The heat is on in La Mirada, where “Miss Saigon” blows into the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and transports the audience skyward. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s phenomenally successful Vietnam War-era gloss on “Madama Butterfly” receives a sleekly staged, wonderfully performed revival that heightens this critic-proof popera’s strengths and obscures its frailties, to impressive effect.
Joseph Anthony Foronda conveys spontaneous wit and sardonic grit as the pimping, visa-obsessed Engineer. This character, the evening’s emcee and narrative engine, could descend into leering hamminess, but Foronda expertly balances sleaze, pragmatism and realism, from the opening “The Heat is On in Saigon” onward.
That milieu-setting number, where gyrating hookers vie for the highest bidder, introduces virginal 17-year-old heroine Kim, played here by the luminous Jacqueline Nguyen. Reportedly the first Vietnamese actress to star in a major “Saigon” production, Nguyen’s emotional acuity and water-clear soprano convinces throughout, especially in tandem with golden-voiced Kevin Odekirk as American G.I. Chris, their duets soaring and potent.
So is the whole ensemble, committed to Dana Solimando’s adroit choreography, gorgeously harmonizing under musical director John Glaudini’s baton. Lawrence Cummings as Chris’ buddy, Aidan Park as Kim’s betrothed and April Malina as the winner of the titular contest have such vocal and dramatic intensity you wish their parts were larger. Preternaturally poised Ken Shim as the 3-year-old plot pivot steals every heart, and Cassandra Murphy gives the thankless role of Chris’ American wife a full-throated conviction that wouldn’t shame Idina Menzel.
In this era of easily accessed online opinions, it's hard to settle into a theater seat with any confidence. There are those voices in our heads and on our smartphones: “Some critics called the score unmemorable and the stagecraft over the top. What if I don’t enjoy myself?”
Careworn, highly informed theatergoer: If you go to see “Billy Elliot the Musical,” which has arrived at last in Los Angeles, at the Pantages Theatre, you will enjoy yourself.
It’s true that among the raves “Billy” has provoked some complaints in London, then on Broadway, and then across the U.S.: about Elton John’s score (“It’s a mediocre score, and that’s putting in kindly,” a man beside me sniffed), about Lee Hall’s arty book and Peter Darling’s adventurous choreography; about the thick, growly Northern England accent, in which hunger is pronounced “hooon-gah” and ballet “bally.”
But if 10 Tony Awards, including best musical of 2009, don’t assuage your fears, then let me, because I went through a lot of anxiety for nothing. This irresistible show is an expertly crafted, well-oiled pleasure machine designed to make you feel exactly the way you want to feel at a musical: awed, tearful, warm of heart, slightly sheepish about loving it so much and grateful that everybody around you is cheering just as hard.
How do you solve a problem like Margie, the tough South Boston single mother at the center of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People”?
The play, which was nominated for a Tony last season, is receiving its West Coast premiere in a sharp Geffen Playhouse production that gives Los Angeles audiences a crack at figuring out where exactly things went wrong for a woman who doesn't always make it easy for us to feel sorry for her. It's an intriguingly difficult case, one that bravely touches (with as much humor as seriousness) the one subject left in America that's still largely off-limits — social class.
This once-pretty, middle-aged train wreck, played with tender conviction by Jane Kaczmarek sporting a thick Red Sox fan accent, has just lost her job at the Dollar Store and is fretting about how she’s going to pay the rent for the apartment she shares with her developmentally disabled daughter. It doesn’t help her prospects that she peppers her conversation with the words “pardon my French” or that she seems perpetually spoiling for a fight, but not even her landlady (Marylouise Burke, one of Lindsay-Abaire’s acting muses) is prepared to give her a break, and they’re always hanging out together.
The premise of Jason Kraus’s second solo show at Redling Fine Art, appropriately titled “Dinner Repeated,” is an exercise in compulsive reiteration. On each of the first seven nights of the exhibition, the New York-based artist served a nearly identical meal: the same four-course menu to the same 12 people, on a plywood table of like design with matching dishes, glasses and flatware.
After each meal, he dismantled the table and used the wood to build a free-standing shelving unit, then cleaned all the dishes and stacked them neatly inside. At the end of the week, the installation was complete: seven apparently uniform cabinets, each stocked with 12 identical place settings, spaced around the floor of the gallery.
The concept of residue has had a lot of currency in recent years. Many a work has been generated from the marks or stains made by the unfolding of a performance or event. (Note Cai Guo-Qiang’s recent firework paintings at MOCA.) In a curious twist on this familiar trope, Kraus has done the opposite: made every attempt to erase the imprint of the events, emphasizing the generic nature of his mass-produced materials.
Just think of “The Bungler” as a bromance in brocade. A Noise Within’s fluid, effervescent staging of Molière’s 1655 comedy of mishaps feels like a hybrid of “Two and a Half Men” and Judd Apatow’s stoner comedies. Two guys. One’s clueless. And the hot girl is out of reach.
Lélie (Michael A. Newcomer), our Seth Rogen stand-in, falls head over ribboned heels for Célie (Emily Kosloski), the slim-shouldered chattel of grumpy old Trufaldin (William Dennis Hunt). Lélie enlists his ever-resourceful servant, Mascarille (the excellent JD Cullum) in the quest for Célie, then manages to hinder his wingman’s efforts at every (and I mean every) turn.
