LA STAGE: A Royal Dilemma and Lots of (Crazy) Comedy Tonite!

Quote of the week: “Trump said that Latinos are rapists and criminals.  So when I meet him, I plan to rob him and fuck him.” – George Lopez

I saw something last night at a performance of Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre that I’d never seen before in my 21 years in Los Angeles.   In the middle of the First Act, after the killer musical number, “A Musical,” the crowd went wild – wild – and clapped wildly for a full five minutes, then a man spontaneously stood up and gave the show a standing ovation!  A mid-Act Standing-O!  Unheard of!

Anyway, the point is that actors on LA stages are crushing it this holiday season!  Crushing it!  And it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

Caitlyn Conin, Kendra Chell and Dylan Jones. Photo by Justin Szebe

Before I get to it, though, I want to wish Theatre Movement Bazaar a great week in Beijing, China!  A full  house at the Bootleg were fortunate enough to catch their parting performance of TRACK 3, their brilliant interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.  Better, funnier, fuller, more precise than I recall from the time I saw it before.  Why not run it here again for a few weeks?  If the audience at the Bootleg was any indication, there is a lot more happiness to be had with this show about the search for happiness.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND:  KING CHARLES III by Mike Bartlett, Directed by Michael Michetti

Jim Abele as King Charles III. Photo: Jenny Graham.

I have to start with this caveat, that whatever the opposite of a Royal Family watcher is, that’s what I am.   I know who Kate is, but the name of her kids? Have no clue.  Prince Harry and the Markle sparkle?  No thanks, I’ll pass. So I’m not the ideal audience for this “future history play” about what could happen after Queen Elizabeth dies and Prince Charles finally becomes king.  Now I do know who the Prince of Wales is, and he’s always seemed to me like a comedic figure with his rubber face and big ears.  But not here.  As played with great earnestness and dignity by Jim Abele, Charles is a learned man, deeply versed in the ways of monarchy, who intends to make the most of the royal position that he has waited so long to assume.  I must admit that the First Act seemed overly long and self-serious to me, but most of that paid off in the Second Act, which succeeded in making King Charles III into a memorably tragic figure.  Given all the current hubbub about another Royal Wedding (yawn) and the fact that this 16-actor play needs to be done on a majestic level, you’d better rush down to the Pasadena Playhouse this weekend if you have any hopes of catching this play.  Michael Michetti directed with great assurance, and Abele and Laura Gardner (as wife Camilla Bowles) stand out.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – Directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie 

Nicole Kaplan, Michael Thomas Grant and Paul C. Vogt

This musical, based on the plays of the Roman satiric playwright Plautus, premiered in 1962.  It has the distinction of being the first musical to feature both music and lyrics by musical theater god Stephen Sondheim, along with a book co-written by Larry Gelbart, a comedy genius.  With such an illustrious heritage, I suppose it’s no surprise that this is a rollicking laugh machine, featuring three wonderful Sondheim songs that have been imitated in hundreds of lesser musicals: “Comedy Tonite,” “Lovely” and “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid.”  This production, directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie, co-artistic director of the Garry Marshall Theatre, is highly entertaining, using a nicely-spacious Roman Square set that is beautifully-lit by Francois-Pierre Couture.  The show was well ahead of its time in the tongue-in-cheek way it plays to the audience, and Paul C. Vogt leads an agile and talented cast in bringing this farcical concoction to vivid life.  (Joey McIntyre replaces Vogt until Dec. 10, when Vogt returns to the show.)

SPAMILTON: An American Parody, Created, Written and Directed by Gerald Alessandrini, at the Kirk Douglas

Zakiya Young, Wilkie Ferguson III, William Cooper Howell, John Deveraux and Dedrick A. Bonner

Like everything connected to the phenomenon of Hamilton, this parody is selling out the Kirk Douglas Theatre like no other production before it.  While Spamilton is funny and barbed, it does not re-invent the parody form the way that Hamilton has apparently done with the musical.  (That’s right, I haven’t been able to get a ticket either.)  As long as it sticks to spoofing Lin-Manuel Miranda, his show and its now-famous performers like Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr, this evening is on solid comedic ground.  When it strays into parodies of other current Broadway shows, the energy level definitely takes a dip.  But the performers are absolutely first-rate, especially John Deveraux and Zakiya Young (whether she’s spoofing Renee Elise Goldsberry, Audra McDonald or J-Lo).  The choreography by Gerry McIntyre is straight-up brilliant, with some of the wittiest and most unexpected comedy movements I’ve seen.  I have to commend CTG also for the post-show Broadway karaoke in the theatre lobby, which is a wonderful idea, and really carried over the fun from the show.  It was inspiring to hear all the talented young performers belting out not only the score of Hamilton, but of many other Broadway shows.  But like I said, good luck getting tickets.

SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick & Wayne Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed/Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

Blake Hammond and Rob McClure

Hopefully it was clear in my opening paragraph to this article that I think Something Rotten! is anything but rotten. The truth is, I didn’t see the Broadway production, and I’d heard so many mixed and unenthusiastic things about it that I set my expectations fairly low.  And, my word, I was simply blown away by the inventiveness and exhilirating lunacy of this musical!  Yes, it owes a large debt to Mel Brooks – not just The Producers, but also the musical number at the end of Blazing Saddles, where the characters from the movie all go spilling into each other on a Hollywood soundstage.  But this show has its own brand of historical and parodic zaniness, it does a masterful job of keeping a sense of real stakes while continuing to move the story and characters forward.  To my mind, every element of this production is brilliant, top-tier, and yet they all come together to form something that is greater than the sum of its wonderful parts.  This is so rarely achieved, and I am in awe of the many talents at work at such a high level here.  The cast is all strong, but Blake Hammond as the soothsayer and Scott Cote as a Puritan leader are simply off the charts in their musical comedy mojo.  This show is around for the entire month of December – you owe it to yourself not to miss this. It left me feeling positively giddy.

 

 

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