Dial M for Murder, Lonny Chapman Theatre

I’m consistently surprised by the amount of people who tell me they didn’t know there was so much theatre in the Los Angeles area. My theory is they just aren’t looking hard enough or don’t know where to look. With Goldstar, Living Social, and Groupon readily accessible, I find it incredibly easy to discover new theaters around me like the Lonny Chapman Theatre.

This was my first show at the Lonny Chapman and I was impressed by the production value. I have to start with the set. When my best friend sent a snap to our friend of where we were he thought we were at a retired TV set, it’s that convincing. The 1950s home really draws you in with its simplicity. There’s not too much and not too little but every little detail informs the characters as well as the plot as you wonder what will be the next key piece of the puzzle.

I have to confess I have not seen the Hitchcock film adaptation so I had no idea what I was walking into. While it’s clear who the murderer is quite early on the mystery comes from wondering how everything will go wrong. If you watch enough mysteries you catch on that any time someone lays out exactly what their plan is, something will ruin it. Thus the central question emerges — is there a perfect crime?

The story moves at a slow pace made more noticeable by the lengthy scene changes, but is by no means a drag. Credit has to go to this small cast for their energy and charm, anchored by Adam Jonas Segaller as the scheming husband, Tony Wendice. Tony’s character is not nearly as a clever as he believes himself to be but you almost believe he’ll actually get away with it since his plan is so well thought out. One thing I really appreciated about the story was the clever inspector Hubbard. As of late there have been so many portrayals of detectives as dopes who can’t figure anything out but Hubbard really came through to bring more tension and hold Wendice’s feet to the fire.

This is not my favorite show I’ve ever seen but if you’re a fan of the film (and I was very inspired to see it after this show) give this show a chance. Tickets were just over $16 after taxes. My roommate and I took a Lyft and were certainly glad we did so. There is very little parking nearby.  The theater is kind of close to the Cupcake Theater so if you know any secret parking lots near there you could walk from there and grab dinner.

Dial M For Murder is running weekends through August 13th. You can get tickets on Goldstar or through The Group Rep website. Through the theater’s website, tickets run for $25 dollars. The theater is small so arrive early to get good seats.

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The Last Five Years, Lineage Performing Arts Center

I have a confession. I love the film version of The Last Five Years. When it comes to Jeremy Jordan I am just so weak and his Jamie will probably forever be my favorite and I challenge anyone to dethrone him.

That being said, I was really excited about The Lineage Performing Arts Center production of this as they incorporated dance into the staging. The two dancers, Michelle Kolb and Christopher Jones, represent the inner life of Cathy and Jamie in a way that reminds me of when I saw Deaf West’s Spring Awakening where the speaking voices were in many ways visual representations of their souls. It enriches the story brought to life by the music of Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County) by highlighting the emotion and digging deeper into the psyche of both characters.

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Photo courtesy of Pasadena Now

At first, I actually wasn’t convinced that the dancers were the most beneficial to the production. In many ways I was distracted from the other performers and found myself far more focused on their movement than on the songs I’ve come to love so much but there were some instances where the dancers and the actors fell perfectly into sync with one another to elevate the show — particularly “The Schmuel Song” and “Climbing Uphill.” It struck me as odd though that during one of the show’s most pivotal songs, “Nobody Needs to Know” Christopher Jones was notably absent. Of all the songs where we could use a new perspective on Jamie’s character this felt like the perfect moment.

If you’re not familiar with The Last Five Years, this normally two-man show, explores the destruction of a five year relationship between Cathy, an aspiring actress, and Jamie, an up and coming novelist. She tells her story from the end of the relationship while he tells his story from the beginning and they meet only once in the middle at their wedding. Before I knew anything about this musical I remember listening to the cast album and being so utterly lost with what was happening. This particular production underscored the time differences by projecting what year each song took place in to make the distinction between their stories all the more clear. 

Starring as Cathy and Jamie are married couple, Marisa Echevarria (Pure Genius, The Mentalist, Southland) and Paul Siemins. Siemins, in my opinion, outshines his counterpart. Like Jamie he is full of charm and his stage presence is captivating. His Jamie seems to stay at this singular level until that fateful song “Nobody Needs to Know.” It’s possible Siemins plays Jamie at this constant as though he were trying to convince the audience of his innocence in the whole matter but his renditions of Jamie’s classic songs were really strong.

I felt almost the opposite about Echevarria’s portrayal of Cathy. I found myself wanting more from her during Cathy’s songs but really loved her overall portrayal of Cathy. When we first meet Cathy she seems hollow, dispirited, and broken but as the musical moves along you see Cathy come to life and it’s really tragic to think about how Jamie has destroyed her in so many ways.  Cathy’s part in ending the musical is pretty clearly evident – you start see her as a jealous girlfriend who at times really seems to feel she has been left behind by Jamie and his newfound fame.

