A Fateful Visit | “Pacific Overtures” @ Chromolume

Pacific Overtures (Chromolume)When one thinks of the musicals of Stephen Sondheim (FB), one often thinks of theatre in the large. The full size Broadway stage, houses with over 800 seats, fully executed scenery and staging. But often one gains a greater appreciation of Sondheim in the small staging, the intimate theatre environment. Think about small intimate creative stagings of Into the WoodsSweeny Todd, or Assassins: these often provide insights and understanding that the Broadway staging doesn’t give.

Intimate staging of Sondheim’s successes are somewhat easy to find. Stagings of the shows that fared less well on Broadway — that’s a different story. Take Pacific Overtures, for example. First produced on Broadway in 1976, it ran for 6 months (and subsequently had a mounting at the LA Civic Light Opera later that year). I don’t have a recollection of the LACLO performance; it is possible that I didn’t go to it (I do remember the show after it, Irma La Douce). It’s had a few mountings on Broadway or Off-Broadway since then, and there have been even fewer mountings in Los Angeles. The last mounting was in 1998 by the East-West Players. So when I saw that the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2017 season announcement included Pacific Overtures, I was intrigued. Chromolume is an under-50 seat theatre — how the hell were they going to pull off a full Sondheim musical — especially one as complicated as Overtures — on a small black box stage with no fly space and limited cast size?

Saturday night we found out. The answer is: they pulled it off by embracing the minimality in the staging, instead of trying to duplicate the grand Kabuki stylings of the original. There are still Kabuki-ish elements, to be sure; however, there is no use of traditional Kabuki whiteface, and there are no set stylings to speak off. For me, the minimalism worked. It felt … Japanese in styling, although I must admit that I am far from being an expert — or even familiar — with what is traditional Japanese style. From reading the background on this story, that was Sondheim’s intent: to provide a Westernized version with a Japanese feel. However, in today’s sensibilities, it does raise some interesting questions of cultural appropriation that, given the underlying message in the story, create an even more interesting contrast and echo.

The message in the story — that’s right, I haven’t explained that yet. Pacific Overtures — with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (FB), book by John Weidman, additional material by Hugh Wheeler, and original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick — tells the story of the (re-)opening of Japan to Western culture in the late 1850s and thereafter (for those that remember the miniseries Shogun, this is the reopening after the post-Shogun isolation). It begins with the arrival of Commodore Perry to Japan in 1853, and looks at the reaction to that arrival in the traditional Japanese culture of the Emperor and Shogunate — a culture that had been isolated from other nations for over 250 since the Spanish and Portuguese were expelled (i.e., the Shogun period). It also explores the exploitation and westernization that occurred thereafter — often in the names of “commerce”. [As an aside, it created an interesting parallel with the gentrification occurring today in South LA, where again predominately white men are exploiting a culture seen by implication as inferior and worthy of updating.] The musical ends with a political commentary on Japan’s success, adopting a Western commerce with a uniquely Japanese attitude, often beating the West at their own game.

The means of telling the tale centers around the use of  “reciter” — essentially, a narrator — combined with a focus on two primary characters: a minor Samurai named Kayama Yesaemon and a sailor named John Manjiro. The remaining members of the ensemble played all the other characters. Chromolume’s seeming conceit and framing (by director James Esposito (FB)) was that this was a group of actors wandering in and presenting the story, which explained the small number and the use of men to play women (without having to go full on Kabuki, where that is the tradition). Reading some of the reviews before the show gave the impression this was more of a concert staging, but I never got that feeling. This seemed fully executed, albeit in the small.

The performances developed by the actors and the director, James Esposito (FB), were strong. I remember watching the faces for the nuances of performance and find them. The stylized movements seemed appropriate, and the character interplay was good. The voices were strong — most notably Paul Wong (★FB; FB[Reciter], Cesar Cipriano (FB) [Kayama Yesaemon], John Sala (FB) [Ensemble, Warrior, Russian Admiral, Sailor], and Gibran Mahmud (FB) [Ensemble, Fisherman, Dutch Admiral, Second Councilor, Sailor]. These four had voices that just blew me away (which is not to say that the others weren’t great either). The one whose face won me over was Julia May Wong (FB) [Ensemble, Tamate, Young Boy, Geisha Girl]. She just had great facial expressions in all of her scenes; she also wins the award for the best bio (a haiku: “About to Give up / Chromolume came to save her. / Honored. Humbled. Thanks.”).

