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  • “HEATHERS THE MUSICAL” – OnStage Playhouse

    “HEATHERS THE MUSICAL” – OnStage Playhouse

    Remember those popular mean girls in high school? Well, they’re back, nastier than ever – and not only bullying, but belting!

    OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista has snagged the local premiere of “Heathers the Musical,” the 2010 stage adaptation of the 1988 cult film, ‘Heathers.’

    The show deals with serious topics like teen suicide, eating disorders and gun violence, not to mention homophobia and ridiculing fat girls. But the quirky stage version is much funnier than the movie, which was considerably darker and crueler.

    The musical sports the joint sensibility of its co-creators: Laurence O’Keefe, who worked on the musical adaptation of “Legally Blonde,” as well as the off-the-wall “Bat Boy,” and Kevin Murphy, a collaborator on the musical spoof of that 1936 classic, “Reefer Madness.”

    Together, they whipped up a snarky, profanity-laced, often hilarious entertainment that’s getting a highly energetic showcase at OnStage.

    Directors Manny and Tony Bejarano underscore the camp and the humor, and provide imaginative staging, including a couple of excellently-executed fight scenes. Shirley Johnston adds some lively, playful choreography. And the costumes are a hoot.

    Many of the lines come directly from the film but they’re turned into funny, poignant or off-color songs. “Blue” might be my favorite, but its lyrics aren’t suitable for a family radio station.

    The peppy rock score sometimes sizzles, but in a small theater, the three-piece band, especially the percussion, often overpowers or drowns out the singers, so many of the clever lyrics are missed. Some in the talented cast of 15 could articulate more precisely as well.

    But they certainly have the look, especially Olivia Berger as the most malicious of the three Heathers; Kay Marion McNellen as Veronica, the good-hearted Heather-wannabe; Elizabeth Jimenez, touching as the overweight, ridiculed Martha Dunnstock, AKA Dumptruck; and M. Keala Milles, Jr. as the psychopathic Bad Boy, JD, who yanks an unsuspecting Veronica into his nefarious plans for student body annihilation.

    It’s all way over the top, but it’s one wacky, wicked way to recall the horrors of high school. “Heathers,” as one song puts it, is “Big Fun.”

    “Awake and Sing!” continues through April 16 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.

    Aired: 4/27/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “MARGIN OF ERROR” – The Roustabouts Theatre Co.

    “MARGIN OF ERROR” – The Roustabouts Theatre Co.

    Does genius grant exemption from morality? Certainly, many brilliant artists and scientists have exhibited less than brilliant behavior.

    Take Anton Myrvold. He’s just become a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Physics. He considers himself, and his work, beyond reproach. He’s actually labeled himself the “conscience of science.” He’s passionate about his work on astronomical Dark Matter.

    But, over the course of one evening, we come to see the Dark Matters lurking in his own life – both personal and professional.

    He bullies his wife, an international human rights activist. He’s bombastic, pedantic, condescending. But he can also be a romantic, and an inspiration to his University of Chicago students. At this intimate dinner, he’s ready to announce the post-doc who will be honored with the most coveted fellowship in physics.

    Anton promised the prize to the gifted Gray a year ago. But instead, he’s decided to give the internship to Gray’s somewhat less talented girlfriend, Britt.

    Before the night is over, each of these fascinating, fictional characters will be tested to their ethical core. All will exhibit an instinct for ruthlessness, as they consider just how far they’ll go to get what they want.

    This provocative drama, “Margin of Error,” is a world premiere by playwright Will Cooper, and the premiere production of San Diego’s newest theater company, The Roustabouts, co-founded by Cooper, and local actor/director/writers Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager.

    Yeager is the commanding center of this outstanding production, forcefully directed by Rosina Reynolds. The impeccable ensemble also includes Joel Miller, Kate Rose Reynolds and Roxane Corrasco.

    The design work is superb, and contributes mightily to an auspicious beginning for this theater and this play. Despite some clumsy exposition, wavering accents and an excess of symmetry and repetition, this thought-provoking drama confronts critical issues of integrity, morality, abuse of power and women’s precarious position in the world of science.

    As Anton attempts to rationalize his actions, as men like him so often do, he insists that “It is our shadows that make us interesting.”

    Look to the skies and ponder that.

    “Margin of Error” continues through May 7 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.

