Spotlight Series: Meet Writer / Producer / Actor Mykell Barlow From the L.A. Premiere of “Dessa Rose”


This Spotlight shines on writer/producer and actor Mykell Barlow, who I first saw onstage in the Los Angeles premiere of "Dessa Rose" at the Chromolume Theatre. His next big production is his wedding planned for 6/13/2020, which he hopes can go on as planned.


Shari Barrett (SB):  What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Mykell Barlow (Mykell): I have been obsessed with the theatre since I was 9 when my aunt wrote a Christmas play and we performed it in my Grandmother's living room. When I got to high school, I threw myself into performing with drama club, marching band, choir... you name it and I was doing it. Even my English presentations always had lots of dramatic flair.

In my first semi-professional theatre production, I played a tap dancing thug in 42nd Street.” I eventually scored one of my dream leading roles as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This led to a series of events that brought me to Los Angeles where I threw myself into the Hollywood Fringe Festival scene. I did a few shows including We are One by Christian Jaeger.

"Dessa Rose" cast (Front l-r Abby Carlson, Mykell Barlow, and Shaunte Massard. Back l-r Kymberly Stewart, Bradley Turner, Ambrey Benson, and Ken Purnell)

Since I've been in LA, I have been lucky enough to play a lead role in the Los Angeles premiere of Dessa Rose at the Chromolume Theatre and understudy in Dream Girls at the Cupcake Theatre.

(SB): I am sharing my Broadway World review of Dessa Rose which is the first time I saw Mykell onstage! The outstanding ensemble cast made this musical a favorite of mine in 2018.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

Mykell Barlow as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

(Mykell): I was helping a friend get their first Hollywood Fringe Festival show up and running.  I have also been involved in helping another friend develop a stage musical to pitch to investors. Thankfully we were able to do a few showcases for them before the shutdown came. The biggest production I have been gearing up for is my wedding to my fiancé Justin Patten which is scheduled for June 13th in Downtown LA.

(SB): Congratulations! No doubt it will also be a very dramatic event for the two of you and those lucky enough to attend, which I hope can happen as planned. With the Hollywood Fringe Festival postponed until October 2020, are plans in place to present that production at that time?

Mykell Barlow and fiancé Justin Patten

(Mykell): Since the Fringe Festival has been postponed until October, I am not sure if the show will continue with everyone involved possibly having other commitments in place at that time. We just have to wait and see. In regards to my wedding, Justin and I are hopeful that we won't need to push our wedding date, especially since there are a lot of moving parts with a production like this. So of course, we are keeping an eye on things and will make adjustments accordingly. My hope is that it will go ahead as planned and it will be a great celebration for everyone itching to get out and party after an extended time stuck inside.

(SB):  Have any other future productions on your schedule been affected by the shutdown?

(Mykell): I recently joined Actors Equity and have been excited to audition for some Equity shows. Now they have all be postponed, so I guess I will continue honing my audition skills during this time while I'm stuck at home.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Mykell Barlow as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

(Mykell): I have been digging through my video archives and posting clips from past shows on my twitter and instagram which has been a fun trip down memory lane and a great way to reconnect with old cast mates. I have also been writing online articles for AfterBuzz TV to help maintain a constant flow of entertainment content.

To all my fellow members of the L.A. Theatre Community: I know this time of uncertainty can be unnerving but don't stop creating. Never stop creating. Write, sing, dance, put on a costume and perform a one man show - and record it for the world to see. During moments like this, we need the light that only the Arts can provide. And for all our sakes, please stay inside!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Stage Raw Announces its 2018 Theater Awards Nominees

