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“No, No Nanette”: Tunes, Taps, and Dinner at Candlelight

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Erin Dubreuil, as Nanette, and Mary Murphy-Nelson as the comic maid Pauline, star Candlelight Pavilion’s “No, No Nanette” on an upbeat note.

The musical “No, No Nanette,” though originally a product of the 1920s, became a hit first on Broadway and then in stages large and small around the nation beginning in the 1970s. As such it sparked a revival of the “classic” old school musical filled with frothy songs, tap dancing, and a remarkably simplistic romantic plot. Still, it’s fun to see the one which started it all, at least in modern terms. Now one can, at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont.

The plot is typical: Jimmy Smith, a good-hearted, wealthy businessman goes behind his skinflint wife’s back to platonically assist three women from around the country who inspired his sympathy. Now they are coming to see him and he asks his lawyer and friend Billy, whose spendthrift wife spends all he makes, to square the three women away so they will no longer intrude upon his life. In the midst of this, Billy’s ward Nanette, despite having decided she loves Billy’s nephew Tom, decides she wants to sow a wild oat or two before marrying him. Through secrets and happenstance, all these folk end up heading for the same Atlantic City cottage at the same time. Hilarity, and a lot of song and dance, ensue.

Erin Dubreuil makes a sweet Nanette, singing and dancing with skill and style. Tracy Ray Reynolds gives Billy’s wife Sue a flamboyant glee. Colette Peters radiates sensibility but still cuts a mean rug as Jimmy’s more cautious mate. Frank Minano has a lovely time as the over-generous, innocently enthusiastic Jimmy, making him a lovely accompaniment to the equally pure adventuring of Dubreuil’s Nanette. The other characters, and the versatile chorus, give the show its fluffy feel. It’s all light-hearted fun.

Still, the real standout of this production is Mary Murphy-Nelson as the grumpy, and extremely funny maid, Pauline. As she threatens to quit, dances with and scolds her vacuum cleaner, and otherwise offers commentary on the world at large and the silliness of the proceedings around her in particular, Murphy-Nelson’s comic timing remains the best thing in this show.

Director John Lalonde knows how to create order out of all this silliness. Choreographer John Vaughan has the tappers tapping and the waltzers waltzing with Busby Berkeley-esque period style. The set by Chuck Ketter adapts well. One can argue that it is tough to cut a three-act show into the required two a Candlelight production must have, but even this is done with a kind of confidence which takes the audience along for the ride.

In short, “No, No Nanette” is light, frothy fun. Songs like “Tea for Two” have re-entered the American songbook because of it, and even the most titilating moments are nothing which could offend anyone of any age. At Candlelight, of course, this comes with a good meal and (should one wish) a luscious dessert.

What: “No, No Nanette When: through April 13, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and a special Thursday performance April 11, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch matinee at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: $63 – $78 adult, $30 – $35 children 12 and under Info: http://www.candlelightpavilion.com or (909) 626-1254 ext.1

Sharp “Sister Act”: Upbeat Treat at Candlelight Pavilion

The nuns of "Sister Act" show off their new sense of spectacle in the production at Candelight Pavilion [photo: Demetrios Katsantonis]

The nuns of “Sister Act” show off their new sense of spectacle in the production at Candelight Pavilion [photo: Demetrios Katsantonis]

As the election tensions mount, it’s time for a feel-good moment. Such is available at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, with their sparkling production of “Sister Act – The Musical”. Tuneful and fast-paced, it offers up a lot of heart, some terrific performances, and an elemental joy which provide just the antidote to the divisiveness of our time.

Born at the Pasadena Playhouse, this Broadway musical riffs off of the 1992 movie of the same name, and – like the movie – depends largely on the central character to make the entire concept work. In the Candlelight production, this is not a problem. Indeed, with only minor exceptions, the entire cast proves particularly strong, allowing all the charm of the piece to shine through.

