Pat Launer, Center Stage
“HAMILTON” – Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre
There are few things on earth that live up to their hype. “Hamilton,” the groundbreaking, blockbuster musical, actually exceeds expectations.
I was familiar with the fast-paced, word-drunk music and lyrics of the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. But the production blew me away. It’s every bit as brilliant as the score. The costumes, stylized moves, choreography and lighting create an unforgettable experience – stunning to look at, and simultaneously smart, funny, entertaining and informative. It brings history to throbbing, pulsing life and, while taking us on a heart-rending emotional journey, restores Alexander Hamilton to his rightful, important place in the shaping of America.
Based on the “Hamilton” doorstop-sized biography by Ron Chernow, the musical tells of the brief, manic, dazzling but stormy life of the Founding Father whose face graces the 10-dollar bill.
The first song alone, “Alexander Hamilton,” superbly captures a big chunk of the early part of the book, chronicling, in syncopation and ingenious hip hop rhymes, how Hamilton started out a poor orphan from the Caribbean, and by aggressively reading, striving, pushing and working incessantly, made his way to New York, where his stellar career began.
He fought in the Revolutionary War, became the right-hand man of George Washington, established the U.S. Mint and was America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. By age 47, he was dead – shot down in a duel by his lifelong competitor, Aaron Burr.
It’s a thrilling story, spectacularly told. The musical is structurally hip and thematically timely. We’re still dealing with issues of states’ rights, financial control, and North vs. South.
This San Diego stop marks the beginning of the first national tour, and it boasts a potent cast, both physically and vocally.
One of the show’s seminal questions is, ‘Who tells your story?’ For centuries, Hamilton was left in the shadows. Miranda has brought him to the forefront, and to the people. He’ll never be sidelined again.
Despite its sellout status, if there’s any way for you to see this edifying and electrifying show, leap at the chance. But go prepared: listen to the astonishing score first.
The national tour of “Hamilton” runs through January 28 at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
Aired: 1/11/2018 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer
“END OF YEAR WRAP”
2017 will be one for the books.
The unpredictable and unimaginable occurred regularly. Stress and distress gripped much of the nation.
Onstage, shows gained heightened relevance in view of the news. A line, a topic or a character could be topically reinterpreted. Some theaters chose to underscore the parallels.
One of the ubiquitous red baseball caps showed up in ion theatre’s excellent, decadent production of “Cabaret.” An over-long red necktie featured prominently in the opera-for-one, “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” inventively presented by Bodhi Tree Concerts.
Political subjects were inescapable: issues of race, gender, immigration and governmental repression reared their menacing heads, and gave us some of the most potent productions of the year.
Here are a few shows that chilled or thrilled me, and some that haunt me still.
Racial injustice surfaced in Intrepid Theatre’s terrific and harrowing “Father Comes Home from the Wars”; ion theatre’s bone-rattling “The Ballad of Emmett Till”; the San Diego Rep’s vocally stunning “Black Pearl Sings”; and Moxie Theatre’s unsettling “Blue Door.”
On issues of immigration, Moxie gave us the unforgettable “Ironbound,” and the La Jolla Playhouse produced a wildly imaginative world premiere, “Wild Goose Dreams.”
Corporate downsizing was confronted in The Old Globe’s marvelous “Skeleton Crew.” A warped view of work took shape in the gorgeously gory “Kill Local” at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Roustabouts’ gripping world premiere, “Margin of Error.” Hershey Felder gave a political spin to “Our Great Tchaikovsky” at the San Diego Rep. The San Diego Opera’s stunning “As One” and Diversionary Theatre’s provocative “Ballast” zoomed in on gender identity. “InnerMission Productions looked at school discipline in “Gidion’s Knot” and autism at home, in “Falling.” And women’s rights were part of Lamb’s Players’ “Silent Sky” and “The Explorers Club.”
But it wasn’t all serious: I loved the deliciously wicked “Hand to God” at the San Diego Rep; the delightfully daft new musical, “Benny and Joon” at The Globe; and Cygnet Theatre’s marvelously malevolent “Shockheaded Peter.”
Theaters forced us to examine the lives of others and look at who we are. May the new year continue the inspiring, enlightening trend.
Aired: 12/29/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“SPAMILTON” – Kirk Douglas Theatre
Calling all Hamiltonians!
If you’ve been lucky enough to see the musical theater phenomenon of our age – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” – or if you know the score from the terrific cast recording… don’t rap, don’t belt, just hip hop up to L.A. to see the uproarious spoof, “Spamilton.”
Creator/writer/director Gerard Alessandrini is a word-wizard, just like Miranda and his idol, Stephen Sondheim, who gets more than a few lines and jabs in the show. Alessandrini has been sending up musical theater since 1982, when he began his deliciously satiric franchise, “Forbidden Broadway.”
Now, in collaboration with a superb chorographer, design team and musical director, he makes every one of these 80 minutes look and sound and move exactly like “Hamilton.” But instead of telling the story of the Founding Father, he’s relating the career path of Miranda, the brilliant Puerto Rican rhyme-meister who, riffing on one of “Hamilton’s most famous songs, “I am not throwing away my shot,” vows, “I am not gonna let Broadway rot.”
