Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Honk! – Book by Anthony Drewe, Music by George Stiles, and Lyrics by Anthony Drewe based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling

By Joe Straw

I speak to my daughter about the craft, about what she should be doing on stage, conflict, objective, and characterization.  She listens but I don’t think she gets it.  That comes in time, when moments click, giving one a better understanding of being focused on stage. – Narrator

In the meantime, there is the dee-Lightful program, where children from 8 to 14 years old gather together to make sense of a new and exciting craft, that of musical theatre.  It is a chance to learn to sing and dance on stage as a stepping point to the craft of acting.

Dolores Aguanno’s heart is in her craft as she directs most productions giving focus to new minds first steps in creative tasks, and, well it’s all about the picture, and picturesque actions on stage.

So, take a breath and step inside the land of enchantment, a farm.

Honk! – A slight prequel.

Well into the first days of spring, almost into the summer months, the cicadas sing a lovely song as I tread down a well-traveled road to the farmhouse.     

A comforting stroll, just listening to the jostling sounds of gravel clacking against each other gives me solace in my stroll.  And embracing life experiences I use the sense of sight, smell, touch, and sound to experience nature, the farm, the farm, as I know it.  

To my left is the pig trough - would only be considered a cover now – old, wilted, not much left of the lumber used to construct it, the pigs are long since gone, too much work for those aged out of that settled life.    

A sudden gust of wind catches the open leaves, a susurrus of songs – the moving sound of ecstatic dancing greens.

The barbed wire fence on my right encloses a few cattle that masticate fallen apples from under the apple trees. Above, the bees circle the trees, and dance on the last remaining blossoms.  As the apple tree stretches to the sky, the tree limbs project apple dumpling pies just waiting for the country table.    

The road traveled forks into a dirt road to the left, and down the dirt road is the chicken house clamoring with hundreds in fowl conversation. Below that house is the green reflecting pond where hot cattle lift their tails to make cool waves ripple in in the midday sun.

The farmhouse is up the small hill, just beyond the gravel road.

To the left is a nice garden, beyond the garden a pasture littered with brown cow pies.  The crib and the barn are to the right.

Eyes lifted – the blue sky hugs the horizon and stops at the lumbering pines.  

But for now, we move toward the farmhouse shaded with trees encircling the house.

A red cardinal jumps from limb to limb and nearby an angry blue jays wards off all comers with a leaf in his beak slamming it on the porch near that ball of fur.  This is the place where something is always happening.  – The Traveler.

Honk! - The musical.

The gluttonous cat half asleep on the front porch keeps one eye open for the blue jay, the other on the eggs.  She twists her whiskers, slowly stretching her back as she gingerly steps around the nest of unhatched duck eggs.

But the eggs are guarded in its enclosure, and by mother duck, Ida, who sits diligently near her eggs while Drake, nearby, shuffles his webbed feet to gather sustenance – corn kernel droppings – from humans better left unseen!  Still, Drake waits, but not so diligently, as he says he’s got much to do. 

Both keep a watchful eye on the cat.

Maureen comes by to catch up on the latest gossip and sing about The Joy of Motherhood and in that entire beautiful ruckus the ducklings hatch – all except the black egg. 

Drake, man duck that he is, provides the new born ducklings with the overprotecting flotation devices and off they go to the nearest pond for their first lessons of survival – wading – while Ida waits for that last remaining egg to hatch.

Yellow is the family color, yellow like the daffodil, or the roses near the front porch, their color for many generations, but suddenly out pops Ugly, a brown feathery stubbled-colored different kind of duck, with a different kind of waddle. And then Ugly surprises Ida with a loud HONK! Ida thinks it’s peculiar, a vocal impediment of some kind, but Ida is endeared to Ugly’s being.

With little spare time before the ducklings come back, Ida teaches Ugly to swim.  And Ugly proves to be masterful in the way she negotiates the lake.

So beautiful in the way Ugly experiences the lake, in her baby-like being, she comes back to the rest of her family, only to be castigated by her siblings for being different.  Look at her they sing pointing fingers, and scowling.

Baby ducks can be so cruel. So cruel they won’t let Ugly have bread.  

And that leaves an opening for Cat to take Ugly away, first in the hopes of having a nice meal.  But she finds that it is a difficult process because Ugly is not understanding anything, including being eaten.  After a ball is thrown at cat, Ugly makes a quick getaway.  

