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Charismatic Cast Carries Theatre Palisades’ ‘The Fantasticks’

September 8, 2017 12:45 pm · 0 commentsViews: 14

By Lila Seidman
Special to the Palisades News

Prefacing Friday’s sold-out opening of Theatre Palisades’ production of “The Fantasticks,” director Sherman Wayne described the show as “so delicate, it’s like crystal.” Tears shone in his eyes.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, reminds us of the fragility of fantasy and idealism, and both the beauty and tragedy underlying life in the stark light of day, as opposed to the shimmery cover of moonlight.

What appears in Act I (aptly titled, “Moonlight”) to be a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet”—a boy, a girl, two feuding fathers and a wall—is a subversion of the common love-against-adversity trope championed by Shakespeare’s most famous play.

We meet said girl, Luisa (Giane Morris), and said boy, Matt (Jeremiah Lussier), and they address their wall-crossed love directly to the audience with impressive respective vocals. They surreptitiously exchange passionate vows over the wall constructed by their supposedly enemy fathers, effortlessly channeling youthful passion and naiveté.

 

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Mark Fields Davidson, Michael-Anthony Nozzi and Drew Fitzsimmons. Photo: Joy Daunis

Matt’s father Hucklebee (Greg Abbott) and Luisa’s father Bellomy (Darin Greenblatt) slink nearby, armed with clippers and watering can to tend to their beloved gardens.

Then the big reveal: Hucklebee and Bellomy, who shake and shimmy in unison throughout the play, reveal that the feud is a farce. In their first song together, “Never Say No,” they admit that their plan was to bring their progeny together by injecting faux strife.

Abbott and Greenblatt exude a natural and easy chemistry throughout the play, and received some of the biggest laughs from the audience for their wonky antics.

To finally put the feud to bed, the fathers stage a mock abduction of Luisa by El Gallo (Drew Fitzsimmons), a Puck-like figure, so Matt can heroically step in and save her. Theatre Palisades regular Fitzsimmons, who is director Wayne’s former high school drama student, also choreographed the abduction scene in all its sword-clacking, histrionic fake dying glory.

Everything seems to be going according to scheme, until Hucklebee confesses to meddling, causing the happy ending of Act I to topple into the rude reality of Act II (“Sunlight”).

Luisa and Matt must navigate the jarring halls of reality before they can truly appreciate one another—for their authentic selves, rather than an idealized version informed by myths and knight’s tales.

Friday’s packed-to-the-gills show oozed heart and on-stage chemistry between the members of the small cast.

As the only female player, Morris’ strong vocals served as a welcome foil for the men she sang opposite.

Mark Davidson, a Theatre Palisades return actor who skillfully played Mortimer, a gut-busting, Cockney-accented play actor who joins in on the staged abduction, faced a different challenge: the production marked his first musical. But veteran choreographer Victoria Miller was on hand to help.

Davidson’s on-stage sidekick Michael-Anthony Nozzi shone as over-the-top troupe leader Henry, sporting fake jowls and wild energy.

Wayne, the director, had joined the original New York production of “The Fantasticks” in 1962 as company manager and remained with it for eight years.

“It’s always been right here,” he told the audience, pointing to his heart.

The Fantasticks will run weekends at the Pierson Playhouse through Oct 8. Call (310) 454-1970 or visit theatrepalisades.com for more information.

Mark Fields Davidson has been cast as "Death Scenes" Mortimer in The Fantasticks.

Theatre Palisades is pleased to announce the fantastic cast for our next production of the 2017 season, "The Fantasticks," which owns the distinction of being the world's longest running musical in history. 

The cast features Greg Abbott (Hucklebee), Mark Davidson (Mortimer), Jeff DeWitt (The Mute), Drew Fitzsimmons (El Gallo), Darin Greenblatt (Bellomy), Jeremiah Lussier (Matt), Giane Morris (Luisa), and Michael-Anthony Nozzi (Henry).

