The setting is Jerusalem / Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. The energy is Rock-N-Roll. The pungent spice is our current political situation. The bonus? An unexpectedly intimate experience. The Troubadour Theater Company’s “Little Drummer Bowie” at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank will chase your winter blues away!
The Troubadour Theater Company is known – and recognized – for reinventing classics to the tune of contemporary music and timely satire.
In “Little Drummer Bowie” the story of the Holy Family intertwines with a story of an abandoned drummer boy, who rises to fame as Ziggy Stardust and becomes corrupted by fame. (He subsequently falls from grace which gives him the opportunity to ponder existential questions and learn the meaning of life.) The show incorporates references to current events (including one to the memorable “monolog” delivered by a “Hamilton” cast member, Brandon Victor Dixon, to Vice President Elect Mike Pence) and other trending topics.
The storyline of “Little Drummer Bowie” is secondary (yes, Someone is born and someone else is reborn); it is merely the string that holds together many individual jewels of musical performances. There is singing, dancing, humor and surprises throughout the show. An example of a surprise? The Three Wise Men, in Troubies’ interpretation of events, are: Don King, Larry King and Billie Jean King….
Matt Walker, the artistic director of The Troubadour Theater Company co-directed the play with Joseph Leo Bwarie.
The star of “Little Drummer Bowie” is Joseph Leo Bwarie who takes on the challenge of becoming red-haired, glam rocker Ziggy Stardust and performing David Bowie’s greatest hits (including “Under Pressure”, “Let’s Dance”, “Drummer Boy”, “Changes”, “Fame”, and more) and succeeds. (His rendition of “Ground Control To Captain Tom” is particularly stirring.) No wonder, considering that Bwarie is a seasoned veteran of musical theatre. He’s been Frankie Valli in the Tony Award® winning musical Jersey Boys in the National Tour, Las Vegas productions and on Broadway over 2,000 times. Incidentally, he isn’t any worse for wear!
The cast is excellent, each actor is multi-faceted and all performances are fittingly enthusiastic. Lisa Valenzuela (Ovation Award Winner) and Cloie Wyatt Taylor (an inspired dancer) stand out for their performances. Beth Kennedy (Ovation Award Winner) has a star quality. For me personally, Rick Batalla (Ovation Award Winner) – in his many incarnations during the play – is the life of the show!
The band is conducted by the accomplished Eric Heinly (drums) and features Kevin McCourt (keyboards), BJ Johnson (bass), Mike Abraham (guitar), Kirsten Edkins and Ashley Jarmack (reeds). The music – of utmost importance in this case – is in no way inferior to a rock concert thanks to a great team performance. Eric Heinly’s drum mastery is outstanding. Special applause is due to an extra-ordinary saxophonist whose name – shame on me! – escapes me. (Please accept my apology: I’ll welcome your help in correcting this unpleasant omission.)
Reviews usually don’t mention stage lighting. In this case I have to make an exception. An occasional spotlight on the audience was a stroke of genius reminding us that the magic of any live show happens only when the show resonates with the audience. “Little Drummer Bowie” does. The credit for creative lighting goes to JM Montecalvo and Skylar Johnson. (And yes, Claudio Radosshia)
I’d be amiss, if I didn’t highlight two factors which undoubtedly influenced this review. The size and style of the Falcon Theatre lend themselves to a more intimate experience of a play. The feeling is sustained by the cast of Troubies that interacts with the audience. The result is a warm mood which brings the artists and the audience together in a celebration. There is no “glass wall” separating the two. There is no “us” and “them”. The experience is a shared one which makes it so much more. The artists and the audience immerse themselves in the joy of Christmas Season, share the musical legacy of Bowie, share a laugh and our spoken – and unspoken – collective thoughts.
You’ll smile, you’ll laugh out loud, you’ll rock to David Bowie’s hits, you’ll get taken aback by the self-deprecating humor of the cast. In spite of the fact that the show revolves around Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth, it doesn’t have the sentimentality of a Christmas story but the crispness of a parody and rock concert.
Eggnog is good, think of ”The Little Drummer Boy” first recorded by the Von Trapp Family Singers or the famous Bing Crosby and David Bowie Christmas duet from 1977. Eggnog punch – as in Troubies’ “Little Drummer Bowie” – is sexier.
The show is dedicated by the Troubadour Theater Company’s to the Falcon Theatre’s Founder, Garry Marshall who passed away, recently. Considering his commitment to nurturing theatrical innovation and his long history with Troubies, he’d surely welcome a toast with eggnog punch at Christmas time…
See “Little Drummer Bowie” at the Falcon Theatre – if you can still get tickets! – first class, lighthearted entertainment succeeds only when it is created and delivered by high caliber artists. The Troubies are.
Falcon Theatre is located at 4252 Riverside, Burbank, CA 91505.
Performances run through Jan. 15th
Wed.–Fri. at 8pm
Sat. at 4pm & 8pm
Sun. at 4pm & 7pm
plus select Tuesdays
Tickets, priced from $30-$45, are on sale Online at www.falcontheatre.com or by calling the Box Office at 818-955-8101. Box Office hours are Tue.–Fri. 12-6pm, Sat.–Sun. 10am-4pm, and 1 hour prior to show time on performance days. For more information, visit www.falcontheatre.com