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Published on February 22nd, 2013 | by RLn Staff

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Paradise: The Vision and Music of Cliff Wagner Takes the Stage

By B .Noel Barr, Music Writer Dude

The new musical, Paradise: A Divine Musical Comedy by Cliff Wagner is enjoying a successful run at The Ruskin Group Theatre, adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport. The musical places the audience within the town of Paradise, where the interaction of the actors and ticket holders are inches apart. The play kicks off with an exchange between the primary writers, songwriter, and leader of the band Cliff Wagner and the character, (Old Man Johnson) played by actor Robert Craighead. All leads up to a song with actor Rachel Noll (Louanne Knight) and Cliff Wagner performing the title song Paradise.

It does not take long. We are off into the lives and the music that carries the story forward. We have a thoroughly entertaining story of a town down on its luck. Strange circumstances surround the town as a new preacher arrives to build a new mega church. The town has to deal with a T.V. reality crew that wants to make all the foibles and seeming backwardness of the town a hit program.

As advertised, this is The Book of Mormon meets Hee Haw, Laugh In with a Southern twist. We have a wonderful array of actors who bring this play to life. The musical goes so fast you do not know where all the time goes. You laugh hard because these characters are really you and me, these are people in this play thrown out of their element by the intrusion of all these strangers.

It is the music of Cliff Wagner in the end that tells the tale. Cliff has written 15 songs for this production, three of which are from his current catalog. Cliff’s song, “I Miss You,” applies to the back story of this production even though the song was penned two years ago. This is about Cliff remembering his father, as he has returned home after his father’s passing.

I watched the audience as they moved to tears by this endearing piece of music. This was the same reaction I saw and felt when I heard Cliff perform in front of an audience for the first time. Cliff had told me that night, that he had a hard time holding back his emotion as he performed the song. It is the same with this play; the song resonates to your soul.

Hats off have to go the other writers who helped Cliff make this all work, Bill Robertson and Tom Sage. Also a nod to Director Dan Bonell, who focused and honed this into a beautifully funny and touching musical comedy.

Everyone involved in this production has given his or her all, making this a wonderfully splendid event.

The play is in a limited run for more information go to www.ruskingrouptheatre.org.

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