Monday, July 13, 2009

Chico's Chica's

Chico's Angels 2: Love Boat Chicas. The Cavern Club Celebrity Theater. 7/12/09.

Chico's Angels is probably the best show you'll ever see in the basement of a Mexican Restaurant, and the current installment, Love Boat Chicas exceeds my previous experiences with the show so much that I was blown away! There were more songs, more dances, more lesbianism, and the plot even made more sense! This was by far the best Angels yet! This Charlie's Angels meets the Loveboat crossover episode has all the '70s nostalgia you could possibly desire and all the campy drag and sexual innuendo you can stand.

Even better, this episode seems to have finally mastered the balance in campiness in combining drag queens and bio-girls. Cher Ferreyra and Nora Miller really brought the bio-girl camp and managed to gve the drag queens a run for their money rather than feeling like they were in a different show. It brought the whole production together in an explosion of fabulousness.

Of course, Oscar Quintero as the scene-stealing Kay Sedia is always the star of the show and didn't disappoint as a Charo impersonator in this episode, but the subplots with Danny Casillas' portrayal of Frieda Lay's budding lesbian experimentation and the forbidden love between Ray Garcia as Chita Parol and Alejandro Patino as Bossman were excellent enhancements to the plot and played extremely well. Overall, this was the strongest Chico's Angels I've seen so far and I highly recommend it.

If you can't make it to the theater to see the show (extended through August 2!), they're starting a web series, so be sure to check it out on their website!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It Came from Chicago

Hannah Free. Outfest. 7/10/2009.

Outfest 2009 has begun. On the spur of the moment, I joined a friend at a this evening at a screening of Hannah Free, a film about an older butch lesbian dealing with aging and recalling the love of her life. It was a lovely film with beautiful cinematography by Gretchen Warthen and the performances, particularly by Sharon Gless (the mother from Queer as Folk and Burn Notice. She makes a great lesbian.

There were some really refreshing things about this film, particularly that there were actual images of butch women and also older lesbians, both of which are rarely seen in mainstream films. The performances were truly excellent. Sharon Gless was, of course, fabulous, but so was the rest of the cast. Jacqui Jackson was charming and adorable as a young woman who adopts Hannah as a lesbian elder and Kelli Strickland as the baby butch version Hannah was seriously crush-worthy.

I'm really glad I saw this partially because it emerged from the Chicago theater scene. It was written by Claudia Allen, who is a lesbian playwright in Chicago at the Victory Gardens Theater. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know anything about her work prior to this (although I think I did see someone give a paper about her play Xena Lives!), so I'm really glad that this brought this work to my attention.

The film wasn't perfect; there were some cringe-worthy moments of awkwardness, particularly some really unnatural-sounding exposition at the beginning of the film. Some of the folks I was with complained that it felt a little stagey at points, although either I didn't notice or I'm interpreting the same moments as unnatural awkwardness that they consider theatrical. Overall, the film was just sweet and refreshing. It was also a bit of a tearjerker; I was crying from about 10 or 15 minutes into the film, but there were so many beautiful, funny, honest scenes between the ones that made me cry that I found the whole thing charming and really enjoyable rather than sappy.

Overall, Outfest is off to a great start for me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Definitely a Children's Musical

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Orange County Performing Arts Center. 7/8/09.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a cute musical for kids, but for me as an adult it lacked the sense of effortless wonder that would have made me enjoy the show. The production's emphasis on spectacle over sense diminishes rather than enhances the show's whimsey, and while the sets and costumes were lovely, they felt like the star of the show rather than an enhancement to the singing and dancing.

This was the first time I have ever thought seriously about orchestration in a musical, but I think in this case the orchestration significantly harmed the production. This was a score that could have benefited from a full orchestra and instead the pared-down pit orchestra meant that there was far too much musical emphasis on drums and tuba (and a few reeds). As a result, far too many of the songs sounded like marches and everything about the singing and dancing seemed labored rather than effortless.

The cast itself performed well, particularly the kids, Jeremy Lipton as Jeremy and Aly Brier as Jemima, who had beautiful voices. I enjoyed Dirk Lumbard and Scott Cote as the comic henchmen quite a bit and wish they actually had more to do. The plot doesn't serve them at all, but the actors themselves had a good deal of potential as a comic team. Steve Wilson in the lead role of Caractacus Potts worked hard to carry the show, but he just doesn't have the huge personality and range of an actor like Dick Van Dyke (who originated the role in the film) or Tommy Tune. I wonder what Raúl Esparza, who originated the role on Broadway, was like?

Mostly, though, this show is pure children's theater. While I was bored that every song had an encore, the little kids behind me were singing along and seemed to be having a great time. While I was puzzled by events that happened offstage or that seemed unnecessary, they were delighted. While I thought the Baron and Baroness characters were weird and disturbing, they seemed to understand them as villains. Overall, I was kind of mystified by the show as a whole and why anyone would want a live action version of the movie, but the kids seemed to really enjoy it.

This show is for you if you have children under the age of 12 who would enjoy some silly musical theater, or if you're particularly nostalgic for the 1968 film version but don't remember it well enough to be a purist (my mom loved the show).

Skip it if you're in the slightest bit cynical or critical or prefer your musicals to make sense.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Good Tribute to Great Music

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. Laguna Playhouse. 7/7/09.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra features a quartet of good singers singing the best songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, so it's an evening of excellent music delivered in pleasant, if not brilliant or revolutionary, manner. It's a good show and the performers do an admirable job singing all of Frank's hits. Go to this show if you want a nice concert of Sinatra music. The cast members have great voices, particularly John Fredo as Man #1 who displays the spirit and vocal quality of Sinatra, and though his dancing wasn't particularly Sinatra-esque, it was fun to watch. I also enjoyed the work of Casey Erin Clark, even though she's terribly miscast as Woman #1 who should by all rights be older considering the songs she sings.

Beyond the songs and the singing, which are good, this production isn't anything to write home about. When confronted with the understated cool of Sinatra, the conventions of the musical revue seem far too staid and artificial. The old familiar format of two guys and two girls in formalwear singing in mixed couples makes a lot of sense for the songs of Sondheim or Noel Coward, both of which I have seen to good effect, but it doesn't make sense for Sinatra, whose voice and personality are as important as the songs themselves. The four people all dressed up and hanging out singing feels particularly inappropriate as performances of or about Sinatra. Though the performers are consummate singers, they're not necessarily the ideal actors for paying tribute to Sinatra's persona. Karen M. Jeffreys as Woman #2 in particular overperformed, with dramatic arm gesturing, facial mugging and hip wiggling that detracted from rather than enhanced the songs. Between sets of dubiously grouped songs, the patter of Frank Sinatra quotes and anecdotes addressed directly at the audience were a little awkward and at the end of the show they got maudlin in trying to pay tribute to Sinatra and his legacy. The emphasis on tribute was heavy-handed to the point that it detracted from the strong sense of life that the music itself conveyed.

Overall, the show was a nice concert of Sinatra music, but it had little of the spirit of Sinatra to it. The sense of Sinatra as the Chairman, his homosocial Rat Pack cool, even his way with the ladies was missing from this particular production. If you're looking for a better sense of the man and the myth of Sinatra, this isn't the show for you, but if you just want to enjoy the music, these kids put on a pretty good concert.