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How Obama Got His Groove Back

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We’ve heard President Obama carry a tune at the Apollo Theater recently. Now, thanks to the zany imaginations of Nicholas Zill and Derek Jeremiah Reid, we are treated to a comedy conceit that has Mr. Obama (Derek Jeremiah Reid) pining to be a soul singer, in How Obama Got His Groove Back,   at South Pasadena’s Fremont Theatre Centre. After all, while campaigning for president can be a challenging process, nothing brings people together like music – at least in this president’s estimation.

 

Also directed by Derek Jeremiah Reid, and with a game ensemble, Groove is up-to-the-minute in its topicality, broaching such newsworthy events as talking to an empty chair, ala Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, and the demise of Whitney Houston (“Too soon” they acknowledge). What’s more, the lighthearted shenanigans are laced with pre-recorded pop tunes such as the show’s opener "Sweet Soul Music," arranged and played by the band Rock ‘N’ Ridicule, performed with rhythmic flair and vocal aliveness by the sweet-sounding Reid as Obama, and backed up by two go-go dancing harmonizers (Kim Mulligan and Natascha Corrigan).

 

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney (played with effective deadpan delivery by Christopher Robert Smith) is convinced that improvisational skills will aid in his trek to the presidency. He, therefore, enrolls in an improv workshop in order to loosen up and find his natural spontaneity. We haven’t seen such stiff attempts at levity since Richard Nixon said “Sock it to me.” on Laugh In, nearly a half-century ago.

Amidst the performing aspirations and efforts of these two candidates, we meet their supportive wives. Courtney Decosky’s send-up of Ann Romney is cleverly evocative of the wholesome Mrs. R, while the formidable Constance Reese makes for a believable Michelle Obama. And when Reese and Reid do a duet of Reverend Al Green’s sexy "Let’s Stay Together", cool moods and sensual moves are the order of the day.

In two acts with sixteen scenes, and in just under two hours running time (with one intermission), Groove is sketch comedy at its best: fresh, funny and full of winning performers, including Brent Pope in various roles – among them Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un (Pope’s recital of the Marvin Gaye inspired "Let’s Get it Un" is a high-point here). Like many such comedy routines Groove suffers from a few slow moments (some of the Kim Jong-Un karaoke bits go on too long). Nevertheless, Groove is a tuneful, temporary antidote to the real-life and often mind-numbing pursuits of the actual candidates.

Played on a versatile set (designed by Marie Miller), under a well coordinated lighting motif (Carol Doehring), and with ample sound work, creative costuming and comedic hair designs (by Grady Hutt, Lois Tedrow, and Judi lewin, respectively), many of the actors serve in multiple roles, allowing us glimpses of a gregarious Joe Biden, a lascivious but loveable Bill Clinton (both portrayed by the able Christopher Robert Smith), a staunch Hillary Clinton and a winking Sarah Palin (both suggestively served up by Natascha Corrigan). Add to the proceedings the enlivening choreography of Laura Pinho and we in the audience are brought into the Groove with this non-partisan parody of both candidates.

How Obama Got His Groove Back, produced by City in a Swamp Productions, continues at the Fremont Centre Theatre – 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena – through October 7. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations, dial (866) 811-4111. For online ticketing, visit www.fremontcentretheatre.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.