Writer: Travis Michael Holder - Ticket Holders LA

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
Dec

DISNEY'S FROZEN

Okay, so I loved it. Maybe I have a higher tolerance for Gooey Goodie this close to the holidays, but I found this stage adaptation of the megahit animated movie more than visually dazzling—which indeed it is. It features a charming book by Jennifer Lee that compliments the disneyfication of the Pantages for the production and makes it far more palpable than Miss Poppins’ spoonful of sugar or that annoying genie singing that I ain’t never had a friend like him. And the dazzling part: Good Goddess Terpsichore, is there anything the folks at Disney Theatrical Group can’t conjure live right before our eyes?

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Dec

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE

Marketing for the updated and much anticipated remounting of Sir Matthew Bourne’s trailblazing reinvention of one of the world's most beloved ballets at the Ahmanson, where the production made its American debut on this same stage in 1997 before going on to fame and adulation all around the globe, states this is the return of a work that “changed the dance landscape forever.” It’s a claim that, in this rare case, is undeniably not a puffed-up exaggeration at all.

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Nov

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

Beginning with strident trumpet riffs from Bill Sims Jr’s evocative jazz score, this first of August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" itself unfolds as if it were a musical composition. Wilson’s lyrical, singsong-y, grammar-deprived dialogue flows as if it could be music, and his characters are rich and oddly majestic through it all, each filled with a unique grasp on how to maneuver the battles and disappointments inherent in our existence on this often miserable planet—especially if you don’t have the privilege of Anglo-Saxon genes to help you get through the briars.

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Nov

punkplay

Along with all the usual rule-defying and inventive creative genius that has defined Circle X over the past 23 years, co-directors Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring do a masterful job interpreting Gregory S. Moss’ raucous yet insightful play, delivering a visually stunning production that meets and clobbers every inherent challenge of an extremely difficult script. Zachary Stone Gearing and Dempsey Byck are spectacular as two lost kids painfully innocent and annoyingly self-centered at the same time. As their insular world evolves and then devolves again, their performances are revelatory and heartbreaking as the teens work harder and harder to stay relevant even as they begin to see they aren’t quite the boldly unstoppable pioneers they had hoped they were becoming.

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Nov

Key Largo

The production, under the leadership of Tony-winning director Doug Hughes, is simply smashing. It is continuously tense, relentlessly engaging, and theatrically dazzling throughout. John Lee Beatty’s majestic two-story set is incredibly detailed and especially amazing when it comes crashing down in that dreaded hurricane at the center of the movie, here recreated with astoundingly real special effects. Still, what makes this production succeed so splendidly is the cast. Andy Garcia is riveting, obnoxiously grandiose and wonderfully slimy in an endearing way and Joely Fisher is mesmerizing, even surpassing Claire Trevor in the role which won her an Oscar. As exceptional and promising as this memorable theatrical reinvention is, it would surprise me if its evolution ended when it closes here. Credit for part of what this team has accomplished is that it was created under commission from the Geffen initiated by and with the blessing of Matt Shakman, who in his two-year reign as the complex’s artistic director has made the Geffen Playhouse a place to watch once again.

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Nov

Waiting for Waiting for Godot

Bruno Oliver and Joe Hernandez-Kolski play two hapless and frustrated understudies hoping for sudden injury or illness so they can finally go on as Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett’s game-changing classic. Understudying is by nature a bizarre trial for any actor, sitting in a musty, cluttered little space constantly staring at yourself in the makeup mirrors and wondering if you still remember the lines and blocking. With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, playwright Dave Hanson gets it, his hilarious little gem of a play perfectly capturing any artist’s age-old dilemma—and so do director Jacob Sidney and his exemplary pair of veteran physical comedians who collectively breathe life into a piece that could be a disaster in less talented hands. In a current end-of-the-year season bursting with exceptional productions in our often parched LA theatre season as the holidays approach, I hope this less dazzling or well-appointed but highly recommended little production doesn’t, like poor unappreciated Ester and Val, get lost in the shuffle—especially for anyone who has ever been dumb enough to decide to be an actor or has been around anyone who is.

