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Natalie Portman, the Musical and Other New Theater Reviews

Tara Pitt as Natalie Portman
Tara Pitt as Natalie Portman
James Esposito

Lots of movie adaptations this week in the theater reviews, as our critics enjoyed new local versions of the Broadway musicals The Full Monty and Xanadu, along with the L.A. version of the Off-Broadway, Silence of the Lambs-skewering Silence! The Musical. We also liked, believe it or not, a show called Natalie Portman, the Musical.

In this week's theater feature, we look at The Year of Magical Thinking, the stage adaptation of Joan Didion's memoir, presented by Bright Eyes Productions at Elephant Theatre.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 13, 2012

Jennifer Chang and Amy Ellenberger, Chalk Rep Founders, Performing in Lina Patel's FLASH Festival Play Belief
Jennifer Chang and Amy Ellenberger, Chalk Rep Founders, Performing in Lina Patel's FLASH Festival Play Belief
courtesy of Chalk Rep

FLASH FESTIVAL 2012: WEEK 1 PLAYS Site-specific specialists Chalk Rep touch down at the Page Museum for this year's festival of commissioned playlets, written over the summer but rehearsed only last week. The best of Week 1 were the pieces that incorporated not only the Page's paleontological exhibits into their texts but also the museum's actual site dynamics — i.e., a public space filled with people. Thus Steve Yockey's "Skulls" (directed by Abigail Deser) hit comic paydirt with Andrew Crabtree and Katie Skelton as best friends who meet on the neutral turf of a crowded museum for an inappropriately intimate discussion of their previous evening of sexual indiscretion. Channing Sargent also scored as a scarily convincing, confrontational Occupy protester in a curtain-raiser for Joe Luis Cedillo's agitprop police-riot piece "The Party" (directed by Jeff Wienckowski). Lina Patel's "Belief," Dorothy Fortenberry's "Social Animals" and Ruth McKee's "Evolution" rounded out the evening with uneven attempts to situate contemporary Angelenos in the Page's natural-history master narrative. Page Museum, 5801 Wilshire Blvd.; Week 2 plays Sept. 15 & 16, 8 p.m.; Week 3 plays Sept. 22 & 23, 8 p.m.; through Sept. 23. (323) 934-7243, chalkrep.com or tarpits.org. (Bill Raden)

Ryan O'Connor, Morgan Reynolds and Will Collyer in The Full Monty
Ryan O'Connor, Morgan Reynolds and Will Collyer in The Full Monty
Richard Hellstern

GO THE FULL MONTY This crowd-pleasing musical, with book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek, and the 1997 movie on which it's based, pull off a seemingly impossible feat Ñ making a sweet, heartwarming, nonthreatening show about a band of male strippers. In Buffalo, N.Y., steel worker Jerry (Will Collyer) and his co-workers have been laid off, and their egos and wallets are suffering. Fighting for custody of his son (Owen Teague), and inspired by the success of a professional male stripper (Todd Stroik), Jerry enlists his friends (Ryan O'Connor, Justin Michael Wilcox, Morgan Reynolds, Chip Phillips and Harrison White) to join him in creating a strip show in a local club. To outdo the Chippendales, they promise to deliver "the full Monty" — total nudity. Inevitably, this small-theater rendition isn't as slick as the Broadway version, but director Richard Israel provides enough ingenuity and humanity to make it work on its own terms. John Todd provides the inventive and athletic choreography, and Johanna Kent supplies crisp, energetic musical direction. There are terrific performances by Collyer, O'Connor, Reynolds, White, Wilcox, Wendy Rosoff, and Jan Sheldrick, as a tough, show-business broad who comes out of retirement to serve as the strip show's accompanist. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 14. (888) 718-4253, showclix.com. (Neal Weaver)

Love Struck
Love Struck

LOVE STRUCK Odalys Nanin's vanity play, a short two-hander that she wrote, produced, directed and stars in opposite Tricia Cruz, strives for the pinnacle of situation comedy and never makes it to base camp. Abysmal imitations of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo throughout (not just when they are "playing" the famous TV duo while rehearsing a comedy sketch) had us wondering why Nanin didn't just call her play I Love Latinas. Nanin desperately needs a director's vision (and acting lessons) to coax these unfocused, undeveloped scenes into a shape that somehow resembles a play. Blurry, nondescript news footage (Is it of the Vietnam War? Oh, it's the L.A. riots!) briefly opens the show before the two buxom women run onstage in their bras. Randomly jumping from dialogue to self-conscious soliloquies to a reality-TV video moment to flashbacks Ñ complete with a clichŽd harp sound effect — Nanin charts the rocky road of her three-year romance with a fellow struggling actress. L.A. lesbians deserve better than this. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 23. (323) 654-0680, machatheatre.org. (Pauline Adamek) 

PICK OF THE WEEK: SILENCE! THE MUSICAL

In the daft and campy Silence! The Musical, based on beloved Grand Guignol horror film The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter doesn't just eat a liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti: He also sings in a lovely baritone. This droll retelling of the film — book by Hunter Bell, music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan — is clearly targeted at fans of the movie, and the material assumes a certain amount of familiarity with the original work. However, within that context, director Christopher Gattelli dishes up some brilliant stagecraft.

Opening with a band of singing and narrating chorines in lamb costumes, the play follows the same narrative trajectory of the film, but with surprisingly ambitious, yet ghoulish, production numbers meshing a South Park sensibility with crisp choreography, cheerful (though not particularly memorable) music and smirking irony.

Although the work is straightforward, the Carol Burnett Show-style parody tends to wear thin after about an hour and a half. Still, it's hard not to find the overall quirkiness irresistible.

