Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Janet Renslow

The “Annie Get Your Gun” at Candlelight – A Mixed Experience

Buffalo Bill introduces the players in “Annie Get Your Gun” at Candlelight Pavilion


Note: This production has already closed, but somehow the review was never posted here. Thus, I post it now for the record.

If you are acquainted with Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” it is likely either through the 1950 film version with Betty Hutton (after Judy Garland was fired from the project) or various clips of songs from the show sung by their originator, Ethel Merman. If this is what you are looking for at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, it will take readjustment. Their production uses the script rewrites created for the Tony-winning revival in 1999. To some extent this is good news. To some extent, at least as presented, the jury is still out.

The revision restages “Annie…” as if it was in itself a show presented by Buffalo Bill, which is innovative, although it threatens to disrupt the flow of the tale itself. The ending has also been rewritten – a necessity for a modern audience, and some objectionable material ridiculing Native Americans has been removed. The costuming ignores most of the conventions of Annie Oakley’s actual period, but that becomes a part of the “it’s just a show” framework, and allows for a lot of lively dancing. The leads are solid (though one was obviously under the weather on opening weekend), and some of the supporting players are particularly fine. In all, it makes for a night of light entertainment, which may be a useful thing in a time like this.

The story grows from the tale of actual people. Famed sure-shot Annie Oakley was a star in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, among others. Sitting Bull, the famed Sioux chief, was also a part of the show for some of that time. She was originally discovered by another sure-shot, Frank Butler, whom she married. Although the Irving Berlin musical twists all these facts around to create a battle of the sexes, it sits on this foundation. In the Berlin version, Butler and Oakley become competitors, with Frank’s ego so bruised he leaves at one point for a rival show, and Annie struggling between proving her prowess and winning Frank’s love.

In the Candlelight production, Brent Schindele (who will be replaced by Johnny Fletcher as of March 23) plays Frank as the standard egotistical pretty boy unwilling to be show up by a girl. He sings with authority, but there is a certain lack of chemistry between him and Jamie Mills’ Annie. Mills gives a Annie an innate confidence and aura of backwoods practicality which works well. Her singing voice was gentled by illness opening weekend, but her understanding of how the songs need to affect the course of the storyline was on target.

Still, at least when shown for review, the best of the production were those backing up these leads. Randy Hilton makes his Buffalo Bill just bombastic enough, while Michael Lopez gives Sitting Bull a certain gravitas which keeps him from being awkwardly stereotypical. As the somewhat star-crossed lovers, Jacob Nancy also manages this balance as the half-Native young knife thrower whose love for his white assistant, played by Kylie Molnar, comes under scrutiny. These latter two have a great time as the exhuberant ingenues of the piece.

Another star is the choreography of Janet Renslow, who has reworked material by Graciela Daniele and Jeff Calhoun to fit the specifics of the Candlelight stage. Mitch Gill and Chuck Ketter have worked up a convertible set which allows for the many, many quick changes of scene, necessary for the direction of James W. Gruessing, Jr., who must deal with side bars usually staged in front of a scrim on a stage which really doesn’t have one.

In short, “Annie Get Your Gun” is a classic, reworked with intention and care. Its increasingly episodic nature – as characters slip in and out of storytelling to become the staff of the show telling the story – may sometimes interrupt the story’s flow or the humor of the piece. Still, there is charm there, and when all are healthy there are also those wonderfully belt-able songs which still ring in the ear: “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” or “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)”. The change to the ending (the original of which even perplexed me as a child), and the respect for what Canadians accurately call First Nations People means adopting this reworking was a wise idea.

