I Love 99: The Musical
Reviewed by Paul Birchall
One thing is for sure: Whatever the reason is for Actors Equity’s ill-thought out vendetta against Los Angeles’s intimate theater, the result has been an astonishing union of the 99-seat stage community’s disparate elements.
Director Daniel Henning’s theatrical fundraiser for the Pro99 protest movement, held Tuesday evening at Akbar in Silver Lake, brought out many more than 99 representatives and performers from all areas of the Los Angeles stage acting community. Other articles on this site can inform you far more comprehensively about the basics of the conflict between Actor’s Equity and Los Angeles performers working under the 99 seat agreement. It’s a wicked thing that AEA is doing – and one can only wonder at what the real ulterior motives for the Union’s campaign can actually be.
Nevertheless, this wonderful show was quite a bit like 99-seat theater itself: A little scruffy, a little anarchic, but held together and bolstered by love, talent, and passion. It was also a program that crackled with fierce intelligence, with sketches and songs that melded irony, humor, and a smattering of rage, as performers from many of our local stages tried to make sense of a Union that seems to want to pull the plug on an entire culture.
The acts consisted of a mix of songs, devastatingly funny skits, and impassioned speeches, from some of the 99-seat community’s better known luminaries. Opening with Nicole Parker’s devastating send up of the contrast (to the tune of Sondheim melodies) of the kind of acting work that actors do for money (appearing as a half-nude zombie in The Walking Dead), with the more artistic opportunities provided on a small stage, the performers here generally tried to make sense of AEA’s thought processes and broad-stroke campaign tactics.
Burglars of Hamm stalwart Amir Levi killed the theater with his turn as an oily AEA trying to sleaze the audience into believing he has their best interests at heart. Constance Jewell Lopez dazzled with her rendition of “I am telling you” from the acclaimed DOMA production of “Dreamgirls,” noting that without the small stages, performers of diversity might never have the opportunity to stretch their abilities.
Local acting luminary Drew Droege offered his “actor produced” performance of a one man “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” rather puckishly noting that this would be likely to be the only kind of show allowed under the new contract. More sensitive moments were offered by Daisy Egan, portraying herself talking with a theater ignoramus about the reasons why she does theater (“You know, I do it to get rich,” she quipped, sardonically) and noting, almost in passing, “Oh, and, yeah, I did win a Tony Award” – and by members of the cast of Deaf West’s acclaimed production of Spring Awakening, whose 99 seat production is shortly to reopen at Beverly Hills Wallis Annenberg. Their ASL-accompanied rendition of “What I did for love,” directly connects with the love of theater that drives most of the folks attending the show.
However, the philosophical core of the show turned on French Stewart’s commonsensical appraisal of Los Angeles small theater. After being told that, if he wanted to appear on TV he could play either the school vice principal or a pedophile – but if he stayed on the small stage, he could appear in King Lear. “The theater is like farming” Stewart noted, matter-of-factly. “You don’t get paid for the seeds. You get paid for the fruit.”
With its artful mix of humor, anger, and sadness, this collection of vignettes provided a perfect impressionist art work of what would be tragically lost with the end of the 99 seat theater scene.
Akbar, 4356 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. Closed.