Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

California Highway Headlines for March 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 31, 2015 @ 11:13 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingIt’s March. March was a month where we skip the pointless introductions, because it can’t decide if it is officially spring or summer. Here are the headlines:

  • How Montague Expressway got its name. Dan-the-County-Roads-Man does and says “thanks for the history question! I love those.” Expressways were most often named for the older roads they were built over…
  • Caltrans and San Mateo address dangerous merge: State Route 92 and El Camino Real interchange project moves ahead . Plans to alleviate the dangers of one of the Bay Area’s most hazardous highway intersections are well underway as the city of San Mateo and Caltrans work to remodel the State Route 92 and El Camino Real interchange. The current full cloverleaf layout was designed more than 50 years ago and provides short weaving distances where drivers must compete to exit and enter the freeway. The configuration also forces drivers to merge onto El Camino Real with wait times frequently causing cars to back up the length of the ramp and spill over onto State Route 92.
  • 118, Somis Road construction gets start date . For those who commute along a dangerous and outdated portion of Highway 118 that cuts through Somis, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Although the drive will get worse before it gets better, the intersection of the 118 and Somis Road is scheduled for an overhaul in May to improve the traffic flow and create a fourway stop. Construction at the intersection is expected to take eight months, at a cost of about $2.5 million.
  • $1.1 Billion and Five Years Later, the 405 Congestion Relief Project Is a Fail. This past May the project known as the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project came to official completion, with resulting new on-ramps and off-ramps, bridges and a northbound 405 carpool lane stretching 10 miles between the 10 and 101 Freeways. The four-turned–five-year, $1.1 billion project became a long-running nightmare of sudden ramp closures, poorly advertised by Metro and made all the worse by baffling detours that led drivers into the unfamiliar Bel Air Hills and Sherman Oaks hills, dead ends and unlit canyons.
  • Report: Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions. Any major modifications to the unfinished 710 Freeway, one of Los Angeles County’s most persistent transportation controversies, would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete, according to environmental documents released Friday. In a 2,260-page draft environmental report, the California Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority examined four construction options they say could address the congestion and health issues that stem from the 710’s abrupt ending on a surface street in Alhambra. The freeway is a favored route for truckers shuttling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in central Los Angeles County.
  • $200-million Orange County tollway project stalls . A $200-million tollway project in Orange County suffered another defeat this week as water quality regulators refused to issue a waste discharge permit that was needed before construction can begin on the controversial project. In a unanimous vote, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Monday declined to issue the permit to the Transportation Corridor Agencies, the operator of 51 miles of toll roads in Orange County.
  • VTA: Plans in works to extend express lanes on 237. The Valley Transportation Authority is finalizing its plan to add express lanes on State Route 237 from North First Street in San Jose to Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale. VTA held a public meeting March 3 to inform residents about phase 2 of the plan, which is set to be completed in late 2016.
  • State Route 282 Relinquishment Under Consideration by Caltrans. TAF was informed on March 19, 2015, that “Caltrans is preparing a feasibility report to assess the potential to relinquish State Route 282 (SR-282) to the city of Coronado.” SR-282 is the portion of Third and Fourth Streets that runs from Orange Avenue to Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI). This includes the portion of Alameda Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets. This is the Avenue of Heroes neighborhood loop. The process of “relinquishment is the removal of a State highway, either in whole or in part from the State Highway System (SHS),” and a contractual turning it over to another jurisdiction. In the case of SR-282 this would be the city of Coronado. (1)
  • Historic Point Reyes bridge to be replaced, Caltrans says. The 86-year-old bridge that leading to Point Reyes Station will be demolished and replaced in what will be at least a seven-year process involving public input, lengthy environmental review and years of construction that will necessitate a temporary one-lane bridge across Lagunitas Creek. Public scoping for a replacement kicked off last Thursday at a poster-filled open house, hosted by the local district of the California Department of Transportation at West Marin School. Comments will be accepted through April 20.
  • 2 options considered for reconstructing part of congested 710 Freeway. During most workdays, trucks hauling cargo containers dominate the two right lanes in each direction of the 710 Freeway, a vital trade corridor for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest combined harbor in the United States. The worst congestion occurs at rush hour when big rigs line up nose to tail, forming a wall of vehicles that extends for miles in each direction. Traffic in all lanes slows to a crawl, and motorists back up at the short offramps built in the 1950s.
