Meeting The Band’s Visit Cast

After seeing THE BAND’S VISIT opening night performance at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, I was invited the next day to a meet-and-greet with members of the band and four of the leads in the show: Janet Dacal (Dina), Sasson Gabay ( Colonel Tewfiq), Joe Joseph (Haled) and Coby Getzug ( Papi). As the moderator, Benny Aguayo and the cast enlightened me about the making of the movie, then the musical, and why The Band’s Visit is so important to see right now after what we have experienced the past two years.

Benny Aguayo and some of The Band’s Visit cast

How does your character’s journey amplify the importance of human connection? 

Joe: Let the music take you to an emotional place. Art is essential. It fosters empathy and gives people experiences they many not have in their life. These are people in a small town and that thread connects with people in the audience. These characters deliver something bigger than us and puts the audience in touch with their emotions and soul.

Coby: The theme of connection is a choice to sing a piece where people are hungry to listen. The show drops all language cultural barriers. We have found the audience leans forward to share this experience with us. Traveling with the show, we bring to the audience Arabic music and instruments that some of the audience may have never heard before. It’s a collective experience. For my character Papi he has everything going wrong, because he is not great with girls, yet his new friendship with Haled sparks a chance encounter that changes his life with a beautiful human connection.

Sasson: What I like is to see is the enjoyment of the audience while performing this show. The characters in the play solve their life and salvation through music. Music helps solves Twefiq’s problems, Dina wants to be a dancer and music makes her feel alive again. The creators connect people with Chet Baker, Gershwin and others to grab the audience. The musical is quieter than many, but evenly paced to form that connection.

Janet: It’s a show of serenity, peace and something that humankind needs to see right now while dealing with the isolation of the pandemic. It’s all about human connection. One of the basic themes after the last 18 months is that we all agree that we need each other to survive. Human connection is what we have all been yearning for, just like the character Dina. She has been yearning to feel alive. She comes to life with her shared human experience with Twefiq.

Coby and Joe

What are your thoughts about the magnitude of silence, peace, and tranquility of the show? 

Sasson: It’s a play with music, its a musical, but not a traditional one with a lot of song and dance. This offers a lot of emotion, peace and tranquility, sometimes the magnitude of silence. This production builds and builds slowly with a deep breath. Bit by bit the audience joins the actors on a journey through one night in Israel. You can relate and see yourself in their journey.

Coby: Something really human takes place – to listen to other humans. These characters don’t open and share especially well with strangers, so their silence gives the audience time, and the music you hear and the absence of it at times makes this such a special experience.

Janet: Musical notes are part of the pause in a scene and like in the film, there are long silences to give the audience an idea of the space of what this town is like. At times it makes you sit in your discomfort. The characters communicate in their non-native language. The writers were creative to take it from the film to the stage and keep the silence. 

Joe: There are four languages in the show: English, Hebrew, Arabic and music. Music allows the characters to cut through language. My character Haled is the worst with language, yet he is a carefree guy and his song helps Papi and the girl at the roller rink unite and embrace. Haled uses jazz to connect, calm his friend, and show his love of Chet Baker. When words fail, music works. It’s a force that cuts across all cultures and boundaries.

The musical has no intermission. What’s it like to perform the show in one act? 

Janet: No intermission keeps you and the audience in the show and engaged from the beginning to the end. As an actor, it is wonderful to be done in 90 minutes. Especially with 8 performances a week.

Coby: It takes you a couple minutes for the audience to tune their ear into the music and dialogue of the show. Without an intermission, the audience and we as a cast continues on this story’s journey without any interruptions. 

Sasson: The audience receives a whole experience. Without an intermission, you don’t have to cut the show abruptly. When one visits the restroom, purchases a snack and drink, it takes a few minutes to get back into the show again. It allows the availability of language, of music and love to resonate without getting out of your seat.

Photo by Jill Weinlein

Can you talk about the shows depiction of universal languages of music and love as told through the eyes of your character? 

Sasson: The music transforms the delicate film to a delicate musical production. When David Cromer approached me to do the musical, I immediately said yes. This is the first time many audiences have seen Arabic music. The show opens people to these cultures. The audience exposure is rewarding to see each night. I’m proud that this show and the film do that to people.

Janet: What I like is Israelis playing Egyptians and Egyptians playing Israelis. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you are a human being. It was easy as a Cuban descent to play an Israeli woman. We have similar background in a way. My parents had to leave their county and start a new life.

Joe: I first saw the show on Broadway with Tony Shalaoub. The show is about people dealing with a constant fight for survival. It’s a show about unexceptional people living in an unexceptional place. 

Janet and Sasson

Sasson, did you ever imagine while filming the movie well over a decade ago in the desert, that you’d later be performing it on a Broadway stage in America? 

Sasson: The low budget film was made in 21 days in the Southern part of Israel. We were invited to the Cannes Film Festival and applauded for it’s commercial and critical success. This show changed my life and my career. Fans of this gentle film wanted to make it into a Broadway production. It took over 8 years to put this musical onstage with actor Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq. When he left the show I was asked to play Tewfiq again.

Do any fans of the film approach you and share their thoughts and feeling of the impact the story had on them? 

Photo courtesy of Broadway in Hollywood

Do you have any favorite songs, melodies, lyrics, or even moments of silence in David’s score? 

Janet: The role is Dina is a beautiful role for women. David Yazbek wrote the music and lyrics which captures Dina through her songs. Its an expression of who she is through the melodies. They are hauntingly beautiful and it’s a true honor to play this role. I feel so lucky doing this show. She enjoys singing the song ‘Omar Sharif’ in the show. When she recently adopted a male dog, she named it after the song, Omar Sharif.

Coby: ‘Waiting’ is my favorite song. The line “There’s two kinds of waiting, there’s the kind where you’re expecting something new, or even strange, but this kind of waiting, you keep looking off out into the distance, you keep looking off out into the distance, even though you know the view is never going to change, you wait…” Every day has looked the same for these people for so long and then this band of musicians comes into town and for less than 24 hours changes the lives of everyone they meet.

Joe Jospeh as Haled – Photo by Broadway in Hollywood

Joe: The friends thread comes through in the song ‘Haled’s Song About Love.’ The scene of young couples at the roller rink are enhanced with the instrumental nature of love. The instruments the band plays enhances the gentle emotional response. They take you by the hand to enhance the story. Every night we perform is dynamic and rewarding.

