Copenhagen, Langston and Nicolas, Tempodyssey, The Women of Brewster Place | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Copenhagen, Langston and Nicolas, Tempodyssey, The Women of Brewster Place 

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Thursday, Apr 29 2010

CHICAGO Though the original 1975 production didn't fare as well as its Tony Award–winning 1996 revival (which is still running on Broadway), the popularity of this story of female criminals in Prohibition-era Chicago is a testament to Bob Fosse's original choreography, and musical-theater stalwarts composer Jon Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. Roxie (Michelle T. Williams, formerly of Destiny's Child) and Velma (Terra C. MacLeod) are arrested for murder and sent to Cook County Jail, where Matron "Mama" Morton (Carol Woods) not only shows them how to survive but also serves as promoter for Velma's vaudeville career. Velma, however, becomes jealous of Roxie when she is defended by slick-as-oil lawyer Billy Flynn (a charismatic Brent Barrett) and gains her own notoriety in the press, including through sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine (R. Lowe). The real victim of all this attention-whoring (besides the dead bodies, of course) is Roxie's schlubby but lovable husband, Amos (Tom Riis Farrell). Director Scott Faris and choreographer Gary Chryst re-create the 1996 revival, but in terms of energy and pizzazz, this iteration doesn't quite duplicate the work of their Tony Award–winning predecessors. The show is nonetheless entertaining, with highlights that include the vocal acrobatics of Woods and Lowe; the impressive feather dance in "All I Care About"; the ventriloquist act in "We Both Reached for the Gun," which also showcases Barrett's voice; and Farrell's undeniable charm and understated humor throughout. MacLeod shines as Velma, bold in her moves, mannerisms and sultry sensuality. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 9. (800) 982-2787, A Nederlander Production (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO  COPENHAGEN Though playwright Michael Frayn's virtues as a historian have been hotly debated in the decade since his speculative historical whodunit played on Broadway, no one can deny his instincts as a crack storyteller. After all, dramatic stakes don't come higher than moral responsibility for the development of the atomic bomb. Frayn's thesis is that the Allies' mistaken belief that the Nazis were actively engaged in a bomb program — a conviction that culminated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki — can be traced to a fateful 1941 meeting in occupied Copenhagen between German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Skip Pipo), author of the uncertainty principle and head of the Nazi uranium program, and his former mentor, Dutch theoretical physicist Niels Bohr (David Ross Paterson), the father of quantum mechanics and contributor to the Manhattan Project. The circumstances of that meeting, and the conflicting memories of exactly what was said or was understood by the two principals, are argued and reenacted from the perspective of some otherworldly realm. Bohr's wife, Margrethe (Sarah Lilly), who was present but out of earshot of the disputed conversation, serves as a kind of prosecuting catalyst to the action. The good news is that the intimacy of director August Viverito's pared parlor staging (Viverito is also credited for production design) does away with the ostentatious redundancy of the Broadway production's grand tribunal set; this allows the play's human dimensions — and riveting, nuanced performances by a terrific ensemble — to take center stage. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 29. (818) 786-1045. A Production Company production (Bill Raden)

GO  LANGSTON AND NICOLAS It was 1930 When Langston Hughes met Cuba's Poet Laureate–to–be Nicolas Guillen, and the two young writers — both born with the turn of that century — were burning with ambition and the awareness that their mulatto skin was their fuel. Though Harlem's darling and a martyr's son shared the same color and considered themselves soul mates, over the next 37 years, different pressures splintered their brotherhood during the Spanish Revolution and proved an unbridgeable gulf during the '60s, when Hughes was persecuted in McCarthy's courtroom and Guillen was celebrated in Castro's revolution. At stake is the power of poetry — and the duty of the poet to back up his words. Bernardo Solano and Nancy Cheryll Davis' lyrical, decades-spanning play is one-part plot, one-part playtime, with frequent dips into dance, music and recitation. The enthusiastic 17-person ensemble fills the stage, as charismatic leads Justin Alston and Chris Rivas, and later the stately Brian Evert Chandler and Armando Ortega, hit the big points on the time line. Though it's plenty smart, the political charge is dissipated by intimations that the artists were more then friends — or at least hoped to be. It's a pointless distraction, albeit one that comes with Ana Maria Lagasca and Maggie Palomo's charming turns as Guillen's jealous wife. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 2. (323) 465-4446. (Amy Nicholson)

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY So this guy walks into a Carny show. Everyone there is a kind of depressed because it's, well, the Depression — not just any Depression but the Great one. And the performers have landed here after a long slide down from Vaudeville. And the guy says, hey, you fellas are doing this all wrong. He spruces things up, has a little fling with little redheaded number whose act is to electrocute herself for paying customers, and before you know it, the freak-and-geek show is making money. Therein lies the premise, and promise, of Jonathan Brielle's new musical. At the Steve Allen Theater in 2008, a burly guy named Aye Jay told stories of tricks and cons from that very world in a show called Carny Trash; those cons were actually more riveting, because of the specificity of the deceptions: The ticket booth was so much higher than the customers stood, so they could see how much cash was is in the patron's wallet in order tag suckers for pickpocketing. The den of thieves. But Brielle won't leave it there. His interloper, Stan (James Barbour), abandons the carny show with his redhead, Molly (Sarah Glendening), to start a new racket as a faith healer. This way, he can fool old ladies into giving up their homes to his "church." Here, Molly has an ethics crisis (where none existed before), and the musical spirals into dramatic and thematic ambiguity. There's an early scene in which the card reader's husband (Larry Cedar — wonderful in three roles) dies from alcohol poisoning, a death for which Stan may or may not have been responsible. It was an "accident," he pleads to flummoxed Mary. Barbour is so big and earnest, with sentimental love songs such as "I Surrender" (utter nonsense, since the larger point is that he doesn't), I don't know if this is a study of his heart of darkness, or what. The fascinating themes of the divide between faith and church are handled so generically as to be stupendously uninvolving. John Arnone's intriguing set of platforms and curtains places little twinkly lights throughout the theater, and there are allusions to chicken heads being bitten off backstage. There's promise in that, at least. Carny Trash's Jay had a joke about interviewing a geek for that assignment, "You bite off seven chicken heads a week for all the wine you can handle." The applicant thought about it for a moment before replying, "So what's the catch?" That's the kind of edge this musical needs. That, and a clearer purpose. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through April 30. (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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