Theater Reviews: Cinderella, Schmutzigen Deutsche Kabarett 

Also, Sweet Mama String Bean and more

Thursday, Dec 2 2010

GO  CINDERELLA This very amusing romp transplants English music hall and holiday pantomime into the heart of Hollywood, following British tradition but bending it to make fun of local folk. Directed with perfect overstatement by Bonnie Lythgoe, Kris Lythgoe's thin, thin script provides just enough story to support a constant flow of gags, dances and familiar pop tunes to fill two hours with frothy entertainment. Leading the way are Eddie Driscoll and Mark Edgar Stephens as ugly stepsisters Cowell and Seecrest (just one of many jokes mocking American Idol), whose hilariously grotesque drag and bawdy humor play to both adult and childlike senses. Top singing honors go to Jennifer Leigh Warren, whose Fairy Godmother croons a ringing rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Gorgeous Prince Charming (Harry Potter's Freddie Stroma) and lovely Cinderella (Veronica Dunn) are perfect foils for a cast of crazy characters, including comic Benny Harris as Cinder's best pal, who also guides the audience through the journey. Young, enthusiastic dancers move well through choreographer Mark Ballas' contemporary ballets. Magic, animals (real and pretend) and buckets of spectacle help make this family fare a great treat for the season. Lythgoe Family Productions at El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., Sat., 11 a.m., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 508-0281. (Tom Provenzano)

COLD LANG SYNE With its vexingly mundane chitchat, the first act of Gregory Blair's patchy whodunit scuppers what could have been a strong play. Men who are old friends and their dates/spouses gather at a cabin (Mike Jespersen's impressive mock-up) for a New Year's Eve bash hosted by Trevor (Douglas Myers) and his wife, Aggy (Holly Montgomery-Webb). Present are Perry and Leanne (Mikhail Blokh and Sandra Purpuro), a detective named Garth (Les Brandt) and his lover, Denny (Dwight Turner), and Mark and Helen (Michael Harris, Bobbi Berkmen). The play doesn't show a pulse until the stroke of midnight, when one of the characters suddenly keels over. Most of Act 2 takes a fairly predictable turn, with Garth assuming the lead role in the hunt for the murderer. Unfortunately, the process, which sometimes borders on the ludicrous, doesn't offer much in the way of suspense. Blair somewhat redeems his play with the run-up to a truly unexpected plot twist at the end, but it's still too little, too late. Douglas Green directs. Ipso Facto Theatricals and Pix/See Productions at the Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., Fri., Dec., 31, 7 p.m. (no perf Dec. 24); thru Jan. 2. (323) 960-4412. (Lovell Estell III)

LAUGHING WITH MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN Dressed in a kimono, Gwendoline Yeo takes the stage for her one-woman show quietly, head bowed. In a halting voice fringed with a lilting accent, she recounts the harrowing tale of stealing across the ocean from Singapore to San Francisco with her family. Then, with a swoop of her arm, Yeo knocks down the assumptions and sympathies you've formed in those three minutes, and proceeds with the story of her life as her family's black sheep. The blessing and curse here is that her struggles of having teen angst so different from the American variety, and yet so similar, are the most intriguing plotlines in her piece. When she takes off on tangents (the club scene, the creepy relationship with her professor) that have either no or unsatisfactory conclusions, the show loses steam; likewise, although she's adept at the multitude of accents she mimics, there are moments of linguistic indulgence that act as speed bumps. Still, Yeo's a vivacious performer, especially when playing her Chinese long zither, and a self-aware writer — little touches like a Hello Kitty backpack, the high school Asian-American "popular girl" blaring Notorious B.I.G., and her aunt's emphasis on a prize of jade earrings all gently rib both the stereotype and the culture on which it's based. With squares of canvas hung around the stage onto which images are projected, the economical scenic and lighting designs (by Adam Flemming and Leigh Allen, respectively) are complementary to each other as well as to Yeo's script. Mark St. Amant directs. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AMANDA MARQUARDT - Schmutzigen Deutsche Kabarett
  • Schmutzigen Deutsche Kabarett

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GO  NEXT TO NORMAL Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Tony Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning family tragedy is that rarity of rarities: a Broadway show that's as good as its hype. One might walk into the theater expecting to see a Mental Illness of the Week family tearjerker, but what one gets is a richly wise and searing musical about madness and sorrow, rage and forgiveness. The show's opening ferocious quartet, "Just Another Day," presents a family in deep emotional rot. Diana (original Broadway cast member Alice Ripley, reprising her towering turn) is clearly mentally ill, and haunted — but Diana's enabling, desperately bewildered husband, Dan (Asa Somers), is unraveling just as fast. Meanwhile, their unhappy, emotionally neglected daughter, Natalie (Emma Hunton), drifts into drugs and depression. Director Michael Greif's staging is fierce and dynamic: One might expect a story on these themes to be heavy and dreary, but the production crackles with energy and intensity. Scenic designer Mark Wendland's surreal, three-level, cagelike set at first seems an odd fit for this family tale, but the way the characters romp all over the structure elegantly illustrates the madness in Diana's mind. Kitt and Yorkey's score may consist of memorable, fin-de-millennium rock numbers, but the music also engenders heightened realism with operatic grandeur. We're particularly lucky for the opportunity to see Ripley's reprise of her original Diana — her ferocious renditions of "I Miss the Mountains" and "You Don't Know" are likely to be the decade's most memorable show tunes. Also compelling are Curt Hansen's sweet, oddly disturbing Gabe and Hunton's vulnerable and self-damaging Natalie. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 and 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (213) 972-4400. (Paul Birchall)

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