The show will be directed by Sherman Wayne, a longtime Theatre Palisades member and current Vice President of Production, who spent eight years as company manager with the original off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks." Vicki Miller is choreographer; Brian Murphy, musical director. The producer is Martha Hunter.

The plot revolves around "the deceptively simple story of a boy, a girl, and their fathers -- who plot to get them together by keeping them apart." We hope you'll join us for this all-time classic, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, which includes such memorable songs as "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and "Plant a Radish."

"The Fantasticks" will run weekends, Sept. 1 - Oct. 8. For information and reservations, phone the box office, (310) 454-1970.

"I encourage – no – I urge you to see this production of The Odd Couple at Theatre Palisades for a thoroughly entertaining, fun and hilarious evening." - Sue Hardie, Malibu Chronicle

Theatre Palisades Presents The Odd Couple by Neil Simon

Reviewed by Sue Hardie

No doubt, you already know this story. You remember the television show with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall from the 70s, or you’ve seen the classic film with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple first opened on Broadway in 1965 and has been much loved and wildly popular ever since. Sowhy see it again? Because this raucous production at Theatre Palisades will charm you and have you crying tears of laughter from the moment the curtains open on Oscar Madison’s wildly unkempt apartment.

As the men arrive at Oscar’s apartment for a game of cards, we meet Speed (Stevie Johnson), sharp – witted and sharply dressed (kudos to costume designer June Lissandrello), Roy (Mark Fields Davidson) Oscar’s uptight, histrionic accountant, the whimpy Vinnie (Stephen Holland), and Murray (Bob Grochau) the policeman and slowest card dealer you have ever seen. But there’s nothing slow about the action in this production! The often-simultaneous physical humor and hilarious dialogue is delivered with flawless timing by this ensemble of very talented actors.

Much credit goes to director Jonathan Fahn whose expert direction keeps the audience delighted, surprised and laughing. The ever-confident slob Oscar (Michael Sorich) serves up moldy sandwiches, stale chips and warm cans of beer and soda as the group grows anxious wondering why Felix is late. When Felix (Scott Gardner) finally arrives depressed and apparently suicidal over the break-up with his wife, all hell breaks loose until it’s decided that Felix moving in with Oscar is the solution. Or is it?

When Oscar invites his attractive neighbors Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon (Star Calvert and Samantha Labrecque respectively; played by Eleen Hsu-Wentlandt and Sara Guarnieri on alternating dates) to his apartment for a dinner prepared by Felix, we meet a pair of sisters who flutter and twitter side-splittingly as one.

I encourage – no – I urge you to see this production of The Odd Couple at Theatre Palisades for a thoroughly entertaining, fun and hilarious evening. You won’t be disappointed. I know I’m going back to see it again!

 

Producers: Sherry Coon and Nona Hale –  Set and Lighting Design: Sherman Wayne

Sound Design: Susan Stangl –  Stage Manager: Madge Woods

 

Running Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 9, 2016.

Theatre Palisades, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd., Pacific Palisades

Tickets: $20 Adults; $18 Seniors & Students

Box Office Wednesday – Saturday 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.: 310.454.1970

www.theatrepalisades.com

The Odd Couple at Pierson Playhouse Is Full of Belly Laughs

By Libby Motika
Palisades News Contributor

The Odd Couple is back again, and from the joyous good time the opening night audience at the Pierson Playhouse seemed to be having, the story of Felix and Oscar’s experiment as roomies still resonates today.

Neil Simon’s hilarious play opened on stage in 1967, became a hit movie, transferred onto television for five years in the 1970s, had a sequel in 1998, and was revived on Broadway in 2005. Evidently, there is just something about the play that keeps viewers wanting more.

Loosely based on Simon’s brother, who was divorced and rooming with a divorced friend to cut expenses, The Odd Couple grew from there.