In the lead positions, as noted before, were Wong as Reciter, Cipriano as Yasemon, and Daryl  Leonardo (FB)  as John Manjiro. Wong was strong as the Reciter, carrying the burden of the exposition on his back, helping to explain the story to the audience. Cipriano and Leonardo had a good chemistry between them, same strong, and conveyed emotion well.

Rounding out the cast, in addition to the three previously mentioned, were Marcel Licera (FB) [Ensemble, Lord Abe, Old Man, Sumo Wrestler], Peter Jeensalute (FB) [Ensemble, Mother, American Admiral, Merchant], Daniel Koh (FB) [Ensemble, Madam, British Admiral, Third Councilor], and Kevin Matsumoto (FB) [Ensemble, Commodore Perry, French, Admiral, Sailor]. Reuben Uy (FB[Ensembleu/s, Madamu/s, British Admiralu/s, Third Counciloru/s] was the understudy. All were good: I particularly enjoyed the facial expressions in the “Welcome to Kanagawa” number, the difference characterizations in “Please Hello”, the Emperor puppet, and Matsumoto’s dance as Com. Perry. 

Uncredited in the program as the horse and the servant was the ASM, Louis Lake III (FB). Lake’s performance was a hoot and quite a surprise.

Michael Marchak (FB)’s choreography seemed appropriately Japanese, but then again, I’m not an expert on the subject. All I know is that the movement worked well and was enjoyable to watch, and kept up with the various references thrown into the mix by Sondheim.

Music was under the direction of Daniel Yokomizo (FB), who also led the on-stage but off-stage band on piano, assisted by (at our performance) John A. Graves [Bass] and Jeff Fish (FB) [Percussion]. Note: At some performances, bass is provided by Alex Moore (FB), and percussion by Anthony Jones (FB)  or Lee Piatelli (FB). For its size, the orchestra was strong. Pacific Overtures is not a show that requires a large orchestra, as it isn’t dependent on traditional Western instruments as much as many shows.

Turning to the production side of the staging. As you can see from the images to the right, Hector Figueroa (FB)’s scenic design was minimal: some platforms, tan and red backgrounds, and a hiding place for a character or two. Necessary context was provided by properties or the costumes, which were designed by Kara McLeod (FB). The costumes seemed reasonably appropriate; again, I’m not an expert on Japanese attire of tha period. Lighting design was by Jesse Baldridge (FB), and it worked well to establish the mood. There is no explicit credit for sound design, but James Esposito (FB) has done it for some past shows so it is likely he did it again. The sound worked well this time around. Veronica Vasquez (FB) was the stage manager, and the aforementioned Louis Lake III (FB) was the asst. stage manager… and the 🐎 :-). Publicity was by Ken Werther (FB).

Pacific Overtures runs for one more weekend at Chromolume Theatre (FB), with performances today at 2pm and 7pm, and next Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are available through the Chromolume Website, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This really is a production you should see if you can: Pacific Overtures just isn’t produced all that often, and this may be one of the few chances you have to see a great production in an intimate space by a company that loves them some Sondheim.

Chromolume Theatre (FB) has just announced their 2018 season, and it is three shows that I haven’t seen (in fact, two for which I didn’t even have the cast album until the announcement): Dessa Rose with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty [Feb 2 2018 – Feb 25 2018]; Jane Eyre – The Musical with music and lyrics by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon and a book by John Caird [Jul 13 2018 – Aug 5 2018],  and Passion with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine [Nov 9 2018 – Dec 2 2018]. We plan to subscribe in the next couple of weeks. You should too! Season subscriptions are only $60, which is $20 per show… and Goldstar is $18 per show plus service fees. What a bargain, and you help guarantee this little theatre’s survival.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This afternoon brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). I probably won’t write that one up. The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). We might also go to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but I’ll miss that because they pushed back from their advertised date right on top of my non-refundable tickets to the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Dreams and Denim | “Levi! A New Musical” @ LACC Camino Theatre

I monitor all sorts of theatre related feeds, one of which is the feed of Bruce Kimmel (FB). Kimmel was the guy (literally, the Guy) behind the Lost in Boston series, numerous theatrical record labels including his current Kritzerland, and one of my favorite Off-Broadway musicals, It Came From Planet X. We have seen many of Bruce’s shows — mostly at the LA City College Theatre Academy (FB) — and they have always been enjoyable. When Bruce indicated he was doing a Indiegogo to help mount an new Sherman Bros musical, I was intrigued. The Sherman BrothersRichard M. and Robert B. (who died in 2012) — were the musical team behind many of the Disney musicals and music of the 60s and 70s. This musical had the potential to be very interesting, and so I signed up for the Indiegogo at a level that would get me tickets, and waited for it to be funded so I could schedule a date.

