Pat Launer, Center Stage
“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
“THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA”– The Old Globe
Betrayal, forgiveness – and the many ways love makes you kind of crazy.
Since “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” may not be Shakespeare’s wisest or wittiest work, it isn’t seriously harmed by being trimmed down to a sleek, 95 intermissionless minutes.
At the Old Globe, guest director Mark Lamos keeps the action lively, though there are some slow spots even in this brisk production. In the beautifully lit, whimsical, 2-D storybook set, houses are piled up on a hillside and pastoral trees rotate to becomeforest-dark and ominous.
Thoughthere’s little distinction between Verona and Milan, the Elizabethan costumes in both cities are stunning, with bright red pantaloons for the titular men, sumptuous gowns for the women, garish getups for the suitors -- evena ruff collar for the supposedly “sour-natured” dog, Crab, played by well-behaved and irresistible Khloe Jezbera, a black lab mix who steals every scene she’s in, even though her goofy master, Launce, should be getting all the laughs.
As the two gents of the title, these best buds have an easy rapport and appealing physicality. Hubert Point-Du-Jour’s Valentine has a regal elegance, as does Britney Coleman as his beloved, Silvia. By contrast, Adam Kantor as Proteus and Kristin Villanueva, as Julia, his main squeeze, seem far more impetuous and adolescent.
Proteus is a famously tricky character. Protean and erratic, for sure. He’s madly in love with Julia at the outset, professing undying devotion to her and to his BFF, Valentine. But the minute Proteus lays eyes on his friend’s fiancée, Silvia, he brashly begins to betray his bestie and abandon his beloved. His plotting and machinations are underhanded and self-serving, to say the least. We won’t even mention the attempted rape.
Comedies are supposed to end with a wedding. But after all he’s done, does Proteus really deserve to be forgiven by Valentine and taken back by Julia? In an enchantingly enigmatic final moment, all eyes are on Proteus – which adds a titillating frisson of doubt.
“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” runs through September 14, on the Old Globe’s Festival Stage.
Aired: 8/22/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“PAGEANT”– Cygnet Theatre
There are beauty queens – and then there are beauty Queens. The musical, “Pageant,” while satirizing the objectification of women, adds that “something extra.” All these lovely contestants are male, though some of them – in this case, the blondes – are so convincing you might just forget.
Once you’ve seen this comical competition, created in 1991 by Bill Russell, Frank Kelly and Albert Evans, you get the conceit. After five times – three of them with several of the same cast members – despite the abundance of glitter and glam, the show loses a little of its luster. And it’s not just the repeat viewings. Beauty pageants have faded along with the novelty of drag.
In the effective ensemble piece that is Cygnet Theatre’s well-crafted production, there’s one unequivocal star: the costumes. Shirley Pierson has gone all out, from the froufrou ball gowns to the wacky raiment for the extraneous outer space number. The outfits strike the perfect balance between whimsy, parody and tawdry.
Phil Johnson is once again spot-on as the smarmy host; no one oozes Lounge Lizard better. David McBean, looking especially fetching, soars again in his ventriloquist trio as Miss Deep South, though I recall greater distinctions among the three voices before, which made the frenetic reprise even funnier. Charles Osborn is amusing at the end, as sore loser Miss Texas, though with his tap dancing skills, he might be a winner some nights, since the judges are selected from the audience. But these characters, like the Glamouresse products they hawk, are cardboard and stereotypical.The massively pinkified set is only intensified by the gloriously garish lighting.
The singing is excellent and the comedy, however cheesy, is expertly delivered.As usual, the talent competition is a mixed bag; some segments are better written, and some performers are more adept than others. But all have great gams, and they finessethe clever choreography of director James Vasquez.
The show may be unchallenging and comfy, but it’s not campy. And when boys will be girls, that’s a gift.
“Pageant” runs through August 31, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
Aired: 8/15/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“QUARTET”– The Old Globe
“Art is meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel.” So says a character in “Quartet,” and the bittersweet comedy delivers.
A 1984 documentary about Casa Verdi, a home for retired opera singers and musicians -- originally funded by the maestro himself -- inspired award-winning playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood to create a theater piece for four elderly singers in just such a place. Harwood adapted his story for film in 2012.
Now “Quartet,” the play, is at the Old Globe, in a charming and amusing production deftly directed by Richard Seer, aided by an outstanding design team.
The four former singers are certainly characters -- eccentric octogenarians, you might say. Cissy, excellently played by Jill Tanner, is a bit dotty, but she always tries to see the best in people. Wilfred always tries to see the breast in people. Roger Forbes is delightful as the smut-minded provocateur. Robert Foxworth is perfect as Reggie, the persnickety, pedantic one who was once, unforgettably, married to Jean. And then, by surprise, Jean appears, the fading diva who’s mortified to find herself in such a place. Broadway veteran Elizabeth Franz expertly captures the fragility behind Jean’s imperiousness.
When the other three beg Jean to join them in the Quartet from “Rigoletto” as part of the celebration of Verdi’s birthday, she flat-out refuses. They’d sung it together in their heyday, but Jean feels they’d only embarrass themselves now, and would become a laughingstock. That she will not abide.
The bulk of the protracted play focuses on how the foursome come together, mending old wounds, revealing long-held secrets, leaving the past behind and attempting to move forward and look ahead.
It’s a poignant comedy, sprinkled with serious confrontations and confessions. Senior memory problems make for cheap laughs, but at least there’s no hearing impairment humor. Most impressive is the outstanding ensemble work.
Growing old and feeling irrelevant is no laughing matter. But Harwood brings a lot of heart – and art – to the proceedings.
“Quartet” runs through August 31, in the Old Globe’s White Theatre.
Aired: 8/8/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
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