What: “Annie Get Your Gun” When: [see note at top of review] through April 14, doors open for the dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $63-$78 general, $30-$35 children 12 and under, meal-inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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“The Producers” at Candlelight – Big musical fits well in smaller package

Bobby Collins and Jamie Snyder as Leo and Max in "The Producers" [photo: John LaLonde]

Bobby Collins and Jamie Snyder as Leo and Max in “The Producers” [photo: John LaLonde]

One of the most celebrated Broadway musicals of the recent past is Mel Brooks’ adaptation of his film “The Producers.” Ridiculous, clever and continuously engaging, it still demands a strong cast and a strong directorial vision to be a success. What a delightful surprise, then, to discover all of this at a place where you can also get a decent meal: the area’s last remaining true dinner theater, The Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont.

The story is as silly as one expects from Mel Brooks. Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer, joins forces with a timid accountant named Leo Bloom to make money by fleecing investors in a show intentionally so bad it closes. As Max gathers the money from a fleet of aged women he sequentially seduces, the two begin their search for a truly awful musical they can contract for, and cast. They hire a famously awful director, with his crew of stereotypical assistants, and the plot thickens.

Director Brian Thomas Barnhart and choreographer Janet Renslow work with considerable success to recreate the Broadway original on Candlelight’s smaller stage. A sizable, talented cast lives up to these demands, led by Jamie Snyder’s appropriately over-the-top Max, and Bobby Collins’ humorously fragile Leo. Both have strong singing voices, as well, and the entire cast proves impressive in dance routine after routine (including the famous “tapping walkers”).

Playing the ultimate stereotypes – in typical Brooks comedic fashion – Laura Thatcher creates the well-endowed, somewhat dim Swedish actress-turned-secretary Ulla, and Danny Blaylock creates the crazed former Nazi, Franz. Add to these Stanton Kane Morales’ cross-dressing director and Emerson Boatwright having a ball as his fawning assistant. Andrew Wade supplies a number of smaller character bits, and manages the classic tenor required for the Ziegfeld take-off “Springtime for Hitler.”

The polish doesn’t end there. James Gruessing’s set is a star all in and of itself – one of the most complex and layered ones Candlelight has ever used. The lighting is great, and the costumes, from The Theatre Company, are just right throughout.

More importantly, one laughs and laughs often. The show is genuinely funny, frankly funnier than in the production at the Ahmanson, where Jason Alexander, rather than living into the part of Max with great glee, seemed apologetic for not being Nathan Lane. No apologies here. Everyone is playing their parts full-out and the results are absolutely delightful.

One warning: Mel Brooks loves making fun of lust, and as such there are a number of moderately off-color references and actions which may make this a show that is inappropriate for kids. On the other hand, the show comes accompanied by good food and fabulous desserts, all of which contribute to a generally joyous experience.

So, go see “The Producers.” Having seen many of the productions in Candlelight Pavilion’s 30-year history, I’d rate this among the top ten. It really is worth one’s while to go and enjoy.

What: “The Producers” When: Through April 4, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for matinee brunches Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73, dinner inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

Oh the Horror! : Candlelight Pavilion makes the most of “Jekyll and Hyde”

Michael Scott Harris, as he transitions from the peaceful Dr. Jekyll to the notoriously evil Mr. Hyde, at Candlelight Pavilion [photo: John LeLonde]

Michael Scott Harris, as he transitions from the peaceful Dr. Jekyll to the notoriously evil Mr. Hyde, at Candlelight Pavilion [photo: John LeLonde]

Ever since Robert Louis Stevenson first penned “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” its particular examination of the nature of good and evil, and the balance of these qualities in the ordinary person, have proved fascinating. Though many today are not as familiar with Stevenson’s complex novella as they are with the more than 123 films based on it, the term “Jekyll and Hyde” has entered the English language, as a way to refer to someone with vastly different behaviors under different circumstances.

The stage has not been immune to this fascination either, and in one of the more recent dramatizations, the musical “Jekyll and Hyde” made it to Broadway in the late 90s and stayed there for nearly 4 years. Like many of its counterparts on Broadway at the time, this version by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn is operatic in style. Its focus stays mainly on the well-meaning Dr. Henry Jekyll, his experiments to remove evil from mankind, and the creation of the totally evil Edward Hyde – whose strength of personality gradually consumes the gentler but thus weaker Jekyll.

