Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Barnum – Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Michael Stewart, and Book by Mark Bramble

By Joe Straw

Little Angels

Little angels up on their toes
Doing that which was
a month ago.

Tumbling, juggling,
And jumping though hoops

Did you see the red nose
On that one
togged up
in boots?

The colors all-flying
With magical flair

Would make
a man named

if he
were there. 

I was a little intrigued by the idea that Barnum was playing in Long Beach.  Didn’t Jim Dale do this on Broadway and Michael Crawford in London? I was also intrigued that the cast was made up of children from the very young (8) to the very old (18).  What are these kids in Long Beach up to?

Go-Fame Youth Theatre Company presents Barnum – Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics By Michael Stewart and Book by Mark Bramble at the University Theatre on the CSULB Campus and directed by Eaine Zofrea through Sunday July 17th at 2:00 pm.

There’s not a lot of theatre in Long Beach by children so filling that void is the Go-Fame Youth Theatre Company a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching children all aspects of visual and creative arts.  And for this particular production there is a lot to learn. has taken the challenge of a full-scale production of Barnum not because it is easy, but because it is challenging and fun. 

Success is measured in degrees and this production is one to make everyone proud. All should be pleased to put one more credit on a resume with, well let’s face it, probably little on it.  Still, all of them were as cute as  buttons and they all worked with extreme determination to put this on the boards.

There were some problems, but in the grand scheme of things, they were minor.  And, after all, we learn from our mistakes.

Just between you and me, there was a point in the show where the singers were perfect, the direction was grand, and everything thing seemed to go just right and it all jelled and it was a beautiful thing.  Those memories stay with you forever!

Barnum is a musical with many possibilities.  The director, Elaine Zofrea, could go countless ways with this production. But what is one to do when the cast members are children?  Immediately what comes to mind:  No high wire acts and no difficult acrobatics. So being creatively careful is the optimum word here.

Briefly, the story is about P.T. Barnum (Zachary Brackemyer) and his desire to fulfill his dream of doing “something” on a grand colorful scale. But, his dreams are hampered by  Chairy Barnum (Katherine Zofrea) his wife who wants him to get a job in a clock factory.

Barnum is not the only one with dreams.  Chairy has dreams of her own.  Not as colorful as Barnum but sees to it that Barnum pursues his colorful visions.   And she does this all with the toss of a coin. They are a partnership of dreams in the making. 

But despite’s life’s obstacles, Barnum rises above the conflict that comes into the tent of his own circus until he meets Bailey (Tommy Doughty).

Zachary Brackemyer did a creatively fine job as P.T. Barnum as well as Katherine Zofrea as Chairy.  Sophia Smith as Joice the 160 year-old woman had a very nice dance number.  (It’s a bit of humbug to believe that she was that age.  Okay maybe 103, tops.)  Coco Rominger was delightful as Jenny Lind.  Guy McEleney as General Tom Thumb had a very nice dance number topped off with an entrance by a huge elephant.  (A participant of the Eastman Kodak Float in the 1983 Rose Bowl Parade, I’m told.) 

Tommy Doughty played the Ringmaster and James A. Bailey. Doughty did a very nice job as Bailey and was completely believable.  His Ringmaster is the conscience on P.T. Barnum’s shoulder.  The Ringmaster is guiding Barnum to get where he needs to be at the end, with him and in the circus.  This is a fascinating role and one that can be creatively clever.

One of the fascinating things about the performance was the supporting players and the dialogue presented in Mark Bramble’s book.  The dialogue and intention was spot on and as natural as kids could be in these adult roles. Sam Albillo as Sherwood Stratton, Emily Henderson as Mrs. Stratton, Seth Weaver as Julius Goldschmidt and Noah Clay as Mr. Wilton all did a very good job.  Aurelio DeAnda, Jr. was quite clever as a clown and as Humbert Morrisey.

Both Emily Jackson and Aiyanna Johns were outstanding as a couple of jazz singers as part of the song Black and White that was a very interesting choice by the director on many levels.  Also, their facial expressions were quite clever.

Others that did nice jobs were: Victoria Zofrea as Mrs. Lyman, Cameron Gregory as Amos Scudder, Conner Clay as Charles Stratton, Kylee Cruz and Ashleigh Huntington as Women in the Emporium, Rylee Ashcraft as Concert Mistress, and Alex DeAnda as Edgar Templeton.

Other clowns in this cast of “hundreds” were Corey Bangi, Caiti Crahan, Maile DiPaolo, Skylar Peters, Aleena Searles, Lauren Smith and Sophia Spirus.

The featured jugglers were: Alyssa Haack and Kylie McGuire.

Other singers/dancers were:  Bradley Bangi, and Alexis Geiser.

Acrobats and Circus Stunts were performed by:  Peyton Carranza, Connor Clay, Preston Coulis, Jessica Hosler, Rio Infante, Zoe Infante, and Kate Riddle.