    Aired: 4/25/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “FIRST DATE” – San Diego Musical Theatre

    “FIRST DATE” – San Diego Musical Theatre

    Surely you’ve experienced “The Awkward Pause” a time or two. And you’ve had both accurate and erroneous “First Impressions,” while you were on the prowl for “The One.”

    Those are all song titles in the small-cast, small-scale musical comedy, “First Date.”

    Anyone who’s ever been on a blind date – and who hasn’t? – will find something to relate to – from the recognition that being Googled may reveal a few things about you that you’d rather a potential mate didn’t know, to the dilemma of deciding who pays the check for the drinks or first meal.

    Not to mention those voices in your head – which, in this show, include a dead grandmother, an ex-fiancée, a psychotherapist, a future son, and besties who offer exit-friendly ‘bailout’ phonecalls.

    Most of this is territory that’s been trod before, but book writer Austin Winsberg, whose credits include TV’s “Gossip Girl,” gives the material a spunky, often-clever spin, backed by a peppy pop-rock score by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner. It all takes place in a stylish Manhattan bistro, tastefully designed and lit.

    Casey is a serial dater, so this certainly isn’t new turf for her. She’s a sassy, self-assured Boho-wannabe, dolled up in a skin-tight, short red dress (which big-voiced Cassandra Nuss fussed with all through the musical’s 90 minutes).

    Across the table from her is Aaron, dexterously played by Joshua David Cavanaugh as a self-conscious geek, what Casey calls a BDV, Blind Date Virgin.

    They seem like an incredible mismatch, though they’re very credibly portrayed. But you know exactly how things will turn out, despite the interminable interruptions from those omnipresent disrupters, some of whom actually mean well.

    Casey’s married sister keeps telling her to tone it down, and Aaron’s best bud keeps telling him to pump it up, with machismo.

    J. Scott Lapp directs with panache, and though the sound mix was way out of whack on opening night, the band is potent and buoyant. But the over-amped music made it hard to discern many of the lyrics.

    While the amiable show itself is unlikely to stay with you, the personal memories it evokes will linger long after.

    The San Diego Musical Theatre production of “First Date” continues through May 7, at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown.

    Aired: 4/12/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “FLEMMING (An American Thriller)” – Scripps Ranch Theatre

    “FLEMMING (An American Thriller)” – Scripps Ranch Theatre

    It was one of those balmy nights in San Diego. I found myself huddled in a dark room. Twenty feet away from me, people were dropping dead, one after another: gunshot, poison, excessive numbers of bizarre alcoholic beverages. It was enough to make a jaded critic sit up and take notice.

    A well-appointed black and white room. Eight black-and-white-clad characters. Characters with a capital K. I tried like crazy to figure out who the heck dunnit. Who on God’s green earth forced so many laughs from my jaundiced lips?

    It was Sam Bobrick, playwright of “Flemming (An American Thriller).” This film noir spoof is a wildly colorful hoot. A nonstop barrage of hilarious deadpan lines that take aim at cops, psychiatrists, wealth, marriage, family and more.

    We’re in a tony house in upscale Westport, Connecticut. Modern day. All the amenities. But Henry Flemming, an investment banker with a great life, a lovely wife. and two kids he never sees, feels trapped and unhappy. So he sells his business, buys a practice, inherits a secretary and becomes a detective. And with his first case, the bodies start piling up.

    The play has more twists than Chubby Checker. Don’t bother trying to solve the mystery. Embrace the lunacy and let it fly. It all gets sorted out in the end, complexly but satisfyingly.
    At Scripps Ranch Theatre, director Robert May and his crackerjack team of designers have created stunning sets, costumes and lighting.

    Cris O’Bryon is the milquetoast Flemming, who gets his Peter Gunn on, turning his midlife moment into a crisis for the unfortunate victims, but a grand step forward on his way to contentment and manning up.

    O’Bryon is funny, as are Matt Thompson, Kristin Woodburn and Walter Murray. But in thrillers, farces and parodies, a crackling pace is paramount. Here, line flubs and an often sluggish tempo work against a romp that should clock in at a brisk 90 minutes, without the intrusive intermission.

    Still, you’re sure to get some hearty chuckles and snorts out of this smart, crafty sendup.

    “Flemming” continues through April 30, at Scripps Ranch Theatre.

