Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of “Avenue Q”

If you are interested in a musical complete with puppetry from unconcealed puppeteers that concerns the transition from childhood into adulthood, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of 
“Avenue Q.”
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty, based on an original concept by Lopez and Marx, running at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District through July 7th.
This is the story of a group of friends living on the same street in New York City who begin to notice that life is not the fairy tale or amusement park they though it was as youngsters.  They now
understand that their parents and the television show “Sesame Street” may not have been totally correct in letting them think that they were special and extraordinary.  Existence seems to have other plans for them.
However, on Avenue Q, the past matters little.
The present is a state of mind and a celebration of romance, maturity and bravery.
Because once you run into reality’s wall, you are either bruised forever or learn to climb over it.
The Music and Lyrics by Lopez and Marx strike a heartfelt and soul full chord from first moment to last with groundbreaking, transparent, highly original and semi-controversial, even for today, lyrics about marginally 
taboo subjects such as homosexuality, race and pornography. 
But no matter what we, the audience, think about the lyrical subject matter, the substance and style of the libretto are highly infectious and engaging, like the very characters themselves.
The lyrics and music are witty and graceful, and after a while the puppets seem not only human, but like our best friends.
The singing and puppetry are top notch and rip a hole in the heart the size of the sun.
In the end, if it is music and songs you have come to this theatre for, you have arrived at exactly the correct destination.
Whitty’s Book leads to and interweaves with the Music and Lyrics electrically, achingly and seamlessly.
It is the blueprint of the play.
The book or libretto is the least appreciated and yet most dramatically important element of the evening.
It is the narrative structure that keeps the score from being nothing more than a disjointed medley of songs.
Here, the book and score interweave to tell a cohesive story.
The original concept by Lopez and Marx is innovative and timeless.
While we drop our dentures laughing and singing along with the actors and their puppets, there is a very serious message here of young adults more and more overlooked, spiritually and emotionally undernourished  
and severely isolated at this time in the universe’s history.
This sobering message of alienation, subjugation and modernization in a world not made by or for these young adults, grabs us, the audience, by the scruff of the collar and drags us begging for less,
allowing the play to take its own course away from cliche, dramatic contamination and catchphrases. 
The Orchestrations and Arrangements by Stephen Oremus are fluid, full and pleasing to the ear.  The notes connect with the lyrics and words as if they were written together.  And perhaps they were.
The Musical Direction by Paul Cady is strong, commanding and furthers the message of the play.
Michele Bernath’s Choreography is beautifully executed with timely steps and stretches.  Taken alone the dancing explains the arc of this unusual and original musical, but together with the rest of the play, it is a
fairy tale and story with its own author.  One the veteran dancer and choreographer writes with precision, passion and poise.
Director Patrick Burke inspires the actors to be themselves and hold nothing back in song or dialogue.
 On the initial matinee that this critic saw the show, The Group Repertory Theatre veteran actor underscored the themes of loneliness and early adult anxiety with an entertaining, emotionally moving, artistically 
nimble and fast-paced show that was also sold-out.
Burke assembles a gifted cast that comprehends the complexities, demands and fluid grace of the music, lyrics and language.
Stand outs include:
Courtney Bruce (Gary Coleman) who almost steals the play with a confident, comical and convincing turn as the late sitcom child star.
The Actors Equity Association union actress, who is making her debut with The Group Repertory Theatre, exhibits a powerful stage presence and spot-on characterization.
Hands on hips, head in the stars, the longtime stage actress seems to be asking us to accept her as she is in this play:Unbridled, spontaneous and her own person.
With glue sticks for fingers, we, the audience, are more than happy to oblige.
But running away with the show is Hartley Powers (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut) who once again (Last year’s “A Carol Christmas”) proves that being a triple threat is nothing new to her.
Well, if you add the art of puppetry, the stage and screen actress is now a quadruple threat.
Acting since she was 11 months, this buzz saw of a performer leaves no doubt that her commitment to acting is only surpassed by her sensitivity, talent and vulnerability on stage.
 Her song “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” to end Act One brought this critic to tears.  
Powers’ range and artistic instinct can be seen in every drop of golden syllable and syntax.  