Now at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, this musical version is not without its issues. Though the production is tight and well performed, the music and lyrics sometimes leave a bit to be desired. Still, the essence of the story survives, there are some strong characters. The show’s hit song, “This is the Moment,” which proves so pivotal, remains as powerful as ever. Much of the production’s success comes thanks to a strong, vocally impressive cast and a particularly elaborate setting for this small theater.

Michael Scott Harris virtually carries this piece, as Jekyll/Hyde. The transformations he makes from carefully appropriate doctor to vengeful wanton are brilliant – changes of voice, of carriage and articulation which take the audience along seamlessly as he shifts back and forth. In this he is well supported by Amy Gillette as Jekyll’s understanding, upper crust fiancĂ©, and Laura Dickinson’s warm-hearted, easily abused prostitute, each of whom holds their versions of this one man in their hearts and passions. The singing in all these cases, honed to fit the characters, proves rich and sophisticated, leading the story along.

Also worthy of note are Richard Bermudez as Jekyll’s lawyer and longtime friend – the man who pushes hard to figure out what is going on, and Bob Bell as Jekyll’s future father-in-law, loving but deeply concerned. Beyond this a large and versatile cast play everything from street urchins to bishops with fervor and intelligence. Director Jason James uses the complex stage well, and just about the only thing one could wish for is that some of the set pieces would not make quite so much noise, rolling in behind active scenes.

Janet Renslow recreates the choreography from the original with style – often as much movement as it is dancing, and by and large the thing looks and feels as edgy and mysterious as it should. In short, for someone looking for a different way to feel spooky around the Halloween period, this is a fun one to see.

Note: this story is essentially an adult one. A number of characters are prostitutes plying their wares, and the changes in Jekyll, which are often quite vivid, might be disturbing to younger children. Although there may be a dish on the dinner menu for children, I would think twice about bringing them below a more sophisticated age.

What: “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical” When: Through November 23, doors opening for dinner 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: (meal inclusive) $53 – $68 general, $25 children under 12 Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

No Mere Trojan Rabbit: Monty Python Captures Candlelight Pavilion

Adam Trent, Raymond Ingram and Chelsea Emma Franko in "Spamalot" [photo: John LaLonde]

Adam Trent, Raymond Ingram and Chelsea Emma Franko in “Spamalot” [photo: John LaLonde]

There is a reason that the clowns are the finest athletes in the circus: you have to be very, very good at something to do it “badly” and not get seriously hurt. By the same token, anyone creating a satirical version of an art form must be excellent at that art form in order for the humor to work. Otherwise, it just looks awkward and amateurish rather than snarky and funny.

Which is why it is delightful to be able to say that the new production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont has the absolutely necessary combination of crisp production, talented performers and unified wit needed to pull this thing off. One bad performance, or unintentional awkward transition, and much of what makes this show so very funny would be lost.

“Spamalot” is, of course, Python member Eric Idle’s reworking of the absolutely classic satiric film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which made fun of every possible aspect of the genre of medieval romantic stories and movies. Set to music by Idle and John Du Prez, it sets tongue firmly in cheek, and gets sillier and sillier as the evening progresses. That is, it does if the show lives up to its potential. Here it does.

The tale starts out as a silly version of King Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail. It takes any number of side trips, reworks Arthurian characters with abandon, and makes almost no sense, but then it isn’t intended to.

Raymond Ingram's King Arthur joins in dancing "The Knights of the Round Table" [photo: John LaLonde]

Raymond Ingram’s King Arthur joins in dancing “The Knights of the Round Table” [photo: John LaLonde]


In a comparatively small cast called upon, in most cases, to play a number of parts throughout the evening, there are several standout performances. Chelsea Emma Franko sings beautifully and carries the integral part of The Lady of the Lake with style and wit. Just such a performance is necessary to keep this thing moving. Raymond Ingram makes a solid King Arthur, and Adam Trent has a ball as his servant (complete with traditional coconuts).

