“Revenge Song,” Rollicking Fun @ the Geffen


Praised as the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” of the new millennium, “Revenge Song, A Vampire Cowboys Creation” graces the stage at Geffen Playhouse.  A blend of pop opera, pop art, and pop culture, the show was a perfect Valentine’s Day treat, taking the audience to 17th century Paris France.  Margaret Odette is magnificent as Julie d’Aubigny, widely known as La Maupin.  So little is known of her life and story, as a young girl who dressed in male clothing early on, and trained alongside boys in academics and fencing. Los Angeles theatre audiences now have the privilege to learn about the existence of the life of this extraordinary young woman, daughter of Gaston (Noshir Dalal); once the mistress of Louis de Lorraine-Guise (Tom Myers); had an affair with a young woman (Amy Kim Waschke); and later dueled with French nobleman Comte d’Albert (Eugene Young). Each story, each relationship filled with adventure, filled with love, quote apropos for the love in the air that is February.  One memorable line of dialogue was “love’s a drug that takes your heart.”  We all long for love but sometimes seek revenge if love is lost, hence the show’s title, “Revenge Song.”  Every element of this performance, from special effects, colorful scenic and lighting design (Nick Francone) to period costumes (Jessica Shay) to puppet design (David Valentine) to music and sound (Shane Rettig) to choreography ( Stacy Dawson Stearns) set the tone and aura of the time. The show was 90 minutes of pure escapism to the nth degree .  Definitely a mix of Rocky Horror meets Dangerous Liaisons, or aristocracy meets Xena the Warrior comic character, replete with swordplay, karate moves, and emo/goth, sure to please a wide palate of tastes.   One line Julie whimsically sings, “I know I’m different when I just want a kiss out of curiosity, I don’t want to be lonely.  My heart is yours. You’re all I desire.” How this sentiment resonated throughout the theatre. When Julie(Odette) was arranged to be married, Comte d’Albert (Eugene Young) broke out into a beat box/ hip hop piece on romance, “Roses are red; can you give me an opportunity to know you better?” This number was a memorable standout of the show, a boy meets girl via arranged marriage, with  rap songs similar to tunes in Hamilton.  Written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker, “Revenge Song” makes the case for a spectacular production filled with a mix of French minstrel and 1600’s comedy/slapstick, wacky hi-jinks, juxtaposed with romantic lingo to the tune and spirit of mon Cheri amor, time traveling to modern day shopping malls, singing “I Think We’re Alone Now.”  The production is genius in combining past, present and future.  Be sure to get thee to the Geffen in time for “Revenge Song, A Vampire Cowboys Creation.”

Through March 8th

http://www.geffenplayhouse.org

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A New Day, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” @ Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

With a “new day” upon us, for women making history, the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s presentation of “Lady Day at the Emerson , Karole Foreman as Billie Holiday, is heartwarming, nostalgic, empowering, and bittersweet in one. Foreman’s portrayal of Holiday is a definite showstopper, accompanied by her highly gifted jazz pianist extraordinaire, Stephan Terry.  When entering the theatre space, I felt as if I were actually in an intimate cabaret space in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, jazz headquarters of the world.  The set is unique in that there are tables set up right on stage for audience members to interact fully with the performer, adding a realistic point of view.  There is absolutely no better way to celebrate the extraordinary talent of this legendary vocalist than by seeing this show, reliving her life, and learning the highs (literally) and lows (downfalls) of her life, both personally and professionally.  Ebony Repertory Theatre lives up to its stellar reputation by presenting this phenomenon of a musical tribute, revealing an undeniably gritty chronicle of the blues singer’s rise and fall, brilliantly directed by Wren T. Brown. The show features exquisite musical numbers, such as “I Wonder Where Our Love  Has Gone”; “God Bless The Child”; “Foolin’ Myself,” and “Don’t Explain,” all revealing her success as a cabaret lounge performer, her tumultuous personal life and her ultimate demise into heroin addiction.

