BWW Reviews: Chance Theater's LOCH NESS, a new musical is Pure Magic

There was a moment in Chance Theater's LOCH NESS, a new musical, when I realized I had fallen completely in love with it; when everything suddenly came together in the most wonderful of ways - the glow of the lighting on a handful of heart wide open actors, the lyrical swell of their singing voices soaring with hope, a fog rising from a sea of imagination brought to life with unexpected delight - all of it morphed into what can only be described as pure magic.

We used to call them Kodak moments, the kind you'd never want to end and LOCH NESS gives them to you over and over again. It's a huge success for the company who nurtured this original work through its On The Radar Reading Series from the very beginning and now presents a beautiful production that will appeal to every member of the family.

It's an adventure musical with wings, full of humor and bursting with creativity. The set alone is an ingenious creation anchored by the movable deck of a ship that glides back and forth manipulated by the cast to magically reveal the great expanse of the Loch Ness sea where all of the action takes place.

Here, writers Marshall Pailet and A.D. Penedo bring together a mythical creature from the Scottish Highlands (Katie Brown as the charming Nessie) and a modern day teenager (Julia Cassandra Smith as high-spirited Haley Westerbrook) who learn that sometimes growing up means letting go, and having courage is a lot easier when you've got a friend who believes in you. Both have missing mums and, before long, each becomes the life line the other needs to complete her journey.

The relationships are honestly written, well-developed, and easily identifiable. We see the love Dr. Westerbrook (Jackson Tobiska) has for his daughter and also the way he lashes out when Haley defies him. What he can't seem to make her understand is that he's as frustrated as she is to be out looking for a creature that doesn't exist simply because he needs the money. Meanwhile, the crazy heiress (Angeline Mirenda as Leana Callaghan) who hired him is so self-centered she doesn't care if her actions harm anyone else as long as she gets what she wants. Cruella de Ville's got nothing on this woman.

CJ (Alex Bueno), and the two Frenchies, Pierre (Keaton Williams) and Eclair (Gina Velez) are quirky to the core. Individually they each have their own wonderfully eccentric traits but when you put them together the comedy is maximized by the odd switches in their dialogue and Pailet's imaginative staging. The devil is in the details and this show's unexpected choices are a delight. Everything has a payoff, including The Oiler (Corky Loupe), another strange character whose shining moment you won't see coming. But believe me, it's a really good one. Laura M. Hathaway's lilting Gaelic melody lines are hauntingly beautiful and Matt Takahashi completes the excellent cast.

The show also shines in the other technical departments. Fred Kinney and Megan Hill, who created the marvelous set, are also responsible for the very human puppet design for Nessie. I'm always amazed how an actor and a puppet can meld together so seamlessly and Brown makes it look easy. Both of them add a level of emotional depth to the character and the point at which they cease to become individual elements is quite extraordinary.

Kelly Todd's choreography captures the lovely flavor of the Highlands. Even more impressive is the dance-like way the actors manipulate Nessie as a group while their visual focus remains actively engaged in the story. She swims and sails so smoothly you'd swear she was going to take off and fly. Watch for a 4-D touch for the audience just before intermission.

Lately I've been thinking about theatre in terms of whether or not I would see a production again. At the end of the day, what we all want is a satisfying experience that moves us in some way. We want our money to be well-spent and even more importantly, we want our time to be well-spent. Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Into the Woods at The Wallis, Deaf West's Spring Awakening, ZJU's Rumination, The Actors Gang's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pippin at the Pantages, and The Rubicon's Daddy Long Legs have been a few of my personal favorites. You can be sure I've now added LOCH NESS to that list.

LOCH NESS a new musical
January 30 - March 1, 2015
Chance Theater
@ Bette Aitken theater arts Center
5522 East La Palma Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92807
Tickets: $25.00 - $45.00
Call (714) 777-3033 or visit

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Picture above: Katie Brown and Julia Cassandra Smith
Photo credit: Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

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From This Author Ellen Dostal

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