Cockroach Theatre’s “Sudoku”

June 8, 2013 at Las Vegas Little Theatre

New works by Las Vegas playwrights? Right here at Cockroach Theatre’s new program, “The Residents.” Currently housed at Las Vegas Little Theatre during the Vegas Fringe Festival, and soon to be based in Art Square Theatre, this group of thesbians, playwrights and visionaries are doing something very rare; cultivating local playwright talent.

"Sudoku"
Glenn Heath and Angela Chan in “Sudoku”.

“Sudoku”, a full musical in under an hour, featured original script and score.  The micro-theatre space of LVLT’s Black Box and minimalist sets left the storytelling to the script and actors. Playwright Ernie Curcio offered a book of angst, neurosis, and devastation, which was brought to life by actor Glenn Heath in agitated, suffering desperation. Jacquelyn Holland-Wright completed the cast in her absorbing portrayal of Heath’s desire and torment.

Composers Angela Chan and Jolana Adamson created a pleasing contemporary-style score and lyrics that were vocally caressed by Heath and Holland-Wright.

“Sudoku” uses numbers and puzzles as a metaphor for life’s challenges and how people choose to deal with them. The script is symbolically and cleverly written, and makes a fine addition to contemporary theater.

The performance was an emotional touchstone for the audience: many were weeping as they rose from their seats at the end.

Don’t miss the intimacy and talent of local, new theatrical works: check out Vegas Fringe Festival, Las Vegas Little Theatre, Art Square Theatre and Cockroach Theatre.

Rating: A- (=go see it!)

Audience: Ages 10+

Burlesque Hall of Fame 2013 Tournament of Tease

A crowd awash in gowns, victory rolls, sequins, feathers, rhinestones, glittery neckties and tuxedos swept into the Orleans Hotel for the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. Audience members and performers from around the globe gathered to celebrate glamour, beauty, and the art of the tease. This annual Las Vegas event hosts some of the most creative, artistic, and original performing seen at any time of the year in Las Vegas.  Burlesque is alive and well, and this weekend shares its seductive, naughty, and comedic best with the world.

Elektra Cute
Elektra Cute

The third night’s “Tournament of Tease” featured current acts vying for best in their category, as well as the contest for the new Miss Exotic World. Various acts highlighted classic stripteases, innovative ideas, and special skills such as acrobatics, fans, reverse-strips, and butterfly skirts.

In the “Best Debut” category, Elektra Cute wowed the audience with her Art Deco-era style and mystery. The drama in her expression was riveting, and her costume pieces were elegant, flapper-inspired works of art.

Eliza Delite brought her creative Pope-inspired act, starting in Victorian-era robes and crown, then disrobing into a beautiful gold cape which she manipulated in beautiful butterfly-movement using embedded sticks. She evoked the image of one of the first motion-picture-captured dancers in silent films, who turned in a circle as she fluttered beautiful fabric wings. Ms. Delite was regal and old-Hollywood retro.

Lady Borgia started with nice fan work that ended too soon, but transitioned to very nice dancing using her flowing dress teasingly.

Laurie Hagen presented a reverse strip that also attempted to give the feeling of movement done in reverse. Her jerky movements were foreign to this art’s normally beautiful and graceful style, but was an interesting variation.

In the “Best Group” category, Swing Time presented a comedic take on a threesome with great boylesque and nice group sculptures. They won their category.

Burlesque artist Lou Lou D’Vil won the crown of Miss Exotic World, Queen of Burlesque with her classic, elegant striptease and ermine-dripping costume.

LouLou D'vil doing her winning number.
LouLou D’vil doing her winning number. Photo Credit: copyright Don Spiro. Photo from 21stCenturyBurlesque.com.

While the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender is not for all ages, it presents an expressive art form that is enjoying a well-deserved revival.  Especially in a city of raunchy strip clubs and nightclubs, it is a welcome breath of beauty, camaraderie, and glamour.

