Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell
Photo by Ed Krieger

DREAM CATCHER by Stephen Sachs, is a two-character bravura wrestling match of knowledge vs. emotion, progress vs. heritage, lust vs. love.  It is an emotional rollercoaster thrill ride in the charming Fountain Theatre, reconfigured to have audience on all sides and the stage covered in sand.

Brian Tichnell gives a masterful performance as an engineer brought to the Mojave desert to build a solar energy plant and Elizabeth Frances plays a woman from the Reservation that may hold his heart, but definitely has the sacred artifacts which could derail his project.  The smart script really runs this pair through their paces and there is never a false moment in their fiery journey.   I especially appreciated that there was no clear-cut winner in this duel between the spiritual and the scientific.

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No, it’s not about Darth Vader or Cookie Lyon, as you might think.  EMPIRE, THE MUSICAL is about the Empire State Building’s construction and it’s a big, flashy, old-fashioned musical with a star-making turn.  Stephanie Gibson (She was one of the Step-Sisters in the recent Broadway production of CINDERELLA) plays Frankie Peterson, a 1940’s style Girl Friday (although the show’s setting is 1929-1931) displaying sharp comedic timing, a great belt and excellent dancing.  She easily wins over the audience and of course, the male lead, because after all, this is an old-fashioned musical.

EMPIRE has a stunning set that is a collaboration between David Gallo (Scenic/Co-Projection) and Brad Peterson (Co-Projection) that actually gives the impression of a building being erected.  Book, Music & Lyrics are by Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull, who serve the music and lyrics well and hopefully the secondary characters will get some fleshing out before this show hits New York.

My biggest quibble is with Marcia  Milgrom Dodge’s Choreography and Direction.  There are more than a couple of moments when the emotions of the text did not ring true and it wasn’t the fault of the writing.  Scenes and dance numbers need more shape and to build to an effective resolution.  A lot of reality was lost as the excellent cast strained to keep up with the breakneck pace.  I understand that the show was put together on a short rehearsal schedule, so maybe more time would help.  Now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

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The Troubadours (“Troubies“) are known for their comedic mash-ups of well-known stories with popular music and this one is loosely based on the 1970 Stop Motion Animated TV Special “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” that starred Fred Astaire as the Narrator and Keenan Wynn as The Winter Warlock.  If you can imagine poop jokes and broad cartoon acting telling a racy (!) origin story of Kris Kringle interspersed with Motown classics that have slight lyric changes, then you are starting to get the idea of the wacky weirdness being offered in SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO MOTOWN.

I think their aim is to get you to revert to childhood and have a goofy good time.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work on this show.  It’s easy enough to watch, but there is more groaning than laughter or applause coming from the house.  There is a lot of improvisation and cracking up on stage, certainly the performers are enjoying themselves.  It’s a shame the audience is being left out of most of the fun.

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