  Standing, left to right, are Michael Sorich, Bob Grochau and Stevie Johnson, and on the couch are Mark Fields Davidson, Scott Gardner and Stephen Holland. Photo: Joy Daunis

Standing, left to right, are Michael Sorich, Bob Grochau and Stevie Johnson, and on the couch are Mark Fields Davidson, Scott Gardner and Stephen Holland. Photo: Joy Daunis

The Theatre Palisades production, directed by Jonathan Fahn and based on Simon’s original play, takes place in three acts in Oscar Madison’s Upper West Side apartment. As with other of Simon’s plays, setting the action in one place suits the close quarters needed for the both the compressed Simon wit and physical hijinks.

The play rises and falls on the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar. Felix is disconsolate, even suicidal, after his wife informs him she wants a divorce. Oscar, whose wife divorced him three months before, invites his friend him to move in with him. As everybody knows, sharing living arrangements exposes ingrained personality traits and behaviors. And with Felix the fussy, compulsively neat person sharing digs with Oscar, the slob, the drama and humor are set. Oscar is essentially an easygoing guy who puts up with Felix, but the conflict is based on Felix’s efforts to change everything and Oscar’s resistance to change.

TP’s Oscar, Michael Sorich, is a loud and lovable lout, bigger than life. Scott Gardner plays Felix more self-deprecating and insufferably self-defeating than fussy.

If it weren’t for Simon’s sparkling humor and the actors’ terrific timing and acrobatic performances, the play’s datedness would be distracting. After all, we’ve moved on in the last 50 years from the stereotypical Neanderthal Everyman. Today’s man might very well know not only where the kitchen is located but also enjoy exploring recipes.

There are also pals—Murray, Speed, Roy, and Vinnie—who show for their weekly poker game at Oscar’s place. Each manages to convey a distinctive personality and Simon has given each a golden moment or two.

The ensemble give-and-take offers some of the richest, funniest moments in the play. Murray (Bob Grochau) is the cop everyone expects to know the answers when Felix appears to missing. Vinnie (Stephen Holland) is fastidiously anal, tediously reminding the others that he must go home no later than midnight.

Roy (Mark Fields Davidson) is absolutely killing every time he opens his Bronx- tinged mouth. This living, breathing thermometer, humidifier, and clean freak’s body language is funnier than his lines.

Speed (Stevie Johnson) is the dude, sharp dresser, wry and hip.

The two young English sisters, who live upstairs, provide the necessary right-turn in the plot. They are amusingly silly, but especially in the final act, cute and sexy. In the opening night performance, Star Calvet played Gwendolyn; Samantha Labrecque played Cecily. In creating these two sisters, Simon no doubt was paying homage to the two sisters in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Simon never falls into the topical humor that is so much of the repertoire in today’s comedy. At times, however, the repartee comes off as a string of one-liners, thankfully saved by excellent blocking and energetic physical action.

It’s always well to remember that Theatre Palisades is a volunteer company and to be commended for the ensemble work that goes into this production, from set design, sound and lighting to all the back office duties.

The Odd Couple continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2p.m. though Oct. 9 at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. Contact (310) 454-1970 or theatrepalisades.org.

Mark Fields Davidson has been cast as Roy in The Odd Couple!

By Neil Simon

Directed by Jonathan Fahn

This classic Neil Simon comedy opens as a group of the guys assembles for cards in the apartment of divorced Oscar Madison. And if the mess is any indication, it's no wonder that his wife left him. Late to arrive is Felix Unger who has just been separated from his wife. Fastidious, depressed and tense, Felix seems suicidal. When the clean-freak and the slob ultimately decide to room together, The Odd Couple is born. As the action unfolds, Oscar becomes the one with murder on his mind -- with hilarious results.

Los Angeles Daily News: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ hits its stride at Long Beach Playhouse

Lisa March and Rick Reischman star in the Long Beach Playhouse production of “Around the World in 80 Days,” which continues through May 7. (Michael Hardy Photography) 

By Dany Margolies

Jaxson Brashier, left, and Rick Reischman chart a course in “Around the World in 80 Days.” (Michael Hardy Photography) 

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

★★★★

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 7.

