Theatre Review — Hamilton (National Tour)

Instructions: Read out loud in a “rap” style; white people pretend it’s a poem (except for EMINEM and Vanilla Ice). With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda…

Last night I took a trip to the Pantages, bought a ticket to a show; handed over half my wages

took a seat inside, excitement was contagious, as I flipped through my program’s pages

The lights went down, audience started to stir when out on the stage walked Aaron Burr

We listened closely as he started rappin, didn’t want to miss a thing, about what was happenin

then he introduced us to a native son, a man called Alexander Hamilton

From the Carribean, a bastard clear, daddy walked out, mama died holding him near

Had to escape, use his charms, in New York City, he heard the call to arms

Freedom was the cry from Laurens and Lafayette, joined by Burr and Mulligan, against the British threat

Washington with Hamilton by his side fought the bloody British and turned the tide

Born a new nation, like an infant it cried, as the founding fathers looked on with pride.

…and that was only Act One.

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The costumes were great, the set inspiring, the orchestra top notch, the dancers never tiring

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choreography on its toes, (who knows how they moved so gracefully in those heavy clothes)

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Too many actors to name them all by name, so I pick out a few who brought their A game

Rory O’Malley as King George always made us laugh…

Jordon Donica (Lafayette and Jefferson), tall as a giraffe, brought his characters to life with aplomb and panache…

Rubin Carbajal (John/Philip) got to die in Act One and Act Two, he played it so real we all got blue…

Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr) started the show, hero, and a villain, he rapped a different tune, then spent most of the show, envious of Hamilton and wanting to be “in the room”…

Isaiah Johnson (Washington), played frustrated but strong, defeated the British and became the father of our country where he belonged…

Ah, the ladies, Amber Iman (Peggy/Maria) and Solea Pfeiffer (Eliza Hamilton) brought sympathy, sophistication, and class, rapping with the best of them, and beat boxing with sass…

Finally, Michael Luwoye played with intensity/layers the star of the show, my recommendation? If you get a chance, I’d go…

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Richard Allan Jones is an actor, musician, and author from Los Angeles, California.

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The Gift

the giftWent to the Geffen Theater last night and saw a most interesting Australian play (premiered in Melbourne). “The Gift” centers on two couples, Sadie (Kathy Baker) and Ed (Chris Mulkey), very successful franchise owners from Los Angeles, and Chloe (Jamie Ray Newman) and Martin (James Van Der Beek), struggling intellectuals from New York.

Chloe and Martin win a vacation to a fancy resort where they meet Sadie and Ed, a comfortable, but bored, pair celebrating their 25th anniversary. The two couples quickly become good friends over several bottles of wine and mojito pitchers…a bond later solidified when Martin saves Ed’s life, after he falls off a sailboat in a sudden storm.

Ed offers Martin a gift…anything the younger couple wants for saving his life. They refuse at the time, but promise to meet one year later and tell Ed & Sadie what they want most. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say what Ed & Chloe request will surprise, if not anger, most members of the audience.

Minimum set serves the play well, as most of the action is left to the actor’s abilities and the audience’s imagination. Kudos to all four actors who put their heart and soul into the performance. From the front row at the curtain call, it was easy to note the emotional/physical commitment to the final ten minutes of the play on their perspiring faces, especially Kathy Baker and Chris Mulkey.

There were several laughs last night in this “dramedy,” sometimes from the lines, sometimes from being uneasy or embarrassed. I guarantee you will talk about relationships and responsibility in the car on the way home. We did.

“The Gift” is playing at the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, CA) through March 10. Tickets are $47-$77. More information located at GeffenPlayhouse.com.

“Backbeat” Review, Ahmason Theater, L.A., 1/24/13

ImageAlthough the play previewing at the Ahmanson Theater this week has its slow sections, and sometimes the Liverpool dialect is hard to understand, in the end it is all about the music. “Backbeat” thunders with live rollicking classics like “Twist and Shout,” “Love Me Do,” “Long Tall Sally,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “I Saw Her Standing There” played in classic early Beatles venues from seedy Hamburg clubs to the Cavern, where they were discovered by manager Brian Epstein.

The crowd last night stood on their feet for the last 15 minutes, dancing like teenagers (including one young woman who came on stage & managed to get a hug and kiss from “Paul”, as these outstanding actors/musicians recreated the exact historic moment the lads from Liverpool became “The Beatles.” Not an award-winning play (book is focused mainly on the relatively unknown relationship between fellow art students John Lennon & Stuart Sutcliffe (original bass player), but the live experience is priceless for any fan of Beatles music.

“Backbeat,” which came to L.A. direct from London’s West End, continues at the Ahmanson through March 1, 2013.

The Jacksonian

Had the opportunity the other night to see an outstanding new play at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, and directed by Tony award-winning director Robert Falls (Death of a Salesman), the story takes place in 1964 inside a seedy old motel, The Jacksonian, located on the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi. Ed Harris (National Treasure) and his real life wife, Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams), play Bill and Susan Perch, a separated couple, trying to work out their differences. Bess Rous is their daughter, Rosy, who serves as the play’s narrator, tying together scenes as the action jumps back and forth over several months.

Ed Harris and Glenne Headly
Ed Harris and Glenne Headly

Bill Pullman (Independence Day) scowls & squinches his way through the story as Fred Weber, a shady bartender at the motel, who hands out drinks and advice, swallows swords, and may have committed robbery & murder. Glenne Headly (Mr. Holland’s Opus) rounds out the cast as Eva White, a saucy maid who desperately wants to get married. In exchange for an engagement ring, she provides Pullman an alibi for the night of the murder. Later when Pullman rejects her, she sets her sights on Harris in a funny, nitrous-oxygen induced, semi-undressed romp.

The Jeffersonian starts out slowly, like a Sunday afternoon on the plantation porch, as we get to know the characters, but builds in quick layers to an unexpected conclusion. Harris gives an excellent understated performance of a man about to explode as he faces his past and likely future. Denying his KKK heritage, he is surviving the situation by focusing on his beloved dentist business, and a steady diet of alcohol, laughing gas, morphine, and chlorophyll.  When he loses his license after pulling every tooth out of a prejudice patient, Harris exudes pure raw emotion, as he watches his life quickly self-destruct. Madigan nails the proper, yet deeply disturbed wife, who has physical/emotional scars from a complete hysterectomy, approved by her husband while she was still under. She hangs on to Harris because she still loves him, but won’t ever let him move back home…or forgive him.

Torn between her stage parents, Bess Rous is the youngest member of the ensemble with the shortest pedigree, yet she makes some interesting choices for Rosy. I loved her physicality, slouching around the hotel, teenage splotches all over her face, bouncing back and forth between an obedient daughter, and a rebel just waiting to break out.

Primarily a drama with a heartbreaking finale, there are liberal laughs sprinkled throughout the production, mostly from Pullman and Rous. Well worth the time if you are in the L.A. area. The show runs 90 minutes without intermission.

The Jacksonian continues in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater through March 25, 2012.