The Group Repertory Theatre veteran plays both of her roles with freedom, finesse and funk.
The level of difficulty in capturing two characters as different as Powers’ is off the charts, but the perseverant and accomplished thespian pulls it off with seeming ease.  
This critic hopes to see Powers on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Furthering the message of the musical are Chris Winfield’s innovative set design, Patrick Dennison’s powerful and viable lighting design, Steve Shaw’s brilliantly modern sound design and 
Stephanie Colet’s supple and rich costume design.
All in all, “Avenue Q” succeeds because of its animated nature, not despite it.
The musical flies and soars over peaks and valleys, and through tunnels and overpasses.
It does what few musicals have ever attempted to do: Make puppets seem human.
This, the 24th longest-running play in Broadway history, deserves credit not for being a children’s show with adult actors, but an adult show with adult actors and themes.
Our parents tell us as children that we are special and can accomplish anything that we put our minds to.
As this show proves, we are all somewhat ordinary and cannot succeed in everything we put our hearts and spirits to.
But, the musical shows this quandary with love, understanding and sympathy, not judgement.
In the end, for better or worse, this avenue is full of young people just living.
And that alone is a beautiful and sumptuous feast to behold and celebrate.
That the Group Repertory Theatre once more chose a groundbreaking musical that thinks outside of the proverbial box is no longer a surprise.
Since taking over the reins, Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Winfield have slowly guided this ship from the murky waters of community theatre fare
to the gulf stream waters of classical and contemporary theatre with courage, class and karma.
“Avenue Q” is merely the last in a long line of triumphs for the pair and the entire ensemble as a whole.
After all, one entity cannot exist without the other.
In this instance, it does not, as both shimmer, shake and shine.
The former in knowing that they made the correct artistic, mainstream and commercial choice yet again, and the latter in hitting their marks and flooring it like the Formula One race cars at the
recent Indianapolis 500.
May both get the checkered flag on Burbank Boulevard as rubber meets asphalt yet again.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza     Theatre, Film and Book CriticAt the Theatre with Radomir Luza Showtimes:Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PMTalk backs after matinees on June 9th and June 23rdTickets:General Admission: $30.00Students/Seniors with ID: $25.00Groups 10+: $20.00Information/Reservation: (818) 763-5990WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre at               The Lonny Chapman Theatre,               10900 Burbank Boulevard,               North Hollywood, CA 91601   
At the Theatre with Radomir Luza


Review of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s Production of John Olive’s “Standing On My Knees”

If you are interested in a play about a talented poet besieged with Schizophrenia, look no further than Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s production of John Olive’s “Standing On My Knees” playing at the Sherry Theatre in 
the North Hollywood Arts District through June 2nd.
This is the story of a gifted wordsmith who must decide whether the mental illness raging within her is who she is or if she can resurrect her once-thriving poetry career which probably led to the madness.
The widely produced and award-winning Olive reaches for the heavens here and succeeds by keeping the plot, structure and writing simple.
The language is naked, raw and seamless in its genuine and sincere beauty.
There are no hurdles, Mount Everests or San Fernando Valleys to speak of, only streets and boulevards of hope, faith, suffering, and in the end, alcohol-fueled institutionalization.
The playwright’s words are arresting and electric as they take us on a journey of self-discovery, pharmacology, therapy and creativity rekindled.
The ache and strength in the dialogue are overwhelming and strike a loud and noble chord with us, the audience, from beginning to end.
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Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Productions of the One-Act plays”Let Me Hear You Whisper” by Paul Zindel and “The Strangest Kind of Romance” by Tennessee Williams Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre

If you are interested in a pair of inextricably linked One-Act plays, make a beaten path to The Group Repertory Theatre’s productions of Paul Zindel’s “Let Me Hear You Whisper” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Strangest 
Kind of Romance” running through May 5th Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre, on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District. 
The first One-Act concerns a scientific laboratory where experiments are being conducted on mammals, and the new cleaning lady who slowly uncovers the laboratory’s secrets.
The second One-Act deals with the proprietress of a boarding house who attempts to take advantage of a young European foreigner working at the nearby factory and the sparks that fly, or do not soar.
In the former One-Act, science takes on humanity in a display of the dangers of ego, superficiality, materialism and greed in a beautifully-written cautionary tale that leaves us, the audience, both riveted and
emotionally moved.  Zindel won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1971 for “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds.”
The language is as thought-provoking and seamless as a long day at the beach.  Except that this beach is frought with dolphins trained to destroy, detonate and annihilate.
Zindel’s clever anti-war satire is subtle, yet charming in its innocent anger and frustration.  It even goes so far as to remind us in Nazi-like boot-clicking fashion that those who do not talk back
against what is wrong are as bad as those perpetrating that evil.
Director Katelyn Ann Clark finds a way to involve every actor in the action.  In so doing, she not only allows each actor the chance to make their presence felt, but lets the ensemble paint an inglorious, yet 
nakedly honest and raw portrait, of science gone terribly wrong.
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Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of Agatha Christie’s THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS

