Monday, October 24, 2016

PLAYWRIGHT NEIL SIMON STILL WOWS AUDIENCES AT NORTH COAST REP

David Ellenstein, Amanda Sitton, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper
and Louis Latorto in "Laughter on the 23rd Floor"
Photos courtesy of North Coast Repertory Theatre
If one does indeed follow the laughter emanating from the North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT), in Solana Beach, one will easily understand why “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”, written by the King of Comedy Neil Simon, has been extended before it opened on Saturday, October 22nd. It now is scheduled to close on November 20, 2016. He’s still got game!

No one writes non-stop one-liners, zingers, and comedy situations like Simon. Now, if only our millennials would turn off their ubiquitous iPhones for two hours and observe the characters and the relatable hilarious situations unfolding on the stage at NCRT, perhaps we can win back theatre audiences for a civilized, critical-thinking, informed, theatre community in the good old USA.  Remember, comedy is the mother’s milk of a well-adjusted society (especially now, in this divided, melancholic 21st century).There weren’t however any divided or unhappy people exiting the theatre last weekend, just smiling, happy faces.

The cast of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor"
Director Tom Markus lovingly recreates Simon’s memory-filled bio-play about his early days as a comedy writer during the ‘golden age of TV’ on Sid Caesar’s blockbuster smash hit “Your Show of Shows”. Under Markus’ watchful eyes (eyes that have actually watched the original NBC shows) he turns the proceedings into a wild and wacky comedy feast. The pacing is manic, the on-stage action is frenetic, and office banter dialogue in the Writers Room is hilarious.  His fluid and seamless direction has nine high-energy, gifted actors moving and speaking at warp speed without even getting close to an on-stage collision or missing a beat in the process. How do they do it, you ask? It’s called Rehearsal. Rehearsal. Rehearsal!

Theatre actors are like a family; comedy actors are an even more generous, giving, and close knit group of actors. This superb cast of talented comedians and farceurs is filled with first rate actors – all at the top of their game – resulting in a brilliant ensemble effort. Think of the show as something like ‘The Marx Brothers meet Abbott and Costello’ in the fictional Writers Room in the NBC-TV office building in Manhattan on the 23rd floor.

David Ellenstein as "Max Prince"
The play, set in 1953 Manhattan, focuses on paranoid Sid Caesar-like Max Prince (a larger than life portrayal by David Ellenstein), the star of a weekly comedy-variety show, and his staff of writers, including Simon’s alter-ego Lucas Brickman played by Brett Alters who maintains a running commentary on the writing, fighting, and zany antics which take place in the Writers Room, especially Max’s on-going battle with NBC executives, who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America. And then the gags, the zingers, and the one-upmanship ploys begin to fly.

Louis Latorto, Brett Alters and Phil Johnson
Louis Latorto as Milt, a scene stealer if there ever was one, sets the tone for the craziness that follows, and his comedy timing is flawless. Val the harried Russian √©migr√©, is wonderfully played by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper an Opera singer/actor and a deft comedian, who nicely balances his role of head staff writer along with a pitch-perfect Russian accent. Brian, the Irishman, and the only gentile on the staff, is pugnaciously played by Christopher M. Williams, who enjoys needling Ira Stone, the staff hypochondriac winningly portrayed by Omri Schein, another bona fide scene stealer. Kenny (played by Phil Johnson), the only writer who seems to be able to reach and deal with the volatile Max, exudes a calmness and common sense that pleases Max, much to the relief of the other writers. Carol, the only female writer on the staff, is solidly portrayed by Amanda Sitton, whose only wish is to be considered as one the ‘guys'.  Helen, the staff secretary, ably played by Caroline Drage, completes the ensemble.

Phil Johnson, David Ellenstein, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper
As outstanding as this ensemble is, it is the sensational towering comedy performance of David Ellenstein as Max Prince who sets everything in motion with his entrance, and from then on everything that follows becomes a three-ring comedy circus that leaves the audience drained and exhausted from laughing.

