Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
It's a Fabulous Life
Thanksgiving is over and the holiday shopping season is upon us. As we deck the halls, make our lists and build the snowmen (we South Floridian transplants can dream, can't we?), let us not forget to don our gay apparel! A new tradition is here in the form of It's a Fabulous Life, a new holiday musical now playing at the recently renovated Byron Carlyle Theater in Miami Beach.
David Sexton's take on the classic film It's a Wonderful Life premiered last year at Coral Gables' Teatro Avante. This year, he is presenting It's a Fabulous Life under his NOTB banner and has brought along some reinforcements. Thanks to theatre columnists (and real-life partners) Fred Diekmann and Dave Knight, plus the Hollywood (Florida) based Acting Studio, the collaboration has brought in some talented people, technically and creatively, to give us a funny rendition that still has its drawbacks, to say the least.
The Lavender Players are in a tight crunch, rehearsing their annual Christmas musical, Randolph the Rainbow Reindeer. Stage manager Frank (Andy Rogow) is having problems with the show, while Joe (Euriamis Losada), the writer, is at a crossroads in his life. The Players are in a snit dealing with who has the best solos, the best lines, and a hog-it-all diva named Carlo (Kenny Calabria). Joe and his boyfriend Luis (Ezequiel Hernadez) are at odds as well, their parents' reaction to their romance is that they won't come to Miami Beach for the holidays.
Once Joe reaches the boiling point, he wonders what his existence would be like if he weren't gay. In comes Arthur (David Leddick), the Lavender Players' mentor (aka "the Susan Stroman of South Florida gay theatre") to be Joe's Clarence. Arthur transforms Joe into a khaki-wearin' son-of-a-gun! Joe runs into his other cohorts, but comes to find out that things are not the same as they used to be. D'uh! It takes a nice cabaret concert by Miss Carlotta (yeah, you know who) to make Joe realize that he can overcome his frustrations.
David Sexton's ideas may lack originality, but they still hit the funny bone. He pays homage to All About Eve by giving us Steve Harrington (Dean Swann), who is always ready for his leading role. Sexton, who is the owner of a gym, also has to throw in a shameless marketing plug. For the selection "Pole Got Hot," the men are wearing workout clothes with "Ironworks" across the shirts. Luckily, the producers have brought about a coup by snagging some talented people to make this comedy work.
Euriamis Losada proves why he recently won the Carbonell Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Losada gives Joe the bewilderment and innocence required for a person trying to make life-altering decisions. As a New Theatre staple, Losada seemed overwrought in his work there. He's in his own zone here, musically, soaring through numbers like "What I Wish For Christmas" and his duet with Ezequiel Hernandez, "No Us in Christmas," which is heartwrenching. Losada gives Joe a soul, and we like characters who have that.
Andy Rogow is a good adherent as Frank, the stressed stage manager. In real life, Rogow is usually a director/producer. He recently resigned as artistic director at the Hollywood Playhouse before it closed. Being back on the boards feels good to him and we can see it, especially in Frank's solo, "An Angel of My Own."
Nadeen Holloway, Dean Swann and Ben Bagby are alumni from the critically-lauded, award-winning production of The Life, still going at Palm Beach County's Atlantis Playhouse. Holloway and Swann are used to providing good singing and comic effect, respectively. Check out Holloway as she rips through "Helluva Time in Heaven" like she's preaching a sermon - you'll think you caught the holy ghost. Swann, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Life, shows his skills as Steve Harrington, the newbie who wants to be the star. Unfortunately, Bagby's talents are wasted as a showboy in the background.
For all the good talent, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages by half a mile. The other showboys, like Edison Farrow's badly accented Gabe or Brian Ricci's Bruce, bring the momentum almost to a screeching halt. Getting into the act as an overly hyped Dale, David Sexton looks like he's ready for his next infommercial (calling Tony Little!) with his smiling mug.
Thank goodness, there is one person who keeps this boat from going overboard. Kenny Calabria (who can be seen as Daisy D., the drag correspondent on WSVN's newszine, Deco Drive) is a scene-stealing maven. As Carlo, he plots and schemes to get more stage time, and as Miss Carlotta, drives the point home to Joe that he shouldn't change when the going gets rough. Calabria sashays across the stage better than RuPaul in songs like "Don't Drag Me Through the Holidays" and "It's a Fabulous Christmas," to dangerous heights when it could easily turn into the "Daisy D." show.
Sexton shows us that happy endings still make good musicals; the problem is, he takes too long to get there. The musical within a musical should end five minutes into the first act instead of lasting almost to the end of it. But director Robert Johanson keeps his ensemble chugging along, with comic delivery good enough that you won't even notice that the first act ends at 10 o'clock. For all the good voices, Ryan McCall's choral work needs improvement while Jayme McDaniel's choreography is nimble at best. As promised in the title, Estella Vrancovich's costumes are absolutely fabulous!
What stands out the most are the bad microphones being used at the Byron Carlyle. The sound goes in and out with fuzzy feedback in between. Now that it is open for theatrical business, it would be an improvement if the next production did not experience that predicament.
David Sexton has formed NOTB Productions (named after his play, Nature of the Beach) to promote gay authors for the theatre. He also hopes to keep It's a Fabulous Life as an annual event during future Christmas seasons. All technicalities aside, we hope that every year will be more fabulous than the previous. This new tradition will continue at the Byron Carlyle Theater until December 5th, then will head up north to the Broward Center of the Performing Arts, December 8th - 12th.
NOTB PRODUCTIONS - It's a Fabulous Life
Book by David Sexton
Cast: David Leddick, Euriamis Losada, Ben Bagby, Kenny Calabria, Edison Farrow, Ezequiel Hernandez, Nadeen Holloway, Brian Ricci, Andy Rogow, David Sexton, and Dean Swann
Musical Direction: Ryan McCall
Set Design: Ian Almeida
Directed by Robert Johanson
Byron Carlyle Theater (November 26 - December 5)
Broward Center of the Performing Arts (December 8 - 12)
-- Kevin Johnson