LA Theater Scene February & March, shows & reviews

Los Angeles area theaters are filled with fantastic shows to launch 2017.

Circus 1903 – Elephant Baby (photo: MarkTurner)

Review: CIRCUS 1903 The Golden Age of Circus is flawlessness at creating a glimpse of “the most amazing show on earth” circa 1900s. The nostalgic Big Top production is at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood and it is a treat for “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages.” The producers of The Illusionists magic show teamed up with the award-winning puppeteers from War Horse to present this entertaining turn of the century circus spectacular. The puppetry puts Elephants on stage, and an amazing cast of the most unique and breathtaking circus acts grab the spotlight. The show features a great mix of contortionists, cyclists, acrobats, high wire acts, and much more. A highlight is the hilarious Ringmaster creating magical moments with kids from the audience.

CIRCUS 1903 is at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for a short run February 14-19, 2017. Go to www.hollywoodpantages.com.

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Finding Neverland

Preview: FINDING NEVERLAND, another great family show, follows at the Pantages Theatre (February 21 to March 12). It is a timeless story about the power of imagination… and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up. The musical tells the heartwarming story behind one of the world’s most beloved characters: Peter Pan. It follows playwright J.M. Barrie as he struggles to find inspiration, then he meets four young brothers (Jack, George, Michael and Peter) and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys’ enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes a monumental leap towards Neverland, where nothing is impossible and the wonder of childhood lasts forever.

The magic of Barrie’s beloved classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this show. Based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name, the musical Finding Neverland has music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, and book by James Graham. It plays at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre from February 21 to March 12, 2017. Go to www.hollywoodpantages.com.

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Shawn Klush and the Sweet Inspirations

Preview: FACES OF THE KING, Starring Shawn Klush and Jake Rowley is a celebration of the music, life and legacy of Elvis Presley at the historic El Portal Theatre, February 18-19. This is a national touring show starring Shawn Klush, Jake Rowley, The Sweet Inspirations, and the Ambassador Tribute Orchestra with the Tennessee Horns, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Elvis’s passing. The concert show combines the three most memorable periods of Elvis’s iconic career to tell the musical life and story in song of this astounding American legend – brought to life by the most celebrated Elvis tribute artists working today. Shawn Klush is the winner of Elvis Presley Enterprise’s Ultimate Elvis, and he is remarkable as the “King.” Jake Rowley starred as young Elvis in Broadway’s smash hit Million Dollar Quartet and toured with the show. This Faces of the King show from 3,000 Miles Off-Broadway Productions has the added bonus of featuring The Sweet Inspirations – Elvis’s Original Backup Singers, and the Ambassador Tribute Orchestra. They are joined onstage by the Tennessee Horns. Faces of the King, a must-see for every Elvis fan, is at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, February 18-19. Go to www.ElPortalTheatre.com.

Michael Moore as Willie Nelson, Philip Bauer as Johnny Cash, August Manley as Waylon Jennings

Preview: THE HIGHWAYMEN LIVE! is another great show at the El Portal Theatre, playing March 3-4, 2017, also from 3,000 Miles Off roadway Productions.  It showcases the greatest country music super group in history, the Highwaymen, which included Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. They were country music’s bad boys playing great music. The tribute show is full of upbeat, honky-tonk hits like “Ring of Fire,” “Good Ol’ Boys,” and “On the Road Again.” One hit after another is sung just like the original band performed. “The show features the greatest hits performed by artists who can thrill audiences like the original legends,” reported producer Ron Kurtz, head of 3,000 Miles Off-Broadway. It stars Michael Moore as Willie Nelson, August Manley as Waylon Jennings, and Philip Bauer as Johnny Cash. The Highwaymen Live on the Main Stage at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, March 3 and 4. For tickets go to www.ElPortalTheatre.com.

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“Tips” and Katy Owen in “946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” (photo: SteveTanner)

Review: “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” at The Wallis Theatre in Beverly Hills is from the Kneehigh Theatre Company, the acclaimed British troupe that has a knack for being inventive and relevant. The musical drama reveals a riveting true tale from World War II. It centers around the life of school kids, parents, evacuees, and the American soldiers who interact in the seaside town of Slapton Sands, England, prior to the launch of D-day. The themes of love, acceptance, and humanity are at its heart.

At the center of the action is 12-year-old Lily and Tips her cat. Katy Owen brilliantly plays the rambunctious girl capturing the spirit of a kid angry about her dad leaving to fight the war. Her mum (stoic Kyla Goodey) and grandpa (Mike Shepherd at his best when he’s riled) are left to run the farm. Everyone in the cast takes on multiple roles and even farm animals with ease, so it is best to acknowledge them as an amazing ensemble. They are Seamas Carey, Emma Darlow, Chris Jared, Craig Johnson, Pat Moran, Adam Sopp, and Akopre Uzoh. Plus, loaded with charisma, Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe give energetic performances as the African-American soldiers stationed in Slapton. The puppeteers who bring the cat, other critters, and action scenes to life also deserve credit for their wizardry. The song and dance numbers are more modern than the 1944 setting might warrant, but it offers tunes that hit all the right emotional notes.

It’s a story that resonates, from Kneehigh’s artistic director Emma Rice and Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), adapted from Morpurgo’s “The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips,” about a tragic incident during training exercises for the D-day landings. Directed by Rice the musical showcases the excitement of letting new people into our lives, even if sadness may tag along.

 “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” is presented from now through March 5th at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills. Check their schedule for upcoming shows at www.TheWallis.org.

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Jonathan Stark, Dan Castellaneta, Phil Proctor and JD Cullum in “For Piano and Harpo” (photo: SashaVenola)

Review: For Piano and Harpo puts the spotlight on the rapier wit and personal demons of composer Oscar Levant, now playing at The Falcon Theatre. Levant was recognized as a genius at the piano and a virtuoso at providing a sharp quip, making the show a tour de force for Dan Castellaneta who plays Levant. Castellaneta is also the playwright of the provocative piece for the Laugh Then Think Production. The gifted writer-actor uses slices of Levant’s own snappy repartee throughout and delivers it like the acid-tongue originator.

The show starts with Levant as a guest on the Jack Paar Show in 1962, his larger than life persona is evident and so is his troubled soul. The setting shifts to Oscar in the “nuthouse,” committed by his wife who is trying to save him from self-destruction. Playing the challenging role as June, his long-suffering wife, Deb Lacusta is formidable, matching wits with the master of droll. A master of comic timing is JD Cullum playing Harpo Marx, perhaps Levant’s only friend. A highlight is a scene with Oscar and Harpo playing piano and harp together, and credit goes to the real players: music supervisor David O on piano and Jillian Risigari-Gai on harp.

The timeline snaps back and forth, and the actors are constantly playing different roles, with Gail Matthius, Phil Proctor, and Jonathan Stark skillfully going from the denizens of the Psych Ward to the key players in Oscar’s world exposing his troubled childhood, assorted addictions, many fears, and how George Gershwin haunts him. It all would turn into a jumbled mess without the dexterity of director Stefan Novinski.

For Piano and Harpo is at The Falcon Theatre (4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake) through March 5. Go to www.falcontheatre.com.

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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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