Fiddler on the Roof at The Pantages Theatre

2,500 performances strong and Topol does not look like he’ll be slowing down in the role of Tevye in Tony Award-winning musical Fiddler on the Roof, which is now touring the U.S. in what is being called the actor’s farewell tour. It’s been a role identified with the actor since he appeared in the 1973 film version that earned him a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination.

The touching story of Jewish life in turn of the century Russia deals with old world traditions on the eve of revolution. Tevye and his wife, Golde (Susan Cella) holds fast to the dying traditions that keep life in balance in the small town of Anatevka. He compares this precarious balance of traditions to a fiddler on the roof. But even before the changing world comes to his village, life is slowly unraveling for him when his eldest daughter, Tzeitel (Rena Strober) and Motel the Tailor (Erik Liberman) become engaged, going against the Matchmaker’s (Mary Stout) match to have her marry Lazar Wolf, the butcher (David Brummel), much to Tevye’s dismay. Perchi (Colby Foytik), a revolutionary student staying with Tevye’s family, upsets the traditions during Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding when he asks Hodel (Jamie Davis) to dance.

Later Perchi and Hodel reveal their union even as Perchi is arrested and shipped off to Siberia. Hodel goes to join him and his cause. So, his daughters pair off with men that they have fallen in love with, an idea that is foreign to the older folks in town and in this way, the younger generation forges their own traditions even as the world finally comes knocking at their door forcing them out and into an uncertain future.

Directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, reproducing Jerome Robbins original choreography, the show never seems a nostalgic romp into Broadway canon. One thing that is very clear is the precision of the show, from staging to choreography to the nuances of the actors on stage.

But this production is, of course, all about Topol. In the role that made him a star, he never disappoints at over seventy years old. Every movement on stage is clearly coming from decades of portraying this father having to deal with his forward-thinking daughters. His voice, deep and precise, gives the character of Tevye a level of depth that is required for the role-especially when he has to hold firmly to his belief when he disowns his daughter Chava (Deborah Grausman) for marrying outside the faith.

But to say that it is only about Topol would be a mistake. Like a professional actor, he takes from what the newer actors give, thus giving it a fresh approach to the role. Cella as his wife of 25 years, matches Topol in scope as does the rest of the fine cast that makes up this touring production. This is almost necessary for a musical that’s been around for some time now. It not only entertains with memorable songs (music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “If I Were a Rich Man;” but Joseph Stein’s book also digs deep into our own lives, whether we are Jewish or not, for the musical delves into the commonalities of all human beings: acceptance, change, family traditions, and sacrifice.

Hair at The Chance Theater

From the moment the young, energetic and handsome cast of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is done with the opening number “Aquarius,” at the Chance Theatre, the infectious tribal beats of Galt MacDermot’s score has firmly rooted the direction of this sleek and timely revival of the very first rock musical.

It’s been 41 years since the original Broadway cast staged their now infamous and much talked about nude “Be-In,” and while at the time, its controversy was basis for censorship, its deeper message of (as stated by director Oanh Nguyen) “pride, loyalty and subversive nature that are inherently a part of the American spirit” remains as relevant today as it was back then.

For Nguyen, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War is a part of history very personal to him. The Vietnamese-American director came to the U.S. as part of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 and for that reason, the production of Hair relies less on nostalgia and, instead, focuses on “who these young people were and what they were so passionately fighting for.”

While firmly rooted in the flower power era of the volatile and changing era of the late 1960s, under the very capable direction of Nguyen, the whole design, starting with Erika C. Miller’s costumes that cleverly mixes some modern and vintage costumes, yet retaining an overall feel for the 60s; Christopher Scott Murillo’s New York gritty street scene; and KC Wilkerson’s psychedelic lighting design all work seamlessly to achieve the overall feel of a fresh, hip, and fun revival.

Hair’s almost bookless (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado) story revolves around a group of politically active hippies collectively known as The Tribe, led by the free spirited Berger (Armando Gutierrez).

Through a series of musical vignettes, a story unfolds in which Claude (James May), a member of the tribe, is torn between burning his draft card in protest of the war or actually going off to fight for his country.

In the meantime, Sheila (Michaelia Leigh), a student at NYU is in love with Berger and Jeanie (Jeanie), is in love with Claude, but carrying someone else’s baby.

Woolf (Cody Clark), self-proclaimed gardener, is hung up on Sheila and Berger. As a group, they aimlessly haunt New York’s Central Park and other areas staging Be-Ins, taking illegal substances, protesting the war, and pay satiric tributes to the American Flag.

As a whole, the strength of this musical is in the catchy and diverse musical styles that sample a wide range of musical genres ranging from folk rock, rockabilly, rock and roll, R&B, acid rock, and pop music.

The cast of this production is so versatile and talented-vocally and kinetically, that they are able to fluidly weave in and out of the musical numbers revealing an almost awe-inspiring feat of choreography under Kelly Todd’s supervision.

Notable in this production is David LaMarr as the militant African-American Hud. He was last seen along with Gutierrez in the Chance’s production of The Girl, The Grouch, and the Goat, where he demonstrated his comedic timing. Here, LaMarr shines with attitude and full vocal cords (he wears two hats in this production as Vocal Captain, too.)

Gutierrez shows that he can be versatile, going from shy and awkward in Goat to sexually charismatic in this production. Leigh Louise Kato, Amber J. Snead, and Jenna Romano head a strong female cast as various members of the Tribe and other characters.