  • The torture that is the I-680 evening commute. I’ve noticed that small wooden stakes with spray-paint markings have been pounded into the dirt on the right shoulder of northbound Interstate 680 in the Fremont area. Could that have anything to do with widening 680 and adding more lanes? It would be an answer to my prayers! The afternoon commute out of Silicon Valley is horrible, which is why I have such a vested interest in seeing those little stakes in the ground.
  • Major I-215/Newport Road project about to begin. Menifee residents are approaching the impending construction of the I-215/Newport Road intersection with equal measures of anticipation and dread. Anticipation for a remedy to the gridlock and frustration drivers experience getting on and off the freeway there. Dread because it will require more gridlock and frustration over the next 18 to 24 months.
  • New Lost Hills bridge a ‘safe’ alternative. When it’s completed in about two years, the new Lost Hills bridge will have five traffic lanes, two bike paths and a sidewalk, making the passage across the 101 Freeway safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The Lost Hills interchange is a main access point for drivers traveling to western Calabasas and Malibu. The bridge carries almost 30,000 vehicles each day and is considered too small for the high demand.
  • Freeway ramp facelift delayed . Beautification plans for the First Street interchange have been pushed back at the request of the Simi Valley City Council. The proposed $822,500 interchange facelift includes planting low-maintenance, drought tolerant plants and trees on the site, said Ron Fuchiwaki, Simi Valley’s director of public works. The proposal also includes an additional $252,000 worth of maintenance and upkeep for the next seven years.
  • Somis Road intersection to be redesigned. Ventura County Public Works Agency’s Department of Transportation will move forward as early as May to construct a realignment of the Donlon Road and Highway 118 intersection to line up with Somis Road (Highway 34). The purpose of the project is to improve safety at the intersection by eliminating the offset between Donlon and Somis roads. Construction will take about eight months. Shoulder widening along Highway 118 will occur at night to minimize disruption to traffic.
  • The Panhandle Freeway and the Revolt That Saved the Park. Early this year, fresh talk of building a second BART tube to connect northwest San Francisco with the rest of the system garnered attention. But you can find other grand transit visions going back a century or more, many of which could have drastically changed the landscape of the city. From the 1910s through the 1960s, the thinking mostly involved building highways and freeways for cars, such as the “Divisional Highway” plan of the 1920s that would have gone through the Castro and up Divisadero to the Golden Gate.
  • MTA’s toll-lane project may be a victim of its own success. The conversion of the 110 Freeway’s carpool lanes into toll lanes was not without bumps: Some Angelenos feared that adding tolls to the Los Angeles County freeway network would further divide rich and poor commuters. Others groused that freeways should be free. But two years later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority project is on the cusp of becoming a victim of its own success: So many drivers now steer into the Harbor Freeway’s northbound toll lanes to escape morning traffic jams that the paid route is slowing down too. Over the course of a year, even as the per-mile toll crept toward the maximum, traffic in the paid lanes increased by almost 20% and speeds began to slow, officials say.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesTheatre and highways: a lovely pair. From the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood to the Route 66 Theatre in Chicago; from classic stories about the road such as “The Grapes of Wrath” (which takes place along Route 66 and off Route 99) to more modern parodies such as “CHiP: The Musical” (which played the Falcon — itself near Route 134 — a few years ago). Here in Los Angeles there are loads of small theatres directly on or near streets that used to be state highways: From REP East, on former Route 126; the large cluster of theatres along Lankersheim Blvd (the former state route that became Route 170); the Odyssey Theatre complex along former Route 7 (what become I-405) in West LA; to the theatre district along Santa Monica Blvd (former Route 2 and US 66) in Hollywood. These are all 99 seat and under theatres, and they are theatres whose existence is threatened by a proposal from AEA. This proposal would require these theatres to pay their actors minimum wage for rehearsals and performances, raising their costs overnight at least 10 fold — or more, depending on the number of AEA actors. On the surface, the union is doing this to protect “the dignity of actors” (even though the actors in Los Angeles do not want it, and being paid minimum wage when other venues pay much more is an odd definition of “dignity”); underneath, the real reason may be buried in the small print: if the theatre treats the actor as employee and there is an AEA contract, the AEA gets paid its fees first (whereas it gets little now). The larger community — from actors to producers to stage managers to creatives to audiences are saying, collectively, “Change is needed, but not this change.” We want to rework how intimate theatre is done, but not with this heavy handed solution forced from non-Californians. Learn more about the controversy at the I Love 99 website, and follow their Facebook group and Twitter feed.  If you are an AEA member, vote “No” (and tell your friends). If you are not, spread the word.

