vaudeville
Photo - Billy Calderon

Led Zeppelin titled one of its songs "Rock and Roll;" author Laurence Carr, equally audacious, wrote a play with music in 1997 and called it "Vaudeville."

Currently in its West Coast premiere at the Advent Theatre, "Vaudeville" honors Vaudeville's corniness and sweet-natured vitality while also alerting us to the form's pending demise. The story revolves around 11 Vaudeville performers who live in a Philadelphia rooming house in 1919; one year after the end of World War I, which much more than 9/11 "changed everything."

If far fewer resources are now required to run the federal government, as the President and Congress seem to agree, what about classic Broadway musicals? The curious can test that theory by attending the Above the Curve Theatre production of “Sweet Charity”, playing at the Actors Workout Studio through April 24th.

 

This version of “Charity” is performed on a space hardly sufficient for a minimalist one-act, let alone a show that includes such expansive, high-spirited numbers as “Big Spender”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, and “The Rhythm of Life”.  The dance routines are staged in tight quarters, which limit the range and frequency of high-leg kicks and other gymnastic feats.

The stripped-down approach extends to the accompanying music, an instrumental soundtrack, played at moderate volume, and the playbill, which does not the list either the names of the songs, nor which characters perform them.  Anyone who plans to attend this production should first consult the “Sweet Charity” entry in Wikipedia.

Yet, despite the various limitations, the infectious charm of the performers, and their unabashed commitment to the material, make this production of “Sweet Charity” both a joy and a revelation.  It turns out you don’t need a huge infusion of cash to stage a hit musical.

The original “Sweet Charity”, which debuted on Broadway in January 1966, was set entirely in New York, and followed the travails of a woman in her 20s who is paid to dance with men.  As the years advance, Charity and her co-workers wonder if they will ever find the right guy and ever leave the business.

Nearly two years before “Hair” opened off-Broadway, “Sweet Charity”, book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, took early notice of the burgeoning counter-culture, especially with “The Rhythm of Life” and a dance number called “Rich Man’s Frug”.  Apparently, the revolution was being co-opted long before car companies licensed songs by the Beatles and the Who.

Both of these numbers are marvelously performed by the Above the Curve cast.  “Frug” is staged like a scene from Andy Warhol’s Factory; beautiful girls with vacant looks mechanically enact the dances steps of the day to a groovy, jazzy pop music arrangement.  I could have easily watched it go on for another 10 minutes.

While faithful to the spirit of the show, and never condescending to women whose career aspirations and opportunities are pre-feminism, director Mark Robert Swiech also transposes the plotline to contemporary Los Angeles.  There are references to Melrose Avenue and Fred Segal, Charity enrolls in Santa Monica College, and cell phones are a regular prop.  The result is an effective hybrid; we don’t lose the New York, single girl-in-the-big-city context, and we also smile at the familiar locales and things.

Adrian Lee Borden’s Charity is one part cynic, two parts innocent, who retains the sense of humor and never-too-high expectations that allow the character to overcome disappointment.  Borden and Peter Greathouse, who plays Oscar, Charity’s most promising love interest, play a masterful scene of comic neurosis while trapped inside an elevator.  Tiffany Roberts’ Nickie and Joe Lorenzo as Herman stood out among the very good cast.

“Sweet Charity” is at the Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, through April 24th.  Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8, and Sunday nights at 7.  Tickets are $15 with reservations, and $20 at the door.  For more information, call the box office at 818-506-3903

 

Pinocchio at the Deaf West Theatre north hollywood

Written between 1881—1883, Italian author Carlo Collodi’s cautionary fable Pinocchio is about a mischievous wooden toy who dreams about becoming a real boy. The tale has been adapted for the stage by Tony Award winner Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Rothman. This delightful, if slightly dark, play is perfectly suited for the Deaf West Theatre’s signature, award-winning combination of signed and voiced theater. The familiar story is colorfully presented using the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, which is a form of physical comedy that uses masks, archetypal characters, slapstick, pratfalls and sight gags.


Catholic Girl - photo by Chelsea Sutton
Catholic Girl - photo by Chelsea Sutton


Is The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity a one-woman show or is it a two-hander play?  Now playing at the Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake, and written by and starring Anne Hendy, this light comedy feels somehow as if it is both. Or perhaps it began life as a one-woman show but later was expanded?

Whatever the case, The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity starts off well, with its first two scenes involving two actors, but quickly reverts back to its true core, a one-woman confessional with direct to audience address.  Thankfully, the introspective monologues are kept to a minimum and there are plenty of great scenes between our hapless heroine and a motley assortment of men who might prove to be the recipient of her virtue.

Cyrus Alexander is the guy playing all the other male roles – and even one hilarious woman in drag – and he gives an exceptional performance throughout the evening. A highlight is a scene where our Mid-western virgin participates in an evening of ‘speed dating’.  This calls for a virtuoso exercise in lightning-quick costume changes from Alexander as he whizzes through a parade of deviants and weirdos. Hendy’s play is a gift to any talented male actor, seeing as he gets to play so many diverse roles. Alexander is so brilliant as each of his distinct characters that he almost overshadows our leading lady and playwright. Director Gregg W. Brevoort deserves some credit for eliciting superb performances from his cast, given the slight material.

One aspect of the staging was a bit awkward, with our leading lady all but grunting as she shifted a central, padded bench set-piece around the stage that seems unnecessarily weighty given its apparent need for mobility. The remaining sets of solid-looking, semi-arch shaped ‘brick’ walls, designed by Keith Mitchell, served their purpose.

While mildly amusing, Hendy’s play doesn’t offer much that is revelatory about a Catholic woman’s guilt, sexual repression, conscience-wrestling and ultimate sexual liberation. But it does provide some funny and poignant scenes and proves a pleasant diversion.

The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity

Falcon Theatre

4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank,

CA 91505

Performances:

Runs until Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wed.—Sat. at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm

Running time:

Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission

TICKETS:

$29.50 – $32.00

Box Office:

Purchase tickets here or call (818) 955-8101

boxoffice@falcontheatre.com

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