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Hoboken to Hollywood

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Frank Sinatra is a never-ending source of fascination. After a multitude of biographical books on this singular signing sensation, another one--Frank: The Voice, by James Kaplan--is currently hitting the shelves of libraries and book stores across the land.

What's more, a fabulous new musical, based on the hit parade of songs made famous by the stylings of Sinatra (and other classy crooners), is now onstage at Santa Monica's Edgemar Center For the Arts. It's called Hoboken To Hollywood: A Journey Through the Great American Songbook And that's exactly what this two-hour music-fest amounts to: a melodic and, at times, melancholy journey back to the tunes that bring both comfort and sadness to anyone who's been exposed to popular culture over the past half-century. The comfort comes from the sweet, echoing memories we attach to these melodies and lyrics; the sadness arises from the times gone-by that the rhythmic sounds remind us of.

The set-up is simple and simply wonderful: A television program is being taped for broadcast. We in the audience play the part of a live studio audience. We're there during the run-up to the show. We see the lights, the cameras, and the action of a twelve-piece orchestra warming-up (actually portrayed by the Paul Litteral Orchestra). As technicians and performers mix and mingle pre-show, we experience the electrifying atmosphere in which a television production is incubated.

With two screens acting as visual monitors on either side of the ample stage, we can scan the proceedings from three perspectives as they unfold. The live action is interspersed with pre-recorded Ford Mustang commercials, which tout the glamour and hipness of this everyman (often convertible) sportster. In one screened advertisement, we see a familiar figure. He wears a fedora, a skinny necktie, and a tightly tailored suit with razor-thin lapels. We watch as he glides his canary-yellow Mustang across the American continent, eventually parking on a sandy Southern California beach; he's traveled from Hoboken to Hollywood.

Soon enough the man in the automobile ad appears in the flesh before us, attired in the same trendy mid-century outfit he sports in the technicolor car commercial (costuming by Jessica Olson). Though his name is never uttered--he is listed in the playbill merely as "The Crooner"--he is regularly referred to as Sir, and at least once as Chairman-of-the-Board. Nevertheless, when his rich and lightly accented baritone engages us in renditions of "Bye, Bye, Blackbird," "Swinging on a Star," and "Call Me Irresponsible," there is no doubt as to whom this master of musical mood is supposed to be.

Created by Luca Ellis and Paul Litteral (Ellis beautifully portrays "The Crooner"), it is Jeremy Aldridge who lends meticulous direction to "Hoboken." Together Ellis, Litteral, and Aldridge wrote the book.

While it's true that the music and the musicians hold this show's safety-net (if something were to lag or otherwise go wrong, crank-up the sound machine), it is Ellis who maintains the focus here. Much more swarthy and handsome than Sinatra, Ellis, nonetheless, easily convinces us that we"re on the production set with Sinatra in a television special--circa 1965. Moreover, Ellis has the tone and phrasing of Ol' Blues Eyes down pat.

With over two dozen numbers--including "Stardust," "Fly Me to the Moon," and a riveting interpretation of "One For My Baby"--Hoboken is not only a must-see effort, it's also a melodious feast for the ears. In addition to the rousing sounds of a dozen top-notch music-makers, we get some delightful station breaks bits and TV tropes. During these short intervals we see an announcer (a resonant Chandler Hill) pitching a well-known time-piece. He's aided by a beautiful and scene-stealing assistant (Franci Montgomery), as well as by the introverted bandleader, who's referred to as Nelson Riddle (an appropriately understated Jeff Markgraff).

The cast also includes an amusing Pat Towne as the stage manager, Andy; Al Bernstein as the television director; and Aaron Star as Cameraman #1. Importantly, however, the show includes and involves us in the audience. We respond to the obligatory applause sign with genuine enthusiasm and at the end, when The Crooner calls for song requests, the playlist quickly fills. At the performance reviewed, we were left with powerful and pleasing iterations of "That's Life" and "My Way." We left the theatre amidst much humming and with no regrets.

Hoboken to Hollywood, continues at the Edgemar Center for the Arts--2437 Main St., Santa Monica--through December 19. Show times are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, dial (310) 392-7327. For further information, visit www.edgemarcenter.org.

 

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.