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.
Any production of "The Elephant Man," Bernard Pomerance's 1979 Tony winner about the severely deformed individual who became Victorian society's darling, depends upon the actor playing doomed title curiosity Joseph (a.ka. John) Merrick. The current revival at Theatre 68 features the remarkable Babar Peerzada, who evokes the grotesquerie without prosthetics in an impressive fusion of physical control and unforced pathos.
Other excellent turns adorn this Grimy Corps presentation. Jeny Batten gives actress/confidante Mrs. Kendal easy warmth beneath the dry grandeur. If Chris Payne Gilbert takes some time to register the contradictions of Frederick Treves, the doctor who rescues Merrick from degradation, his clipped understatement is apt. Ron Bottitta, Nicholas Caballero, Kimberly Condict, Jamie Harris and Paulie Rojas are proficient in multiple roles, from sideshow freaks to crowned heads.
An intriguing notion shoots through the ricocheting subversive brio of "The Magic Bullet Theory." By training their thematic sights on a surprisingly credible conceit -- that John F. Kennedy's assassination was the unintended result of a bungled scare tactic -- playwrights Terry Tocantins and Alex Zola give this irreverent Sacred Fools presentation noteworthy substance.
Directed by JJ Mayes with larky invention, "Bullet" follows Charlie Harrelson (Tocantins, effectively restrained), the real-life convicted killer of Judge John H. Wood Jr., and father of actor Woody Harrelson.
Sandwiched between an incredulous Earl Warren (Morry Schorr) and the archetypal Texan (a rip-roaring Rick Steadman), who facilitated things before and after Nov. 22, 1963, Charlie carries the ironic tangent: he, Lee Harvey Oswald (Michael Holmes) and two CIA-recruited Yalies (Monica Greene and Pete Caslavka) were supposed to "miss the target." Oops.
What recommends "Bullet" is the garage-show confidence with which Mayes, choreographer Natasha Norman, the design team and a laudable ensemble attack the mayhem.
The enduring dramatic power of Eugene O'Neill steers “Anna Christie” at the Old Globe into waters both risky and impressive. O'Neill's 1921 Pulitzer Prize winner about a life-battered tart receives an intimate, audacious rethink, stewarded by director Daniel Goldstein.
O'Neill's narrative teems with evocative details. From Act 1's seedy bar on the waterfront of 1910-era New York City and thereafter, “Anna Christie” is richly atmospheric, its simple plot ebbing and flowing like “dat ole davil sea.”
That last is the refrain of Chris Christopherson (an inspired Bill Buell), the sodden Swedish mariner who learns early on that the daughter he dispatched to Minnesota relatives 15 years ago is returning. This entails ousting Marthy Owen (Kristine Nielsen), his wry, booze-soaked bedmate, which cues up the title character (Jessica Love, valiantly unconventional).
The golden age of the supper club is reborn at the Gardenia, where Andrea Marcovicci is currently holding court in "Smile." This self-described workshop of her new cabaret act finds the record-breaking song stylist turning her incisive facility with the Great American Songbook toward creating uplift in these trying times, which she does, brilliantly.
Marcovicci's veiled, fragile-edged instrument remains an idiomatic voice, made less for display than interpretation. Accordingly, when she disappears inside a lyric, or shifts registers with a melisma that illuminates a melody's structure, the spirit of Mabel Mercer is nigh.
Together with invaluable musical director Shelly Markham and bassist Nate Light, Marcovicci approaches the airtight set with an unforced desire to connect with us, from her endearing "It's Only a Paper Moon" to her heartfelt final rendition of the title song.
Along the way, we get chestnuts -- "Ain't We Got Fun?," performed with verses and lyrics intact -- and rarities -- David Ross and Marshall Barer's marvelously poetic "Beyond Compare," here almost a one-act play. Her take on "12th Street Rag" is slyly bouncy, her pairing of Rodgers and Hart's "Thou Swell" and "This Can't Be Love" palpably rapt.
"Isn't This a Lovely Day?" and "Pick Yourself Up" as tribute to Fred Astaire is one highlight, "If I Had You" and "It Had to Be You" another. Her infectious enthusiasm supplies Marcovicci with choice conversation fodder, whether recalling the Incomparable Hildegarde or introducing "(I Asked) the Moon" songsmith Babbie Green, in attendance at the reviewed performance.
And when Marcovicci brings her 93-years-young mother Helen on stage to amaze us with chops worthy of Lee Wiley, time and space dissolve. As such, "Smile" is caviar for devotees of the art of the diseuse, and a cabaret must-see.
-- David C. Nichols
Andrea Marcovicci in "Smile," The Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends March 24. (323) 497-7444. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Photo: Andrea Marcovicci performing in 2004. Credit: Peter Kramer / Getty Images.
That line is an emblem of the epigrams of "Why We Have A Body," Claire Chafee's surreal 1993 comedy at the Edgemar Center for the Arts.
