Paul Sand, longtime Santa Monica resident and Tony Award-winning actor, first visited our fair city when he was barely a toddler. Paul’s parents lived in Silver Lake, but they vacationed here. So it was that Paul’s first steps were taken on the Santa Monica Pier. As it happens, Paul’s parents’ first date was dancing at a ballroom — also on the pier. All of which makes for a sweet tale, but perhaps not all that unusual … at least not so far.
Considerably more surreal, and I’m not saying how many decades later (it’s more fingers than on one hand), the first project that Paul wrote, directed, produced and starred in took place on that very same pier.
Paul’s creation was the haunting musical “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” a seaside hotel full of intrigue and heartbreak. With bewitching voices Paul’s ensemble cast sang fiendish songs of of murder and revenge in front of artistic, mood-setting backdrops. The show ran on the West End Theater, perched above the Mariasol restaurant, from December 2013 into early 2014 and was a big hit. Actually, too big.
“Cuttlefish Hotel” got rave reviews, including in the L.A. Times. “Weimar cabaret meets Padifica” wrote David C. Nichols of the Times, adding, “evocative and arresting … unlike anything else on the Southland stages.” L.A. Weekly simply called the show a “tour de force.” (Those are definitely in the “rave” category, I’d say.)
Thus, what was supposed to be a small production in a tiny space became so popular Paul and his troupe had to turn customers away. Long lines, and the attending congestion, caused such a commotion that “Cuttlefish Hotel” reluctantly had to be shut down. The talented group of performers and musicians had a hit on their hands but were without a home. You could say success drove them out of town.
It was a shame because the landmark pier was such a ideal spot to have “Cuttlefish” staged. Weill, the beloved composer, and Bertolt Brecht, the renowned lyricist, spent a lot of time in Santa Monica. In fact, Brecht’s house on 26th Street and Montana Avenue still stands today. It’s quite possible the inspiration for some of their songs could have come from the very pier where the production was being staged.
From the beginning, the whole project seemed to be touched by the finger of fate. Paul got the initial brainstorm while walking with friends on a foggy fall night on the pier. The next day he called those who run the pier and discovered they were looking for something exactly like what Paul had envisioned. (That sort of thing happens to me from time to time, but then I wake up.) So, you ask, where was fate when Paul and his cohorts had become a homeless gypsy troupe? Ah, but fate was hovering close by.
It turns out someone from The Actors’ Gang theater in Culver City had seen the show and loved it. He was friends with a friend of Paul’s and thought a meeting with Tim Robbins would be a good idea. The Oscar-winning actor (“Mystic River,” 2003) and Oscar-nominated director (“Dead Man Walking”, 1996) founded the theater in 1981. (The same year he graduated as a drama major with honors from UCLA.)
The Actors’ Gang is an experimental ensemble that “expresses radical political observations through the European avant-garde form of theater.” Paul and Tim seemed like a perfect match. Bingo fate had shined once again when Robbins told Paul he would be proud to host the production at his theater.
Out of storage came the costumes and the artistic backdrops; the instruments were tuned, the actors re-assembled and energized by the chance to perform another day as the company moved to Culver City to began rehearsals. That was a month ago. Now it’s only a matter of hours until … showtime!
Produced by Barbara Bosson, “Kurt Weill atthe Cuttlefish Hotel” stars Shay Astar, Kalean Ung, Sol Mason and, of course, Paul Sand, while Michael Roth is the musical director and arranger. Hope Easton plays the cello, Amy White the keyboards and Tamboura Baptiste the violin, and all are brilliant. (More “fate” to this tale: Paul discovered Tamboura playing violin on the pier!) In any event, opening night is tomorrow, Saturday, June 13, with a limited run so, as they say, best to get your tickets now.
Whereas success in Santa Monica on the crowded pier shortened their stay, Paul and his hearty troupe are hoping it follows them to Culver City, where there’s plenty of room and a comfortable atmosphere. Comfortable, that is, until the show starts and the ensemble transports the audience with their compelling stories of intimacy and horror at the Cuttlefish Hotel.
The Actors’ Gang theater is located at 9070 Venice Blvd., in Culver City. To make reservations, call (310) 838 4264 or go to www.actorsgang.com.
Photo by Agnes Magyari: Performers practice duringthe last rehearsal for “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” at The Actors’ Gang theater in Culver City.
Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and by email at email@example.com.