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Finding Out Where The Real Power Lies

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 29, 2015 @ 12:20 pm PDT

Newsies (Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaYesterday, Playbill published an interesting article on 8 theatre podcasts you should be listening to. Through this article I discovered a new favorite podcast, The Ensemblist (FB), which explores the life and importance of the ensemble. This is one thing I was thinking about last night when I saw the touring production of “Disney’s Newies (FB), now at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre (FB). This was because the real star of Newsies was not the lead performers (although they were great) — it was the Newsies themselves and their supporting ensemble. More on that in a moment.

Before I get into the story of Newsies, I must tell you that I suffer from this weird conceit: I believe every story starts on the stage and then moves to the screen. Thus, I believe William Shakespeare wrote Pulp Fiction, and the lost play was discovered and made into the movie. I similarly believe that Newsies started as a successful musical, and then someone time-travelled back and made the poorly received movie musical version. This makes a lot of sense, given that many successful musicals do not translate well to the screen.

Newsies tells the story of the historical newsboys strike of 1899. One might think that a strike over a hundred years ago has no relevance today, but I saw direct parallels between the strike story in Newsies and the current battle between LA actors and Actors Equity. The notion of a mass of people standing up for their rights against an authority who is imposing work rule changes that could destroy what gives them life — that’s a common epic story that resonates with many. The trick is to tell that story in a way that conveys the power of the masses, without becoming sappy or syrupy.

The stage version of Newsies (book by Harvey Fierstein (FB), based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (FB); music by Alan Menken (FB); lyrics by Jack Feldman [utilizing many of the movies’ songs, but surprisingly not crediting J.A.C. Redford, who was credited with the movie’s music]) does that reasonably well. You can find the full synopsis on Wikipedia, but in short:  Jack Kelly is a “newsie” — a boy who earns a living selling papers in the street for a major New York newspaper at the turn of the 20th century. He longs to escape New York where he is a cog that is ground down, and move to Santa Fe NM where he can be a big man in a small town. But before he can do so, he must sell papes (newspapers) to earn money. We learn how he does so in the opening; we also meet two new “newsies”: Davey and his younger brother Les. They became newsies to support their family, after their father’s leg was mangled in an industrial accident and he was fired. These boys are newsies for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, which is seeing a drop in circulation. Pulitzer summarily decides to raise the price of the papers he sells to the newsies from 50¢/100 to 60¢/100; he figures the boys will sell more papers to make the same amount of money, thus increasing his circulation.  In response to this, however, the Newsies decide to form a union and go on strike. Their effort is publicized by Katherine Plumber, a reporter Jack meets while hiding out at a theatre owned by his friend, Mella Larkin. When the boys attempt to blockade the newspaper distribution carts and prevent scabs from delivering the papers, a melee ensues between the scabs, the boys, Pulitzer’s goons (Morris and Oscar Delancy), and the police. Many boys are injured, and Jack’s friend, Crutchy, is taken to “The Refugees”, a boys prison from which Jack escaped, run by the evil Snyder. Jack just wants to give up and run away to Santa Fe, but Davey and Les convince him to go back an organize a rally to organize the Newsies in all the boroughs. When Jack goes to invite Pulitzer to present his side at the rally, he discovers (a) that Katherine is Pulitzer’s daughter, and (b) Pulitzer wants to neutralize Jack, either by paying his way to Santa Fe, or putting him in jail in the Refuge. Katherine convinces Jack that the way to win is to get all the children in New York to go on strike. They sneak into the World, print a screen written by Katherine, and do so. This works, Pulizter partially caves (they compromise on the price, and Pulitzer agrees to buy back unsold papers), and Jack ends up winning the girl. Close curtain.