Each song is a unique life story in and of itself, particularly with the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Fruit,” with lyrics inspired by poet Lewis Allen’s words about the lynching of Negroes that the world just couldn’t ignore.  Lady Day (Foreman ) offers her own raspy signature spiritual rendition, leaving the audience mesmerized.  “Southern trees bear strange fruit…blood on the leaves, blood on the root.”  In the annals of phenomenal Black women who never gave up on their dream, i.e. Maya Angelou; Ella Fitzgerald; Shirley Chisholm; and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few, Billie Holiday was a forerunner and role model, paving the way for musical entertainers today.  Her fait accompli, as depicted in this show, was performing to a sold out crowd (three times) at Carnegie Hall.  Foreman  emotes a sparkling, yet demure stage presence, commanding the audience, with her realistic portrayal of both Billie Holiday’s glamorous aura, a mere facade of a tortured soul.  Musical director  (Stephan Terry)’s accompaniment was the proverbial cherry on the cake, eliciting the mood of the day with vibrancy and sizzle.

 At a talk back following the show, director Wren T. Brown addressed the audience, alongside Foreman and Terry.  The show replicated midnight vaudevilles where performers would sing the blues, with heart and soul in the style of Billie Holiday. The show was built around many elements of her real life, her last show being in 1959, with no impersonation but rather a portrayal of an actress/vocalist with an extraordinary sense of vulnerability, her raw emotions palpable on stage. The director added, “What better venue  for this story based on true events, than here at this space, which was once the jazz heart of Los Angeles, theatrical terra-firma, such as the Hillcrest Club for blues and jazz, and Jazz at the Metro.  What a joy to have her life depicted here.”  Now, Los Angeles audiences get the privilege to witness Foreman’s impeccable, dazzling performance, and a voice like velvet, in celebration and tribute to Billie Holiday’s tragic life story.  Foreman stated, “I grew up listening to the greats, like Nina Simone, with lyrics, song, music, and popular culture always around me.” In describing Holiday’s character, Brown stated, “Billie Holiday was funny, strong, a fighter, and always saw the good in people despite the abuse and addiction she endured. She was multi-layered, more to her beneath the surface.” Foreman and Terry were able to soak up the material of the iconic legend, like a sponge.  “There’s nothing like actors who prepare a joyful collaboration.” Terry added, “there is a structure to my piano playing, which brings the lyrics and music aglow and keeping her story very much alive.”

Through March 1, Nate Holden Performing Arts Center 4718 W. Washington Blvd. Mid city Los Angeles

For info:

info: (323)964-9768

info@ebonyrep.org

http://www.ebonyrep.org

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Lula Washington Makes Beautiful Moves @ The Wallis

“To Lula With Love,” created and choreographed by Christopher Huggins, and an homage to growing up in Los Angeles, by Tommie Waheed Evans, recently graced the stage at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.  The show presented some of the most iconic dancers and choreographers our city proudly offers, including Tommie Waheed Evans; Lula Washington; Christopher Huggins; Esie Mensah; and Rennie Harris.  Founder/Artistic Director Lula Washington’s brilliant work, “Fragments” was one of the standout pieces of the collaboration, revealing “a reaction to the chaotic times we live in,” eliciting a proactive empowerment amongst the audience.  Artist/dancer Rennie Harris gives voice to “Reign,” a compelling fusion of joyous gospel meets hip-hop.  Each piece reveals the incredible art maker that Lula is, and how her choreographic expression has informed countless dancers and influenced the aesthetic of decades of dance.  Brava to the genius of Washington’s piece, entitled “King,” excerpts from the movement, a chronological journey through the life, struggles, and triumphs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the critical time of the civil rights movement.  This part of the show is clearly an emotional biopic account of King’s

highlights of his life in a vivid, larger than life display of talent.  History and current events come to life center stage, amidst a simple set, as each piece tells a thousand stories.  With articulate body movements and vivid facial expressions, each dancer tells a mellifluous story in his/her unique style and voice.  Another repertoire included “Zoya,” a bold Afro-fusion work about self discovery by Esie Mensah.  Part gesture, part dance, this piece brings destiny and personal strength to its highest potential.  This period of history is a lot to pack into one single performance. This company, co-founded by Lula and Erwin Washington, is quite a tour-de-force and achievement in the art of dance.

