Prairie-oke! is Hilariously “Un-Wholesome”

by Marc Wheeler

Gia On The Move, March Wheeler, musicals, theatre reviews

In the basement of Casita del Campo (a Mexican restaurant By the Shores of Silver Lake) lives the hole-in-the-wall Cavern Club Theater. Ceiling low and space intimate, this little gem’s the temporary home of Prairie-oke! That Totally Unauthorized Karaoke Parody Musical Formerly Known As Something Else now back for a limited engagement. If images of a wholesome TV show from the ‘70s about a pioneer family living in a little house on the prairie come to mind, good job, you’ve passed the first (and only) test.

Using the famous “Cinnamon Chicken” episode as a base and inserting pop hits of Miley Cyrus, Guns N’ Roses, Journey and more, Prairie-oke! is a campy homage to that beloved hit series that cannot (ahem) be legally named.  Originally conceived, written and directed by Dane Whitlock, this “karaoke musical” lives up to its name. Performers can sing and dance… enough. But it’s their full-throttle commitment to the (slightly-altered) songs that make them irresistibly charming. A twerk-tastic “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” dance-off from the virtuous pioneers (courtesy of choreographer Joseph Corella) further exemplifies the absurdities of the evening.

By and large the cast does great work, with even small roles getting comedic moments to shine. The family’s blind daughter Merry (Rae Dawn Hadinger) comically feels her way around stage and… oops!.. into the audience. Muffle-mouthed toddler Kerry (Penny Wildman) garbles her lines with amusing effect.  And “Disney prince” heartthrob Alonzo (Ben Palacios) gives our leading young lady Lauren (Libby Baker) a glimpse of his nips in a scene that would’ve had TV audiences clutching their pearls.

Kevin Berntson as the horny family patriarch is spit-taking as a man in constant search of moral solutions to everyday problems. Sporting a “Landon wig” atop a twinkly-eyed face, he delivers fatherly advice with the actor’s iconic clarity and calm.

The highlight of the evening belongs to Drew Droege as Mellie Moleson, the schoolyard villain everyone loves to hate. Storming across the Heartland with mischievous fury, Droege’s pigtailed prairie-bitch is perfection.

The set’s low-budget quaintness consists of a quilted home-on-the-range backdrop and low-hanging speakers under which a certain tall actor had to keep ducking to miss. It’s hilariously precious.

Prairie-oke!, produced by Matthew Herrmann and Vickie Mendoza, is sure to delight Little House fans and non-fans alike. Arrive early for a pre-show dinner or simply grab a few drinks for some raucous merriment that’s surely much Laura Ingalls Wilder than a pub crawl on the plains.

Playing through Nov. 22, 2015

Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo
1920 Hyperion Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Friday and Saturday – 9 PM
Sunday – 7 PM

Tickets:$30 in advance, $35 at Box Office
More information:


Sugarmen’s Explosive ‘Plastic Ocean’

Gia On The Move, music, sugarmen

2015 has been a huge year for UK based band, Sugarmen. The band played two Hyde Park shows with The Who and Blur, as well as sharing stages with Sleaford Mods, The Bohicas, Hooton Tennis Club, Deer Hunter, Metronomy and British Sea Power. The four-piece have toured hard and reinforced their growing reputation for high octane live sets, driven by charismatic cool and electric chemistry.

Their new single ‘Plastic Ocean’, a galactic track that explodes into life with a collision of fractured rhythms and angular riffs, boasts clever lyrics, power-surged vocals, and spaghetti western guitars, all driven by an unrelenting rhythm section and infectious melody. ‘Plastic Ocean’ captures on record the on stage energy the band are renowned for, it’s as sharp a statement of intent as you’ll ever hear.
The Band:
Luke Fenlon, Chay Heney, Sam McVann and Tom Shields
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Everyday Abstraction in Latin American Art

On Tuesday, Nov. 17. at 8:30pm REDCAT & SPACE present Abstraction and the Everyday in Latin American Art

Soto-Diaz, Mariángeles


Hosted will be distinguished Latin American artists Emilio Chapela, Rubén Ortiz-Torres and Mariángeles Soto-Díaz in conversation and moderated by SPACE Art Collection Chief Curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill along with REDCAT Gallery Director and Curator Ruth Estévez. 

The discussion is free of charge. Click here for free tickets.

 REDCAT 631 W 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012


This discussion is part of Abstraction in Action, a series of events on the subject of Contemporary Abstraction and its relevance across cultures, focusing in particular on Latin America, created through the SPACE Art Collection, which is housed at newly-debuted SPACE Headquarters in Irvine, California and is an integral division of SPACE, a visionary platform that unites entrepreneurship, art and technology.