Emerson Boatwright is the perfect, geeky historian, and a delightful Prince Herbert. Matt Dallal gives Sir Robin the properly milquetoast attitude. Jotape Lockwood’s dim Sir Lancelot, Bryan Vickery’s solid Sir Galahad, and Robert Hoyt in several parts but particularly Galahad’s mother all work well together. Indeed, the ensemble quality of this makes it all work, as the rest of the ensemble who back up these major players helps to prove.

The only major thing which could use fixing is the occasional bit of diction, especially when, as Lockwood must at one point, one must speak in an accent. The lines in this show are its best feature, so understanding what you hear is a must.

Director Chuck Ketter has just the right touch regarding both the pacing and the ridiculousness. Janet Renslow’s recreation of Casey Nicholaw’s original choreography, adapted for the smaller Candlelight stage, keeps the whole thing lively and showcases the multiple talents of the cast.

As was true of the original film, there are somewhat scatological jokes of one kind and another. One might want to rethink bringing small children, or the kind of adults who would be disquieted by Monty Python’s sometimes colorful humor. Still, I admit to taking my own kids, when younger, to see the film. My son even had a shirt with the French taunts on it which he was sad to grow out of.

Candlelight’s “Spamalot” is just plain fun. That it comes with a pretty nice dinner is just an added plus. Go and have fun. That’s what this show is all about, after all.

What: “Monty Python’s Spamalot” When: Through October 19, open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $53 – $68, meal inclusive/ $25 for children 12 and under

Taking Up the Challenge: “Seven Brides” on Candlelight Pavilion’s small stage

Stacy Huntington as new bride Milly starts cleaning up the boys in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at Candlelight Pavilion

Stacy Huntington as new bride Milly starts cleaning up the boys in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at Candlelight Pavilion

An interesting trend in American musical theater in the past few decades has been the creation of stage versions of classic movie musicals, rather than the other way around. Though making movies of Broadway shows had its own set of issues: expanding beyond a stage’s confines, reduction of the suspension of disbelief, or even the need to rework the thing to feel cohesive without an intermission, shrinking a movie has more. This is especially true of a film best known for its choreography.

Which is why any stage production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” such as the one at Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, comes with an automatic challenge. The film, which generally has rather two-dimensional characters, has remained a favorite because of its dance sequences. Yet, those wildly energetic sequences could be filmed in sections – they didn’t have to be danced straight through. On stage, they must be. And, on stage, the balance between song and story and character and dance must be more even.

At Candlelight, they do manage to fit the tale to the size of their stage – a task all by itself. And, by and large, the dancing is good enough to keep the flow going. Some of the performers prove adept at giving significant humanity to the otherwise rather simplistic material. Still, it could use a few improvements.

The story is silly, but amusing. Adam Pontipee, a lumberman living with his six brothers in the wilds of the Northwest, comes to town for an infrequent visit to buy not only household supplies but a wife. When he meets Milly, a girl with no family, she agrees to marry him. The surpise for her at the end of her long journey is the number and condition of his younger siblings. Pretty soon she has the other Pontipee men anxious for brides of their own which, when they visit town, they capture and bring back to the hills just as winter hits.

Much of this is told in song and dance – particularly the hoedown dance-off prior to the girls’ abduction for which this show is so particularly well known.

Director/Choreographer Janet Renslow has a feel for the style which must be translated from the film. Her performers have a robust quality overall – a western hardiness. It must be admitted that some of her dancing ensemble struggle on occasion with the intense demands of these very physical sequences, but their enthusiasm continues to shine. And, for the most part, the central characters add to that with an earnest sincerity which keeps the show moving, and connected with the audience.