Heading the creative team led by director Markus is NCRT’s two go-to guys: resident scenic design wizard Marty Burnett and master lighting designer Matt Novotny, who deliver the writer’s room with enough space to accommodate nine performers who sport the period-perfect costumes of designer Elisa Benzoni. Melanie Chen designs the sound, and Andrea Gutierrez handles the Props.The Assistant Director is Jacquelyn Ritz.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a stellar production that makes for a most entertaining and enjoyable evening in the theatre, and performs at North Coast Repertory Theatre, in Solana Beach, CA through November 20, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons

Sunday, October 23, 2016

PLAYWRIGHT DONALD MARGULIES GOES DEEP IN POWERFUL DRAMA AT LA'S GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE

Giovanni Adams, Marilyn Fox, Annika Marks and
Michael Mantell, the cast of "A Model Apartment"
All photos by Jeff Lorch Photography

Donald Margulies is a multiple award-winning playwright and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2000 for his play “Dinner with Friends”. Not only is he a very prolific journeyman playwright with fourteen plays in his canon, he is also a screenwriter and television series developer and writer.

A recurring theme that runs throughout his work is his interest in plays involving the motif of ‘identities’ and its interactions with his characters. I’ve seen six of his plays over the years. But nothing prepared me for this stunningly deep, and at times, dark and powerful narrative present in his current play “The Model Apartment”, now performing at the Geffen Playhouse on the intimate (approximately 110 seats) Audrey Skirball Kenis stage.

Cleverly directed by Marya Mazor, “The Model Apartment”, abounds in metaphors and symbolism. We are not quite sure what course Margulies and director Ms. Mazor has set for the audience in the first five minutes. Is it a comedy (the audience laughed a lot at some of the action and stage business right from curtain up) or is it a serious piece?

Lola (Marilyn Fox) and
Max (Michael Mantell)
Max and Lola are senior 60-something Holocaust survivors, nicely played by Michael Mantell and Marilyn Fox, who have sold their Brooklyn home and have moved to Florida to spend their golden years. “I just want to sit in the sun and read my Wall Street Journal with a drink by my side”, says Max. Lola agrees. She is a loving, compliant, naive wife; however they have a fey quality about them indicating that there’s more to them than meets the eye.





Debby (Annika Marks) and
Lola (Marilyn Fox)
For those who say, oh this is going to be another holocaust play, not so fast. Yes, it is a holocaust play, but with a different POV. The play’s action is set in motion with the unexpected arrival of their 30 year-old mentally-challenged daughter Debby (Annika Marks) in the middle of the night, along with her boyfriend Neil, a teenage African-American homeless boyfriend from Brooklyn played by Giovanni Adams.

Max and Lola are stunned to see Debby suddenly appear on the doorstep of the model apartment they’re renting while their condo is being completed. They have been unable to handle her even after years of institutional treatment and visits to the finest of doctors, as Max later explains.

'Guilt' comes in many forms. There will always be parents unable to care for or deal with their mentally challenged adult-children. They have demons of their own that match their offspring’s issues that also require understanding. Post Traumatic Syndrome Disease (PTSD) is a term we understand today but not in the 1980s when the play is set.

Debby (Annika Marks)
As holocaust survivors, Max and Lola are not in denial over Debby; they have just decided they need to get away from her for their sanity and leave her to fend for herself back in Brooklyn. Harsh as it may sound, survival is the key element of their DNA. How Margulies’ characters come to grips with the psychological dilemma that impacts so many survivors and their children, and even their grandchildren, is at the heart of this powerful drama.




Max (Michael Mantell) and
Deborah (Annika Marks)
There are scenes where each character relates his or her dream sequences to the audience. The most poignant of these is when Deborah (also played by Annika Marks), Max and Lola’s oldest daughter who died in the holocaust, appears to reassure Max that she now has plenty of food to eat and is happy to be sharing a perpetual Pesach with her relatives from the camps. It’s a powerful moment that is deeply affecting. One could hear a pin drop in the audience the night I attended.

One may take issue with the crafting of the play and the choices Margulies makes, but no one can deny the absolutely astonishing Geffen debut performance of Ms. Marks. It is a tour de force effort born of two talented creative individuals – Ms. Marks and director Mazor. It may be visually off-putting as depicted on stage, but it is intellectually stimulating when reflecting on this particular production over a cup of coffee in the comfort of one’s home or at a late night restaurant.

In the technical department, the creative team led by director Mazor, along with Scenic Designer Tom Buderwitz, nicely provides the one room set of a 1980s Florida condominium complex. Lighting Designer Brian Gale provides the right amount of light to see and appreciate the costume designs of Sara Ryung Clement, whose costuming of the characters of Debby/Deborah allows the backstage dressers to perform costume changes with lightning speed. Composer and Sound Designer Lindsay Jones completes the creative team. The play is performed without an intermission and runs approximately 90 minutes.

