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Pat Launer, Center Stage

  • “OCTOBER SKY” – The Old Globe

    “OCTOBER SKY” – The Old Globe

    Small town, Big Dreams.

    The new musical, “October Sky,” having its West coast premiere at The Old Globe, tells of a high schooler in a West Virginia coal mining town, who is expected to spend his life like his father, underground. But he sets his sights on the sky.

    It’s a compelling story, but what makes it really sing is its basis in fact, inspired by the memoir, “Rocket Boys,” by Homer Hickam, and the 1999 Universal film, “October Sky,” which is an anagram of Rocket Boys.

    In this knockout staging, presented in association with Universal Stage Productions, it’s 1957, and the residents of Coalwood watch Sputnik stream by. That thrill makes Homer want to build a rocket.

    So he gathers a few fellow outsiders, forming the Big Creek Missile Agency, to perfect the design. Homer’s mother is warmly supportive, as are his beloved science teacher and an adoring schoolmate.

    But his taciturn father just wants him to get down into the mine. Homer persists, the boys enter the science fair, and go all the way to the national level, a win that comes with a scholarship, Homer’s ticket out of town. This isn’t in the musical, but Hickam went on to have a highly successful career in NASA.

    The terrific, touching tale, with book by Brian Hill and Aaron Thielen, and often poetic lyrics by composer Michael Mahler, is better than the acclaimed movie, delving deeper into the relationships.

    The score, enjoyable if not memorable, has a country twang, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, played by an expert band. The singing is superb, with gorgeous, sometimes a capella harmonies. The cast is outstanding, and charismatic Kyle Selig makes Homer irresistible.

    Rachel Rockwell’s direction and choreography are razor-sharp, though she tends to bring soloists downstage, to face the audience and sing. The production values and special effects are exceptional, with the mine elevator going down and the rockets magically going up.

    This inspiring musical is about fathers and sons, looking to the stars, and following your dreams. Fittingly, Homer’s teacher quotes Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

    “October Sky” runs through October 23 at The Old Globe, in Balboa Park.
    Small town, Big Dreams.

    The new musical, “October Sky,” having its West coast premiere at The Old Globe, tells of a high schooler in a West Virginia coal mining town, who is expected to spend his life like his father, underground. But he sets his sights on the sky.

    It’s a compelling story, but what makes it really sing is its basis in fact, inspired by the memoir, “Rocket Boys,” by Homer Hickam, and the 1999 Universal film, “October Sky,” which is an anagram of Rocket Boys.

    In this knockout staging, presented in association with Universal Stage Productions, it’s 1957, and the residents of Coalwood watch Sputnik stream by. That thrill makes Homer want to build a rocket.

    So he gathers a few fellow outsiders, forming the Big Creek Missile Agency, to perfect the design. Homer’s mother is warmly supportive, as are his beloved science teacher and an adoring schoolmate.

    But his taciturn father just wants him to get down into the mine. Homer persists, the boys enter the science fair, and go all the way to the national level, a win that comes with a scholarship, Homer’s ticket out of town. This isn’t in the musical, but Hickam went on to have a highly successful career in NASA.

    The terrific, touching tale, with book by Brian Hill and Aaron Thielen, and often poetic lyrics by composer Michael Mahler, is better than the acclaimed movie, delving deeper into the relationships.

    The score, enjoyable if not memorable, has a country twang, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, played by an expert band. The singing is superb, with gorgeous, sometimes a capella harmonies. The cast is outstanding, and charismatic Kyle Selig makes Homer irresistible.

    Rachel Rockwell’s direction and choreography are razor-sharp, though she tends to bring soloists downstage, to face the audience and sing. The production values and special effects are exceptional, with the mine elevator going down and the rockets magically going up.

    This inspiring musical is about fathers and sons, looking to the stars, and following your dreams. Fittingly, Homer’s teacher quotes Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

    “October Sky” runs through October 23 at The Old Globe, in Balboa Park.
    Small town, Big Dreams.

    The new musical, “October Sky,” having its West coast premiere at The Old Globe, tells of a high schooler in a West Virginia coal mining town, who is expected to spend his life like his father, underground. But he sets his sights on the sky.

    It’s a compelling story, but what makes it really sing is its basis in fact, inspired by the memoir, “Rocket Boys,” by Homer Hickam, and the 1999 Universal film, “October Sky,” which is an anagram of Rocket Boys.

    In this knockout staging, presented in association with Universal Stage Productions, it’s 1957, and the residents of Coalwood watch Sputnik stream by. That thrill makes Homer want to build a rocket.

    So he gathers a few fellow outsiders, forming the Big Creek Missile Agency, to perfect the design. Homer’s mother is warmly supportive, as are his beloved science teacher and an adoring schoolmate.