Where: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Tickets: $14-$24.

Information: 562-494-1014,www.lbplayhouse.org.

One actor dropped his moustache, another dropped his lines. It doesn’t matter whether these were opening-night fumbles or thoroughly rehearsed comedy bits. In “Around the World in 80 Days” at Long Beach Playhouse, they only add to the fun.

Playwright Mark Brown adapted this work from the classic novel by Jules Verne, in which Victorian British gentleman Phileas Fogg and his faithful servant Passepartout travel the globe on a bet — and on the most-modern and the most-traditional means, depending on what’s at hand at the moment.

The virtuous but persnickety Fogg is a quiet do-gooder, concerned more with proving a point than with profiting from his actions. So when fellow members of his gentlemen’s club bet him he can’t make it around the world and back to the club in precisely 80 days, he spends the wager before winning it, acting with kindness and wisdom even if he risks not finishing his circumnavigation.

This sounds like serious stuff, but much humor comes from the staging, some written into the script and some from this production’s helmer, Gregory Cohen, whose direction evidences caring about the audience experience.

Brown casts one actor to play Fogg, then divides the many other characters among four other actors. That means Cohen’s actors must be ready with instantaneous changes of deportment, accents and costumes — and, likely, the ability to work around those commedia dell’arte bits of “dropped” moustaches and “forgotten” lines.

Rick Reischman plays Fogg throughout, elegantly at the center of this madcap maelstrom as his cast mates spin and leap onstage and off at a dizzying, beautifully rehearsed pace.

The perpetually cheerful Stephen Alan Carver plays the self-deprecating yet overly confident French servant, Passepartout, as well as a British newsman and a co-narrator.

Lisa March takes on her share of male characters, but she gets to spend the play’s second half as Aouda, the lovely widow Fogg rescues in India and brings along on the remainder of his travels, fortunately for both of them.

Mark Fields Davidson takes on Scotland Yard’s Detective Fix, who tails Fogg after mistaking him for a bank robber. But Davidson is tasked with nearly a dozen more roles, from Americans (one of whom he performs in a Jimmy Stewart impression) to East Indians (perfectly pronouncing the rolled “r” of the region).

Playing an Irish seafarer, Chinese “broker,” English aristocrat and plenty more, Jaxson Brashier takes an opposite but equally funny tack, forgoing precision to work in accents apparently learned from listening to Peter Sellers.

Cohen includes modern references to Tim Burton and “Titanic.” But projections of 19th-century drawings — as well as an imaginative contraption that serves as train, ship and elephant — establish the scene on Spencer Richardson’s inviting set, evoking the open sea and crowded railway cars, sacred temples and opium dens.

Also establishing locale are Sean Gray’s sound, crisp in design and in the booth’s timing, and Daniel Driskill’s lighting of hot days and chill nights.

Donna Fritsche’s increasingly elaborate gowns for March are gorgeous, and a particularly memorable costume embodies a locomotive engine with billowing “steam” and a lighted headlight. But the jaw-droppers are Fritsche’s quick-change items that allow the actors to run up the theater’s stairs in traditional silken Chinese garb and run back down in yellow rain slicker, boots and hat.

The script is less chauvinistic, more feminist than might be expected. Sure, it includes a bit of stereotyping. But gun-wielding Americans take the brunt of the humor. And it pokes a bit of fun at all amateur travelers—particularly those who think they can buy what they need along the way, or who have left the house and then panic about forgetting to turn off the water/gas/electricity.

A few bits fall flat, some of the humor is pushed too hard, but this show is more memorably a delightful lesson in geography and graciousness.

It is not only appropriate for schoolchildren but also should be essential viewing for them. On opening night, a child in the front row was rapt throughout.

Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

Rating: 4 stars

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 7.

Where: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Tickets: $14-$24.

Information: 562-494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org.

Mark has been cast to play 12 characters in Around the World in 80 Days!

