Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Richard Bermudez

“Jesus Christ Superstar”: Candlelight Pavilion hosts classic rock opera

Richard Bermudez as Judas and Kyle Short as Jesus in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” [photo: James Suter]


The first major splash made by the songwriting team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber was a 1971 concept rock opera album titled “Jesus Christ Superstar.” For many of my generation, that was how we first encountered this work, allowing our imaginations to fill in what the characters looked like and the setting they would wander through. As it moved quickly to stage, and then to film, it developed a new, wider audience, and the show has rarely been off the boards since.

Now at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, “Jesus Christ Superstar” – for those who don’t already know – gives a comparatively modern spin to the tale of the last few weeks of Jesus’ life. Though ostensibly “humanizing” the story (i.e.: making it more about the man than a deity), it stays fairly faithful to the commonly held storyline, while embracing what is always a dramatist’s challenge: finding a motivation for Judas’ betrayal. And the music is literally classic Lloyd Webber: lush in spots, stridently rock-and-roll in others, somewhat thematically repetitive, with that unforgettable quality which has kept him a success for decades.

At Candlelight, co-directors Chuck Ketter and John LaLonde have assembled a fine cast. They look right, sing with skill and intention, and create the atmosphere necessary for the show to be a success. Also necessary for success are a few key players. Heading the list, Kyle Short makes an effective Jesus, balancing his dynamism against his exhaustion and fear. Emily Chelsea gives Mary Magdalene’s songs a slight country lilt, but it works.

Stanton Kane Morales as Pontius Pilate, develops a rather wistful tone, which works well. Camilo Castro, a true bass, gives Caiaphas the aura of villainy necessary for this show’s spin on events. A remarkable ensemble, including Orlando Montes as Peter, sings well, dances with enthusiasm and skill, and creates the atmospheres necessary – whether of fawning, devotion, delight, demand, or panic – to make the piece work.

A true standout in all of this is Richard Bermudez as the angsty Judas, angry and horrified, and in the end sure he’s been duped into his actions. Bermudez has the combination of vocal strength and articulation necessary for what becomes the binding storyline behind the obvious. One just wishes that the shadow of his final demise looked a bit more like a person, but that is nitpicking.

Pacing is everything in this show, and band director Alan Waddington never lets the thing slow down or pause. Putting a band on the small Candlelight stage means the large ensemble must be maneuvered with skill in front of and even above the musicians at times, which works remarkable well except when someone in a long robe has to climb a ladder in a hurry – a bit nerve wracking to watch. Still, the two directors have a gift for the visual, and some moments prove especially impressive, including the very last sequence, as Jesus is executed. Indeed, the final tableau as the lights go out is particularly powerful.

Kudos also to choreographer Dustin Ceithamer for creating dance and movement which look spontaneous even as they are not, and to costume coordinator Merrill Grady for giving the sense of that Renaissance view of the Middle East which so characterizes one’s mind’s-eye view of the time period.

In short, it is good to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” again, in part because – above and beyond the religious significance – the subject matter of political manipulation and the dangers of flying off the handle seems very current, and in part because it is good to revisit a work from the start of two songwriting careers which, both together and independently have helped define the stage and screen as it is known today. And, of course, at Candlelight Pavilion one also gets a tasty meal.

What: “Jesus Christ Superstar” When: through April 29, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for lunch matinees Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: $61 – $76 adults, $30 -$35 children, meals inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254 ex.100, or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

“Evita” at the Candlelight Pavilion: Not Quite Enough

Laura Dickinson is "Evita", as John LaLonde's Juan Peron looks on, at the Candlelight Pavilion [photo: Adam Trent]

Laura Dickinson is “Evita”, as John LaLonde’s Juan Peron looks on, at the Candlelight Pavilion [photo: Adam Trent]

One looks back at the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, both what they did together and since their split, and it is difficult to find any single piece more significant than their musical “Evita.” The music, though typically repetitive, has far more verve than much of Lloyd Webber’s later work, and the sharp-edged lyrics Rice created for this odd but fascinating story have an intensity which matches the score.

For this reason, I am always on the lookout for a production of “Evita.” It can still have a lot to say. Yet, there are certain things which simply must be present, especially two truly dynamic performers, one to play Eva Peron herself, and one to play the narrator, revolutionary Che Guevara. It can be high tech or low, large cast or smaller, but if these two parts aren’t cast with people of strong voice and stronger personality, it doesn’t work.

Which brings me to the new production of “Evita” at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont. Years ago, when the musical was new, I saw the first truly low-tech version of the show at Candlelight, and was impressed by how well the show held up without all the fancy machinery or the huge cast. I wish I could say that this new production was as successful.

Richard Bermudez makes an intense Che [photo: Adam Trent]

Richard Bermudez makes an intense Che [photo: Adam Trent]


Despite a solid production, and a good to very good ensemble to back up the central figures, there is still a problem. Richard Bermudez makes fine work of Che: angry, sarcastic and powerful by turns. John LaLonde takes what has to be one of the most underrated parts in modern musical canon, Juan Peron, and makes him a real personality. But sadly these strong personalities only emphasize the comparative lack of zing in Laura Dickinson’s Evita.

She does all the moves, and – though sometimes her rock-style high notes become too shrill – handles the difficult music with a reasonable style, but the energy which creates this actual, larger-than-life character is absent. This is not the woman thousands of descamisados would have muscled into (albeit surrogate) power, who would have charmed all the charmable of Argentina. The fire is missing.

