LA Theater Scene Reviews December shows

With the exciting and lush shows that have filled the Los Angeles area theaters this holiday season who needs to fly to New York anymore to see a great show.

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers and Hammersteins The King and I (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Review: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I is perfection. The classic musical is at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for its run December 13, 2016 through January 21, 2017, and it is the finest production to come along since Yul Brynner introduced the show on Broadway in 1951 (and won his Oscar for the 1956 film). Yul’s shadow has shaded many performers who have taken on the role, but Jose Llana triumphs as the King of Siam in this National Tour of the Lincoln Center Theater production. Llana has more youthful charm than Yul. Plus, Llana offers a more humorous King who milks laughs with wild facial expressions. But the majestic strength and the intensity needed to carry the show is also part of his performance.

Equal to the task of playing opposite such a King is Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna, the British schoolteacher who shows her fortitude and diplomatic skills in every confrontation with the King. Llana and Kelly play their roles as opposite sides of a coin, but joined together in a stormy-emotional alchemy. It’s complicated but wonderful to watch. Another highlight is Manna Nichols playing Tuptim as a strong passionate woman.

The King and I boasts one of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s finest scores including “Getting To Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance,” “Something Wonderful,” etc., etc. The show is touring with stops in Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and more, after its Hollywood Pantages run concludes January 21, 2017. Go to www.hollywoodpantages.com.

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Little Drummer Bowie’s Troubies (photo: Sasha A. Venola)

Review: Little Drummer Bowie is more than a musical parody/tribute to the late glitter-rock icon David Bowie. Playing at the Falcon Theatre from December 9 through January 15, 2017, the show is also a showcase for the cleverness of the Troubadour Theater Company, which has a knack for coming up with a strange fusion of a familiar story and a rock or pop music genre. The Troubies, as they are affectionately known, also add a large dose of free-wheeling zaniness to create their own unique Commedia Del Arte fractured fable. And their successful streak continues this holiday season.

With Little Drummer Bowie, the Troubies reimagine the classic Christmas story of the drummer boy, adding the melodies of the late glam rock icon David Bowie along with mystique of Ziggy Stardust. Troubie leader Matt Walker, who directs the show with Joseph Leo Bwarie, calls it “a musical parody of biblical proportions.” The show takes a journey to a faraway land where a new king is on the rise and a rising drummer is asking, “Is There Life On Mars?” The uber-entertaining ensemble features Joseph Leo Bwarie in the title role, and the always fabulous Beth Kennedy as Ali who guides the drummer through the tale. Plus Riccardo Berdini, Lisa Valenzuela, Rick Batalla, Katie DeShan, Niles Rivers, Katie Kitani, and Cloie Wyatt Taylor, most in multiple roles, backed by musical director Eric Heinly and his band rocking the theater.

It was a blessing that the late great Garry Marshall gave the Troubies a holiday home at his Falcon Theatre. And the tradition continues now until January 15 with Little Drummer Bowie. Go to www.falcontheatre.com.

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Review: A Cinderella Christmas is a musical extravaganza that is lavish and hilarious, done in the tradition of the British Pantos that combine contemporary tunes with a classic fairy tale and outrageous humor. All that makes this a fabulous show with crowd-pleasing songs for all generations, playing at the Pasadena Playhouse December 8, 2016, through January 8, 2017.

There are production numbers with accomplished singers and dancers who have boundless energy to grab the attention of the kiddies in the audience along with their parents and grandparents. And for the hard-to-please eye-rolling teens who attend, there are teen idol stars, with Cinderella played with sweetness and strength by Lauren Taylor, star of Disney Channel’s Best Friends Whenever, and Prince Charming played with heartthrob perfection by Kenton Duty from Disney’s Shake It Up series. Another rising star is the Prince’s pal Dandini played by Davi Santos (the Gold Ranger in the upcoming Power Rangers film). And Fairy Godperson, Alex Newell of Glee fame, showcases his amazing voice.

In addition to the teen dreams, Cinderella’s best friend Buttons is played by funny man Matthew Patrick Davis, a lanky lad who gets the audience booing the villains and cheering the heroes. The production is interactive thanks to his skillset orchestrating the audience participation and even a sing-along. The ultra-mean stepsisters Hollywood and Vine, played by Ben Giroux and Josh Adamson rocking the over-the-top costumes, generate the most sidesplitting moments in the show. They go wild with their jokes which steal the scenes even from the lovely Morgan Fairchild as the Wicked Stepmother.

Bonnie Lythgoe’s direction is full of surprises. And Kris Lythgoe deserves credit for writing his finest show. This is the fifth anniversary of the Lythgoe Family Panto productions at the Pasadena Playhouse. with hopes that the tradition will continue for many generations. Go to www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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Aaron Lazar and Wayne Brady in “Merrily We Roll Along”

Review: Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along takes extraordinary performers and an incredible production team to do justice to the complex story. It’s a journey told backwards following three friends. It starts with a party. Frank Shepard is celebrating his biggest success, a hit movie that makes him the toast of Hollywood. What choices did he make to get there?

The retro show is fascinating as it travels through time– 1976, ’73, ’67, ’62, etc., ending when Frank (Aaron Lazar), Charley (Wayne Brady), and Mary (Donna Vivino) first meet in 1957. The events that shaped their friendship and ultimately destroyed it come alive through drama and song. Among the Sondheim numbers are “Not A Day Goes By” and “Our Time.”

The huge ensemble creates an epic feel for the very intimate story, and the lead performers are awesome. Just like his character Frank, Lazar is driven to succeed and does with a superb performance that makes all his highs and lows believable. Success sometimes comes at a price, but Brady plays his Charley (Frank’s song writing partner) as the uncompromising moral center of the show. Brady is a brilliant entertainer and provides many highlights that move the show merrily along.

Vivino adds poignancy to her portrayal of Mary. Her devotion to Frank is felt in the reprise of “Not A Day Goes By,” which she sings with Frank’s wife Beth. Whitney Bashor shines in the vital role of Beth. Also noteworthy is Saycon Sengbloh as the sassy vixen Gussie.

The flow of the reverse storyline is flawless thanks to the craftsmanship of director Michael Arden. He makes sense of the look back at life so the audience can embrace the journey.

Merrily We Roll Along was presented from November 23 through December 18, 2016 at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, in Beverly Hills. To check out their schedule for upcoming shows go to www.TheWallis.org.

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Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc.
Margie is also proud to be half of the husband and wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who have written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 30 years.

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