How do you feel LA audiences will respond to the musical? Both Janet and Coby are from Los Angeles. 

Coby: I was excited to be back in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The last time I stepped foot in this hotel was during my 10th grade Winter Formal. Bringing back to the language and music, my mother is from Israel and never thought she would see her son speak Hebrew onstage. She invited 40 family and friends to come see the show tonight.

Joe: The show is an analogy of what we do 9 times a week. We connect with the audience in a fundamental way for the need to be together as social animals. It’s a blessing at each performance. Theater is an ecosystem of the economy. Diverse people seeking entertainment go to restaurants near the theatre, park in the lots, stay in nearby hotels, shop in stores. A theatre brings people to a destination spending more money than just a ticket to a show.

Janet: I went to a performing arts middle and high school in Los Angeles with students from all different backgrounds. I was exposed to so many different types of people and cultures. It opened me to different cultures and how we are all human.

Photo courtesy of Broadway in Hollywood

When it comes to acceptance of cultural diversity, can you draw from your own experiences and relate them to moments in The Band’s Visit? 

Sasson: There are so many borders and boundaries inhibiting us in life. This show gives us a chance to dare and do it. Dina’s character initiated the Israelis and Egyptians to be together.

Coby: The show exposes the audience to be open to new cultures. It’s a story of resilience and hope. This show opens one to a cultural tapestry of humankind..

The Band’s Visit closes on December 19, 2021. Tickets are available at Broadway in Hollywood

Geffen Stayhouse presents THE FUTURE

The team at The Geffen Playhouse refused to remain closed during the pandemic. They were one of the first theatre’s in the United States to creatively offer virtual interactive performances, renaming themselves during the pandemic“Geffen Stayhouse, Theater at Home.” 

Covid-weary theatre fans reverently purchased tickets in record-breaking numbers, selling out shows in minutes. 

Their first show in May 2020, THE PRESENT by card master and performer Helder Guimarães was a huge success. Under the direction of film producer Frank Marshall, who also directed Guimarães’ pre-pandemic show at the Geffen, Invisible Tango, Geffen patrons were familiar with this talented director and performer, so they fervently have been purchasing tickets to the duo’s new World Premiere of THE FUTURE

To me, watching Guimarães is like watching Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Beth Harmon in miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. He wins every time and always amazes his audience.

THE FUTURE is his newest interactive at-home illusion show, where ticket purchasers receive a package in the mail containing Zoom instructions and items to enhance the theatrical experience. This time a long back cylinder with a sticker stating, “Please Do Not Open Until Performance” lends an air of mystery and intrigue.

Part of the “Stayhouse” fun is checking in at least 15 minutes early with House Managers Amir and Mel. As the 25 audience members appear onscreen, they comment on the attendees who have dogs featured on their frame. Many of us to “ooh and say adorable” lending a community feel. Also while in the waiting area before the show, the screen offered a variety of trivia questions that included “What year was the Geffen Playhouse founded and when was the historic theatre constructed?” Answers appear to check to see if you guessed correctly.

Not to give too much of Guimarães’ THE FUTURE storyline away, but he takes his audience on a personal journey that is different than any of his other shows. He doesn’t stay still on one set, as he shares a tale of when he was 14 year’s old and met a reformed gambling man named “Kevin”. Living in Marseille, this card shark agrees to meet with the impressionable young Helder, and teaches him a few slight of hand secrets. Then we invites him to a real poker game to teach him an important lesson about friendship.

We follow Guimarães from his apartment, to a high-stakes poker salon and a cozy pub in the south of France. Not only is Guimarães one of the best slight of hand magicians, he also is an engaging storyteller. One question he poses to the audience is that, “if your were a cheater in poker, would you be a dealer or player?” 

While exploring the seedy underbelly of the gambling world, participants decide which version of events they prefer to see by voting and the majority vote rules. The intriguing story is as much about the viewer as it is about Guimarães.

He opens the show stating, “A great way to focus on The Present is The Future,” a nice tie-in to both of his shows. Throughout the show he selects one viewer at a time to participate, and then that viewer selects another viewer to help with Guimarães next illusion. 

When we finally were allowed to open our cylinder, we took out items as instructed and followed his directions. After each trick, there was always a chorus of “Wow, how did he do that” by many of the viewers. These items enhance the interactive experience during the 80 minute show. 

Guimarães urges the audience to “appreciate the little things, it’s what separates you from others” and at the end, a blue envelope inside the cylinder ties in the beginning of his story to the ending, leaving everyone touched and applauding.

The Future gives you insight to make a decision for the greater good. Hopefully in 2021 we will all be able to step inside The Geffen Playhouse and other theaters again, until it’s safe, Guimarães gives us hope for THE FUTURE.

WORLD PREMIERE THE FUTURE

Written and Performed by Helder Guimarães

Directed by Frank Marshall

Previews: Friday, December 4 – Thursday, December 10

Opening Night: Friday, December 11

Closing Night: Sunday, March 14, 2021

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Monday              No performance

Tuesday             8:00 p.m. PT

Wednesday        8:00 p.m. PT

Thursday            8:00 p.m. PT

Friday                 8:00 p.m. PT

Saturday             2:00 and 8:00 p.m. PT

Sunday               1:00 and 7:00 p.m. PT

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are currently priced at $95 per household. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Fees may apply.

The Geffen also has two other live interactive shows running simultaneously: Inside the Box, starring magician/puzzler David Kwong, and Citizen Detective, a virtual murder mystery. Geffen Playhouse’s hit 2018 production Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was filmed for on-demand viewing by On The Stage streaming and is available to watch now. Future shows include Bollywood Kitchen starting on Jan. 15, 2021.

“ELEPHANT ROOM: DUST FROM THE STARS”

Starting on December 16 – 20, CTG Creative Collective members Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle bring “Elephant Room: Dust from the Stars” to Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage. 

 Photo credit: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

Directed by Paul Lazar, audiences will follow magicians turned astro-nots Daryl Hannah, Dennis Diamond and Louie Magic as they return in this live, interactive sci-fi sequel to “Elephant Room, ” produced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2012. 

Hailed by The New York Times’ Elisabeth Vincentelli as “‘Wayne’s World’ crossbred with ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ simultaneously very funny and unexpectedly touching … the most resourceful, gleefully entertaining new theater piece I have seen during the pandemic.” 