Rating: A

Ages: 18+

“Phat Pack” Delivers A True Punch

Plaza Hotel, January 1, 2013

Phat Pack infused a classic entertainment genre with modern, theatrical sensibility.  Four experienced performers offered classic crooning of popular musical theatre fare.

The small theatre allowed the audience to experience these legendary singers (and musician) in an intimate setting. The

Phat Pack
Phat Pack

performance by each cast member was focused, genuine and lighthearted, and built friendly rapport with the audience. Impeccable group harmonies, varied vocal dynamics, resonant vocal tones, comedic playfulness and personal stories made the show exhilarating and compelling.

Audience reaction was positive; people clapped along to the upbeat songs, laughed and applauded generously, and fell into quiet awe during dramatic solos.

Gershwin, Sondheim, Cole Porter and other illustrious composers were on the rich Broadway-based bill.

The projected slides were used effectively for the most part, as adjuncts in story-telling or to display background patterns that supported the particular mood of a song. During the autobiographical segments, there were, at times, too many family-moment slides. Paring down the number of slides would help tighten up these scenes and reduce the distraction of so many slide changes.

The stage set-up was basic: black backdrop curtain, piano, stand-up bass and a few microphone stands.  Props, choreography and staging were cute and cleverly used. The show would benefit from more visual changes, such as shirt or jacket changes (to ones with color) or progressing from tied to untied bowties. Backdrop changes would be very fitting.

“Phat Pack” has all the musicianship, content and talent one could wish for. Its irrepressible fun is bursting with personality and charm. A classic crooner format sweetened with musical theatre showstoppers and up-close contact with world-class talent makes this show one to share with family, friends and out-of-town visitors.

Rating: A

Audience: All Ages.

A Sublime “Arcadia”

Dec 8, 2012 at Judy Bayley Theatre, UNLV Performing Arts Center

Here are the great things about Nevada Conservatory Theatre and UNLV Performing Arts Center productions:

  • They are presented on-campus at UNLV. Great location, great parking, great university-ambience, great box office, great prices.
  • Medium-sized house (Judy Bayley Theatre) feels like a metropolitan theatre yet still intimate; not a bad seat anywhere.
  • Renderings by the wardrobe, set design and lighting design teams are on display in the atrium for the audience to explore. Colorful drawings, fabric samples, and scale models of the stage and sets show how these show elements were conceived and built. It’s like a backstage tour! And you can touch them!
  • Variety. Straight plays to musicals, they have it all.
  • Casts feature a mix of theatre majors, community members and theatre professionals.

All that’s missing is…well, nothing.

True, they don’t have motorized moving stage parts or computerized hi-tech set antics, but that, thankfully, allows the focus to stay on the human element — the talent. The actors and the storyline, not technology, are the entertainment here.

All of these elements were in evidence in the production of “Arcadia”, a play by Tom Stoppard.

"Arcadia"
“Arcadia” by Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre. Pictured (L to R): Jordan Bondurant, Joshua Nadler, Melissa Ritz, Angela Janas, Darren Krattli, Gerrad Taylor. Photo credit: Devin Pierce Scheef.

The script was an intellectual exploration of physics and philosophy, both challenging and rewarding to follow. While dense with academic and theoretical concepts, it offered equal parts humor and word play.  The audience laughed from the first two minutes of dialogue and continued the positive reaction throughout the show.

The sets and costumes were feasts for the eyes. The set was an open, airy minimalistic design evocative of the period. The costumes were detailed and period-appropriate, right down to the shoes. The clothing was constructed in vibrant colors to support each actor’s character. Props were thoughtfully created, including the large book that was central to the storyline.

The actors breezily conversed in natural-sounding British accents; diction and projection were excellent to a person. The actors made extensive dialogue interesting to the ear by varying pitch, volume and speed appropriately. John Maltese’s vocal expression made even his long passages of technical information easier to grasp and digest.

