Tuesday, May 24, 2016

BIRDER …North Hollywood


A Birder is someone who seriously pursues bird-watching and, in this comedy, a middle-aged accountant starts getting messages from the finches nesting by his kitchen window. When a male finch looks him in the eye and sees through his upper middle class fa├žade the guy bursts into tears. He keeps his anguish secret from his free-spending wife, who he is supporting way beyond their means, but from then on his life unravels. He quits his job, goes bankrupt, and is too fearful to tell anyone.

To while away the hours he starts bird watching with a local birder and, through the example of his new friend, realizes that downsizing has life-enhancing rewards. Although the characters are believable, the situations author Julie Marie Myatt puts them through seem too contrived. To suggest that communicating with birds might be a transcendental experience just doesn’t click. A dog might see into your heart and make you rethink your lack of joy, but a finch? A sparrow?
The cast, under Dan Bonnell’s smooth direction, perform admirably. Chet Grissom is the perplexed hero and Laurie Okin his acquisitive wife. Webster Williams is the philosophical bird-lover with Monique Gelineau his flirtatious daughter. Crash Buist is the brazenly over-confident youth of the future. Commissioned and developed by Center Theatre Group, Birder is produced by Donna Simone Johnson and Ann Hearn.

At the Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. NoHo, through June 19. Tickets 818-761-8838 or www.RoadTheatre.org. Photos by Michele Young.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


If you love live theater you don’t want to miss this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. It’s a plethora of riches, celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community. Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the Festival exhibits the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view you can imagine. With nearly 300 shows by passionate entrepreneurs you get to choose your favorites.

Along Theatre Row the numerous small houses will be buzzing with activity. Its like the early days of the Off Off Broadway movement in New York when I first cut my teeth playwriting & directing. There’s a free booklet listing all the shows, some with photos, with clear descriptions of what they’re about so you can choose your favorite topic. There are memoirs, biographies, theatre, comedy, cabaret, magic, dance, fantasies, musicals, horror, sex, drugs, and rock n roll!

Ben Hill
My personal selections so far this year include Broadway veteran Tony Tanner’s Who Are You Anyway?; Stephen Adly Guirgis’ black comedy Den of Thieves; solo shows on Richard Pryor Pryor Truth, and Stokely Carmichael Power!; there's women who shoplift Sticky Fingers; a comedy Charlotte’s Shorts; Post Mortem Movement’s I Was Hamlet, and, written and directed by myself, Ariel Labasan in Yuri Speaks Out!  Here’s a link to the web-version of the Guide: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/guide.
Now in its 7th year, with Ben Hill as Festival Director, the Hollywood Fringe is one of the largest open-access Arts Festivals in the world, with the 2015 Festival generating $400,000 in ticket sales. June 9-26. Tickets through www.HollywoodFringe.org.

Also posted in the June issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Friday, May 13, 2016

THE BOY FROM OZ …in Hollywood


When this biographical show opened on Broadway in 2003, critics dismissed it by lauding Hugh Jackman’s performance as its only saving grace. Well, with time and a well balanced cast, Peter Allen’s journey is maybe more acceptable for modern audiences. 

Here is a man who loves women but ends his life’s journey in love with one man. Coloring it all is his childhood dream to float away from a painful childhood by dancing and singing.

The subject is Show Biz and one young man’s passion for the bright lights and tip-tapping feet. Allen was involved with two great stars – Liza Minelli was his wife for 7 years and Judy Garland! was his mother-in-law. Perhaps this tips the balance of the show in making act one Diva Heaven but, in act two the story continues with perhaps less dazzle but more poignancy.

The production blasts away the walls of the tiny Lex Theatre and deserves to be moved to a larger house with its entire fine cast: Andrew Bongiorno as Peter Allen, Jessica Pennington as Liza Minnelli, show-stealer Bess Motta as Judy Garland, Michayla Brown as Young Peter, Kelly Lester as his mother, and Michael Mittman as his lover.

The songs are by Peter Allen, with book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright. Directed by Michael A. Shepperd, musical direction by Bryan Blaskie, choreography by Janet Roston & multitudinous costumes by Michael Mullen.

Celebration Theatre @ the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave, Hollywood, through June 19.  Tickets (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com.  Photos byCasey Kringlen

Also reviewed in the June issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.