“The Model Apartment” performs at The Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis stage and runs through November 20, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons

Saturday, October 22, 2016

FABULOUS AUGUST WILSON PRODUCTION ON STAGE AT MARK TAPER FORUM

Jason Dirden, Glynn Turman, Damon Gupton, Keith David
and Lillias White in August Wilson’s "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"
All photos by Craig Schwartz
The great playwright August Wilson has been the voice and mirror for many African-Americans over the years. Where fiery writer James Baldwin, who was extremely articulate but angry and rightly so, railed at the injustices experienced by many African-Americans, Wilson just quietly and brilliantly opened a window to the everyday existence of black life and its community for all to see and appreciate. In the long run, it was the smarter approach toward solving a 400-year old shameful period in America’s history. And there’s plenty of work still to be done.

"Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" now on the boards of the Mark Taper Forum is fabulously acted and brilliantly staged by Tony winner Phylicia Rashad. It was first of Wilson’s plays to be produced on Broadway (in 1984) and was most responsible for making Wilson’s ‘10-play Pittsburgh Cycle’ of African-American life become a reality. Ms. Rashad has also acted in Wilson’s play "Gem of the Ocean" back in 2003, playing the 287-year old old family matriarch Aunt Ester (Wilson’s favorite character) on the stage of the Mark Taper Forum.
Lillias White is the title character in August Wilson's
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Now as the director of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’, Ms. Rashad has corralled a cast of actors who graced her last production at the Taper, "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone".  Back for acting encores is the wonderful Tony Award-winning singer/actor Lillias White, as Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. It’s a bawdy but telling performance of what it meant to be a black recording artist in 1927 Chicago. Her entrance alone is worth the price of admission. As showy as the role of Ma is, it’s the musicians that back her performance that get to play the meaty parts and shine in the process.
Glynn Turman, Damon Gupton, Keith David
and Jason Dirden in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"
Keith David, playing Slow Drag, the band’s string bass, pot-smoking musician gets some the best comedy lines and Glynn Turman portraying Toledo, the piano-playing band philosopher-musician, the only one in the band who can both play and write, gets his share of laughs as well. The night I attended, understudy Ernest Harden Jr. went on in place of Turman and did the part proud.
The performance of Jason Dirden as the swaggering, cocky, trumpet player Levee, comes dangerously close to stealing the show from what the audience sees as a superb ensemble cast. His flash and moves are so in the moment, it’s a joy to watch this pro work his magic.
Damon Gupton and Lillias White in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Damon Gupton as Cutler, the trombone playing band leader that Levee takes pleasure in needling, is a steadying influence on the group, who also deals with Ma’s agent Irvin portrayed by a harried and nervous Ed Swidey. Also in the ensemble is a sexy, stunning looking ‘girl toy’  of Ma’s, played by Nija Okoro, who immediately catches the eye of smooth-talking, confident Levee who has plans of a quick conquest.
Nija Okoro, Lillias White and Lamar Richardson
in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Rounding out this stellar ensemble is Matthew Henerson as Sturdyvant, the cost-conscious record and studio producer, Lamar Richardson as Sylvester, Ma’s speech-challenged stuttering nephew whom she promised could introduce her on the recording, and Greg Bryan as the Policeman.

Director Rashad leads a creative team headed by Scenic Designer John Iacovelli, who created that wonderful set in Rashad’s production of "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone", at the Taper in 2013.  Lighting Designer Elizabeth provides a balanced design that serves the two-level acting area, and delivers just the right amount of light to see the costumes designed by Emilio Sosa. The sound Design is by Dan Moses Schreier, with Hair and Wig Designs by Carol F. Doran. The Fight Director is Steve Rankin, the Music Direction, Arrangements and additional music is under the baton of Steven Bargonetti.

"Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" is a must see, splendid production, that performs at the Mark Taper Forum and runs through October 16, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

LIFE’S 'THIRD ACT' DEPICTED IN SHORTS AT 12TH ANNUAL LA FEMME INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OCT. 20 -23



The 12th Annual LA Femme International Film Festival, that kicks off on October 20th in Beverly Hills, will have a healthy competition of films dealing with people in the Third Act of life, defying the odds and traditional expectations of the ever-growing senior population.

