Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Contributing Reviewer, Stan Mazin

The Artistic Director of Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre is Natasha Middleton, and she has every right to be proud of her company.  I was fortunate to see “The Best of Khachaturian” on Sunday, September 17th at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.  The company is made up of many Armenian soloists as well as soloists and dancers from around the world.  The evening began with a tribute in memory of the Armenian Genocide, “Remember” with selections from Armenian Composer Aram Khachaturian’s “Cello Concerto in E-Minor”.

 A beautifully moving tribute.  Choreography of the piece was by Natasha Middleton with solo performances by Elen Harutyunyan, Grigori Arakelyan, Natalie Grina, Ashley Dawn Smith, Hannah Hart, and Musetta Ruben.

This performance was co-directed by Natasha Middleton and Ruben Tonoyan, Associate Director and Ballet Master for Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre.  “Remember” was followed by “Spartacus”, a lovely adagio choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, coached by Ruben Tonoyan and beautifully danced by Eduard Sargsyan (who served in the Amenian Army from 2006 to 2008) as Spartacus and Inga Demetryan (who performed with the Mariinsky Ballet Theatre as well as the Israel Ballet Company) as Phrygia.

The Intermission was followed by “Masquerade”, choreographed by Natasha Middleton, and lead primarily by Alexander Fost (who held the title of Mr. Dance USA as well as Mr. Dance International) as Prince Zeveditch, Alina Bormotova (soloist and Audition Director with Moscow Ballet)as Nina, and Natalie Grina (a soloist ballerina from London) as the Baroness. 

Oleg Loparevi, Ashley Dawn Smith, Hannah Hart, Jacob Magana, Musetta Ruben, and an all too brief Aerialist performance by Julie Sanches, this piece concerns the disappearance of a missing bracelet.  “Masquerade” is made up of ‘Masquerade Ball at Palace’, ‘The Gamble’ (my favorite if I had to choose) with Oleg Loparevi as the Dealer, ‘The Romance’ starring Grigori Arakelyan (a former National Scholar of American Ballet Theatre) as Arbenin and Alina Bormotova (from the Russian National Ballet as well as soloist in the Moscow Ballet) as Nina,

and finally ‘The Grand Dance’ featuring the dancing couple of Oleg Loparevi and Nataliia Lopareva (Champion Ballroom dancers of Gold and Silver in Germany as well as winners of other ballroom dance competitions worldwide).  A brief interlude is followed by “Gayane”, a celebration of life.  This piece includes ‘Saber Dance’, one of the most lively and famous Khachaturian compositions with dancers Ashley Dawn Smith, Hannah Hart, Jacob Magana, and Musetta Ruben.

At this point I must mention the names of the Corps De Ballet who did a remarkable job in supporting all the principals.  They are Chloe Verkinder, Hagop Tanashian, Razmig Tanashian, Raffi Bilemjian, Shoshana Mozlin, Elissa Brock, Devon Reisenbeck, Charlotte Harrop, Megan Van Darren, and Patrick Fitzsimmons.  If I have forgotten any names, please forgive my memory… I am an aging dancer myself.
The lighting for the evening was done by James W. Smith, with Music Editing by Carlos Sanches, beautiful costuming for “Remember” and “Spartacus” by Ann Lindsey, Seamstress for ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Gayane’ by Cami Warren, Production Images by Lana Davtyan, Pubic Relations for The Pacific Ballet by Steve Moyer.