The story centers on Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring singer and girlfriend of a married gangster. When she happens upon her boyfriend and his henchmen murdering a suspected stool pigeon, she runs to the nearest police station. There Eddie, a high school acquaintance who is now a cop, arranges for her to hide in a nearby convent. After considerable resistance to convent life, Deloris begins working with the terrible convent choir, improving their “act” so much that the once nearly empty church becomes so popular it attracts attention from the Pope himself. And, of course, thereby hangs a problem: publicity for someone who is supposed to be hiding.

Daebreon Poiema proves a huge ball of energy as Deloris, singing and dancing up a storm and setting the pace and tone for the entire production. As her main foil, the traditionalist Mother Superior of the order where Deloris hides, Debbie Prutsman finds the balance between severity and care the character needs, sings her wistful, important songs with conviction and style, and makes the counterbalance between these two strong characters work.

Also worthy of note are Pete Cole, quite intimidating as Deloris’ murderous boyfriend, Michaelia Leigh as Sister Mary Robert, the shy postulant who comes bursting out of her shell, and Sister Brittany Tangermann as the enthusiastic and friendly Sister Mary Patrick. Indeed, all the supporting cast of nuns create a solidly entertaining ensemble as they jazz up mass.

As the henchmen looking for Deloris, Robert Hoyt, Christopher Mosley, and Marcos Alexander have several moments of comic silliness. As Eddie, the cop whose earnest concern for Deloris begins to rub off on her, Fabio Antonio dances well and gives his character the mild nerdiness which contrasts well with Deloris’ view of “cool”, though he needs to work on his vocals. Jamie Snyder gives the Monsignor threatening to close the nuns’ home church a gentleness which makes him more empathetic than sometimes.

Director/choreographer John Vaughan keeps the pacing clean, and provides just the right kind of dance moves to contrast the two parts of Deloris’ life – what works in full habit, and what works on the nightclub stage. As a result of his cohesive vision, the show has a strong feeling of polish from start to finish.

“Sister Act” may not be the deepest show one could see, but it has a message of hope and understanding which seems much needed in the current public atmosphere. At Candlelight – the last real dinner theater in the Los Angeles area, and a very going concern – one also gets a good meal, in a relaxing atmosphere. And with a production as good as this one, this all becomes a great retreat, and a fine entrance into the mellow nature of fall.

What: “Sister Act – the Musical” When: through November 19, doors open for dinner 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Thursday November 10 and 17; 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: $58 – $73 general, $30 – $35 children under 12, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” – Solid rendition, dated content

The do-gooders rally to ruin The Chicken Ranch (aka The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) at Candlelight Pavilion

The do-gooders rally to ruin The Chicken Ranch (aka The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) at Candlelight Pavilion

It’s not the first place you think of to host the silly, but somewhat risque 1970s musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” but the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont has made reputation recently for redefining the material such an institution will provide. Hot on the heels of “The Full Monty” and “Sweeney Todd,” their stage now hosts a ladies of a house of ill repute, a chorus of randy football players, and a live country band.

Actually, that batch of live musicians is the most innovative choice. With the exception of concert-like or tribute programs, Candlelight Pavilion usually uses the pre-recorded material now available for musicals on small stages. The in-house band, headed by musical director Douglas Austin, gives an immediacy to everything which proves surprisingly satisfying.

The production itself, directed and choreographed by John Vaughan, has style and pizzazz, and just enough titillation to bring that “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” factor one expects from a musical about such a topic. The performers are earnest to excellent. Still, one of the things which jumps out at the audience the most is how far we have come in our sensibilities since the 1970s. The thing isn’t played like a period piece, but it is one.

Lisa Layne does a solid job with the practical, but caring madam, Miss Mona. She has the voice for country music, and her performance does much to hold the show together. Steven Biggs’ friendly country sheriff makes a nice balance to Layne, offering tinges of middle-aged romance in the midst of the rest. Rashonda Johnson delivers another show-stopping performance as the house’s maid.