Circus Performers were:  Belle Haslam, Natalie Huerta, Cassandra Kline, Tori Newman, Kayla Quiroz and Claire Mitchell.

And of course we cannot forget the townspeople Kaylee Cruz and Paxton Hurst.  These are always necessary roles in a successful production.

Elaine Zofrea, the artistic director did a very fine job molding this troupe into a workable performance and also gave her own personal touch as the director.  And Kathy McGuire, as Managing Director, pulls this all together, almost an impossible task.

In the second cast Cody Wilhite plays P.T. Barnum, Alicia Allen plays Chairy Barnum, Brooke Johnson plays Jenny Lind, Rachel Dennison plays Joice Heth, and Autumn Johnson plays Tom Thumb.

The show carries on Saturday July 16th at 2pm and 7pm and Sunday July 17th at 2pm.

The photoghraphs are by Sheri McKinley! - watch kids grow and play - all in the same moment.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Interlopers by Gary Lennon

By Joe Straw

Sit down for a minute; I want to talk to you. Where are you going? I’m not finished with you yet.  And stop biting your toes for god’s sake!  Are you listening to me?  What are you smirking about? I love you but all of this has got to stop.  Who said you were an actor? You’re never going to be an actor, stop dreaming and get a real job!

Interlopers are individuals who thrust themselves into the affairs of others. For the most part they are family members.  (Why beat around the bush? It’s our parents.)  Ideally parents are to lovingly guide to a certain point and then get out of the way.  In this play it’s the fathers who think it is in their best interest to control the lives of their children. 

But, they can’t. In this theatrical presentation their predicament is an anchor that pulls them deeper into waters way over their heads.  The interlopers, trying to find a way out, become extremely violent and harmful to their loved ones in an effort to control their lives.

Life takes us in many different directions.  Violence is the step no one wants to pursue. And yet this direction destroys a dream and lifestyle.  But, dreams and lifestyle are generally not one-way streets.  Multiple lives are affected.  Someone has to let go. Someone has to pay.

The Interlopers at the Bootleg Theatre written by Gary Lennon and directed by Jim Fall is beautiful theatre, masterfully done, funny, heartwarming, and perfect for this moment in time.  This is theatre that catches the tumultuous moments of the lives of two characters and their families.  It tears and embraces the heart in completely unexpected ways. 

From the moment the play starts to the tragic ending these people are thrust into your being, opening up your life to a whole new perspective.  And there are a lot of very special moments in this play.  They hit you like a ton of bricks, not because of the severity of the action, but because these moments do what theatre are supposed to do.

And as the moments are absorbed it gives a genuine feel of relief that everything is going to be okay.  But then crimes of passion strikes. Life’s happier moments are shattered in the blink of an eye and all because of a dress. Grab you heart and take a seat. 

Michelle (Trevor Peterson) was born Michael.  He is pre-op and is dressing as a woman before his transformation.  There are two items in her make up:  one involving gender identity (she is a man wanting to become a woman) and sexual desire (she prefers the company of a woman). 

Lou (Diarra Kilpatrick) meets Michelle and immediately falls in love with her.   Lou is a woman wanting to become a man.  They meet in a waiting room of a doctor that will perform the operation.   Their sexual relationship is doomed from the start but their friendship is something that can garner roots.

“I’d like to get to know you better.  You open to that?” – Lou

Michelle is reluctant to establish a relationship with Lou.   Seeing no future in their connection, she wants a little piece and quiet while reading her book.  Oddly enough when she moves, she doesn’t’ move that far away. 

Lou is persistent if nothing else.  She will settle for being friends first. 

Nobody’s got what I got in my pants. – Lou

That may not be completely true given the play’s setting of Los Angeles.  However, as each of them takes their turn at “passing”, in reality they are superiorly unsuccessful. 

Gertie (Tara Karsian) Michelle’s mom gives us a back-story on Michelle’s life.  She speaks a heartfelt truth: she will love her son or daughter no matter what happens. But her husband will not, which causes her to have second thoughts about him. 

How can you trust someone who doesn’t eat veal? - Gertie

Later Ed (RD Call) sits in the therapist office with his “son” Michelle and wife, Gertie.   His demons and his shame wear on his being.  The plight of his predicament in life compresses his body into an unmovable force and yet it is a force ready to strike at the opportune moment.

Meanwhile the therapist Daniel (Clifford Morts) lets Ed know that he has no choice in his “daughters” life.  Daniel paints a picture about Michelle’s life after the operation.  Ed lets it be known that the therapist hopes about his “son’s life” are futilitarian.

“I ought to bust you in the face.” – Ed

And as Ed threatens the therapist with physical violence, he ultimately grabs his “sons” throat, and snatches the wig from his head. 

“Next time I see you, I hope it’s in a coffin.” – Ed

Enter Frank (Paul Elia) a bisexual man who is convinced that he’s going straight.  By way of Internet matching he thinks he’s found “the one”. But, “the one” turns out to be Lou.  Lou made the connection when she was representing herself as a woman and when they meet in the park Frank is thoroughly confused.