“Elephant Room: Dust from the Stars” was commissioned and produced by Center Theatre Group and was developed with assistance and residencies from St. Ann’s Warehouse with additional support from the Orchard Project and was presented as part of the 2020 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

The 7 performances are FREE to Center Theatre Group subscribers and supporters, and $10 for all others. 

The Digital Stage also houses Center Theatre Group’s ever-expanding library of education, community outreach and Art Goes On videos. For more information, visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/DigitalStage.

Visit www.centertheatregroup.org/digitalstage/digital-stage-plus/elephant-room-dust-from-the-stars/ for tickets and more information – these live performances have limited capacity and require reservations.

Citizen Detective at The Geffen Stayhouse

The newest Geffen Stayhouse production, Citizen Detective takes place via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Each performance is limited to a maximum of 24 participants, however the night I attended the interactive performance there were 31 participants logged in. Each ticket holders is a sleuth, trying to solve the unsolved true cold murder case of Hollywood legend, William Desmond Taylor. 

Top Left Corner: Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick in the Geffen Stayhouse production of Citizen Detective. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse. Illustration by Rick Geary.

If you love reading and solving mysteries, this interactive experience might just be your favorite show for 2020.

Written and directed by Chelsea Marcantel, she creates a mix of theater, intrigue and collaborative code-breaking as each participant is accepted into Mickie McKittrick’s (Mike Ostroski) Citizen Detective training session. 

To become a detective in Citizen Detective, you must purchase a ticket and take a personality survey one week before showtime. The Geffen staff gather all this information to determine what suspect you will be given, and who you will be collaborating with in a breakout room session. 

Participants are also emailed instructions to print out a dossier to hold onto and make notes on throughout the show. Then 90 minutes before showtime, detectives receive another email with a password to enter a site and receive information about a specific suspect in this real murder case. A word for the rise, don’t take 3 minutes to gaze over this information before showtime. Study it and make notes on your printed dossier. There is a timeline section, clues section and other suspects area to keep one organized about specific events related to the murder.

Playwright and director Chelsea Marcantel. Photo by Ryan Bourque.

Amicable House Manager Emir Yonzon welcomes and introduces each person, often sharing interesting facts discovered on the person’s survey. Right before the show started, Emir allowed one more participant to appear in a Zoom frame. Wearing bright white headphones, we immediately determine this Gen Y gal is familiar with Emir and McKittrick. She banters on and on during her introduction, saying that she text McKittrick before the show, yet he didn’t respond. Her name on Zoom is Andrea (Paloma Nozicka), and she irritatingly unmutes herself often, interrupting and disrupting McKittrick after he appears onscreen. 

Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick and Paloma Nozicka as Andrea Piedra in the Geffen Stayhouse production of Citizen Detective. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

McKittrick explains to be a good detective one must display MMO. When he asks everyone to enter what this abbreviation means, a few eager sleuths write in the chat box – Motive, Means and Opportunity.

Tackling the murder case of William Desmond Taylor, we soon discover the Hollywood actor and director from the silent film era, was found dead in front of his home. During the 1920s, this case became a media circus due to an interesting line up of suspects that included his valet, his cook, a Hollywood starlet, an accountant, a cocaine addicted comedic actress, and a concerned and protective mother. 

Sometimes we all work independently typing answers in the chat box and other times we work together as a group. Those who love playing detective really got into this process, while others who are shy, sat back and watched. 

Breaking into our assigned small group to discuss our suspect was awkward. You have to leave the main screen and join a break out room with complete strangers. There were five people in my group. One Zoom square had a woman celebrating her birthday with four other people in her pod. We all just looked at each other waiting for someone in the group to be the first to discuss what we wrote down on our dossier about our suspect.

After collaborating about why we believed the cook, Edward Sands, could be innocent or guilty, we then had to assign a member from the group to be our leader and speak in front of everyone on Zoom. Since no one volunteered to lead, I rallied the birthday girl from Austin, Texas to be our speaker. She did an excellent job discussing our findings with everyone and received may accolades from McKittrick.

After learning about all of the suspects, Gen Y took over and insulted likable McKittrick about living in the dinosaur age in solving this murder. When he got upset and left Zoom, she took over the show. Listened to her for a few minutes, she is very good at being irritating and I found myself scrolling to see others reactions in the Gallery view. There was a handsome man downing a beer, another man holding and playing with his dog, and a woman running her fingers through her hair who caught my attention. That’s not a good sign, when I’m more fascinated observing people inside their own home, than following the show. 

Just when I pondered how this was going to end, a surprise celebrity enters and grabs my attention, yet within minutes I realized his appearance didn’t make any sense to this story and I left the show feeling it was just meh.

Geffen Playhouse just launched a series of new live, virtual and interactive world premiere productions from its Geffen Stayhouse banner. Besides Citizen Detective, they have addedafollow-up to Helder Guimarães’ (Invisible Tango, Nothing to Hide) The Future, and filmmaker and cookbook author Sri Rao’s (Netflix’s upcoming The Actress) Bollywood Kitchen. Additional Geffen Stayhouse productions are currently in development for 2021.

CITIZEN DETECTIVE

Written and Directed by Chelsea Marcantel

Previews: Tuesday, November 10 – Tuesday, November 17

Opening Night: Wednesday, November 18

Closing Night: Sunday, February 7

PRODUCTION TEAM

Associate Director/Dramaturg Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

Casting Director Phyllis Schuringa, CSA

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Monday              No performance

Tuesday             8:00 p.m. PT

Wednesday       6:00 p.m. PT

Thursday            8:00 p.m. PT

Friday                 6:00 p.m. PT

Saturday             2:00 and 8:00 p.m. PT

Sunday               1:00 and 7:00 p.m. PT

Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are currently priced at $65 per household. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Fees may apply.

Think “Inside the Box”

When renowned puzzle master, magician, and New York Times crossword constructor David Kwong discovered his show The Enigmatist, was postponed due to the coronavirus last Spring, Kwong and the Geffen Staycation team got creative to keep stay-at-home audiences entertained.

Picking up a Rubik cube, Kwong was inspired to create his new show Inside the Box via Zoom. It’s the perfect stage for games and word play, as Kwong designed a 5 x 5 grid box and filled it with 25 ticket holders. Kwong helps each participant think “inside the box” while solving word play and multi-layered puzzles in a safe environment.

“It’s a weird time right now and many people are trying to find ways to be together during the pandemic,” said Kwong“We all have more in common with puzzle masters in the world, than one would think.”