Ida, noticing that Ugly is missing, implores Jaybird from Britain’s Most Feathered, and her audience to help her find Ugly and then leaves home to try and find her.   

There are always things to admire about Dolores Aguanno’s direction and Allegra Williams’s choreography. Shine is the term when I think of for an Aguanno production because everyone gets the opportunity to deliver in that one lasting moment.  And if one were looking (Casting Directors), they would find a few small acting gems in this production. Certainly Mirabel Armstrong, and Katelyn Coon are standouts as Ida, as well as Cali Kimura as Ugly. Also, Ella Kendall shines in a beautiful and haunting rendition of The Blizzard.

And the rest of the actors also did remarkable work.  There was much joy in seeing the hatchling hatch, and watching Greylag perform her duties in fine British military manner, “wot!”  

I enjoyed it so much I saw it three times! What’s not to love about children learning and growing?  

The cast listed below is divided into two distinctive casts.  

Character                 Yellow Feathers Cast                 Orange Beaks Cast

Ugly                         Brooke Rosenbloom              Cali Kimura
Ida                            Katelyn Coon                         Mirabel Armstrong
Drake                       Keaton Asma                         Joe Call
Cat                           Jules Henderson                     Malia Reiss

Ducklings & Froglets

Beaky                      Cambria Boulanger-Jewell     Cambria Boulanger-Jewell
Billy                         Mia Story                               Mia Story
Fluff                         Ella Kendall                           Ella Kendall
Downy                     Ava Allred                             Ava Allred

Ensemble Ducklings: Aili Poinsett-Yoshida, Hope Sato, Ian Warfield

Maureen                   Sophia Martin-Straw             Charlotte Ceugniet
Henrietta                  Sophia Falk                            Sophia Falk
The Turkey              Evyn Armstrong                    Ian Warfield
Grace                       Charlotte Ceugniet                 Sophia Martin-Straw
Greylag                    Ben Sanderson                       Sophia Falk
Dot                           Elizabeth Forman                   Camille Ceugniet
Barnacle                   Sophia Falk                            Ben Sanderson
Snowy                      Aili Poinsett-Yoshida              Ian Warfield
Pinkfoot                   Hope Sato                                Camryn Walker
Bullfrog                    Ian Warfield                             Evyn Armstrong
Mrs. Bullfrog           Camryn Walker                       Olivia Andrews
Penny                       Camryn Walker                       Aili Poinsett-Yoshida
Father Swan             Ben Sanderson                        Ben Sanderson
Mother Swan           Charlotte Ceugniet                  Jules Henderson
Bewick                     Elizabeth Foreman                 Hope Sato
Jane Bird                  Olivia Andrews                      Piper Samuels
Farmer                      Joe Call                                  Keaton Asma

Snow Soloists: Elizabeth Foreman, Ella Kendall, Piper Samuels, Ben Sanderson
Snow Dancer:  Hope Sato
Yellow Feathers Ensemble: Mirabel Armstrong, Camille Ceugniet, Cali Kimura, Piper Samuels
Orange Beaks Ensemble: Katelyn Coon, Elizabeth Foreman, Brooke Rosenbloom

Honk! ran from May 19-21, 2016 at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Avenue, Culver City, California.  Run! Run! Run! to see the next production Shrek July 14th, 15th, and 16th.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Charlotte’s Shorts – by Charlotte Dean

Laraine Newman

By Joe Straw

There are many reasons I see plays.  One main reason is to watch actors create a relationship that is honest and represents a truth, all the while reaching for a strong creative objective – what characters want from each other.  

Charlotte’s Shorts by Charlotte Dean directed by Tracy Newman and Charlotte Dean playing at The Actors Company (Let Live Theater), 916 N. Formosa, through June 26th, is a series of vignettes, of smidgeons of life, brought together, one actor at a time, to read from the podium.

It is funny, somewhat crass, raucous, and includes flashes that are outstanding and poignant.  Certainly Dean’s approach to writing is heuristic in nature and presents a natural way of improving her craft.

The night had moments that lifted my eyes from the notepad. I can best describe it as “character turn” – when a character says something that strikes at the heart and changes the relationship with the audience. I don’t remember the specific moments, but I know they hit home.  Let me think about them for a few minutes.  I’ll get back to you.  

