Louis Prima and Keely Smith, who pioneered that clever concept known as the Lounge Act in Las Vegas in the ‘50s and gained fame for hits like “That Ol’ Black Magic” and “What is This Thing Called Love,” were virtually unknown to contemporary audiences a few years ago. Then an unassuming little show called “Louis & Keely: ‘Live’ at The Sahara” starting selling to packed houses and hurtled the duo out of obscurity in a big way. Now, the show makes it way to Orange County and Laguna Playhouse thanks to entertainer Hershey Felder, himself a Laguna favorite.
This award-winning musical, which opens Feb. 27 and features a seven-piece live band, stars Tony Award-winner Anthony Crivello and Vanessa Claire Stewart, who co-wrote the show with director Taylor Hackford & Jake Broder. Stewart also wrote the “Stoneface” (about Buster Keaton). Hackford, who produced “La Bamba” (about Richie Valens) and directed “Ray” (about Ray Charles), obviously knows his way around music and musicals.
The choreography is by Vernel Bagneris, who wrote and starred in the musicals “One Mo’ Time” and “Jelly Roll!” Producer Felder did the set design in collaboration with Trevor Hay. The show runs through March 27 at Laguna Playhouse, performing Wednesdays through Sundays. It’s great to see Prima—one of the musical icons of his era—getting a little love from today’s audiences.
“Dogfight,” an offbeat new musical now in its LA/OC premiere at the Chance Theater in Anaheim (through Mar. 6) might be classified as a love story but it’s not your typical boy-meets-girl. Three marines are on the prowl in San Francisco the night before they ship out for Vietnam when one, Eddie, encounters a waitress named Rose; what follows is unpredictable.
There isn’t enough substance here for a two-hour show—which could easily have been cut by half an hour—but the book by Peter Duchan (based on a 1991 film) with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul is solid at the core. Fortunately, there’s much more meat on the bone in the second half than the first.
The biggest thing this show has going for it are the credible and engaging performances of the leads, Andrew Puente (as Eddie) and Ashley Arlene Nelson (Rose). The show’s ensemble cast, notably James McHale (Eddie’s pal Boland) and Kim Dalton (Marcy, a slutty blonde), is also strong. Matthew McCray’s direction and Angeline Mirenda’s choreography are highly polished and help make up for the weaknesses in the material.
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s most recent visit to Segerstrom Center for the Arts was decidedly different. Jean-Christophe Maillot says his company is “neither classical nor contemporary in style” but his latest effort, “Choré,” is substantially closer to the latter. The show, featuring music by Danny Elfman, John Cage and other composers, draws not only upon Golden Age Hollywood for inspiration but seemingly M.C. Escher and Cirque du Soleil, at least in costuming.
The highlight of Maillot’s abstract five-segment composition involves a Busby Berkeleyesque sequence performed on an Escher-like canvas depicting flights of steps, laid flat on stage and “projected” for the audience by means of an adjacent mirror—making the dancers appear as if they are moving up and down the steps. War is strikingly represented in an impressionistic recreation of the bombing of Hiroshima. Maillot declined to translate the lengthy French narrative at the beginning and end of the show, confounding a majority of the audience.