I’ll note that when they traveled back in time to make this into a movie, they made some changes that impacted the story. The reporter was male and unrelated to the publisher, and Kelly’s love interest was Davey’s sister. They changed the race of Medda Larkin, and reworked the timing of the story. It didn’t work. They should have stuck with the original musical ;-) .

This is clearly a story designed to tug at the heart: you’ve got a ragtag team of good children fighting the big bad boss. The music is energetic and uplifting — on the verge of marches — that just pulls at you. There is the occasional ballad and “I want” song, but nothing overly sappy. About the biggest problem the story has is its predictability. The biggest problem the music has is that it is stretched — we keep hearing the same themes and melodies over and over. Having heard the movie soundtrack, this was a problem there as well. Reading the history, it is worth noting that this was intended as a limited run and not a Broadway hit (clearly designed as a musical for the school market), and its audience success propelled it to a two-year run on Broadway.  My wife’s comment about the music was that she kept hearing melodies and underscores that were reminiscent of Aladdin, another Disney musical that was written by the same composer and released the same year as Newsies. I didn’t notice those undertones, but they didn’t surprise me as that is common with composers.

What makes Newsies overcome any weaknesses in the book or the score are the Newsies and the rest of the dancing ensemble. As directed by Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli (FB), many of the major rousing numbers are full-on energetic dance numbers, and they just “wow” you out of your seats. This is why I truly believe that the Newsies and ensemble are the true stars of this show — when you walk out of this show, it is their performances you principally remember. This team, some of whom I’ll individually highlight later, consisted of: Dan DeLuca (FB) (Jack Kelly), Stephanie Styles (FB) (Katherine), Jacob Kemp (FB) (Davey), Zachary Sayle (FB) (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal (Les at our performance), Evan Autio (FB) (Scab, Ensemble), Josh Assor (FB) (Ensemble), Joshua Burrage (FB) (Darcy, Ensemble), Benjamin Cook (FB) (Race, Ensemble), DeMarius R. Copes (FB) (Henry, Ensemble), Julian DeGuzman (FB) (Finch, Ensemble), Nico DeJesus (FB) (Romeo, Ensemble), Sky Flaherty (FB) (Albert, Scab, Ensemble), Jeff Heimbrock (FB) (Elmer, Spot Conlon, Ensemble), Jordan Samuels (FB) (Specs, Ensemble), Jack Sippel (FB) (Mush, Ensemble), and Chaz Wolcott (FB) (Scab, Ensemble).  Their dancing was just truly spectacular. However, that wasn’t everything. These young performers were just radiating a joy at performing that was contagious — they were having so much fun doing this show that the audience picked it up and a feedback loop occurred, amplifying the effect for all. This is truly a show where the ensemble is the real star.

In the lead individual performance positions are Dan DeLuca (FB) (Jack Kelly) and Stephanie Styles (FB) (Katherine). DeLuca is a wonderful dancer and an engaging performer; he broadcasted a believability that was just great. In addition to the ensemble numbers, he was wonderful in his solo numbers, such as “Santa Fe”. As for Styles, ahhhh … I was smitten. Styles had a beautiful and expressive face, danced wonderfully, and was spectacular in both her solo and duet numbers. This is an actor who I hope I see more of — there’s something about her personality and joy of performing that just comes through. I’ve seen a few actresses like that, and they rapidly become favorites.

In supporting performances on the Newsies side were Jacob Kemp (FB) (Davey), Anthony Rosenthal (Les at our performance; he alternates with Vincent Crocilla (FB)), and Zachary Sayle (FB) (Crutchie). Kemp and Rosenthal gave believable performances, and Rosenthal wowed the crowed with his cuteness. As with the rest of the ensemble, all sang and danced well. Sayles was particularly touching in his solo number.

This show wasn’t all kids. In the lead supporting “adult” performer positions were Kevin Carolan (FB) (Joseph Pulitzer) [at this performance; the role is normally played by Steve Blanchard (FB)] and Angela Grovey (FB) (Medda Larkin). Carolan is in just a few scenes, but he does a great job in all of them conveying the appropriate bluff, bluster, and position of the great Joseph Pulitzer. He does well in his one song, “The Bottom Line”, and its reprise. Grovey really only has one spotlight performance — her song “That’s Rich” is an eleven o’clock number done at nine o’clock — a true showstopper, great performance. She reappears briefly for some scenes in act II, but you remember her for “That’s Rich”. Luckily, she nails it :-).

