Theater Reviews: Altar Boyz, the Apple Tree, Chariot, Sprung: A Love Story | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Theater Reviews: Altar Boyz, the Apple Tree, Chariot, Sprung: A Love Story 

Also, Stop Kiss, Billie and Bogie, God Box and more.

Wednesday, Jul 22 2009

For those older than 15, boy bands have long been fodder for easy ridicule — stir in Christian rock and malicious burlesque becomes ripe for the picking. But in this outing by playwright Kevin Del Aguila, with songwriters Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, derision is superseded by affection. The book is so sweet and the lyrics so gentle that the show lacks a satisfying satirical bite. But the good news is in the performances. Jesse Bradley, Clifford Bañagale, Jake Wesley Stewart, Robert Acinapura and Kelly Rice blend their disparate personalities, boyish charms and harmonic voices to create an ensemble that could easily play it straight for the right audiences. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan takes great advantage of the boys’ uniform physical agility and athleticism, creating song-and-dance numbers far more entertaining than the overdone Catholic jokes. Musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten and his band (Adam Halitzka, Nick Perez and Carson Schutze) are totally in synch, keeping the show bouncy and charming for 90 minutes. Michael Mullen’s too-precious rock costumes are terrific and amusing. Only the imminent threat of forced audience participation slightly dulls the luster. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 23. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)

In a series of three one-act musicals by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the duo who brought us Fiddler on the Roof), this 1966 piece thematically explores whether getting what you want leads to wanting what you get. However, unlike the original Broadway version, this production features three (mostly) separate casts and directors. The opener, “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” a wry take on the familiar Biblical tale adapted from the Mark Twain story, is followed by “The Lady or the Tiger?,” from Frank R. Stockton’s story of a king’s barbaric system of justice, and finally by “Passionella,” a Cinderella-style story about a chimney sweep who dreams of being a movie star. In the first act, Gary Lamb’s direction and choreography are unspectacular, and the energy of the piece, including the musical direction’s pacing, is lacking. In the second, director William A. Reilly’s pacing is similarly uneven, as is the level of camp required to sell the material, though Kit Paquin as Princess Barbara really sells “I’ve Got What You Want.” The final act is the evening’s highlight, as Matthew J. Williamson’s direction features cleverly minimalist set pieces, unique staging, quick costume changes, and the right amount of shtick to bring the material to life. Stephanie Fredericks also shines as Ella/Passionella, with her strong vocals, comic flair and timing. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through August 9. (818) 745-8527. (Mayank Keshaviah)

Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart had enough superficiality in common to make them an apt pair for a show about the psyche of two hard-drinking, hard-living New Yorkers. They became icons while still feeling they had something to prove — Holiday to the bigoted, and Bogart to audiences who underestimated and then overestimated his acting ability. This is a fine show, but it isn’t the show I’ve just described. Instead, director Bryan Rasmussen presents Bogie (Dan Spector) and Lady Day (Synthia L. Hardy) as legends gracing us with a few dark anecdotes about their roots. Spector and Hardy are sincere in their affections for these imposing pop figures, but there’s a whiff of Wikipedia to their character profiles — their monologues are arranged chronologically, not thematically, chugging along at the highs and lows of lives about to be cut short while guzzling (but not feeling) enough booze to tranquilize a tiger. With a running time of nearly three hours, by the end, we should know Bogie and Billie better than we do. Instead we walk about with the warm melancholy of sharing a drink with a fascinating stranger we’ll never meet again. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 22. (818) 990-2324. (Amy Nicholson)

click to flip through (6) COURTESY OF NOT MAN APART PRODUCTIONS - Pericles Redux
  • Courtesy of Not Man Apart Productions
  • Pericles Redux

It is 1987 and the Hills are the only black family in a tidy but sterile suburb of the San Fernando Valley. In a too-successful attempt at assimilation, the family members have repressed nearly every emotional and spiritual problem that comes their way. In Steven Lee’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink melodrama, Grandmother (Gayle La Rone) arrives from the South in her chariot (an expensive sports car) to spread her wealth and shake the family loose from its self-loathing and hypocrisy. Lee’s script gives each of the generally solid actors enormous scene-chewing speeches, and director Cary Thompson encourages high-powered performances, which never let up and, unfortunately, too often turn to screaming matches and chest-pounding. Lee’s exhaustive list of dramatic issues centers on homosexuality, psychosis, religious rejection, alcoholism and violence. Near the end we wonder why he left out incest — oh, never mind we get to that, too. Thomas (TJ) Walker provides an array of terrific costumes, which offer the visual cues not found in the simple set pieces that create the modest suburban home. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through September 2. (323) 960-7788. (Tom Provenzano)

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