Which is admittedly a pity, because Chuck Ketter’s direction of the show moves it from its big-stage roots to the small and intimate Candlelight space without losing its most essential bits. Roger Castellano’s choreography almost has to be derivative of the original, but is generally well done. Admittedly (and this was also true the first time) one misses the projections which enhanced one or two moments, but doing “Evita” low-tech is also a great way to prove the show’s actual power is not based on gimmicks. And by and large this is still true. Except when it isn’t.

Indeed, there are a few lost moments, not all of which can be laid at Dickinson’s feet. The staging of Alexandra Specter’s brief moment in the sun as Peron’s dismissed mistress leaves her without the anchor of a door. Lucas Coleman’s turn as Magaldi, the tango singer who takes Eva to Buenos Aires, lacks fluidity or the kind of oily sexiness which makes him interestingly small-time.

Also, and very disappointingly for a show in which one can be swept up by orchestral moments alone, the score (always a recording at Candlelight) makes significant use of electronics rather than actual strings, robbing the music of its richness.

So, should one see this “Evita”? It has things to recommend it, and it comes with a fine meal. Is it what it could have been, at this venue? Not really. Having seen what this theater is capable of in relation to this important work, it should be better than it is.

What: “Evita” When: Through June 28, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. on Sundays, and at 11 a.m. for lunchtime Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73 adults/ $30-$35 children 12 and under, meal 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 fiancé, 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

Something Fairly Wonderful: “The King and I” at Candlelight Pavilion

"The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from Candlelight Pavilion's "The King and I"

“The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from Candlelight Pavilion’s “The King and I”

The airwaves have recently been full of offerings celebrating aspects of the American musical theater. More than once, it has been pointed out that many, if not most of the musicals since the end of World War II have had a lot to do with clashing cultures, or with those outside the cultural norm. Certainly, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s “The King and I” falls into that category, basing a lushly told story on the edgy balance between east and west.

Now, at Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont, a new production of this much-loved classic has a lot to recommend it. The songs prove cheerful and remarkably timeless. The dancing – absolutely requisite to the plot line at one point – proves up to the demands. The children are cute and the adult performers handle their very individual characters with aplomb.

Of course, the story is now imprinted on a theater-lover’s DNA: In the 1860s, a British widow becomes tutor to the children of the King of Siam, enriching both their lives and futures. The actual king (Rama IV) actually did bring in a British woman to work with him in creating an aura of western civilization strong enough for him, and the son who followed him, to fend off western imperial attempts at co-opting his country. It worked. Of course, Rama was neither as backward or as “other” as this musical makes out, but the point about westernization and the innate wisdom of a non-western king is still made.

Clynell Jackson III as The King

Clynell Jackson III as The King

Clynell Jackson III makes a stridingly commanding king, even managing to keep up the patter songs like “A Puzzlement” when dealing with a recorded orchestra – a singularly difficult task. His chemistry with Jenny Moon Shaw’s Mrs. Anna kind of comes and goes, but there is enough present for “Shall We Dance” and the show’s powerful ending to work.

Shaw sings well, and exudes warmth. Indeed, the only detriment to her performance appears to be costume-related, as it takes her some time to walk naturally in a hoop skirt without gripping it in a very un-1860s kind of way. Again, however, her energy and her voice carry the piece as it should.

Shaw and Jackson, about to dance

Shaw and Jackson, about to dance


Also worthy of significant notice is Angela Briones’ Tuptim, whose bell-like singing sets the tone of innocence for the much-abused Burmese princess. Richard Bermudez makes a muscular and commanding Lun Tha – Tuptim’s clandestine lover. Stella Kim handles one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most touchingly grown-up love songs, “Something Wonderful,” and carries an innate nobility which underscores her role as first wife.

The kids are cute and willing. The staging of their entrance has been handled well by director Neil Dale, matching children to “mothers” who can guarantee placement. Jason Luke Hill makes a very likable Prince Chulalongkorn – innocent yet assured of his standing. Likewise, Wyatt Larrabee makes attractive work of Anna’s own son. The rest of the children alternate between two casts, but the ones I saw did a fine job.

Perhaps the acid test of any “King and I” is the dance/story-telling rendition of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” Simeon Den’s choreography offers just enough traditional Thai movement to make it work, and his uncredited “Eliza” does a particularly nice job.

Perhaps most importantly, the thing looks right. Neil Dale has created the difference in movement which helps define differing cultures, and keeps it consistent. Chuck Ketter’s lush-looking set allows for quick changes and Dale’s direction keeps the pace hopping. The result is colorful, tuneful, and brisk. Indeed, the only thing in the show which might benefit from a bit of a slower tempo is the very end, where everything seems to happen on top of itself a bit.

For some folk it may be difficult to get beyond Yul Brenner and what he brought to the show from its very first days, through to the film and tour after tour during his lifetime. Still, sometimes something older can only become new again when one moves past a single performance to look at the show itself. This one is worth it, from a musical and a message standpoint. Give it a try. Help support Southern California’s last dinner theater. Take the kids, too. It’s a great chance to have a nice meal, see other kids onstage, and a history lesson (well, sort of) to boot.

What: “The King and I” When: Through August 4, doors open at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: meal and show – $53-$68 adults/ $25 children 12 and under Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or wwwcandelightpavilion.com

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