A few days before the show, I received an email with a link to download and print a packet of instructions and puzzles. On page 3 of the packet was a “pre-show” puzzle that needed to be solved before logging onto Zoom. There were also three pages of alphabetical letters that needed to be cut out for one of Kwong’s “Puzzle Time” moments. I also needed to bring with me at showtime a red item, a pencil or pen, and a game piece to a game board.

Amir the Geffen house manager, welcomed each person as they logged in and made sure they had their show packet ready. He stayed with us throughout the duration of the show to make sure it ran smoothly, to mute and unmute participates during various puzzle challenges. 

While I enjoyed participating in the interactive puzzle-solving games, my husband found the historical part of the show interesting. Our host shared facts and stories about some innovative people who created puzzles, that included the ancient Greeks. “Humans are programmed to make order out of chaos,” said Kwong, “that’s why puzzles are so important right now.”  

We learn about “Puzzle God” Martin Gardner. This recreational mathematician and accomplished magician was an inspiration to David Kwong. During one of the “Puzzle Time” moments, we learn that John Spilsbury, a British cartographer and engraver is credited as the inventor of the jigsaw puzzle in 1766, calling them “dissected maps.” 

Parker Brothers created jigsaw puzzles in America in 1908, and they became hugely popular during the Depression. “Jigsaw puzzles are for amusement, a distraction and solace,” said Kwong. Jigsaw puzzles are a time for family and friends to connect with each other, similar to how the pieces of a jigsaw connect to create a finished picture.

One of the most fascinating stories was about Margaret Ferrar, the founding puzzle editor of The New York Times in the 1940s. Kwong shared how the New York Times said crossword puzzles were sinful and a waste of time in the 1920s and 30s. “They changed their tune during WWII when times were bleak, and people needed a distraction.” Similar times to today with the coronavirus, Farrar’s puzzles inspired people to forget about their troubles.

“This is the Golden Age of puzzles and games. Before the coronavirus, Escape Rooms became the rage, now people are benefiting and stimulating their minds by working on a puzzles,” said Kwong.

For a change of pace, a laugh, and brain tease, be part of Inside The Box. 

The first release of tickets Sold Out, Inside The Box has been extended through January 3, 2021. You can sign up for personal notifications when tickets become available at https://www.geffenplayhouse.org/tickets/inside-the-box-notification/

Written and Performed by David Kwong

Previews: Tuesday, September 29 – Wednesday, October 7

Opening Night: Thursday, October 8

Closing Night: Sunday, November 8

PRODUCTION TEAM CREDITS

Creative Director Brett J. Banakis

Puzzle Consultant Dave Shukan

Video Designer Josh Higgason

Dramaturg Amy Levinson

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Monday             No performance

Tuesday            6:00 p.m. PT

Wednesday       8:00 p.m. PT

Thursday           6:00 p.m. PT

Friday                8:00 p.m. PT

Saturday  3:00 and 8:00 p.m. PT

Sunday 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. PT

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are currently priced at $55.00 – $65.00 per household. Available by phone at (310)208-2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.

Virtual Concert to Benefit The Actors Fund

Grab a drink, sit down and enjoy a virtual concert celebrating the music of legendary singer Neil Sedaka streaming on June 20th and 21st at 7pm EDT / 4pm PDT. This special performance will benefit The Actors Fund Covid-19 Relief efforts.

Neil Sedaka will lead off the concert with a special, introductory message from his home, before “Steppin Forward Virtually to Celebrate the Music of the Legendary Neil Sedaka” begins. This special event is presented by Robert R. Blume/Step Forward Entertainment and Pat Labez, in cooperation with both Neil Sedaka Music and The Actors Fund.

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 8.53.05 AM

Not only is Sedaka a singer, but a songwriter, composer, pianist and author. His impressive 60-year career ranges from being one of the first teen pop sensations of the 1950s, a tunesmith for himself and other artists in the 1960s, an international superstar in the 1970s, remaining a constant force in writing and performing presently.

The host of the virtual event is Krystin Goodwin, TV/Film actress and Fox reporter covering Entertainment and Trending News on Sirius XM Radio.

An international array of artists performing in the concert include a Lucille Lortel Award winner, a Drama Desk nominee, a Billboard chart album jazz pianist, recording artists, award-winning cabaret artists and Network TV / Film actors. In order of appearance, with the song they will be performing, are Renn Woods (You Mean Everything To Me), Justin Senense (I Go Ape), Paola Morales (The Immigrant), Denise Kara (Calendar Girl), Soara-Joye Ross (The Hungry Years), Xiaoqing (Mao) Zhang (Stupid Cupid), Emma Campbell (My Friend), Nina Martinez (Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen), Kea Chan (Where The Boys Are), Kayla Merrow (The Diary), Mitch Week (Rosemary Blue), Pat Labez (Run Samson Run), Anthony Salvador Lewis (Breaking Up Is Hard To Do), Gloria Papin (Solitaire), Marissa Mulder and Jon Weber (Love Will Keep Us Together).

Music is written by Neil Sedaka with either Howard Greenfield or Phil Cody, and this virtual concert, presented free of charge, and will be streamed on broadwayworld.com.

This musical event will also be available on other platforms including YouTube and Facebook Live. Optional donations can be made to benefit The Actors Fund.

For those who miss the June 20 and June 21 performance, it will be repeated on Thursday, June 25th at 10pm EDT, 7pm PDT.

To watch, plus a virtual program on the performers, visit www.steppinforwardnyc.com. 

 

Sting’s “The Last Ship” sails into LA

Sting is quite a storyteller in his new musical “The Last Ship” now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. It took him many years to write the hauntingly memorable songs that he sings with a stellar cast.

His inspiration for this show is a collage of the men and women that he grew up with in the shipbuilding community of Wallsend, north of England. Born in an epic landscape, the symbolism of ships and the thousands of men who worked in his town, shaped him as a man, and the music and lyrics he writes to honor them.

Before the show begins, many members of the cast walk onstage while the house lights are still up, as the audience finds their seats. The cast clap to Celtic style folk music, hug each other, chat, dance and look out into the audience.

When the house lights fade to black, foreman Jackie White (Sting) is front and center as the lights go up. Los Angeles is lucky to have the Grammy Award winning singer perform in this role. When the show was on Broadway and the UK, this role was performed by other actors.

As a narrator describes the community of people working and living near the shipyard, she speaks with a thick regional dialect that some may find difficult to understand.