The 2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards celebrate excellence on the Los Angeles stages in venues of 99-seats or under. This fourth annual edition includes productions that opened between January 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.
Stage Raw is a community funded professional journalism website that was created in response to the decline of arts coverage in local mainstream and alternative media.
A catered nominees reception and Stage Raw fundraiser party is being held at the The Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz, on Tuesday, July 24, 7 – 10 p.m. Tickets are $100 (which includes complimentary admission to the Theater Awards ceremony), in support of Stage Raw. All nominees are invited as complimentary guests of Stage Raw.
(Nominees include everybody whose name appears on the list below; all actors and understudies named in the program for all ensemble categories; all actors, understudies, directors, playwrights, stage managers, choreographers, designers and producers in the categories of Best Revival, Best Musical and Best Production; and in the category of Production Design: all producers, directors, and designers.)
The evening will include live music and performances by Burglars of Hamm; Cheray O'Neal; Padua Playwrights; and Kristina Wong.
At the nominees reception, there will also be a silent auction of drawings created for this event by Alan Mandell, Ken Sawyer, French Stewart, Vanessa Stewart, Richard Fancy, Jon Mullich, Jon Lawrence Rivera, Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy, Gary Grossman, Kristina Wong, Michael A. Shepperd, Ken Werther, David Elzer, Jaime Robledo, Leo Marks, Nike Doukas, Tom Jacobson, Kirsten Vansgness, David Melville, Jessica Hanna, Steven Stanley, Philip Littell, Mark Seldis, Katharine Noone, Tony Abatemarco, Ann Closs-Farley, Herbert Siguenza, Jules Aaron, and more.
The Awards ceremony is slated for Monday night, August 20, at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, hosted by Coeurage Theatre Company, directed by Jer Adrianne Lelliott, and celebrating the theme of “community.” Tickets are $30.
Tickets for both events can be found at Eventbrite.com/e/stage-raw-theater-awards-tickets-46961390784#tickets, or visit StageRaw.com and press the “2018 Theater Awards” tab.
The 2018 Nominees are:
FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY
Guillermo Cienfuegos, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Bjørn Johnson, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Bjørn Johnson, Red Speedo, Road Theatre Company
Bjørn Johnson, Stupid Kid, Road Theatre Company
Edgar Landa, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Doug Oliphant, Br'er Cotton, Zephyr Theatre
Jones (Welsh) Talmadge, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN
Omolara Abode, Lyrics From Lockdown, The Actors' Gang
Nicholas Acciani, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
J. Walt Adamcyk and Hannah Beavers, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Benjamin Durham, This Land, Company of Angels
Corwin Evans, The Art Couple, Sacred Fools Theater Company
Hana Sooyeon Kim, Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Hana Sooyeon Kim, With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Yee Eun Nam, Br'er Cotton, Zephyr Theatre
Tom Ontiveros, The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
SOUND DESIGN
Joseph V. Calarco, The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
Jeff Gardner, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
Jeff Gardner, The Hothouse, Antaeus Theatre Company
Jeff Gardner, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Jeff Gardner, Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Christopher Moscatiello, The Devil's Wife, The Skylight Theatre
Christopher Moscatiello, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
John Nobori, With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Robert A. Ramirez, Master Class, The Garry Marshall Theatre
John Zalewski, I Carry Your Heart, Bootleg Theatre
LIGHTING DESIGN
Brandon Baruch, The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
John E.D. Bass, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Elizabeth Harper, The House In Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Elizabeth Harper and Rose Malone, With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Matt Richter, I'm Not A Comedian... I'm Lenny Bruce, Theatre 68
Pablo Santiago-Brandwein, Time Alone, Belle Reve Theatre Company
Andrew Schmedake, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Andrew Schmedake, Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Andrew Schmedake, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
COSTUME DESIGN
Wendell C. Carmichael, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Allison Dillard, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Celebration Theatre
Christine Cover Ferro, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Ashphord Jackoway, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Terri A. Lewis, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
