I was hopping on the weekend!

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I caught three strong productions, attended Playclothes’ fab Grand Opening Soireé, and The Pink Lady’s Rockin’ with the Ages II lively closing night dinner party. Yikes!

“Praying Small”

Ali Atta Alsaleh

Tara Lynn Orr and Clif Morts star in the West Coast Premiere of “Praying Small,” written by Clifford Morts and directed by Victor Warren and now playing at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood.

A powerfully intense story, played out by six remarkably focused actors, under the brilliantly effective direction of Victor Warren… this is an incredible production! Harshly realistic and disturbingly gritty, we look at the hard hitting truths that fester in the pain of “addiction.” Who among us doesn’t know someone whose life was ruled by alcohol or drugs? Written by Clifford Morts, with soul searching tension, we are deeply entranced, as we view all sides of the addictive psyche. The playwright states in part, “Praying Small is not meant to be a lesson play. It is meant simply to tell the story of one man afflicted with this most horrible of diseases—one good man with the desire to change. ‘Recovery’ is for people who want it. This is a play about a man who wants it. A play about the splendor of redemption and the catharsis of forgiveness…” After staging numerous runs statewide since 2003, and a Pulitzer Prize drama submission in 2005, the playwright himself, Clifford Morts, enacts the complex role of Sam Dean here, for the first time. So mesmerizingly moving was his depiction, that I can’t imagine anyone else in the role! As Susan, his long-suffering loving wife, Tara Lynn Orr was passionate perfection. Rob Arbogast, playing both Sam’s brute of a father and his “down n’ out” drinking buddy Roman, was frighteningly believable. Melanie Ewbank, Bonnie Cahoon, and Brad Blaisdell were triumphantly chameleon-like in multiple roles. As Sam’s AA sponsor, Blaisdell tells him, “AA is the most ‘expensive’ club in the world. That’s why they don’t charge dues. If you’re here… you’ve already paid your dues.” Setting the weighty mood with intense focus were: Lacey Anzelc (set design), Coby Chasman-Beck (lighting), and Kyle Puccia (composer/sound). This is heavy fare, folks… with many lessons and an abundance of emotion. An important piece of work and a highly rewarding theatrical experience. Running through July 18th at The NoHo Arts Center at 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. For tickets call (818) 508-7101 x7.

World Premiere Of “Carmen Miranda: The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat”

Ed Krieger

Magi Avila is Carmen Miranda.

Movie fans of a “certain age,” and all old-time film buffs, are familiar with this kooky, sexy and talented Latina bombshell. A “hot tamale” singer, dancer, and actress in the early 1940s, she made 13 films, and entertained the troops overseas with Bob Hope. Mixing with legendary stars such as Cary Grant, Dean Martin, and Sinatra, just to name a few, her path from Brazil to Broadway to Hollywood earned her millions of fans and dinero, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. This delightful, energy packed musical celebrates her life, and introduces over a dozen of her famous hit songs. Written by Sam Mossler, with input from Magi Avila, Geremy Dingle, and Beto Araiza, and directed with fun lovin’ pizzazz by Araiza… this fast paced “party” is a crowd pleasing joy! Starring as the colorful, funny, and loveable Carmen, Magi Avila is a little Latin bundle of dynamite! Gorgeous, talented, quirky, and energetic… we loved her from the first “Hootchie Kootchie!” Under the “sizzling” musical direction of Dennis Kaye, an excellent seven-piece onstage orchestra “rocks” the house… while taking on various “mini” roles at the same time. The orchestra includes: Dennis Kaye, Bob Couto, Geremy Dingle, Ron Hershewe, Jeff Markgraf, Cengiz Yaltkaya, and Michael Solomon. Geremy Dingle must be singled out for his wacky impersonations of legends such as Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Jimmy Durante, and also terrific were Markgraf’s Dean Martin moments. Miranda’s outrageous legendary towering turban hats and revealingly sassy costumes (designed by Avila), are a sight to behold! Adalberto Lujan’s “fruity” set design and Steven Pope’s creative lighting round out the fun! For a nostalgic, informative, and highly entertaining peek into the passionate life of Carmen Miranda, do catch this one! Shake your maracas quickly though… they close soon! Running though June 27th at The Hudson Backstage Theatre at 6339 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. For seats call 323-960-7740.

“Steel Magnolias”

P. Moore

Cast of “Steel Magnolias,” from right to left: Vivian Vanderwerd, Tarina Pouncy, Robin Dionne, and Christina Karis.

A meaningful and timeless comedy that explores the unique bonds that women share… Robert Harling’s classic Steel Magnolias is always a joy to experience! Whether you see it on film or on stage, your heart is always warmed and your funny bone is always tickled! The richly diverse and charmingly witty Southern ladies who “dish” at the small town Louisiana beauty parlor are colorfully complex. The play is presented now locally with a double cast, one Caucasian and one African-American, and I chose to review the latter for a new “take” on the play. The dynamic Penny L. Moore, whose talents, instincts, and vision are always awe inspiring directs this time, and also designed and built the appealing set and costumes. Artistically speaking, this woman knows no boundaries! Most of you know the story, and have seen the movie, but the intimate staged version features only the female characters, with references to the men. Taking place at Truvy’s Beauty Shop over a period of 2½ years, we are privy to the ladies’ personal issues and quirky but devoted relationships. A strong cast all around! Robin Dionne plays Truvy, whose beauty parlor is “home” to the local gals. Tarina Pouncy plays Annelle, Truvy’s timid new assistant. Christina Karis plays the blushing “bride to be” Shelby, and Michele Harrell plays her loving mother. Vivian Vanderwerd plays the classy Claire, and Baadja-Lyne is hilarious as the sarcastic and sharp tongued Ouiser. Beautifully cast, each actress shines out loud! As we come to know their personalities and issues, Act II brings many deeply felt life, heart, and mind altering changes. Funny and touching in turns… this is a rewardingly relatable story… and a very good production! Running through July 11th at The Missing Piece Theatre at 2811 W. Magnolia in Burbank. For seats call (800) 838-3006. FYI: This cast performs Saturdays and Sundays at 8 and the Caucasian cast runs Fridays and Sundays at 5.

Whew! “Over And Out…” I need a long nap!

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