SPACE Art Collection is the only collection in the United States focused on post 1990s Latin American Abstraction and is committed to inspiring and expanding the understanding of Latin American Abstraction within the global context. Please visit


#WhatsHotNow: SaintChic (paparazzi optional)


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Not Enough Social Impact in “Rent” at La Mirada

by Marc Wheeler

Gia On The Move, theatre reviews, Marc Wheeler

The East Village bohemians who took Broadway by storm nearly twenty years ago have returned to the stage in the Tony Award-winning “Rent” now getting a large-scale production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. With book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, this ground-breaking, mostly sung-through musical reimagines Puccini’s “La Bohème” as a late 20th century rock opera. Telling the story of starving artists, disease-plagued lovers and utopian-dreamers struggling to survive an AIDS-ravaged New York City, “Rent” made theater alive and relevant for young audiences with its cutting-edge sound, pop culture references and sexually-provocative subject matter in 1996.

Therein lies the problems of this 2015 staging.

Directed by Richard Israel for McCoy Rigby Entertainment, this attempted recreation of the original Broadway production lacks the social relevance and impact it once had. While themes of Puccini’s century-old opera are arguably timeless, Larson’s references to Doc Martens, Spike Lee, pagers and Newt Gingrich are not. More importantly, with growing acceptance of LGBT people, medical advancements in HIV/AIDS, nationwide marriage equality and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in its seventh season, a lot has changed since “Rent” shocked audiences with same-sex love stories and introduced a dying-of-AIDS drag queen as a central character. Without a completely new directorial vision or a “time capsule” approach reminding audiences of the intense homophobia and body-destroying, community-decimating impact of AIDS at that time (things too self-evident to be needed in the original staging), “Rent” as a simple recreation of a bygone era comes across as dated. Uninspired casting and costuming replicas (Julia Flores and Thomas G. Marquez, respectively) further emphasize this point by referencing the too-old-to-be-current, too-young-to-be-nostalgic original Broadway production. Anthony Rapp, for example, gets his look-alike in Mark Whitten as a red-headed, nerdy-cute Jewish filmmaker Mark Cohen. Drag queen Angel Schunard’s (Lawrence Cummings) signature “Mrs. Claus” attire also makes its appearance. These safe choices play less as endearing tributes and more as silly “Woodstock ’99” attempts of reliving the past, preventing many actors from making roles their own and depriving audiences of welcome inventiveness.

One notable exception is Emily Goglia’s take on the bisexual flirt Maureen Johnson. Her endearingly silly stamp on the performance art protest piece “Over the Moon” allows us a chance to collectively laugh at our past. Likewise, her sexual chemistry with Amber Mercomes as her uptight-yet-adoring girlfriend Joanne Jefferson in “Take Me or Leave Me” is equally impressive, each powerhouse out-belting the other in this passionate lovers’ quarrel.

On a not-so-compatible note, singer-songwriter Roger Davis (Devin Archer) and stripper Mimi Marquez (Cassie Simone) lack the charged intensity these HIV-positive, baggage-bringing lovers require. Archer’s fiery fight with roommate Mark in the second act shows he’s capable of emotional depth, yet when it comes to the show’s leading romantic story arc he appears uncommitted. His attempted rocker vocal styling is also constrained at times, though otherwise it effectively soars. Simone, on the other hand, has Ariana Grande-esque, pretty-girl looks and fantastic vocals, but her performance, however, is void of the desperate messiness needed of the strung-out junkie whose “no day but today” mantra has her living dangerously close to the edge.

Beautiful scenic design by Stephen Gifford is magnificently massive, towering the stage with an abandoned, industrial loft. While upper levels could be utilized more for performances, negative space on the building’s exterior is filled with Jonathan Infante’s richly layered video projections which document “real life” throughout the show, though occasional “live” camera shots don’t sync with onstage action. Sound design by Josh Bessom and musical direction by John Glaudini give group numbers the fullness they need, though individual performances could benefit from added amplification or richer instrumentation to create a more in-your-face rock concert feel.

Standout numbers “Will I?” and “Seasons of Love” (with gorgeous solos by Alyssa M. Simmons and John Pinto, Jr.) have actors break the fourth wall and sing directly to the audience (as is customary), reminding us of the power of Larson’s gorgeous score and pure human connection.

While “Rent” remains a transformative game-changer in the annals of musical theater, if this production proves anything it’s that the time for its reinvention or applied-contextualization is now. Until then, dust off your two-disc Original Broadway Cast Recording and “viva la vie bohème.”

Now Playing thru Sunday, November 15, 2015

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Boulevard
La Mirada, CA 90638

Parking is free

Thursday – 7:30 PM
Friday – 8:00 PM
Saturday – 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Sunday – 2:00 PM


Box Office: 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310

Student, senior and group discounts available

Atmospheric Melodies of Men in the Sky


Men in the Sky (MITS) is a British-Canadian collaboration between founder Gary Roberts (guitar and synths) and Simon Mawson (vocals), Gavin Thomas (vocals) and Chad Montgomery (guitars).