Hair just won a Tony for the Broadway revival earlier this year. It’s just one of those shows that, when done properly, it is a definite crowd pleaser. If there is to be any fault in this production, it is that the space is too small to contain such a burst of energy and celebration.

Luckily, The Chance sees no limitations and carries on their mission of “exploration of intimate live theatre.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Neighborhood Playhouse

It’s time to revisit that infamous dysfunctional Pollitt family once again, in what is a rare treat for South Bay theatre goers.

If you’re not familiar with the family name, then perhaps you’ll remember them best by their first names: Brick, Maggie (aka the Cat), Gooper, Mae, and of course, Big Daddy and Big Mama.

That’s right, Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize Winner, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is getting a Los Angeles Revival by way of the Neighborhood Playhouse.

To be sure, Williams tends to take melodrama to a higher art by infusing high doses of reality to his characters-a fine line that requires a deep understanding of the different layers that textures each of the characters in the play.

For that reason, it is quite easy for a director to skim the surface and produce a flat production of this then-scandalous play about sexuality, repression, and the lies that surround this wealthy southern family.

In this Neighborhood Playhouse production, director Brady Schwind has assembled an attractive, if miscast, group of actors to fill some very big shoes. That’s not to say that the production is not a worthy effort.

Andrew Vonderschmitt (Scenic Design) and Christopher Singleton (Lighting Design) create the perfect stage for these characters to play out their drama. The set consists of a plantation-style sitting room and bed that evokes the decaying southern wealth complete with exposed walls. The lighting in the room hot while the storm brewing outside is cool and explosive.

Williams used the three-act structure to its fullest in this play to bring out the titular character’s feistiness. Maggie (Kathleen Early) sets up the premise of the play in what is almost a non-stop monologue that extends through the whole of Act One, with Brick (Aaron Blake) giving only blank reactions and offering very little else other than hobbling over to the liquor cabinet.

Early has the enormous task of not only setting up, but also revealing Maggie’s motives, desires, and frustrations. Unfortunately, what should be revealing in subtext only comes off flatly and one dimensional in her hands. Blake does little to help.

While Brick’s indifference to Maggie should tell a lot about their relationship, Blake only looks bored.

The production hints at what it can really be once Big Daddy (Michael Prohaska) makes his boisterous entrance and dominates all of Act Two. More grounded on the nuances of the character, Prohaska is able to create a more fully fleshed out Big Daddy and the rest of the cast falls into place.

Nadya Starr as Big Mama flits about despite her husband’s admonition of hatred for her. Gooper (Mark A. Cross) and Mae (Jennifer L. Davis) and their band of “no-necked monsters” provide the comedic relief needed for such a heavy handed drama unfolding on Big Daddy’s birthday celebration.

For the most part, Maggie remains in the background through this Act but returns with full gale force in the Third Act, but as stated earlier, Early hasn’t fully commanded the stage as Maggie the Cat. Once all pretenses in this family have been stripped away, we’re left with a hollow family portrait.

Little Shop of Horrors at Musical Theatre West

That lovable mean green man-eating plant that reigned supreme in one of the longest and most popular crowd-pleasing Off Broadway musical has landed in Long Beach in a sleek, off beat, and thoroughly entertaining production since the revival touring company hit Los Angeles just a few years back directly from Broadway.

That Musical Theatre West’s production of Little Shop of Horrors closely resembles that production is not an accident and it is not necessarily a liability.

Sets, costumes, and the puppets are modeled after that successful run and Michael A. Shepperd, also Artistic Director of Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles, reprises his 2003 Broadway role as the voice of Audrey II.

Martin P. Robinson’s original 1982 Audrey II designs (this time by way of the Jim Henson Creature shop) are also featured with no less than four incarnations of the blood-thirsty creature from outer space.

A down and out florist’s assistant, Seymour Krelborn (Danny Gurwin) suddenly finds success, fame, and the girl when he discovers an exotic plant that turns out to be a little more than he bargained for. As with any story of sudden fame and success-it comes with a high price and for Seymour it comes in the form of this blood sucking plant that demands fresh meat in order to thrive.

Prominently displayed at Mr. Muschnik’s (Stuart Pankin) skid row flower shop, Seymour garners not only attention from everyone, but also from his co-worker, Audrey (Lowe Taylor) who’s taste in men includes a masochistic rebel motorcycle dentist (Peter Paige).

The opening number (“Little Shop of Horrors”), as sung by a Greek Chorus of three street urchins (Meloney Collins, Frederika Meek, and Kamilah Marshall) with names from 1950s girl groups is the weakest element in the show with a stiff choreographed number (choregraphy by DJ Gray).

However, by the next number (“Skid Row/Downtown”), they recover completely and maintain a strong hold through the end. Gurwin is ideal as the loveable but nerdy Seymour, with a robust voice and Taylor absolutely steals the show with the signature musical number, “Somewhere That’s Green.”

Queer as Folk veteran, Peter Paige is also hilarious as the demented Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS and various other characters.

As a whole, the cast is magnificent in Howard Ashman (lyrics) and Alan Menken’s (music) 50’s R&B, do-wop score of a horror spoof. Director (and Associate Artistic Director of MTW) Steven Glaudini’s fun pacing keeps the show moving along to the music while the colorful sets and costumes from the original Broadway revival production enhance the experience to bring a truly enjoyable musical back to the Los Angeles area.

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