That date turned out to be at a very busy time — as I was getting ready for ACSAC. Given that the show was dark for Thanksgiving weekend, there was only one possible date: the evening before we flew off to Orlando. So guess where we were Friday night, after packing all day? That’s right: we braved the traffic on the 118 and the 101 to get to LA CC for the penultimate performances of Levi!

Levi!, which features a book by Larry Cohen (see also here) and Janelle Webb Cohen, purports to be a biomusical about Levi Strauss. It begins as Levi is coming to America with his friend, August. Levi makes it in but August does. Going to his family in New York, he starts life as a peddler in New York. Soon, gold is discovered in California, and his family sends him to San Francisco to represent the family business there. On the ship, he meets a fellow immigrant, Sarah Zimmerman, with whom he falls in loves. That hope gets destroyed when he learns that she is engages to Aaron Goodman. Levi arrives in San Francisco, losing the girl and most of his dry goods to businessmen who convinced him to sell it to them for 3x the value. All he is left with is worthless blue sailcloth canvas.

That’s Act I. Act II continues the story with Levi going to the mining camp, and while saving some Chinese workers, discovering that the world — especially miners — need strong pants. A fellow miner comes up with the idea to rivet them, and the “Waist Overalls” are born. Soon Levi has factories all over, with his factory in San Francisco employing Chinese workers at the same wages as the white workers. This upsets the classed folk in San Francisco, and there are riots over the Chinese Exclusion Act. Meanwhile, one of the Chinese girls has fallen in love with Levi, but he doesn’t follow up on it. The riots force Levi to send his Chinese workers to Chicago. He never gets the girl, although at the end of the show he does bring over August’s family, whom it is implied will succeed him at the factory.

We walked out of the show thinking it had a lot of promise. It did what a good bio-show should do: It made me want to research the person around whom the story was constructed. It had a great musical and singing, and strong performances. But work was needed. The Chinese immigrant portions of the story had aspects that could be viewed as cultural insensitivity, especially as they were written by non-Chinese folks. A good Asian dramaturg was needed to ensure those aspects were handed with the right sensitivity and accuracy. Some songs were clearly Disney-style; “Opportunity!” could fit into the Carousel of Progress any day. The show was saddled with what I call the Mack and Mabel problem: you want the hero of the story to get their dream family and career, but that is dashed on the rocks of reality. Same problem here: Strauss never got the wife and family he wanted. How do you make that ending upbeat. All of these are book problems — and were probably one reason why after the initial readings of the show many many years ago, it was shelved. But they can be worked out — they were not insurmountable.

Alas, when I got home, I discovered there may be an insurmountable problem that will prevent this story from going on. It certainly soured me on the story aspect (not the performances or the music, mind you). It is a problem I lay solely at the feed of the book writers, one of whom may have had a political agenda.

Simply put: The story itself is 98% fabrication. Based on my research (also here, here, here, here, here, and here) the only true aspects were Strauss immigrating from Bavaria, landing in New York, eventually going west, selling “Waist Overalls”, and never marrying. There is no evidence of a friend named August who tried to come over with Strauss; he actually immigrated with his mother and sisters. Strauss went to Louisville KY to sell dry goods after New York before being sent to San Francisco. Already in San Francisco was his sister Fanny, who moved there from St. Louis. There was no Sarah Zimmerman, nor did her husband Aaron Goodman exist and go on to the US Senate. Levi didn’t invent the Waist Overalls in the gold mining camps, nor did the idea for the rivets come from a fellow miner. Rather, Strauss was already making the pants, and one of his merchandisers, Jacob Davis, came up with the idea for the rivets and sent it to Strauss, and the two patented the idea. There is no evidence of the Chinese workers that I could find, other than Levi Strauss and Company getting into hot water for mistreatment of Chinese workers in the 90s — and that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s of this story.  Strauss ends up not leaving the country to August’s kids, but to the family of his sister Fanny. Further, it appears that in order to obtain any historical photos from the company, they have to vet the story and authorize that it is correct.

So that uplifting book? A fabrication, and one that the Levi Strauss company would likely get upset about would this make it to Broadway. The book, in this form, is DOA. That does’t mean the songs — or at least most of them — couldn’t be salvaged into a realistic story. Some new songs would have to be written, and with half of the musical writing team deceased, that might be difficult. Kimmel could partnership with Richard to complete and rework the songs — he shares writing credits on one song in the show already. But a lot of rework is required to get this show to a Broadway-ready form.

