Local Heroes

Local Heroes:
sketch and improv of heroic proportions
a kate west review

directed by Mitch Silpa
at the Westside Eclectic Theatre
1323-a 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA
(in the alley between 3rd and 4th, south of Arizona)
contact (310) 451-0850 or localheroes6@gmail.com (Myspace.com/localheroes6) Thursdays and Fridays
April through May, 2006; tix $8

Find yourself on the west side after dinner in search of entertainment? Instead of cramming into a crowded movie theater where someone will kick your chair and munch popcorn, head down to Westside Eclectic and catch some improv. You'll get much more bang out of your buck. They do several shows there, the latest being "Local Heroes". The cast members are all Groundlings-trained (for info on that crazy-famous comedic troupe check out www.groundlings.com) and Director Mitch Silpa is an actual Groundling. That means they know their funny.

Dorien Davies, Alex Enriquez, Samantha Klein, Travis Nelson, Avi Rothman and Kenny Stevenson all write their own material and have a great time performing it on the trendy stage of the Westside Eclectic. It's obvious that they love what they do and are all strong actors, especially Kenny Stevenson. Some highlights include Dorien Davies and Samantha Klein singing "Spolish Green" as pure-as-snow twins in a deliciously wicked spoof on Christian singers. Avi Rothman's and Dorien Davis' spoof on Latina pop-singer "Shakira" is hilarious as well. Avi Rothman's versatility really shines in "N'Amaste" and "Pillow", as a mystical yoga instructor and irritating airline passenger, respectively.

When the actors give 200% it really works. Some of the scenes are not as strong as others, but in general it's a very crowd-pleasing show. "Classically Trained" (Alex Enriquez, Avi Rothman and Kenny Stevenson) - a sketch about a classically trained prima donna commercial voice over actor could be stronger, for instance. "Captain Amazing" (Kenny Stevenson and Travis Nelson) is a cute idea, with computer geeks transforming into superheroes trying and failing to fix the office copier, as is "Brian Hodel" with Samantha Klein and Dorien Davies playing giggling 1980's teenagers and Kenny Stevenson's reverse strip tease in "Girl" (with Samantha Klein). "Love Hatchet" (Travis Nelson and Samantha Klein) about a trailer park screaming love nest and "Sexy Itchy" (Alex Enriquez and Samantha Klein) is alight but a lot of these scenes get a bit lost; one of the problems being that the space itself is not really conducive to comedy sketch. It's a fun space but not contained enough for the type of thing they are trying to do here. Still, it's a rockin' good time, judging from the audience's hoots and hollers alone.

Director Mitch Silpa does a great job of pacing the scenes and inspiring energy in the actors and host Amir Talai is likeable when heading the improv sets. Every actor is appealing - just be careful not to sit near the aisles if you don't want a run-in with sexually exuberant Russians in "To Russia with Love" (Dorien Davies and Kenny Stevenson). It's shorter than a full length movie so you'll still have time to enjoy all the diversity in the night life of Santa Monica. Read more!


a kate west review
book, music & lyrics by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
directed & choreographed by Roger Castellano
at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman, Fullerton, CA
contact (714) 873-1732 or (714) 526-3832 or www.fclo.com
(Box office address: 218 W. Commonwealth Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92832)
running through May 2006; tickets $25 to $49 (group rates available)

Most of us are familiar with the cult 1978 film "Grease" starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. What you may not know, however, is that it was a Broadway musical before that and slowly gained immense popularity until fans were clamoring for more. In it's 34th season entertaining the O.C., the Fullerton Civic Light Opera now presents the old-fashioned version just in time for some cool fun these hot summer months.

For those of you who missed the whole "Grease" phenomenon, the story revolves around rambunctious 1950's teenagers at Rydell High School. Danny Zuko (Brian Brigham) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Michelle London) meet over the summer and fall in puppy love and then unexpectedly find themselves attending the same high school in the fall. The trouble is, Danny belongs to the infamous Burger Palace Boys and is not too cool about displaying affection for straight-laced innocent Sandy. Of course, they reconcile by the end and everyone's happy. That's the basic plot, with a lot of rock and roll (and a few small sub plots) in between.