    Aired: 4/11/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “AWAKE AND SING!” – New Village Arts

    “AWAKE AND SING!” – New Village Arts

    Capitalism. Marxism. Pragmatism. Jewish Motherism.

    “Awake and Sing!” has a little of everything, as the eccentric Berger family struggles through the Great Depression.

    Three Jewish generations, plus assorted hangers-on, are crammed into a small Bronx apartment. Grandpa Jacob is the book- and music-loving Marxist, who decries rapacious capitalists like his self-satisfied son Morty. Jacob’s indomitable daughter Bessie just wants what’s best for everyone – as long as she gets to say what that is, ignoring the entreaties of her children and her ineffectual, milquetoast husband.

    But Bessie’s kids want more. They want a life of their own. They want to pursue their version of The American Dream.

    Hennie gets married off to Sam, an immigrant who repulses her. Moe, a no-nonsense, Mafia-like sharpy, has loved her for years, and promises her more.

    And Ralph, the only Berger with real chutzpah, the only one who really listens to and appreciates his grandfather, wants love and success on his own terms.

    Arguments are propounded, compromises are made. There’s obvious suffering in this loving but discordant clan. Still, the 1935 play, considered the masterwork of Clifford Odets, ends on a positive note, with hope for the younger generation.

    New Village Arts triumphed several years ago with “Golden Boy, also by Odets. Now, approaching her 17th season, premiering an 82 year-old play, NVA founding artistic director Kristianne Kurner has assembled a stellar cast, a tight, focused ensemble. Even the smallest character is sharply etched and thoroughly credible.

    The dialogue and most of the New York accents are convincing. The costumes are period-perfect. The lighting and sound provide subtle support. The scenic design, also by Kurner, captures the time and cultural sensibility, even including a clothesline of laundry outside the cramped apartment.

    Only two figures, dimly lit above the playing space, remain enigmatic. One is a musician; the other a writer, but their relationship to the action is opaque.

    Most important, the message of the drama remains relevant. Don’t get bogged down in philosophy or obligation. Don’t be numbed into somnambulance by your social/political/familial situation. Rise up! Awake and Sing!

    “Awake and Sing!” continues through April 16 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.

    Aired: 3/30/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “On the 20th Century” - Cygnet Theatre

    “On the 20th Century” - Cygnet Theatre

    In times of stress and distress, what you need is a diversion, maybe even a change of scenery. How about a nice train ride?

    Hop “On the 20th Century” at Cygnet Theatre, and prepare yourself for an evening of unalloyed bliss.

    This trip is engineered by some of the best, with book and lyrics by the legendary Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Cy Coleman, directed by Sean Murray and featuring the finest musical/comic talent San Diego has to offer. You’re guaranteed to be transported – without ever leaving your seat.

    The 20th Century was a famous, luxury train that ran between Chicago and New York. The cult musical, “On the 20th Century,” premiered on Broadway in 1978, and won five Tony Awards. It was revived to acclaim in 2015.

    It’s a madcap romp, a screwball comedy based on a non-musical 1930s play and film, deliberate distractions from the Great Depression.

    Oscar Jaffe, a formerly successful, downtrodden Broadway director, is dying for a comeback. His ticket to Hitsville, though he hasn’t even got a hot property to produce, is Lily Garland, born Mildred Plotka, whom he discovered, bedded, shaped and made crazy, before she escaped to Hollywood and became a superstar.

    Oscar has weaseled a drawing room on The 20th Century, so he can woo Lily back into his arms, and more important, onto his stage. He’s desperate; he’ll do anything, and he tries everything. He’s sometimes stymied by a bevy of nutso passengers who make the trip a doozy, while the clever songs make the audience roar with laughter.

    This may be Cygnet’s most impeccable, elaborate production. The physical comedy and comic timing are perfection. Murray’s direction, coupled with David Brannen’s fizzy choreography, make the 2½ hour trip fly.

    The musical accompaniment is superb, the Art Deco set is stunning; the lighting, sound, costumes and projections make it all pop. Every performance is flat-out fabulous, including Murray’s scenery-chewing Oscar, Eileen Bowman’s stratospheric-singing bombshell, Lily, and Michael Cusimano as her hunky lover, with his side-splitting physicality.

    Hurry and get on board. This is one musical, comical journey you don’t want to miss.

    “On the Twentieth Century” continues through April 30 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 3/23/2017 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

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