Audience: Shoko

Oct

The Producers

Wow! What can I say about “The Producers” when I thought The Gem Theatre couldn't top the last musical I saw there? “Hello, Dolly!” … And that was only a couple of months ago. When I first saw “The Producers” at The Gem Theatre, I didn't know what to expect since I never saw Mel Brook's The Producers, the movie nor the musical before. I didn't know what the topic was about. But when I saw it, I was amazed at the high quality and professional, talented group of cast and crew that is truly a hidden gem at The Gem Theatre. This is more than a community theatre; it is truly a professional team of actors, musicians, and production staff. The actors were simply superb! Damien Lorton captured the essence of Max Bialystock. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing Max. His vocal power is awesome – so beautiful and energetic. Alex Bodrero as the meek, spineless accountant, Leo Bloom was nothing more than brilliant. The chemistry between Max and Leo is undeniably perfect; Leo is the yin to Max's yang. Both Lorton and Bodrero have great vocal skills. Claire Perry as the blonde bombshell, perky Ulla can belt out a tune or so. I have seen this show twice. Once with Robert Edward as Roger DeBris & Peter Crisafulli as Carmen Ghia; and once with Tim Klega as Roger DeBris and Tad Fujioka as Carmen Ghia. Each pair were excellent. However, I think the tall handsome Robert Edward as the gay director Roger DeBris made for a hilarious character. Both Fujioka and Crisafulli did a great job as the common law personal assistant, Carmen. One of the most hilarious characters of this show was Hitler-loving Franz Liebkind. I loved the line where he is defending Hitler by saying the BBC portrayed Hitler all wrong with lies and fake news. That was so funny. The other line that had me laughing was he said that it was a little known fact that Hitler was a painter and he could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon. What makes this musical so great is that not only are their principle leads very talented but they are backed by extremely talented supporting cast. This time, of Patsy Cline fame, Nicole Cassesso takes back stage as the director and producer of The Producers. The choreography by the team of Shauna Bradford, Heather Smith & Alan Collins was spot on. The talented Wally Huntoon's set design is practical and beautiful. The lighting is amazing thanks to Lighting Designer Jon Hyrkas. And Wig and Makeup Designer Emmy Fry is quite talented. And last but definitely not least, Ramzi Jneid is an awesome costume designer. Almost forgot to mention that the live 14 member orchestra sits on the second level of the stage, while most of the action takes place below on the first level. They are talented and have an acting role this time, playing Franz's bird friends. That is so funny. There are so many memorable songs and moments in this musical that I can't even begin to express my opinion on them. With many sold out houses, including this final closing day weekend, I hope you get to see The Producers at The Gem Theatre. A definite must-see musical for adults. Not suitable for children. Contains sexual contents, and adult theme and language. Recommended.

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Apr

Always...Patsy Cline

I must have seen this particular production at The Gem at least 6 times and I just love it! This is the third and final time Patsy Cline will be showing here. It's entertaining and a fun show. I never heard of Patsy Cline before seeing this show, but Wow! Nicole can really sing and Dee is so hilarious. I've seen it before but she always makes me laugh with the funny things she says as Louise Seger. They have a great chemistry on stage and they feed off each other. I especially love the way Louise interacts with the audience during the show and dances with a lucky fella she picks. The audience, me too, get right down into the hoe-down and clap our hands and stomp our feet to the wonderful tunes, some audience members sing a long. I would too if I knew the lyrics. This musical has fun tunes, a great real story, happy, sad and tender moments. I could feel the loneliness that Patsy feels when she misses her baby while she travels on the road singing, the excitement Louise feels when she meets her all time favorite singer Patsy Cline. And a few tears drop as Louise finds out that her beloved friend, Patsy is reported that she was killed in a plane crash. I just love this show and I could see it again and again. In fact, I have for the last three years. And I know many of the other audience members have seen it over and over again. That's why they are sold out many nights! If you have a chance to see this show, you should. You won't regret it!