         This review was written by Stan Mazin


Friday, September 15, 2017

Contributing Reviewer, Stan Mazin


I enjoy reviewing shows that have heart… shows in which you can see the cast members enjoying themselves.  And that is what I saw at today’s matinee of ‘Aladdin’, TNH Productions’s and Casa101’s re-visualized version playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles through September 15th.  The show played Casa101 in January of this year, but this version was revamped by Jim Luigs and Jose Cruz Gonzalez, with music by Alan Mencken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with music adapted, arranged and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle.  This time out the show was 80 minutes with no intermission and ran overall quite smoothly.  The musical direction was by Caroline Benzon, with cute choreography (including a very nice tap number) by Tania Possick, with very attractive costumes by Abel Alvarado, and sets by Marco De Leon.  The lighting was adequate by Sohail J. Najaf (I say this because in one scene the romantic couple was on their flying carpet placed high above on a  huge box, and I felt the lighting would have been better with less light focusing more on the couple so we wouldn’t have to see the box they were sitting upon).  The projection design was by Yee Eun Nam with sound by Vincent A. Sanchez.  This production was directed as the last one was by Rigo Tejeda.  The cast of 20 worked very hard and as I stated the overall pace of the show was fine.  Special attention goes to Sarah Kennedy playing Princess Jazmin, Lewis Powell III playing the Genie, and Luis Marquez playing Jafar, the villain in the play.  My feeling about Daniel Sugimoto was that he could have been a little stronger and more charismatic, and his voice seemed to be at a lower level than other people on the stage, although he looked the part and certainly was as handsome as any Aladdin I have seen.  Supporting characters Andrew Cano playing Iago, Jafar’s pet parrot… Sebastian Gonzalez playing Abu, Aladdin’s pet Monkey… Rosa Navarrese playing Rajah, Jazmin’s pet tiger… Evan Garcia playing Captain de los Cardias… Danielle Espinoza as the Magic Carpet… and Blanca Espinoza, Shiner Sanders, and Beatriz Tasha Magana playing the Royal Translators all did fine work with the material given them.  And the balance of the ensemble including the ones who doubled doing the other roles filled out the fine cast beautifully.  This dual language edition seemed to work more than it didn’t work, although some of the sections seemed to be too long without using the second language… but the audience really enjoyed the performance.

The PR person is Steve Moyer and the number for reservations is (866) 811-4111, or online at https://www.thelatc.org/aladdin-duallanguage-edition.  To view performance footage of the musical, please visit https://youtu.be/UgqkZGpNojU.


 Reviewed by Stan Mazin, September 10, 2017 matinee (5pm)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

LOST IN YONKERS by Carol Kaufman Segal
            The Lonny Chapman Theatre is presenting Neil Simon’s comedy/drama Lost In Yonkers.  Neil Simon is a man of extreme talent and is the recipient of many awards for his abundance of work.  His multitude of plays, musicals, films, television shows and series have proven to be successes.  He has a gift for comedy as well as for drama, plots and characterizations.   Lost In Yonkers is one of his best plays.  It won the Tony Award in 1991, and brought Neil Simon the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that same year.           
            The play is set in Yonkers, New York in 1942, where Grandma Kurnitz (Loraine Shields) and her daughter Bella (Roslyn Cohn) run Kurnitz Kandy Store while living in an apartment above the confectionary (charming set by Chris Winfield).  Grandma’s two grandsons, 15-year old Jay (Bennett Saltzman) and 13-year old Arty (Brent Anthony) are waiting for their father, Eddie (Patrick Burke) to come out from their Grandma’s room, not knowing what to expect.   
            Eddie’s wife recently died and he is in debt due to her long illness.  He and the boys had to give up their apartment, and Eddie needs to go on the road to look for work to get out of his predicament.  He has come to seek help from his mother to take the boys in while he is away, and he knows it will not be an easy request.  Eddie’s mother has always been an extremely stringent woman, never revealing any love towards her family.  The boys are not too keen, themselves, about having to live with her.
            During their prolonged wait, Bella arrives home and she and the boys click.  Not surprising, Grandma says no to Eddie’s request, but Bella starts to bring their belongings in and Grandma acquiesces and agrees to a ten-month period.   During the ten-month period, Eddie keeps in touch with the family through letters (he reads aside on stage).    
            And during the ten-month period, Bella strives for a normal life though her mind is hardly more advanced than that of a child and it is obvious she has been deprived of love throughout all of her years.  Uncle Louie (Van Boudreaux) drops by for a visit and we also meet Bella’s and Louie’s sister Gert (Julie Davis), both of whom bear the scars of this dysfunctional family.             
            The Group Rep's production of this play is of the highest quality, superbly performed by an outstanding cast and superbly directed by Larry Eisenberg (Co-Artistic Director of the Lonny Chapman Theatre).  It is a drama filled with emotion, but comedy persists as well.  Every performer is outstanding and all actors' dialects are perfect throughout.  I must give extra kudos to Roslyn Cohn for her performance as Bella.   
            Lost In Yonkers plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM, through October 8.  The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.  Tickets are available at www.thegrouprep.com, or info@thegrouprep.com, or reservations may be made by calling (828) 763-5990. 
           