The aforementioned quip comes from ever-exploring Eleanor (Barbara Bain), a self-delineated "feminist, archaeologist, historian and bilingual student of the human brain." But "Body's" chief focus is on her daughters.
Mary (director Tanna Frederick) is a wild-eyed head case and serial convenience store bandit who obsesses over Joan of Arc. Lili (Alex Sedrowski) is a private investigator whose romance with the married Renee (Cathy Arden) gives "Body" what plot it possesses.
There are singers and there are actresses; there are entertainers and there are stars. And then, there is Bernadette Peters. On Saturday night, the nonpareil Broadway artist turned the Valley Performing Arts Center into her own personal salon, with magical results.
From first entrance in a glittering lilac gown that looked as if she'd been poured into it, the diminutive Peters held the capacity crowd in thrall. Launching a jazzy "Let Me Entertain You" with an insinuating focus toward the front row, Peters moved on to "No One Is Alone" from Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," and her delicately inward intensity hushed the house. Thereafter, she could do no wrong.
Visually, Peters has vaulted time with decades to spare -- her physical maneuvers atop musical director Marvin Laird's piano during "Fever" were especially delicious -- and her comic skills are undiminished, as when selling "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" to the men on the aisle. Vocally, the ineluctable timbre remains essentially intact, any loss of belting power or metrical freedom trumped by a near-legit purity in her upper register and a still potent ability to locate a song's emotional content.
The blues supply the metaphoric fuel for "Hoodoo Love." Katori Hall's 2007 play about an aspiring singer in Depression-era Tennessee receives an ambitious and evocative, albeit erratic, West Coast premiere at the Ruby Theatre.
We first encounter Toulou (Andrea Meshel) mid-coitus with itinerant musician Ace of Spades (Elijah Rock) in her stark, Memphis-adjacent shanty. (Kenneth Olefien's bipolar set centers an impressive design effort.)
Toulou is arguably more an archetype of enduring African American womanhood than a three-dimensional character. Yet there's recognizable human mojo in her bright-eyed fervor to catch the same train to juke-joint fame as Ace -- and also catch Ace's lady-killer heart.
Nudged by former slave Candy Lady (Karen McClain) -- "Bad men stay, good mens go away" -- Toulou turns to traditional hoodoo to make her good man stay. But she hasn't reckoned on Jib (Rickie Peete), Toulou's huckster-minister brother, as bad as all get-out and not about to go away.
In "California Dreamin'," playwright Jill Charlotte Thomas dramatically speculates on the events that led to the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969. Although still gelling, her surreal fantasia shows considerable promise in its MET Theatre premiere.
Thomas explores the officially ignored anecdotal evidence that Charles Manson (Tyson Turrou) became friends with coffee heiress Abigail Folger (Ivy Khan) in 1968. Synoptically framing the scenario with patriarch Peter Folger (John F. Goff) at Abigail's memorial service, Thomas' episodic script moves from ironic to unnerving as the unthinkable approaches.
Director L. Flint Esquerra gives this schematic material a suitably prismatic approach, establishing cultural attitudes with the Nixon/Cambodia headlines dominating the newspapers that carpet designer Thomas Meleck's minimalist set. Costumer Rhona Meyers provides a sharp array of era clothing. Sound designer-composer Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski makes period standards and creepy original music almost another character.
Turrou, avoiding a flat-out impersonation, takes his time locating the psycho beneath the stoner-messiah charm, just as Khan, whose quality recalls the emerging Barbara Hershey, is initially too understated as Abigail. Yet when their mutual fascination goes askew, you can't deny the frissons.
The melding of darkness and bravura in "Man of La Mancha" at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center isn't revolutionary, but it's certainly resonant. Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's beloved Tony winner about the author of "Don Quixote" receives an engrossing Musical Theatre West revival, with director Nick DeGruccio's able cast spearheaded by the incandescent Davis Gaines and Lesli Margherita.
Popular opinion mistakes "La Mancha" for a musical about Don Quixote, but Wasserman's libretto explores how idealism survives totalitarian oppression, personified in hero Miguel de Cervantes (Gaines). Set in a grim Seville prison during the Spanish Inquisition -- strikingly designed by Kevin Clowes -- the concept deposits Cervantes and his manservant (Justin Robertson) into a den of lowlifes while awaiting trial.
The kangaroo court that ensues nearly ends "La Mancha" before it starts, with Cervantes' manuscript about an addled knight-errant almost burned by his fellow inmates. Until Cervantes proposes that he enact his "defense" by dramatizing his literary creation, pulling the prisoners into his charade. As musical director Matthew Smedal's orchestra begins the title number's driving vamp, Gaines slaps on old-age makeup, joins Robertson atop the revolving center turntable behind two horse-masked dancers, and onward to glory we go.
Years since his record-breaking turn as the Phantom of the Opera, Gaines' vocal instrument remains in thrilling estate, and his handling of the dramatic content is remarkable, particularly the eye-moistening monologue preceding his galvanic "Impossible Dream."