Which is sad, in many ways, because there is so much potential here. The opening number of the show, and the main theme of the show — Opportunity! The Streets are Paved with Gold — captures the immigrant Jewish experience quite well. It captures the promise and the reality. A few other shows have touched upon this — Rags and Ragtime most notably — but it is a great subject to tackle. The story of Strauss’ start in the west is a good one, minus the unnecessary Chinese subplot. But any bio-story needs to be historically correct (or at least 80%), and there just may not be the right protagonist for this story to make it survive for the two acts and all the songs it needs to motivate.

As for the songs themselves: they are (for the most part) enjoyable and peppy, and classic Sherman Brothers songs. This show needs a cast album to preserve the music and these performances. Kimmel has the ability to do so and has done so in the past, and even given my problems with the book, I’d participate in an Indiegogo for that album. Some of the songs are great — especially the opening number and the repeated theme, the “Business is Business” number, the “Pay Dirt” number and its audio choreography. Even the touching ballad that Kimmel helped complete, “So many Empty Rooms”, is really good. A few songs are on the culturally problematic side — “Like a Man” has that problem (as well as the comparisons to Mulan), or “Great American Friend” or “Dream I Must Not Dream”.  Absent those songs, the ones here are great (although perhaps a tad too Disney — and I’m writing this walking distance from Disney Orlando, so I know).  The one other concern I had song-wise was whether this show was too much in the “old-style” musical style of musicals from the 1960s and 1970s. Broadway musicals have seen a seismic shift in how the songs connect with the material (think Hamilton or Dear Even Hansen), and the style here just feels barely old-school.

So, summarizing what we have so far: Book and Music-wise, this show has lots of promise and many wonderful songs. However, there are some structural and content problems at the heart that would require significant rework if this show was to succeed about this this subject, in these days, in a larger venue and lifespan (i.e., a Broadway mounting).

So, setting book aside, how was the execution of the show. Here I’m pleased to say that it was top-notch; something I’ve come to expect and enjoy when Bruce Kimmel (FB) is at the helm as director and  Kay Cole is on-board as Choreographer. This team works well together, and takes the time and care to bring out great performances from the actors. In this case, most of the actors were students at LACC, but you would never know it from the quality of their performances. The choreography was also great — especially in the “Pay Dirt” number. The show was simply enjoyable to watch owning to the hard work of the actors and the directorial and choreographic teams. The actors were having the time of their life on the stage, and it was reflected and amplified by the audience. So kudos to the team for this.

In the lead position was Marc Ginsberg (FB), the sole Equity actor, as Levi Strauss. He was a delight to watch. He had a singing voice that I really enjoyed (particularly in the opening number, “Seven Beautiful Children”, and “Look How It Adds Up”), a great stage presence, a personality that came through in his performance, and just an affable way of relating to the other actors that made the show great. If the show were still running, I’d advise you to go see it just to see his remarkable performance.

Most of the rest of the performers were either students in the LACC Theatre Academy, or alumni of the Theatre Academy. The quality of their performances were remarkable. There are a few sets of named performers, and then I’ll get to the ensemble players.

As Sarah Zimmerman, Rachel Frost (FB) had most of her scenes on the boat between New York and San Francisco, with a few more in San Francisco. She interacted well with Ginsberg’s Strauss, and had some beautiful numbers in “We Know Why”, “Happy Love”, and”So Many Empty Rooms”. She had a lovely singing voice.

The two young kids — Scotty Vibe (FB) [Jacob] and Hadley Belle Miller (FB) [Young Girl] were… cute. But I also noted their performances, and how they played with their characters even when it was clear they were on-stage primarily for the “ahh, cute” factors. They were acting, and they were doing a great job of it.

The Chinese contingent — Tristen Kim (FB) [Han Chow], and his three “wards” Prisca Kim (FB) [Su Lin]; Eliza Kim (FB) [Tim Sang]; and Brianna Saranchock (FB) [Tam Lee, Immigrant, Woman, Miner] — were interesting to watch. Problematic characters in a cultural-sensitivity sense, they had good comic timing in “Like a Man” and the surrounding scene, and Prisca Kim did a delightful job with her solo “The Dream I Must Not Dream”. Note that I was also taken by her performance in Kimmel’s previous LA: Then and Now. The problem with these characters is how to integrate the performance without having it drop into the stereotypical or formulaic.