I love this show a lot but was not in love with this particular production. Adding dance was a really interesting element but at times it seemed to overshadow the performances of Echevarria and Siemins.  I did catch the final performance on Sunday, June 18th on a spur of the moment decision after seeing tickets on Goldstar for only $12.50 before taxes. If you’re interested in dance keep your eye on this theater, it might hold a lot of treasures for you.

Legally Blonde, Cupcake Theater

I have to start this review off by saying the Cupcake Theater is my absolute favorite local theater. I have seen nearly every production they have put on since moving to their new North Hollywood location. This venue is so intimate and jam-packed with talent and these productions are not to be missed. 

I saw Legally Blonde on opening night, June 16th.  The best thing this production  has going for it is the superb casting. A huge shoutout to Arri Leigh who stars as Elle Woods. She is charming, idealistic, and captures the purity of Elle while also making herself a fierce force on stage. You never doubt she will do whatever it takes to succeed and get things done. I also have to give some love to Kristen Pickrell who stars as Paulette and really brings the sass and love to the stage befitting this character. Combined with Arri and the other lovely ladies, they turn out a wonderful rendition of “Bend and Snap.”

One of the things I love most about this show is its theme of empowerment. The amount of incredibly strong and diverse women on the Cupcake Theater stage is staggering and they are always there for each other and are truly the backbone of this production. Legally Blonde is a great production to show your daughters or bring your squad to and celebrate all of the awesome things ladies can do when they stick together.

This show is also so fun! Featuring some great jams like “Ohmigod You Guys,” “There! Right there,” and “Whipped into Shape” which is a wildly impressive jumprope number that is such a truly magnificent way to jump into the second act. I have to give a couple more shoutouts to Rehyan Rivera who made his choreography debut with this show and Thomas Adoue Polk who made his directorial debut. You guys have created a really great show and I can’t wait to see it again. 

You can currently get tickets from the Cupcake Theater website or from Goldstar. If you can afford more expensive tickets please make that investment as these ticket sales do fund the productions and make it possible to create such wonderful experiences. I also recommend taking Lyft to the show as there’s not that much parking nearby.

Seats are not assigned at the Cupcake so make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a high number and have your pick of the seats in the house. There’s not really a bad seat since the venue is so intimate but while you’re waiting you can also enjoy a signature watermelon mojito. They are to die for and I almost always get one when I come to a show. Plus, you never know who will be bartending that night. Members of the Cupcake Theater family are usually behind the counter helping out so say hi and chat with them and continue to support this great place!

As of this writing, tickets on Goldstar are running between $20-$50 before taxes. The show will run at least through August and plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Constellations, Geffen Playhouse

I couldn’t have asked for a better play to review first. Constellations opens tonight, July 14th, at the intimate Geffen Playhouse a stone’s throw from UCLA to what I hope is the packed house it deserves. I caught the last preview of the play and it more than earned its standing ovation.

Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time) stars opposite Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) in this two-man play from playwright Nick Payne, which explores the concept of string theory and infinite universes and courses our lives may take — but are they truly infinite?

As the play unfolds it seems increasingly clear that while there are infinite possibilities for our lives across infinite universes there may be one clear course our lives will take. Don’t be afraid because I mentioned string theory that this play will be bland or too brainy. Out of its almost 90 minute run time, you’ll have to hear science for about…five minutes of it and that’s a pretty generous estimation. The rest is focused on developing the characters of Marianne, a quantum physics professor at Cambridge, and Roland, a beekeeper, as they struggle in a relationship that brings to mind Jaime and Kathy from The Last Five Years (but without the songs). I don’t want to give anything away, but before you know it this love story will have you emotionally invested and both endeared and devastated for them. These characters are fun and you root for them to have a universe where things go well for them.

The story, told in segments, unfolds out-of-order leaving some in the audience whispering behind me about their confusion but the pieces all come together by the end. Even the confused older ladies behind me had the gist of it before Goodwin and Leech took their bows.

If you’re not a fan of seeing the same scenes played out various ways, you might want to pass on this one, but the subtle differences between each string of the same scene really highlight the level of talent Goodwin and Leech bring to the stage.

I feel something should also be said for the clever, minimalist staging that features beautiful round string lights which my roommate observed help keep track of which string each scene is on.

Constellations - Promo Pic
Photo Credit: Chris Whitaker, courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

If you like your plays to leave you with some food for thought, give this show a shot. I certainly don’t contemplate quantum physics in my normal life but since seeing this play I have started debating all over again whether we truly have free will or if there truly are an infinite array of choices at our feet.

At $28.50 a ticket after taxes on Goldstar (assuming you go for a ticket listed at $21.50) this is a show worth your while. If you factor in the parking a couple minutes’ walk from the theatre which costs $6, you could have a pretty nice night out for under $40.

Here’s a link to purchase tickets on Goldstar if you’re interested:

https://www.goldstar.com/events/los-angeles-ca/constellations-tickets#dates-times