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Stage Raw

Atomic Holiday Free Fall, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, A Christmas Westside Story and more holiday season reviews . . .

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Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 1:51 PM
click to enlarge Troubadour Theatre Company in "A Christmas Westside Story" - CHELSEA SUTTON
  • Chelsea Sutton
  • Troubadour Theatre Company in "A Christmas Westside Story"


Troubadour Theatre Company snags this week's Pick of the Week, .
click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg
with their yuletide mashup, A Christmas Westside Story at Burbank's Falcon Theatre. Nods also for Atomic Holiday Freefall at the Actors Gang; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Long Beach Playhouse; and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Crown City Theatre. You can find the latest New Theater Reviews after the jump.

On Wednesday eve, check out this coming week's stage features: an interview with Sandra Smith on Fela, on  Guy Picot's The Christmas Present, at Sacred Fools; and on new works in New York -- Alan Rickman in Theresa Rebeck's Seminar; Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop; and Futura playwright Jordan Harrison's latest, Maple and Vine, at Playwrights Horizons

Bakersfield Mist Optioned for London and New York: The Fountain Theatre just announced that Stephen Sachs' new play about the value of paintings, Bakersfield Mist, which has been enjoying a months-long run at the intimate east Hollywood venue, was just optioned by Sonia Freedman Productions for presentations on the West End in London, and in New York -- very good news for the idea of Los Angeles being a new play incubator.  

New Theater Reviews, scheduled for publication December 15, 2011

GO ATOMIC HOLIDAY FREE FALL

click to enlarge STEFAN HAVES
  • Stefan Haves
It's Christmas and that means 'tis the season ... well, for aliens to land in Las Vegas in 1966 and attempt to infiltrate the Rat Pack so they can bring the magic art of entertainment to their galaxy -- or something like that. In fact, it doesn't really matter: The wraparound plot is just the flimsiest of excuses to throw one of the Actors' Gang's patented hipster frolic Christmas parties -- and a delight it is, too, with dancers, gymnasts, singers, stilt walkers, trapeze dancers, Vegas showgirls and aliens in Spandex prancing, dancing and doing just about anything one can think of to usher in the festive season. The goofy antics, mildly campy song numbers and non sequitur storyline of director/creator Stefan Haves' joyful celebration is belied by the astonishingly crisp and tight stagecraft, which shoehorns a bewildering assortment of production numbers and acrobatic interludes into a comparatively brief time frame. Part old-style variety show, part bizarre post-ironic spectacle and part family-friendly holiday celebration, Haves' production decks the stage halls with a quirky silliness, whether it's the cast of Spandex-clad aliens dancing Rockettes-style to "Walking in Memphis" or Eric Newton's thrilling aerial rings dance. This is a heady, imaginative mix of seasonal charm and sassy cunning. Actors' Gang at Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City; Dec. 14-23 and Dec. 31, 8 p.m. (310) 838-4264, actorsgang.com. (Paul Birchall)

GO THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER Like the pages on which they're written, Christmastime stories tend to crumble with age. Yet this play, adapted from Barbara Robinson's book 10 years after its 1972 publication, feels remarkably fresh. The Herdman clan fights, talks about "sexy things" and smokes. When they're told church is a place to get "all the candy they want," they show up and decide they want the leading roles in the annual Christmas pageant. Cue the disaster choruses. Robinson's message on the spirit of the holidays is gently delivered but deeply moving. Though written in a light-hearted manner, the play's undercurrents of sadness cut deep. Upon hearing the Christmas story for the first time and finding Mary and Joseph's barnyard delivery room unfit, the Herdmans nonchalantly assert, "Where was child welfare? They're at our house every five minutes!" But director Nicole Dominguez does the play a disservice by glossing over the most poignant moment in favor of a snazzy "Silent Night." A story about overlooked children finally feeling special and understood is timeless. No need to modernize what is, unfortunately, still modern. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (562) 494-1014, lbplayhouse.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

BOB CRATCHIT & MR. TIGHTWAD
click to enlarge DAVID SPRAGUE
  • David Sprague
Katrina Wood's new take on that yuletide chestnut A Christmas Carol is a brave and mostly successful attempt to spice up Dickens' classic tale by adding some contemporary musical flair. Thus, the ghost of Christmas Present (Athena Rose) appears as a sexy punk rocker complete with spiky black wig and iPhone. Chas Mitchell as grumpy old Scrooge looks the part, with his silver muttonchop sideburns, bushy eyebrows and a permanent scowl. The drama has its amusing moments, while the carols, delightful original songs and dance sequences are refreshing and lively. Director Trace Oakley occasionally fails to rein in some extreme overacting, but even that adds to the heightened fun. Emily Bridges is in fine voice in her tender performance as spurned Nell, and Zachary Rice is angelic as Tiny Tim. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 10 & 17, 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 11 & 18, 11 a.m. & 3 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 22 & 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 31, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 31. (877) 620-7673, secretrose.com. (Pauline Adamek)

GO THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT Guy Picot's dark British comedy. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 24, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, sacredfools.org. See Stage Feature Wednesday night.