Jesse Trout (FB) [Howard, Miner, Official] and Connor Clark Pascale (FB) [Stafford] are perhaps the villains of the piece: they underpay Strauss on the boat, and later they to convince him to go against his Chinese workers. They capture the villainy right, and do good on their reprise of “Business is Business”.

Rounding out the cast in various ensemble and smaller named roles were: Charlton Brio (FB) [Old Willie, Miner, Immigrant]; Kyle Brogmus (FB) [Official, Junk-Man, Sailor, Crew-member, Miner]; Eugene Thomas Erlikh (FB) [Karl, Stevedore, Voice 1, Immigrant]; Paola Fregoso (FB) [Streetwalker, Flo]; Bedjou Jean (FB) [Blacksmith, Official, Miner]; Kole King (FB) [August, Isadore, Shortman]; Christina McGrath (FB) [Official, Peddler, Miner]; Shawna Merkley (FB) [Crew, Woman, Voice 3]; Anastasia Perevozova (FB) [Aunt Frieda, Immigrant]; Justice Quinn (FB) [Miner, Voice 2, Official]; Savannah Rutledge (FB) [Official, Peddler, Servant, Miner]; James Singleton (FB) [Goodman, Immigrant, Policeman, Cowboy, Miner]; Trenton Tabak (FB) [Man 1, Man 2, Passerby, Official, Miner]; and Sabrina Torres (FB) [Immigrant, Miner]. As a group, they sang and moved well; they also seemed to be having fun with their roles.

The production was under the Music Direction of Richard Allen (FB), and featured Orchestrations by Lanny Meyers (FB). The on-stage, in the back, orchestra consisted of Richard Allen (FB) [Keyboard1, Conductor]; Lanny Meyers (FB) [Keyboard2]; Say Jay Hynes [Violin]; Kim Richmond and John Reilly (FB) [Woodwinds]; Timothy Emmons [Bass]; and Ed Smith (FB) [Drums / Percussion]. The orchestra sounded great.

Rounding out the production credits: Tesshi Nakagawa (FB)’s scenic design was a movable wood structure that made me think of Hamilton‘s scaffolding. Minimalist, but it worked well. The lighting design by Derek Jones (FB) set the mood well. The Sound design by Austin Quan (FB) was reasonably clear, although there were a few mic problems. Morgan Gannes (FB)’s Costume Design seemed appropriately period. Graphic design was by Doug Haverty (FB). Maggie Marx (FB) was the Production Stage Manager.

The last performance of Levi!i was Saturday, December 2, 2017.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This week continues with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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With Just a Stick in her Hands | Anat Cohen Tentet @ VPAC/Saroya

Anat Cohen Tentet (VPAC/Saroya)Sometimes, I’m familiar with the artists that we see. Sometimes not. The latter is often the case when I’m selecting shows from the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB)’s season brochure. In this case, they listed a performance as the “Anat Cohen Tentet”, categorized as Jazz, with the following description:

Israeli clarinet virtuoso Anat Cohen is the charismatic female bandleader who stands out in a predominantly male environment. Cohen’s tapestry of sounds captures the jubilation of many genres, spanning modern and traditional jazz, classical music, klezmer, Brazilian choro, and Argentine tango.

I was trying to pick a program that had a few shows that might appeal to my wife, and this was clearly one of those: my wife loves modern and traditional Jazz and klezmer, and here we have one led by an Israel, and a female bandleader.

I’m pleased to say that this program was enjoyable beyond any expectations; as my wife put it, this women can do things with her clarinet and create sounds we’ve never heard before. This show came on top of two Grammy nominations (one for Outra Coisa, an album of Latin Jazz, and one for Rosa Dos Ventos). The Anat Cohen Tentet (FB) is a new group she has organized together with her music director, Oded Lev-Ari (FB). They have just put out their first album, and this is their first tour. The Tentet consists of the following musicians, in addition to Cohen on Solo Clarinet: Rubin Kodheli (FB) [Cello], Nadje Noordhuis (FB) [Trumpet & Flugelhorn], Nick Finzer (FB) [Trombone], Owen Broder (FB) [Sax & Clarinet], James Shipp (FB) [Vibraphone & Percussion], Vitor Gonçalves (FB) [Piano & Accordion], Sheryl Bailey (FB) [Guitar], Tal Mashiach (FB) [Bass] and Anthony Pinciotti (FB) [Drums].