http://www.thewallis.org

(310)746-4000

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Mind the Gap in JWT’s Mapping of the Mind

Jewish Women’s Theatre, presents “Mapping of the Mind,” co-produced by Ronda Spinak and Laura Ornest. a series of vignettes dealing with mental health, and completely gets the mind right.  A once taboo subject, mental illness now is predominant in many a movie, play, and visual art form. Artists tend to feel things strongly. They embrace the brokenness of life and turn it into the most beautiful of stories. What makes people different, other, vulnerable, can turn into learning lessons and journeys into the inner workings of a mind. One example is the recent Oscar nominated Joker, where an otherwise ostracized character, is also a deep, vulnerable, troubled soul in need of compassion and mental health services.

Ronda Spinak, co-producer and curator of the show’s material, introduced the theme, saying “these people, challenged with mental health issues forged a life, through painting, writing, art, which revealed inner strength, courage and hope. Many say, mental illness doesn’t run in my family… it just meanders in.” In these salon style theatres, in intimate venues like homes and studios, the audience gleans this hope vicariously through songs and stories. The stories were performed by ensemble members, Nicole Lipp; Kate Zentall; Nadege August; and Josh T. Ryan.
One moving piece, entitled “Let My Son Be Free,” written by Marc Littman, and performed by Josh T. Ryan and ensemble, honors an autistic son and his family, who see the light and embrace his specialness with a new set of family and friends.
In each story presented, the actors were precise in showing how important it is to reveal the soul and potential of an imperfect mind rather than as a stigma or distortion.  As a result, the audience viewing and hearing these performers come to realize how truly similar their stories and backgrounds are to themselves.  Mental health issues do not discriminate.  They affect rich, poor, young old, female, male, Jew, non-Jew.  One sketch, “Successful and Schizophrenic,” written by Elyn Saks, and performed by Kate Zentall and ensemble, features a woman with high functioning schizophrenia and her simple struggle to relate to her peers. Each story is handled in a delicate, respectful, and entirely genuine  relatable manner, and might I add, even uplifting. Each one successfully shows how people deal with mental illness without playing on the stigmatizing term, crazy.  It engages the audience with ‘next to normal’ individuals, who incidentally, also have bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s or depression.

On a personal note, as a parent of a son on the Autism spectrum, with Aspergers, and also bi polar disorder, I’m extremely sensitive to portrayals of art imitating life. This production shows the beauty in each individual, the triumphs and setbacks; the highs and lows, and most of all, that each one has his/her own ‘beautiful mind.’ The seat of creative thinking is often found in the illness, with the miraculous power of the human being to find wellness in the illness.

At show’s start, Josh T. Ryan performs a musical introduction of “Maury’s Theme,” excerpts written by Maury Ornest.  The entire mood is set, one of calm amidst writing, music, art, and sunshine.  Maury’s journal begins with an entry of ‘good morning,’ in hopes of living his life with bipolar by being less moody, and letting go of his OCD and PTSD, to cope with stress, to live in calmness. Another profound piece, “The Queen of More,” written by Julie Chafets Grass, and performed by Nadege August, explores the insatiable, never ending yearning for more, never satisfied by just enough, an unquenching thirst all too familiar. In “Sharon, A Love Story,” Nicole Lipp performs the poignant story by Robyn Goodman Mandelberg, about her time as a student at Yale, suffering clinical depression and suicidal ideations, with a rare gem of a psychiatrist, ever by her side through all of life’s travails and triumphs. “Three Years of Atonement,” written by Emily Jaffe, performed by Nadege August, deals with the haunting theme of all that the Days of Awe entail: who shall live, who shall die; beating one’s breast; and above all, forgiveness. “A Beautiful Soul,” written by Ronda Spinak and performed by Kate Zentall, is about the writer’s beloved Uncle Jack, a tzaddik in his own right, at times, misunderstood, and a soul forever loved and cherished. “When Mom Tried to Stab Magnolia,” written by Rossi, and performed by Nicole Lipp and ensemble, brings ‘crazy’ to a whole new level.