As FBI Agent Clarice Starling, Christina Lakin does a perfect deadpan imitation of Jodie Foster — but the true standout is Davis Gaines' dead-on, leeringly charismatic turn as the amusingly menacing, cannibalistic killer. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.;Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (866) 811-411, silencethemusical.com (Paul Birchall)

Left to right: Brittany Garms, Adarius Smith, Tara Pitt, Lindsay Nesmith, Gwendolyn Bueker in Natalie Portman, the Musical
Left to right: Brittany Garms, Adarius Smith, Tara Pitt, Lindsay Nesmith, Gwendolyn Bueker in Natalie Portman, the Musical
James Esposito

GO NATALIE PORTMAN, THE MUSICAL "Why," one might ask, "do a musical about Natalie Portman?" There are no answers offered during this 90-minute romp, other than an occasion for fun, laughs and amiable skewering. Writer-director Brittany Garms and a cast of talented comedians take their audience on a humorous sojourn through the life and career of Portman, played by Tara Pitt. Starting with a chance encounter in New York with an agent, the book surveys Portman's life via sketch vignettes, a batch of auditions, musicals, movies (both flops and hits) and a few personal tidbits, with due attention and comedic zing devoted to her Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan. There are no sacred cows here: political correctness, Tinseltown angst, persnickety actors and directors, ethnic sensitivity and even Sesame Street get hammered, the latter featuring some nifty puppetry by Adarius Smith and Ali Axelrad. And who better to narrate these proceedings but Mr. Samuel L. Jackson (Malik Aziz) in Ÿber-cool mode, who spices things up intermittently with badass attitude and commentary. Frankie Marrone and Pitt provide appropriately outrageous music and lyrics, augmented by Kristina Marquez's zany choreography. Rounding out the cast are Sam Marra, Lindsay Nesmith and Gwen Bueker. Chromolume Theatre at the Attic Theatre & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 30. (323) 510-2688, crtheatre.com/natport.html. (Lovell Estell III)

Left to right: Jonathan Bray, Wes Bernstein and Lizzie Peet in Nothing Is Different...
Left to right: Jonathan Bray, Wes Bernstein and Lizzie Peet in Nothing Is Different...
Sean Biggins

GO NOTHING IS DIFFERENT BUT EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED Though the characters who come alive in this collection of one-acts aren't particularly unique — a hairdresser who flatters her clients for tips, a child prodigy who wants to be a postal worker, a single woman seeking a nonexistent Mr. Perfect — writer Dean Donofrio gives them enough pluck and substance to be entertaining. The cast is solid across the board and standout ensemble member Rebecca Lumianski ups the entertainment value every moment she's onstage, appearing first as an annoying neighbor with verbal diarrhea and no boundaries in "A Line Is Drawn at Ruby Tuesday" and later as a reality-show host whose moral compass is broken beyond repair in "Underage Overachiever." Don't expect complex dramaturgy, but do expect some solid laughs and keen insights into the destructive nature of unchecked ambition. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Sept. 16. (310) 922-0581. (Amy Lyons)

Selah Victor (left) and Carrie Madsen in The World Goes 'Round
Selah Victor (left) and Carrie Madsen in The World Goes 'Round
Lindsay Schnebly

GO THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND Director Robert Marra's inventive staging lends shape and gravitas to this musical revue, which showcases the songs of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. The set is an urban coffeehouse (designer Andy Hammer's cozy take on Starbucks) where regular patrons indulge their caffeine and sweet-tooth kicks. Out on the sidewalk a homeless woman (Gina D'Acciaro) lingers, crooning the title number, which speaks to the wayward ways of fate. Marra employs choreography and costumes (Vicki Conrad's enlivening retro designs) to create characters and stories that give the lyrics heft. The show's high point comes at the end of Act I when D'Acciaro, doubling as a charismatic celebrity, sings "How Lucky Can You Get," then strips to reveal the penniless panhandler beneath the Hollywood garb. A plethora of melodies are about unrequited love or nostalgic regret; we prefer the snappier numbers: "Arthur in the Afternoon," in which a philandering housewife (Selah Victor) pays tribute to her mood-lifting lover, and "The Grass Is Always Greener," Ebb's witty rumination (sung by Victor and Carrie Madsen) on people's perverse inclination to envy. The costumes and set are a bit at odds, and the vocals are fine, if not especially striking. It's the storytelling concept that's the star. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Oct. 14. (323) 462-8460, actorsco-op.org. (Deborah Klugman)

Xanadu
Xanadu
Michael Lamont

GO XANADU Playwright Douglas Carter Beane's Tony-nominated revamp of Xanadu, based on a piece of 1980s drek starring Olivia Newton-John as Clio, the ancient Greek Muse of history, transported to a Venice, Calif., roller disco — a movie so terrible it reportedly motivated creation of the Razzie Awards — simultaneously parodies not only its deplorable source material but also all those thin jukebox musicals on Broadway, wisely copping to its own ridiculousness with an abundance of over-the-top charm. If the musical's book indulges in a few tired if-only-someone-would-one-day-invent-cellphones style jokes, it also affords this season's best use of a singing Cyclops. But first Clio (Lovlee Carroll), or Kira as she is known to Earthlings, must slap on a pair of legwarmers and roller skate down from the heavens in order to perk up the spirits of marginally talented street artist Sonny Malone (Matt O'Neill). Pitch-perfect in her comedic timing, Carroll also possesses a heck of a voice, while O'Neill adroitly channels the dim-witted straight man, even if it's a performance that comes across a bit too reminiscent of vintage Keanu Reeves. The rest of the cast, and in particular a couple of additional scheming muses created for the musical, provide ebullient backup, while Michael Mullen's divinely period costumes contribute immeasurably to the mood. Doma Theatre Company at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (323) 957-1152, plays411.com or themettheatre.com. (Mindy Farabee)

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