Sam Harris Soars through Songs @ Catalina Jazz Club

When one first steps into the Catalina Jazz Club, in anticipation of hearing Sam Harris’ dazzling show, “Stripped,” a medley of hits and faves, the magic energy of this show is felt instantly. Sam Harris is truly a trail blazing musical artist of our time, and Los Angeles theatre and cabaret enthusiasts are privileged to have the opportunity to see this show. He brings his life story and personality to vibrant life, sharing a medley of songs of jazz, showtunes, and blues genres. Along with pianist accompanist; musical director Todd Schroeder (the two have known each other for 26 years),they present an array of heartfelt, lovely, meaningful songs, including “Get Here,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “I Honestly Love You,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “In My Life.” Harris charmingly banters with the audience, reminiscing how most of his favorite songs are “about unrequited love…pain and torture… tragedy with a beat, and despite having a perfectly normal, happy childhood, one would assume the theme was more like stormy weather!” With charisma and class, he graces the stage, singing songs, certain to make us both laugh and cry; sounds and songs reflecting a kinder, gentler, more innocent time than the world today. He emphatically states, “it is so vital to laugh, sing, cry.” His rendition of “Time after Time” is a beautiful tribute to father/son relationships, and how songs and lyrics’ meanings can change and resonate over time, always gleaning something new. No show would be complete without some numbers from Harris’ Broadway show, “The Life,” and “Ham, A Musical Memoir,” replete with top hat and ‘hustlin’ 42nd St. style tunes. One audience member next to me, emphatically expressed, “I love him, and I’ve never seen him before… no words!” Sam Harris has this magical effect on his fans; we honestly love him.

Performing Feb 23 8pm
Catalina Jazz Club
6725 W. Sunset
Tickets available at
http://www.chrisisaacsonpresents.com
(866)468-3399

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An Eye-Witness Look at Life Lessons… in“Witness Uganda,” A Documentary Musical

Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center has a knack of presenting global issues and concerns and humanitarian causes in a theatrical way that is truly brilliant. Most recent case in point is “Witness Uganda, A Documentary Musical,” written by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. An autobiographical story,a self proclaimed “documentary musical” genre, this show centers around Griffin, when his NYC church expels him for being gay,and he decides to escape across the world to Uganda to “do good.” He volunteers in a small village, with such an idealistic spirit filled with good intentions. Not all goes as planned, as he faces a society filled with corruption, and a dangerous abduction occurs, that he never in his wildest dreams would anticipate. Set to lively music, an energetic ensemble, and colorful costumes, he brings his incredible, (dangerous, adventurous) journey to life onstage at the Lovelace Theatre in the Wallis. The ensemble includes Antwone Barnes; Jordan Barrow; Dexter Darden; Emma Hunton; Amber Iman; Jai’Len Josey; Naaraj; Kameron Richardson; Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield; Thurzday; Keenan D. Washington; Jamar Williams; and Ledisi each are a shining star in song and dance, in his/her own right. Jamar Williams and Emma Hunton, are standouts, as best friends, even at long distance, (Griffin and Ryan), respectively. We realize quickly the importance of fundraising for the survival and livelihood of this nation in need. Some of the musical numbers to remain with you long after show’s end are “I Have A Lover,” “Put It All On The Line,” and “I’d Cross The Blue.” It is quite an achievement to take significant, timely topics such as literacy, immigration, and homosexuality, set to poignant lyrics and messages, sure to resonate with audiences of all ages, genders, races and beliefs. This is a production not to miss, perfectly set in an intimate space that can’t help but draw one in to the urgent, uttermost message of the story.

Through Feb 23
http://www.thewallis.org
(310)746-4000

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“An Inspector Calls” Passes Inspection