    But his taciturn father just wants him to get down into the mine. Homer persists, the boys enter the science fair, and go all the way to the national level, a win that comes with a scholarship, Homer’s ticket out of town. This isn’t in the musical, but Hickam went on to have a highly successful career in NASA.

    The terrific, touching tale, with book by Brian Hill and Aaron Thielen, and often poetic lyrics by composer Michael Mahler, is better than the acclaimed movie, delving deeper into the relationships.

    The score, enjoyable if not memorable, has a country twang, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, played by an expert band. The singing is superb, with gorgeous, sometimes a capella harmonies. The cast is outstanding, and charismatic Kyle Selig makes Homer irresistible.

    Rachel Rockwell’s direction and choreography are razor-sharp, though she tends to bring soloists downstage, to face the audience and sing. The production values and special effects are exceptional, with the mine elevator going down and the rockets magically going up.

    This inspiring musical is about fathers and sons, looking to the stars, and following your dreams. Fittingly, Homer’s teacher quotes Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

    “October Sky” runs through October 23 at The Old Globe, in Balboa Park.
    Small town, Big Dreams.

    The new musical, “October Sky,” having its West coast premiere at The Old Globe, tells of a high schooler in a West Virginia coal mining town, who is expected to spend his life like his father, underground. But he sets his sights on the sky.

    It’s a compelling story, but what makes it really sing is its basis in fact, inspired by the memoir, “Rocket Boys,” by Homer Hickam, and the 1999 Universal film, “October Sky,” which is an anagram of Rocket Boys.

    In this knockout staging, presented in association with Universal Stage Productions, it’s 1957, and the residents of Coalwood watch Sputnik stream by. That thrill makes Homer want to build a rocket.

    So he gathers a few fellow outsiders, forming the Big Creek Missile Agency, to perfect the design. Homer’s mother is warmly supportive, as are his beloved science teacher and an adoring schoolmate.

    But his taciturn father just wants him to get down into the mine. Homer persists, the boys enter the science fair, and go all the way to the national level, a win that comes with a scholarship, Homer’s ticket out of town. This isn’t in the musical, but Hickam went on to have a highly successful career in NASA.

    The terrific, touching tale, with book by Brian Hill and Aaron Thielen, and often poetic lyrics by composer Michael Mahler, is better than the acclaimed movie, delving deeper into the relationships.

    The score, enjoyable if not memorable, has a country twang, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, played by an expert band. The singing is superb, with gorgeous, sometimes acapella harmonies. The cast is outstanding, and charismatic Kyle Selig makes Homer irresistible.

    Rachel Rockwell’s direction and choreography are razor-sharp, though she tends to bring soloists downstage, to face the audience and sing. The production values and special effects are exceptional, with the mine elevator going down and the rockets magically going up.

    This inspiring musical is about fathers and sons, looking to the stars, and following your dreams. Fittingly, Homer’s teacher quotes Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”


    “October Sky” runs through October 23 at The Old Globe, in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 9/29/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer


  • “PEERLESS” – Moxie Theatre

    “PEERLESS” – Moxie Theatre

    Playwright Jiehae Park, an alumna of UCSD, seems to have taken the weird sisters’ incantation in “Macbeth” – “double, double, toil and trouble,” rather literally. Riffing on Shakespeare’s work, she created “peerless” in 2015, focusing on a pair of identical twins. She dubbed them L and M – single-letter initial stand-ins for Lady Macbeth and her mate.
    She also drew from the twisted true story of the Gibbons twins of Wales, who had a private language, spoke to no one, descended into a life of crime and in 1993, sacrificed one for the good of both.

    Park’s L and M are 17 year-old suburban high schoolers, angling for a position in a coveted College. In the cutthroat world of college admissions, they’ll do absolutely anything to ensure their destiny, which is foretold by the spooky, witchy Dirty Girl. They’ll use their minority status, stagger their applications, even relocate to the Midwest to enhance their Ivy League prospects.

    Then the geekiest guy in school snags Early Decision acceptance instead of the twins; nefarious plans and tragic outcomes ensue.

    Park’s play is dark, menacing and brutal – but it’s also very funny. Her writing is smart and sharp, and she references Shakespeare in slyly imaginative ways.

    To inaugurate its 12th season and 50th production, Moxie Theatre gets the pace, tone, and supernatural sensibility completely right. Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg triumphs again.

    As the stereotypically over-achieving Asian twins, Jyl Kaneshiro and Dana Wing Lau are terrific – talking in brilliant, frenetic bursts, finishing each other’s thoughts, eerily bound by a mutual devotion that fires their every callous act. Solid Vimel Sephus, hilarious Justin Lang, and chameleon Jennifer Eve Thorn are superb.