Indeed, all of the cast are enthusiastic and the energy is consistently strong. The singer/dancers who form the ensemble of “girls” and their paying customers dance well. The only slight disappointment comes from the comparatively quiet rendition of “The Aggie Song” – normally one of the most testosterone-laden shout-outs in modern musicals. Jeremy Magouirk makes fun work of the righteous investigator who threatens the house’s existence, and David Aldrete has fun with a stereotypical Texas politician or two.

Still, despite a script offers a view of women, and of prostitution, which is increasingly old fashioned. When the sheriff argues the economic plus to having this industry near town, it just isn’t as funny as it was when I first saw it in 1979, and not because it isn’t well presented.

So, the Candlelight Pavilion production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is not for children. It’ just graphic enough – at least in implication – to leave younger kids with some awkward questions at the table. It is, however, quite well done, filled with entertaining dance numbers and considerable humor. Placed in its own time period, it becomes a humorous counter-argument to the women’s movement. Placed in our own, it jars a bit with how far many feel we’ve come in the past 35-40 years.

What: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” When: Through February 2, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. on 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 adults, $25 children under 12 Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

Sweet Nostalgia: Candlelight Pavilion’s “Anything Goes” offers vintage charm

James McGrath as Billy Crocker, and Stacy Huntington as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” at The Candlelight Pavilion (photo: Isaac James Creative)


The American musical has evolved over time. No long do you find, except as a send-up of a former age, the kind of fluffy shows common in the 20s and 30s, when George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter created so much of the Great American Songbook. Attempts to look back at that era often become self-conscious or satiric. It’s nice when someone just returns for a loving look.

This is the case at the Candlelight Pavilion, where Porter’s classic “Anything Goes” gets a charming rendition, played in time period – for laughs, rather than to be laughed at. The singing is good. The dancing is appropriate. The characters, though broadly drawn, are tuned just right. The net result is a lighthearted, nostalgic evening of sheer entertainment.

The story is one typical of the era. Mistaken identity and sensual attraction rule the day. A wealthy and rather lascivious banker crosses the Atlantic on a great liner, along with a famed evangelist turned nightclub singer and her chorines, a minor gangster pretending to be a missionary, his moll, and a young American with her British fiancé, her mother, and the old beau who stowed away to break them up. Various parings and re-pairings ensue.

R.C. Sands and Chelsea Baldree provide the comic relief

Stacy Huntington makes energetic and believable work of Reno Sweeney, the songstress, giving those classic songs a fresh spin. The other standouts include R.C. Sands, genuinely funny as the marginally famous gangster, and Nick Tubbs, who makes the Brit truly likable, rather than just silly-pompous. For once you can actually understand why Reno falls for him in the end. Also good is Chelsea Baldree as the gangster’s gal with a heart of gold, and James McGrath, who gets to sing a lot of the best duets as the stowaway young stock broker.

Rachel Davis makes a lovely ingenue, and sings most sweetly. John Lynd gives the banker the necessary combination of myopia and lustful thinking. Toni Lynd makes the intrusive mother a cross between a pushy stage mother and an upper crust church lady. The chorus sings and dances, tap included, with great style (and perhaps a little recorded enhancement), giving energy to the “Heaven Hop” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – the show’s two showstoppers.

John Vaughan, as always has done a lot with a small space, giving the impression of large chorus numbers with a minimal cast. Timing is key here, as the script borders on farce, and Vaughan keeps things sharp, allowing the piece to flow quickly and charmingly across the evening. The set, a standard one, is used well, and most of the costumes fit well both the people in them and the time period.

In short, this “Anything Goes” honors well that vibrant and silly genre so surprisingly well suited to Candlelight Pavilion’s intimate setting. The meal is pretty good too, right down the intermission desserts. In this time of political and social jangling, sometimes it’s nice to look back to when “entertainment” meant parking your brain for an hour or two, and humming along to great tunes.

What: “Anything Goes” When: Through November 18, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: The Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: meal-inclusive, $48 – $68 general/ $25 – $30 children under 12 (appetizers, desserts, beverages and gratuity extra) Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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