THAT’S THE WAY IT WAS BACK THEN
REVIEW: L.A. NOW AND THEN
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Movie palaces, yo-yos, hula-hoops, the Pan Pacific Auditorium, C.C. Brown’s, Wallichs Music City, disco, the 1962 Dodgers and a time before cellphones—how many of these do you remember? Whether you remember them, or even know what they are, the new musical revue L.A. Now and Then will take you on a musical tour down memory lane to rediscover these and the rest of our city’s treasured past.
This revue, presented by L.A. City College Theatre Academy and Kritzerland Entertainment, is conceived and directed by Bruce Kimmel who has put together a first-rate group of collaborators and personnel. The show’s material is a combination of music, lyrics, sketches, and monologues from Kimmel and critically acclaimed writers: Michele Brourman, Grant Geissman, Paul Gordon, Karen Gottlieb, Shelly Markham, Adryn Russ, Wayne Moore, Doug Haverty, Bruce Vilanch, David Wechter, and two-time Academy Award Winner Richard M. Sherman.
The musical begins with Kimmel’s song “This Is the City”, a rousing and exciting showbiz number—the perfect way to begin the show. The highlights of the first act are Moore’s ironic song “What So About the Good old Days?”; Alexis Jackson’s smoky voice in “Midnite at The Roxy”; Robert Yacko singing Sherman’s song “The Whimsey Works”; and the final number “Every Wednesday Night”, which features a hilarious vintage wrestling match in the middle of the song, a delightful way to close the first act.
As for the rest of Act I, the show ventures into overly nostalgic territory that may alienate younger audiences. Additionally, the show as a whole maintains a central thesis that the L.A. of then is far superior to the contemporary city we in live in now. The saving grace of the show in the latter regard is the song and sketch “We Look Ahead” (Written by Doug Haverty, music and lyrics by Kimmel) at the end of Act II. In this moment, we’re told the story of a gay man living in a time when homosexuals had to be cautious for fear of persecution. We hear about his lover Michael and his participation in the first gay liberation parade in West Hollywood. This beautiful song boasts the message: “Stop the hatred/Stop the hiding/No pretending/No illusion/No confiding/Make a city that’s the way/ Being out there/ Being happy/Being gay”—and therein lies the most touching moment in the show, as well as the only redeeming moment for present-day L.A.
The cast of this show blends college students and professional actors and sure sometimes the distinction is obvious, yet overall agreeable. Seasoned actor Robert Yacko’s performance is brilliant. He brings characters to life each sketch (L.A. Uber Alles and We Look Ahead) and masterfully performs each song (“C.C. Brown’s”, “Christmas in Los Angeles”, “We Look Ahead”) with dramatic intent and purpose. Among the student actors, Elle Willgues is one of the finest.
While taking a supporting role most of the show, her voice and professionalism shines in her sultry solo, “The Black Dahlia”—the moment she starts singing all eyes are on her. Kole Martin is another standout student actor. His energy and zest is palpable whenever he’s on stage. “Born Too Late” and his role in the boxing match are among the most entertaining moments—Martin has a bright future ahead of him.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Richard Allen’s music direction and piano playing is superb. Not only has he expertly prepared this cast in singing all original music, but he leads the 6-piece band with precision and power—rarely I have heard a band this tight. With the exhilarant orchestrations by Lanny Meyers and the skill and drive of these stellar musicians, trust me, you’ll want to keep your seat and stay for the exit music.
Sure L.A. Now and Then may be more about then, but if you want to hear some wonderful new songs, learn about L.A. in the old days, support the future of performing arts and hear a magnificent band, then come to the Camenito Theatre at Los Angeles City College and find out exactly how it was back then.
L.A. Now and Then runs through Saturday, May 21st.
For more information and tickets visit: theatreacademy.lacitycollege.edu