Ed "Doc" Ziegler works on his beehive in "The Bee Keeper"
Briana Gallo’s “The Bee Keeper” tells the story of Ed “Doc” Ziegler, a retired dentist living in a small town in New England. 35 years ago, he discovered apitherapy - the power of bees to heal - both physically and mentally. He now devotes his life to beekeeping and shares the curative powers of bee venom with his community. His neighbors and friends recount their own recovery stories and loving thoughts about this kind and humble man who, at the age of 97, is still tending to the needs of his ‘patients.’ (Oct. 21, 10:00 am)

Michael Arye Bender is Emilio in "The Window"
“The Window”, written and directed by Jill Pauletich-Ragan, is a valentine to the power of love that can be discovered no matter how old you are. The charming feature introduces us to Edith, a widow who watches the world from her dining room window every day all alone, until one morning she is surprised by Emilio, a dashing senior who finds unique ways to woo Edith and shake up her world.The film has had a successful festival run and competed in several prestigious film festivals including the Carmel International Film Festival, the Edmonton International Film Festival, Hollywood’s Dances With Films Festival and the Sacramento International Film Festival where it won he The Grand Jury Prize for “Best Short.” (Oct. 23, 10:00 am)

ATC pilot Iris Cummings Critchell
in "The Spirit of Iris"
On the documentary side, filmmaker Corrine Jayaweera’s “The Spirit of Iris” follows Iris Cummings Critchell, a trailblazing woman who swam in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and went on to be one of the earliest groups of women to ferry planes for the Air Transport Command in World War II. For the past 70 years, she has continued flying, teaching and inspiring young minds to be prepared for whatever life brings to them. At age 95 years young, Iris still swims daily, maintains a current pilot’s license and instructor rating, and has given many historical presentations about her adventures in aviation. (Oct. 20, 10:00 am)

Says Jayaweera, “Iris truly embodies the phrase ‘life favors the prepared mind’.  After hearing of her marvelous adventures and stories throughout the years, I felt her story needed to be shared.  It is a story of inspiration and preparation for life, yet, many people have never heard of her and that had to change!”

If you didn’t get your fill of old rockers at the recent Desert Trip aka “Old-Chella”, check out Cheryl Robson’s "Rock 'n' Roll Island", a colorful musical doc about England’s iconic blues and rock venue, The Eel Pie Island Hotel.

Rod Stewart (center) with bandmates Quiet Melon
are featured in "Rock 'n' Roll Island"
Produced and directed by Cheryl Robson and and Helen Walker, “Rock 'n' Roll Island” combines  archival footage and images, along with interviews with musicians Steve Hackett (Genesis), Mick Avory (Kinks), Top Topham (Yardbirds), Rod Stewart and vintage footage of The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Long John Baldry, and The Pretty Things (Oct. 22, 2:00 pm)


All LA Femme screenings will be held at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater, 9036 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. For full schedule, tickets and more information please go to www.lafemme.org.

-- Lisa Lyons


Thursday, October 13, 2016

LIZARD BOY: MODERN MYTHOLOGY + AGE-OLD DESIRES = MONSTER HIT

The three protagonists of the new musical
LIZARD BOY. All photos by Alan Alabastro.

When Seattle Repertory Theatre's Artistic Director Jerry Manning commissioned an original musical piece from Justin Huertas, a talented actor, composer, singer, musician and illustrator, he didn't know what it would be exactly, but Manning and adapter/dramaturg Andrea Allen were willing to bet it would be amazing. Lucky for them and audiences everywhere, that bet paid off in a big way with LIZARD BOY, the most original musical seen onstage since New York Fringe favorite "Urinetown" ten years ago. It's a perfect opening show for the Diversionary's 31st Season, as it exemplifies the artistic vision and boundary-pushing support of the theatre to the LGBTQ community.

Justin Huertas stars as Trevor
in LIZARD BOY
LIZARD BOY is a modern day comic-book, angst filled coming of age story focusing on Trevor (played to perfection by Justin Huertas), a lonely creative young man with a, shall we say, unusual affliction. Due to an other-worldly accident as a child following the eruption of Mount St. Helens, and an unfortunate run in with a fire-breathing dragon, Trevor has morphed into a half-man/half lizard-like creature, his skin glistening with iridescent green scales. Talk about being the ultimate loner; Trevor channels his pain and anger into his music and his art, which is mostly sketches of superheroes and disturbing visions that run through his dreams.

At "Monsterfest", the one day of the year in Seattle when everyone dons monster costumes, Trevor feels safe enough to venture out where he blends into the crowd without comment. His newfound confidence enables him to decide to reach out on the gay dating website "Grindr" in search of his first (and last) love. Instead, he hooks up with a charming, goofy musician named Cary (winningly played by William A. Williams) who is new himself to Seattle. Even more than romance, Cary is desperately seeking a connection for friendship and maybe more.

