A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Tim Martin Gleason, Joe West and Chandra Lee Schwartz / Photo by Jim Cox

The Pasadena Playhouse has a sure-fire hit with the world premiere of “Sleepless in Seattle – The Musical.” The Playhouse’s Artistic Director Sheldon Epps fluidly directs his strong, perfectly cast ensemble in a rousing two hours and 10 minutes of soaring vocals and clever choreography (Kudos to Spencer Liff!) encased in a lean, mean, multi-level and smoothly changing set by John Iacovelli and framed by Brian L. Gale’s vibrant video screens creating the various locations.

“Sleepless in Seattle,” based on the 1993 movie of the same name with screenplay by Nora Ephron and story by Jeff Arch, tells a story of destiny: how a just-widowed father and his 10-year-old son meet the perfect woman to ease their sorrow. Arch has revisited “Sleepless,” writing this play’s book, in a winning collaboration with Sam Forman (lyrics) and Ben Toth (music). Dialogue and lyrics contain many a witty phrase and memorable saying (e.g., “Hurt melts like butter on a pancake.”). Music, skillfully conducted by David O, keeps the moods appropriately seductive or comic or endearing, and the toes steadily tapping.

As the widower Sam, Tim Martin Gleason projects a flawless combination of depression over his lost wife, frustration in dealing with life after her death, and love for his son. His scenes with his son Jonah, disarmingly played and powerfully sung by Joe West, will make your tear ducts flow.

With everyone so helplessly concerned with Sam’s self-imposed isolation, Jonah initiates a call to a radio advice show soliciting help for his father’s lonely plight. Aware of the vast amount of listener response in the form of many, many letters of introductions, invitations and seductions, a newspaper editor takes notice of this as a potential human-interest story. This editor, Becky, fiercely sung and essayed by Sabrina Sloan, assigns the story to her reporter and BBF Annie, to momentarily distract her from her pending marriage to Walter (so sympathetically well played by Robert Mammana you still root for him while you’re rooting for Annie to hook up with Sam).

Chandra Lee Schwartz plays and sings the many moods of Annie quite believably and winsomely. As a matter of fact, Gleason and Schwartz so make their roles their own, even if you initially think of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as the destined couple, you immediately forget the cinematic stars.

Sam’s best friend Rob, as portrayed by the talented Todd Buonopane, provides the strong shoulder to lean on, the smart advice Sam doesn’t listen to and the best adult buddy a boy could ever have. A showstopper amongst many, Buonopane’s song-and-dance duet with West, “What She Wants to Hear,” has the audience clapping and ultimately cheering.

Katharine Leonard brings some finely tuned comic relief as Victoria, the first woman Sam tries dating. The chorus excels in its various numbers, especially “Getting Hot in Here,” set in a singles’ club where Sam and Victoria first meet.

The late Nora Ephron would be so proud!

—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA

Performances continue through June 23 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101. Show times are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. For tickets, visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call the box office at (626) 356-7529.