Hop aboard Phileas Fogg’s hot-air balloon as a small troupe of actors takes on a global collection of unforgettable characters in this imaginative and theatrical re-imagining of Jules Verne’s classic adventure.  Stampeding elephants! Raging typhoons! Runaway trains! Unabashed slapstick! Join fearless adventurer Phileas Fogg and his faithful manservant as they race to travel the globe faster than ever before (a daunting task, even without being tracked by a detective who thinks he’s a robber on the run). Danger, romance, and comic surprises abound in this whirlwind of a show.  You won’t know what hit you as you become immersed in this exciting, and incredibly silly, rollercoaster spectacle.

In Order of Appearance:
Jaxson Brashier
Lisa March
Stephen Alan Carver
Rick Reischman
Mark Davidson

Mark has been cast in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Sierra Madre Shakespeare Festival

Mark has been cast in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Sierra Madre Shakespeare Festival

Come join us! No reservations are necessary. Just come on out! Bring a picnic! Bring a blanket!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jeremy Guskin and Devon Armstrong
In Sierra Madre Memorial Park (Bring a Picnic)!

Learn more at sierrashakes.com

Playing at 7 pm on:
July: 16, 17, 18, 30, 31
August: 1, 7, 8, 14, 15

Memorial Park
222 Sierra Madre Blvd
Sierra Madre, CA 91024
We play in Sierra Madre’s Memorial park. Street parking is located around the park on all sides.

Starring:
Tarah Pollock, James Fowler, Marlowe Christophers, Katie Pelensky, Alison Korman, Michael Albins, Andrew Walker, Kier Chapman, Livia Reiner, Mark Fields Davidson, Colleen Kelly-Eiding, John Dimitri, Anthony Lynskey, Grant Gorrell and MJ Beyer, Ph.D.

“Mark Davidson and Michael Chiboucas handle the myriad other roles…costume changes galore…transformations of demeanor, accent, and even sex!”

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Theatre review: The 39 Steps at Long Beach Playhouse

Vicki Paris Goodman
Culture Writer

The 1935-made movie The 39 Steps was the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to gain wide attention here in the US. It was a fast-paced dramatic thriller, serious in tone and story line while farcical in its intensity and spirit of adventure. The film, which was packed with colorful characters and a wrongly accused hero, hinted at the distinctive qualities that characterized Hitchcock’s later works.The more recently contrived stage-play spoof of the same name attempts to tell the story in comic melodrama style with only four actors! The Long Beach Playhouse production accomplishes that goal with flair and great fun. Since the part of suave protagonist Richard Hannay keeps actor Jeremy Bear busy start to finish, the other three cast members pick up the remaining dozens of roles, sometimes playing more than one character at once to hilarious result.The play begins in the London flat of a restless Hannay. A bachelor of 37, Hannay seems to be struggling with finding some meaning in life. While attending a cabaret performance of the amazing Mr. Memory, whose mind seems to retain everything he’s ever seen or heard plus some, Hannay meets a mysterious and beautiful woman terrified of two men waiting outside. When she tells him she is a spy attempting to foil an evil plot to send a particular scientific formula outside the country, Hannay doesn’t believe her until she staggers toward him the next morning with a knife in her back.Before dying in Hannay’s arms, the woman hands him a map highlighting a location in Scotland while breathlessly whispering the words “39 steps.” When Hannay is, naturally, sought by authorities for the woman’s murder, he is motivated to evade law enforcement while heading for Scotland to solve the mystery of the “39 steps.”The rest is a madcap sequence of planes, trains, and automobiles amid the heightened emotion of pre-WWII Europe.

What makes this production so entertaining are the wonderful cast, and director Dale Jones’ attention to detail. Madeleine Heil does a splendid job depicting the very sophisticated woman spy, as well as the attractive wives of two Scottish innkeepers and a disbelieving female stranger. Romantic electricity between Hannay and each of these women fills the air.

