Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special by Speedo Belini and Frankie King

L-R Will Thomas McFadden, Bob Turton, Adam Ferguson, Lee Margaret Hanson, Brian T. Finney, and Simon Hanna

by Joe Straw

Theater is a glimpse into the known and unknown.  The common known gives you a taste of your own ennui, and that is accompanied by a grimace that lies slightly beneath the surface of a snarl. The unknown sends one mind’s into a maelstrom of exceptional thought, and irregular patterns, making for mindful pleasantries long after you leave the theatre.  - Narrator

You can save a special place for The Actors’ Gang in your being.  And it takes so little to support this fine institution.  (Wow!  And The Actors Gang has now established itself as a fine institution!)  

The Actors’ Gang is what you will never see for the rest of your life if you don’t take the initiative.  There’s very little excuse, especially if you live in Culver City.  “Pay What You Can Thursdays” and free Shakespeare in the park offers a grand incentive to go. There’s always something that will strike your fancy.

On a personal note: A funny thing about The Actors’ Gang is that you never see any of these actors around this town.  At the Grand Casino, Starbucks, Lyfe Kitchen, Tender Greens, Pinches Taco, The Culver Hotel, Rush, or walking down the sidewalk, no where, no place, and at no time.  I rarely forget a face, and I walk there all the time, but I do not see them.  

But, when there’s a show the actors appear out of nowhere, through the vom, off the catwalk, a side door, a wing, a trap, the staircase, any entrance that makes a statement. Most are recognizable, and honestly they do, make a statement.  

And in this presentation, at the Ivy Substation, it’s all done right here, right now, live and in living color.  

The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special by Speedo Belini and Frankie King, developed in workshop by The Actors’ Gang and directed by Will Thomas McFadden is playing through January 11, 2014 at the Ivy Substation in Culver City.

The “The Queen Family’s...” holiday extravaganza is based on The King Family, which had an hour-long program on ABC in 1965.  These were, in effect white singers, in white sweaters, on a white stage, performing in black and white, singing their edited g-rated version of top twenties hit of the day, and none of that radical Beatles stuff either, moving about the stage in ways that resembled dancing, gambolling, and looking a lot like The Lawrence Welk Show, without the bubbles.

In this version, “The Queen Family” in order to highlight the diversity, has adopted children from around the world to sing and dance for their television viewing audience in order to raise $100,000.00 for the telethon they are performing. 

After the introductions, and because of a phone mix up, they believe they have $60,035.00 pledged to them, which sends everyone into a tizzy.

When the family cut to a commercial break, the pandemonium between the cast of characters is far from cordial, husbands wives, lovers, and future lovers are either very curious or at each other’s throats, depending on the circumstances.  (It reminds me of the pandemonium at the Oscars during the commercial breaks.)      

Unfortunately, the head honcho, (Brian T. Finney), (Mr. Queen?) by no means an ostentatious man, wears an informal sports jacket, a worthless pair of slacks, a bad hairpiece, and other appurtenances to give the appearance of desperately needing money.

Lack of funds is an issue with him because of his gambling debts -  $100,000.00 owed to the mob. And he is not a man of noble mien, standing next to the backstage door, on the telephone, deflated and nervously trembling when he receives the unexpected demand for money.  The mob is out to get him and seriously, during the holidays, that can be a little upsetting.

But the show must go on. And it does go on despite the Queen family’s idiosyncrasies.

In between the family squabbles there are some pretty terrific acts, which I will get to later but, strangely enough, the phones didn’t ring, no money was raised, and we are still left with the $60,035.00. (Something needs to be made of those moments, perhaps a slight addition to the material.)

Here’s an idea.  For this kind of show allow phones.  Make it truly a participatory show; see an act you like, allow the audience the ability and time to use their phones, dial the number, and key in the pledge.   

There are a number of exceptional musical numbers in this show and the first one is Roll Call based on The King Family’s “All Together”, lyrics by Shadow King. In this musical number we get introduced to the characters but it all goes by so fast there’s hardly a chance to absorb the characters and who they really are. And also in this number, with so much singing and dancing, sweat was pouring profusely off of the actors bodies giving us the appearance that they were broiling in those red sweaters, or were working very hard.  I suspect the latter; either way handkerchiefs were in order.   

Possibly, because of monetary constraints, the program gives us the actors name but not their character nor a headshot, or the song in which they participated.  It’s always nice to include those things in the program when actor’s perspiration pours like a Christmas recipe.