Rounding out the named performers were the assistants to Joseph Pulitzer [Mark Aldrich (FB) (Seitz, Ensemble), Bill Bateman (Bunsen, Stage Manager, Ensemble), and Melissa Steadman Hart (FB) (Nun, Hannah) [at our performance, normally Meredith Inglesby (FB)†]], Pulitzer’s goons and employees [Michael Ryan (FB) (Morris Delancey), Jon Hacker (FB) (Oscar Delancey), Michael Gorman (FB) (Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi, Mayor)], the bad guy Snyder [James Judy (FB)], and the others [Eric Jon Mahlum (FB) (Governor Roosevelt) [normally Kevin Carolan (FB)], Molly Jobe (FB) (Nun, Citizen of New York)]. Swings not previously mentioned were Stephen Hernandez (FB) and Andrew Wilson (FB). All seemed to be enjoying what they were doing and had great performances.
[†: Inglesby’s Facebook page explains why both she and Steve Blanchard were out and we had the swing shuffle — she’s married to Blanchard, and for some reason were away for that performance]

Rounding out the music and dance credits. Of the aforementioned actors, Andrew Wilson (FB) was the dance captain; Josh Assor (FB) was his assistant, and Kevin Carolan (FB) was the fight captain. Lou Castro was the associate choreographer. On the music side, Michael Kosarin (FB) was the music supervisor and arranger, Danny Troob (FB) did orchestrations, Mark Hummel did the dance music, John Miller was the music coordinator, and James Dodgson was the music director and conductor. The orchestra, as just noted, was conducted by James Dodgson. Faith Seetoo (FB) was the associate conductor, and Chip Prince (FB) was the assistant conductor. Orchestra members consisted of [T = Touring; L = Local]: Paul Baron (FB) [T] (Trumpet/Flugel); Joe Wallace (FB) [T] (Bass); Heinrich Kruse  (FB) [T] (Drums); Faith Seetoo (FB), Chip Prince (FB) [T] (Keyboards); Jeff Marder (FB) [T] (Electronic Music); Kathleen Robertson [L] (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach [L] (Cello); Dick Mitchell [L] (Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax); Wayne Bergeron [L] (Trumpet); Andy Martin [L] (Trombone, Bass Trombone); Paul Viapiano [L] (Guitar); Wade Culbreath [L] (Percussion); David Witham [L] (Keyboard Sub). The orchestra had a truly full sound; something that I miss in these days of small bands masquerading as orchestras.

Turning to the technical side of the story: The scenic design was by Tobin Ost (FB), and was relatively simple in its complexity. There were a large number of projection screens to provide the location (original Broadway projection design by Sven Ortel, adapted by Daniel Brodie); there were a few actual sets for places like Pulitzer’s office. The rest consisted of large metal multilevel structures sized to fit into a touring semi that were turned and rotated to provide all the other locations. Very, very clever. The sound design by Ken Travis and the lighting by Jeff Croiter worked reasonably well. For the most part, the sound was some of the best I’ve heard in the Pantages, and the lighting created the mood. There were a few local problems — the occasional sound drop, the occasional spot operator who couldn’t find the actor. Costume Design was by Jess Goldstein, with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. All were affective and appeared reasonably period. Fight direction was by J. Allen Suddeth. Remaining company credits: Telsey+Company (Casting); Ann Quart (Associate Producer); Geoffrey Quart (Technical Supervisor); Christopher A. Recker (General Manager); Jeff Norman (Production Stage Manager); Richard J. Hinds (Associate Director).

Disney’s Newsies continues at the Hollywood Pantages until April 19. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office and Ticketmaster. There is a day of show lottery for $20 tickets. There are some tickets available on Goldstar. The show is quite enjoyable and well worth seeing. It’s not a deep thought show, but it is a very fun show.

The Pantages Theatre has announced their next season. In a previous post I discussed my thoughts on the upcoming Pantages season.