Going into the show, I didn’t know what to expect. I like Jazz as well, but I’m less varied in my likes than my wife: She’ll go for the modern Jazz of Marsales; I’m more into the rhythmic swing or big band or New Orleans’ Dixieland. I don’t know how to describe the Tenet’s music, but it definitely wasn’t atonal or non-rhythmic. Joyful? Melodic? All I know is that I found myself enjoying it greatly. After the show, we purchased the Tentet’s new album, Happy Song, as well as one of the Grammy-nominated albums, Outra Costa. I’ve given them a listen (playing them into the 5-or-less playlist, currently at just under 400 songs), and they are quite enjoyable.

The performance consisted on one very long set, mostly of songs we learned later were from Happy Song, a brief introduction to the band, followed by a closing number and an encore.   Perhaps my one and only complaint is with the phrase “charismatic female bandleader” (in the program, described as ” infectious charisma”). Although she did exhibit some charisma with the fellow bandmates, she needs to work a bit on her interaction with the audience. As an audience member, I hope to get in a live show something I can’t get listening to an album. Let me learn your story and the Tentet’s story. Tell me about each song, and a bit more about the featured performers. But I think this is a learned skill, and the Tentet is new. This will come with more tours and more performances, I am sure.

Overall, I’m thankful for this performance. It introduced me to yet another new artist, and a new style of Jazz that I like. You often see Jazz groups fronted by trumpeters; I can only think of three (Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey) led by folks on the stick.  Correction: White men on the stick. As one who champions women in all fields, it was great to see female leadership. It is something we need more of (especially given the men that have screwed things up).

The  Anat Cohen Tentet (FB) had only one performance at  the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), although there are more performances in both their International and Jazz series coming up. The Tentet is on tour, so perhaps you can catch them in your city.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

December started with Levi! (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB). That’s next on the writeup list.

This week continues with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Collateral Damage / Thinking Only of Myself

userpic=trumpWhile eating lunch today, I’ve been reading FB and the LA Times. The LA Times had a really really interesting article about all the production and support people that have been hurt financially in the fallout of all these sex scandals. On FB, there was an Occupy Democrats meme about how Congress should stop all legislation until the Russia scandals are investigated and resolved.  Both are related to collateral damage.

Websters defines collateral damage as ” injury inflicted on something other than an intended target; specifically : civilian casualties of a military operation.” We’ve been seeing a lot of non-military collateral damage of late, and if you think about it, it is often caused by people being selfish and thinking only of themselves:

  • In these Hollywood sex scandals, actors, producers, and directors — i.e., men in power — are selfish about their sexual desires and impose themselves unwanted on others. When this catches up with them and they get fired, their productions in progress are shut down. There is disruption in production, and uncertainty and stress in production companies. These people — from the makeup artists to the script copyists to the food and craft services to the camera operators — they did nothing wrong. They have been planning their lives on a steady job that goes down because of a dick. That’s unfair collateral damage.
  • In Washington DC, this plays out another way. Congress works to serve its donors and the specific small core that gives them the edge in primaries, because they know party loyalty will do the rest. This tax bill is a great example. It serves the wealthy corporate donors quite well — and directly — and serves the self-interest of the Congress-critters by keeping them in office. It is you and I that are the collateral damage. A coworker on my van estimated that with the proposed changes in the tax code, his tax bill will go up $11,000. The citizens in high tax states are collateral damage. The middle class are collateral damage. The poor are collateral damage. Schoolteachers and graduate students are collateral damage. That’s unfair.
  • Thinking of a STOP WORK in Congress or letting the government shut down? That hurts loads of people, from the direct government employees to the contractors, from those depending on government checks to those providing health services. All have plans thrown in disarray, all have their lives in turmoil, because of political children thinking only about their political self-interest and not the people they work for.
  • At the Presidential level, we have a clear example of a President who is only thinking about his self-interest, not caring about collateral damage. Obama snubbed him in some way, so he’ll undo everything Obama did — right or wrong. Who cares who is screwed, as long as the short-term glory goes to … you know who. We have the undoing of regulations to help industries that praise him, never mind the collateral damage to the people (environmental regulations are a great example of this). We have taunting and pissing matches over twitter, making the world arguably more dangerous. All because of someone with inflated self interest.

When we look at how are are commanded to behave in the various moral codes in the world, there is one commonality: a concern about others in the community. Do not put a stumbling block before the blind. Do unto others. Welcome the stranger.