It is tough to create a relationship when the other person is absent.  Each actor acts alone at the podium.   Still, the actors do their best to produce another being by their stead. And for the most part, they do.  There are wonderful moments, of critical pause, of a nervous reaction from an imaginary action, all told in grand story time fashion.  

I know the actors can act - Andrew Friedman was brilliant in Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones (see write up on this blog). Who can forget living legend Laraine Newman, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live – a slyboots if ever there was one.  I still remember lines she said back in the seventies; I often repeat them to anyone who needs a smile.  

But was it enough? Well, for me, yes.  The night flew by quickly; everyone had a good time catching that spark of originality and that is half the battle.

She’s just a Texas country girl, sitting by the side of the creek with one foot wading in the water, holding a book, wearing her straw hat, and looking at someone, under a starry night.  Well, that’s the image on the one sheet.  How that relates to the play, I don’t know but I can guess. Let me get back to you on that one.

Charlotte Dean and Tracy Newman, the directors, effectively manages the actors and one can only imagine what direction is given when accomplished actors are reading from the podium. Still, effectively done.

I want to write about the actors.  I am uncertain about how this is going to go over as a write up but writing is all about breaking rules.

Andrew Friedman

Andrew Friedman was the first up – the one to start the show.  Funny but he looks like an Uncle Bob with that mustache.  I don’t have an Uncle Bob, maybe you do. I got the impression he was playing a young man in Primitive Survival Skills, able to kill a snake and make a fire. But where was this was going?  Well, I haven’t a clue. In Little Dwarfy he was incarcerated (prison) and had all these grand ideas about what he was going to do when he got out although, truth be told, I didn’t think he would ever get out. In Zero Latinas, Friedman used a prop baby (I wasn’t aware that props were permitted in this forum.). Anyway, he was married and unhappy and living in Cleveland.  What a supremely delightful combination.

Tim Bagley

Tim Bagley, appeared tall on stage, he is white and makes funny voices. His tongue was twisted in Christmas Letter where he plays a little boy, who doesn’t like his sister or his mom’s boyfriend, and writes to Santa about his predicament. These moments hit home. Later, Bagley plays a girl, an introspective one at that, who says things and then thinks about the verbal crimes she has just committed, often dismissing them with a twist of her head. This was hilarious and these are things you love to see actors do, think in character on stage. Still, later, Bagley reads raucous like no other in the short, Isabel.

Anastacia McPherson has hands and she uses them.  Up here, down there, they have a life of their own. Her hands are like roller coasters, rising, giggling, and with a certain amount of g-forces.  It’s not so much what she is saying because my eyes were following her fingers. Oh, and she’s pretty too, dark, a lovely completion.  What did she say in Vodka Tonics, Shortest Giraffe, and Mustache Bitch? Whatever her hands told me.

Bridget Sienna

Bridget Sienna loves love. Finishing a Chili’s meat product and on her way out, obliquely prowling for human companionship, she meets the most wonderful man who, at this moment, is eating short ribs. Forget that he is with someone else. A smile passed between them and she runs home and spills her guts on Facebook “I met the man of my dreams”.  Oh, this is a dark fantasy.  That male person would look happier if he was with her, not his wife. “Finding a soul mate is hard.”  Later in Roommate Wanted, she turns to the dark side and seeks a black man in a personal ad: “Not black, please don’t respond.”

Laraine Newman does what she does so well. Funny little girl voice in I Want the Backpack. It’s about a birthday party that got cancelled because one of the girls had lice.  That backpack gift was themed Elsa from Frozen.   Now in her possession, she wants it. In The Proposal, she wishes her intended to know that if he were dead she would eat him before he rots.  Not inclined to just throw him on the grill, she would cook him with special herbs and spices.  It is a macabre love story that proposes honorable intentions of his remains. She says it with a smile, of course.  One would rethink getting into that relationship.     

Jordan Black plays a man named Donald Bigbelow, a gaucherie writer who pens pulp sexual mysteries.  Off the top of my head, when I first heard, especially the way he pronounced, the name Bigbelow, I thought wow, that’s an unusual name.  I wondered if it was French, certainly not English, and definitely not African.  After he read passages from his book, I got the reference.  It is a self-aggrandizement, promoting his literary acumen, as well as, the overwhelming immensity of his natural God-given girth.  Black is certainly locked into this character, Bigbelow, in The Playboy Mansion, Martin Luther King Day, and Who’s Booty is That? And certainly this is a character he can ride for a while. When he sat down, I saw someone who was having the time of his life.  

