Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Andrew Bar

Powerful, Timely “Ragtime” at Candlelight Pavilion

The Cast of “Ragtime” at Candlelight – the elements which made the 20th Century

By design or by accident several local theater companies have offered up seasons including classic shows which address very, very current issues. One such is the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater where, and not for the first time in this last calendar year, they are producing something powerfully relevant while also being impressively entertaining.

Indeed, their recently opened production of Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical “Ragtime,” based on E.L.Doctorow’s award-winning novel, finds the setting of Candlelight Pavilion an advantage. Originally over-produced, this less overblown presentation allows what works in the show to shine through. And in times like these, the messages it has to offer prove particularly important.

The story of both novel and musical centers around three distinct groups of people, the African-American musical scene of Harlem centered around ragtime musician Colehouse Walker, the upscale white suburbanites defined by Mother, and the eastern European refugees focused on an Ashkenazi Jew from Latvia. As their stories bump into each other, and into the famous names of their New York, the layers of hardship and privilege, of racial stereotyping and artistic creativity, of injustice and promise intertwine in ways which prove both tragic and enriching. It is a disturbing mirror for anyone watching today, as many of its concerns are still uncomfortably present.

What makes “Ragtime” work is the richness of the music, and the genuineness of the characters most central to the tale. At Candlelight, the company’s largest-ever cast includes several remarkable performances which make this all happen. Standouts include strong, intensely focused and deeply heartfelt performance of Trance Thompson as Colehouse, balanced by the sincerity of Jessica Mason as Sarah, the mother of his child. Christianna Rowader gives a balance of empathy and frustration to Mother – a woman coming into her own at a time when society had already defined her place. In this she is aided by young Andrew Bar, articulate and interesting as Mother’s Little Boy.

As Tateh, Allen Everman evokes a quiet desperation while Orlando Montes and Cheyene Omani play with the characters of two of the era’s most colorful personas: magician Harry Houdini and scandalous Evelyn Nesbit. All of these are backed by a strikingly good ensemble who supply major figures of the time, and create the world in which these people move, and sing the show’s powerful songs. Most notable is RaShonda Johnson, whose dirge for the dead Sarah becomes one of the evening’s standout moments.

But, although the ending is frankly overly hopeful, “Ragtime” is worth seeing at this time in history because of what it shows us in our past: racial injustice and the historic grounding for Black distrust of institutions, marginalization and squalor as experienced by those who immigrated to this country during that time (and who we now know laid the groundwork for much of its success), and the myopia of traditional power structures intent on turning back the clock to a “safer” place. It is a warning, and it is a rich hope for a world where we can, indeed, look back on these stories as from a time which we have finally outgrown.

What: “Ragtime” When: through February 24, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for matinees at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $63-$78 adults, $30-$35 for children 12 and under, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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Charming, polished “Beauty and the Beast” at Candlelight Pavilion

Matt Merchant is the Beast in  Candlelight Pavilion's

Matt Merchant is the Beast in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Note: this production is currently sold out, though it may be possible that shows may be added to the schedule.

Local productions of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” are strangely hard to come by, considering both its charm and its general popularity. Now two disparate companies have joined forces to bring a solidly entertaining rendition to the edges of the Inland Empire, as the Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) has come to the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont to make this potentially large musical shine on a comparatively small stage. The results are endearing, for the most part. The show is well cast and the magic works.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past 25 years, you know some of Disney’s version of this ancient story. Belle, the beautiful, bookish daughter of an off-beat inventor, is pursued by Gaston, the village muscle-man, but yearns for a more romantic, expansive life. When her father is captured by a fearsome beast, she trades herself for his safety, and gradually comes to know the charms of both the beast and the magical castle he lives in. Still, Gaston will not be denied.

Lindsey Joan makes a charming Belle, with just the right carriage and vocal timbre to evoke the character everyone knows without being a carbon copy of the animated version. Matt Merchant has the mixture of size and grace needed to be the Beast, and sings with a conviction which makes his sorrowful “If I Can’t Love Her” one of the truly memorable moments in the production. Michael Moon, as Gaston, has the appropriately booming voice, selfish demeanor, and physique, to make him just as obnoxiously commanding as he’s supposed to be. Frank Minano manages to keep Belle’s father just kookie enough to seem a bit odd, but still warmly paternal.

In a show like this, the quality is often underscored by the supporting cast, and here this is very much the case. Bryan Overmyer seems to truly enjoy his time as the moderately lascivious Lumiere, Stanton Kane Morales gives warmth to the pompously precise Cogsworth, Nicholas Alexander somehow manages to make himself seem smaller than he is as Gaston’s minion Lefou, and Josh Tangermann proves as creepy as expected as the sinister Monsieur D’Arque. Angela Baumgardner makes a satisfyingly motherly Mrs. Potts, while Andrew Bar gives real presence to her son, Chip, which is remarkable when you consider that he spends most of the show as the face in a teacup.

Jenny Hoffman, Emma Nossal and Bailey Day Sonner prove most tuneful as the “Silly Girls” man-mad over Gaston, and Lizzie Porcari swishes about with style as Babette. Perhaps most impressively, Holly Jamison gives Madame La Grande Bouche the truly operatic voice she is supposed to have. All these fine performances are backed up by a solid and versatile ensemble.

Director John LaLonde has a real feel for material like this, managing to keep what could be a cloyingly saccharine story earnest and touching. Janet Renslow’s choreography manages the small stage well, though the often-celebrated, elaborately-patterned stein-clicking sequence during the hearty “Gaston” falls rather flat.

Still, that’s really the only hitch in a solid production. Completely kid-friendly, “Beauty and the Beast” offers a terrific chance to expose young people to the power and charm of live theater. At Candlelight, thanks to IVRT’s arrangement with the theater, one also gets a quality meal to go with the quality production (with reduced prices for the younger audience members). The combination can make for a satisfying adventure.

What: “Beauty and the Beast” When: Through February 5. Doors open for dinner 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and Thursday, February 2. Doors open for lunch 11 a.m., Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $61-$76 adults, $30-$35 children under 14, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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