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  • “THE DROWSY CHAPERONE” – Premiere Productions at the Welk

    “THE DROWSY CHAPERONE” – Premiere Productions at the Welk

    Think of all the tropes and memes, stock characters and recurrent situations of musical theater. They all pop up in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

    There’s a handsome but bland leading man, a narcissistic leading lady, a Continental Lothario, a grumbling Broadway producer, a ditzy chorine, a butler and a pair of comically punning gangsters, all involved in mistaken identity, spit-takes, theater in-jokes and an on-again-off-again wedding.

    “The Drowsy Chaperone” – drowsy meaning ‘drunk,’ is a fictional 1928 tuner that serves as the musical-within-a-musical framework of the show of the same name that won five Tony Awards in 2006.

    Our guide, narrator and chief explicator, who sets it all in motion has no name; he’s just known as Man in Chair, a shlumpy, middle-aged, depressed, factoid-filled musical theater fanatic.

    He takes out a vinyl LP and introduces us to his favorite show of all time: “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a wild, spoofy romp about a Broadway star giving up her career for the man she loves – even though she barely knows him. Her frantic producer will do anything to get her back. Same with the two gangsters, posing as pastry chefs, who represent the show’s major investor.

    Originally written as a lark for a stag party in 1997, the musical was revised by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with a lively score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It’s supremely silly, but often clever, wacky fun.

    Premiere Productions is giving the show a colorful, energetic airing at the Welk, with direction and choreography by the redoubtable Ray Limon.

    The talent is somewhat inconsistent, and the Man in Chair could be louder and funnier, but the singing is excellent overall. There’s plenty of scenery-chewing, but that’s built into the show, which concludes with a quartet of marriages.

    The Man in Chair may remain a pathetic, agoraphobic kvetch, but the show that comes to life in his shabby living room never fails to cheer him up and transport him to another world. And that, he insists, is what musical theater is all about.


    “The Drowsy Chaperone” runs through August 27 at the Welk Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 8/17/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “EVITA” – The San Diego Repertory Theatre

    “EVITA” – The San Diego Repertory Theatre

    She may not have been the manipulative opportunist who appears in the musical. But Eva Perón, was an Argentine icon, beloved by the people during her life, and long after her death in 1952 at age 33.

    It’s no wonder her rags-to-riches story inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to create “Evita,” first as a rock opera concept album, and in 1978, a fully staged musical. When it opened on Broadway, it became the first British show to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.

    As the wife of the President, Juan Perón, Evita embodied the cult of celebrity, appealing directly to the working class that idolized her. Her detractors accused her of presenting politics as show business (we’re getting a dose of that ourselves these days).

    The critical voice in the musical is the cynical, fictional character Che, who challenges Eva at every turn.

    Her story was the stuff of drama, from beginning to end. The musical, probably not very politically accurate, plays down her good and charitable works, and questions her motives. But the story remains compelling.

    The show requires two hugely talented actor/singers at the center; the vocal demands of both roles are enormous.

    The San Diego Repertory Theatre has hit the jackpot with Jeffrey Ricca, handsome and charismatic as Che, and Marisa Matthews, adorable and irresistible as Evita. She makes palpable Eva’s seductive nature, and her hunger for fame and power. As Perón, Jason Maddy is wonderful, with an aptly stiff military bearing and a strong vocal presence.

    The entire production is potent, thanks to the direction of Sam Woodhouse and choreography of Javier Velasco. Sean Fanning’s church-like set is exquisite, and beautifully lit by much-missed former San Diegan David Lee Cuthbert. It’s breathtaking when the historic balcony glides forward for the show’s most memorable song, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”

    This is another of the Rep’s collaborations with the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, which offers high schoolers an incomparable professional experience, and allows the REP to expand its cast and orchestra.

    The singing is terrific. And the story, however factual it may be, remains provocative, four decades after its premiere and 65 years after Evita’s death.


    “EVITA” runs through August 27 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.