Pro99 - Vote No NowI Love 99. Walking out of Newsies, I received an email from the Pantages asking what I thought of the show. I thought of replying that I was impressed that the Pantages put on a show than encapsulated the AEA/pro99 fight so well, and seemed to support the pro99 side. I mean, look at what the Pantages put on: Joseph Pulitzer, in order to bring in more money, arbitrarily attempted to impose a price hike of what he charged the newsies. This is just like AEA attempting to impose minimum wage on the 99 seat theatres in Los Angeles. In both cases, the imposed prices was unsustainable and threatened the livelihood of the Newsies/99 seat theatres. So what did the Newsies/99 Seat Theatre supporters do? They banded together to protest the hike. They demonstrated to the city the value of their work and their product. The Newsies did this by getting the children to strike; pro99 has done that by getting elements of all stakeholders — actors, designers, producers, audiences, stage managers, critics — to band together to let the world know about the vital role of intimate theatre to the overall theatrical ecosystem. Reporters — such as Katherine Plumber/Pulitzer — or our own Colin Mitchell of Bitter Lemons — have done a yeomans job of spreading the word. In the musical Newsies, Pulitzer didn’t win, but the status quo wasn’t retained either — a compromise was reached that benefited all stakeholders. The price went up slightly, but unsold papers could be sold back. In the real world, that’s all we’re asking for. Vote down this arbitrary AEA proposal, and let the stakeholders on all sides work up a compromise that serves all interests — a compromise that lets intimate theatres that can grow; that lets intimate theaters that are lucky enough to have sufficient grants, donations, and ticket income to pay the actors something closer to what they are worth (and they are worth much more than minimum wage); that lets those actors that want to provide pro-bono or below market professional services; that ensures safe working conditions for both union and non-union actors.

So, what should you do. If you are an AEA actor, vote no. If you are a stakeholder in Los Angeles theatre, visit www.ilove99.org to learn more about what is happening. Then go see Newsies at the Pantages — and watch the story and see the parallels to the 99 Seat Theatre fight (and know you are watching a very talented troup of AEA actors, for this is an Equity tour). If you can’t afford that, go to any of the excellent 99 seat theatres throughout Los Angeles and support your local actors. By the way, if you are an audience member, keep an eye on this blog for a special announcement in just a couple of days.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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: April starts with a highly recommended show at a local 99 seat theatre: Trevor at the Atwater Village Theatre (FB), starring Laurie Metcalf, on the 2nd night of Passover. The following weekend has a different form of theatre: the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (just wait until AEA tries to unionize that — the Queen will be livid!). The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Saturday News Chum Stew: Graffiti, Diets, Food, Deaths, and 99 Seat Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 28, 2015 @ 10:03 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the accumulated saved URL links (with a bit of commentary) from the week. Get your fill now — next week’s stew will be chametz-free!