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Mar

Bullets Over Broadway

You'll laugh! You'll gasp! You'll root! But mostly, you'll love this hilarious Woody Allen musical, Bullets Over Broadway at The Gem Theatre. I certainly did. I was so excited to attend a California Premiere (the first ever performance anywhere in California) of Bullets Over Broadway. I have never been to a premiere show and it was on opening night, too. Bullets Over Broadway is a “jukebox musical”, according to Artistic Director Damien Lorton, who welcomes the audience and explains what this term means. (It's a musical that uses the previously released popular songs for the show.) The musical is set around the late 1920s to 1930s when prohibition banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. When the show starts, you're automatically hit with the lively opening number, “Tiger Rag (Hold That Tiger).” It's fun, sassy, a little naughty, and sets the mood for the rest of the musical. One of the funniest characters in this number and throughout the show is played by Nicole Cassesso (LA Times' Woman of the Year). As Olive Neal, the mobster backer's talentless girlfriend, Cassesso dances and sings her way into your heart, as well as shares her amazing comedic timing and delivery. Alex Bodrero as David Shayne, the struggling young playwright, is brilliant as he struggles between being true to his craft and giving into his Broadway backer's demands. Robert Edward (Cheech) with his single lifted eyebrow and husky voice turns in a brilliant performance as the mobster's muscle as he uses his enormous size to tower over and intimidate people. “Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness” and “Up a Lazy River” are my favorite numbers by Cheech. I was going back and forth about how I felt about Cheech. I liked him as he stood up for what he believed in. But there were times where I didn't like him because of other actions he decided to take. In any event, Edward's performance is amazing because he takes you on an emotional journey and speaks the way real people speak. I must say that I was impressed by Glenn Koppel (Nick Valenti). He's one of the older actors on this musical, but you wouldn't guess it by the way his high energy just exudes from his being. He makes a convincing mobster and he is an amazing singer. I especially enjoyed the finale song he leads, “Yes! We Have No Bananas!” Kat Gutierrez (Ellen) and Beth Hansen (Helen Sinclair) are amazing vocalists. One of the funniest running line throughout the show by Hansen and Edward is, “Don't speak! Don't speak! Be still!” Hansen's portrayal of the aging diva, Helen Sinclair, is perfect and so funny, so stereotypical of, at least my idea of, a diva with a big ego. Another hilarious number is “The Hot Dog Song.“ This musical is definitely an adult show – not appropriate for children. And this number is one of those naughty songs. Cassesso brings fun and playfullness into the role of Olive and this is one of those songs that she just “brings it on.” If anything else, I found myself just laughing so hard at her antics as Olive. Just delightful!!! During Talk Back session after the Student Night performance on March 1, Brianna Garmon (Eden Brent) talked about how she enjoyed the chance to perform with Roxy Lorton (Mr. Woofles). They performed together in “There's a New Day Coming'.“ It was as if Garmon and Roxy were dancing in a waltz, elegantly done. Who'd have guessed this was Roxy's Broadway debut? The professionalism and talent in this musical oozes out with the highest caliber from the cast to the production staff to the refreshment stand volunteers. And speaking about refreshment stand… In the cast, Peter Crisafulli (Warner Purcell) appears as a slim young actor whose obsession with food transforms him into a round, overweight actor who can barely get out of a chair. It was so funny listening to Warner shout at his co-actor to get him off stage in the midst of panic. This show has several elegant, period costumes and several changes for many of the performers which shows you just how much work went into costume design by the winner of Broadway World Regional (Los Angeles) Award in Costume Design, Larry Watts. Broadway World is a well-respected, well-known organization in the entertainment industry. Larry with his assistant Ramzi Jneid creates a plethora of beautiful costumes which must have taken an enormous amount of time to create. During Talk Back, we also found out that much thought is given to making costumes that are not only appropriate for the show but that they also try to make the costumes comfortable and highlight the essence of the actor wearing them. The lighting, choreography, and music sets the show and rounds out the final touches to the musical experience the audience enjoys. Here, the lighting by Sarah Resch sets the tone of each number, as well as how effective they are. Choreographer Heather Smith and her assistant Katie Marshall create great dance routines that captures the 1920s – 1930s period, perfectly. A little sprinkle of Charleston by Ellen reminds us about the period (roaring 20s). And what's a musical without the music and great sound system? The 15-piece orchestra, front and center on stage, was excellent because what was the 1920s and 1930s, if not for the live orchestras on stage? Conductor Kevin Homma, who started as a young teen musician years ago at the Gem Theatre, returns on stage to conduct this amazing orchestra for Bullets. And look how far he's come. Homma currently teaches and conducts junior high school students in music. And all this doesn't mean a thing without a great sound system and sound coordination. I have no complaints here. The sound was amazing thanks to Sound Designer Stephanie Zellhoefer. This musical is so fun. You will be transported back to the 1920s – 1930s, into a time maybe you've never experienced before, but one thing's for sure, you'll enjoy your time at Bullets Over Broadway. Don't miss this California Premiere which runs until March 18! I've seen it twice already and each time I go, I see things I didn't see before. There's so much going on on the stage. It's worth seeing again and again and again.

