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.
Even when he’s not dancing, it’s a joy to watch Mikhail Baryshnikov move. He hardly dances at all in “In Paris,” a wispy stage adaptation of Ivan Bunin’s short story that had its U.S. premiere Wednesday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Just a spinning flourish at the conclusion of this decidedly minor-scale, though ultimately touching, play.
But this is an artist who has learned to act with his spine. Character is a matter of carriage, posture, physical coordination. Standing still offers him a psychological window — and why shouldn’t it when there are so many possible ways to hold yourself?
Baryshnikov’s physical approach serves him well in a performance piece that doesn’t give him much more than a dramatic scenario to work with. Directed by Dmitry Krymov, who also adapted the text, this production (performed in French and Russian with English supertitles) is long on mood and atmosphere, short on action. It’s really just an outline of a story, given a sophisticated and often haunting theatrical airbrushing.
Written by husband-and-wife team Lynn and Helen Root, “Man With the Pointed Toes” first saw light as a 1958 television production before premiering as a stage play at Glendale Centre Theatre in the mid-1960s. Now the play returns to the scene of its theatrical debut.
Historically speaking, that’s certainly heartwarming. Dramatically, it’s another story. Perhaps “Toes” was a rip-roarer back in its day, but it’s now a dusty velvet painting of a comedy with a paint-by-numbers plot that holds few surprises.
The story, in a chestnut shell, concerns Texas rancher Tom Coterel (Tommy Kearney), a new oil billionaire smitten by the purposefully seductive Pamela (Kelley Hurley). Out of his depth with Pamela, Tom hires bookwormish tutor Florence (Megan Blakeley) to smooth off his rough edges. Of course, as Florence successfully transforms Tom from a rube to a slicker, she falls in love with him. Will Tom realize just what a gem Florence is, or will he marry Pamela, a cubic zirconia in a gold-digger setting?
The mob murder of a crooked state assemblyman poses a daunting though not insurmountable challenge to his reelection prospects in the West Coast premiere of “Early and Often” at the Open Fist Theatre.
Named after the notorious adage about voting in their Chicago hometown, Barbara Wallace and Thomas R. Wolfe’s retro political satire is set on the day of the 1960 presidential election. The sharp-edged black comedy is strictly local, however, as party operatives try to cover up the death of their hack assemblyman until he’s officially won his seat. Sporting an ensemble nearly as populous as the Windy City itself, this who’s-got-the-body caper entails complicity among the corrupt factions that comprise the city’s political landscape — elected officials, cops, reporters and even priests.
If there’s a “hero” to be found in this cesspool, it’s conflicted precinct captain Art Ruck (skillfully played by Bryan Bertone). To say that Art is facing a crisis of conscience would be far too romanticized — it’s more a question of where his loyalties lie after his sleazy Ward boss (Bjørn Johnson) refuses to adequately reward his efforts. Jessica Noboa, Catherine Urbanek and Amanda Weier effectively illuminate the frustrated powerlessness of women amid the boy’s club mentality of the era.
Elizabeth Sarnoff, a former writer and producer for “Lost” and “Deadwood” and a co-creator and former executive producer of “Alcatraz,” has written and directed a play, “Slow Dance in Midtown,” premiering at the Whitefire Theatre.
Once you get to know L.A.’s small-theater family, it’s easy to tell when the TV-land cousins are visiting: celebrities at the openings, complimentary cheeses, expensive sets! Here Tom Buderwitz and Andy Hammer’s lavishly detailed sports bar is a miracle of small-stage design, like a trompe l'oeil painting in 3-D, in its realism and illusion of depth. Sound designer Bruce Greenspan has situated the nameless dive firmly in Midtown Manhattan by playing a little snippet of city street noise each time the (unseen) door opens.
Yet it’s not clear whether the rich production quality grounds or distracts from Sarnoff’s strongly written, cerebral play — or really, plays: two one-acts whose connection becomes clear only at the end.
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.
There’s a by-the-numbers quality to Steven Drukman’s “The Prince of Atlantis,” a play that sets out to please audiences by giving them a theatrical variation of what they’ve experienced on TV.
A good percentage of Saturday’s matinee audience at South Coast Repertory, where the work is having its world premiere, seemed to eat it up. I found it contrived and tedious, but as dramedies (awful word) go, it hits all the requisite emotional marks while cracking just enough jokes to be labeled harmlessly diverting, at least by those who don’t have any problems with ethnic caricature.
The twist here is that the play’s stereotypical Italian American characters hail from the Greater Boston area neighborhood of Nonantum, a community in Newton that has a distinctive patois, in which “wonga” means “money” and “cuya moi” is how to tell someone to “shut up!” But beyond the way the men affectionately call each other “mush,” it’s the same bada-bing, bada-boom meatball hero subculture that never seems to go out of style in popular entertainment.
A sparklingly original idea can be both a godsend and a dead end for a playwright, as Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine” serves (entertainingly, for a good while) to remind.
The clever conceit of this play, which is receiving its West Coast premiere at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, is that an alternative to the modern 24/7 rat race has been established by a cult group known as the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence. Sick of being enslaved to their smartphones, this community of burned-out professionals and nostalgia freaks collectively turns back the clock to the 1950s, reenacting life as it was lived in the good old Eisenhower days, before the Internet and political correctness ruined everything.