Oh my Gosh.  I almost forgot about Hanna Einbinder an actor who pushes some serious button with her style.  A strong voice, a very nice presence and interesting characterizations in No Mom, Dear Karen, Best Sellers. 

Lynne Marie Stewart, H. Michael Croner, Navaris Darson and Lisa Schurga are also in the cast but did not perform the night I was there.

Charlotte’s Shorts by Charlotte Dean is a tasty treat, a vanilla cone at Foster Freeze. And the shorts are the jarring brain freeze moments of delight.  But what worked best for me were the characters that remained the same throughout – Donald Bigbelow and the Bridget Sienna character. It actually gave me enough time to figure out the characters, their foibles, and witness them expose their deep selves, inside the cones. 

While the other actors, in different characters, stand alone on a hideous precipice.  They take the supreme risk of having their work succeed or take an imaginary step forward. But, either way, good or not so good, it's all about the actor's journey. 

Run! Run! And take someone who likes yogurt with more sprinkles, fruits, and candies than yogurt.  

Times vary.  Check Hollywoodfringe.org for tickets.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

La Cage Aux Folles – Book by Harvey Fierstein, Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Center:  Gedde Watanabe, & Cagelles  L - R: Christopher Aguilar, Jonathan Kim, Alex-Sanchez, Carlos Chang, D. T. Matias - Photos by Michael Lamont

By Joe Straw

There is a lot of road construction near the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts. (120 Judge John Aiso Street, in Los Angeles.) So, allow time for traffic disruptions.  Parking is behind the theatre at a reasonable rate of $7.00.  Get there early and you will find dancing and lots of fun stuff both outside and inside the theatre. 

Also, for the caffeine addicts, there’s a Starbucks nearby, north of Little Tokyo. 

Little Tokyo is quaint but, right now, in the theatre it's St. Tropez, France.  – Narrator

La Cage Aux Folles is an exceptional show filled with brilliant moments that stay with you long after you leave the theatre.  It was so incomparable and dazzling in execution that I did not want it to end.

La Cage Aux Folles’ limited run is playing to sell-out houses in this beautiful 250-seat theatre. But, don't be dissuaded.   Pick up the phone, or get online, to order tickets. Everyone should run to see this production for many, many reasons. Run! Run! Run! Because life’s happier moments, as in all things, must come to an end.

Celebrating 50 years, the East West Players Partners with the Los Angeles LBGT and with a generous support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment presents La Cage Aux Folles, book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on a book by Jean Poiret, directed by Tim Dang at the David Henry Hwang Theatre through June 26, 2016. 

One can only imagine the summers in St. Tropez. Taking the time to view scantily clad bodies frolicking in the surf.  And then, after taking a long afternoon nap, enjoying what San Tropez has to offer in the way of nightlife to cap off the day.  

“Here we are at the pride of St. Tropez, the envy of the cabaret world, the jewel of the Riviera.  What legend has told and rumour has promised we shall do our utmost to deliver.” – Georges


Georges (Jon Jon Briones), a slight man with tasteful affectations, constructs an overview of the night’s presentation. Beyond the long red metallic curtains, the lights and sound of the cabaret band drifts from the top of the stage, and when the curtains open the Cagelles are on the bottom. 

The Cagelles enter, men dressed as women, all strapped in, athletic, and wearing gold unitards.  Their backside are facing the cabaret patrons, each with grand golden wings now spread as they, in high heels, nimbly step back toward the audience.

“We are what we are
And what we are
Is an Illusion” - Cagelles

Georges, the master of ceremonies, takes a moment after the song to introduce the members of the Cagelles.

Chantal (DT Matias) gives her all to sing a colorful coloratura and then proceeds to flit off to regions unknown.

Next is Hanna (Carlos Chang), from Hamburg, manages to control the stage with that nasty bullwhip that fails to “pop” with the first thrust of her arm.  Slightly perturbed, she manages to control the crowd with two quick “cracks” that silences the room.  

Cagelle Phoedra (Christopher Aguilar) is an enigma – which is actually her tongue – as she whips it out and waggles it with such rapidity to make grown men blush.  Followed by Mercedes (Alex Sanchez).