If you are interested in a play loaded with high mystery, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s “The Secret of Chimneys” running in the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North 

Hollywood Arts District through May 5th.
This is the story of a cosmopolitan adventurer who uncovers murder, mayhem and madness at an English country house under the watchful eye of both Scotland Yard and the French Surete.
Yes, at times the play is hard to follow and often it seems that there are more characters on stage at the same time than the eye can swallow, but this is Christie at her most playful, jovial and genuine.
Comedy seeps from the pores of this whodunit like sweat or blood.
This play was originally published in the United Kingdom in June of 1925.  Read more

Review of Sierra Madre Playhouse’s Production of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher

If you are interested in a play about a friendship between a student and his beloved sociology professor, look no further than Sierra Madre Playhouse’s
 production of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Jeffrey Hatcher and Albom at Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, CA through March 31st.
This is the story of a friendship between a nationally-known professor at Brandeis University suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) 
and his famous sports journalist of a former student who has more questions than answers. 
 Within this moon glow of a relationship, two major questions are advanced:
1.What is friendship?
2.Who is God?
The former builds on stage throughout as the master, here referred to as coach, slowly withers away before us, the audience, but not before 
changing the student from a self-involved, time-absorbed professional to a kindred spirit unafraid of showing the love and freedom in his heart of hearts
and soul of souls.  The latter defined by the love displayed by both men.  One in coming to terms with his mortality, and the other by learning 
the meaning of life by releasing the inner light most of us are afraid to let shine and taught to hide. Read more

Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of WHOOPSIE DOOPSIE By Art Shulman Upstairs at the GRT in North Hollywood, CA

If you are interested in a charming, comic tale of two young people at a crossroads in their relationship and lives, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of

“Whoopsie Doopsie,” written and directed by Art Shulman, and playing in the Black Box Theatre Upstairs at the GRT in the North Hollywood Arts District through March 3rd.
This is the story of a young man who gets his girlfriend pregnant, but instead of having the baby, the young woman decides to have an abortion.
In-between the story of the two lovers, we, the audience, are treated to events happening to the young lad each year from age two to the current 17.

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Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of One-Acts LAUNDRY AND BOURBON and LONE STAR by James McLure

If you are interested in two one-act plays that intertwine through time and place, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of
James McLure’s “Laundry and Bourbon” and “Lone Star” at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through March 3rd.
These are the stories of three women and three men who come together separately on a hot day in Maynard, Texas in the early 1970’s for tales of
love, marriage, desperation, betrayal and, ultimately, redemption.
“Lone Star” completes what “Laundry and Bourbon” begins with grace, aplomb and passion.
These are six authentically human characters presented by the Louisiana-born and Jesuit-educated playwright as nothing less than strong, funny, but, undoubtedly, vulnerable and wounded
people.

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Review of CAPS-ATC Productions Presentation of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Jewish Wife” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “The Respectful Prostitute”

If you are interested in two plays about racial persecution that are motivated by and echo in today’s world, run do not walk to The CAPS-ATC Productions’ presentation of
Bertolt Brecht’s “The Jewish Wife” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “The Respectful Prostitute” running through December 9th at T.U. Studios in The North Hollywood Arts District.
Both plays tell stories of suffering, doubt and paranoia.  The first, translated by Eric Bentley, of a Jewish wife in Berlin, Germany in the late 1930’s leaving the world she knows behind because of
the impending and
looming threat of the Nazi Party and its brutal and final anti-Jewish solution, is simple but profound in plot, intent and execution.

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Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of A CAROL CHRISTMAS

If you are interested in a new musical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s World Premiere production of “A Carol Christmas,” book
by Doug Haverty, music
and lyrics by Bruce Kimmel, at The Lonny Chapman Theatre, running through December 30th in the North Hollywood Arts District.
This adaptation of the Dickens classic, set in today’s America, features a woman named Carol, the brains and beauty behind a home shopping network show, who does not like Christmas and
wants her staff to work through the holidays.

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Review of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s Production of Kat Ramsburg’s ANATOMY OF A HUG

If you are interested in a drama about a relationship between a mother and her daughter, look no further than Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s production of Kat Ramsburg’s award-winning
“Anatomy Of A Hug”
running at The Sherry Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through December 2nd.
This is the story of Amelia, the heartbroken but idealistic daughter, and Sonia, the dying mother who murdered her husband, Amelia’s father, when Amelia was a child.
With the aide of a social worker, Amelia agrees to take in her mother as Sonia is suffering from Ovarian Cancer and has been given Compassionate Release from prison because of her terminal
illness.

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