We have become a society obsessed with self — something Noel Paul Stookey predicted a long time ago would happen. We’re obsessed with the selfie; with film cameras, we primarily took pictures of others. We’re obsessed with our self interest at work and in life: how does this benefit me?

Even if we don’t reach the level of asking how our actions might benefit others, we should at least take the small step of thinking about how our actions might impact others. Before you grab that pussy, ask yourself: If I got fired or divorced because of this, who would be hurt? Before you vote in favor of that tax bill, ask yourself: who will be hurt if this passes? Thinking about the negative impacts of your actions is just as important as thinking about the positive ones, if not even more important.

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California Highway Headlines for December 2018

November is always a busy month as we come down to the wire to the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference. But I do have time to grab headlines as they come across the wire…. although it does seem there were fewer this month than usual…

  • Boyd Drive (former California State Route 63). Continuing where I left off from the J21 blog I had to find a way out of the Sierras. I’ve taken CA 245 so many times that it seemed kind of passe to do it in some abbreviated way south to Woodlake. That being the case I noticed an oddity on some state highway maps from the early 1950s which showed California State Route 63 running east of Orosi to what was CA 65 along Boyd Drive. Traveling southbound on CA 245 I turned west onto former CA 63 on Boyd Drive.
  • Signed County Route J21. I thought it might be interesting to explore some previous journeys this year before I started writing road blogs. This particular trip was back in January of this year as the Sierras were getting pounded by some of the heaviest winter weather California has seen in a long time. I was looking for an interesting route to take which brought me back to a route my GPS always seemed to be pushing to get off of CA 245; Signed County Route J21. J21 is an 18 mile Signed County Route created in 1968 entirely within Tulare County. J21 runs entirely on Dry Creek Road and has junctions at CA 216 to the south in addition to CA 245 to the north. Much like almost all Signed County Routes in Tulare County, J21 is in fact now unsigned. I began my trip on J21 northward from CA 216 under a malaise of low hanging mountain fog, the guide sign showed Badger to only 19 miles to the north.
  • Throwback Thursday; California State Route 75. I figured that I would throw my hat in for some Throwback Thursdays myself given that I have a ton of older road albums that I’ve been looking at updating. Today’s throw back goes back to February 5th 2010 along California State Route 75 in Coronado.
  • Roadshow: New bridge on Highway 101 is pathway to Caltrain. Q: You mentioned a new pedestrian/bike bridge is coming on Highway 101 at Hillsdale Boulevard. Why in the world do we need separate pedestrian/bike bridges anyway? There was one built on 101 at Marine Parkway/Ralston Avenue a few years ago and there are rarely any pedestrians or bikes on it — certainly not enough to justify the cost. There are already regular bridges at these locations, and they have sidewalks. Why can’t pedestrians and bikes use these bridges as they have for the last 50 years? Pedestrians and bikes share all other roads with cars, so why not the same with bridges? What a waste.
  • Lake County highway projects get go-ahead from state commission. The California Transportation Commission has approved nearly $15 million in highway projects for Lake County. At its meeting earlier this month, the commission approved 90 major “fix-it-first” transportation projects across California, worth nearly $3.4 billion, submitted by Caltrans. Caltrans said it added nearly 1,200 lane miles of pavement repair and 66 bridges to its growing list of projects to be delivered sooner than planned thanks to the imminent influx of revenue from the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, or SB 1, the transportation funding and reform package the State Legislature passed in April.

Read More …

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Essay Prompt: Sexual Harrassment and Women in the Workplace

I’ve said it many times: some of my best essay prompts come from my Conservative friends on FB. Just this morning, in response to the firing of Matt Lauer, I saw the following in a comment conversation chain:

Poster 1: I actually believe this will work the opposite way: if you so much as look crosseyed at a woman at work – no harassment of any kind by any stretch of the imagination, she’ll claim it anyway and you’re still gone. There was a round of this kind of stuff going on in the late 80s and early 90s. Guys need to be squeaky clean and need to be prepared to lawyer up against false accusations.

Poster 2:  As for women. I am growing to want little to do with any of them outside my wife and family, it’s too risky. Too many false accusations and everything is assault now. Even just having good manners. Women’s libbers are truly setting the female gender back decades. Who is going to want to hire a potential lawsuit knowing it’s now “guilty until proven innocent” in this matter?

Just think about this for a minute, and you’ll see why this is an essay prompt. Follow this down the path, and where do you end up? We must keep the women separate to protect us. They must dress modestly (thank you Angela Lansbury). “It’s not my fault, I just looked at her wrong.”