The Cagelle finish singing the song that introduces Zaza (Gedde Watanabe) who, at this time, is nowhere to be found.

Francis (Cesar Cipriano), the stage manager, is in panic mode.  He rushes to get the Cagelles back onstage for an encore to bide time until they find Zaza. The actors are none too thrilled about getting back on stage (typical actors).

Still in panic mode, all available men tush to Zaza’s door only to find Jacob (Allen Lucky Weaver) in full drag ready to take her first steps to becoming the next big star, since Zaza.  

Georges, who has seen it all, thinks Jacob is cute.

“But this season we are not featuring butlers in the revue.” – Georges

“I am no one’s butler.  I am the maid!” - Jacob

There’s some slight confusion, a slight gender bending, over a butler or a maid nomenclature.  But finally the maid confesses to Georges that Albin is upstairs in repose.

When Georges gets there, Albin is upset; well more like an uneasy indignation, that Georges has missed lunch and accuses him of finding another man, one who makes a mockery of their marriage vows.

“It’s all my fault for falling in love with a younger man.”  - Albin

“Darling, please.  I’m only eight years younger.” – Georges

“Five years.” – Albin

“Actually, sixteen.” – Georges

“Alright, eight.” - Albin

Georges sees through his trickery and accuses Albin of wanting to bring out that old rag of a show Salome.  With time running short, Georges will promise anything to get Albin back on stage, and so reluctantly, he gives in to Albin on Salome.

Albin has won and taking a moment, knows the show must go on, Albin magically transforms into the character Zaza, oh so meticulously, this art to have the makeup just right. And with everything perfect Zaza makes her entrance  – seven minutes late – naytheless this is actually a good time for Albin with his history of peculiarities.  

Georges, for the moment, has tranquility, a respite until the next troublesome event. While the show is going on, Jacob, now wearing a pink panther trench coat and sunglasses says he’s got that special visitor stashed in another room.

A young man, Jean-Michel (Jinwoo Jung) steps into the room with a bottle of wine and two wine glasses.  Jean-Michel, presented as a lover, is actually Georges’ son, the product of a dalliance he had with a showgirl twenty something years ago.

Jean-Michel tells Georges that he’s engaged to marry Anne (Audrey Cain).  Her family is coming to visit for cocktails the following night and will stay the night. Because Anne’s father, Edouard Dindon (Michael Hagiwara), is Deputy General of the T.F.M. Party (The Tradition, Family, and Morality Party), Jean-Michel wants to invite his estranged mother, Sybil (not seen) and not have Albin attend. 

Jean-Michel pleads for a normal family, at least for this one time. He devises a plan to clean up their home of their overtly cloistered gay existence, the gay statues and what not. He charms his father Georges, to tell Albin to leave for a short while, while they perpetrate the ruse.  In the meantime, Jean-Michel dreams for some normalcy to make way for the special guests.   

Tim Dang, the director, is masterful in his last directorial stint for the East West Players; he is stepping down after 23 years with this fine organization.  This surprising production is an amalgamation of art successfully blending talent, music direction by Marc Macalintal, and Choreography by Reggie Lee. Dang moves the action with indescribable grandeur.  There are subtle, yet heart wrenching moments that also move the story in unimaginable ways.  Wasting no time and space, Dang also includes some very inventive scene changes. The estaminet scene is beautifully set and feels so French one would believe you were in St. Tropez.  In short, La Cage Aux Folles has the audience laughing, crying, and singing the delightful songs by Jerry Herman on the way out at the end of the night.

Jon Jon Briones

Jon Jon Briones as Georges is one of the finest actors working in America today. The character’s action is subtle at times but manages to grow giving the character a strong emotional core that pushes all the poignant buttons. The one thing you can say about this character, despite his predicaments, is that he is all love. Love for his theatre, his actors, especially for his son and his companion. This is a performance you do not want to miss.  

Gedde Watanabe

There was a silent moment where Gedde Watanabe as Albin had his wig on crooked.  He sat silently on a cube, and watched the action on stage.  And in that precious moment, I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was the look, a funny one from this marvelous actor, and a highlight of an overall wonderful performance.  Watanabe has a fine voice and, in the opening number, he takes his time to put on mascara in a scene that is natural and very inventive.  Watanabe gives life to many characters on this night man, woman, and John Wayne. This is also an exceptional performance.