Body language furthered the character development. Of note, Joshua Nadler’s stiff, affected, uppity movement style visually corroborated his character’s verbal insecure uptightness. Jordan Fenn’s wide-eyed fear clearly expressed his character, without needing words.

Some of the longer dialogue scenes, in which the actors stayed in one position, sitting in chairs around the table, seemed a little static.  Perhaps some movement might give those long minutes of discussion a bit more life.

The only moment when the audience grumbled was when a real cigarette was lit and smoked on stage. Apparently this was bothersome to some of the patrons.

Despite these tiny drawbacks, the acting was excellent, onstage interaction was smooth and entertainingly-presented, production value was high, and the script itself was educational. Certainly a top-notch theatrical production, and a very enjoyable experience. “Arcadia” was another feather in the NCT/UNLV PAC hat.

So, is the big, new, marble performing arts center down the road too expensive, seats too far from the stage, too many balconies, lacking intimacy, not offering all plays you want nor featuring the local talent you want to support? Head to UNLV for everything you’re looking for.

Audience: all ages

Rating: A

“Company” Bursts with Talent

July 10, 2012, LVH Showroom (formerly Las Vegas Hilton)

A dream team of Las Vegas singers and musicians celebrated the sounds of Sondheim on one of the most venerable stages in town.

The one-time home of legends Elvis and Barry Manilow played host to this two-night revival of the 1970s Broadway hit “Company”, a wrenching examination  of marriage and relationships.

"Company"
“Company”

Dozens of local Las Vegas singer-actors and musicians banded together to resurrect this deeply-emotional musical.  The cast was a who’s-who of current and former lead singers from 30 years of Las Vegas theater and production shows.

The singers shone at every moment– belting and cooing, vocally cavorting (and sometimes, physically cavorting) to bring to life each different character.

"Company"
“Company”

The singers also acted their socks off, committing to their characters so completely that the audience physically experienced the anguish and longing they were expressing.

The lighting was beautiful and dramatic.

The orchestra was breathtaking. A 22-piece orchestra played the score live — what a treat!  Bassoon, oboe, tympani, and xylophone graced center stage along with a 10-piece string section.  Bill Fayne, musical director and conductor, guided the tuxedoed musicians with expertise, subtlety and passion.  Quite a thrill for anyone who studied music or previously experienced a Broadway-caliber orchestra, and a fabulous introduction for anyone who had not.

Winds section from "Company"
Winds section of orchestra in “Company”

“Side By Side By Side” was a standout number because of the energy, humor and playfulness amongst the singers.  The choreography was effective, supported the message of the song, was well-rehearsed and sharply-performed by the singers, adding a delightful visual element.

Unfortunately, some slow scene transitions and pauses in dialogue hindered the pace of the show.

The singers’ black attire, in front of the black background on the LVH stage, had the regrettable effect of disappearing their bodies and movements.  There was good use of the levels of the stage platform by the cast to differentiate scenes, yet the platform was far away from the audience and the cast would have been more visible had they worn brighter-colored clothing.

Transitions and wardrobe would almost certainly be worked out in a longer run of the show; it is incredible difficult to tweak these things to perfection in only two shows.

Despite these challenges, this production presented a Broadway show that was bursting with talent and fantastic performances from the entire cast, and demonstrated, once again, that the theatrical and music community in Las Vegas has both the depth and passion required to present nationally-known shows at an impressive level.

Audience: age 8 and up

Rating: A

“Oliver!” at Super Summer Theatre

July 11, 2012 (Opening Night), Spring Mountain Ranch

The British National Theatre Company of America’s production of “Oliver!” opened on a strong note at Super Summer Theatre.

The sets were richly painted and detailed, with deep colors, lots of textures, and multiple levels that were enhanced by varying heights of set pieces and props. The lighting enhanced the creation of a dark, forbidding, grimy atmosphere, effectively transporting the audience to a war-torn, crumbling city.

