Monday, July 15, 2019

MeShell NdegéOcello Shines Bright At The Ford

By Darlene Donloe

In what can only be described as a perfect night under the stars, Me’Shell NdegéOcello killed it during her sold-out set at the John Anson Ford Theatre’s Ignite @ The Ford series in Hollywood.

Accompanied by a tight-knit band that included Abe Rounds on drums, Jebin Bruno on keyboards, and Chris Bruce on guitar, NdegéOcello of course on bass, asked the audience if they could tell she was nervous. if she was, it certainly didn't show. She opened with Wasted Time and received a huge round of applause. She also hugged the audience with Suzanne, I Wonder If I Take You Home, and Good Day Bad.

She vacillated between her own material to covers of Al B. Sure’s Nite and Day, TLC’s Waterfalls, Force MD’s Tender Love, Sly and the Family Stones’ Sing a Simple Song and George Clinton’s Atomic Dog. She puts her own special folksy blend on each one practically making them unrecognizable – but keeping all of the intended flavor.

It was clear some fans were a bit disappointed that NdegéOcello didn’t sing more songs from her own original repertoire like Diggin’ You and didn’t sing anything from her debut album, Plantation Lullabies.

Even when someone yelled, “play something from Plantation Lullabies,” NdegéOcello was undeterred.

Her audience is always geared up to hear Soul Searching or Bitter, but it was not to be on this night. This night NdegéOcello was groovin’ to something else – and it was all good. True fans understand that a genius can’t be put in a box. They have to move to their own rhythm. It was still a magical evening as the audience hugged her every note and every meaningful lyric. An incredible lyricist, NdegéOcello is known for words that are empowering, emotional and always thought-provoking.

There are no smoke and mirrors at one of her shows. No scantily-clad dancers shaking their rumps no videos, strobing lights, or special effects. This is NdegéOcello raw and in all her glory. She stands and delivers.

NdegéOcello, who is phenomenal whether she picks up her bass or not, but who is on another plane, when she does have it in her hands, is so smooth she glides from one fabulous song to the next enticing her audience to take the musical journey with her.

She’s not much of a talker, though. She does banter back and forth with the audience too much. She would much rather have her music dominate whatever conversation is to be had.

“Talkin’ is not my thing,” she said. “It gets you into trouble.”

A superstar who is still humble, NdegéOcello said she “Sometimes struggles with accepting the good. Please know that I am grateful you listen to the music.”

NdegéOcello, who lives in New York, added that she was “filled with gratitude in this strange land called LA.”

Her latest and 12th CD is titled, Ventriloquism, which covers 11 R&B and pop tracks originally recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. She said the music came at a dark time when her father had passed and her band member Chris Bruce’s father had also passed.  She said the covers were an opportunity to pay a new kind of tribute.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Whether It's Right or Wrong, It's Really Funny!

By Darlene Donloe

The hilarity starts immediately in The Play That Goes Wrong, the Tony Award-winning hit Broadway comedy currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through August 11, 2019.

While the audience is walking into the theater, several stagehands are putting the finishing touches on the stage. There’s a problem with the main door continuously opening and a mantelpiece that won’t stay put.  That’s just the beginning. Things get worse!

Hang on to your hats - it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

This Los Angeles debut is everything it has been hyped up to be.

The madcap production is a comedy about – what else - the theatre.

So the story goes like this - The ‘Cornley University Drama Society’ are attempting to put on a 1920s murder mystery called, The Murder at Haversham Manor, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong…does.  I mean this show makes the Keystone Cops look like Scotland Yard. One after the other the actors and even some of the crew become a clumsy, bumbling bunch of thespians.

One of the funniest bits is when Jonathan (Yaegel T. Welch), the man who was allegedly murdered, doesn’t know how to stay dead. He reacts when an actor steps on his hand. He reacts again when an actor sits on the couch, drops a tray on his head and more. You get the idea. He gets so tired of actors stepping on his hand that he slowly moves it – as if the audience can’t see him moving. At one point he even sits up, he pushes people off of him, and he even comes in on scenes where he is not supposed to appear.  At one point two characters are supposed to remove his body from the stage but to no avail. Jonathan hilariously removes himself by slinking out the room on the floor and eventually even standing and just walking out.  Welch is brilliant in his delivery.

