San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for "Center Stage" is provided in part by The Handler Family.
  • “CALENDAR GIRLS” – Sullivan Players

    “CALENDAR GIRLS” – Sullivan Players

    Know the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’? ‘The Calendar Girls’ will tell you: Nude simply means more or less undressed. Naked means unprotected and vulnerable.

    So, it’s nude photos in Tim Firth’s poignant 2009 comedy, “Calendar Girls.” Based on a true story and made into a film in 2003, the play concerns a Yorkshire Women’s Institute. After one of the members lost her beloved husband to leukemia in 1998, they all banded together to raise money for cancer research. These close-knit, middle-aged women posed for a pinup calendar, and it became an international sensation, selling 88,000 copies and raising more than half a million dollars.

    In the play, the names have been changed, but the situation remains basically the same. Real life, however, was probably a lot less funny.

    The piece played London’s West End, then went on a national tour of England and Australia. It was also seen in Canada.

    But DJ Sullivan, who is retiring from the theater after 60 years of teaching and directing, snagged the first, exclusive American rights.

    DJ cast many of her long-term Sullivan Players, women willing to create an amusing calendar of their own, the proceeds of which will benefit the San Diego Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But there’s an extra layer of relevance here: almost everyone involved with the production has had a close personal encounter with cancer.

    So, when rabble-rousing firebrand Chris, convincingly played by Dori Salois, rails against the monstrous disease, you believe her every word.

    The pace is a bit sluggish in the first act, and the characters are fairly two-dimensional, but the ensemble is energetic and committed. Thankfully, the humor dampens the sentimentality and occasional didacticism. The excellent intention of the play and production makes you want to buy a calendar (even indomitable director Sullivan is in it!), and donate to a worthy cancer cause.
    If a comedy encourages you to be bold and philanthropic, that’s nothing less than a triumph.

    “Calendar Girls” runs through November 23, at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights.

    Aired: 11/21/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” – La Jolla Playhouse

    The musical spectacle is back. A grand, sumptuous epic has just taken over the La Jolla Playhouse: the U.S. premiere of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,”produced in association with New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Group.

    Some of the songs come from the 1996 Disney animated film, with its Oscar-nominated score: music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. This version, with a book by Peter Parnell, is even darker, and hews closer to the 1831 Victor Hugo novel.

    The set is stunning, and certainly makes the church itself a character, as Hugo intended. Here, it’s a colossal tri-level,featuring gargoyles, niches for saints, and of course, the massive bells, which make a very dramatic first appearance. Employing the magnificent soul-stirring choral ensemble, Sacra/Profana, adds to the feel of being inside a Cathedral.

    The sound and lighting are superb, and the multi-layered story is told in a highly imaginative manner, switching narrators, with characters sometimes talking about themselves in the third person. The direction of Scott Schwartz is inventive, though the cast often comes downstage and sings the many anthems directly to the audience.

    The voices are marvelous. The strongest overall performances come from the magnificent, commanding Patrick Page as that villainous Notre Dame archdeacon, Claude Frollo; Erik Lieberman as Clopin, the magical king of the gypsies; and Michael Arden as the bell-ringer Quasimodo, who makes himself misshapen before our eyes, and breaks our hearts with his gentle spirit, inarticulate speech and splendid voice.

    A four-way love is at the center of the story, set in Paris, 1482, as self-sacrificing Quasimodo, self-righteous Frollo and self-serving Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, all fall hard for Esmeralda, the irresistible, compassionate gypsy street dancer. Alliances shift, and some will die revealing their true nature. “Who is the monster and who is the man,” as the song goes.

    The 14-member orchestra is inspired, the choreography underwhelming. But for undoubtedly Broadway-bound pageantry, you can’t beat this captivating gothic/romantic tale.

    Before it even opened,“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was extended through December 14, at the La Jolla Playhouse.

    Aired: 11/14/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “BOOMERS” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    “BOOMERS” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    It’s the soundscape of our lives. Well, it is if you were born between 1946 and 1964. That makes you a Baby Boomer, and Lamb’s Players’ cash-cow perennial, “Boomers,” will make you want to jump up and sing. Focused on the Jell-O generation, it’s for anyone who loves the timeless tunes of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

    The revue, which covers a vast amount of territory, first opened over 20 years ago, and it’s returned again and again. I’d heard there were some updates on the Boomers’ journey from Flower Children to mainstream shoppers. Or, as one character puts it, “We started out consumed with passion. Now we’re passionate consumers.” Seventy-six million strong, from hippies to Yuppies and beyond.

    The updates concern life after 60. “I think, therefore, I’m single,” says one high-power professional woman. Another has had three divorces, and her adult offspring are still living at home.

    So, the Peace-Love generation didn’t turn out quite as tranquil as expected. But they sure had a helluva time along the way.

    The set-up has the audience as students; the snarky, sarcastic professor, a Boomer himself,delivers the history, starting with Bob Seger’s “Old-Time Rock and Roll” and ending with 3 Dog Night’s upbeat“Joy to the World.”

    In between, co-creators Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington interlace tons of tunes, including the theme songs of early TV shows, which both shaped and reflected who we were.