Jinwoo Jung is also marvelous as Jean-Michel.  His exquisite singing voice hits home and also hits all the right emotional buttons.  There may be more to add with moving his other dad out of the house and seeking forgiveness later on but overall a very touching performance.  

Allen Lucky Weaver is very funny as the butler, maid, or whatever the nomenclature. His performance is surprising, deafly surprising, for an actor who appears out of nowhere to make a remarkable impressions on a Los Angeles stage.

Audrey Cain is as graceful as she is beautiful as Anne. Anne brings the truly feminine being to this cast of mostly males. She is an interesting character that hints that life and love will be all right no matter your persuasion.

Michael Hagiwara as Edouard Dindon and Sharline Liu as Marie Dindon make a perfect husband and wife team as they try to negotiate their way through the mess they’ve got themselves into. The final scenes between them will send you home with a smile on your face.  And I believe they played M. Renaud and Mme. Renaud but were not given credit in the program.

The Cagelles play a lot of interesting roles in this production, singers, dancers, statutes, and neglected actors who feel they are being abused.  The work is outstanding for these supporting roles.  The Cagelles are Christopher Aguilar as Phaedra, Carlos Chang as Hanna, Jonathan Kim as Bitelle, DT Matias as Chantal, and Alex Sanchez as Mercedes.

Grace Yoo does a delightful turn as Jacqueline, the restaurant owner. Yoo has a marvelous powerful voice and is graceful in the execution of the musical numbers she sings. She also plays an old girlfriend to Jean-Michel, someone he doesn’t want to see at this particular moment.  Jacqueline is with her “cousin” Etienne, played by Reuben Uy.

Preshow: Cesar Cipriano, Allen Lucky Weaver, Reuben Uy 

Reuben Uy and Cesar Cipriano play the beach ball dancers. Cipriano is also Francis, the stage manager and Tabarro.

Victoria Petrovich wonderfully creates the Scenic Design. Anthony Tran, Costume Designer, creates an Asian setting in the heart of St. Tropez, France with breathtaking costumes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Karyn D. Lawrence – Lighting Design
Cricket S. Myers – Sound Design
Ken Takemoto – Prop Master
Ondina V. Dominguez - Stage Manager

The band was fantastic on this night.  They are comprised of Marc Macalintal, Conductor/Keyboard, Richie Gonzaga, Trumpet, Robert Todd, Trombone, Adrienne Geffen, Clarinet, Victor Vedoy, Saxophone and Michael “Weeble” Boerum, Percussion.

This production of La Cage Aux Folles is like a budding flower, awakening, spirited with morning sprinklers, happy to see you on your daybreak walk.  She is a dream of a life, that moment, waiting for you, an old so beautiful memory of times past and times together, a welcoming of the past and present, and in softly rolled petals presented to you live and with love.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone you love obsequiously.

Reservations:  213-625-7000

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Eastside Heartbeats – Book by Tom Waldman, Music & Lyrics by James Holvay, Additional Music & Lyrics by David Reyes, Rudy Salas, Tom Waldman


By Joe Straw

Thump—thumpthump, thump—thumpthump, thump—thumpthump.  (Can you hear it?)

There is a lot going on in this uplifting musical, Eastside Heartbeats, and it is not just the music. Surely this musical has the potential to move to another and bigger venue. Yes, there’s enough here for a future life. And Eastside Heartbeats has got all of Los Angeles as potential patrons – beyond the east-side sold-out houses at Casa 0101.  There is the west-side, the south-side, the north-side of Los Angeles, more room for dancing in the street, and beyond.   


One can hardly write when the music is mentally playing in the background, so I will turn it off, for now, if I can. 

The music in Eastside Heartbeats is good, really good.  Listening, one can hear the febrile pulsations and the reverberant clangor of the 1960’s – songs that send a delicious shiver down a slippin’ backbone with the sounds that drove Americans and the world absolutely nuts.  And, with the exception of La Bamba, Eastside Hearbeats is all new music. Absorbed this night was the flavor of Smokey Robinson, a taste of Cannibal and The Headhunters, the bottom tips of The Four Tops, and also a treat, the Merseybeat.

I can't help myself.  

A lot of money went into the production of this musical. It is apparent on stage with the costumes, props, and music, but, there was something that required attention, something that missed the mark, that didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, and needs to be fixed.

What the heck was it? 

The book.  The book.  The book.  I believe that it was the book by Tom Waldman.

