Good Omens

a kate west recommendation

A good read, er, listen:

Good Omens

Graphic novel adaptation to BBCRadio4.
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Kinky Boots

a kate west review
book by Harvey Fierstein; music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
directed by Jerry Mitchell; orchestrations by Stephen Oremus
at Orpheum Theatre (SHN)
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running December 2-28, 2014
contact: (888)746-1799 or

The musical "Kinky Boots" was based on a 2005 British film, which in turn was based on a true story. Aren't those always the best kind? And just in time for the holidays, this popular Broadway sensation hits the road for a turn in the perfect setting of San Francisco. This most recent version of the plot features Charlie, who inherits his father's shoe factory, which is unfortunately going under. In a desperate attempt to keep it going, Charlie is inspired to cater to a different client, the ultimate in masculine-feminine: drag queens (who give Beach Blanket Babylon divas a run for their money). They present a unique challenge to the shoemaker - creating a sexy high heel that can support the weight of a man. After some convincing in song, Charlie and his factory workers are up to the task, proving that shoes are sometimes even more fun than chocolate. 

Steven Booth is Charlie Price, the insecure factor owner who finds he has his own voice after all. With songs like "Step One" and "Soul of a Man", Booth does a fine job with the transition of boyish man into self-confident man. Kyle Taylor Parker is the fabulous muse, the drag queen star, Lola. His/her best number is "Sex is in the Heel" where he proves the power of red, sex and shoes outshines any childhood angst (and both Charlie and Lola carry a lot of that around). As in the movie of the same name, Lola has to overcome some local prejudice, while facing her own demons, mainly a strict father. Charlie's own father issues are put to rest when he saves the factory and loses his materialistic 
fiancé Nicola (Grace Stockdale). Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) is delightful as the perky shop assistant who wins his heart in the end. Chambers has a lot of fun moments, such as "The History of Wrong Guys" and is the definitive audience pleaser of the cast, next to Parker as Lola, who easily brings the big into fantastic show stoppers. Speaking of which, a special nod goes to Lola's dancers, her cross-dressing Angels, all rivetingly talented, especially in "In This Corner" (the most fun ever seen in a boxing ring) and "Raise You Up/Just Be". It might seem hard to beat the finale in the movie (a mesmerizing rendition of the "These Boots are Made for Walking", complete with mad stomping) but the San Francisco cast does it justice, with original music and choreography, thanks to the multi-talented director Jerry Mitchell.

A show about shoes can't go wrong.

Let's not forget the trendy creative team, lyricist Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein (book). One can just imagine the charming work sessions between the effervescent pop star and gravely Broadway icon. Indeed, their collaboration earned them 13 Tony nominations and 6 Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. Drag queens and red shoes - what's not to love? Based on audience reaction from the S.F. crowd alone, no wrong notes here.

So head off to the Orpheum and bring your visiting family. Take a break from the holiday stress and strife and enjoy being different. Teach the out-of-towners a little something about fabulousness.

The Six-Step Program:

1. Pursue the truth.
2. Learn something new.
3. Accept yourself, and you'll accept others.
4. Let love shine.
5. Let pride be your guide.
6. You'll change the world when you change your mind.
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Robin Williams

a kate west tribute

No, I never met him, never knew him. But, like so many others lately, I keep thinking about him. Even dreaming about him. And it's not that far-fetched that I might have met him. I used to live in Los Angeles and used to work in the improv world, where you can meet lots of I-knew-them-whens (I met Eddie Izzard, for instance, OK well when he was actually famous and I also knew lots of other "befores" but never mind that now). Still, only friends and family can mourn him in a specifically personal way. Right? Then why are the rest of us still so sad?

I think because he was always there. Since our childhoods. We didn't think about him all the time but if he showed up suddenly (like in a recent episode of "Louie") it was like seeing an old friend. And even when he made terrible movies (you know which ones), it was still delightful to watch him just be him. Or even when scripted, being someone else, doing it with his classic 100% commitment. And oh, those powerful performances ("The World According to Garp", "Dead Poets Society", "Good Morning, Vietnam" etc.), they were from the heart, direct from him to you. Not everyone with that impressive an imagination can deliver sincerity, but he had such a huge soul that boy did it shine through. 

Sometimes he was hard to work with (apparently), but only because he couldn't be contained. It was impossible to completely reign in that spontaneity, and the humanity in the heart of the audience loves the unexpected. And God, he was funny. Mind-blowing to think he made it all up on the spot. And could go on for hours. Unstoppable. No wonder he was the best genie ever.

And also because he was supposed to have been nice. Been really sweet. Which always makes watching celebrities that much, well, nicer. Like Carol Burnett. And he loved the Bay Area. And bicycles (who could hold that against him?) But mostly, because 63 is too damn young to snuff out a talent giant, in any circumstances. The tragic method gave the headline an exclamation point, but it would have been headlines, regardless. The man was beloved, as apparent from the outpouring of grief from his peers and then everyone else. We're all still talking about him after all. Reading the tributes, catching up on his old interviews, and of course re-watching his classics.

I too have been binge-watching his movies lately and noticed many of them have morbid references - some throw-away line about death or suicide, mortality or heaven. Haven't gotten through all of them yet, so don't have an official tally. But it's interesting, in light of the now. Who knew that he carried so much with him? I mean at least the general public didn't know. Maybe friends and family didn't know it all. We never know it all, do we? Yes, comedians can be sad. Even miserable. Angry. There's that whole Pagliacci thing. Not to stereotype. But still ....

