By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
GO BABES IN TOYLAND While visions of nutcrackers and Victorian misers dance through the Yuletide entertainment listings, this production offers a delightful alternative. Forty kids, age 9 to 19, romp through Alice Hammerstein Mathias and William Mount-Burke’s contemporary version of Victor Herbert’s operetta Babes in Toyland. But this is no kiddie pageant designed for parents to gush at their children onstage; rather, it is a polished exhibit of remarkable young performers. Director-choreographer Devon Yates, founder of Theatre 360 (a serious training ground for young performers), demands precision, timing and stage presence from her charges. Musical director Ryan Cantwell and his small orchestra provide excellent accompaniment. Highly impressive are some of the older students, particularly Samuel Lopez, who shines via his bizarre physicality and fine vocal work, as the play’s villain, Pete Pinkerton. Perhaps the finest moments comes with a pair of brand-new “toys” in the shape of ballet dancers Alex Hurren and Maxine Hillman, whose pas de deux give hope to the future of American dance. Scores of costumes are meticulously created by Erin Augustine, keeping the production values as strong as those afforded by host Pasadena Playhouse’s lighting and sound. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (626) 356-7529. Theatre 360 and Pasadena Playhouse. (Tom Provenzan)
GO HOLIDAY FEVER Eight singing, dancing, clowning performers cavort and strut their stuff against a lavish background of silver lamé, snowflakes and glittery blue Christmas trees in this fourth annual rendition of this holiday show. In 90 minutes, they cram every (secular) Christmas song you’ve ever heard, from “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Rubenesque Missy Doty, in gold sequins, seems to be channeling the Last of the Red Hot Mamas in her rendition of “Santa Baby,” and she’s a bubbly, bouncy Sugar Plum Fairy. Producer-lyricist Chris Emerson and director-choreographer Dagney Kerr turn “Greensleeves” into a loony mock-medieval romance, while Anthony Marciona cuts loose in several numbers, including a peppy “Feliz Navidad.” Emerson and Sean Owens perform an eccentric dance with rolling suitcases to “My Favorite Things,” Holly Riddle, as a rejected office drunk croons a defiant “I Won’t Let Sorrow Bring Me Down,” and spandex-clad Nathan Lee and Michael C. Palma make up a goofy dance team. But the evening’s highlight is a hilarious version of “A Chorus Line,” as performed by eight not-so-tiny reindeer auditioning for Santa Claus. Gary Guidinger’s glitzy sets and lighting and Anna Quirino Miranda’s witty costumes add to the festivity. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through December 20. (323) 960-1052 or www.plays411.com/holidayfever. A joint production by Fever Productions and Fire Rose Productions. (Neal Weaver)
GO IT’S JUST SEX Jeff Gould’s comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner’s pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust, which permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity and some very good timing. Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Toluca Lake; Fri-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through February 1. (818) 762-2282. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
GO THE LIFE You can hear the jazzy gospel-laced echoes of Chicago and Cabaret in Cy Coleman’s score for The Life (book and lyrics also by David Newman and Ira Gasman), being given its L.A. premiere. Joe Greene directs a buffed production (with an excellent onstage band) featuring some great voices, which occasionally slip out of key. Paul Romero’s flashy, Fosse-like choreography has the 18-member ensemble swaying and twitching like an organism. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through December 21. jaxxtheatricals.com. A Jaxx Theatricals production. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST Shakespeare’s comedy of courtship is a romance that ends almost tragically, suggesting an early theatrical cliffhanger, one that might have been resolved in a supposed lost second play, Love’s Labour’s Found. Director Charles Pasternak’s mostly workmanlike production boasts an obvious and keenly felt affection for Shakespeare. Yet, we’re frequently unable to escape the sense that the performers are having more fun discovering the Bard’s work than the audience is having watching it, as Pasternak’s staging lacks a rigorous understanding of the text’s subtleties. In the kingdom of Navarre, young King Ferdinand (Eddie Castuera) dedicates himself to a life of asceticism, convincing his best buddies to join him in a three-year vow of chastity. No sooner is the promise made than a sultry French princess (Samantha Stinger) arrives for a visit, accompanied by her trio of luscious best pals. It’s not long before the boys’ chastity vows have gone the way of a political-campaign promise — off like a prom dress. Meanwhile, daffy visiting Spaniard Armando (Gus Krieger), assisted by his uptight manservant, Moth (Dan Sykes), woos sexy beauty Jaquenetta (Maja Miletich). The show is full of awkward arm-waving, pedestrian line readings, and the loud fake laughing that often suggests actors who are unsure of the play’s innate comedy. In the end, the charming Wooster-and-Jeeves-like interplay between Krieger’s beautifully goofy Armando and Sykes’ prim Moth — and the hilarious play-within-a-play that makes up the comedy’s finale — effectively upstage the show’s less successfully realized “main” subplot and save the day. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; through December 28. (310) 497-2884. A Porters of Hellgate Production. (Paul Birchall)