“An Inspector Calls,” written by J.B. Priestly and directed by Stephen Daldry, represents the finest of offerings at the prestigious Wallis Annenberg Theatre. The play combines a suspenseful pleasure of an Agatha Christie mystery to a favorite game of Clue (whodunnit) to a deeper, perhaps spiritual, even ghostly or angelic realm above. It could very well be classified as a morality fable, where each and every character has to look hard and deep within themselves, and expose every flaw, indiscretion and fault, particularly in perhaps causing the suicide of young Eva Smith. This play, originally produced in the 1990’s still resonates to audiences of all ages today. At opening scene, we find a house, almost sinking ( both figuratively and literally) against the backdrop of London’s overcast, gloomy sky with a period lamppost shedding the only light (quite similar to the dreary weather in Mary Poppins Returns). The set is quite elaborate in its own right and paints a picture apropos to mood and story. At first glance, it seems a happy occasion of Mr Birling’s daughter Sheila’s (Lianne Harvey)engagement to Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin), a seemingly upstanding gent. The plot gets as thick as the fog surrounding, as unexpectedly, as the title conveys, an inspector (Liam Brennan) enters the scene with a barrage of questions for the family. The play has many twilight zone or Hitchcock style features and characters: Eric, (Hamish Riddle), the alcoholic son, perceived by parents as a ne’er do well; Edna, (Diana Payne-Myers), the obliging servant , always seen downstairs while the ruling class is upstairs. The play brings up quite a sensitive subject, of suicide and all its ramifications. Are we, as a society, possibly responsible and held accountable, much like the Biblical ‘brother’s keeper,’ as it were? What lies beneath the surface of a perfect, beautiful facade sometimes is emotions of jealousy, rage, and insecurity roiling within. The adage, ‘no one knows what goes on behind closed doors’ comes to mind. Notwithstanding the enigmatic plot and conclusion, the stage setting is superb; the dialogue crisp and fast paced; the cast/ensemble stellar and captivating. Jeff Harmer and Christine Kavanagh are standouts as Mr. and Mrs. Birling, respectively. The ensemble of young children and adults, almost lurking in the background, are representative of the inequality of classes; the wealthy land and factory owners and the poor workers, in post war Britain. Daldry’s striking revival of this epic classic is a must see for all theatre connosieurs.

Through Feb 10
Wallis Annenberg
(310)7464000
http://www.thewallis.org/inspector

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JWT Tells All… in “Family Secrets”

Secrets, especially ones within our own family units are often too juicy to keep entirely to ourselves, and yet too embarrassing to share. From time immemorial, stemming back from even biblical days, dysfunctional family dynamics are the true stuff of theatrical drama. Come celebrate the fascination of secrets revealed, as the renowned Jewish Women’s Theatre presents its premiere of Family Secrets. Curated and produced by Ronda Spinak; directed by Susan Morgenstern and Lisa Cirincione, the show features the talents of Michael Naishtut, Rosie Moss, Niloo, and Debbie Kasper. It’s in people’s nature to be tellers, and these magnificent storytellers weave magic into each vignette told. Knowing that all these stories are true, I love it even more, as the audience goes from laughter to tears in a split second. At show’s start, an original song is quite telling of the upcoming theme: “my dysfunctional family is functioning fine… from alcohol to drugs to gambling to anorexia…” The adage “what happens in families stays in families” was quite apropos in “Ham & Cheese Croissants and a Letter to God,” as Naishtut and Kasper relived writer Alexander Nemser’s life journey, as ‘crypto-Jews,’ at home they’d do one thing and out, quite the opposite. I’m sure this lifestyle and practice will resonate with many an audience member! In the compelling story, “Discovering my Dad,” written by Eve Lederman, Rosie Moss delivers a heart wrenching performance, as she states repeatedly, “I felt there was something strange about my dad…” but when she ultimately, accidentally discovered his guilty pleasure, there were ‘no words.’ Other stories of once taboo subjects, such as teenage pregnancy; criminal activity/fraud ; suicide ; molestation; all come to the surface, as the actors perform in quite a cathartic, therapeutic approach. One standout performance is “The Magic of Authenticity,” written by Judy Carter, performed by Debbie Kasper and Ensemble. In the Q&A following the show, a profound point was made by an audience member: “we all know what it’s like to have family drama – yet each scenario is specific and unique to each family unit, and each premise rings so true.” Another compliment given was “there was never a moment I wished was different!”
The show truly comes alive when presented in the JWT parlor/salon intimate space, where a loving, embracing, captive audience offers the ability for the exchange of secrets- in complete trust, the final ingredient.

To learn more about Family Secrets, visit
http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.com
(310)315-1400

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The more the merrier…in “Holiday Problems Anonymous”

The cast of characters in “Holiday Problems Anonymous,” now in its run at Theatre 68, in NoHo, has certainly made a big deal of Christmas festivities with family, friends, and colleagues, and all the tensions therein. This new, original comedy, written and directed by Jason Kyle, and produced by Ronnie Marmo, investigates the dynamic between attendees of the Holiday Problems Anonymous Support group meeting, a 12 step, as it were, in a safe space where each person can share his/her specific holiday issue. The relationships unfold and unravel as the motley ensemble delve deep, waiting for the beloved Santa Claus to perhaps solve all their problems and ‘live happily ever after,’ perhaps in the North Pole! Meanwhile, back in reality, Blanca (Valentina Tammaro) seeks validity and respect as a valued ‘snow person’ in her own right, while Caroline Dingwall (Bonnie) faces the challenge of an important promotion in the corporate world of retail during the most frazzled of seasons, while gleaning pearls of wisdom and life lessons from the store’s janitor (Ed Dyer). With limited insight of the various, eclectic situations of the other group members, they now find ways to help and solve each other’s crises in ways they could never imagine, creating a Christmas miracle of sorts. “Holiday Problems Anonymous” looks into the world of mental health, through subjects such as office party dynamics, featuring the incredibly talented Vikram Bhoyrul; awkward family dinners; and holiday resolutions. The play is quite intense and profound in one, as depression and anxiety come to the forefront, onstage, as each character at first ‘dances’ around the issue without plunging right in. It is truly an exploration of the human spirit, with all its neuroses, foibles and addictions, and the journey of each of us, almost driven to the edge during the stressors of holiday time. When each cast member fully embraces his/her true self and takes control of the situation at hand, they become authentic and whole once more and are able to ‘make the holidays bright again.’