As many Facebookers posted, "This one hurts." Gentle Mork is gone. He could play dark so well ("One Hour Photo") but really shone at innocence ("Hook", "Popeye"). The man child who was supposedly so shy IRL but was always, always nice.

He could do delight and wonder so very well.

My favorite is "The Birdcage", which seemed like unusual casting at the time and now seems so perfect. The irrepressible Robin Williams let Nathan Lane steal the show, while still being brilliantly funny as the understated club owner. He played against Gene Hackman, for God's Sake. And against Robert DeNiro in "Awakenings", always holding his own.

And I really loved him being the father who would do anything for his kids ("Mrs. Doubtfire"). Such a ridiculous premise made pure just by the conviction of that nanny (not unlike Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie" - commitment will get you a long way).

It was obvious he loved what he did.

Until recently. I guess. He radiates unhappiness in some of his more recent work ("The Big Wedding"), at least to me.

But what do I know. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I do know that it's possible to miss someone you've never met, but still feel you know. I also know he influenced many and brought joy to countless others. He was a definite force in this world and his absence sucks. There is nothing else to say.

From Inside the Actors Studio, on January 29, 2001: James Lipton asks Robin Williams: "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?" 

Williams: "There's seating at the front. The concert begins at five. It'll be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing. If heaven exists, to know that there's laughter, that would be a great thing … just to hear God go, 'Two Jews walk into a bar…' "

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Land of Smiles

a kate west review
directed by Rick Culbertson
book, music lyrics by Erin Kamler
choreography by Kimiko Broder
at Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles 90013
running July 23-26, 2014
contact LATC or call 213-489-0994
website: Land of Smiles

Whether or not Thailand is still truly "The Land of Smiles" or merely another ravaged third world country cannot be debated in a day. But shedding some light on a few distraught humans may help educate westerners in the complexities of Thai politics.

Erin Kamler (best known for "Divorce! The Musical") tries to do just that with her latest show "The Land of Smiles", a musical about human trafficking (yes, you read that right). Countries like Thailand and Burma are infamous for harboring sex slave workers, yet the western perception of its inner workings may not be so black and white, something Kamler started to understand after spending a great deal of time in those regions and conducting about 50 interviews.

In the show, Lipoh (Jennie Kwan) is "rescued" from a local brothel by the NGO (non-governmental organization) and aided by an idealistic case worker from Indiana, Emma Gable (Amanda Kruger). Gable soon realizes however, that Lipoh does not see herself as a victim, but rather a dutiful daughter doing what she can to help her war-torn village and her family.

Soon Nu (Kerry K. Carnahan) and Nono (Yardpirun Poolun) are a two-women chorus representing Lipoh's Auntie, her Madam, her fellow brothel worker and her mother, among others. They drift in and out, as the story goes back and forth, showing us glimpses of agonizing past decisions and anxiety-ridden futures. Meanwhile, Gable's office workers, Lewelyn Brand (Ann Fink) and Achara Montri (Ren Hanami) push her to get answers, fill quotas and urge her to "fix" Lipoh as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the complex lives of the girls are not so easily fixed and even in the office the two conflicting viewpoints, Christian (Brand) and Buddhist (Montri) give Gable a headache.

Indeed, a visit to a local brothel shows Emma Gable that not all prostitutes are unwilling and that maybe more time and more investigating needs to trump any quick fix. Carnahan and Poolun demonstrate this quite well singing "Women Power" as confident ladies of the night, advising Gable to find the legitimate sufferers (it's one of the show stoppers). Amanda Kruger sweetly sings the plaintive "I'm Sure Indiana is Fine" as she realizes that merely signing a check and going back to our American lives is not enough to help these women.

Erin Kamler once again shows her versatility and creativity with skillful lyric writing and a passionate story. The music works well with the story and the actors make natural transitions when bursting into song. Kimiko Broder's choreography and Rick Culbertson's direction bind Kamler's work into a thought-provoking piece. Jennie Kwan and Amanda Kruger are the standout stars, while Yardpirun Poolun combines comic relief with passionate sensuality as an audience favorite.

The show has been cut for time, to trim it down for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival so this particular week of previews don't expect the same show twice. Just let the artists tinker as they may and enjoy the music. Wouldn't hurt to spend a little time soul searching as well.

See it before "Land of Smiles" hits the Fringe Festival.

See previous review here. Check out Erin's websites here and here and the Fringe info here.

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a kate west review
music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
book by Enda Walsh, based on the movie by John Carney
directed by John Tiffany
at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
running July 15 - August 10, 2014
contact (800) 982-2787 or(323) 468-1770

The musical "Once" is based on the movie by the same name, a simple boy-meets-girl love story set in Dublin. Cue swooning. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová created the original, despite being more musicians than actors and to their surprised delight, had a hit on their hands. Obviously the next step was to turn the charming beloved film into a Broadway musical. And now you can see it right here in Hollywood.

To tweak it for the stage, the action revolves around a bar set (and audience members are free to roam it before the show and during intermission to get an over-21 drink). When a starry view is needed, the actors move to a second level. Chorus members are bona fide musicians who play various characters (with a continuing game of musical chairs) when not wowing us with their musical prowess. The leads, Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal, deftly match their cinematic counterparts, with a sweet courtship alive with splendidly lovely music. 

If you've seen the movie, you know how it ends. Suffice to say, there is much yearning and sighing and even more singing. The original music fits quite well into the staged story and the addition of interacting musicians keeps a theatrical feel. Martin Lowe, Steven Hoggett and John Tiffany should be proud of this stage adaptation as it maintains the story's integrity while providing some new twists.

Highlights: "Falling Slowly", "If You Want Me", "When Your Mind's Made Up"

See previous review here. Read more!