Oliver!
Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre

Immediately notable in the opening of the show was the talent and professionalism of the child actors. The children were focused, clean and confident in their scenes, group dances and interactions. Sara Andreas, who played Oliver, demonstrated vibrant vocal quality and strength. She was in good company, as every lead and ensemble member sang strong and clear.

Costumes were period-appropriate, with good detail and style.

The choreography for the children was delightfully creative, with a modernized hip-hop style suffusing the children’s movements throughout group lifts, canon movements and prop work. The fresh style was eye-catching and fitting in its street-feel, and in many ways reflected movement that children naturally do.

All of the children were good dancers, and the sharpness of their performance was impressive. Whether in formations or during simple gestures of the head, focusing to and away from a lead adult character, the children moved in unison and were obviously well-rehearsed, giving the production a polished appearance. Great job, especially on an opening night.

Oliver!
Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre.

“Consider Yourself” had interesting formation work and character choreography, including umbrella choreography.  Artful Dodger performed a quirky, clean, memorable dance solo.

Violence toward women and children was graphically presented in “Oliver!”, and was disturbing. Children in the audience may need adult guidance to navigate the violent themes.

While these themes are part of the original foundation of the show, and traditionally central to the show’s theme of ‘survival’, they make the audience wish that one of the victimized characters would outright resist, outwit their persecutors or trick them into turning on each other, or that the offenders would ‘get their due’ as vividly as Oliver and the women suffer abuse and death.

This production of “Oliver!” was admirably directed, choreographed, and performed. With modernized choreography, robust singing and confident performances, it entertained the full-house crowd and set a high bar for its three weeks of performances.

Audience: appropriate for ages 10-up

Rating: A

Signature Productions’ “Hairspray”

April 11, 2012 at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center

Signature Production’s Hairspray blew our wigs off with its high production quality and joyful performances.

The cast had terrific energy, talent and passion. Even though many characters were written to be somewhat over-the-top or caricature-ish, the actors in this production played those at just the right level to be believable, likeable and relatable.  These subtle choices in acting and direction are to be commended.

The interaction of the actors established solid relationships, drawing the audience in from the first moment.

Singing by every actor was strong and well-articulated. All sang at a professional level.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"
Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Direction was superb.  Transitions were inventive and clever, and performed smoothly.  Use of sets, lighting and script during scene changes made them as engaging as the scenes. Staging was creative and contributed greatly to the storytelling.  Placement and movement of each actor had a reason, and furthered the story.

Choreography was pleasingly stylish, sharp, and well-rehearsed.  It was not distracting, gratuitously complex or self-aggrandizing; it was well-chosen for the level of dance ability of the cast.  The cast performed it cleanly and joyfully. Choreography of sets, such as the jailhouse bars, was witty and interesting. And choreographed special effects using real hairspray –- terrific!

Costumes were richly designed and constructed, authentic in style to the 60’s, eye-catchingly detailed, expressive of each character’s story, and perfectly tailored.

Lighting was judicious and effective in creating the right mood and directing the eye to the action.  Sound had no discernible problems, and the performers’ voices sounded natural and clear.

Sets were impressive in size, detail, construction, mobility and variety.  Of special note was the huge blue-checkered backdrop early in the show, and the simple jailhouse scene set: the former perfectly symbolized the aesthetic of the 60s and created a ‘groovy’ atmosphere with its rich colors and sophisticated execution; the latter effectively evoked the setting due to its shape, minimalism and starkness.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Casting an actual child in the part of Little Inez is rarely done, but Malia Blunt sang, acted and danced with skill and poise.  Her talent and skill are professional-theater level, maybe even Broadway-ready.

This performance belied the label ‘community theater’.  In all respects, including staging, costumes, sets, directing, acting and singing, this company and production offered a professional theater-level experience.  If a few of these theatrical and production elements were weaker, the show would still have been well-worth attending.  But every element was designed and performed with excellence, which made attending it fun and memorable.  The production sparkled with professionalism. This show was truly a gem.

Audience: All Ages

Event Rating: A++