Registered Critic: Ellen Dostal

Ellen Dostal (BroadwayWorld, Musicals in LA, Shakespeare in LA: Ellen Dostal is a Senior Editor and longtime writer for BroadwayWorld's Los Angeles region. She publishes two popular Southern California theatre blogs – Musicals in LA and Shakespeare in LA – and has covered the performing arts community, jazz, and classical music for KJazz 88.1 FM and K-Mozart 1260 AM. She holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Northern Iowa. She is also the LA Show writer for TheThreeTomatoes.com (The Insider’s Guide for women who aren’t kids). Ellen joined the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle in 2017.
Feb

Othello

An OTHELLO that’s funny is a big surprise. A Noise Within’s production proves the comedy is fundamentally in the play – it just takes the right actors to uncover it. And while not everything else works quite so well in this modern context, the humor lands on all fronts.

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Feb

RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL

Several striking performances give fresh resonance to roles previously made famous by the likes of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie (Broadway’s original Coalhouse and Mother). Duncan’s thrilling anthem “Make Them Hear You,” which precedes his final moments on stage, rings with a dizzying depth of emotion and brings the production to an electrifying climax.

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Feb

Witness Uganda

WITNESS UGANDA may still be searching for the best way to tell its inspiring story but it is a worthy journey we do want to take. Clarity, and a stronger point of view, would make all the difference.

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Feb

SWEENEY TODD – THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

The South Coast Repertory production of Sweeney Todd led by director Kent Nicholson and musical director David O. shrewdly hits its marks by reveling in both the sensationalism of its Penny Dreadful-inspired story and the warped charm of its irresistibly gruesome humor. Nicholson allows his actors the freedom to play the broad music hall style of comedy to its fullest yet never loses sight of its darker undercurrents.

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Feb

HELLO DOLLY

Buckley and Stadlen, whose own credits include more than a dozen Broadway shows and Tony nominations for Candide and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, are a terrific pair. His chauvinism belongs to a different time and her unwavering ability to steamroll past any objection is a practice women are still having to exercise today. That their verbal volley works is a credit to director Jerry Zaks, who doesn’t try to sidestep Horace’s dated mindset but instead highlights it and then surrounds him with a theatrical reality big enough to make him grow in the process.

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Dec

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE

The countdown to Christmas begins and ends with an all-out love blitz this year in For the Record’s latest world premiere, LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE, a hybrid entertainment that blends scenes from Richard Curtis’ 2003 film Love Actually with live performances of the movie’s soundtrack. Co-produced by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, it is a celebration of love in all its messy, complicated, wonderful glory in a Las Vegas-style vision designed to impress.

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Dec

COME FROM AWAY

Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein capture the spirit of the pragmatic, cheerful townsfolk in both story and score, the former narrated by characters speaking directly to the audience and also recreating the various quick-cut scenes, the latter a jovial blend of folk, Celtic, and upbeat rock themes with straightforward lyrics. Thankfully, there isn’t a pretentious bone in this musical’s body.

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Nov

SkyPilot One Act Festival 2018

Tom Misuraca’s CLASS REUNION is a class reunion with a previously unexplored twist. Five friends reminisce about their younger days and current accomplishments when they meet at their class reunion. The drama and dynamics of who they were has not changed since they last saw each other, but for one important detail. Director Margaret Starbuck manages to keep Misuraca’s story surprise intact until the powerful reveal. It’s a game-changer in the way we think about school shootings and Misuraca hits his theatrical target tacitly but with great potency.

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Nov

The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man

Though the sum of its parts does not yet add up dramatically, The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man does fit somewhat more effectively in the landscape of a theatrical tone poem. There the freer style of its content allows more room for the playwright to explore Sheldon’s fascinating life journey and tragic end without limits.

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Oct

WICKED LIT: THE CHIMES & THE CORPSE

A modest pre-show display of costumes, props, and puppets provides opportunities for picture taking but the sense of community created over past years in the improvisatory preshow entertainment is missing. Still, the mausoleum is a gorgeous backdrop and well-worth a visit at night to experience Unbound Productions’ theatre within its hallowed halls, even if this year’s event comes with fewer bells and whistles. Rest assured, first timers and fans will have plenty to ooh and ah over.