    The marvelous scenic, sound, costume and lighting design evince a hint of humor in every deliciously sinister decision.

    Love can inspire despicable acts. Identity can be slippery. Ambition, guilt and betrayal can be deadly. But we knew that from Shakespeare. Now, we see it all anew, through this fresh, timely and gleefully perverse prism.


    “peerless” runs through October 9 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.

    Aired: 9/22/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer


  • “THE COCKTAIL HOUR” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    “THE COCKTAIL HOUR” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    So, what do you think your family would say if you informed them that you’d written a play about them? And your play was called “The Cocktail Hour.” And you told them during the household’s inviolable cocktail hour, in a show called “The Cocktail Hour.”

    A.R. Gurney’s 1988 comedy of manners is so clever and meta and autobiographical. A little too smug and self-satisfied for my taste. Oh, and let’s not forget the lampooning of theater itself. Not to mention a rather polite skewering of the privileged Buffalo class the playwright came from.

    Onstage, it’s the 1970s in upstate New York, a time when theater is, according to the paterfamilias, a place where all they do is “shout obscenities, then take their clothes off.” Literature is quoted, sometimes erroneously. The hired help is berated – behind their backs, of course. Swearing is déclassé and will not be tolerated. The mother wears pearls and does needlepoint, while deflecting any provocative conversation. She does, however, get visibly upset by a ruined roast.

    The grown brother and sister, parents themselves, trade some pointed barbs, and have unsettled issues. But the real confrontation comes between father and son.

    John, who’s always felt neglected, spent his life clamoring for attention, and perhaps that’s what he’s doing now, too, stirring up unwanted emotions (that would be most emotions in this buttoned-down group).

    By Act 2, after countless rounds of drinks, truths are revealed, everyone comes clean and pursues a long-suppressed dream, and all’s right with the patrician world.

    Gurney sees wealthy East coast Brahmins as a dying breed, and he’s spent his career chronicling them. Though there are a few amusing lines here, this clan is basically a tedious, unlikable bunch.

    But at North Coast Repertory Theatre, the design is aptly tasteful and, under the direction of Rosina Reynolds, the excellent performances are thoroughly convincing, even if the neatly packaged ending isn’t. Somehow, more ethnic families seem to have more interesting neuroses and outbursts – though father/son mutual misunderstanding never goes out of style. If only it were so easily resolved.


    “The Cocktail Hour” has been extended through October 8 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

    Aired: 9/14/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer


  • “SWEET CHARITY” – The Welk Theatre

    “SWEET CHARITY” – The Welk Theatre

    It’s hard to believe the spunky 1966 musical, “Sweet Charity,” had its origins in the dark, 1957 Fellini film, “Nights of Cabiria.” But it certainly does perpetuate the old cliché of the whore with the heart of gold.

    Charity Hope Valentine is just looking for love, but her job as dance-hall girl with benefits doesn’t exactly land her in the most facilitative circumstances. From the men she meets at the Fandango Ballroom to the lake overlook where she’s tossed over the edge, she gets hurt and dumped more than adored. Then she meets a neurotic, hyper-claustrophobic Nice Guy, whom she talks and sings through a harrowing elevator shutdown. Maybe her tide has turned. Or, maybe not, in a bittersweet, momentary nod to the superb source material, clumsily adapted by Neil Simon.

    Charity’s hope springs eternal, and so does ours in the decidedly ‘60s, eye-popping, psychedelic production gleefully presented at the Welk Resort Theatre. Director/choreographer Ray Limon pays splendid homage to the Tony Award-winning choreography of Bob Fosse, with those iconic angular moves, impressively captured by an expert ensemble.

    It’s 1966, and “Laugh-In” is invoked at every turn, though in fact, the TV show premiered a year after the musical. “Sock it to me” and “The Fickle Finger of Fate,” show up regularly, as does the loopy, hippie sensibility, especially in the ridiculous number celebrating an alt-church, “The Rhythm of Life.” There are too many silly moments like this, and too much empty fill. But we have to separate the show – flawed—from the production -- charming.

    Natalie Nucci has the ideal dance moves and insouciance for Charity, aided by her buddies, amusingly played by Adrian Mustain and Justin High. The look and sound are great: from the bi-level metallic set to the jazzy costumes and lighting. Just ignore the dated inanities of the story and focus on the compelling performances, excellent 5-piece band, strong vocals and vibrant visuals. And if you happen to remember “Laugh-In,” so much the funnier.


    “Sweet Charity” continues through November 20 at The Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 9/8/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer


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

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