Guys (I was going to say “Folks”, but perhaps “Guys” is better): You need to listen to those Sexual Harrassment training courses. The issue isn’t looking at them crosseyed (although pervasive stares could be a problem). The issue isn’t opening the door for someone or being polite. The issue isn’t women in the workplace.

Here’s what the key issues are: (1) Harassment. (2) Power. (3) Respect. In many ways, it boils down to the Golden Rule. Not Trump’s Golden Rule, which is “He who has the gold makes the rules.”, but the biblical one, which for those unaware goes back to the Talmud:

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

How do these points relate?

  1. Harassment. Don’t harass anyone, in any way. That’s being a bully. That can range from offensive looks, artwork you know will incite, statements you know will incite. Don’t push people’s buttons. Wikipedia notes that harassment  is commonly understood as behavior that disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is behavior that appears to be disturbing or threatening. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim. Key aspects there: Persistent and unwanted. In other words: the first time you do it, it is a mistake. Do it again, your ass is grass. I said so in an earlier post. Whether sexual or just bullying. This isn’t a “female” thing. If you wouldn’t behave that way to someone you like and respect, don’t do it.
  2. Power. Often these relationships are an abuse of power. They are attempts to show that you have the power, or you are taking advantage of that power to get something of benefit. Be it money, sex, or some other favor. Don’t do it. Again: Using your power against someone is just being a bully.
  3. Respect. Hillel said it best: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow.” Perhaps you know this as the line from Matthew: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Same thing. Treat people with respect, they way you would want them to treat you. This goes to word, deed, and what you do in your workplace at home. It is an attitude to teach your children.

The problem is not women in the workplace. The problem is not looking at them crosseyed. The problem is not avoiding all women. [And, to be fair, not that this isn’t just a man to woman problem — ask Kevin Spacey]. The problem is treating people as sexual objects, not people. The problem, even broader, is treating people as objects, not people. Treat people with respect, as you would want to be treated, and you’ll be just fine.

 

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A Sheep and His/Her Money Are Soon Parted

Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, Museum Shop Sunday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday…

Sounds familiar this time of year. But remember that the little minx Wendy who is inventing these names doesn’t care about you. What they care about is separating you from your hard earned cash, whether you need it or not.

So, in these days after Thanksgiving, remember…

  • You don’t need to shop the sales. You don’t save any money buying something at a discount that you then don’t use. Buy things when you need them and will use them.
  • You don’t need a special day to shop small local businesses. Shop them all the time, when you need the things that they sell. It is worth paying a little more to keep them in business throughout the year so they are there when you need them. Sometimes, saving that 25c doesn’t do much good for the world.
  • You don’t need a special day to shop museum stores. Visit, learn, and cherish them year round — and buy from their stores that which you need and adds good memories to your life and house. Buy something unique, not a mass produced item with a name stamped on it.
  • You don’t need a special day to shop online. Those retailers are there 365/7/24. They will always appreciate your business — especially the small businesses and creative artists.
  • You don’t need a special day to donate to your favorite charities. They need year-round funding.

The holidays — whichever holidays during this time that you celebrate — are primarily about the meaning of that holiday, and celebrating that meaning with family and friends. It is not about crass commercialism and buying everything under the sun, no matter how the media and the marketeers try to convince you otherwise.

Thus ends this public service announcement. You may continue with your lunch.

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Me Think Thou Dost Overreact

My erstwhile employer has recently implemented an alert system from employees after a nearby police incident a few months ago highlights problems with the old system. This is all well and good. However, I do believe there are a few bugs to be worked on.

The first time was when there was a power-failure in a building…. that was resolved in 20 minutes. We received alerts via email to home and work, and calls to cell and work, about both the failure and the all clear.

The second time was during a lock down drill — the drill where there is supposedly an “active shooter”, and you are to remain quiet in your office. So, of course, everyone’s cell phone goes off during the drill with an alert notification about the drill… and then the office phones ring with the same notification.

Today we got another alert about a fire alarm activation in a building in our campus that I’m not in. It came via email to work and home (OK), and by phone to cell, work, … and my home number, for some bizarre reason (if I’m home, I’m already not in the building). This, I guess, is all well and good. But a few minutes later came the all-clear, with the following:

“The current emergency at Building XX has concluded and an all clear has been issued by the [Locality] Fire Department, alarm activation due to burnt toast. You may resume normal business activities. “

Burnt toast.

Somehow, I think they need to tweak and fine-tune the system and its use a bit more.

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