Miranda, it’s well-known, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway musicals – and Alessandrini can match him bar for bar. Both squeeze innumerable words and voluminous wink-nudge theater references into their work.
“Spamilton” also manages to bring out a few Broadway stars – who have nothing whatsoever to do with “Halmilton,” but the mega-talented cast of nine can do outrageous impressions – including Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, Glenn Close and Liza Minelli doing her mother, Judy Garland, which really doesn’t belong here at all.
Neither does the Obamas at bedtime at the start of the show for an unnecessary setup. But a faux Barbra Streisand is very funny at the end, pleading to be “in the film when it happens.”
Everything Broadway and rap and “Hamilton” and the kitchen sink finds its way into this unparalleled parody.
If you love “Hamilton” – and who on earth doesn’t? – you’re sure to double over from
“Spamilton” has been extended through January 7, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
Aired: 12/19/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“THE SEASON OF LOVE” – Scripps Ranch Theatre
‘Tis the season – for food, family and friends. It’s also the season of anxiety, conflict and conflagration.
But local playwright James Caputo isn’t really interested in the dark underside of the holiday lights. His new work says it all: “The Season of Love.”
He’s put together four of his award-winning short plays to examine the ages and stages of amour, from new love to stale love, love that’s going – or gone. Tentative, unlikely love that begins with the camaraderie of a shared space – even if it’s a refrigerator box.
In the four vignettes, the characters overlap and intersect in sometimes surprising ways. The stories range from humorous to heartful, forward-looking or retrospective, even delightfully literary. Some of the laugh-lines are predictable, but the intent, emotions and dialogue are solid.
At Scripps Ranch Theatre, John Tessmer directs a stellar cast, maintaining a light touch and crisp timing. The versatile Paul Morgavo is effective in every scene, first as a newly dating divorced mensch, and later as an educated, literate hopeless and homeless person, perfectly, if inadvertently, matched by Julie Clemmons as a street-wise, whip-smart optimist.
The most poignant segment is between Jill Drexler and Eric Poppick, as a long-married couple who’ve stagnated in the humdrum of their lives. Both think they want out. But then they think again. It’s unnecessary, and interrupts the flow, for them to talk to the audience. Still, they have a lot to say about marriage, acceptance, and the comfort and contentment of a warm body – a presence, as they call it.
Sherri Allen, Grace Delaney and Rhiannon McAfee also contribute creatively, though there are moments when their characters lean toward caricature.
Some of Caputo’s language is clever and organic; some feels more forced, but it’s all delivered well, within a cunningly rotating set.
So, as the holidays descend upon us, this quartet of stories can serve as an impetus to contemplate what love and relationship mean to you – whether you have them or not.
The world premiere, “The Season of Love,” runs through December 10, at Scripps Ranch Theatre, on the campus of Alliant University.
Aired: 11/15/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN” – Lamb’s Players Theatre
If you like bluegrass, or gospel, or impressive musicianship, you’ll love “Smoke on the Mountain,” at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
This impassioned play is a Lambs’ perennial, stretching back decades. It’s a spirited, spiritual visit with the fervent, singing Sanders family, making a comeback appearance, after a 5-year hiatus, at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina.
Fresh-faced preacher Mervin Oglethorpe is happy to have them. It’s 1938, and times are tough; folks are being laid off from the pickle factory, and the store down the street has the temerity to sell beer. But, he says, it maybe it’s time for “us Baptists to push on into the modern world.”
There isn’t much story in Connie Ray’s 1988 Off Broadway musical; it’s mostly about making a Joyful Noise.
Under Kerry Meads’ expert direction, a terrifically talented cast carves out dimensional, credible characters. For every number, they trade off instruments, switching dexterously from piano to standup bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, autoharp, harmonica, even washboard and spoons. Oh, and coconuts.
It’s mind-blowing how versatile these performers are, and how beautifully they sing -- in solos, tight harmonies, a capella or accompanied.
Witnessing and testifying are important to this family, so we hear from each of them, all about their dreams or sins or, in the case of scruffy Uncle Stanley, their 18-month incarceration. Through it all, the humor runs high.
The San Diego favorites are wonderful, as always: Deborah Gilmour Smyth, as the slightly ditsy, Bible-quoting matriarch she first played 25 years ago; Brian Mackey as the puppyish preacher; Katie Sapper, animatedly interpreting the songs in sign language; and multi-instrumentalists Steve Gouveia and Rik Ogden as the downtrodden uncle and the kind-hearted paterfamilias.
The two young surprises are L.A.-based Beau Brians, hilarious in his uptight demeanor and measured gait; and as his twin, ebullient 18 year-old Annie Buckley, daughter of the gifted scenic designer, Mike Buckley.
There’s a subtle thematic thread of encouraging open-mindedness and acceptance of differences… certainly a worthy message these days.
If you take joy in music, you won’t go home unfulfilled or unredeemed.
“Smoke on the Mountain” runs through January 28, at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
Aired: 10/26/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
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