My duo of reviews this week includes tow plays on horrific subjects…

“Vampires” and “divorce.” Tho’ vastly different, both are wildly worthy!

Dracula

Robert Arbogast (foreground as Dracula) and Joe Hart (background as Van Helsing) star in the NoHo Arts Center Ensemble production of “Dracula,” directed by Ken Sawyer.

Robert Arbogast (foreground as Dracula) and Joe Hart (background as Van Helsing) star in the NoHo Arts Center Ensemble production of “Dracula,” directed by Ken Sawyer.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD- The NoHo Arts Center geniuses once again captivate us with still another excitingly involving, impeccably executed, theatrical extravaganza! Produced by Kevin Bailey and Diana Cantwell, in association with David Elzer… “No stone is left unturned” in presenting top-notch, unforgettable theatre! As you sit in your seats pre-curtain, soaking in a stunningly beautiful gothic set, (by the comparable Desma Murphy) and the eerily expert lighting of Luke Moyer… you just know you’re in for a titillating treat! Let the blood-sucking begin! Written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, (based on Bram Stoker’s novel) and Directed breathtakingly by the always innovative Ken Sawyer, (who also designed the frightening sound), this is a macabre must-see for all theatre lovers! The gorgeous period costumes (Paula Higgins), and Hair & Wigs (Richard Patire) set the tone perfectly for our total involvement. A stellar cast takes us on a blood-curdling trip that inspires us to “jump” out of our seats repeatedly… so much fun! Taking place in an English sanitarium, run by Dr. Lily Seward (enthrallingly played by Karesa McElheny), she calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing (a focused Joe Hart), when she believes her daughter Lucy (a spirited Darcy Jo Martin) is the victim of a Vampire. (Convincing work too, by J.R. Mangels, as Lucy’s frantic fiancé.) As the dashing and dastardly Vampire, “Count Dracula,” Robert Arbogast is chillingly charming, and Mara Marini is haunting as the ghost of Mina. Compellingly strong portrayals by Alex Robert Holmes as Renfield, the hospital’s resident “wacko,” and Chad Coe as Butterworth, the loyal assistant to Dr. Seward. He shares a beautifully tender balcony scene with the maid (well played by Tahni DeLong.) Sweet momentary appearances by Jake Gardner as the child. This is fantastic production folks… flawless in all aspects of theatrical excellence. (I’m told they were sold-out for two weeks in advance of the opening night… and deservedly so!) A classic new scintillating version of Stoker’s legendary tale that mesmerizes the audience from start to finish… book your seats today! You won’t be disappointed… and I can almost guarantee that you’ll come out of it alive! Running through March 22nd at The NoHo Arts Center – 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. Call 818-508-7101, ext. 7.

Divorce! The Musical

Pictured (front row center) Gregory Franklin , (second row L-R) Gabrielle Wagner, Leslie Stevens, (back row L-R) Rick Segall and Lowe Taylor.

Pictured (front row center) Gregory Franklin , (second row L-R) Gabrielle Wagner, Leslie Stevens, (back row L-R) Rick Segall and Lowe Taylor.

HOLLYWOOD- We all know that the bitter end of a marriage is “no day at the park.” Whether you are the “dumper” or the “dump-ee,” the process can turn lives upside down, as couples hash over the past and face starting life all over again. Written brilliantly from the heart of Erin Kamler (book, music, and lyrics) to bring cathartic closure to her own life (after enduring two divorces herself, before the age of 30), there is much truth and many laughs to be had in the clever lyrics of her 19 story-telling songs. I foresee “off-Broadway” beckoning… Onstage Musical Director, David O, and his band, skillfully “drive” the message home. A highly-entertaining, “dead on the money,” poignantly laughable look at divorce, this infectious musical is a rollicking crowd-pleaser! Reminiscent of the huge hit show, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” we travel the age-old path from “gooey in love” to the blissful wedding ceremony, to angrily dividing our assets. No one gets married expecting to later spar in divorce court… but these things happen. (The current divorce rate in the U.S. is a shocking 50 %.) Technically impressive too: A creative, constantly changing set (by Danny Cistone), playful costumes (by Denitsa Bliznakova), sound (by Cricket Myers), and lighting (Jeremy Pivnick.) The high-energy and multi-talented cast of five takes us on an “E-ticket” ride to emotional places many of us have personally traveled. Rick Sparks, a multi-award winning and charmingly visionary Director… expertly moves his cast around with impeccable timing, a lot of heart! The play begins at the happy wedding of Penny and Rich, as the ensemble sings “To Death Do Us Part.” The next song, “Therapy,” (four years later), depicts the flickering of the marital glow, sung by a marriage counselor and the once-gleeful duo. Lowe Taylor (the bride) and Rick Segall (the groom) both win our hearts from the start, with magically relatable performances and mega singing abilities. As the therapist, a divorce lawyer, and in numerous other roles, Gabrielle Wagner (a “fab” vocalist) is a sassy standout all around! Playing multiple characters, Gregory Franklin is hilarious, and Leslie Stevens (with the razor-sharp comedic timing of Lucille Ball) is a non-stop winner! This is a great cast… capable of speedy transition character switches and seamless ensemble work. Favorite scenes/songs for me were “Rebound Sex,” “Best Friends,” and “We Stuck it Out.” This is a “feel good” show on a not so feel good topic… A ton of fun! Do see it! Running through March 29th at The Hudson Mainstage – 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Call 323-960-1056. NICE TOUCH! After this Valentine’s night opening, Producer Rick Culberson took the stage to offer his appreciation to all involved. Then… with tears in his eyes and lovingly heartfelt words, he pulled out a ring box got down on one knee… and proposed to the playwright, Erin, in front of the entire audience! We loved it! They say “the third time’s a charm…” Blessings!

F.Y.I

An upcoming “happening”… 1930’s Rock ‘n’ Roll! If you’re up for some Raucous, Racy and Rowdy fun… try to catch “Vaud & The Villains,” appearing at 9:30pm on February 21st and 28th at Fais Do Do in L.A. Billed as a 17 member, “Big, Bad, Bawdy, good time band,” (including sexy dancers), I hear they’re hot stuff! See you there?

As always, back next week… Same time, same place…