Linda Muggeridge, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Michael Mullen, Fixed, Echo Theater Company
Lena Sands, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
ORIGINAL MUSIC
Jeff Gardner, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Kangaroo Rat (Tim Desrosiers and Anna Bell), Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Bernie Sirelson, Alysia Michelle James, and Elisa Rosin, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Surrija, The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
CHOREOGRAPHY
Joel Daavid, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Joyce Guy, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Carolyn Katz, Daedalus' Daughter, Bootleg Theater
Michael Marchak, Pacific Overtures, Chromolume Theatre
Jen Oundjian, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Roman Pantoja, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Celebration Theatre
Anne-Marie Talmadge, Alina Bolshakova, Leslie Charles Roy Jr., and the NMA Ensemble, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
MUSICAL DIRECTION
Jake Anthony, The View Upstairs, Celebration Theatre
Gina Belafonte, Lyrics From Lockdown, The Actors' Gang
Jennifer Lin, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Celebration Theatre
Dylan Price, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Lyndon Pugeda, Honky Tonk Laundry, Hudson Mainstage Theatre
Dimitri Toscas, Master Class, The Gary Marshall Theatre
SET DESIGN
Nicholas Acciani, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Joel Daavid, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Justin Huen, This Land, Company of Angels
John Iacovelli, Bled For The Household Truth, Rogue Machine Theatre
John Iacovelli, El Niño, Rogue Machine Theatre
John Iacovelli, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
David Mauer, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Jeff McLaughlin, Stupid Kid, Road Theatre Company
Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Victoria Tam, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
SOLO PERFORMANCE
Giovanni Adams, Love Is A Dirty Word, VS Theatre
Alex Alpharaoh, WET: A DACAmented Journey, Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A.
Bryonn Bain, Lyrics From Lockdown, The Actors' Gang
Keight Leighn, (A)partment 8, The ABC Project
Ronnie Marmo, I'm Not a Comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce, Theatre 68
Tina Preston, Don't You Ever Call My Anything But Mother, Open Fist Theatre Company
TWO PERSON PERFORMANCE
Martin Rayner & Martyn Stanbridge, Freud's Last Session, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Misty Cotton & Bets Malone, Honky Tonk Laundry, Hudson Mainstage Theatre
Tim Cummings & Brian Henderson, The House In Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Gary Patent & Dan Via, Plunge, Son of Semele Theater
James Eckhouse & Graham Sibley, Redline, IAMA Theatre Company
Alex Hernandez & Tonya Pinkins, Time Alone, Belle Reve Theatre Company
SUPPORTING MALE PERFORMANCE
Noel Arthur, Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Ryan Brophy, Rotterdam, The Skylight Theatre
Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Harry Groener, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
Rob Nagle, Stupid Kid, Road Theatre Company
Jeris Poindexter, Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
Gabriel Romero, The Madres, The Skylight Theatre
Montae Russell, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Desean Kevin Terry, A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Adolphus Ward, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
MALE COMEDY PERFORMANCE
Josh Clark, The Hothouse, Antaeus Theatre Company
Drew Droege, Die, Mommie, Die!, Celebration Theatre
Alex Elliott-Funk, Supper, Theatre of NOTE
Alex Fernandez, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Leo Marks, The Hothouse, Antaeus Theatre Company
Roman Pantoja, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Celebration Theatre
Darrett Sanders, Supper, Theatre of NOTE
Joel Scher, Supper, Theatre of NOTE
LEADING MALE PERFORMANCE
Daniel Bess, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
Benjamin Burdick, Bled For The Household Truth, Rogue Machine Theatre
Joe Hart, Stupid Kid, Road Theatre Company
Bruce Ladd, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Ben Martin, Walking To Buchenwald, Open Fist Theatre
Esau Pritchett, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Graham Sibley, Redline, IAMA Theatre Company
Adam Silver, Exit Strategy, The Los Angeles LGBT Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre
Desean Kevin Terry, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
SUPPORTING FEMALE PERFORMANCE
Dawn Didawick, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
Emily Goss, Forever Bound, Atwater Village Theatre
Ella Joyce, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Ciera Payton, King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Maya Lynne Robinson, Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
