Registered Critic: Katie Buenneke

Katie started reviewing theater in 2008 and has been a theater critic in L.A. since 2012. She is a member of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle.
Nov

The Great Leap

The Great Leap’s final image packs a potent emotional punch and lingers in the memory long after the house lights come up. It’s a shame the rest of the production isn’t as strong as the script, or that moment.

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Oct

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

It’s a shame that the production now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse is so underwhelming. Despite strong, additive casting, director Mike Donahue’s choices undermine the show’s text and result in a production that feels slight.

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Sep

Skintight

Skintight is such a remarkably specific play, it likely won’t speak to many people. But for those who see themselves and their loved ones in the characters on stage, it’s an engaging and amazing night at the theater.

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Sep

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS

Leguizamo has an effervescent presence, and he’s a great entertainer and teacher. The show lags slightly (it now runs 10-15 minutes longer than it did on Broadway or on Netflix), and while his portrayals of his family are affecting, the show is most compelling when Leguizamo is leaping in and out of history, showing the audience an aspect of history that was previously unacknowledged. It’s an educational evening, which Leguizamo tries to make palatable for as many people as possible.

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Aug

Early Birds

There are some really nice moments of emotional truth in the relationship between [Jean] Gilpin’s Nora and [Jayne] Taini’s Ivy, but they’re obscured by a sense that the play is under-rehearsed and the script is half-baked.

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Jul

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

The show is quite funny at times, with moments so hilarious you’ll laugh until you cry, but it’s too long and loses the comedic momentum it builds for itself.

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Jun

Mamma Mia!

Everyone in the cast seems to be having fun on stage, and thank goodness, because watching ABBA performed with anything less than 100% enthusiasm would likely ruin the cheesy alchemy that makes ABBA work. But the women really outshine the men vocally, especially Yoo’s Sophie and Almedilla’s Donna.

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Mar

The Wolves

It's both remarkable and unnerving when a writer, director, and cast work in tandem so effectively that you leave the theater feeling like you know the characters personally. It's a rare magic, currently happening in Atwater Village, where Echo Theater Company is staging Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves.

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Mar

RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL

The best thing about Ragtime is Ahrens and Flaherty's score, which is rousing and delightful as ever when sung by the capable cast here. David Lee's direction isn't particularly innovative… this doesn't feel like a daring reimagining so much as a circumspect restaging of an often-overlooked piece from the American musical repertoire.

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Nov

WINTER SOLSTICE

Winter Solstice wants to be a play that reminds us of the hidden threat of Nazism in today's society. But after this weekend's events and last year's rally in Charlottesville, no one needs a reminder that anti-Semitism is alarmingly prevalent. Winter Solstice is trying to say something, but current events make the same point much more clearly.

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Oct

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

The first time I saw the show, I was so blown away by the performances, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's tuneful score, and Michael Greif's brisk direction that I barely noticed the show's huge, glaring flaw: Evan Hansen is deeply unlikeable, and so is nearly everyone around him. It's shockingly easy not to notice this while watching the show. The show's book, by Steven Levenson, is filled out nicely by moments of deep pathos and necessary lightness, creating a complex world for the actors to play in, which they do adeptly under Greif's direction.

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Aug

AIN'T TOO PROUD

Ain't Too Proud is so stylish and the musical numbers are so good that you can't help but want to get swept away by the story and its outstanding performers. But the production's uneven pacing and tone keep it from being as good as the music it's built around.

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Aug

WAITRESS

It's hard to put into words what makes Waitress such a beautiful experience. To borrow from Jane Austen: if I loved the show less, I might be able to talk about it more. It's just… good. Nelson's book is funny and poignant and well-balanced; whenever the emotional weight gets to be too much, she takes a moment to lighten the tone.

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Jun

Cabaret

There's much to like, and little to dislike. The pacing drags a bit towards the end of the first act, and the cast is done a disservice by not being able to see music director Anthony Zediker, who is tucked away with the orchestra above the action. This leads to a few moments that are just slightly off, musically. But those are small quibbles against the tremendous overall effect of the show. Celebration's Cabaret hits all the right notes and brings enough novelty to the table to make an old story feel fresh.

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Apr

BEDLAM: HAMLET + SAINT JOAN

Under Eric Tucker's direction, the show is ably staged, with plenty of verve and a sense of contemporaneity that's surprising for a story written nearly a century ago and set over half a millennium ago. But it isn't best served in a large theater with a proscenium arch; too much of the dialogue gets lost, bouncing off the high ceilings and numerous hard surfaces in the theater, and failing to make it into the audience's ears. This makes it difficult to follow the story, especially since the actors are often speaking a mile a minute.

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Feb

WATER BY THE SPOONFUL

There's an emotional resonance missing to the production: the show just doesn't pack the poignant punch that the script deserves.

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Feb

ELLIOT, A SOLDIER'S FUGUE

There are a few other stunning moments — but as good as they are, they can't surmount the difficulties of the show's presentation and structure. Hudes is telling an important, underrepresented story from America's not-so-distant past, but the lessons are too easily lost in the show's inconsistencies.

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Feb

Pirates of Penzance

The biggest trouble spot is clarity. Due to a combination of an inferior sound design and the cast's poor enunciation, it's hard to follow the wordy patter songs that speed by. When paired with the pared-down plot and the somewhat chaotic staging, it's easy to lose track of the narrative. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had with the Hypocrites' pirates. This version, which premiered seven years ago in Chicago (the company's home) feels honed, comfortable and fun.

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Jan

ALADDIN

Disney, that behemoth that only grows larger as each day passes, earned itself some goodwill in the theatrical landscape with its last outing, Peter and the Starcatcher — a charming, innovative take on the Peter Pan legend. Disney's latest stage offering, Aladdin, has some charm and innovation, but feels as bland and shiny as the cast's mile-wide smiles.

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Nov

King Charles III

Bartlett accurately predicted the futility of Charles' gesture (suffice it to say things don't quite work out for him as he would have liked them to). The problem is that the world has changed rapidly since the play first opened in 2014 in the U.K. and in 2015 on Broadway. While it's a nice thought exercise to explore the hypothetical power of checks and balances when used as intended, it's hard for the play to seem like more than idle conjecture in 2017.

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