When the second song sung by the company, “Island of Souls” begins, Sting fans will discover it’s the same award winning song from The Soul Cages album written in the early 90s. Sting’s lyrics are about a ship builder’s son, and a ship that carries a father and son “far away from this town,” foretelling the plot of this story

Two other songs in Act Two are from Sting’s past, including “All This Time” from The Soul Cages album, sung by Ellen Dawson (Sophie Redi) and “When We Danced” from the Field of Gold album.

During the song “Shipyard,” we learn while watching the cast sing and dance to choreography by Lucy Hind, that the men “built battleships and cruisers for Her Majesty the Queen and super tankers for Onassis.” The shipyard is the only life these men and women know.

I read that Sting never wanted to work in his town’s shipyard, because it was a scary, dark and dangerous place, casting shadows while towering near the front of his house. Lighting designer Matt Daw enhances this feeling with projections of clouds and a shipyard in sepia and gray colors on various scrims. My favorite lighting enhancements were sprays of water, so realistic I could imagine feeling the cool droplets, and a lighthouse projected on the back, while other lights bathed the set at each rotation.

Award winning designer 59 Productions set allows the actors to climb up ladders, and move easily about in their costumes by designer Molly Einchicomb. She dresses them in  neutral colored industrial clothing and coveralls.

The story is about friendship, love and perseverance. Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile) is a prodigal son who desires to leave home, before he winds up a shipbuilder like his father.  I liked how director Lorne Campbell staged Old Joe Fletcher (Sean Kearns) while singing “Dead Man’s Boots” with his son Gideon. The term “Dead Man’s Boots” means you can’t get a job until someone has died. This notion to work for life at the shipyard is not in young Gideon’s future. He seeks a better life, away from his home and aspires to sail away. Urging his sweetheart Meg Dawson (young Meg – Jade Sophia Vertannes, adult Meg – Frances McNamee) to join him, she isn’t quite ready to leave her family and friends, so Gideon sails away on a ship alone. Savile has a golden voice, and at times sounds like Sting, especially when signing Sting’s song “When We Danced.” Other moving songs Savile sings include “And Yet”, “Dead Man’s Boots” and “What Say You, Meg?” while trying to woo his sweetheart back into his life.

Sting has such a charismatic stage presence, yet so do other performers including Adian Sanderson (Marc Akinfolarin) who prefers intellectual discourse and has a preference for the metaphor. He is well read, reading Odyssey by Homer and has a gift for rhyming and meter. His lines are recited as sonnets, similar to Shakespeare.

Jackie White’s wife Peggy (Jackie Morrison) has a beautiful singing voice, especially while singing “The Last Ship”, “So to Speak” and “Underground River.” Morrison brought tears to my eyes while singing with the other women in the company “Women at the Gate” and “Show Some Respect.”

The town drunk Davey Harrison (Matt Corner) is a happy go lucky guy, never miserable and never blue, yet has a temper about what is right and wrong. He shares how he “was sober once for three hours, and it was the worst day of his life.” Corner is magnificent in this role and brings a lot of energy to the stage. As does Billy Thompson (Joe Caffrey) as the union leader at the shipyard.

While Gideon is gone, the future of the shipyard dims as the Manager (Sean Kearns) and Baroness Tynedale (Annie Grace) hold a special meeting to inform the workers that the boat “Utopia” has no buyers. If the ship is not sold, the ship has no value and will have to be taken down for scrap metal. It will be the last ship built in this yard.

With their futures uncertain, just like the miners and steel workers of this era, tensions flare and the townspeople unite and plan to picket. Foreman Jackie White (Sting) rallies the workers to take over and finish building this one last ship, while he battles damaged lungs from years of exposure in the shipyard.

Gideon returns home after his father’s death, 17 years later, to find a storm brewing at the shipyard, and with the love he left behind.

Hope is on the horizon, and the mountain of steel does sail on the sea to lay to rest a beloved man. At the end of the show, you will sing “The Last Ship” sailing all the way home.

Performances for Sting’s acclaimed musical, “The Last Ship,” runs a limited five-week engagement through February 16, 2020 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Cast ‘Jackie White’ Sting, ‘Meg’ Frances McNamee, ‘Peggy White’ Jackie Morrison, ‘Gideon Fletcher’ Oliver Savile. The remainder of the entirely British cast includes Marc Akinfolarin, Joe Caffrey, Matt Corner, Susan Fay, Orla Gormley, Annie Grace, Sean Kearns, Oliver Kearney, David Muscat, Tom Parsons, Joseph Peacock, Sophie Reid, Hannah Richardson and Jade Sophia Vertannes.

Music and Lyrics by Sting, New Book and Direction by Lorne Campbell, Original Book by John Logan & Brian Yorkey, Designer 59 Productions, Sound Designer Sebastian Frost, Lighting Designer Matt Daw, Music Supervisor and Orchestrator Rob Mathes, Musical Director Richard John, Movement Director Lucy Hind.

Ticket prices start at $35 at CenterTheatreGroup.org, or call Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or visit the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012). Members of all creative and labor unions are invited to set sail with Sting in his musical, The Last Ship, at on select Friday performances, January 17, 24, & 31. Center Theatre Group salutes the labor movement and the power of collective action with this exclusive ticket offer. $49 Tickets (Reg. $90-$120) can be reserved in advance, but must be picked up at the Will Call with Union ID. Use promo code UNION to buy tickets now.

For more information on the production and a video sneak peek, visit thelastshipmusical.com

The performance length is approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

This review was featured in OnStage Blog.

“WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME”

While attending the opening night of “What The Constitution Means To Me” now at the Mark Taper Forum, writer Heidi Schreck encourages the audience to ponder about the importance and how dated the U.S. Constitution is today.

Direct from Broadway, Director Oliver Butler has actress Maria Dizzia open the 100 minute show as an adult Schreck, and a fifteen-year-old Schreck participating in an American Legion debate competition. She asks the audience to become the same group of white male American Legion members who watched and judged her debates when she was a teen. 

We learn that Schreck was a pretty good debater, earning enough prize money to pay for her entire state college tuition. A few years ago, Schreck was thinking about the value and inadequacy of our Constitution, especially after our current administration gained power. She believes it’s time to re-evaluate the documents that she was zealous about as a teenager. 