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED


Thursday, August 17, 2017

CHAGALL:  FANTASIES FOR THE STAGE by Carol Kaufman Segal    
            Marc Chagall was a prolific artist who created works in nearly every artistic category.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is presenting an exhibition that focuses on four of his works in the field of music and dance.  While the presentation stresses its artistic value, it is almost like being behind the scenes of a theater with its sounds and picturesque beauty. 
            LACMA’s CEO Michael Goven said, “In bringing together Chagall‘s well-known paintings and his innovative theatrical designs, Chagall:  Fantasies for the Stage will enhance our understanding of the artist’s expansive body of work.  By engaging both the visual and the performing arts, it also fosters a dialogue that reaches across the discipline of art, music, theater, dance, and even fashion design.”  And this is truly what the exhibition accomplishes.
             Forty-one costumes and nearly one hundred sketches and studies from three ballets and one opera are shown in four separate sections in chronological order.  The first is the ballet Aleko, 1942,         followed by The Firebird, 1945, then Daphnis and Chloe, 1959, and finally Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, 1967. 
            There is serenity in walking through this unique exhibition as selected music associated with each entity is played at various intervals each hour, music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky (Aleko), Igor Stravinsky (The Firebird),  Maurice Ravel (Daphnis and Chloe), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (The Magic Flute)
            In addition to Chagall’s stage designs, the exhibition includes a small selection of iconic paintings, many of which are on loan from museums around the world including The Violinist (1920) from LACMA’s permanent collection.

            Chagall:  Fantasies for the Stage will be on view at the Los Angeles Museum of Art through January 7, 2018. The museum is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.  Hours are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, 11 AM to 5 PM, Fridays, 11 AM to 8 PM, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 AM to 7 PM, closed Wednesdays.  For further information, call (323) 857-6010.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

THE FENCER by Carol Kaufman Segal
            The Fencer begins with some background information in order to offer an understanding of the situation that faces Endel Nelis as he arrives in Estonia in the early 1950’s.  During World War II, Nazi Germany occupied Estonia and recruited most of the men into the German army.  Later, when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, the government considered all German soldiers war criminals and proceeded to seek out any, including those in Estonia, and to imprison them.
            A young Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi) is one of those men and he flees Leningrad for Estonia to escape the secret police. He finds a position as a teacher and forms a sports club for the students offering them instructions in fencing, a sport for which he has a passion.
            The School Principal (Hendrik Toompere) is jealous of Endel and objects to what he is accomplishing with the children and tries to have the club removed from the school agenda.  However, the townspeople vote in favor of allowing it to continue, and the irritated Principal begins an investigation of Endel.
            Most of the children have lost their male relatives due to the actions of the          Russian government, but they have formed a loving relationship with Endel and he with them.  When his student, Marta (Liisa Koppel), hears about a national fencing tournament being held in Leningrad, she asks him about the club participating.   When Endel tells her it is not possible for them to attend, she and the students, in their disappointment, think that he does not think them qualified.  
            Meanwhile, his friend Aleksei (Kirill Karo) cautions him against ever returning to Leningrad.  Torn between seeing the children disappointed and hurt, or risking his life by going to Leningrad, Endel is left to make a choice.
            The Fencer is a stirring drama directed by Klause Haro  The screenplplay, written by Anna  Heinamaa, was inspired by the true story of Endel Nelis, Estonia’s legendary fencing master  A marvelous cast also includes Ursula Ratasepp  (Kadri, Endel’s love interest), Joonas Koff (Jaan, a student), and Lembit Ulfsak (Janaan’s grandfather).
           