http://www.theatre68.com

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Carol’s Christmas” makes the Yuletide gay

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a tried and true clsssic, yet in the whimsical holiday spirit, it’s always a treat to see a creative take on the original story. Such is the case in “Carol’s X-mas,’ as Ebenezer Scrooge goes drag in the form of Carol, superbly played by Andy Libby. Now in its run and at the Undeground Annex in Hollywood,(“8th smash year!”), Carol’s X-mas is a hilarious, irreverent romp through the frivolity of the season. ‘She’ sits at her bar, “Carol’s Barrel,’ bah-humbugging at carolers and employees who come begging, collecting for the poor, and anyone who dares to shout out “Merry Christmas.” It will take some serious convincing and ghost visitation, along with deep soul searching to change this grumpy grinch’s heart. Truly, there’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned melodramatic spoof, almost in the style of Saturday night Live satire, referencing many current political ‘hot-buttons.” Directed by Libby and adapted by Brent Stevens, this show is spot on, that we all ‘need a little Dickens,’ in the midst of our country in flux. What America needs is a good escape! Carol’s Xmas provides that escape, as it brings together a talented cohesive cast of eclectic characters, coming together with hopes to celebrate the holiday, replete with secrets revealed, visits with ghosts of Xmas’ past, present, future, family bonds reconciled, and the magic of the holiday rediscovered and reinvented. The parody song lyrics by Craig Victor are brilliant, with unforgettable holiday images, and songs of celebrating Christmas/Navidad. With such a large ensemble of ‘big personalities,’ all naturally funny people in his/her own unique style, the show is a non stop laugh a minute, with standout Andy Libby as the ultimate (drag) queen of Xmas. The scenes and vignettes, mostly hysterical, are also intertwined with touching dramatic moments as well. Since audiences nowadays, more than ever, want to escape, laugh, and be uplifted and merry, this pool of talent onstage are a ‘collaborative stew’ of sorts, whether by scripted dialogue or spontaneous improv. People will be sure to see themselves or other relatives and friends, as the plot resonates throughout the show. It’s only when one finds one’s own inner child and sense of wonder that gratitude and generosity emerges, removing the ‘bah humbug’ mentality and replacing with a hopeful, secure, and joyful approach to life. A perfectly humorous holiday treat.

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
December 21, 22, 23
Underground Theatre Annex
1308 N. Wilton Place

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Choose Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” @ The Geffen

The messages in stories like “Scrooge” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” come to tell us of the importance of gratitude, friends, family , and community, especially at the holiday time, when we may feel most alone and vulnerable, rather than cheery, generous, and festive. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Jefferson Mays, Susan Lyons, and Michael Arden, now in its run at the Geffen Playhouse, does just this, as the tremendously talented Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife; Yes, Prime Minister!) delivers his own unique take, filled with both drama and levity in equal sums. He impeccably gives voice to Marley, Cratchett, Tiny Tim and all the rest . The audience is transformed, along with Scrooge himself, from a world of darkness, despair and burden into a realm of glistening light and affirmation of hope. Mays deservedly garners a standing ovation at each and every performance. He remarkably, in a solo show, portrays each character so vividly, that the audience literally feels their presence. Scrooge had his eyes on them, as he heard them recite “God bless us, everyone.” Something good has got to come from a story like this.. and indeed it does. The beautiful, poetic dialogue also captures the nuance, moment and setting, such as, “ Xmas eve, with candles flaring on a cold, biting night ; palpable fog…” a year older, not richer.” And such descriptive, visceral words of the festive holiday dinner scene makes it come to life onstage: “golden goblets, custard cups; chestnuts sputtering on the fire.” One could really feel the spirits of Christmas ghosts past, present , and future, with a glimmer of hope and comfort foreshadowed. in the words of Irving Berlin, “may your days be merry and bright and all your Christmases be white.”

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org
(310). 208-5454

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