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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Happy Days Are Here…w/ Kristin Chenoweth @ Disney Hall

Kristin Chenoweth rang in New Year’s Eve with humor, elegance, and talent galore at Walt Disney Concert Hall, downtown Los Angeles. As she stated at show’s start, music is what makes people happy, and her entire show was performed to this end. A special duet of Chenoweth with guest Shoshana Bean, as Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand singing a blend of “Come On, Get Happy,” and “Happy Days” was perhaps the standout number. The song, “You Don’t Own Me,” with its message of women’s empowerment, accompanied by vocalists Crystal and Marissa, also garnered applause and good energy from the audience. Another guest performer, Cheyenne Jackson, entertained with two upbeat tunes, having just finished a critically acclaimed run of The Most Happy Fella, in New York. Chenoweth’s rendition of “Memories, The Way We Were,” was the perfect way to say goodbye to a year filled with both sorrows and joys, and to welcome a new year, replete with hope. Kristin Chenoweth is a class act, an artist of elegance. She dazzled the audience from beginning to end in a most majestic of venues.

LA Phil @ Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Schtick Gone Holiday… in a Night of Xmas Comedy at Feinstein’s @ Vitello’s

‘‘Tis the season to laugh and be merry, and what could be a better treat than “A Night of Kosher Comedy” at Feinstein’s @ Vitello’s.  Hosted by the talented Dan Frischman, he took the stage and opened with a witty monologue, filled with schtick, and continued on with magical tricks and optic illusions at every interval.  The atmosphere likened a Catskills vaudeville show right here on the west coast.  Filled with audience participation, at one point Dan called up to stage a woman in the front row, who tore white and red tissue papers to shreds, and voila,’ a Santa hat emerged intact from the scraps.  The show ensued with such gems of comedy, many from popular TV sitcoms, such as Marc  Price, Skippy, (Family Ties), a blast from the past who made us all laugh this holiday and ‘forget our troubles, come on be happy.’  One memorable sketch was how his cell phone ring tone had descriptive apropo songs of each relative and friend, ranging from Trump to liberals to dating sites.  His style is both hilarious and clever, in one.  His physical comedy in standup is his forte, he was comical early as age 14, with inspirations the likes of George Burns, Milton Berle, Jackie Mason, and Jerry Seinfeld.  Price brought much needed joy and levity to the audience, a winter wonderful distraction from the stressors of life.  Setting the mood for whimsy and frolic, was the opening routine from comedian Jimmy Brogan, a self proclaimed ‘only goy in the show,’ yet an honorary member of the tribe.  Brogan recalled his days as a regular on the late night circuit, often a guest of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and a writer on  Jay Leno for nine years. To the audience’s delight, Brogan revealed a recent anecdote of when he and dear friend Leno got stalled on the 405 in a classic car, on the way to Magic Comedy club in Hermosa Beach.  Onlookers stopped and said, “wow, there’s Jay Leno and Prince Charles,” (Brogan’s doppelgänger to a degree.). His segment was filled with improv and spontaneous interaction with audience members about their careers and life, proving his ‘think on your feet’ ability, literally.  Following this kind of laugh a minute schtick, was Cathy Ladman, comedienne extraordinaire.  Amidst all the chaos and conflicts of family holiday gatherings elsewhere, this audience had the privilege to escape into the hysterical world of Cathy’s humor.  A New York transplant, now in Los Angeles, Ladman opened with how much she is loving going ‘naturally gray.’  “It’s amazing how much attention I get by men when they realize I’m beyond child bearing years.”  A long time comedic writer and performer on television, such as HBO’s “One Night Stand,” and Curb Your Enthusiasm, to name a few, Ladman’s ingenious specialty is jokes on the human condition, quirks, neuroses, and all; as well as material she acquires from real life scenarios and personal relationships.  She shares a warm fuzzy tale of how she and her dog have a special bond, each time she returns home, truly resonating with pet lovers in the crowd.  Completing the lineup was Wayne Federman, a ‘Renaissance comedian,’ replete with musical talent, as he performed his routine at the piano.  He is a musician/ comic/storyteller who has taken his passion to the stage, and his love of entertaining emanates from within.  His joie de vivre was clear, as he greeted the audience, “it’s almost a new year, a time of diversity, so glad to be alive.”  Federman’s comedic banter comes as naturally to him as breathing.