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Nov

The Thanksgiving Play

In a suburban middle school classroom turned into a rehearsal space for the drama department “anywhere but in the Los Angeles area,” a terminally overdramatic earthmother tries to produce relevant outspoken social commentary to be performed by her teenaged charges. Germinating from the seriously wicked mind of award-winning playwright Larissa Fasthorse, this wildly hilarious and bitingly topical play should seriously become an annual holiday classic.

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Nov

SUMMER - THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

Despite what doesn’t work for Des McAnuff and his team this time out, ultimately this dazzlingly-appointed production helped me forget about the show’s sloppy oversentimentality and glaring factual omissions and had me undulating to the contagious beat of the former Miss Gaines’ groundbreaking music along with the rest of the Pantages’ opening night crowd. I don’t think there was a single person, from pintsized kids to us geriatrically-challenged former partypeople in the house, who did not eventually succumb to the need to stand up and rock out by the time the 11th-hour recreation of Donna Summers’ megahit “Hot Stuff” filled the stately Pantages with its joyous spirit guaranteed to make anyone still breathing forget their troubles and come on an’ get happy.

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Nov

Eight Nights

As we desperately try to wake from our own current greed and racially-fueled nightmare at the hands of another historically dangerous madman and the cronies who let him destroy everything for which we stand, only by listening and taking heed in what such stories as Jennifer Maisel’s epic play have to share can we be reminded that we can be equally as brave and strong and unstoppable as her richly evocative characters. Barreling on to the year’s end and its inevitable universal holiday plea to be kind to one another and work together to find world peace on both the global and the most intimate of levels, this should be a required event for every schoolkid and civic group in Los Angeles this “festive” season. It’ll destroy you, but it’s pure theatrical magic from start to finish.

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Nov

Elijah

Considering the collaboration of the Victory Theatre’s cofounder and co-artistic director Maria Gobetti at the helm as director, as well as the company’s usual excellent design choices around once again to expertly establish the proper mood and ambience, and a perfectly cast ensemble of gifted actors, it’s no surprise this is a return engagement for playwright Judith Leora, whose memorable "Showpony" was a huge hit on the same stage last season. Leora has an uncanny ability to find wicked humor smackdab in the middle of highly dramatic situations and her latest play is no exception.

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Nov

Circa: Humans

The Australian-based Circa Contemporary Circus' artistic director Yaron Lifschitz has championed Cirque du Soleil's glorious animal-free concept and taken it one step further, boldly eliminating the dazzling jaw-dropping design of the Cirque productions while pushing the extreme physicality—and sensuality—of his company members as they perform extraordinarily hyperphysical stunts on a basically bare stage. To say they push the boundaries of what members of our fragile and most breakable species can accomplish is an understatement as this award-winning 10-member ensemble blurs the lines between movement, dance, and theatricality, immediately raising the stakes of what the term “circus” can encompass.

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Nov

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Judging from the 30-city touring schedule for this ambitious and well-appointed revival playing one week in each place, perhaps the most amazing thing about it is how the heck such an enormous production can be broken down, transported, reloaded, and be ready for audiences in each city on every seventh day. Obviously, this is one time that on Sundays, the work of the Lord does not remain at rest. You know the old adage about putting lipstick on a pig? Let’s just say anyone who can make JCS look and sound anything other than a week-old carnitas plate from El Coyote, written by a pandering melody thief who created it as nothing more than a cashcow of epic proportions, gets major points from me.

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Nov

THE NEW ONE

Booking Mike Birbiglia's solo comedy performance into the Ahmanson may indeed be a gamble for the CTG, but then, isn’t creating and championing all art a gamble? Birbiglia’s comedy is all his own and as such, this risky choice emerges as highly unique and refreshingly entertaining, making us all feel a tad embarrassed to be laughing at his poor-me modernday Little Tramp persona—that is until one considers there’s a strong possibility we might just be watching the beginning stages of a sizable career in the fickle world of comedy that could a perfect fit for CTG-sized ambitions.