Transforming into a teen, Dizzia describes how Schreck had a “buzz cut like Annie Lennox” the 1980s lead singer and songwriter for the band Eurythmics. She talks about her fascination with witches and actor Patrick Swayze.

Actor Mike Iveson appears in the audience as an American Legion proctor.  He walks onto the diorama style stage to begin the debate. Scenic designer Rachel Hauck enhances the room with four rows of framed photos of Legion Hall members.

The play focuses on questions asked by Iveson about Amendment 9 and Amendment 14 of the Constitution. The one thing I felt is sometimes it was hard to follow Dizzia transitioning from Schreck’s teenage and adult self. When she reveals intimate details about the sexual and physical abuse suffered by four generations of women in her life, she shares how these experiences relate to these amendments in the Constitution. We learn how it shaped and destroyed each of these women. 

The show details how the Constitution was written to protect rich white males, and how women’s rights, immigrants and citizenship rights are teetering today. This personal spin to each Amendment may make some in the audience uncomfortable, as she focuses on sexual assault, domestic abuse, and how immigration is dealt with under our current administration. Taped recordings of Justices Anthony Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasis the points made in this play.

Later in the play, Iveson comes out of character and shares with the audience about his own sexuality and how the Constitution doesn’t always protect him, even though he is a white male.

About 75 minutes into the play Dizzia engages in a debate about why we should modify the Constitution with a precocious 15 year old debater Rosdely Ciprian who believes we should leave it alone. Theatre ushers pass out little blue booklets by the ACLU on the Constitution of the United Stares of America. As the audience listens to these two women debate, they hear their opinions and decide who they believe should win. One audience member is chosen to read her final verdict aloud for all to hear. 

Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist spot for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this show will appeal to history buffs, liberals and feminists, but might make some in the audience uncomfortable as the playwright tackles abortion, equal citizen protection and immigration.

The play runs from Jan. 12 through Feb. 23, 2020.

The cast includes Maria Dizzia, Mike Iveson, Rosdely Ciprian and Jocelyn Shek on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings, and during Sunday matinee shows. Gabriel Marin and Jessica Savage are understudies. Director by Oliver Butler, the creative team includes scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Jen Schriever, and sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar. The production stage manager is Nicole Olson and the casting director is Taylor Williams.

Tickets start at $79 and are available at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/ or at the box office  or by phone (213)628-2772 starting at 10 a.m. weekdays, non on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. A limited number of $15 student rush tickets are available for every performance. Tickets may be reserved beginning at 10 a.m,, the day prior, while supplies last, and must be picked up at the Box Office with valid student ID. 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Rockin’ Fun ROCK OF AGES in Hollywood

In 2005 Matthew Weaver created the multi-genre entertaining musical Rock of Ages. It debuted as a new kind of musical in Los Angeles at the King King club on Hollywood Blvd. With its success, it was made into a motion picture, and also opened on Broadway. After performing over 2,350 shows, Rock of Ages earned 5 Tony nominations, and branched out to 20 productions worldwide. It appeals to all ages who appreciate classic rock. This show spotlights 30 hit songs from the 80s.

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Dave Gibbs, who played in the original Los Angeles and Broadway productions of Rock of Ages, is the music supervisor for the Rock of Ages Hollywood, now at The Bourbon Room. Music Director/ Keyboard Jonathan Quesenberry sits above drummer Kevin Kapler, setting the pace of this immersive show.

During previews, I walked up to the dark entrance of the Bourbon Room, and mentioned Rock of Ages to the doorman. As he opened the door, he placed a paper bracelet on my wrist and granted me access to proceed up the stairs. A rocker with an electric guitar greeted me while strumming as part of the pre-show upstairs on the lounge.

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The bar offers a rock themed drink menu with names that include, ‘Pour Some Bourbon On Me”, “Oh Sherry”, and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Snacks and bites include corn hush puppies, chicken tenders and a juicy Bourbon burger. A new food menu will be offered soon.

Rock n’ roll posters and photos hang on the walls in a lively atmosphere. After ordering a rockin’ Motorin cocktail, I was escorted to my seat inside the specially built theater. There are tables for 2 to 4 people that are pushed together for parties of 8 or more.

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There are multiple performance stages named after venues on Sunset Blvd. At the center of the show is The Bourbon Room. There is also the iconic ROXY sign in red neon lights, Chateau Marmont, The Whiskey, and Girls, Girls Girls! On the back wall are multiple MTV-style screens displaying popular music videos by Van Halen and other rock bands.

Director Kristin Hanggi earned a Best Direction Tony nominee for Rock of Ages in 2009. She has a stellar Rock of Ages cast in Hollywood who gyrate all over the room, while singing rockin’ songs from Styx, Asia, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe.

This is the type of show where audience members dress in 80s’ rock n’ roll attire to be part of the immersive experience. On the tables there are lighters with LED lights to flick on during favorite songs. Be prepared to have cast members dance and sing right next to you, they might even sit in your lap.

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The night I saw the show, actress Callandra Olivia who plays “Sherrie” took the night off, so swing actress Marisa Matthews stepped in. She was fabulous as a sweet blonde dreamer hoping to make it big in Hollywood. She shined singing “More Than Words” by rock band Extreme, and also when she sang with Ian Ward playing “Drew,” an aspiring rock star. Ward has a golden voice and rocks the house at the end signing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and “Oh Sherrie” by Journey.

Other stand out performances were Frankie Grande as “Franz Klineman,” son of the villain real estate developer ‘Hertz Klineman” played by Pat Towne. Klineman wants to tear down The Bourbon Room and redevelop Sunset Blvd., from Doheny to La Cienega. Soon the cast sing a rockin’ version of “We Built This City On Rock  n’ Roll” by Starship that caused the lighters to be held up high flickering.

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Photo courtesy of Rock of Ages

Grande’s fan club was sitting at the front tables cheering him on throughout the night. Not only did he star as this character Franz on Broadway, he is a well know reality TV personality and social media mogul. As a stand-out finalist on the hit CBS series, “Big Brother 16,” he was also a judge on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and houseguest on “Celebrity Big Brother” in the U.K. Grande shines on the stage and is one of the most lovable characters, especially during his scene with Berkeley environmentalist Stephanie Renee Wall as “Regina” singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar.

The audience swooned over actor Sean Lessard’s physique, as lead singer “Stacee Jaxx.” Full of himself, he is ready to leave his hit band Arsenal and go solo. His arrogance is hysterically funny. When he sings “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, he has every audience members full attention.