William A. Williams as Cary and
Justin Huertas as Trevor in
LIZARD BOY
The two meet and decide to check out "Monsterfest" when Trevor spies a magazine on Cary's coffee table with the image of the woman who has been haunting his dreams lately: the tough-as-nails singer named Siren (a powerhouse performance by Kirsten deLohr Helland). After going to see her perform at a local club, Trevor shares his songs and visions with Siren, setting off a chain of events that grow and explode into a classic battle of good vs evil, love over hate, acceptance over rejection.

Kirsten deLohr Helland as Siren
in LIZARD BOY
The show has been a work in progress and labor of love for the three performers who are amazingly synchronized in their focus and dedication to seeing this project through to a possible transfer to New York (fingers crossed).


LIZARD BOY owes some of its indie-pedigree to off-Broadway musicals like "Urinetown" also "Brooklynite", which was directed and co-written by Tony-winning "Spring Awakening" director Michael Mayer. Huertas cites "Spring Awakening" as a rich source of inspiration to him, both as a performer and eventually a playwright and composer.

Justin Huertas as Trevor in
LIZARD BOY
His inspired mashups of classical cello with beatbox and ukeleles lends originality and humor to his achingly personal score. The show features sixteen songs (with two just added for this production at Diversionary) and all featured instruments are played by the three talented performers to great effect.

Huertas is the soul of this musical. Not just because it's his own story at its base, but he makes you feel so much of what's in his heart from the first moment he appears. His multiple talents are perfectly showcased and he reveals the beauty in Trevor, peeling off the layers of protective emotional garb hiding his reptilian appearance.

As Siren, the "dream girl" with a blood red soul, deLohr is a fierce and powerful presence with an amazing vocal range. She can be really scary, but her slightly warped sense of humor and snarky lipped delivery makes her less menacing and somehow more vulnerable. She's a bona fide star in Seattle, having played everyone from Maria Von Trapp to Sally Bowles, winning awards along the way.

Williams has what could have been a supporting role, but he expands Cary's initial "twinkie" persona into a real guy with hidden depth which he slowly reveals to Trevor through songs and gestures. He never gives up on love, and you find yourself rooting for these two to work everything out and defeat that dragon, once and for all.

Justin Huertas and William A. Williams
in LIZARD BOY
Kudos must go to not only the young performers who maintain their energy and focus for 95 non-stop minutes, but also to director Brandon Ivie who deeply understood the message that Huertas was conveying and handled it with care. The thrift shop retro costumes by Erik Andor, and dark foreboding scenic design by Ron Logan are illuminated by the lighting design of Curtis Mueller. The atmospheric sound effects were the perfect undertone for the show thanks to Lighting Designer Matt Lescault-Wood and Mix Engineer TJ Fucella.

The script still needs some tweaking here and there (the ambiguous final image), but I have no doubt that the production will be fine-tuned to perfection.

William A. Williams, Justin Huertas and
Kirsten deLohr Helland star in LIZARD BOY
The show is predicted to sell out during its run, so just in case you can't see it, I highly advise you listen to the soundtrack which is available via iTunes, CDBaby, Spotify and Amazon. You will hear the soaring harmonies, tight musical riffs and powerful voices to best advantage and prepare yourself for seeing the show live  - if you can score some tickets, that is.

LIZARD BOY is at the Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.in University Heights. It plays Thursday at 7 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through October 30. Tickets may be purchased online through the Diversionary website.

-- Lisa Lyons

OLD GLOBE MUSICAL “OCTOBER SKY” A SPARKLING, ENERGETIC GEM

The cast of "October Sky", a new musical at San
Diego's Old Globe Theatre. All photos by Jim Cox.
When the Soviet Union launched their space probe named “Sputnik” into orbit around the earth on October 4, 1957, it was a wake-up call for America signaling that the ‘space race’ between Russia and the United States had begun.

That small, 180 pound metal ball, however launched more than a scientific experimental race for supremacy in the heavens. It inspired generations of young, eager, and gifted American students to view their world differently, encouraging them to dream about what limitless opportunities the event offered for mankind and for true dreamers.

“October Sky”, now receiving its West Coast Premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, is based on the 1999 movie of the same name, from a screenplay written by Lewis Colick based on a story by Homer Hickam, Jr.

The cast of "October Sky"
This sparkling musical, brilliantly directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, features 19 songs from the pen of Michael Mahler and a libretto by Brian Hill and Aaron Thielen that just blows the socks off the audience, thanks to the young energetic 24-member cast/ensemble who bring to life the story of the Hickam family and town folks of the fictional West Virginia coal mining town of Coalwood.