    Wonderful medleys of anti-war songs, civil rights songs, the war on poverty and the war between the sexes. Dating and breaking up – which, as we all know, is hard to do. The joys andturbulence of the times are shown in projections.

    There isn’t enough choreography, and there’s no gay story. But the band is fantastic and the voices are great, showing how we tuned in, we turned on, we dropped out, we got back into the mainstream. It’s a sometimes melancholy but mostly joyful story. We might forget we were there, but we never forget the music.

    “Boomers” has been extended again, through November 23, at the Horton Grand Theatre, downtown.

    Aired: 11/7/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “Regrets Only” – Diversionary Theatre

    “Regrets Only” – Diversionary Theatre

    Maybe you’ve seen the movie “A Day Without a Mexican.” Well, here’s a play that gives us A Day Without a Gay. You could subtitle Paul Rudnick’s “Regrets Only” Gaymageddon. Just think of it: What couldn’t you do if everyone of the homosexual persuasion suddenly disappeared from your life? Hip haircut? Fuggedaboudit. Major in Women’s Studies? No way, Josefina.

    This is only a small part of Rudnick’s laugh-line-a-minute 2006 comedy, but it’s probably the most memorable part.

    What we have here is wealthy New Yorkers of the Noël Coward school: quippy, superficial, appearance-obsessed and, in the case of socialite Tibby McCullough’’s husband and daughter, decidedly right-leaning.

    Tibby’s best friend is Hank Hadley, a fabulous, famous gay fashion designer. Her mother has married five gay men. But her husband has been tapped by the President (that would be George W) to work on a Constitutional amendment presenting an “iron-clad definition of legal marriage” as between a man and a woman. Jack McCullough drags his whiney, over-privileged lawyer-daughter along for the ride. Meanwhile, she announces that she’s just gotten engaged, which unleashes wide-ranging tirades on marriage, friendship, equality and fidelity.

    Diversionary Theatre has snagged the San Diego premiere of this contemporary drawing room comedy. Under Jessica John’s direction, the pace is lively and the cast is meringue-light and endlessly amusing, chicly attired in Alina Bokovikova’s stunning frocks, while they frolic in Matt Scott’s upscale set.

    Andrew Oswald’s Hank is an impeccable mix of smart, sassy and sarcastic. Kerry McCue is tasty as Tibby, and Dagmar Fields is a hoot as her wacky mother. Teri Brown tears up the place as the world’s most intrusive Jewish maid, who assumes foreign accents for fun. Charles Maze and Rachael Van Wormer tend to the shrill as the lawyerly father and daughter.

    Rudnick is one of the cheekiest, wittiest writers around. Have a laugh, and maybe you’ll have a think. Send no regrets; just show up at this soirée.

    “Regrets Only” continues through November 16 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 9/5/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “MY FAIR LADY”– Moonlight Stage Productions & “OKLAHOMA” – Welk Resort Theatre

    “MY FAIR LADY”– Moonlight Stage Productions & “OKLAHOMA” – Welk Resort Theatre

    Two old warhorses have been trotted out for another run. They don’t write musicals like this any more -- not as tuneful, and not as long!

    “My Fair Lady,” one of the most brilliant musicals ever, clocks in at three hours at Moonlight Stage Productions. Its genius comes from the book, largely lifted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the perfect inspiration for Lerner and Loewe’s terrific score.

    Steve Glaudini deftly directs a huge cast of 30, backed by an outstanding 25-piece orchestra, under the masterful baton of Elan McMahan. The singing is superb and the dancing is divine. But there are a few flaws in this attractive and elaborate production.

    Eliza is the flower-seller who’s to be passed off as a duchess on a bet between two phoneticians. As played by Hilary Maiberger, Eliza has surprisingly little Cockney accent at the outset, so her dialectal transformation is minimal – which is the whole point of the play. As her suitor, Freddy, Nick Adorno reveals little personality in his should-be-show-stopping song, “On the Street Where You Live.”

    On the plus side, Hank Stratton is marvelous as supercilious Professor Higgins, and Jamie Torcellini is delightful as the comic relief Alfred P. Doolittle, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Jim Chovick and Kathy Brombacher provide excellent support as Col. Pickering and Mrs. Higgins.

    Meanwhile, at the Welk Theatre, “Oklahoma” is vying for statehood again, in the heartfelt but corn-fed1963 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Here, too, the singing is strong, but the sets, wigs and four-piece musical accompaniment are weak. Despite a stellar score, and the best efforts of director/choreographer Dan Mojica, it’s hard for this show not to feel musty.

    The energy is high in the trimmed-down cast of 16, and the central players are vocally and dramatically potent; there’s fine chemistry between Allen Everman and Kailey O’Donnell as cowboy Curly and farmgirl Laurey. The love triangle with the menacing hired hand Jud Fry works effectively. Andrew Koslow is agile and amiable as warm-hearted but witless Will Parker, andArielle Meads is a stunner in the Dream Ballet.

    History and longevity make these two North County shows worth seeing, warts and all.

    “My Fair Lady” runs through August 30, at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
    “Oklahoma” continues through November 16 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 8/29/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

For an archive of all of Pat's reviews, going back to 1990, use the 'search' function at

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