    Aired: 8/16/2017 11:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “KEN LUDWIG’S ROBIN HOOD” – The Old Globe

    “KEN LUDWIG’S ROBIN HOOD” – The Old Globe

    We could really use a Robin Hood right now. A charismatic leader dedicated to feeding the hungry, aiding the poor, and undermining the avarice of the wealthy. Even if he lived in a forest, I’d follow him.

    That thought likely informed the award-winning playwright, for his world premiere comedy, commissioned by The Old Globe: “Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood.”

    In the style of his wildly popular Sherlock Holmes mystery, “Baskerville,” which broke attendance records at the Globe in 2015, this is a small-cast show with multiple, comical costume changes and characters, and boatloads of cleverness.

    The comedy ranges from low to high, physical to linguistic; like the arrows in Robin’s quiver, the humor consistently hits the mark.

    Despite all the wacky hijinks, the story remains remarkably close to the English legend, probably originating in medieval ballads that told of Robin of Loxley and his band of Merry Men.

    In the 12th century, cruel Prince John has assumed the throne of his brother, Richard the Lionheart. Robin is doing his best to do good until Richard returns from the Crusades. He and his pals, including a stunning Maid Marion, a mandolin-playing Little John and a Falstaffian Friar Tuck, are desperately trying to save their country from abuse.

    Of course, they have to thwart the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne and, at least in this version, the hilariously bumbling and cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham.

    One funny running joke is that Prince John keeps spouting Shakespeare lines – 400 years before they were written. This, like the added character Doerwynn, a peasant girl who first rouses Robin’s conscience, is a crafty invention of the playwright.

    This ingenious production, under the shrewd direction of Jessica Stone, involves the audience at times, and doesn’t scrimp on the requisite swordplay and romance. The marvelous, chameleon-like cast of eight keeps us delighted, amused and engaged.

    Whether you relish swashbuckling adventure, amorous exploits, or good triumphing over evil, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. And maybe you can envision a Robin Hood for our benighted times.


    “Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood” runs through September 10 in the Old Globe’s White Theatre in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 8/3/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “ORDINARY DAYS” – InnerMission Productions

    “ORDINARY DAYS” – InnerMission Productions

    According to Adam Gwon’s “Ordinary Days,” everyone should have a Big Picture in mind. It’s broader and deeper than a Master Plan. It might include the full scope of where and who you are, or will be, in X-number of years – or beyond.

    In the 2012 chamber musical, four characters, adrift in Manhattan, are feeling swallowed up in the melee.

    Among the 20-somethings, one is looking for art, one for intellectual fulfillment. In the 30-something couple, one is searching for true love, and the other is running away from it.

    Reluctant Claire and romantic Jason just moved in together. But she’s not making space for him in her apartment -- or her heart.

    Cynical, unfocused Deb is at an impasse in her graduate thesis – and then she loses all her research notes. Optimistic Warren, who’s cat-sitting for an artist, though he really wants to be one, finds Deb’s papers. He’s gay, but he still thinks the meetup and exchange, strategically arranged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will lead to a deep and lasting friendship. He turns out to be right.

    In the end, they’re all freed from their current obstacles and, thanks to paintings at the Met, they all learn to see a little better – the way out of the past, or the beauty of the simple things in life.

    Though the sung-through piece feels a bit precious at times, the questions it raises are certainly relatable. We’ve all been disappointed in ourselves a time or two.

    Even in a big, loud, indifferent city, salvation and expiation might be found in meaningful connections and a little introspection.

    InnerMission Productions has chosen a small but challenging show for its first musical. While the characters are believably portrayed, the singing is variable. The quirky score is demanding, and at least one singer is way out of her range. Still, in the tiny space, Matthew Graber has directed well, and musical director Hazel Friedman accompanies with aplomb.

    As a musical, it isn’t perfect, either in conception or in performance. But the issues raised resonate deeply.


    “Ordinary Days” runs through August 12, in Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box space in University Heights.