Jamie Ann Romero plays Sandra, Jonathan’s fiancé, who keeps getting knocked out of the play. While unconscious, Annie (Angela Grovey) a stagehand who has a lot more girth than Sandra, appears in a similar dress to take over the role.  It’s frickin, off-the-charts funny because Annie doesn’t know the lines or the blocking. Eventually, Sandra makes her way back to the show – but by that time Annie is all-in and doesn’t want to relinquish the role. Zany doesn’t even begin to describe the chaos.

Ned Noyes brings the funny. Smelling himself, he keeps playing to the audience for laughs.  He gives himself kudos throughout the show bowing frequently and cheesing to the crowd at every turn.

Another hilarious bit is when four actors say the same lines about eight times in a row – as they try to get the one actor to say the right line. Because he keeps missing the line, they are forced to go around and around saying the same thing until the actor finally figures out his mistake.

Kudos to the set designer who is the integral reason why Peyton Crim was able to pull off a brilliant bit. As the second floor slowly starts to collapse, Crim is trying to keep a chair, desk, plant, and globe from crashing to the floor, all the while trying to keep himself from doing the same. It’s a hoot and a holla and one of the best scenes in the show.

What a disastrously, entertaining night of theater. This play within a play has so many rip-roaring, slapstick moments that it’s hard to write about them all. The two-act play is a nonstop chaotic romp that moves from one frantic moment to the next.  From the very beginning, things fall, they break, the move, they collapse and they crash. People drop lines, upstage each other, give each other the stank eye, whisper under their breath, move when they are not supposed to, forget to move when they are supposed to, mishandle props, move props, and drink things they are not supposed to.

Some bits wear out their welcome – but other bits and pieces make up for it.

The cast is in constant motion. They have to be athletic, have great timing, and of course, be able to deliver the comedy. 

Everyone in the show brings their A-game!

The Play That Goes Wrong co-written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields is directed by Matt DiCarlo, with original Broadway direction by Mark Bell.

The national tour features Scott Cote as Dennis, Peyton Crim as Robert, Brandon J. Ellis as Trevor, Angela Grovey as Annie, Ned Noyes as Max, Jamie Ann Romero as Sandra, Evan Alexander Smith as Chris and Yaegel T. Welch as Jonathan. The cast also features Blair Baker, Jacqueline Jarrold, Sid Solomon, and Michael Thatcher.

Kudos to Nigel Hook (scenic design), Roberto Surace (costume design), Ric Mountjoy (lighting design), and Andrew Johnson (sound design).

The Play That Goes Wrong, Ahmanson Theatre,135 Grand, Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Tues-Fri; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat.; 1 and 6:30 p.m.; no performance on Mondays: added 2 p.m. performance on Thurs., Aug. 8; no 6:30 p.m. performance on Sun., Aug. 11; through August 11;  $30-$135; 213 972-4400 or

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (exceptional), The Play That Goes Wrong gets an E (exceptional).

Friday, July 12, 2019

Aaron C. Rutherford Is 'Friends' With Chandler

Cast of Friends! The Musical Parody

By Darlene Donloe

From 1994 to 2004, the sitcom Friends was a juggernaut on television.

The show, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, made television icons out of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.

Their characters, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross, respectively were so popular that they all captured that lightning in a bottle that made them a part of pop culture history.

Fast forward and the ensemble cast of Sami Griffith, Tyler Fromson, Maggie McMeans, Madison Fuller, Domenic Servidio, and Aaron C. Rutherford is hoping to bring their own kind of magic to the legendary show with the Los Angeles premiere of Friends! The Musical Parody, set to open July 17, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

The show good-naturedly pokes fun at TV’s Friends, celebrating the adventures of the 20-something friends as they navigate the pitfalls of work, life, and love.   
It takes place during a typical day at Central Perk, apparently New York’s only coffee shop when low and behold, an unexpected runaway bride enters the picture and kicks the whole gang out of second gear! The new musical, recommended for mature audiences, recreates favorite moments from all 10 years of Friends through an uncensored, fast-paced, music-filled romp.
The show has had a successful yearlong North American national tour and was originally produced in New York City by Lynn Shore Entertainment, Theater Mogul and McSmith Family Entertainment.

To find out just how much fun this cast is having touring I recently caught up with Aaron C. Rutherford (ARC), who plays Chandler Bing.

Rutherford, a New York City-based actor, director, and singer is making his national tour debut with Friends! The Musical Parody.

A graduate of Western Michigan University’s BFA Musical Theatre program, some of Rutherford’s recent credits include Dracula: Finding of a Shadow (Dracula), Twelfth Night (Fabian), Guys & Dolls (Benny), and The Witches of Eastwick (Clyde).  He is also the founding artistic director of The Pop-Up Shakespeare Project, for which he directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Aaron C. Rutherford
DD:  Tell me about the show.