Mark Davidson and Michael Chiboucas handle the myriad other roles, replete with costume changes galore as well as transformations of demeanor, accent, and even sex! General understudy Robert Agiu ably substituted, as scheduled, for Mark Davidson in the performance we attended. He and Chiboucas were terrific!

But this play can’t succeed without someone like Bear in the role of Hannay. In Bear’s hands, Hannay is charming, understated, quietly charismatic, even morally upright in a gentleman’s sort of way. He also grounds the action, keeping its preposterous premise from going too far. Bear could carry the show, but his supporting cast made that unnecessary.

Audience members had to pay close attention, lest they miss some of the subtler gags, such as the degree to which the Scottish accent becomes unintelligible the further north one travels, and the clever references to the titles of many of Hitchcock’s other films.

Ingenious props and theatrical devices abound to accomplish all of the switches in locale and modes of transportation without requiring actual set changes and expensive vehicles. Costume designer Donna Fritsche must have worked many long hours on this one. Certainly, prop master and sound designer Larry Mura did the same. Valiant effort makes for a worthy production.

The 39 Steps continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through Oct. 25. General-admission tickets are $24, senior tickets are $21 and student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees are at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014, option 1, for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .

The official trailer for The 39 Steps!

The official trailer for The 39 Steps!

Do you love mysteries? Do you love physical comedy? Are you a Hitchcock aficionado? Then The 39 Steps is the show for you. Imagine Monty Python presenting a maddeningly-fast-paced tribute to Hitchcock and playing all the parts. Revolving around a mysterious organization called “The 39 Steps,” this production will take you on a wild manhunt, thrill you with strangely imaginative special effects, and introduce you to more than 150 zany characters (played by 4 performers). This Tony® and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, madness, mayhem, murder, and some good old-fashioned romance!

In Order of Appearance:
Jeremy Bear (RICHARD HANNEY)
Mark Davidson (CLOWN 1)
Michael Chiboucas (CLOWN 2)
Madeleine Heil (ANNABELLA/PAMELA/MARGARET)
Robert Agiu (GENERAL UNDERSTUDY)

“The two clowns are delightful. Davidson is the tall one, and his very thick Scots accent is hilarious.”

press-telegram

“The two clowns are delightful. Davidson is the tall one, and his very thick Scots accent is hilarious. Chiboucas is the short one, and his performance as Mr. Memory is unforgettable. Together they portray everything from a hotel-keeper and his wife to the mysterious professor and his wife (it helps to be short). They manage all the set changes, from the train car to the bridge to the attack with an airplane, with speed and comic dexterity…Hitchcock fan or not, you’ll enjoy every minute of “The 39 Steps,” with one delightful laugh after another.

Review by John Farrell: Long Beach Playhouse aptly opens season with ‘The 39 Steps’

POSTED: 09/29/14, 8:11 PM PDT

“…at breakneck speed are nearly one-hundred costume changes…in the blink of an eye.”

From Broadway World (broadwayworld.com):

“The 39 Steps, a suspenseful-romantic-comedy, based on the 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock, opens the Mainstage Season on Saturday, Sept. 27. Four actors play over 100 characters in this Tony-winner that kept Broadway rollicking for the past three years. It is part juicy spy novel, part Monty Python, and it preserves the brilliance originally created by the master of suspense.

Jeremy Bear plays our suave hero Richard Hannay who learns from a beautiful spy about a plot of international espionage. The woman is killed in Hannay’s flat and he suddenly finds himself caught up in a race from London to Scotland in hopes of stopping military secrets from being smuggled out of the country. As he searches for the secret of “The 39 Steps” he is doggedly pursued by the police who believe he is a murderer. Three of the female roles will be played by Madeleine Heil while the remaining multitude of characters (spies, policemen, inn keepers, traveling salesmen, etc.) are played by just two actors credited as clown #1 (Mark Davidson) and clown #2 (Michael Chiboucas)…

…Also occurring at breakneck speed are nearly one-hundred costume changes, which often happen right before the audience in the blink of an eye…”

Read more at broadwayworld.com.