And then there’s Victoria (Darryl Stephens) a drag queen of delicious pink tastes and outspoken political views.  Victoria is looking for love in all the wrong places.   She is a person who takes life to extreme exaggeration.  Not really female but considering the possibilities.

Daniel, the therapist speaks to Mr. Alvarez about the possibilities of accepting Lou as his son.  They were the simple words of love and understanding to which Lou’s dad replies:

“I no speak good English.” – Mr. Alvarez

Later Michelle and Lou are shopping in Los Angeles and looking at a suit that Lou is enamored with.  When Lou asks to hold Michelle’s hand as they walk, Michelle is hesitant.  She is still uncomfortable in the environment all of her own creation.  

“There’s so many people around: bikers, punks, accountants.” – Michelle

But Michelle gradually warms up to Lou’s desires.  Since Michelle has not agreed to a relationship with Lou, Lou tells Michelle that she has a date with a man later in the park.

Sometimes desires bring out the best in us and the worst in us.

This cast is absolutely fantastic!

Diarra Kilpatrick as Lou gives a remarkable performance and a remarkable physical life of a woman who is in transition of becoming a man.  Her strength is not in her voice (more suited for film or television) but rather her physical life and the moments that make the character real.

Trevor Peterson as Michelle also had some very nice moments.  Again his voice could be stronger for this particular stage.  Still his performance had a lot of depth and try as he might he was not giving up in his quest to become a woman.

Tara Karsian as Gertie was fantastic.  It was a very subtle performance that had a lot of strength and character.  Trying to put the best spin on trying times can be emotionally exhausting and staying in a relationship that weighs her down can be emotionally draining. Still, she just wants to be a loving mom.  With the historical images on screen one believes that she still feels the baby in her arms.  She hopes one day her child becomes a loving and compassionate human being, nothing more and nothing less.

RD Call as Ed is not what one would call a sympathetic character.  But it was a marvelous performance of a father who is at the end of his rope.  His rope being the end of his line and it must tear him to pieces.  His father and son dreams are in the process of being destroyed.   If it ends here he must endure the complicated process of acceptance.

Clifford Morts as Daniel plays a rather unusual character.  He must absorb the weight of the world when he deals with people who are at the crossroads of their lives.  He seems to understand very little of this world but in the end he gets a taste of the medicine he has come to understand. Nicely done. 

Paul Elia as Frank is as accommodating as one can get. He really doesn’t get it and is not smart enough to know that he is just slightly off.  It is a nice role; bisexual bridges the gap of straight and gay.  It is one that ties all the characters in their lives as straight, gay, transvestites, to transsexual. This is a fantastic performance by a seasoned professional.

Darryl Stephens as Victoria was marvelous.  Victoria is rock solid in everything, body, mind and health but she is slightly conflicted about having her organs removed.  She is very opinionated about every aspect of life including the politics of life.  It’s hard to take her seriously with a pink wig, tank top, and brightly colored uggs. The relationship between him and the others character is tricky.  He is ambiguous in a world of characters that have made up their minds.  Stephens is a fascinating actor that moves in and off stage with ease.  He is very physical and very funny and seems improvisational at times and it all seems to work in a fascinating way.

Leander Cano as Mr. Alvarez was very subtle in his being.   His Spanish was excellent.  His character came to this land where he had hopes and dreams.   He married and had a beautiful little girl but tragedy strikes.  The mother dies and he is left to take care of Lou, Louisa to him.   Over time the dynamics of their relationship changes.   He sits motionless in poverty; weighed down by the beer and fast food, and his lack of understanding Louisa’s choice and about the things going on around him whether in English or Spanish heavily weighs on his already large frame.  This was a very nice performance by an actor who understands creative passion and choice.   

Gary Lennon, the writer, has written a marvelous play! The story grabs you in ways you cannot imagine. It’s effective and raw in so many ways. The characters share the intimate details of the private moments of their lives. It is so simple, so provocative, and most of all it’s really about love and the ways we come to love.  Given Lennon’s past this is truly an accomplishment beyond measurement.

Jim Fall the director does an excellent job of moving the action along. The moments take you places and are poignant. The ending says a lot about theatre and the character’s perspective.  All of it was nicely done.  Still it was not seamless, an hour and a half with no intermissions and a variety of stop and starts during the production.  (One hopes by this time, these things have all been ironed out and movement from one scene to the next is seamless.)

Set Design by Jason Adams works effectively, curtains with photos projected onto the curtains so the audience gets an idea of place in the story.

Understudies are James Burns, Ralph Cole, Jr. and Macleish Day.

Jessica Hanna and Alicia Adams nicely produced this play.

Run to see this production through July 23, 2011.   The Bootleg Theatre is a wonderful theatre with plenty street parking and a bar in front that serves your refreshing beverage.