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A Beach Blanket Party Invades Pasadena Playhouse

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At last! An entertainment that was irreverent when created in 1879, made more so by The Hypocrites, an outrageous young troupe that knows its way around operetta just as well as it knows how to amaze and delight in the 21st century. At The Hypocrites performances of Pirates of Penzance, now playing at the venerable Pasadena Playhouse, rather than finding one’s way to a traditional seat in, audiences find themselves on a crowded beach promenade, transformed from auditorium to playing area. Beach balls whiz by on their way to an unsuspecting beachgoer who must quickly pass them on. The actual stage is ignored for the most part, with a series of bleachers placed around the room for the fuddy-duddies who don’t want to move about (I was one).

The Hypocrites hail from Chicago, where the group is known for transforming old plays, musicals, and even sacred cows such as the Greek tragedies into inventive and accessible productions. The troupe’s take on the venerable Pirates gets shaved down to its bare essentials, shifting audiences around and involving them in the action while providing alcoholic refills at the onstage Tiki bar.

Perhaps a short recap of the plot may be warranted. Freddie (Doug Pawlik), indentured as a lad, has grown up with a band of well-intentioned pirates. He has never met a “wo-wo-woman” in the marriageable sense. When released of his servitude to go out into the world, his sense of honor leads him to ridiculous lengths, first to exterminate the pirates and next to exterminate their pursuers.

But never mind that. This is an occasion to celebrate the wonderful music by Sullivan and silly libretto by Gilbert (or vice versa). Sean Graney, the director who presides over all, truncated the piece, while adding music from Italian opera, modern pop, and even the Kingston Trio. The result is a diverting blend that shows off the ensemble’s talents.

Among all the performers, often providing their own instrumental accompaniment, Dana Omar stands out as Freddie’s nurse, Ruth; also doubling as Mabel, Freddie’s love interest. The Pirate King (Shawn Pfatsch) on the one hand, and the Major General (Matt Kahler) on the other, strut their stuff on each end of the spectrum.

All the production elements come together over the heads and around the promenade.  Strings of lights (part of Tom Burch’s nefarious set design) criss-cross above, while hillocks of mismatched benches, tubs, and red arrow wagons provide seating. It wouldn’t be a party without the insane costuming by Alison Siple. Of all the elements, her outsized, mismatched, and eclectic clothing pieces remind that realism is not the aim here. The lighting challenge (Heather Gilbert) is also unusual, as she ensures that performers stand out from the madding crowd at key moments.

After the performance concludes, The Hypocrites are not finished.  The troupe invites party-goers attending Thursday through Sunday to extend the fun for another hour.

Pirates of Penzance continues Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm, and Sunday 2 & 7 pm; through February 25, 2018 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101. Tickets: $28.00 to $84.00 Tuesday through Friday and $39.00 to $106.00 on weekends. Phone  626 356 7529 or online at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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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.