These five funny dynamos  brought a night of laughter, frolic, and nostalgia to Feinstein’s @ Vitello’s, presented with heart and soul.

http://www.feinsteinsatvitellos.com

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Take a Dip in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake”

Matthew Bourne brings a new twist to the classic favorite ballet of all time, “Swan Lake,” now in its run at the Ahmanson.  He artistically brings his own interpretation and imagination to the characters of the Prince, the Swan, and the Swan Queen. Dancing these roles are James Lovell; Will Bozier; and Nicole Kabera, respectively, who bring strong technique and distinctive moves into their performance.  A clever conceit is that the ballet starts out as an ordinary classic ballet, filled with the classic pas de trois, and by act one’s end, evolves into a ‘ballet within a ballet,’ as the guests sit on the sidelines watching the swans take form and spring into life.  This technique is much like Clara watching the Nutcracker magically appear before her eyes.  The men, though strong and agile, dance and prance onstage with delicate birdlike fragility, transforming from ducklings to elegant white feathery swans.  Of note is costume designer (Lez Brotherston), mesmerizing the audience to every movement in step the swans take.  The wintry white feathers and plumes add a dreamlike stance to this sequence.  The choreography is exquisite, as the reigning male dancers seamlessly weave their way through a most creative rendering of the original Swan Lake.

Matthew Bourne manages to add some comic relief and levity to an otherwise quite serious production.  The masquerade scene was, without doubt, the highlight of the show, with the dancing full of personality throughout.  The lake sequence is majestic, and the synchronized movements and choreography suggest mystique and romance in one.  Matthew Bourne was quoted, when creating his original version of Swan Lake, “ I wondered what it would be like to use male dancers and bring out the swans’ aggressive, muscular side.”  He, in fact was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in his portrayal of the swans.  As always, Tchaikovsky’s score is a masterpiece, the performance, powerful, the dancing, impeccable; overall this show makes for the consummate holiday treat, sure to ruffle your feathers. 

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Migenes’ Musical Memoir “La Vie en Rose” @ The Odyssey