    Aired: 8/2/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “ANGELS IN AMERICA” – National Theatre Live

    “ANGELS IN AMERICA” – National Theatre Live

    It was a knockout and a blockbuster when it opened in 1990. A jaw-dropping, theatrical game-changer. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” knocked everyone’s socks off, and garnered every honor imaginable, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

    Set in the 1980s, at the peak of the AIDS crisis, the play, which is presented in two parts, considers the complexities of the sociopolitical climate of that tense, fraught time. The writing is brilliant: both dense and funny, Poetic, historical, metaphorical and angry. The characters range from the sarcastically funny to the mentally unstable to the deeply confused. An angel makes a dramatic appearance in Part I, “Millennium Approaches.” In Part II, “Perestroika,” heaven has been abandoned by God, and one gay New Yorker is chosen as the messenger, who will help set things right.

    The Broadway production of both parts premiered in 1993. Ten years later, HBO created a stunning miniseries, directed by Mike Nichols, with an all-star cast featuring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino.

    Now along comes England’s National Theatre, with its inventive 2017 take on the complex masterwork, which seems eerily relevant right now. It’s directed by multi-award-winner Marianne Elliot, who helmed the wildly imaginative productions of “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.”

    Ever since 2009, the National Theatre has filmed its best and most popular productions, and sent them out to movie theaters in 60 countries around the world. We’re lucky that several San Diego theaters carry these magnificent, artfully filmed shows.

    So far, I’ve only seen Part I, a powerful piece starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. The performances are strong, though I still favor the HBO production. But I’ll reserve final judgment till I see Part II. The film only shows in certain theaters and on certain days. Check out ntlive.com and sign up to get their schedule and updates.

    If you’re a theaterlover, this is an unparalleled experience you absolutely cannot miss.


    The English National Theatre production of “Angels in America” runs this month only, at select movie theaters.

    Aired: 7/27/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “GUYS AND DOLLS” – The Old Globe

    “GUYS AND DOLLS” – The Old Globe

    What makes a great musical? A memorable score, fascinating characters and a compelling story. The icing on this theatrical cake is superb singing and terrific dancing.

    The Old Globe’s “Guys and Dolls” has it all. Many aficionados consider this the “perfect” musical. It’s based on the wonderfully colorful tales of beloved New York Prohibition Era short story writer Damon Runyan, with comical book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and fabulous music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The score includes timeless classics like “Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” which is, as always, a show-stopper. “Luck Be a Lady” is a winner, too.

    This production was mounted in association with the Asolo Repertory Theatre of Sarasota, Florida, where it debuted with a different cast this past winter.

    It’s a knockout – visually, vocally and terpsichorially. The look of a seedy, pre-Disney Times Square, formerly the city’s underbelly, is revealed in the first scene, with its fighters and flashers, cops and robbers, streetwalkers and sailors, and grifters galore.

    Then we meet the central gamblers and “no-goodniks” – the crap-game organizer, Nathan Detroit; the high-roller, Sky Masterson; and their romantic counterparts: Sky’s reluctant “Mission doll,” Sarah, and Nathan’s ever-sniffling, 14-year fiancée, Adelaide. This is the production’s one stellar, breakout performance: Veronica J. Kuehn, with her stratospherically squeaky voice and killer dance moves.

    All the dancing is phenomenal, thanks to Josh Rhodes’ direction and choreography – which is energetic, athletic, executed with supreme precision, and just plain fun. Lots of nice touches here, though the comic leads do tend to lean heavily on the dated laugh lines.

    Speaking of dated, the show, which premiered on Broadway in 1950, has some pretty antiquated views of women and marriage that might raise some hackles. Still, you can’t help but fall in love with these folks.

    While this isn’t a “Guys and Dolls” for the ages, it certainly is a lively and thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.


    “Guys and Dolls” runs through August 13 in the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 7/14/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “AT THE OLD PLACE” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “AT THE OLD PLACE” – La Jolla Playhouse

    Angie hasn’t been back to her Virginia family home in some time. She’s long been estranged from her mother and brother. Now that Mom is gone, the mid-career poetry professor has come back – to sort out her life, which has taken a few unfortunate turns.

