Friday, May 22, 2009

National Velvet: The Review!!!!

Cover of "National Velvet (Book and Charm...Cover of National Velvet (Book and Charm)

An ambitious version of National Velvet is currently playing at The Hollywood Improv Lab Theater, conveniently located adjacent to the world famous Improv, on Melrose Blvd. I say ambitious, because the smallish nature of the stage almost got too crowded, as the nine player cast barely fit when they were all in the scene. However, judicious use of the entire auditorium, per Dagwood's direction, allowed for the cast to fully shine.

For the two or three of you that haven't seen the original movie with Elizabeth Taylor, or read the book the movie is based on by Enid Bagnold, National Velvet is the story of a young orphan named Velvet, adopted by the Browns. In turn, she adopts a wild horse nicknamed, 'Pie.' Pie shows such promise, that Velvet wishes to enter the horse in the Grand National in England, and ride her herself.

This version is based more on the book than the movie, and this stage adaptation moves the story into the future, complete with flying cars!!! The year is 2060, and the Browns live in Americus, Georgia. Miss Ada is now the Brown's flying car, as opposed to the donkey of the original version. From the website:
“The story is set in a future where modern marvels, imagination and growing up all join together to form a festive, and sometimes somber look at life's challenges in making big dreams come true!”

A few technical snafus did not mar otherwise fine performances by the entire cast. Athena Velasco as Velvet has the unenviable task of carrying the play, which she pulls off with nary a hitch. Mi is portrayed by Darren Numer, who as the ranch hand of the Browns, and Velvet's unlikely friend and mentor, carries the role with a good English accent, which serves him well in one scene where he narrates Velvet working the horse around the ranch, to the point where I thought he was watching an actual horse in full gallop. Ron Karl, a veteran of stage and screen, plays Mr. Brown, and delivers his performance with that precision. Alexandra Smothers plays his wife, Mrs. Brown, with a Southern accent that constantly reminded me where the play was set, despite my need for them to do a straight adaptation. Wayne Baldwin as Mr. Cellini didn't get enough time on stage for my money, due to the demands of the part he portrayed. I wanted to see more from him. He does play a judge at the end of the play, as most of the rest of the cast doubles up in this capacity. Again, the stage is almost too small. Mary Huse, Natalie Piechowski, and Anthony Chavez don't get enough time on stage as the rest of the adopted Brown children, either. Sydney Hines sings a resounding version of Amazing Grace when the time comes. If you haven't already, I'm sure you'll see more of them on TV and in the movies in the future.

One may ask, why is there still a Grand National Event in England, when flying cars are the norm, and this small oversight wasn't addressed, however, I willingly suspended my disbelieve, and enjoyed the performance, which is excellent entertainment for the whole family. National Velvet, This Time She Flies! Plays this weekend @ 2 and 8 pm both days, with a possible extended run through June. Price, Free!!! You can't pass this up. The Improv Comedy Lab is located at 8162 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA.

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