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Photo courtesy of Rock of Ages

Other electrifying numbers include when the entire cast sing Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. As the cast disperse into the audience, lighters are held up flickering again.

Nick Cordero as The Bourbon Room owner “Dennis” and Matt Wolpe as Dennis’ loyal sound set up man “Lonny” are a hysterical comic duo from the beginning of the show to the end. Their scene “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” by REO Speedwagon had the audience laughing out loud.

Regina Levert as “Mother” at the Venus Club invites Sherrie to work as one of her dancers. Lavert has a sensational voice singing “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash and “Anyway You Want It” by Journey with Matthews. “Mother’s” dancers put on quite a sexy show for the audience.

At Rock of Ages you will sing aloud with the people you arrived with and in harmony with those sitting around you. Everyone has a rockin good time!

Director: Kristin Hanggi. Cast: Tony Award Nominee Nick Cordero  as “Dennis,” Rock of Ages alum: Regina LeVert  as “Justice Charlier,” Frankie Grande as “Franz Klineman”, Sean Lessard as “Stacee Jaxx,” Tiffany Mallari, Chuck Saculla,  Marisa Matthews,  Callandra Olivia  as “Sherrie,” Stefan Raulston, Justin Ray as “Joey Primo,” Pat Towne as “Hertz Klineman,” Zoe Unkovich, Stephanie  Renee   Wall  as   “Regina,” Ian Ward  as “Drew,”  Matt Wolpe  as “Lonny,” and  Neka Zang  as “Constance.”

Musicians: Music Director/ Keyboard Jonathan Quesenberry, Greg Coates at Bass, Kevin Kapler at Drums, Seating in the venue is based upon the ticket price tier. All seats are table seating. Go to http://rockofageshollywood.com for tickets,

The show is about 2 hours and 10 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Rock of Ages Hollywood can be seen every day except Monday & Tuesday when the theater is dark (and available for private event rentals, btw). Performances are Wednesday thru Saturday at 8pm, 2pm matinee on Saturdays and Sunday evening at 7pm. Note that kids under 12 may be too young for the content.

The Bourbon Room is located at  6356 Hollywood Blvd, 2nd floor. Tickets: https://www.rockofageshollywood.com.

THIS REVIEW WAS FEATURED on ONSTAGE BLOG on January 16, 2020.

Theatre Review: A Kid Like Jake

Parenting is not easy for Alex (Sarah Utterback) and Greg (Tim Peper) with their precocious son Jake in the West Coast Premiere “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle and presented by IAMA Theatre Company. Marriage isn’t a piece of cake either, as we see in this explosive drama about a couple whose son prefers to dress up as Cinderella, instead of playing with trucks or G.I. Joe figures.

Taking my seat in the intimate Carrie Hamilton Theatre, above the Pasadena Playhouse, the play opens with a stressed out Alex trying to find the right words for an essay she has to include in a private primary school application. It has to be perfect so her Jake can get into one of the prestigious private Kindergartens in New York City. 

Seeking Jake’s preschool director Judy’s (award winning Sharon Lawrence) advice, she alerts the couple to a side of Jake that is becoming more transparent. He has a deep fondness to dress up as a princess, and not a prince. 

Lawrence stands out in this four performer show. Her professional Broadway credits include Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret, as well as Emmy winning television roles and Drama Critic recognition. When she reveals to Alex and Greg that their son is comfortable with gender expansive play, her subtle facial expressions and movements throughout this and other scenes are riveting to watch.

The more stressed Jake’s parents are about getting Jake into an expensive school that they can’t afford, the more frustrated everyone including Jake gets. Even at this young age he can feel the tension and grows frustrated and perplexed. Not only are his peers teasing him, but his parents are questioning what is allowed inside the home and what needs to be hidden outside.

Alex and Tim have different parenting styles, which puts tension on the whole situation causing a crack in their marriage that may or may not ever be repaired.

Set designer DeAnne Millais’ set is a typical family living room of a four year old child. Brightly colored cards hang on a wall unit listing the months of the year. Shelves are filled with books, toys and bins to store art supplies. There is a comfortable couch with a “Woody” doll from Toy Story near a coffee table. 

In the corner is a desk and chairs to represent Judy’s office at the preschool. Millais is clever in making good use of the set, transforming it into a doctor office, restaurant and the office of a director of a preschool with the help of of lighting designer Ginevra Lombardo.

As Judy convinces Alex that primary private schools want diversity and to capitalize on Jake’s special qualities, she says “They want kids and parents that stand out.” Since Jake prefers girl’s dress up and girls toys, Judy believes gender expansive expression should be highlighted in the private school applications. “Schools don’t just look at the kid, they look at the whole family.”

The likable nurse played by Olivia Liang is a newcomer compared to the other actors, having recently graduated from college.

This whole process stresses Alex so much. Everyone can see the tension on her face, which causes her health to decline. Director Jennifer Chambers has the cast stay in character as the characters remove props onstage while staying in character showing concernment, frustration and hopefulness throughout the play.

Another spectacular performance is by Tim Peper, a likable father and husband who blows a fuse and explodes from the stress of uncertainty about his future towards the end of the play. Peper shows his acting skills with raw courage as he roars like a lion at Alex. His intensity pierced my core, as this terrified and frustrated man pleads with his wife to get her wits about her. It’s a heartbreaking scene to watch causing both actors to tear up.

Some of my favorite lines include Judy telling Alex “We don’t always have to have answers, we just have to keep listening,” What this play highlights is how when kids grow, their personality changes. This process can be very hard on parents and the family unit.

This 90 minute show has no intermission in the intimate Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse.

A Kid Like Jake

Performances now through November 3

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.

Sundays at 7 p.m.

Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse

39 S. El Molina Ave.

Pasadena, CA. 91101

Tickets: General Admission $35

Call (323)380-8843

BLUE MAN GROUP will leave you SPEECHLESS

Actress and talk show host Busy Philipps, along with Dancing with the Stars contestant Kate Flannery, and actor Jeremy Sisto were some of the celebrities walking on the “blue” carpet during Opening Night of BLUE MAN GROUP at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Just as they were hitting their mark in front of paparazzi, the BLUE MAN GROUP took turns silently posing and upstaging guests.

