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FORUM (FORUM & FOCUS) • Mar. 06, 2009
Where Breaking Up Is Delightful to Do


By Alan H. Friedenthal

"Divorce! The Musical" is infinitely more enjoyable than "Divorce, The
Judicial Assignment."

The latter is playing is playing in more than 40 courtrooms across Los
Angeles County. The former is delighting audiences at the Hudson
Mainstage Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

Jerry Herman's "Hello, Dolly!" is to matchmaking as Harvey Schmidt and
Tom Jones' "I Do, I Do" is to marriage, and Erin Kamler's "Divorce!
The Musical" belongs right up there in the pantheon.

Kamler, who multitasks the authorship for music, book and lyrics of
this 75-minute show, which plays without an intermission, is clearly a
musical descendant of Dorothy Fields and Betty Comden and a disciple
of composer Stephen Sondheim.

Kamler drew her inspiration for the creation of "Divorce! The Musical"
from her own experiences with the process.

"I needed a way to process and to heal," said Kamler. "So I decided to
write a musical that exposed divorce as the powerful, destructive
phenomenon it is: a social and legal process that treats people like
wheels in a cog. I wanted to talk about greedy lawyers who instigate
conflict in order to drag cases out and rake in the money."

Gabrielle Wagner and Leslie Stevens as those greedy lawyers,
respectively from the Westside and Sherman Oaks, are hysterical in the
their two numbers together: "Lawyer Letters" and the side-splitting
"Best Friends," a number reminiscent of Lionel Bart's Fagin from
"Oliver!" and his youthful charges plotting their future financial

In addition to the aptly named lawyers, Laureen Grub and Lisa Groper,
Wagner and Stevens contribute in other roles: Wagner as the therapist
and the minister and Stevens as Annie Hughes, the petitioner's mother.

In a nearly show-stopping performance, Gregory Franklin shines as The
Mediator done up as a game show host presiding over the mediation
process, reminding the contestants that from there, it's straight to
court. Franklin, doubling as the petitioner's father, alongside
Stevens' mother, regales the audience in "We Stuck It Out,, a ribald
number that never would have made it in 1966's "I Do, I Do."

The irony of a petitioner and respondent being named Penny and Rich
will not be lost on any audience member, whether they have personally
experienced divorce, litigated it or adjudicated it.

Penny and Rich are a deeply self absorbed 30-something couple. He's a
successful physician; she's a struggling actress. Rich wants to start
a family, Penny wants to pursue her career. This is a deal-breaker for
him. This story would be enhanced by the inclusion of children, as the
vast majority of dissolutions involve children. But this is not a part
of Kamler's story.

Lowe Taylor, a sweet beauty, and Rick Segall, have a perfect chemistry
as they spend one number getting married ("Til Death Do Us Part") and
18 numbers getting divorced. Their best duet, "Half," speaks of being
half lovers and half friends, but subtly telegraphs the property
disputes yet to come.

Working within the confines of a 99-seat equity waiver theater posed
no obstacles to production values that lend the feel of a major
Broadway production. The space is small, but Rick Sparks' direction
and musical staging (choreography) are so deft, the audience never
notices that they have seen inside a home, a wedding chapel, a singles
bar, a game show soundstage and two law offices.

At the risk of appearing narcissistic, it's regrettable there is no
courtroom scene. This would have given the story arc more closure.

Musical director David O conducts a three-person orchestra composed of
piano, cello and woodwinds that performs Kamler's music as if it had
been part of the musical theatre songbook for decades. Sound design is
by Cricket Myers and lighting design is by Jeremy Pivnick. Danny
Cistone's set design, including he aforementioned law offices on
wheels, is clever.

In a recent pre-opening interview on NPR's "All Things Considered,"
Kamler was asked how she was going to spend Valentine's Day. She
replied that the show opened Valentine's Day night and that she would
spend it at the opening with her boyfriend, Rick Culbertson, the
show's producer. That night, which was also the press performance,
Culbertson made a speech that culminated with a marriage proposal to
Kamler. She said "yes" from her seat on the aisle. Given the long-term
prospects for the successful life of this show, Kamler may need to
interpolate a new musical number: "The Pre-nup Tango."

"Divorce! The Musical" continues at the Hudson Mainstage through March
29 but it is likely to have many extensions. Performances are
Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at
2 p.m. The Hudson is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Reservations
can be made at 323-960-1056.

This article appears on Page 6

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