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)
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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)
GO SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT This latest, late-night creation from sardonic, surrealist director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so straightforward and simple in its concept and execution that it's a wonder no one thought of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical classic Cabaret, jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book, and stage the results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of simulated Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen" through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on such signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr." Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair of tuxedo briefs), with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance captain and co-choreographer) and Carmen Faulkner, as the trio strut their comic stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no book, what about the musical's politics — and what does that have to do with us? Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche Kabarett, political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High Chancellor," a hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica Patella in Hitler drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the Nazi march "Erika." ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Bill Raden)
SUMMER IN HELL "They're not nice people" is something of a refrain in playwright Miles Brandman's surface-skimming amorality tale of sex, drugs and privilege among the decadent idle rich of the Long Island shore. It is also an understatement, at least when applied to Brandman's iniquitous and narcissistic young protagonists, Milt (Tyler Jenich) and Pat (Amy K. Harmon). Dumped at the family's beach house for a week of surf and sun, the unchaperoned first cousins become bored with their routine of incest, sunbathing and backbiting. To liven things up, Milt lures over one of Pat's former conquests, the hunky working-class townie Nick (Dan Gordon), who has kept his distance from the disreputable pair since his engagement to priggish local heiress Barbara (Melissa Powell). No sooner does Nick jump at the bait than Milt arranges for Barbara to catch her fiancé and Pat in flagrante delicto. In the ensuing emotional fireworks, Milt relieves Barbara of her virtue along with her illusions regarding the putative moral superiority of both her and Nick. If this sounds like something out of Molière, Brandman plays it for anything but laughs or satire. Director David Jette turns in a polished production that includes Sarah Krainin's redwood sun-deck set and Ian Garrett's summer-swelter lights. And while a superb cast looks like they're having a field day — particularly the leering and insinuating Jenich — the play's lack of social or psychological insights limits its figurative reach to a cynical contempt for its own characters. Brimmer Street Theatre Company, Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (213) 290-2782, brimmerstreet.org. (Bill Raden)
GO SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN: A CELEBRATION OF BLUES WOMAN ETHEL WATERS The unwanted product of violence — her mother was raped at knifepoint when only 12 — Ethel Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia during the early 1900s. She ran with a rough street crowd and developed a hustler's sassy attitude. By the time she fled her own abusive marriage at just 14, she had a soulful singing voice that would draw attention at parties. Soon after, Waters was singing the blues onstage to appreciative crowds while living the rough life of touring on the black vaudeville circuit; eventually she became the highest-paid black recording star in the country, the first female black singer to be heard on radio and, later, the highest-paid female performer on Broadway. She brought the house down at New York's Cotton Club singing "Stormy Weather" and won a Grammy Award in 1933. Waters was the second black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her performance in Pinky (1949). ValLimar Jansen brings Waters' distinguished career to the stage with a fine jazz trio, accompanied by husband Frank Jansen on keyboards. Wearing glittering gowns and feathered headdresses, ValLimar wraps merry humor and an indomitable spirit around her engaging performance as she skips and shimmies her way through 16 classic blues songs, and her mellifluous, full-bodied voice has the depth of strong coffee. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 31. (866) 811-41111, fremontcentretheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)