Each piece depicts a complex personality trying his/her best to navigate the world in a functional way.  Depression and suicide, once taboo, foreign words, are now slowly gaining awareness, understanding, and acceptance, thanks to a show such as this provocative one.  Theatre and art can work as a safe, inclusive haven for the open secret of mental illness to evolve.   “Mapping of the Mind“ is definitely theatre on the edge, on the caliber of such material found on popular streaming networks, like Netflix; HBO; Hulu; and Amazon Prime. 

http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.com

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Dance Tapestry in Contra-Tiempo @ The Wallis


The Los Angeles based urban Latin dance company brought tremendous joy to Wallis audiences with their recent performance of Contra-Tiempo: joyUS justUS, presenting a fusion of salsa, Afro-Cuban, and contemporary dance styles.  A highlight of the show was the exquisite setting of colorful patchworks of fabrics as backdrop, and with the superb light effects on set (Tuce Yasak, Maximiliano Urruzmendi), it almost appeared as a Gustav Klimt artwork or even stained glass. An added feature was a piece of fabric on each seat, allowing audience members to dance along, waving their fabrics in colorful unison.  The ensemble’s vibrant physical expressions through dance and movement, accompanied by poignant poetry, such as “you and I become us” revealed the importance of togetherness and belonging we must share, in a time of great division and tension in our nation.  The dancers evoked messages of positivity, strength, and political activism, in the face of bigotry, racism. Dance and music are the universal languages for promoting peace, love, justice, and equality for all.  Choreographed by Contra-Tiempo founder/director Ana Maria Alvarez, and company members, Isis Avalos; Janet Galdamez; Samad Raheem Guerra; Bianca Medina; Jasmine Stanley; and Diane Toledo, each number depicted important events throughout history, such as the water creation story, reframing justice in courts, and Miranda rights to happiness.  The finale, sung to Arlo  Guthrie’s “This Land,” was the perfect culmination to an evening evoking tears of joy. 

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts continues it’s rich tradition and culture,  offering the finest in dance programs. 

http://www.thewallis.org

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Live, Laugh, Love… in “Isn’t it Romantic”

In the timeless, funny comedy, “Isn’t it Romantic,” by Wendy Wasserstein,  and directed by Stan Zimmerman, two uncommon women, among others,  Janie Blumberg (Lucy DeVito) and Harriet Cornwall (Andrea Bowen), set out to prove the unpopular premise of their time that young women can make it on their own, independent of a wealthy husband, despite the odds.  

As Andrew Fromer, assistant artistic director, stated at show’s start, “the depth of critical thinking, passion, and insight that Wendy Wasserstein gives to her stories and characters in moments of fear, guilt, and love, celebrate her remarkable,extraordinary voice and legacy.”

The two women share their true to life stories  and lessons in love, life, friendship, and career, as they relive their adventures in the urban dog eat dog  jungle that is New York City.  One of the many morals of this story, is, unlike Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmopolitan, can a girl really have it all? Zimmerman reminds the audience of the ever enduring dilemma of living alone or cohabiting/marrying; ordering out or cooking; and the fairytale dreams of living happy ever after, holding hands at fifty.  Some of  the most memorable scenes and  comic gimmicks are the repetitive answering phone messages left for Janie, from a variety of people in her life, mostly from her adoring overprotective parents, the hilarious and endearing Ken Lerner and Mindy Sterling.  Amidst takeout food, self doubt, self respect, Janie shares many a cherished moment with her parents, Sterling as Tasha Blumberg, the caricature of a doting Jewish mother, clad in a tye dye dance leotard; and Lerner (Simon

