Saturday, January 24, 2015

Company revived in Thousand Oaks

Review by Robert Roll
Company - Sondheim’s “Into the Oaks”

Don’t let the idea of another regional production of a 45-year-old Steven Sondheim musical put you off.  

Cabrillo Music Theatre’s current revival of the Tony-bedecked “Company” offers a shimmering evening’s entertainment at the Scherr Forum in Thousand Oaks.

If you know the composer’s oeuvre, this is the one with Side by Side By Side, Another Hundred People, The Ladies Who Lunch, and a half-dozen other hoppy, poppy show tunes delivered by a beautifully blended ensemble cast.  

The central character Robert, not so much celebrating his 35th bachelor birthday as dissecting the life that has led up to it, is delivered by Alexander Jon.  Jon’s strong voice serves him well in Sondheim’s soliloquies, as he navigates one of the most twinge-y personas in musical theatre.  This amorphous, uncommitted 70’s guy is really just the pivot man between George Furth’s series of one-acts about marriage and what it does to nice people.

Here is the karate-chopping Sarah and Harry.  Elissa Wagner and Michael Andrew Baker get genuinely physical with some bona fide body slams and back flips in real time.  Later we hang with tightly-strung Jenny and her mustachioed hubby David, lounging with Robert on a couple of authentic 70’s Naugahyde beanbag chairs with a bag of pot.  By the time Robert’s dreamy sexy chorus of current squeezes materializes to harmonize You Could Drive A Person Crazy, the cast and audience have started to party.

Highlights in this show come one after another.  Let’s single out, though, a coloratura turn by Cabrillo first-timer Chelsea Emma Franko’s Another Hundred People, and the damn-she’s-good Getting Married Today pattered to Gilbert and Sullivan perfection by Heather Dudenbostel as Jenny, the potentially runaway bride.

Cabrillo’s Artistic Director Lewis Wilkenfeld is fond of saying “It’s not musical theatre without live music”.  A nine-member orchestra conducted by Cassie Nickols is onstage/upstage for the entire three-hour performance playing with the cast, not at them.  Cate Caplin’s choreography turns this talented ensemble into a Broadway show line that delivers the tappin’ kicken’ goodie goods.

Here is a live show worth seeing.  In the  T.O. Civic Arts Plaza’s smaller (400-seat) venue, Lighting Designer Jean-Yves Tessier’s staccato illuminations flirt against Tom Buderwitz’ muscular set just as Jon’s character Robert toys with his trio of sweethearts.  

Drive out to T.O. and see this show.

The Cabrillo Music Theatre
Presented in the Scherr Forum Theatre
2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks, CA 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mutant Olive at The Lounge

Mitch Hara / Mutant Olive / Photo by Ed Krieger
MUTANT OLIVE written and performed by Mitch Hara

For any actor to tackle a one person show is admirable.  It’s like walking a tight wire without a net and wire walking is what Mitch Hara is doing for  an hour and a half currently at the Lounge on Santa Monica Boulevard.  That the venue is on Santa Monica is significant, even though some of his story takes place a couple of miles to the west in the heart of   WeHo.  The Lounge is an intimate little space of about fifty seats.  The old brick walls are bare with a long black velour up right that provides for an off stage area, though Hara, as his alter ego Adam Astra, actually enters from the lobby as though presenting himself for an audition for Death of a Salesman. Breaking the fourth wall, he engages in immediate audience interaction by asking a lady in the front row to take his photo ‘to remember the moment in case he actually gets the part.’ This presents a strange dichotomy of discomfort and luring the audience into his bizarre world. 

Bulk of the show turns on the title: Mutant Olive (He was forced to wear an olive green suit as a kid).  We hear how Astra was raised by wolverines, the unkind, but apparently accurate description of his parents.  His portrayal of his drunken and abusive father and distracted mother, the whore, startles and wears a little thin, but the wirewalking is cleverly directed by Terri Hanauer.  The bare bones stage: one ladder, five boxes, three folding chairs,  create Astra’s home, his mother’s boudoir, an encounter group, a dramatic car wreck that winds from Santa Monica Boulevard to Robertson through alleys to Melrose where all hell breaks loose and a hospital where an out of body experience reminds slightly of Angels in America.

Hara’s movements are stereotypically gay as he tries again and again to present his “pizza delivery boy” rendition of Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  His impressive mime is smooth as silk, as he dances his various characters throughout the piece.  

Performing such intimate autobiographical material is daring and for the most part works.  Recounting a drunken blackout on stage at the Matrix in David Rabe’s Hurly Burly and his rendering of a believable out of body experience make the sometimes overly profane and indulgent moments worth waiting through.  This is deep digging, at times a one person pity party that over all might work even better with some judicious cutting.

Mutant Olive written and performed by Mitch Hara
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood CA 90038
(corner El Centro, one block east of Vine)
 Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8PM
Through February 28, 2015
Tickets and Information: 
323 960 7861