Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Grand Hotel

November 04, 2006

The nice thing about the mid-fall opera season hiatus is that it allows one to get caught up on the non-theater music events and non-music theater events around town. Of course, there is also the matter of the non-operatic musical theater which was the focus on Thursday evening at the Blank Theater’s 2nd stage in Hollywood. (This small but notably ambitious company has no 1st stage using the “2nd” in the name as an optimistic way of looking towards the future.)

Rick Cornette and Jennifer Malenske
Photo: The Blank Theater company 2006
The Blank has survived not only on its sheer ambition, but also with help from some very good and talented friends of artistic director, Daniel Henning - namely the company’s artistic producer Noah Wyle (former star of TVs ER) and Mr. Henning’s close professional relationship with Michael John LaChiusa. Mr. LaChiusa’s musical The Wild Party was produced by the Blank to many rave reviews and local theater awards in 2005 and this year his work returns under Mr. Henning’s guidance in Hotel C’est l’Amour. Hotel is essentially a musical revue – 29 songs culled mostly from prior musicals with a few “B-sides” mixed in for good measure.

Of course, as a revue the plot that holds these songs together is flimsy at best. It had something to do with regrets and tensions between two newlyweds on their wedding night in a fancy hotel with comedic interludes from the overly exuberant hotel staff. It may have seemed that this cliché set-up would accept virtually any song about love and it almost does. But let's be honest. The real star of this show, and the point, is the music of Mr. LaChiusa. Audra McDonald, the star of his earlier Marie Christine on Broadway has been a big advocate of his music, and seeing this revue makes it clear why. His writing is sharp, pretty, and often moving. He has a way with characterization and actually know how to tell a story with a song, a skill not to be sniffed at in today's theater scene. Perhaps he is more adept at comedy than drama, but that isn't necessarily such a bad thing. It's a shame he isn't more widely known than he is, given his remarkable talent.

The other thing I love about local theater in Los Angeles (as is true in NY) is that one gets to see B and C list actors known mostly for TV work in virtually everything. More often than not, this is exciting because it allows many of them to finally demonstrate the talent that actually got them some of the jobs that keep them from displaying any of it on television. These are not seat-filling names now so common on Broadway or necessarily people with a lot of theater experience, but they are often surprising. This time out the star was Vicki Lewis, perhaps best known for her role as Beth on the 90s sitcom NewsRadio. This is the second appearance she has made on local stages this year - the earlier being a part in the Reprise production of the Gershwin revue My One and Only at UCLA. Once again the surprise is that she is funny and can actually sing and act. You'd never guess it seeing any of those NewsRadio reruns, but its true. Of course Ms. Lewis has done some time in both Chicago and Damn Yankees on Broadway - the New York theater equivalent of an appearance on Law and Order or ER. In any event she and the production are well worth seeing.

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