Maya Lynne Robinson, A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Michaela Slezak,Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers, The Skylight Theatre
Cheryl Umaña, This Land, Company of Angels
Karen Malina White, Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
Christine Woods, Cult of Love, IAMA Theatre Company
FEMALE COMEDY PERFORMANCE
Anna Lamadrid, Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Debra Jo Rupp, The Cake, Echo Theater Company
Paige Lindsey White, With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
LEADING FEMALE PERFORMANCE
Corryn Cummins, Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers, The Skylight Theatre
Carolyn Hennesy, Master Class, The Garry Marshall Theatre
Margarita Lamas, The Madres, The Skylight Theatre
Nan McNamara,33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Jaimi Paige, A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Ashley Romans, Rotterdam, The Skylight Theatre
Camille Spirlin, Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
Heidi Sulzman, Bugaboo and The Silent One, The Lounge Theatre
Miranda Wynne, Rotterdam, The Skylight Theatre
ADAPTATION
Nambi E. Kelley, Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Jones (Welsh) Talmadge, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Mary Zimmerman, The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
PLAYWRITING
Giovanni Adams, Love Is A Dirty Word, VS. Theatre
Alex Alpharaoh, WET: A DACAmented Journey, Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A.
Bekah Brunstetter, The Cake, Echo Theater Company
Alessandro Camon, Time Alone, Belle Reve Theatre Company
Bernardo Cubría, The Giant Void In My Soul, Ammunition Theatre Company
Leslye Headland, Cult of Love, IAMA Theatre Company
Jeremy J. Kamps, Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
Dan O'Brien, The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Evangeline Ordaz, This Land, Company of Angels
Marja-Lewis Ryan, Bugaboo and the Silent One, The Lounge Theatre
PRODUCTION DESIGN
Caught, Think Tank Gallery
Daedalus' Daughter, Bootleg Theater
King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
This Land, Company of Angels
Time Alone, Belle Reve Theatre Company
With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
COMEDY ENSEMBLE
Bad Jews, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
The Cake, Echo Theater Company
Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
El Niño, Rogue Machine Theatre
The Giant Void In My Soul, Ammunition Theatre Company
The Hothouse, Antaeus Theatre Company
Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Supper, Theatre of NOTE
With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
ENSEMBLE
33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Exit Strategy, The Los Angeles LGBT Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre
King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Pacific Overtures, Chromolume Theatre
Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, Greenway Court Theatre
Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
COMEDY DIRECTION
Lindsay Allbaugh, Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Jennifer Chambers, The Cake, Echo Theater Company
Guillermo Cienfuegos, Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
Lisa James, El Niño, Rogue Machine Theatre
Jessica Kubzansky, With Love and a Major Organ, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Dana Resnick, Bad Jews, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Felix Solís, The Giant Void In My Soul, Ammunition Theatre Company
DIRECTION
Andi Chapman, Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Gregg T. Daniel, Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, Caught, Think Tank Gallery
Carol Katz, Daedalus' Daughter, Bootleg Theater
Thomas James O'Leary, 33 Variations, Actors Co-op
Robert Mandel, Freud's Last Session, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Michael Michetti, A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Jaime Robledo, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Michael A. Shepperd,Rotterdam, The Skylight Theatre
Annie Tippe, Cult of Love, IAMA Theatre Company
MUSICAL OF THE YEAR
Dessa Rose, Chromolume Theatre
Pacific Overtures, Chromolume Theatre
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Celebration Theatre
REVIVAL OF THE YEAR
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Antaeus Theatre Company
King Hedley II, The Matrix Theatre
Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, After Hours Theatre Company
Rhinoceros, Pacific Resident Theater
A Streetcar Named Desire, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
Caught, Think Tank Gallery
The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, Sacred Fools Theater
Native Son, Antaeus Theatre Company
Rotterdam, The Skylight Theatre
Runaway Home, The Fountain Theatre
The Secret in the Wings, Coeurage Theatre Company
This Land, Company of Angels
Time Alone, Belle Reve Theatre Company
QUEEN OF THE ANGELS
Dolores Chavez
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Norman Lloyd