Stand by me.  

At times, the book was desultory. And to that end, I will direct my comments.  But, and this is a big BUT, it was also a remarkable job for Waldman’s first play outing.

There are musicals that get along fine without a book, but this musical necessitates a strong book to set the time and move the motion.  The interesting moments are the ones that take a serious look at Latino musicians, changing their looks, and presenting their sound as white. These moments, and the rich Latino heritage, need a second look, a deeper look.   

Brown Fist Production in Association with Casa 0101 presents Eastside Heartbeats – Book by Tom Waldman, Music & Lyrics by James Holvay, Additional Music & Lyrics by David Reyes, Rudy Salas, and Tom Waldman.  Eastside Heartbeats was directed by Steve E. Feinberg and produced by Maria Elena Yepes, Tom Waldman, Steve E. Feinberg, and David Reyes.  Eastside Heartbeats complete its run at Casa 0101 on May 29th, 2016 in Boyle Heights.

Essentially the play is a story about a young Latino man, living on the eastside, who wants to become a rock and roll star.  

Those dreams seem a galaxy away for Jimmy Ramirez (Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez) and the Eastside Heartbeats knowing very little about how this is all going to happen.  The group Mario (Marco Infante), Andy (Jesse Maldonado Salgado), and Ronnie (Matthew Ramos) all try to find a way.  So, in the summer of 1965 these four forlorn young men look to climb to the top – “the toppermost of the poppermost” – all before 1966. 

Their dreams do come in small increments as the band moves to find its way to having a number one hit, despite the conflicts they have with family and business partners.

So, I’ve got a few notes.

Papa’s got a brand new bag.

Dad, Carlos Ramirez (Gabriel Gonzalez) needs a job. He is a big part of the conflict, the infectious melancholy injected into the lives of his surrounding family members.  He is the message, the struggle that is resolved in the end.  Carlos respects tradition and traditional Mexican music.  He is a mechanic by trade, but we never see him working, oily, with grease on his face, his hands, clothes, or singing under the hood of his work. Symbolism goes a long way here.  He fights with his son, Jimmy, his daughter, Lydia (Angel Marie Galvan), and a little with his wife, Sonia (Isabel Serrano).  But, why?  Later we find out why, but we really don’t see the progression in this character, what he gave up, and what makes him so angry until the end of the musical.   

Lydia Ramirez, younger sister to Jimmy Ramirez, must have a stronger relationship with her brother. It is not enough to be supportive of him; we must really find a connection, an adamantine bond that locks them arm in arm. She might even be a future sociologist.

Love makes the world go round.

The same holds true with Sonia Ramirez, the matriarch of the family. She is a character that needs the strong objective of holding the family together while finding a way to make sure his son achieves his dream. It’s not that far flung to have Sonia make Jimmy, with no job, a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich to keep his strength while he’s rehearsing. (I say this in jest, but again, a little symbolism goes a long way.) All in the name of love.

Be my baby.

Hal Fisher (Jordan Charles) is a manager, a no nonsense, you got one hour to get it done or you’re out the door, kind of guy with a girlfriend, Teresa Gomez (Vanessa Benavente), who has got a really nice head on her shoulders.  But their relationship doesn’t grow, and really doesn’t have a resolution.  Their relationship ties into the boy’s success and it kind of does, but there isn’t a big amorous connection in the end. Fisher throughout has a take it or leave it attitude when it comes to love, and that ain’t love, baby, that ain’t love.   

There’s a really interesting scene in the record store before the guys “make it”. Jimmy is hip to Teresa but really wants to get to Hal Fisher, for maybe more than representation. But this action isn’t realized on stage as a pursuit.  It’s more or less singing a song, “It’s all Good”. A good song, by the way, but does little in the way for the actors reaching their objectives.  The introduction, the pursuit, the capture, success or failure, are all things we should see in this number.

Reach out. I’ll be there.    

Eddie Mitchell (Jahmaul Bakare) has got enough talent for all, and he shares it to those who are really looking for it, the ride, the big ride. The show needs Bakare’s voice in it, because you can’t have the sixties without the soul, period. But, what are we to make of Mitchell’s relationship with Jimmy, beside one of teacher.  Jimmy shows up one day at Mitchell’s house, they do a number, “”Bad Dads”, and Jimmy leaves.  Hmmm, got to, got to, got to have more than that. We’ve really got to have more of a relationship that later ties into the destruction from the Watts riots.  