PICK OF THE WEEK: A CHRISTMAS WESTSIDE STORY
click to enlarge CHELSEA SUTTON
  • Chelsea Sutton
Following their long, goofy tradition of musical mash-ups, director Matt Walker and the Troubadour Theatre Company combine the songs from West Side Story with the plot of A Christmas Story, the movie based on Jean Shepherd's comic memoirs. The result, A Christmas Westside Story, has all the familiar elements of the film: Young Ralphie (director Walker) obsesses over his desire for a Red Ryder air rifle, the infamous leg lamp is won by his eccentric father (Rick Batalla) and a hapless kid (Joseph Keane) gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pipe. "When You're a Jet" becomes "When You're a Kid You're a Kid," sung by the Troubies as fourth-graders. "Tonight" becomes a hymn to Christmas Eve, and "I Feel Pretty" is sung by the leg lamp. "One Hand, One Heart" is a love song to the Daisy Air Rifle, sung by Ralphie and a female Red Ryder. The rambunctious Troubie style allows for hilarious asides, gags, ad libs, inside jokes, wild choreography by Molly Alvarez and comic jabs at Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and John Boehner. (Troubadour Theatre Company at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; call theater for schedule. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com (Neal Weaver)

GO DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
click to enlarge COURTESY CROWN CITY THEATRE
  • courtesy Crown City Theatre
John Patrick Shanley's two-hander about a pair of lonely, self-loathing bar rats who bond by way of confessions, cursing and beer guzzling gets an inspired staging in the hands of director John McNaughton. Danny (Matthew J. Williamson) meets Roberta (Juliet Landau) after a fistfight in which he thinks he's killed someone. Unfazed by his potential for homicide, Roberta woos Danny and reveals to him her long-kept, shameful secret. A night laced with violence and awkward affection soon evolves into phase one of a plan for healing and redemption. Shanley's script leaves almost no other choice than over-the-top acting near play's end, and Landau goes for a full-tilt brand of mania that almost slips into unintentionally comic territory. Still, both actors bring significant substance to the streetwise characters, and their easy chemistry makes the quick love connection believable. Keiko Moreno's efficient set impresses. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 745-8527, crowncitytheatre.com. (Amy Lyons)

THE GAYEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER This sluggish spoof revolves around the bungled efforts of a community theater troupe to stage a holiday pageant. Shot through with tepid humor, writer Joe Marshall's rambling plot jumpstarts around the contentious squabbling among the group's gay founders, then slogs through a series of lame auditions and awkward rehearsals before actually featuring the pageant. Instead of wit, irony or camp, Marshall creates pathetic characters to ridicule -- e.g., a foul-mouthed elderly woman who uses a walker, whose homophobia somehow makes it OK to laugh when she falls on her face. The plot's pseudo-mania engenders shrieking from some performers who might otherwise have ably acquitted themselves. From others there's a plethora of mugging under Paul Storiale's unpolished direction. Notable above the fray are a crisp Matt Wiley as the swishy costume designer, Geo Santini as an effeminate Jesus and E.D. Brown as the project's besieged director. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (818) 766-9100. (Deborah Klugman)

JESUS ON THE WAY
click to enlarge COURTESY VINTAGE CITY ENTERTAINMENT
  • Courtesy Vintage City Entertainment
An annual Christmas gathering of a trio of church-minded, albeit bickering African-American siblings (Anika C. McFall, Calvin C. Winbush, Ginja Wellington) sets the stage for playwright-director Tai French's somewhat schematic tale of forgiveness, dignity and self-worth. But just as one is about to dismiss the writer as another gospel-steeped Tyler Perry wannabe, French shifts gears into comic genius. It comes with the entrance of huckstering pastor Alton Thelonius James (a marvelous Jahmel A. Holden) -- a character right out of Chester Himes -- who has tracked down parishioner Vita (La'Keishia Simon) to collect the tithe she failed to deposit at his drive-thru church, Jesus on the Way. Whenever the delightful Holden and Simon are onstage, the show crackles with electricity. Whenever they exit, French's somewhat plodding, predictable and overwritten text becomes yet another play with chops too short to box on a stage. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 841-4404, vintagecityent.com. (Bill Raden)






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