Stacy Huntington makes a charming Milly – tough but still romantic, practical and loving. All six of the brothers (Josh Taylor, Tyler Logan, Michael Milligan, Donald Pettit, Chaz Feuerstine and Ariel Neydavoud) have a kind of gangling charm, most particularly Neydavoud as the youngest, Gideon. The girls they scoop up (Sharon Jewell, Jessie Parmelee, Susanna Vaughan, Sierra Taylor, Rachel Burkert and Andrea Aron) also have that innate innocence which makes the show work, and dance very well – their major requirement.

Indeed, only Sam Zeller, as Adam, proves shaky. Part of this is not his fault, as he was cast into a part outside his vocal range at a theater with a prerecorded orchestral part allowing for no transposition. Some songs which should be belted out can barely be sung at all. They’re just too low. And, perhaps frustrated by this, he seems to perform in a kind of isolation. With the other characters connecting as well as they do, this begins to stand out and make his character seem more “acted” than the rest.

Still, for charm and warm-hearted enthusiasm, this “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” works a lot more than it doesn’t. The memorable songs and nostalgia factor work well, and when combined with a good meal, this all makes for a lighthearted evening. Stay tuned for their annual original Christmas show, coming up next.

What: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” When: Through November 24, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for brunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $53 – $68 meal inclusive, $25 children 12 and under Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

A Sweet “Sweet Charity” – Candlelight Pavilion handles tough show with grace

The taxi dancers look for a "Big Spender" in Sweet Charity at the Candlelight Pavilion

The taxi dancers look for a “Big Spender” in Sweet Charity at the Candlelight Pavilion

The musical “Sweet Charity” falls into the unusual category of Broadway shows which have music far more famous than their productions. Co-opted for everything from advertisements to concerts and variety shows, songs like “Hey, Big Spender” and “If They Could See Me Now” have had enormous staying power, even as the plot they came from gets lost.

Perhaps this is because the show was crafted by director/choreographer Bob Fosse as a showcase for his extraordinarily talented wife, and muse, Gwen Verdon. Perhaps it comes from the fact the tale is adapted from a rather bleak Fellini film. In any case, the tale of plucky taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine, whose optimism powers her through one romantic disaster after another, deserves another airing. Now it gets one, at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont.

To make “Sweet Charity” work, you have to honor the original. Large portions of the show are devoted to dance, and Fosse-esque dance at that. This means your dancers must be quality, something Candlelight pulls off. Choreographer Janet Renslow has a genuine feel for what the numbers have to look like, and those signature – and necessary – moves translate well onto this solid cast.

Tracy Pedretti is the ever-optimistic Charity

Tracy Pedretti is the ever-optimistic Charity

Tracy Pedretti makes a terrific Charity. She has just the right balance of naivete and bravado, and dances up a storm. As her two far more cynical buddies, Tiffany Reid and Eli Menendez create tough, but humorous contrast to Charity’s constant upbeat view. Along the way, they handle my personal favorite moment of the show “There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This” with great intensity.

As Oscar, the most likely, and yet also most likely to be scared off, of Charity’s love interests, Bobby Collins finds the charm in the character’s nerdiness. Other standouts include Kayla Ann Bullock, delightfully stereotypical as a famous movie star’s woman, Michael Worldly as a jazz-hippy-new age preacher, and John LaLonde as the movie star. Deborah Fauerbach provides some stunning moments as a featured dancer, as well.

Neil Dale’s tight direction keeps the story from becoming depressing, and integrates beautifully with the long dance sequences. Set designer Kerry Jones even manages to get a ferris wheel into the small Candlelight space.

In short, though this musical is not for the kiddies, it has a sort of “pull up your socks and move on” charm which, when combined with solid dancing and singing, propel it to a wry charm. You like Charity, and are kept from wallowing in the darker underpinnings of her life by her sunny nature. This is what this show has to offer: that sense that attitude can keep a disaster in perspective, even in an outwardly unfriendly world. We could all use a lesson or two in that area.

What: “Sweet Charity” When: Through May 5, opens for dinner 6 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays and for brunch at 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $53-$68 general, $25 children 12 and under, meal inclusive. Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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