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Oct

A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

The production vividly depicts the dichotomy found in Victorian morality, both its hypocritical displays of propriety and its agenda to suppress homoerotic behavior. Amin El Gamal, as the artist whose brush strokes betray his attraction to his muse, comes up against this very issue. Should he be found out, it would surely be his ruin. But to be unable to express his feelings is its own kind of hell. The role moves at a different pace than the rest of the characters and El Gamal handles the delicate territory by remaining quietly open and vulnerable. There is great sensitivity in his performance and it all starts in his eyes. It is his best work to date–all the more impressive because it isn’t a flashy role. Its success rests on the actor’s ability to handle subtlety.

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Sep

Fairy Tale Theatre 18 and Over: The Musical

All of the cast members take their turn in the spotlight and music theatre lovers will be happy to hear references to the Stephens – Sondheim and Schwartz – in a couple of numbers. It’s a lively 90 minutes with an appealing group of funsters who go for it every time they step onstage. More than anything, FAIRY TALE THEATRE is an escape. And that’s something we all need now and again, along with a reminder to check our assumptions at the door and get over ourselves.

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Sep

LIZZIE

LIZZIE, by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, and Tim Maner, draws its own conclusions about what might have fueled Lizzie Borden’s rage to the point of committing murder, and Color & Light Theatre Ensemble brings that rage to the forefront in a ballsy 90-minute musical character study that is part throat-ripping rock concert, part riveting theatre invention. This is rage rock at its finest and the four women who tell the story have the vocal ability and acting intensity to deliver a moving tale with unrelenting ferocity.

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Aug

WAITRESS

The musical builds on the film’s inherent eccentricities and delivers its message with warmth, honesty, and a heaping helping of heart. Much of its sensitivity can be attributed to pop songstress and storyteller Sarah Bareilles (“Love Song,” “Brave”) who wrote the score for the show. Her soulful sound and open-hearted lyrics are an alluring combination that helps create characters who sing what they think in individual musical styles that match their unique personalities.

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Aug

Mayakovsky and Stalin

There are plays that tell a story and there are plays that ponder ideas. Murray Mednick’s latest world premiere MAYAKOVSKY AND STALIN is the latter, an intellectual dissection of two Russian revolutionaries who were as integral to Eastern European history as beets are to borscht. But in Mednick’s drama it is their thoughts that are under the microscope, or what he imagines their thoughts to be, rather than their actions. For, as his Chorus (Max Faugno) reminds us, “We know next to nothing of the past.”

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Jul

Pump Boys and Dinettes

Collectively, they have a good command of the style and personality necessary to make the music come alive and sound best when they don’t oversing. Murray’s “Mamaw” and Kidder and Townsend’s “Sister” are two examples of letting the melody and lyrics do the work for you. In fact, the whole show works best when it doesn’t try too hard.

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Jul

Mutt House

The songs are written by Tony Cookson, creator and bookwriter of the show, who enlists the aid of John Daniel, Robb Curtis Brown and David O to help create the 16+ numbers that make up the score. Most of them exist as stand-alone songs and are orchestrated by David O, which means the vocals come packed with lovely harmonies and melodies that are pleasing to the ear. Cookson’s juvenile book, however, still needs depth and polish. At the moment, it is better suited for the After School Special crowd rather than for adults looking for the next smart, sophisticated musical. Sincerity will get you part of the way but a show needs more than that to give it legs.

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Jul

Arrival & Departure

In one beautifully staged scene, Sam convinces her to take off her shoes and wade in the water with him. The innocence of the moment, by two actors whose eyes can communicate worlds without uttering a sound, is astonishing in its impact, particularly when combined with Nicholas E. Santiago’s shimmering water video and Donny Jackson’s subtle shift in lighting framing them. The result is a breathtaking picture that springs into action like a 3-D movie shot vibrantly pulsating beyond the constraints of the stage.

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Jul

ON YOUR FEET

If ever there was a story that epitomizes the fulfillment of the American Dream through hard work, dedication, and sheer determination, it is On Your Feet!

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Jun

AN EVENING OF BETRAYAL

Pairing Pinter’s BETRAYAL with Seneca’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO is an adventurous undertaking. When it succeeds, as it does much of the time, it shows what can be possible when smart artists exercise creative license in their craft. More please.

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