The first time I saw Blue Man Group was in Boston during the 1990s. This collaborative show’s roots began when three close friends, Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton donned blue masks and led a street procession along Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1987. Receiving a lot of attention, they soon started performing an art show on small and larger stages. Now BLUE MAN GROUP performs in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Berlin and on tour worldwide with their premiere in Los Angeles for two weeks.

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This new show SPEECHLESS, had me feeling as if these blue men were part of an outer space tribe taking over the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Capturing two human musicians (Corky Gainsford who has been a BLUE MAN GROUP drummer for 18 years, primarily in Las Vegas, and Jerry Kops on strings and multi-instrumentalist with the group since 2006) to perform in the background, the show pushes the boundaries in color, bright lights, music, art, a little magic, and exciting human connection without a spoken word.

Inside the program is a yellow tear card that audiences use later in the show. On the card it states “The people are mailing codes to space. They are receiving letters from space, in the form of codes. These codes are being delivered all around us, on paths, making an invisible architecture.” This validates my out-of-this-world show.

New director Jenny Koons helps bring these codes to life with new music, fresh stories, custom instruments, and sensory-stimulating graphics.

It’s loud from the beginning when this blue trio enters onstage and pull a gong out of the bag to bang. With each strike, lights on the back wall sparkle along the chaotic floor to ceiling set by Jason Ardizzone-West. One soon realizes their senses will be challenged and at times overloaded by New York-based lighting designer Jen Schriever’s enhancements.

Every time the audience applauds, hoots and hollers, the blue performers onstage look out into the theatre bewildered. Without one word, they convey their intentions with their movements and eyes.

SPEECHLESS blends the best of the BLUE MAN GROUP spirit with paintballs, spin art, marshmallows, and running up and down the theatre aisles interacting with the audience.  A cameraman follows close behind and displays part of the compelling show, and people in the audience on an onstage screen. Don’t be late to the show, because you may be called out with lights, music, and your enormous face displayed for all in the theatre to see.

Other favorite scenes include white plastic PVC experimental tubes that become unique and pleasing sounding instruments. Each strike ignites a flash of light, and television monitors display images and colors.

What didn’t work for me was the colorful strings scene towards the end of the show, and the rubber chicken scene. It appealed to younger audience members but seemed a little staged and sophomoric to adults. Appealing to families with children ages 5 and up. Be aware that strobe lights, atmospheric effects, and sounds may be too overstimulating for younger children.

SPEECHLESS is part music concert and part light show offering a kaleidoscope of color and sound that has the audience vibrating in their seats.

BLUE MAN GROUP is owned and operated by Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, and at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre from September 24 – October 6, 2019.

The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

The L.A. Premiere of BLUE MAN GROUP has a limited number of tickets to winners of the Official Digital Lottery for $25 each. The lottery is hosted online by Broadway Direct.

Fans may enter the lottery by visiting http://www.HollywoodPantages.com/Lottery.

BLUE MAN GROUP has a running time of 90 minutes with no intermission.

Individual tickets for BLUE MAN GROUP start at $39. Prices are subject to change without notice.

For tickets or more information about the Los Angeles engagement of BLUE MAN GROUP, please visit the official website for Hollywood Pantages Theatre: http://www.HollywoodPantages.com/BlueManGroup.

This review was featured in OnStage Blog

Inspired after learning his son “Buddy” was being bullied at his prestigious private school by a racist student, Tony Award-winning actor and writer John Leguizamo delved into books about Latin history to find his son, and himself a Latin hero. While researching, he discovered honorable Latin leaders and epic civilizations that school textbooks overlook. With this wealth of information, he created his one-man show “Latin History for Morons.”

Under the direction of Tony Taccone (directed the first inception of “Angels in America” at the Mark Taper Forum at Center Theatre Group), this Latin 101 show is similar in how Lin-Manuel Miranda educates audiences about American History in “Hamilton”. Legiuzamo’s spoken word and sexy Tango, Mambo, Samba and Cha-Cha moves engage the audience filled with “morons.”

Lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols and sound designer Bray Poor’s original music enhance the scenes with Rachel Hauck’s classroom set that includes an old school chalkboard, stacks of books, file cabinets, a desk, and chair.

Growing up feeling like a second class citizen, the actor says in the Playbill “I need to please me, because that’s who I write for, really, and if I can write for myself and please myself, then I know it’ll please somebody else.” All of this knowledge “un-moronized’ and empowered him.

Leguizamo’s teaching style is engaging, crass, informative and entertaining. He probably would be fired on his first day for his raunchy drawings and multiple f-bombs, but for adult students, this one-man show is eye-opening and thought-provoking.

For 110 minutes, this talented actor becomes different people by changing vocal tones and inflections. He is a past teacher at his underfunded New York City public school; his low maintenance Jewish wife; his smart, but shy son; his wise teenage daughter; and an array of world leaders and discoverers.

Leguizamo shares with us how he was a “ghetto nerd” and felt invisible as a child in school, because his heritage was seldom taught in the classroom, emphasizing “Those who can not remember your past, will repeat it.” Leguizamo is not afraid to discuss our current President and his administration. His storytelling of 3,000 years of Latin history from the Mayans to Donald Trump, includes the King of Spain putting Latin people in cages, and with a straight face and tone, he says “Good thing that isn’t happening anymore.”

He points to a few audience members to answer some of his questions. When one man couldn’t answer correctly, the actor shouts out “Blame Betsy DeVos.”

Other political lines include how “Columbus was the Donald Trump of the New World” and the similarities of Cortez and Montezuma to Trump and Vladimir Putin’s relationship.

The audience roared in laughter when he uses the blackboard to sketch the world as a raunchy version of the super mellow PBS artist and teacher Bob Ross.

Another laugh out loud scene was when Leguizamo uses blackboard chalk to look more like U.S. 7th President Andrew Jackson, while educating us about the “Trail of Tears.”

“Latin History for Morons” concludes with “Latins are so American that it hurts. They have shed blood for America in every war in America, and are the most decorated soldiers.” If all this information was put into history books for our children to read, imagine how Americans would see Latin people and how Latin people would see themselves.

My favorite line in the show was when Leguizamo becomes his wise daughter offering advice, “If a bully is like sandpaper, he is going to hurt you, but in the end, he will wear out and you will be polished.”

For those who want to learn more about Latin History, Leguizamo lists an index of books in the Playbill to continue your education after the show.

Tickets are available at http://www.TheatreGroup.org, by calling Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles). Tickets range from $35 – $145 (ticket prices are subject to change). 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

This review is featured OnStage Blog

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