The Engagement Party, The Sound of Music, and Sandra Bernhard: Lady of the Canyon

Josh reveals a secret that will change not only his life but the lives of his fiancée Katherine and her parents. (L-R) Wendie Malick, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt. (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

Six friends. Two parents. One Night. What could go wrong? The bar is well stocked, the hors d’oeuvres are perfectly arranged, and the table is exquisitely set in a swank Park Avenue apartment where a young couple is celebrating their engagement with an intimate gathering of family and friends. But when a glass of wine is spilled, the night takes an unexpected turn, unleashing a spiraling sequence of events and revelations that will irrevocably change their lives. The enchanting brilliance of the West Coast premiere of Samuel Baum’s The Engagement Party at the Geffen Playhouse takes place on a beautifully designed, three-location rotating set by Alexander Dodge, highlighted by artistically colorful, angle-enhancing lighting designed by Matthew Richards. 

The production is immaculately directed to build suspense moment-by-moment by Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak, who also directed the play’s original 2019 production at Hartford Stage to great critical praise. And I can guarantee this one is worthy of the same accolades, beginning with a friendly gathering that turns into an examination of how fast you can lose trust in your friends and family. And sadly, playwright Baum shares, “trust takes a lifetime to build, but can be destroyed in an instant.” His play takes a look at how and why that can happen.

Featured in the talented ensemble cast are Bella Heathcote as Katherine whose engagement to Josh (Jonah Platt) is being celebrated; Richard Bekins as Katherine’s father Conrad who has a long-held personal secret; Wendie Malick as his wife Gail who is battling cancer and dedicated to keeping her family safe; and Josh and Katherine’s close friends invited over to celebrate with them including Brian Lee Huynh as Kai; Lauren Worsham as his wife Haley, a new mother who is battling her own demons; Mark Jacobson as Columbia professor Alan who donates to end world hunger; and Brian Patrick Murphy as good-old-Brooklyn boy Johnny.

While I do not want to reveal the surprising twists and turns that take place as the group struggles to solve the after- spilled-wine mystery, losing trust in each other along the way, I will tell you that I was totally pulled into the story, suspecting everyone at one point without really seeing how the play was going end. I know you will be too, given the gasps from the entire audience as secrets were revealed. 

The Engagement Party performances continue through November 5 in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles 90024. Run time is 80 minutes, no intermission. This production contains profanity and adult subject matter and is recommended for ages 12+. Children under 10 years of age will not be admitted. Although not required, masks are recommended for audience members for everyone’s health and well-being. Tickets and info at 

Maria Rainer (Juliana Sloan) teaches the Von Trapp children to sing “Do-Re-Mi” in The Sound of Music by Musical Theatre West. (Credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)

Based on the true story of the von Trapp Family Singers and later adapted into the hit movie starring Julie Andrews, The Sound of MusicwithBook by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, Music by Richard Rodgers, and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, has been a cultural staple for decades. And now, Musical Theatre West’s incredible larger-than-life set pieces, beautiful costumes, and powerful vocal performances by a Broadway-caliber cast of over 40 members bring the story of hope, love, and kindness to life in an uncertain time. With the quality of this top-notch production, I guarantee audiences of all ages will be charmed from start to finish.

Along with fantastic singing, perfect characterizations abound beginning with Juliana Sloan as novice nun Maria Rainer and Jonathan von Mering as Captain von Trapp, their deep-felt love coming to life after dancing together for the first time during his engagement party to Elsa Schraeder performed by Meghan Andrews with perfect manners until she senses Maria is getting in her way with the Captain. Pushing her to marry for even more money and social status than she already has is Max Detweiler (Brian Kim McCormick), whose effervescent theatrical nature gets challenged when his connections in Berlin demand he go along with their ways and convince the Captain to do the same. And it’s 1938 in Salzburg, Austria, when it was becoming unsafe to identify as Austrian and not German.

Also outstanding in the cast is Sarah Wolter as Mother Abbess who leads the operatic 15-member Nun Chorus; and young Brandon Keith Rogers as the town messenger Rolf and Erin Dubreuil as Liesl von Trapp, the eldest of the Captain’s seven children, whose duet Sixteen Going on Seventeen included finely tuned ballet moves and exquisite puppy love portrayed to a tee. Later when the von Trapp family is hiding at the Abbey to escape from the German soldiers hunting them down, it is Rolf (now a Nazi soldier) who keeps their location a secret, allowing their successful escape into Switzerland while Climb Every Mountain is sung to operatic perfection by the Nuns.

On the night I attended, the double cast “Edelweiss” younger von Trapp children were portrayed by Brennan Jacob Esguerra (Friedrich), Rachel Beard (Luisa), Niles Gray (Kurt), Bellami Soleil Smith (Brigitta), Lola Buckland (Marta), and the adorable Blakely Amador (Gretl). Talent and cuteness exploded during their every song, including Do-Re-Mi, The Lonely Goatherd, So Long, Farewell, and My Favorite Things. The emotionally charged Edelweiss performed with the Captain (on guitar) and Maria was stunningly quiet and introspective about national pride.   

MTW’s production of The Sound of Music runs on select dates through November 5 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E Atherton St, Long Beach 90815 on the CSU Long Beach campus. Tickets are available starting at $20 online at or by phone 562-856-1999. With ID, $15 student rush tickets available at the door 1 hour prior to showtime, A full line-up of performances, and additional details can be found at

Sandra Bernhard: Lady of the Canyon at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)

Fifty years ago, Sandra Bernhard first took to the stage as a pioneer of the one-woman comedy show. And on October 19, her latest completely unique and raucous mix of cabaret, side-splitting stand-up, rock-n-roll, and searing social commentary, Lady of the Canyon, wowed the sold-out audience at The Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith stage in Beverly Hills. It was a “full circle” moment, according to Bernhard, beginning in 1973 after graduating high school and spending time living and working on an Israeli kibbutz, after which she returned to the states and became a manicurist in Beverly Hills. Of course, connections she made there helped her break into the world of stand-up comedy and she never looked back! 

During the 90-minute show, Bernhard poked fun at all things L.A., New York City, and anywhere else in the world where she has ever lived. She also shared many ways in which her partner and daughter have participated in her life, not only in comedy clubs but on sets (or even in markets), always with her very expressive adult language and ubiquitous sense of life’s hilarious absurdity. 

From her experiences blowing her money shopping at Whole Foods in L.A., living on Blix in NoHo (and making fun of the names of neighboring streets), to riding alone on a train from the Hamptons to Manhattan, Bernhard dropped names of many industry friends who interacted with her along her journey, including industry friends Mary K. Blige, Michelle Lee, Gloria Steinem, Peter Cetera, Sean Penn, Bette Midler, and Christine McVie, to meeting Debbie Harry at Chase Bank, seeing Tina Turner in Reseda at her first solo performer gig, and losing a commercial voiceover gig to Meghan Markle. At the end, Bernhard shared her admiration for Lily Tomlin (who was in attendance) for leading the way for so many other female comedians. Hilarity ensued at every turn along the way! 

Bernhard is also a folksy rock singer, backed by The Sandyland Squad Band (Musical Director Mitch Kaplan on piano, Chris Jacks on guitar, and John Badamo on drums). Opening with “Manic Monday,” the stage was set for stories about her wild and crazy life. You can also listen to Bernhard in her seventh year hosting her weekly radio show Sandyland on SiriusXM, and on her recently released Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration on Netflix. 

Tickets for all shows at The Wallis are available by calling Ticket Services at 310-746-4000 or sending an e-mail to Sign up for their newsletter at to get updates on upcoming shows.