Director/Choreographer Roger Castellano creates a lot of groovy moves for the excellent cast and regales the audience with classic rockin' good tunes. Highlights include Frenchy (the bubbly Lola Ward) being serenaded by the delectably goofy John Schoenherz as Teen Angel counseling her in career ambitions in "Beauty School Dropout", two renditions of "We Go Together" by the entire cast and everyone's favorite - "Summer Nights" - with the whole cast recounting the summer tale of Danny and Sandy. The majority of the cast is great, especially Bets Malone as the tough-talking Rizzo and head of the Pink Ladies ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "There are Worse Things I Could Do"), Lowe Taylor as Marty the vamp ("Freddy, My Love") and Roger (Danny Stiles) and Jan (Colette Peters) literally mooning over each other in "Mooning".

Brian Brigham is a nice, strong, handsome Danny, matching the rest of the Burger Palace Boys and all of the Pink Ladies are delightful. The one notable exception is Michelle London who is unfortunately a vanilla, uncharismatic Sandy and whose voice is much too operatic for a rock and roll musical. ("Summer Nights", "It's Raining on Prom Night", "All Choked Up", etc.) Sadly, she doesn't really fit so it's hard to root for her. Everyone else is a lot of fun, including Jeff Weeks as smarmy Vince Fontaine who oversees the climatic dance concert, where the hard core dancing really begins ("Born to Hand Jive").

The other few problems have to do with the set. Scenic Designer Dwight Richard Odle may have wanted to convey an adolescent atmosphere with brightly colored cardboard sets, but for a professional theater, it doesn't quite match the rest of the production values. To be fair, they are housed in an actual high school, so that may have been the intention after all. What should be a highlight number, "Greased Lightning," (the Burger Palace Boys crooning over a hot set of wheels), is disappointing, especially in the odd dressing the car. It should have an earlier reveal, as should the neon sign of "Grease", but both end up in a spectacular curtain call; we really should have been enjoying these electrifying sights all along. Odle's costume designs are a lot more on target, fitting the period perfectly.

The live band is great, (kudos to Musical Director Todd Helm), as are all the dance numbers and the whole dance concert scene, although it is a bit odd to have the band way up on such a high platform. It's too bad that platform isn't moveable. As it is a permanent fixture, it dominates every scene, in spite of Donna Ruzika's lighting design. Also, Sound Designer A.J. Gonzalez needs to look into the mechanical problems of the microphone since the actors kept going in and out all night.

In spite of these minor glitches, it's an awfully fun show and the irrepressible cast totally wins us over. So it's definitely worth a look, especially if you live nearby in Orange County. (Note to Angelinos: it's a bit of a long drive, so bring your I-pods or books-on-tape!) There's even a sample study guide in the program by Carol Philip (Anaheim School District teacher) translating "Grease" slang into proper English - now, how fun is that? Read more!

String of Pearls

String of Pearls (west coast premiere)
a kate west review
by Michele Lowe; directed by Stephen Sachs
at the Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood 91601
running January - March 2006 ; contact (866) 811-411 or www.roadtheatre.org
extended in Santa Barbara: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, S.B.
running April - May 2006; contact (805) 963-7282; tix $25

"String of Pearls" is a poetic ensemble piece of female vignettes strung together like pearls on a necklace requiring a strong ensemble and four strong main actors.
Jacqueline Schultz, Donne McRae (understudying this particular performance), Stephanie Stearns and Alicia Wollerton all handle this quite well. Each of them plays a multitude of characters, ranging from (among others) an aging matriarch and a plus-size lesbian to a career woman and an immigrant cleaning woman. The characters all have universal appeal but demand that the audience pay strict attention when the women jump from character to character; it is a bit tricky to follow the quickly changing story lines.

Similar to the film "The Red Violin," essentially a strand of exquisite pearls passes from woman to woman, seemingly ending where it started, with the matriarch (Donne McRae). On its journey, it bestows pleasure on almost every kind of woman imaginable (in this case twenty-seven total). Whether the necklace is symbolically the same or the actual physical same necklace is subject to audience interpretation, although the implied connection between the story beads strongly suggests the latter.

Michele Lowe's original dialogue is lovely and often poignant. While some stories are not as interesting as others, the overall effect is crowd-pleasing. Also, some are more strongly connected than others and again, require a certain amount of concentration. There are no earth-shattering revelations here, but merely quiet stories about women with varying intensity. What really makes the show is the ensemble. The women work together very well and showcase their talent admirably. Director Stephen Sachs creates a nice flow between the vignettes and the actors keep up the transitions from humor to anger and sorrow just fine, in between the anecdotal.

At times reminiscent of the female strength in the film "The Joy Luck Club," this is a nice ensemble piece in general, though the story lines could be clearer. All in all, it makes for a good evening out and as the production moves to Santa Barbara in the next two months, it might make a pretty good Mother's Day jaunt too. Read more!