This sitcom-worthy premise spins into something buoyant and diverting in director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s stylish (and stylistically coherent) production. From the center of John Iacovelli’s set, colored lights stretch out over the audience, and a circus mood pervades.
Clarity is not commonly thought to be one of Harold Pinter’s signature virtues. But when his work is done right — and the penetrating British import production of “The Caretaker” starring two-time Tony winner Jonathan Pryce at San Francisco's Curran Theatre is nearly flawless — there’s a dreamlike lucidity that will have you seeing deep into the underground pathways of human nature.
When Pinter burst onto the British playwriting scene in the late 1950s, his enigmatic style proved exasperating to many of the day’s leading critics, who could tolerate mystery only if it came with an intelligible explanation, some moral or message they could comfortingly relay to their readers. Not given one, they grew frustrated by this cocky upstart whose characters spoke, as one impatient reviewer put it, in “non-sequiturs, half-gibberish and lunatic ravings.”
“The Caretaker,” which premiered in 1960, turned out to be Pinter’s breakthrough play, the work that inspired a new receptiveness to his dramatic tactics. Characters behave in ways that are every bit as opaque as the menacing festivities of his earlier play “The Birthday Party” (the flop that became a classic). But the psychology of “The Caretaker,” even when elusive, is too real to be dismissed as flamboyant gimmickry.
Philip Glass’ big, new Ninth Symphony –- 52 minutes, written for a large, powerhouse orchestra –- is late Glass at his most momentous, a significant symphony by America’s most significant symphonist. Chalk up another one for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was a co-commissioner of the Ninth and which gave the West Coast premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night. John Adams conducted.
That bit about Glass’ status as a contemporary American composer of symphonies is fact, not opinion.
But despite Glass’ prominence and his large body of symphonic work, that fact is not well known (or, at least, well acknowledged) among American orchestras.
Want to hear another Glass symphony in the next few months? Try Pforzheim, Germany (the Eighth), or Rotterdam, the Netherlands (the Fourth). As if the South of France didn’t already have enough summer attractions, Aix-en-Province is where Glass’ Tenth Symphony will have its world premiere in August.
On the other hand, in the 20 years Glass has been writing symphonies, very few American orchestras have ever performed one.
Complicated doesn't begin to describe the relationships that Leigh Ledare cultivates and documents in his work. The gamut runs from tender through troubling to taboo. In recent photographs, videos and an installation at the Box, the New York-based Ledare mines connections and disconnections between himself, his mother, his ex-wife and assorted strangers. The show is fascinating throughout for its twisted takes on intimacy, vulnerability and the shifting balance of control between individuals on either side of the lens.
Each of Ledare's works starts as a conceptual proposition: What if he answered "Women Seeking Men" ads and paid the women to stage a portrait of him in their own setting, according to their own naked desires? What if he re-presented fragmented footage of a soft-porn video his mother and her friends once made, leaving audible the directorial cues, heightening the artifice?
Antoine Roegiers fulfills a desire common to viewers of paintings by Brueghel and Bosch: He lets us in. He breaks the implicit seal on their exquisitely dense dramas and grants us the privilege to roam through villages and over hillsides, to linger upon odd and marvelous details, to enter a scene and watch it unfold in something akin to real time.
Roegiers, a Belgian artist living in Paris, paints and draws and since 2005 has been making animated videos from his own imagery and well-known works by the great 15th and 16th century Netherlandish painters. There are six videos in his first solo show in the U.S. at YoungProjects, and each stretches and bends time, kneads it and perforates it, affirms its elasticity. This is animation at its most compelling and yet most literal, devoted to the fundamental act of breathing life into something still.
In an 11-minute piece, Roegiers unpacks Bosch's phantasmagoric St. Anthony triptych, in which the hermit faces an array of real and allegorical demons. Bosch followed the pictorial convention (common to periods of Western and non-Western art alike) of representing multiple chapters from a narrative within a single, unified space.
The spirit of DIY inventiveness lives on at Richard Telles Fine Art, where guest curator Matthew Higgs has brought together 26 works by 11 artists. Titled “B. Wurtz & Co.,” the quietly inspiring selection takes art back to the basics: individuals making things out of just about nothing.
In most religions, that’s a god’s job. But there’s nothing grandiose, overblown or entitled about the humble objects in this refreshing exhibition, which puts salt-of-the-earth honesty and homegrown improvisation front and center.
Most works are abstract, yet none disguises the materials it is made of. Scrap wood, plastic lids, bits of yarn, postal labels, coin wrappers and bottle caps are plainly visible in the casual yet composed pieces by Al Taylor, B. Wurtz, Judith Scott, Udomsak Krisanamis, Gabriel Kuri and Philadelphia Wire Man.
Collage predominates, its cut-and-paste aesthetic given sharp shape in subtly charged works by Richard Hawkins, Joe Fyfe and Vincent Fecteau. Doodling is a virtue in Martin Creed’s crisp compositions. And unsullied emptiness is filled with potential in Noam Rappaport’s clean canvases.
At “B. Wurtz & Co.,” imaginative handiwork never looked better, its democratic impulse a timely reminder of art’s place in everyday life.
-- David Pagel
Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., (323) 965-5578, through May 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.tellesfineart.com
Image: B. Wurtz, "Untitled," 2009. Credit: Richard Telles Fine Art