Sex × 10 + book, music, & lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa’s = Hello Again, LaChiusa’s edgy, seductive, unapologetically unhummable chamber musical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 classic La Ronde, the stellarly cast, terrifically performed, audience-challenging latest from Chromolume Theatre.

Like its source material, Hello Again begins with a man and a woman, stirs in  mystery, seduction, humor, and a great big helping of sex, then sends one of the pair into the arms of another, who then couples with yet another, and so on and so forth until the La Ronde comes full circle with the last new character paired with the first to have vanished from the heady loop, a ronde to which LaChiusa adds non-chronological time travel and a man-on-man twist or two.

The daisy-chain begins circa 1900 with The Whore (Michelle Holmes) and The Soldier (Cesar Cipriano) and some graphic (albeit simulated) bonking, after which the now WWII-era Soldier hooks up with The Nurse (Allison Lind) as a swing trio provide 1940s backup harmony.

A different decade’s war is raging in Southeast Asia when The Nurse beds The College Boy (Bretten M. Popiel), a 1970s Upper East Sider with parents moneyed enough to hire curvy in-home care for the young scion’s sprained angle.

Cut to a 1930s movie theater and some oral gratification administered on College Boy from The Young Wife (Sarah Randall Hunt) as Fred and Ginger dance above them on the silver screen, and then to Milton Berle on the boob tube (it’s the 1950s after all) as The Young Wife and The Husband (Corey Rieger) squeeze in some conjugal gratification before a night at the opera.

Flash back to the 1910s and the luxury liner stateroom where The Husband has brought up from steerage The Young Thing (Kevin Corsini), who may not remain innocent that much longer unless a bit of ice gets in the way.

Disco and polyester reign supreme in the 1970s as The Young Thing meets The Writer (Joe Hernandez-Kolski), and to paraphrase Lola in Damn Yankees, whatever writer wants, writer gets, and that includes The Actress (Tal Fox), a 1920s silent movie goddess from whom a declaration of love is not forthcoming.

Hello Again’s next-to-last scene then flash forwards sixty years, The Actress having become mistress of The Senator (Michael Corbett), a Washington DC powerbroker soon out the door and into the arms of The (1990s) Whore.

Can you say Hello Again?

LaChiusa’s discordant melodies may make Sondheim seem positively Rodgers-and-Hammersteinesque by comparison, but they’re a taste you just might want to acquire, particularly in a score that moves from the five-part harmony of the 1940s “We Kiss” to the 1930s tango “Story Of My Life” to the doo-wop 1950s sounds of “At The Prom” to the “do the hustle” beat of the disco-70s “Montage.”

A more vocally challenging musical theater score I haven’t heard, but thankfully for Chromolume audiences, director Richard Van Slyke (who merits his own kudos) has come up with an ensemble of L.A. musical theater stars and SoCal newcomers more than up to the tasks at hand.

Holmes’ lusty Whore, Cipriano’s sex-starved soldier, Lind’s saucy Nurse, Popiel’s eager College Boy, Hunt’s nubile Young Wife, Rieger’s kinky Husband, Corsini’s sexy Young Thing, Hernandez-Kolski’s self-involved Writer, Fox’s sultry actress, and Corbett’s skirt-chasing Senator add up to a dream (and often quite dreamy) cast, who not only get their two scenes each but pop in throughout in a variety of guises.

Standouts among said cameos are Fox’s opera prima donna, Corsini’s ‘50s pop crooner, and USO harmonizers Corsini, Fox, Hernandez-Kolski, Hunt, and Rieger.

Not only do the terrific tensome sing and act to impressive effect, they dance their fair share of ballroom, disco, and swing thanks to choreographer Popiel’s imaginative, era-appropriate moves.

Confronted with the most challenging of scores, musical director Brenda Varda merits high marks both for the vocal performances she has elicited and for her expert keyboard accompaniment, with James Esposito’s sound design insuring we can hear both clearly.

The stylishly painted movable panels and furniture pieces that comprise Lauren J. Peters’ scenic design could benefit from a less makeshift look and though Richard Fong makes the most of the lighting equipment available, his design ends up more functional than fabulous.

Fortunately, fabulous is precisely the word to describe costume designer Michael Mullen’s dazzling, spot-on collection of ten decades of fashion, from satin to polyester to (spangled) khaki to lace.

Mara Aguilar is stage manager and Armen Janazyan is assistant stage manager. Nadia Ahern, David Callander, Kim Dalton, Bradley Alan Turner, and Judd Yort are understudies.

Chromolume Theater deserves major snaps for taking on a musical as risky as Hello Again and then pulling it off. For chance-taking theatergoers, it makes for one raunchy, rich, rewarding ride.

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Chromolume Theatre at the Attic, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
May 5, 2017
Photos: James Esposito


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