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Theater Review: Bradbury’s musical (finally) comes to life

Fifty-five years is an extraordinarily long period between conception and execution in the theater, even more so when the creator of a show is still around to enjoy its world premiere opening night.

That’s the current situation at the Forum Theater on Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts grounds where “Merry Christmas 2116” — written in 1954 by sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury — finally has made it to the stage as a special project of Laguna’s Gallimaufry Performing Arts.

Bradbury, 89 and confined to a wheelchair but still clever and amiable as he posed for pictures with playgoers, addressed the audience prior to the opening curtain, explaining how he’d originally written the show as a project for actor Charles Laughton and his actress wife, Elsa Lanchester.

It never came to fruition, however, and “Merry Christmas 2116” might have stayed dormant until at least 2116 were it not for Steve Josephson and his Gallimaufry group.

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Josephson has directed and choreographed the hourlong show and also plays a supporting role.

With Bradbury’s book and lyrics and a musical score by John Hoke, “Merry Christmas 2116” is a Twilight Zoneish glimpse into a future imagined back in the 1950s, with Josephson’s robotic ballets playing a crucial role in the story.

The primary characters, played by Rob Harryman and Lisa Morrice, are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, and both are concerned over how each spouse eventually will function without the other. Enter the mysterious Mr. Marionette (David Stoneman), who offers each of them a younger, more energetic robot companion (Josephson and Jessie McLean). But is a younger partner really what either oldster desires?

Performances are splendid, with the robots (including Samantha Marcella, Christine Reese and Anthony Scarano) often stealing the spotlight. Their balletic acumen lends a futuristic aura to Bradbury’s spare but solid story.

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Josephson’s intricate choreography and Darlene Krantz’s clown-like makeup, along with Sarah Schuessler’s costumes and Gregg Barnette’s various wigs, give Bradbury’s story a delicious atmospheric boost. J.W. Layne’s setting serves multiple purposes, highlighted by the lighting effects of Stuart A. Fabel.

“Merry Christmas 2116” is just an hour in length, but it’s well worth the visit as an occasion to sit in on a piece of theatrical history.

Youthful energy in ‘Stuart Little’

There’s enough youthful energy being generated in the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater’s production of “Stuart Little” to light up the theater itself.

Stuart, as fans of the book by E.B. White, author of “Charlotte’s Web,” are well aware, is a mouse, born into the Little family sometime in the mid-1950s. Just don’t tell Stuart that the littlest Little has a curly tail.

“Stuart Little” has been transformed into a stage musical by Joseph Robinette (book) and Ronna Frank (music), with both pitching in on the lyrics. Youth Theater Director Donna Inglima creatively guides a huge cast of mostly kids in a splashy, melodic production.

As enacted by the vivacious Vy Vy Tran, a young girl with a terrific show business future ahead of her, Stuart is not one to allow sex or rodentia to slow him/her down. Tran sparkles in her depiction of a determined youngster to whom size doesn’t matter (Stuart actually stands just 2 inches) and anything can be accomplished with a little heart and a lot of pizzazz.

In the Little household, there is a “Natural Enemy,” a fearsome white cat played with gusto by Darius Rose, along with the caring parents (Gary Spangler and Andrea Dennison-Laufer) and big brother George (Cody Spiegel). It’s Rose’s feline antagonist who steals the scenes, however.

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There’s also a wounded bird named Margalo (Samantha Grossman), who finds temporary respite with the Littles and a stalwart friend in Stuart. The relationship is cut short, however, when a stool pigeon (Natalee Palmer) warns the feathered friend that Rose and his alley cat buddy are about to pounce, sending Margalo flying.

“Stuart Little” is basically a collection of vignettes, beautifully choreographed by Ellen Prince with musical direction by Diane King Vann. The ensemble numbers, such as “Paddle Your Own Canoe” and “I’m Headed in the Right Direction,” showcase the young company’s enthusiasm.

One number in particular stands out — the second act opener “Nighttime in New York,” which features Rose with three other kitties (Tyler Logan, Jenna Bilgore and Ashley Nelson) in a feline tribute to the dark side of the Big Apple. Chris Holmes’ colorful set design, Glenn Powell’s lighting effects and Dwight Richard Odle’s costumes all contribute to the brightness and accelerated tempo of the production.

This is a show the youngsters will tell their buddies about, gleefully.

If You Go

What: “Merry Christmas 2116”

Who: Gallimaufry Performing Arts

Where: Forum Theater, Festival of Arts grounds, Laguna Beach

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When: Closing performances at 8 tonight and Saturday, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $10 to $25

Call: (949) 499-5060

If You Go

What: “Stuart Little”

Where: Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater

When: Closing performances 7:30 tonight, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $18 to $20

Call: (949) 497-2787


TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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