The story, set in 1957, explores the lives of the Hickam family who are steeped in the tradition and a culture where pride of family, hard work, and loyalty to their community defines who they are.

Ron Bohmer, Kyle Selig
in "October Sky"
John Hickam (Ron Bohmer) and his wife Elsie (Kerry O’Malley) are a family with two sons: Jim Hickam (Liam Quealy), the high school football team captain who is college bound on a scholarship, and younger son Homer, an earnest dreamer whose head is usually in the stars and dreams of building and sending rockets into the heavens, sensationally played by actor/singer/dancer Kyle Selig.

The miners chorus in "October Sky"

As the musical drama opens, the coal miners are seen descending into the mine singing the haunting song “To the Mine” led by Ken, their union representative and fellow miner, solidly played and sung by Kevyn Morrow. For those not old enough to know what coal miners and their families endured 60 years ago, before John L. Lewis and the union movement secured federal protection and safety rights, one could expect frequent mine disasters along with ‘black lung disease’ as a retirement reward. It was, and still is, a very tough job.

(clockwise from top left) Kyle Selig as Homer,
Connor Russell as Quentin, Austyn Myers
as O'Dell and Patrick Rooney as Roy
Lee in "October Sky"
Homer and three of his high school classmates Austyn Myers as O’Dell, Patrick Rooney as Roy Lee, and Connor Russell as Quentin, portray their roles as budding rocketeers with an energy and exuberance that only comes with the confidence of youth. At home, however, Homer finds his father less enthusiastic about his science project with rockets and all that stuff. John, as the mine superintendent, reminds Homer that his destiny lies underground in the mines in the Hickam family tradition and not with rockets in the skies.


Kerry O'Malley and Kyle Selig in "October Sky"

Elsie Hickam’s secret feelings favor her son's desire to make a better life for himself above ground has more than merit. It’s what has to take place. She has attended too many miners funerals and she’s determined that Homer will not follow the miner’s path.

Sandra DeNise and Kyle Selig in "October Sky"
Homer and his friends find a champion for their rocketry cause in their high school chemistry and physics teacher Miss Riley, winningly played by Sandra DeNise, who runs interference for the boys with school officials. Through her influence and assistance, Homer and the boys are allowed to build and launch the school-made rockets until they are ready to enter the State science fair, then to on the National levels, which they win.

“October Sky” is an uplifting, feel-good type of play that boasts 19 songs with such numbers as “Look to the Stars”, “We’re Gonna Build a Rocket”, “Stars Shine Down”, “The Man I Met”, and “The Last Kiss Goodbye”, the latter number being especially poignant as sung by the miners' wives and girlfriends.

Ms. Rockwell, making her Old Globe directing debut, stages her production with intelligence and love of the story line. Her traffic management choices and skills are fluidly and seamlessly executed. With a cast of twenty-four it’s pretty easy to get a little crowded on stage. However, with Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet providing a stunning set and space that puts a coal mine entrance with a descending elevator, a school classroom, a family kitchen, a metal work shop garage, and rocket launching pad exteriors, the challenges of mounting this splendid production are a piece of cake. Big productions require big sets. I remember his visually stunning set design of “Sense and Sensibility” in July of this year.

The young protagonists of "October Sky"
Large casts make it difficult to list everyone, however in every production there are always stand-outs. In “October Sky” they include Kyle Selig, Ron Bohmer, Kerry O”Malley, Sandra DeNise, Kevin Morrow, Connor Russell, Patrick Rooney, and Austyn Myers.


The Old Globe has few equals when it comes to providing its directors a state-of-the-art technical arsenal from which to choose. I kept waiting to see how Ms. Rockwell and the technical wizards at the Old Globe would convincingly handle the firing of rockets from the stage. I need not have worried… they are flawlessly launched. As a side bar regarding the actual rocket launch in real life by Homer Hickam, the last one soared to over 30,000 feet!

The cast of "October Sky"
Costume Designer Linda Cho gives that spot-on 1950s look for the young people and the adults. And her grimy, coal-dusted costumes for the miners are appropriately realistic. The lighting design by Japhy Weidman enhances the mood of the miners and highlights the exuberance and athleticism of the young dancer/singer/actors in the interior scenes. The orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin are under the baton of Music Director Charlie Alterman, and those wonderful rocket launch special effects come courtesy of Markus Maurette.

“October Sky” is a splendid musical production that performs at The OldGlobe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Theatre through October 23, 2016.
-- Jack Lyons