Flying Monkey Productions - Saturday Night Performance
Caught the tail end of the Saturday performance (saw Friday's show, though). Appropriately enough, Flying Monkey Productions did some of their best work with "Wicked."
Glinda just chucks the wand: 'Popular,' from "Wicked." Elphaba (Kelley Jakle) left, and Glinda (Kristin Cunningham).
Elphaba gets confidence: 'Defying Gravity,' from "Wicked."
Elphaba gets a whole lot more confidence: 'Defying Gravity.'
Inertia DeWitt (left).
Nice weekend of benefit performances for Flying Monkey Productions. According to Katherine Vanderford, for this benefit, the performers had been practicing songs for about six months, with more focused rehearsals for the past two months.
Many good voices! Portions of five popular, recent musicals were performed: "Hairspray", "Rent", "Phantom of the Opera", "Mamma Mia!," and "Wicked."
The singer who did best with the exposure was Inertia DeWitt. Her strong voice and excellent rhythm-and-blues training served her very well, particularly as Joanne in the 'Seasons of Love' opening from "Rent." Her strong voice was particularly useful in helping her overcome the often-missing sound amplification from the microphones, a problem that tended to bedevil the show (the short technical rehearsal period compromised quality here).
Katherine Vanderford did well as 'Christine' in the "Phantom of the Opera" segment, managing to hit those impossibly-high notes. She's disappeared into the Parisian underworld - who knows when next we'll see her?
The performer who seemed to have the greatest range and versatility was Kristin Cunningham, who performed numerous dances and songs, and brought the house down as bubbly Glinda, singing 'Popular,' from "Wicked." Interestingly, she was less effective as Ula, singing 'If You've Got It, Flaunt It,' from "The Producers." I suspect it wasn't because of any particular failure: rather Ula's song-and-dance must be much more difficult than I had appreciated. In retrospect, maybe that is to be expected: the role of the sultry siren is a minefield of difficulties. Even Marilyn Monroe had to learn her trademark walk, closely following choreographer Jack Cole around the room for hours at a time, trying to use her hip sway to maximum effect.
Kelley Jakle was very effective playing opposite Ryan Warren and Kristin Cunningham, as 'Elphaba' in "Wicked." I had never seen anything from "Wicked" before, and I thought Kelley's 'Defying Gravity' was marvellous! Ryan Warren did well as Fiyero: in fact, I think I shall appropriate Fiyero's trademark slogan for myself: "Life is Painless for the Brainless."
Julie Soto (left) was very funny as Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray," and I particularly liked whatever that hip action was that she had going on in 'Dancing Queen.'
I was surprised that Flying Monkey Productions attempted 'Out Tonight' from "Rent." As Rosario Dawson demonstrated in the recent movie, that is one hella athletic song-and-dance that 'Mimi' does. I was even more surprised to discover that Carly Wielstein was doing the number. In the spring of 2004, DMTC's Young Performer's Theater had cast Carly as 'Cinderella,' but after she graduated from high school, I no longer knew what she was up to. She apparently remained in contact with the Sacramento crowd, however, and Ryan Warren was able to tap her talents for this show. She is now a soon-to-declare theater major at Cal State Fullerton.
Carly started out with a vamp across the front railing of the hall, and then aimed at a portion of the uncompleted 'Titanic' set, stage right. For a few seconds, I thought she was going to do a pole dance on one of the bare wood pillars. If she tried that in spandex, she was going to get more splinters than she'd get by embracing a porcupine. "Don't do it, Carly!," I wanted to shout, but she draped a leg across a railing instead. As graceful and athletic as her dance was, Carly's dance was somewhat conservative compared to the universe of possibilities (to the extent that the word 'conservative' can be applied to 'Mimi' in any meaningful way), which was a good thing, since Carly may have never danced on that stage before.
Carly also did 'Does Your Mother Know?,' from "Mamma Mia!," with Tyler Thomas (Tyler did an inspired 'worm' at the end of the Friday night show - lots of potential there!) It will be interesting to see what Carly can do in Southern California in the years ahead: she's only gotten better as a performer in the last two years!
Local community theaters are often not able to do the more-recent Broadway shows because of copyright restrictions: as long as Broadway shows are playing, or on tour, rights are simply not extended to small groups. The benefit performance genre seems to be an exception: for a brief time, performers can tackle the latest and the greatest, and get away with it. It's not a surprise, then, that this weekend's performances felt like a dam bursting, almost like we were hearing sung every song these talented people had ever learned.
I don't have much experience with benefit performances, but I saw one last year for Huntington Beach High School, one of the best public performance-arts magnet schools in the Los Angeles area (which I blogged about here.) The two theater groups are not directly comparable, of course - well-established drama department vs. recently-formed community group - but a benefit is still a benefit, and there are lessons to be learned.
For their benefit performance, Huntington Beach also featured popular songs from recent musicals (e.g. 'Hairspray'), but they also focused on another class of shows - obscure or failed musicals. Lots of musicals have been written, but despite beautiful songs, some have been handicapped by lame plots. People usually can't be persuaded to leave their homes to see an obscure musical, but they will easily turn out to see their favorite group do a benefit show, and if they have their horizons expanded as a consequence by seeing an obscure musical, so much the better!
The Huntington Beach group focused on the musical "Side Show," which is sort-of an anti-Carnival kind of show: instead of people running away to join the circus, the circus closes, and the carnies have to pack up, go home, and readjust to normal life. You can just feel the excitement leach away - what? - will the bearded lady find a depilatory cream that works? By that logic, DMTC, instead of doing "Titanic," should be doing "Carpathia - the Musical" (about the bitter second-half of the 1912 Atlantic crossing.) Nevertheless, there are some great songs in "Side Show" that make it worth a second look. And there are a bunch of other worthy (but defective) musicals out there too.
Just tossing out an idea!