BORROWING SHAKESPEARE'S MAGIC: Five History Plays on LA Stages

For more than a year now, we've been living through the historic and historical – and at times hysterical -  theatricality of our times. To suggest that the Shakespearean heights are daily surmounted in the Tweeted Tussles of our Clownish Head of State, has become a cliché of journalism – which, like it or not (pace Donny J.), is the first draft of history.  This fall, Southland theatergoers have had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the dumb-show eccentricities of history on parade.  Here is an examination of five such plays that have recently been in LA: KING CHARLES III, KING JOHN, SOMETHING ROTTEN, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD and PACIFIC OVERTURES. (Editor's Note: SOMETHING ROTTEN continues until December 31. PACIFIC OVERTURES has 3 more shows this weekend on Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 3 and 8.)

Jim Abele, Mark Capri, Dylan Saunders, Laura Gardner in King Charles III

King Charles III, a play by England's Mike Bartlett, tells the what-if “history” of the current Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor, were he ever to become king of the shrunken United Kingdom. As speculative “history,” King Charles III is certainly a tale of troubles. It intriguingly projects the challenge to the British monarchy into a chaotic future.

It has a promising premise – one could call it a Shavian conceit – with the pre-crowned, 70-ish Charles taking a regal stand against Parliament's new law that will render the press “a little less free.” Like a Shakespearean history plays, Charles III develops into a crisis over the succession to the throne which sparks the threats of rebellion and war. However, in place of gutsy Shakespearean passion and psychology we are given “poor me” wailings about the rigors and strictures of being a Royal.

Written in blank verse (generally-unrhymed iambic pentameter) with syntactical echoes and dramaturgical turns reminiscent of Shakespeare's work, the script lays claim to a rarified artistic ancestry that it doesn't always live up to. Happily, the production at the Pasadena Playhouse (now closed) is well-acted by the cast of Los Angeles actors on a stage that has been extended into the audience. This brings the action out from behind the proscenium and up close to the playgoers.

Michael Hoag, Gus Krieger and Hersha Parady in King John

On the other hand, Shakespeare's The History of King John, a much larger play, with battles and ruined cities from London to the Loire, was presented by The Porters of Hellsgate (now closed) in a tiny NoHo black box at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center.

First performed 423 years ago, King John is in some ways just as speculative as Charles III. Written 380 years after the petty, spiteful and cruel, yet hapless demise of the titular king, Shakespeare, who lived in Tudor times, was writing about a Plantagenet, the dynasty from whom the Tudors wrested the throne when Welsh Henry Tudor defeated Henry VI. The Bard's grasp of history was never precise and never got in the way of a good bit of drama. And the anti-papist Protestant English would have been thrilled to see the trouble-making characterization of the Catholic Cardinal as the infusion of evil, if not outright villainy.

Now generally listed as the 13th of Shakespeare's works, as presented by The Porters, it plays like one of his earliest, too often shifting focus, being more work-a-day than inspired.  There are some moments to recommend it. Lady Constance's heartfelt grief when the King puts her teenage son under guard with an order to kill him, and the boy's successful pleading for his life. Perhaps the most intriguing character is a bastard son of Richard the Lionheart, a crafty young man maneuvering between politicos. Called The Bastard, he is the least historical (hinted at by Holinshed in his chronicles, from which Shakespeare drew the story) and yet, he is the first creation by Shakespeare of a character with an inner life,  the progenitor of a line of charismatic characters, loveable and detestable, that runs through Hotspurs and Falstaff to Hamlet, Iago, and Edmund – and even Caliban. For villainous as the Bastard might seem, any character with the smarts to observe:

Whiles I am a beggar, I will rail
And say there is no sin but to be rich;
And being rich, my virtue then shall be
To say there is no vice but beggary.

is a character to treasure and was Shakespeare's first psychologically self-motivating character.

Having nowhere near the finances or theatrical resources of the Pasadena Playhouse, one would not expect the lavish pomp and sumptuous circumstance that made this a popular play in the 19th Century. Instead, an intimate production in a 50-seat theater could better focus on the clarity and depth of the issues and relationships. Unfortunately, at The Porters' the dramatis personae are almost all attitude without any reality or feeling.  They are not the first to be undone by the flawed dramaturgy of King John, and they won't be the last.  It is as The Bastard says, “Sweet poison for the Age's tooth.”

While Shakespeare's King John scrambles flawed history, the charmingly produced play with music, The Heart of Robin Hood deals with a medieval folk tale from the same King's reign.  As seen at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, this touring family production toys what is now thought to be a myth based on a legend which is in turn grounded in the harsh historical truth of King John's reign: the terror of John's greed and ruthlessness. In a clever, first class touring production that turns the usual fascination with Robin on its political correct tush, Maid Marion is a heroine for the ages, dashing into the forest to teach Robin the thief the value of giving to the poor. That she saves Robin from King (here Prince) John is a feminist twist that leaves holes in the logic, emotion in the wings, and the dramatics to an Icelandic director's clever use of theatrics. And clever it is, and wants to be. As originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, it is a splendid presentation of a simplistic, often delightfully silly, script with more and more echoes of Shakespeare. It seems to exist mainly to beguile and to inspire young girls to bravery.