Fusing atmospheric synth melodies with driving guitars, Men in the Sky produce innovative electronica that draws as much from the jazz-blues of Jeff Beck and the funk of Chic as it does from classic British New Wave and echoes the classic 1980s output of New Order and the iconic work of Trevor Horn, while the band’s guitars recall Depeche Mode’s venture into rockier, grittier territory in the late 80s and early 90s.

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South Coast Rep Remounts a Gorgeous “Abundance”

By Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

South Coast Repertory presents “Abundance” by Beth Henley, directed by Martin Benson. Cast: Larry Bates (Professor Elmore Crome), Adam Haas Hunter (Jack Flan), Lily Holleman (Bess Johnson), Daniel Reichert (William Curtis), Paige Lindsey White (Macon Hill). Segerstrom Stage, October 16 - November 15, 2015

South Coast Repertory presents “Abundance” by Beth Henley, directed by Martin Benson. Cast: Larry Bates (Professor Elmore Crome), Adam Haas Hunter (Jack Flan), Lily Holleman (Bess Johnson), Daniel Reichert (William Curtis), Paige Lindsey White (Macon Hill). Segerstrom Stage, October 16 – November 15, 2015

I had forgotten how much I loved Beth Henley’s writing. How she could meticulously form characters and thoughts that were thoroughly Freudian, so real, so full of life, depth, feeling, almost insane – tragical and comical in a single instance.

To boot, Henley has been creating three-dimensional women for more than 30 years – long before it was in vogue for entertainment industry leaders, to aggressively mission against over sexed and stereotypical profiling of the female figure in film, television and stage. And lucky for us.  We as an audience and especially we women who regularly search often in vain for roles, models and ideals we can heartily chew, have had more than just a little something to “go on”.

The mere staying power of Abundance, originally produced in 1989 at South Coast Repertory, prior to its opening on Broadway the following year, now remounted once again for SCR’s 2015-16 season, is sterling proof that Henley’s mojo is indeed “workin'”. Abundance is no less modern today and a startling example of what stands the test of time and temperament.

Abundance is the story of Bess Johnson and Macon Hill, two mail-order brides, fantastically hopeful for a bright future of love and adventure as they head to the Wyoming Territory to meet their new husbands. Their epic story twistily unfolds on the American frontier from 1868-93 (25 years). 

As women Bess and Macon initially appear to be radically different.  Bess is thoughtful, sweet, unassuming.  She accepts life as is and makes the best of things.  There is an inkling of course of the woman she could be, a one Macon spontaneously points out at their first encounter. Bess is just bold enough to make the trip on her own, to meet a a seemingly gentler man who has been writing beautiful poetry to her, enticing the romantic expectation of Bess potentially finding her “one true one.”  Macon on the other hand, is boisterous, boyish and unafraid to take life head on and intends to do so with gusto at every minute.  She’s ventured “…to see what’s out there; whatever’s out there…Could be anything.  I savor the boundlessness of it all. The wild flavor.  I’m drunk with western fever.”  

What these two women get however, is quite the opposite.  In fact, both end up leading rather tamed, unhappy lives, respectively plowing through either abject poverty and abuse or the dull monotony of field work and uninteresting husbands.  Until they don’t.  At a climactic moment, Bess disappears into the night on the frozen prairie, not to be found for years, and everything including Bess’ and Macon’s positions, even their identities, radically and irrevocably changes from fortunes to attitudes to successes and failures.  

There is a certain brilliance in Abundance as to how Henley’s writing frames a bit of the history here with settlers and Native Americans in the land grab, development and butting heads.  In the microcosm of Bess’ and Macon’s lives there is a particular “everyday” insight to life on the plains.  What these women deal with is extraordinary really, but also ordinary in every way and we watch as their lives rise and fall and fall away, bit by bit, never really achieving a once dreamed of abundance, with incredible fascination and empathy.  

There could not have been two better actresses cast in Abundance for its remount.  Lily Holleman as Bess and Paige Lyndsey White as Macon, are so completely connected to the characters they truly epitomize; unmistakably dynamic and with incredible breath, depth of emotion, and chemistry to spare. Daniel Reichart as William Curtis and Adam Haas Hunter (who was no less spectacular in his recent performance of The Great Divide) nail this script, supporting their leading ladies to satisfying perfection. Larry Bates as Professor Elmore Crome is downright savory as a game changer in this piece.

“What an experience!”

Playing until November 15th

Tickets: May be purchased online at, by phone at (714) 708-5555 or by visiting the Box Office at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.