There are a number of featured acts Taylor Krasne, gymnast, and Michael Rayner, comedian, juggler, and a man who had too many onion rings. Other performers are Monique Ziering, Daniel Fernandez, Scott Marshall, Scot Nery, Jaason Rodgers, Anne Walters, Whitney Kirk, Godfrey Daniels, Lauren Brown & Mecca Andrews, Eric Newton & Lexi Pearl, Mike Rayner, Tom Lennon, and Ben Garant. Not everyone performed on this night but will be performing during the run.

Member of the Queen Family include Pierre Adeli, Alayha Aquarian, Carlotta Elecktra Bosch, Adam Ferguson, Brian T. Finney, Aaron Guzzo, Ali Grusell, Zoë Hall, Simon Foaad Hanna, Lee Margaret Hanson, Adam J. Jefferis, Dora Kiss, Stephanie Lee, Will Thomas McFadden, Mary Eileen O’Donnell, Steven M. Porter, Monica Quinn, Robert C. Raicch, Heather M. Roberts, Pedro Shanahan, Bob Turton, Maria Voylokov, and Jillian Yim.

Olivia Courtin (alien) and Cihan Sahin (astronaut) as party of the Queen Family did a fantastic number as lonely astronaut finding love on another planet with a beautiful alien. And the rest of the cast pitched in - moving lights and displays of gravity - in what was a very exciting highlight of the show. This is part of the unknown I spoke about earlier and these images will remain with me forever. Wonderful!

L - R Adam Ferguson, Olivia Courtin, Heather M. Roberts, Will Thomas McFadden, and Zoë Hall

Also another great highlight of the show was the song Cups by AP Carter and Shadow King beautiful sung on this night an Amish family wanting to move on to better things. For those of you who like your Christmas simple, in the ways of the old traditional, this may be for you.  All of the actors had marvelous voices and gave great cup. 

L - R Adam Ferguson, Adam J. Jefferis, Bob Turton (kneeling) and Will Thomas McFadden 

Queen Boy Medley features a group of male dancers (g-rated); stocking suffers to be sure, singing a medley of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza songs.

And then there was this rather odd duo playing performers with French Canadians accents from the Cirque de Solei at the Bellagio in Las Vegas asking us to imagine what the set would look like if they were performing at the Bellagio, with the lights, colorful setting, the wind machine, and the water falling for 45 minutes.  Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant were extremely funny and the audience enjoyed every minute!  (I didn't see them during the curtain call.  Perhaps they hopped onto a plane and were on their way back to the Bellagio Hotel.) 

L - R Aaron Guzzo, Pedro Shanahan, and Pierre Adeli
And for the youngsters out there who like their Christmas - German Gothic and Hardcore - this may be for you. 

Will Thomas McFadden, the director, did a marvelous job putting all of this together and wrangling “thousands” of cast members.  In this show you will find the expected, for a holiday show, as well as the unexpected, which makes for an overall delightful evening.

Speedo Belini and Frankie King (I suspect pseudonyms), the writers, give us a taste of the familiar if you were around in the 1960’s, and there’s always something, a relationship, one can pick out, follow, and enjoy, but sometimes the focus is stronger than the goal and we get away from the objective of trying to raise $100,000.00 on this night.

Adam J. Jefferis, the Set Designer, did a marvelous job with the set.  It made you feel downright at home, albeit, a movie studio home.

Maria Voylokov, the Costume Coordinator, had the entire cast running around like mad with thousand of costume changes.

Lauren Wemischner, the Lighting Designer, worked wonders on this particular night.

Lindsay Kerr, the Choreographer, had our TV cast gambolling about nicely.

Aaron Guzzo worked wonders as the Musical Director. And he also did some very fine with sound effects. Pierre Adeli had some nice moments as an actor. 

The Stage Manager was Janette Jara.

Run! Run!  And take someone who hasn’t been to The Actors’ Gang.  This will be an eye opening experience.

WHEN: Opens Friday, December 6 at 8pm Show runs: Thursday, Friday 8pm and Saturday evenings at 8pm & 10pm

HOW: 310-838-GANG (310-838-4264) or

The Actors’ Gang (at the Ivy Substation)
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

(corner of Culver & Venice Blvds; two hours free parking available across the street in Ince Parking Lot, corner of Culver & Ince)

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