Blake Hammond and Rob McClure in Something Rotten

For a third work spawned from Shakespearean genetics, we are lucky to have the musical Something Rotten (Ahmanson Theater). Twenty years in the making, it's about as tuneful as a recital of operatic recitative, but makes up for the lack of melody with a surfeit of choreographic mayhem, clever direction and first-class performances.  It's a romp, with no pretensions to classic theater. It has very little claim on history, except, oddly enough, the chronicles of Musical Theater. And if you don't know the history of the American musical you'll have less than half the fun most theater-goers have. Perhaps the show too often relies on snippets of songs and famous line-references from the history of popular musicals like Oklahoma! Sunset Boulevard, Cats, and the entire Sondheim canon. It gives us puns and mugging in place of irony, intrigue, or depth, but then it has no pretensions to history, devoted as it is to entertainment.  And it delivers. It is centered on a character that goes by the name of Nick Bottom (from A Midsummer Night's Dream), one of the Bard's more captivating creations, and creates for him a brother, Nigel. They need a new show. The Soothsayer predicts the next big thing will me – musicals! Shakespeare is a character with as much humanity as you can give a spoofed-up rock star stage writer. Clever, often effervescent, it is a memorable an evening of fluff that delivers just that – but only that! Leave history to others.

The often sublime, Pacific Overtures, is on the other hand one of the deft gems of the musical theater. Born of the art of Stephen Sondheim, 41 years ago, with John Weidman's witty book, and Hal Prince's brilliant direction, it originally starred Los Angeles' great Mak0 (film and television actor and first artistic director of East West Players).

As history, Pacific Overtures is more kaleidoscopic than academic, which is to say, it gives us the feel of history without concern for narrative consistency. Like Shakespeare's The Tempest, what action there is flows from the unexpected arrival of disturbing forces on a magical island.  To suggest that The Reciter (Mako's role) in Overtures is an unintended descendent of The Bard's Prospero may not be the stretch it seems on first blush. Both characters share a magical power within the context of their individual worlds.

Pacific Overtures is one of the Sondheim-Prince musicals from the last quarter of the 20th Century (this one produced in 1976 for the Bicentennial of American Independence). And it stretched the limits of musical theater far beyond the romantic limits of boy-or-girl meets girl-or-boy, mix-and-match. It follows Admiral Perry's “opening up” of Japan's closed samurai culture to its sadly logical conclusion of crass commerciality that was in the late 20th Century seen as “Japan today.”

And as Prospero uses “my so potent art” which he calls “rough magic” to create a Tempest that will alter his fortunes, requiring “Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end…” he seems to be conjuring the musical in which The Reciter foresees a Tempest of culture that will “threaten the serene and changeless cycle of our days,” singing:

“In the middle of the world we float
In the middle of the sea
The realities remain remote
In the middle of the sea.”

It plays more as a theatrical statement of America's responsibility for spreading the evils of rampant capitalism than as a narrative drama. But the material is so dazzlingly sophisticated, pungent, and polished that it remains a delight to experience, including a charming romp by Europeans and American ambassadors that brings the show up to its somewhat regrettable end with a brash and vulgar finale about late 20th Century American marketing, Japanese style. Like a Smash-Cut, the finale shatters whatever the mood might have been created and brings home the message with a crunching SPLAT! (which is unfortunately, the “message” it's creators intended). Prospero just breaks his magic wand and begs

“As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.”

While Pacific Overtures gets a rather drab re-doing by the ever-adventurous Chromolume Theater, they obviously have deep respect for the material. The company of 12 men and one woman has the material down pat, but the production lacks the style required for Sondheim's well-honed delights. And one misses the delicate balance between Japanese poetics and Samurai brutality upon which the success of the work depends. With the entire company in black – except for the one-time appearance of the brightly kimono'd “Ladies of Kanagawa” – and displaying little of the ritual discipline of Japan's theatrical tradition, the production gives us the charm of the score and little else to while away the two and a half hours trafficking.

Of course, presenting a multi-million dollar mounting of a demanding musical is not possible in an under-99 seat theater where the intimacy of scale allows intensity to do the work of extravagance! Shakespeare seems to have understood that issue as he moved between his giant Globe theater into the more intimate Black Friars. For us, Sondheim is easily his match for endlessly inventive, ironic, and perceptive writing, and Something Rotten does at least live within the madcap world of the Bard's comic genius. Meanwhile, we of the Fabulous Invalid, soldier on.