Also, one is not really sure why Jimmy was there alone, taking lessons. Is he there because he is the front man and needs that extra added advantage?  Or, is he there to take back those lessons to teach to the other guys? Also, the book really needs to define Jimmy as the front-man and whether this by their choice or by the manager’s design.

Steve E. Feinberg, the director, does an admirable job.  There are enough moments in the musical that keep you bouncing in your chair. The execution is almost flawless.  But the momentum is stalled during set changes.  Feinberg must find a way to keep living room set and all the other set changes to a minimum, and make those changes inventive in keeping with the musical.  There are also the relationship problems inherent in the story that could be strengthened. All small notes, but, for the most part, Eastside Heartbeats is exceptional.  

Dance Captain Katie Kitani did a remarkable job with the ensemble.  The energy on stage was just tremendous.  Members of the ensemble were Taleen Shrikian, April Sheets who also played the lovely Bride, Andrew Joseph Perez who was also the Groom, Sebastian Gonzales, also rounded out the ensemble.   

Benjamin Perez was the understudy for Hal Fisher who did not perform the night I was there. Bernardita Nassar played Teresa Gomez and also did not perform on this night.

Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez (that’s a mouthful) plays front man Jimmy Ramirez.  Lopez has a great voice and a natural appeal and could easily do this for a living.

Marco Infante also has a wonderful voice as Mario.  He turns red when belting out the numbers and has a lot of energy on stage.

Jesse Maldonado Salgado plays Andy and really looks nothing like his picture in the program. Salgado has an interesting looks, kind of quirky on stage, and manages to hold his own with the rest of the group.  

Matthew Ramos does a fine job as Ronnie and fills out the quartet with a remarkable sound.

Gabriel Gonzales plays the Dad Carlos Ramirez but doesn’t look anything like his picture in the program. Must be the mustache that throws me off. Carlos needs a song about his dreams and that song should include his son. “I Had My Say” does the opposite.

Angel Marie Galvan did a nice job as Lydia Ramirez, the sister, but more could be made of her character.

Jordan Charles has got a very nice look as Hal Fisher.  Fisher has got problems looking for the next big thing. He doesn’t give second chances but other than that we know little of his outside life, if he has one.  He has no romantic proclivities and that doesn’t bode well for a musical that is essentially, a romantic outing.  Fisher needs more of a backstory, in job, and in love. That said, Charles has an astonishing presence on stage.

Jahmaul Bakare has got a remarkable voice as Eddie Mitchell.  Mitchell is a supporting character but something really has to happen to him.  (Could it be during the Watts riots?)  Mitchell, as it is now, just disappears and we really don’t get a sense of what happened to the character and how this all fits in the musical.

Vanessa Benavente, usually an understudy, played Teresa on this night. Benavente gave a solid performance and one admires the strength she brought to the character. While not everything worked, her performance was exceptional.

Isabel Serrano played Sonia on this night and was also exceptional. Serrano, an understudy, went on this night and there were no major glitches.

One feels like I’ve stepped back into the 60’s with Julius Bronola costume design.  The same hold true for Urbanie Lucero’s choreography which kept us dancing well into the night.

The handling of the instrumental chores is the off-stage band. The band is great.  Great! Gary St. Germain (Musical Director, Keyboards & Guitar), the legendary James Holvay (Rhythm Guitar), Christopher Diaz-Infante (Guitar), Christian Burrolla (Bass), and Peter A. Zavala (Drums) play to their hearts content and the music alone is worth the price of admission.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Jerry Blackburn – Production Stage Manager
JP Torres – Stage Manager
Cesar Holguin – Set Designer
Jose Lopez – Lighting Designer
Joey Guthman – Production Designer & Associate Lighting Designer
Vincent Sanchez – Sound Designer
Melodee Fernandez – Vocal Director, Assistant Music Director
Katie Kitani – Dance Captain
Angel Gutierrez – Assistant Director
Jorge Villanueva – Light and Sound Board Operator
Rooster Cabrera – Assistant Stage Manager
Miguel Carachure – Sound Mixer
Steve Moyer – Publicist
Ed Krieger – Photographer
Soap Studio Inc. – Graphic Design

When you get the chance – Run! Run! Run!  And take a friend that really loves the music of the sixties.