Blumberg), proud patriarch and family provider).   Wasserstein’s spirit and uncanny comedic genius imbues the intimate space and stage of Jewish Women’s Theatre at the Braid, as the play is performed.  Over and over, Janie and Harriet pursue the perennial question of marriage versus career, or can the two entities intertwine?  Other  standout performances include Jon Sprik, as taxi driver/ potential love interest Vlad; and business executive/ mom of Harriet, Lillian Cornwall (Amanda Bearse), with characters and mannerisms larger than life.  Janie’s romantic  courting scenes with devoted Jewish doctor Marty (Raviv Ullman), a Jewish parent’s dream, lead the audience on to a  perfect match, while Harriet’s boyfriend/potential fiancée Paul (Danny Gomez) is a playboy/womanizer who can’t commit. We see shades of Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and Philip Roth, sketch after sketch, as these seemingly insecure women encounter relationships, leaving them feeling stronger, empowered, and liberated, each in their own way.  In a symbolic final scene, Janie tells her parents to “take back the mink,” while she takes control of her life as a grown up and moves forward. Under  Zimmerman’s superb direction, these amusing, uber-talented actors bring to the stage a cast of colorful characters and interactions, a truly delightful Sunday matinee, hands down.

http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.org

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Om Meets Shalom in Amanda Miller’s “The Jew in the Ashram” @ the Whitefire Theatre

Playwright, performer, and yoga instructor, Amanda Erin Miller was at a point in her life, where she had defined herself as ‘lost,’ and went as far away as possible, namely an ashram in India, to find herself and seek spirituality and oneness, the actual essence of yoga. Such is the framework of her awe inspiring solo show, “The Jew in the Ashram,” recently performed at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. This petite, pretty actress opens her show with a stretch and a chant to set the mood and welcome her audience. Directed by Rachel Evans, this show has been presented in a variety of settings throughout New York, and now graces the stage of theatre in Los Angeles. At a crossroads between college and career, Amanda questioned what to expect from life, and in turn, what life expects from her, setting her in motion to explore meditation and yoga, and its worldwide appeal. And off she went… to an ashram in India, completely out of her comfort zone of her home in New York. This line speaks volumes: “Life is about change. We never see it coming.” Shutting off outside distractions and immersing herself in a whole new state of mind, she sits in a quiet space, with her yoga teacher and new friends, as the audience vicariously joins in. Amanda cleverly incorporates audience interaction, as she stretches and practices various yoga moves and salutations, inviting the audience to stand and join in. At show’s start, she recites the universal chant of Om,
(interestingly, the last two letters of shalom), sending positive, healing energy throughout the theatre. Her aura, dialogue, and movement reflect a ray of light and sunshine, radiating to all in her midst.
Even the simple and tangible act of peeling and eating a ripe, juicy orange satisfies both her physical and spiritual hunger, nourishing and quenching the audience’s need for self awareness, as well. It’s clear, from the start, that we’re all in this journey together. Amanda’s poignant journey, with her creative mix of drama and humor, comes to tell us the value of quieting one’s soul, unplugging. She has a unique, subtle yet visceral, vivid way of revealing her transformation, across the pond. The entire theatre space was transported to a venue of tranquility and serenity, replete with chants of mantras in the background. Perhaps, scented candles or aromatherapy would make it a multi-sensory extravaganza. Two very important and influential figures in Amanda’s formative years were her father and grandmother. She portrays her dad, donning a baseball cap, teaching her to believe in herself, while she portrays her grandmother, who perished in the Holocaust, uttering pearls of wisdom, while wrapped in a shawl. Amanda delicately brushes on the oft-taboo subject of death, in a trance of denial, stating, “it’s not something that will happen to my family, to anyone I know, or to me.”

Amanda leaves India, with a sense of gratitude, and the tools for a self actualized life, come what may. At show’s end, she wishes everyone ‘namaste,’ her smile aglow, her father’s and relatives’ spirits shining from the heavens above. Amanda’s one woman show succeeds in bringing in 2020 with a sense of purpose, inner peace, and potential. The rendition of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah, is indeed, breathtaking.

http://www.thejewintheashram.com

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