The term ‘La Boheme’ completely resonates with me, as it does with the French diva extraordinaire, Julia Migenes, in her riveting one woman operatic musical show, “La Vie en Rose,” now in its run at the Odyssey Theatre.  Her repertoire includes popular all time faves, such as “Mon Homme,” by Maurice Yvain; “Milord” by Georges Moustaki, “Hier Encore,” by Charles Aznavour; “Avec Le Temps” and “Tu Ne Dis Jamais Rien” by Leo Ferre; “Les Paumes Du Petit Matin” and “La Chamson des Vieux Amants” by Francois Rauber and Jacques Brel; “Un Homme Et Une Femme” by Pierre Barouh; “La Valse des Lilas” and “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” by Michael Legrand,  the signature nomme de plume “La Vie en Rose” and of course, “La Boheme” by Charles Aznavour.  This song comes to represent the rather artistic, romantic tone in a bohemian Gypsy lifestyle.  Julia Migenes, a Grammy award winning chartreuse/soprano had an excellent idea for a solo show and brought her dream to fruition in this excellent showcase of song, story, and theatrical musical memoir. She travels back to the Paris of her youth, singing a medley of love letters in song to the melodic masters, such as Edith Piaf, Aznavour, LeGrand, and Brel.  Everything falls into place beautifully as she chants from her heart with a vocal range of opera to jazz.  The show follows her true life chronological journey as a young girl in New York City, as a school girl filling in at the Metropolitan Opera house in “Madame Butterfly,” to her young adulthood in the cabarets of Vienna, to Berlin, Paris, and full circle to the Met as Carmen, opposite Placido Domingo.  The audience is privileged, indeed, to get a full glimpse of her autobiographical journey, both personally and professionally, as we experience her shifts and growths in career through relocation, and ‘an end of innocence,’ as it were.  The theatre space’s acoustics, as well as the magnificent accompaniment of pianist Victoria Kirsch, makes for a most romantic, nostalgic of evenings, taking us back to a more carefree,sentimental time on the streets of the ultimate city of lights.  Amidst a cacophony of the outside world, inside this theatre, thanks to Migenes and Kirsch, we have only harmonious bliss.  As her love life is stripped away from her (on more than one occasion), we live vicariously through her, as her songs evoke so much emotional pain and vulnerability. It seems she still lives and yearns for yesterday, not yet caught up to the present moment in time, almost as if the life of her youth stands frozen. When Europe no longer feels like home, she bravely journeys back to the states, with a courageous stance of moving forward, not recessing back.  Just as we are excited to learn of Migenes’ own journey, she has always been mesmerized by the legendary, iconic Edith Piaf, and through her music, she was educated on life, love, and friendship.  The two women seem to live parallel lives, as they share a unique bond as genius eccentrics who could only truly be understood by their heartfelt, poetic lyrics. Julia  sings and belts her heart out with songs of a different caliber, stories of travels, musical interludes, and conditions of pure rapture.  I perceive this vocalist/actress extraordinaire as a musical damsel with a parasol, yearning to break free of all barriers, to be seen, heard and understood.  She is a formidable prodigy, bar none.  When she sings, all inhibitions are set free. 

Through Dec 14

Odyssey Theatre 

2055 S. Sepulveda 

(310)477-2055

http://www.odysseytheatre.com

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Dropping the Disco Ball Early In Donna Summer, the Musical @ Pantages

When you think of a disco 70’s queen,’ the first  vocalist to come to mind is the iconic, dazzling Donna Summer.  Los Angeles theatre goers have  recently had the  pleasure to experience her eventful life onstage at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.  The show cleverly portrays Donna in triplicate: Disco Donna (Alex Hairston), at height of her career; Duckling Donna (Olivia Elease Hardy) in her adolescence; and Diva Donna (Dan’Yelle Williamson) at a more mature stage, reflecting back. The show presents standout sequined dazzling choreographed numbers such as “Enough is Enough,” “I Feel Love,” “On the Radio,” and culminates with “Last Dance.”  Each song brings nostalgia of my teenage years during that decade, as Donna Summer’s music provided the soundtrack, including memorable moments, dancing at parties,  homecoming and prom.  Not all sugar coated, the show also delves into traumatic cornerstones of the vocalist’s life, such as loneliness on her path toward stardom, away from her daughter; domestic abuse; and a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  Donna Summer proves her internal strength and ‘survivor chops,’ as she overcomes obstacles and continues performing.  A particular favorite of mine, “MacArthur Park,” evoking visceral images of the landmark, right in the backyard of downtown Los Angeles.  Her tunes change mood and setting, in a matter of minutes, from “Dim All the Lights,” to “Bad Girl.”  Truly, all songs give the audience the opportunity to breathe in the magic of a legend, diva singer & dancing queen, gone way too soon, at the height of her career.  Another number promoting women’s empowerment, a timeless subject about gender rights for equal pay, is “She Works Hard for her Money.” Donna is backed up by an exquisite ensemble, singing their hearts out.  The finale of “Last Dance” leaves the audience wanting even more, as elegant silver confetti tangibly  drapes the front of the theatre, replete with strobe lites and silver disco ball. Snappy songs, over the top costumes, and turbulent personal life add to the overall musical, in portraying her compelling life story.  In total the show’s score consists of 23 songs, written primarily  by Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, and Paul Jabara.  As Broadway has taken a chance with presenting larger than life biography stories on a theatrical level, it has indeed succeeded with the story of Donna Summer.

http://www.hollywoodpantages.com

(800) 982-2787

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