    She’s surprised to find two 20-somethings hanging out on the front lawn. It’s a kind of refuge, or safe space, for them.

    During the course of 85 compelling minutes, Rachel Bonds’ world premiere, “At the Old Place,” fleshes out these three lost souls, all struggling to make a place for themselves, and possibly reconnect with “the road not taken.”

    The slowly unfolding play is Chekhovian in its slice-of-life realism, and like life, not every loose thread is neatly tied up at the end. But the characters and their plights are intriguing, and we’re gripped by their stories.

    At the La Jolla Playhouse, under the taut direction of associate artistic director Jaime Castañeda, the performances are outstanding, and thoroughly credible. The bookended coming-and-going feels a little forced, as does some of the dialogue for the fourth character, the less well-developed college teaching colleague.

    Heidi Armbruster perfectly captures Angie’s conflicted feelings and deep-seated angst, and Brenna Coates is terrific as the foul-mouthed, angry Jolene, a little trashy and always spoiling for a fight. Marcel Spears, as the gay, black former foster kid, Will, brings a sweetly sorrowful tone to the drama. Benim Foster is less bedraggled and less persuasive than we’d expect, as the hapless professor who’s just waiting for Angie to decide what she wants. If only she knew.

    The beautifully detailed house exterior is the centerpiece of the lovely set, which is nicely lit. The sound is crisp and the costumes are apt.

    Everyone here is adrift, searching for an anchor and a sense of belonging. They periodically reach out to each other, and find temporary solace – in booze, or poetry – but ultimately, like all of us, they each have to find and define family, home and direction for themselves.


    “At the Old Place” runs through July 31 at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD.

    Aired: 7/13/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


  • “THE MUSIC MAN” – Welk Resort Theatre

    “THE MUSIC MAN” – Welk Resort Theatre

    There are several essential ingredients for a successful production of “The Music Man”: powerful voices, strong dancers and rat-a-tat timing. Check, check and check. The Welk Resort Theatre has it all.

    Director/choreographer Ray Limon moves the show along at a sprightly clip, with especially well-timed, well-articulated work on the delectable syncopated, moving-train opener, “Rock Island,” and the fast-paced snake-oil sales of “Trouble.”

    David S. Humphrey, with his creamy baritone, makes for an attractive, seductive Harold Hill, the fast-talking flimflam man, a traveling salesman who goes around the country selling a bill of goods – in the form of a boys’ band. He always takes the money and runs.

    But this time is different. When he lands in River City, Iowa, the savvy town librarian, Marian Paroo, isn’t buying. Yet, when Hill’s con transforms the whole town, and he even opens up Marion’s taciturn young brother, she softens and falls. And Hill, for the first time in his life, falls too.

    The musical classic is awash in small-town, mid-century, Middle American nostalgia, complete with the requisite gossiping busybodies. And the oft-repeated “chip-on-the-shoulder stubbornness of Iowans.” The little burg needed some shaking up. And so did the reluctant lovers.

    The newly married Charlene (Koepf) Wilkinson brings her gorgeous voice and pitch-perfect standoffishness to the role of Marion. The singing, dancing and acting are strong throughout, but there’s no chemistry between the town Bad Boy and the Mayor’s daughter, though they both dance terrifically.

    Alex Allen is comical and agile as Marcellus, Hill’s former partner in crime, and Robin LaValley is amusing as the Mayor’s wife. The sound balance could be better. But the sets and costumes are just right.

    It’s a shame that the Welk has decided to discontinue live music, but if ever a show called for a big, brassy orchestral sound, it’s this one, so the taped music is less offensive than usual.

    Overall, it’s a delightful production of a show that, with its fun story and fabulous Meredith Willson score, never goes out of style.


    “THE MUSIC MAN” continues through July 30, at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 5/19/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer


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

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