ACR: The show is a very loving lampoon of all 10 episodes of Friends. We poke fun of them. It’s not always the nicest, but we do it with a lot of love. We all love the show. We get the whole plot of the 10 seasons into a two-hour fun spoof.
DD:  Just how much fun are you having? Is touring what you thought it would be?

ACR:  Yes and no. I’m a pretty recent graduate of Western. It was two Decembers ago. I lived in New York a year. This tour is great. You get the foundations of your career. I get to see cool places. It’s just like any other lifestyle. It’s so much fun. It’s a blast.  We’re just like the Friends, friends. We all
get along. I was a replacement for another actor. They all welcomed me with open arms.

DD: Have any original Friends cast members seen the show?

ACR: No they haven’t if they have, they’ve been very discreet about it.  In February, we were at the Broadway Playhouse, located across the street from David Schwimmer’s theater. We all wondered if he would pop in. If he did, it was very discreet.
DD: What would you say to Matthew Perry if he came to see the show?

ACR:  Thank you and I’m sorry. We poke a lot of fun at him. Matthew Perry’s addiction was so much in the public eye, it’s hard not to make reference to it. I’d say, thank you for such a well-rounded character.

DD: How did you make Chandler your own?

ACR:  When we first started rehearsal we did an exercise. We watched the show and did physical quirks. We then interjected our own.  I gotta say, Chandler was the least idiosyncratic of everyone. I had fun taking his quirks and making them funny. He had quirky hand gestures and facial gestures. I had a lot of fun. His sarcasm and quirky body movements – I had to do them large enough to make sure the people in the back of the theatre could see it. The show makes slight of the fact that when he makes jokes, none of the other members laugh at it.

DD:  Did you audition for Chandler or did you audition for another role and they cast you as Chandler?

ACR: I auditioned for Chandler. I’m actually more of a Phoebe but that wasn’t going to happen. That’s because I’m a bit of a hippie. Maybe next year.  I probably could do Schwimmer if I tried, but I’m the most like Chandler.

The cast of Friends! The Musical Parody

DD:   What do you like/dislike about your character?

ACR:  Without giving too much away, there were a  lot of guest stars who made their way onto the show. I enjoy the fact that my character is on a nonstop marathon. I get so smutty because it’s a nonstop show for me. I also like his sense of humor and wit.

DD: Talk about your favorite Friends episode.

ACR:  Right now I’m a big fan of the episode where Christina Applegate comes on as Rachel’s sister. She kept calling Phoebe another name. I also like the blackout episode where Chandler is stuck in an ATM vestibule. He can’t get out. He’s there with a supermodel but can’t phone anyone to tell them because the phones don’t work.

DD:  Do you have any friends like in the show –  who can walk in and out of your apartment at any time?

ACR: Ya know, I’m in New York. I’m in Brooklyn. My door is a little more locked than theirs was on the show. I have two great roommates. We pop into each other’s room all the time. That's about as close as I get to that.

DD: Now that you’ve experienced Friends, do you understand the hype around the show?

ACR: Absolutely. No, and yes. Every single day there is always something in the news. It’s been fifteen years since it ended. There is so much nostalgia around it. I was a kid who grew up watching it. This show was a global phenomenon.

DD:  Where has the tour taken you?

ACR: Oh, my, let me think. We’ve been to Detroit, Chicago, West Palm Beach, Nashville, Cleveland, Seattle, and Phoenix. We’ll be ending soon. This Southern California run is an extension. It wasn’t originally one of the cities, but there was some interest in us coming there.

DD: What is easier for you  - comedy or drama, and why?

ACR:  For me it’s comedy. Comedy is just drama sped up and slowed down in many ways.  Comedy just makes sense to me. That doesn’t mean for any employers reading this that I’m not available to do drama.

DD:    Why did you decide to be an actor?

ACR:  I played the Wicked Witch of the West in second grade. I told my mom this is what I want to do. As a kid, it was kind of the first thing I knew I wanted to be. My parents and teacher would ask me what I wanted to be. I said, everything. I wanted to be the owner of a restaurant, a chef, a firefighter, a comedian, and a cartoonist. Then I said, wait a minute, there is something that allows me to be everything – an actor.

Friends! The Musical Parody, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; 8 p.m., Tues-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat.; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun. through August 4, 2019; 213 628-2772.