We had a lovely run of springlike weather but summer is headed our way with a vengeance. You can always escape to the movie theater but an even cooler option is live theater, which is hustling this season with lively shows. Leave the exertions to the performers and sit back in the cool darkness.
"Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits" at Stars Theatre Restaurant is a high-energy extravaganza of song and dance. Four performers — Rosie Ayala, Cody Garcia, Zachary Gonzales and Bethany Rowlee — breathlessly take the audience through a who's who of modern Broadway, parodying "Les Miserables," "Chicago," "Wicked," "Cats," "Hairspray," "Mamma Mia" and more.
Director Brent Rochon said before the show opened that he lucked out finding performers who were as passionate about the production as he was to direct it and that's evident. Musicals require enthusiasm, even in somber numbers, and these four are like Energizer Bunnies, wrapping up a number then rushing off stage for a quick costume change before the next one.
Extra credit goes to Tim Adamson and Paul Robinson, who serve as stage managers and — more importantly in this show — dressers. With costume and wig changes in every number, that pair was making quick business of getting the foursome out in time. And while the show operates on a less-than-Broadway budget, Laura and Madeline Engel did a fantastic job with the wardrobe, considering many of the numbers require iconic looks.
And while the songs are catchy, it's the impersonations that take the show to the next level. Ayala shines as Liza Minnelli calling out her love of sequins or as Chita Rivera to Rowlee's Rita Moreno in "Chita/Rita," a take on "America" from "West Side Story." Rowlee wowed as a perfectly lispy Carol Channing. (Although unlikely that Stars would camp up its upcoming "Hello, Dolly!" this fall, I would gladly pay to see Rowlee serving it as Dolly Levi.)
A Thursday performance, much like a matinee, brings a different crowd than your average weekend show. Many performers who are otherwise engaged in shows on the weekend can take a starring role as audience members. Having these theater insiders as company, you can further appreciate the artistry of show creator Gerard Alessandrini's work. Songs that lampoon the high musical key and revolving stage of "Les Miz" seemed to truly resonate with fellow actors.
You may catch some other actors in the audience at the show this Thursday heading into the production's closing weekend. Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 for dinner).
"Forbidden" was full of laughs but if you'd prefer a bit more drama in your musical, Ovation Theatre offers "Jesus Christ Superstar" as the first show of its inaugural season.
I must confess to having never seen a production of it, not even the 1973 film (or the lesser-known version from 2000). Somehow I had mixed it up in my head with "Godspell" and "Hair" in terms of musical counterculture. This ignorance, often a hindrance, was a blessing, if you will, in seeing this wonderful show. It allowed for a completely fresh viewing.
Ken Burdick electrifies as Jesus Christ. From start to finish, this son of God commands attention, and he makes good on the rock opera, hitting high notes like a metalhead. His "get out!" to Judas (Mason Edwards) as he sends the man to betray him was an especially memorable note.
Supporting cast also keeps the production strong with Jennifer Resolme as the devoted Mary Magdalene, Kyle Gaines as high priest Caiaphas plotting Jesus' downfall. Also on the darkside is Pontius Pilate, played by Jason McClain. Seeing him perform Sunday made me regret the family engagement that kept me from his Dean Martin tribute the night before.
And, in a case study of "If you're only going to be in one number, make it memorable," Kenny Maclin blew the audience away as a King Herod. Dressed as sort of a pimped-out Xerses in a fur coat, athletic shorts, gold jewelry, body glitter and leading a man out on a chain, Maclin made flamboyant fun in his solo number.
Like any good rock show, part of the fun is the dancing, and the Tormentors were a welcome sight, in dark moments (literally dragging Judas off stage to his death) and light (joyously dancing to the title number in cropped sweatshirts with wings painted on the back). Choreographer Martin Ramey made the best use of the dancers to further the story with flair.
The stars, understandably, get a lot of the notice but it's utility players who can really elevate a production. Ariel Clark is one such performer with five parts (tying with Abigail Resolme for longest notation in the cast list). Whether she was a priest condemning Christ alongside Caiaphas or serving as apostle Thaddeus, she bolstered the show.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" runs through June 25 with shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and a 2 p.m. matinee June 25.
Platform Theatre summer workshop
If your budding performer is more interested in broadening his or her horizons than Broadway musicals, Platform Theatre Company has the workshop for them: "Rebel Yell," a summer theater intensive session running from July 10 to 22.
Through the Platform Play Project, run by Bethany Lahammer and Jessica Burzlaff, participants will help create an original piece of theater based on their stories, passions and experiences. In developing the original work, students artists also work on a number of life skills, including communication, collaboration, leadership, empathy and self-confidence.
Rehearsals and performances will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2216 17th St. Rehearsals are 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. July 10-14 and July 17-21 with performances at 6 p.m. July 21 and 2 p.m. July 22. Call Burzlaff at 319-7042 for more information or sign up at PlatformTheatreCompany.org.
Movies at Starlite Lounge
If you're headed to Kernville, consider stopping in at the Starlite Lounge on a Friday this summer. The Kern River Valley’s only wine bar, tasting room and restaurant is hosting movie nights featuring modern classics.
Consider the pitch for this week's offering, "Dirty Dancing": "Did you catch the recent made-for-TV remake of 'Dirty Dancing'? We're so sorry. Here, let's make it all better by pulling Baby out of that corner and showing you the original 1987 classic starring Jennifer Grey and the dear departed Patrick Swayze."
The lounge will round out the month showing "Smokey and the Bandit," celebrating its 40th anniversary, on June 23 and "Top Gun" on June 30.
Showings feature house-made tapas treats from the “snack bar” as well as weekly specials and regular menu items and adult beverages. As an added bonus for seniors, they can enjoy dinner and the movie for just $10.
Movies screen at 4:30 p.m., with dinner served after around 6:30 at the lounge, 13423 Sierra Way, Kernville. More information at starliteloungewinebar.com.