Fatherland political drama, Footloose and Mamma Mia musicals all tackle family issues

The U.S. Attorney (Anna Khaja) watches as the son (Patrick Keleher) confronts his father (Ron Bottitta) about the January 6 takeover of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo credit: Jenny Graham)

The Fountain Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Fatherland, a new work of verbatim theater conceived and directed by Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. It examines a 19-year-old son’s memories on the hardest day in his life when he testifies in federal court against his father after informing the FBI about his participation in the January 6 attack on Capitol. Every word comes from court evidence, public statements, and the official court transcript of The Untied States vs. Guy Wesley Reffitt, in the jury trial held before the United States District Court, District of Columbia, from February 28 through March 8, 2022.

As the first defendant to stand trial for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Guy Reffitt was found guilty on five criminal counts and sentenced to 7¼ years in prison, based in part on emotional testimony by his son. This fast-paced 80-minute, powerful, and theatrical true story of a father and his son centers on “the dangerous political propaganda that drove them apart,” shares creator and director Stephen Sachs. In fact, the son has isolated himself from his entire family since the trial, making “the heartbreaking family tragedy at the center of this true story a brilliant window on the staggering human costs of the rise of fascism and the assault on democracy in America,” comments Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.

The always brilliant character actor Ron Bottitta commands the stage as the gun-toting Texas father whose good ole’ boy ways lead him on a political path diametrically opposed to his son, portrayed by Los Angeles newcomer Patrick Keleher with all the love, disbelief, and heartbreak the young man experiences as he confronts his father in court. And given his father’s penchant for drinking, violence, continuously packing a 45 around his waist and spouting the manifesto of the Texas 3%, it makes perfect sense how frightened his son becomes when his father threatens to assist in destroying the government. But although he never fired a shot on January 6, when his conviction is announced in court, the father vows that next time “firearms will not be as cordial.” That was enough to get the hair on my neck to stand straight up.

Rounding out the cast are Anna Khaja as the U.S. Attorney representing the son and Larry Poindexter as the father’s Defense Attorney. Khaja is most effective when pulling memories from the son which then get acted out as if happening at that moment. Scenic designer Joel Daavid and lighting designer Alison Brummer add to the tense courtroom atmosphere by using minimal set pieces lit to reflect the emotions going on, with kudos to costume designer Danyele Thomas who perfectly reflects the nature of each character down to their shoe selection. Barbara Herman is executive producer; Dr Robert G Meadow and Carrie Menkel Meadow are producers; with Simon Levy and James Bennett producing for the Fountain Theatre.

Fatherland continues through March 30 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay–What–You–Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability); all previews are Pay-What-You-Want. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure on-site parking is available for $5. Be sure to carefully read parking restrictions on residential streets in the area. For reservations and information, call (323) 663–1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com 

While waiting for a train to pass, Ariel (Kelsey Lee Smith) and Ren (Brady Fritz) share heartbreaking stories about their fathers in Footloose at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. (Photo credit: Ashley Erikson)

The Colony Theatre is presenting the Panic! Productions and BarCinBoo Broadway-quality production of Footloose the Musical, adapted by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford, with music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman. The stage musical opened on Broadway in 1998, ran for 709 performances, and received four Tony Award nominations including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Musical Score. 

The story centers on Ren McCormack (triple-threat performer Brady Fritz), a teenage boy who moves with his mother Ethel (Whitney Kathleen Vigil) from Chicago to Bomont, a small farming town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Thinking it will be easy to adapt to the new small-town high school crowd, Ren soon discovers what he isn’t prepared for are the local laws – including a ban on dancing – the brainchild of a local preacher bent on exercising control over the town’s youth. Soon Reverend Shaw Moore’s rebellious daughter Ariel, brought fully to life by Kelsey Lee Smith who dazzled the audience in her attention-grabbing red boots as her boyfriend Chuck, a handsome and dangerous James Dean type portrayed by Sammy Linkowski, and his sidekicks Lyle and Travis (Cory Rogers and Noah Heie) harmonized together to let us know “The Girl Gets Around.” But as soon as she sets her heart on Ren, Chuck tries to sabotage Ren’s reputation by turning the locals against the outspoken newcomer.  

But with the help of Ariel and Willard (James Beardsley who perfectly inhabits the non-dancing country hick who becomes Ren’s best friend), Ren convinces the Reverend (long-haired Larry Cedar who convincingly embodies the country preacher’s strong conservative beliefs as well as his acceptance of the town’s teenagers need to blow off steam by dancing). And thanks to his loving wife, Vi (Robin De Lano), the Reverend helps the town heal from a tragedy that affected them all. 

Other standouts in the cast are Casey Anne Apregan as Rusty, Ariel’s friend, who stole the show with her amazing belting rendition of “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” as Willard learns to dance, and Ariel and Rusty’s friends Urleen and Wendy Jo (Cami del Rosario and Lauren Lorati) who all shine together in the rousing “I Need a Hero.”  

Brilliantly directed by Barry Pearl with co-director and choreographer Michelle Elkin, and musical direction by Ron Barnett, the outstanding and highly energetic ensemble includes Michael Wells, Christopher Robert Smith, Karen Macarah, Lisa Dyson, Cindy Pearl, Ceron Jones, assistant choreographer Mary Kate Chapman, Madison Miyuki Sprague, Michael Riskin, Melvin Biteng, Christopher Ho, Laura Aronoff, Veronica Carolina Leite, Callula Sawyer, Lauren Barette, Arielle Dettmer, Almand Martin Jr., and Mathew San Jose.

Multi-level set and lighting design by Justin Huen morphs from place to place thanks to projection designer Gabrieal Griego. Adding to this magical production are costumes designed by Azucena Dominguez and sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski. Producing for Panic! Productions are Paul Panico and Alison Mahay; co-producing for BarCinBoo Productions are Barry Pearl and Cindy Pearl.

The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank 91502. Performances continue through March 17 on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8pm, and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $45-$75, seniors and students $25, available by calling (818) 558-7000 or emailing boxoffice@colonytheatre.org Available tickets sold at the door prior to each performance. Do yourself a favor and grab tickets before the entire run sells out!

Students rehearse Mamma Mia! The Musical at Robert Front Auditorium in Culver City. (Photo credit: Andrew Reilman)

Under the direction of Will Pellegrini, students of the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts at Culver City High School are bringing the beloved Abba-influenced musical Mamma Mia! to the Robert Frost Auditorium at 4401 Elenda Street in Culver City 90230 for two weekends: March 7 – 10 and 14 – 17 on Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Audiences can expect to be transported to a world of romance and nostalgia as they sing along to hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and many more! Featuring a 20+ student orchestra led by Dr. Anthony Spano, don’t miss this chance to support the arts and witness the incredible talent of our local students. Tickets are available at the Robert Frost Auditorium box office and online at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/80564? For more information, visit https://avpa.org/mammamia/