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Dec

The Holiday Gem

Artistic Director Damien Lorton has done it again. “The Holiday Gem” is an amazing hit musical that is sure to have to laughing, singing, and just plain have a grand old time. This is the third year I have seen this show and although it has changed throughout the years, it seems to get better every year. Sure sometimes the story changes, the characters may change, but the underlying story theme is the same… someone is seeking the meaning of Christmas or has lost the spirit of Christmas and by the end of the show the characters discover it… the magic of Christmas. What makes it special is that we can all relate to it. No matter how religious we are or how much we really know what Christmas is all about, we all fall into the trap of the hustle and bustle of Christmas… gifts, parties, baking cookies, school plays, Christmas decorating, etc. And somehow we forget what it's all about. And that's why this show is so near and dear to not only my heart, but for all of the audience attending. That's why I think this is a “must-see” show. It reminds us to take a step back, and sing the classic Christmas songs, sit back and just relax during this crazy time of running around to get things done. Treat yourself to great entertainment without breaking the bank (it's really affordable and free parking), without having to drive all the way to Los Angeles to see a show. Okay, now for the show. The entire cast is amazing. Johnny Guillies as Ernie and Megan Michell as Emma (the elves) are awesome. Guillies is the loveable, whacky elf that plays this role perfectly. Michell, on crutches, is the sensible one and I just love it when she talks to the audience about what she's really thinking. But sometimes I couldn't hear her comments. Maybe they should put a mic on her. It's so hilarious. I don't want to miss a word. The story begins as the GEM cast is rehearsing the holiday show and it's outrageous. Sophia Scarsi on her smartphone during the show and using SNAPCHAT app (so typical of today's youth), cast members complaining about the outfits, dance rehearsals, and Nicole Cassesso's reaction to Ernie and Emma who she thinks are audience members that came dressed up for audience participation. It's all too funny. I love the classic Christmas carols that they perform and the wild antics of Cassesso during some of the songs, especially in the “Dear Mr. Santa” number as she has the audience, including me, laughing so hard. Tad Fujioka just goes along with it all. So cute. Another standout performance by Mrs. Claus (Adriana Sanchez) with her Joanne Worley style singing the high notes show her incredible vocal range is absolutely amazing. And for younger audiences who do not know Worley, Sanchez does amazing job with that style and has introduced this style so beautifully. I really enjoyed it. The second act with the Charles Dickens costumes were amazing. They were beautiful to look at and they look so elegant when the actors were dancing as it flowed so well, with beautiful lines. The trio, Peter Crisafulli, Brandon Taylor Jones, and Nicole Cassesso was a beautiful mingling of songs. I loved the sing-a-long. I have always wanted to go Christmas caroling and once while in college, our group was at a friend's house for a Christmas party and we decided to go Christmas caroling around the neighborhood. It was cold and dark but I just loved caroling. This segment reminded me of those wonderful memories. The finale with the Santa machine and song was a great way to end the delightful evening. What's not to like about Santa and his tap dancing elves? Thank you, One More Productions for an amazing show. This is a classic, “must see” show. Hurry and get your tickets! Only a few more days left.

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Oct

Cabaret

You are escorted to your table by a host or hostess at The Kit Kat Klub. The audience sits at tables around the stage. The Emcee welcomes us as the story unfolds in front of your eyes and you are transported back to 1930s Germany at the seedy night club. Artistic Director Damien Lorton has brilliantly staged this production where the audience is part of the show. It's very intimate and actors enter and exit during the performance from everywhere and anywhere. I imagine because of this, it must have been quite challenging for the lighting director. The actors are so close, you could touch them. Actors moved props on and off stage ias needed onto the round stage. There was no front or back of the stage. Nicole Cassesso as Sally Bowles is simply marvelous, and belts out the songs that are classic in this show. Alex Bodrero as the American writer and love interest of Sally Bowles is also excellent in his portrayal of the innocent or somewhat innocent lad. But mostly the Emcee (Danny Diaz) is captivating in his portrayal of the ringmaster at The Kit Kat Klub. The emsemble is strong and talented as well. This is definitely a professional production in an intimate theatre. The lighting, costume, sound, choreography, music, as well as the performance by every member of the cast is simply amazing. I was in awe. And at times when the Nazi flag was displayed on the stage, the audience including myself didn't know how to react. Caught up in the emotions of the story line, I was faced with the dIlemma of indecision: shoould I not clap because I didn't like what the Nazis stood for or should I clap to acknowledge the great performance I just witnessed. I decided not to clap. I think the entire audience was in the moment as they also opted to withhold clapping. This was a moving presentation which I believe I and the rest of the audience totally got And Damien Lorton was right, this is the time for this presentation to be shown. In this time of injustices and prejudices, persecution in schools and society and everything that is going on, this story needed to be told. I commend Director Lorton for bringing to the attention of us all , as to what history should have taught us and what did happen among human kind maybe not so long ago. What a statement. And the entire cast also believed in this because their performance was brilliant. This production is a MUST SEE. It is simply brilliant!!!

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