picked up on that watching the play, although I do think I got the gist of it. The bigger question, in my mind, was the point that was trying to be made. There was a lot of discussion and a lot of back and forth; there was a lot of drug use and drinking. There were desires discussed, and a few acted upon. And there was a lobster man (who had a fantastic costume). But what sticks with me most is the end of the play, when Slim is allowed to leave and the Lobster Man returns to reality. I think that was the key point of the play — the need to return to normality that was required for Cavale to finally be able to take charge of her long-held dream. Perhaps. I’m still not sure. Even if the story was confusing, the performances were strong, under the direction of Sarah-Jean Kruchowski (FB). The leads — Joey Bothwell (FB) as Cavale and Eddie Mills (FB) as Slim — were just spectacular. Strong, emotional, raw, at times dangerous and unhinged. They reflected well the strong personalities and emotions of their characters. Additionally, Bothwell’s singing was beautiful during her one song.

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