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Oct

Between Riverside and Crazy

Unlike his hero Tennessee Williams, Stephen Adly Guirgis is a master at writing hilariously outrageous and delightfully off-kilter dialogue to lessen the pain of his characters’ challenging, life-crushing existence. Yes, there’s surely a lot of Williams-spawned inspiration in the LA debut of this 2015 Pulitzer winner, but there’s also a little O’Neill, a little Odets, a little McDonough, and even a dollop of early Mamet—you know, reminiscent of that time when he could still write a good play. In Guirgis, we have found one of the most important and most insightful, sharp-witted, and observant new voices to energize modern theatrical literature. The point of awarding the Pulitzer Prize for Drama is to recognize work that examines the nature of our existence, particularly of our existence in our complex and badly wounded country. This time out, the Pulitzer committee could not have been more on the money in their choice of a play to honor and make part of our history.

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Oct

4.48 PSYCHOSIS by Sarah Kane

Sarah Kane’s poetic yet disturbing cry for help is not a simple play to produce—and not only because of the subject matter graphically chronicling her struggle with her own debilitating depression and drug dependency, but also because it is a journal of a life spent in painful self-induced isolation. Visionary director Matthew McCray has chosen to set the play in a minimal, dreamlike space where an amazing group of actors speak Kane’s repetitious screams and moans of jarring dialogue, brilliantly led by a phenomenally brave tour de force turn by Dylan Jones in an effort to moor their synchronized and highly choreographed movements.

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Oct

The Abuelas

Stephanie Alison Walker’s script is an absorbing, beautifully constructed piece of work, sure to produce a few tears as it celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in an existence which, no matter how idyllic, might one day be subject to drastic and unexpected adjustments. What The Abuelas—and the organization that inspired it—makes us realize is that, as a species, we can survive just about anything with which we’re faced, especially with the love and understanding of those around us since we are all in this mess together.

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Oct

ANASTASIA

The trouble here is this is such a throwback to the days when such traditional escapist fare, featuring production numbers about the rain in Spain and real good clambakes, ruled the world of musical theatre. Aside from generally somnambulant performances, the most glaring problem with this big “new” musical is the source material. Although the once-groundbreaking classic warhorses created by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Jerry Herman still work as nostalgia, today we need more. Even if amphetamines were pumped into the ventilation system of the Pantages’ basement dressing rooms before each show to give the cast a much-needed boost of energy, despite its obvious pedigree or how beautifully mounted and produced this show may be, it’s still a tad stodgy and ultimately a letdown.

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Sep

A PLAY IS A POEM

Although the evening is impressively acted, smartly designed, and lovingly directed by frequent Ethan Coen collaborator Neil Pepe, there isn’t much point to any of Cohn's five unrelated short pieces, leaving me at the end with the feeling it was all playtime—albeit well-meaning and beautifully presented playtime—between film projects. I’m reminded of that old adage about Chinese food. No matter how tasty the dish, no matter how unique or well prepared it may be, an hour later you’re hungry again. In the case of this rare CTG misstep, after the performance I was ready to partake in some good solid food by the time I got to Level 6 of the parking lot.

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Sep

ON BECKETT

Bill Irwin's examination of the work of Samuel Beckett transforms repeatedly from his own intellectual but humanly vulnerable observations about the master’s writing to diving headfirst into passages from his work. He begins the journey with a bravely over-pronounced reading from "Texts for Nothing #1," questioning whether it was an exploration into the confusion and fragility inherent in the human condition or was instead simply chronicling the many voices and the conflicted thoughts that pour out of the mysterious chambers of our brains on a continuous basis.

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Sep

Deadly

Under the slick direction of Jamie Robledo, who also helmed Vanessa Claire Stewart’s multi-award-winning  megahit "Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton" at Sacred Fools several years ago, this impressive new musical retelling of demented 19th century serial killer H.H. Holmes also reunites the duo with composer-musical director Ryan Thomas Johnson.

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