Running time, 99 minutes          Estonian and Russian with English subtitles          Not rated


RECOMMENDED              

 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RHINOCEROS by Carol Kaufman Segal
            Rhinoceros was written in 1959 by Romanian-French playwright, Eugene Ionesco.  He wrote most of his plays in French, and they were branded among “The Theatre of the Absurd.”  However, there is more to this play than absurdity, and it is being presented in Los Angeles at an auspicious time by the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice.
            Ionesco wrote this play as a backlash to the sudden events going on in the world when Communism, Fascism, and Nazism were flourishing.  As you watch this excellent production, you will understand the lying message that Ionesco was sending out as a warning against what was occurring in the world. 
            The play takes place in a small town in France.  It opens in a square where there is a lot of normal daily activity occurring among the townsfolk.  Eventually the scene focuses on Berenger (Keith Stevenson) seated at a table.  He is unkempt, and obviously feeling the consequences of too much alcohol.  Seated at the table with him is Jean (Alexander Fernandez, the acting name of Director Guillermo Cienfuegos, who also directs the production), Beringer’s dapper friend who is chastising him to no end over his slovenly appearance.
            All at once, without warning, the crowd hears a deafening sound of hooves as a herd of rhinoceroses plow through the area, knocking over chairs, tables, and people.  Everyone is stunned, and cannot figure out where the animals could possibly have come from.  Did they have one horn, or did they have two horns?  Were they from Africa or were they from Asia?
            As the play progresses, more and more rhinoceroses appear throughout the village, and over time,  more and more citizens are surrendering to the change of becoming rhinos, everyone including Beringer’s friend Jean,  When Beringer and his girlfriend Daisy (Carole Weyers) are the only two people left in the town, Beringer swears he will never accept the change while Daisy, who has submitted the same to him, eventually falls in line with the crowd leaving Beringer the only human remaining in a crowd of rhinoceroses. 
            Though there is a serious message in this play, it is not without a lot of humor.   Cienfuegos directs a perfect cast.   David Mauer deserves kudos for a wonderful set, as does Christopher Moscatiello for the sound design.
            Rhinoceros plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM, through September 10, at Pacific Resident Theatre located at 703 Venice Blvd, in Venice.  Tickets are available online at www.pacificresidenttheatre, or by calling (310) 822-8392.


HIGHLY RECOMMENDED





Monday, August 7, 2017

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT by Carol Kaufman Segal
            Shout Sister Shout is a musical that relates the story of Gospel singer Rosetta Tharpe.  Rosetta was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915.  She achieved notoriety in the 30’s and 40’s with her recordings of gospel music.  Accompanying herself on the guitar, her rhythmic style was the antecedent to rock’n’roll which had an influence on future rock’n’roll and soul singers to come along such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, and others.
            Rosetta Tharpe suffered a stroke in 1970 which had an impact on her career.  Subsequently, she had one of her legs amputated due to complications from diabetes.  In 1973, she suffered another stroke and died.  Cheryl L West, who wrote the book, begins the story at the time  Rosetta Tharpe (Tracy Nicole Chapman) dies and discovers that before she is allowed to enter heaven, she is required to return to Earth to tell her life story to Isaiah (Logan Charles).  Isaiah is a young man considering suicide because he feels his dreams of becoming a songwriter will never come to fruition.     
            This gimmick, as a way of telling the story, was fraught with good intentions, but left a young man often idling away on stage at times.  The story, itself, has its merits, but the draw of this production is due to the performances, the dancers, singers, the musicians, and the music which keeps the play moving while keeping the audience upbeat as well. 
            Shout Sister Shout was created by Randy Johnson and Cheryl L. West and directed by Randy Johnson.  Choreography is by Keith Young and music direction and arrangements are by Rahn Coleman.  Other cast members include Yvette Cason, Michael A. Shepperd, Angela Teek Hitchman, Thomas Hobson, Boise Holmes, and Armando Yearwood, Jr.   
            Shout Sister Shout is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM, through August 20.  Tickets are available online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org, by phone at (626) 356-7529, or at the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office located at 39 S. Molino Ave, in Pasadena.


RECOMMENDED