  • Graffiti Busting. Two articles related to graffiti-busting caught my eye. The first looks at the battle that LA’s army of graffiti cleaners face. Many years ago, my mother-in-law was one of those busters. How bad is the problem? Here’s the second article, which notes that LA cleaned up over one square mile of graffiti last year. It is a problem, and I’ve never understood the reason why people enjoy trashing something that belongs to someone else. Hmmm. I wonder if taggers and graffiti artists are the trolls of the real world?
  • Going on a Diet. Were you annoyed when they put Wilbur St. on a road diet? Get ready to be annoyed again. This time, it’s not Wilbur that is changing but Reseda Blvd, between Parthenia and Plummer. They aren’t getting rid of driving lanes (although it looks like the center dual-left is going away); they are converting the conventional bike lanes to protected bike lanes. Be forewarned if you are driving or parking in the area — it will take time for people to get used to them.
  • Food News. A few food-related news items. Fresh and Easy is closing 50 stores — and the one near us in Northridge is one of them. That’s too bad — I like the selection at that store and it was very convenient. Graeters Ice Cream, which we enjoyed when we visited Louisville KY, is opening shop in Caesars in Las Vegas. I think I know where we’re stopping in Vegas, and perhaps it might entice our friend Linda to come west for a visit. Lastly, ever wonder what happens to ugly fruit and vegetables? In a society that demands perfection, do we mock the misformed carrot or potato? The answer is that they are actually becoming more popular.
  • Deaths of Note. Two deaths of note this week. The first, Dr. George Fischbeck, was a long-time weathercaster here in Los Angeles. He had a delivery style and presentation (and longevity) that made him memorable, and was one of those genuinely good people. The second was musician John Renbourne.  I learned of Renbourne through my uncle, Tom Faigin, when I recorded his collection of folk albums for him. Renbourne made a number of classic folk albums: solo, with Bert Jansch, and with his group Pentangle.
  • Revitalizing Congregational Life. Here’s something to chew on: What is the business of a synagogue? Rabbi Larry Hoffman explores the question. He starts by noting the business is not religion. In the past, it was continuity: providing activities that ensured Judaism would continue to the next generation. Today, he argues, it is providing an authentic identity. Do you agree? If so, how do congregations achieve it through the services provided. Great question.
  • The 100 ¥ Store. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve never been in Daiso. Here’s the history of the store, and why it became what it is. The short answer is that it is Japan’s dollar store, but unlike the 99c store, they don’t remainder items — they make their own unique items.
  • Not So Hidden Anymore. Here are two articles on “secret” hiding places: 15 from DIY crafts, and 20 from Family Handyman.  My big concern with all of these is that I’d forget about them. Hiding something does no good if you can’t remember where you hid it, and you leave the valuables in the house when you sell it.
  • Pro99 - Vote No NowTheatre Items of Interest. Thought I wouldn’t have anything on the battle to save 99 seat theatre in LA? Wrong. Here is a collection of editorial cartoons on the subject.  They truly prove that a picture is worth 1000 words. But if you want words, here’s an interesting article on the lies we tell about audience engagement. The article makes the great point about the important of indie (read small and intimate) theatre — and how it often provides the only engagement for young people and for artists and audiences of color. Here’s the great paragraph about that: “In most American urban centers, there’s a vibrant, thriving indie scene—small theatres operating on a shoestring budget, paying people a stipend and operating out of 99-and-under rentals or non-traditional spaces. Think of it as DIY theatre. Indie theatres are now connected via the internet in ways they’ve never been before. The people working within them now have a picture, at least anecdotally, of the national scene, and can see that indie work all over the country is filled with young people, women, and people of color, both as creators and consumers.” It goes on to note: “We don’t, however, care to look at the indie scene.Because we ignore and undervalue indie theatre, we imagine we’re discussing issues in “theatre” when what we’re actually discussing is a particular segment of theatre—one from which women, young people, and people of color are largely shut out.”. What AEA wants to do is destroy indie theatre — and in the process, they are reducing the opportunities for women, young people, and people of color to grow in theatre (and this from a union that protested photoshopping a civil rights protest photo (inadvertently) because they are pro-civil rights. Are you a Los Angeles AEA member? You know what you need to do. Vote “no”, so we can work together to create the change the LA theatre community needs.

 

When Perceived Reality Isn’t

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 22, 2015 @ 8:14 am PDT

Doubt (Repertory East)userpic=repeastWhat is reality?

That’s an interesting question. We often think reality is what we see with our eyes, what eyewitnesses tell us. But is that reality? Is that the truth? Perhaps, as Harry Nillsson wrote in The Point, we “see what you want to see, and hear what you want to hear.” This was on my mind as I drove to last night’s show, especially as I was listening to a recent Quirks and Quarks on the subject of implanting false criminal memories. What was the show? Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley (FB), which is running at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall through April 4, 2015.

Now, I’ve seen Doubt before. In fact, I saw it almost exactly 10 years ago at the Pasadena Playhouse, in the West Coast premiere production starring Linda Hunt as Sister Aloysious  and Jonathan Cake as Father Flynn. I remember coming out of that production thinking that this was what theatre should be — drama that makes you think and question, and get insights you might not have seen before. I still think that. That production also seared an image of Doubt in my head: the tall and thin priest (Cake is 6’3″) against the small and feisty nun (Hunt is 4’9″). I’ll note I also saw that production of Doubt on the day John Paul II died, and when all the accusations against priests were in the news.  All these combined to lead me to the conclusion that ultimate guilt of the main characters was evenly divided — I couldn’t tell you if Father Flynn had done what was claimed.

Perhaps at this point I should tell you the story of Doubt. The following is an edited synopsis from what was on Wikipedia: The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964. It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, a beloved and progressive parish priest, addressing the importance of uncertainty. The school’s principal, Sister Aloysius, a rigidly conservative nun insists upon constant vigilance. During a meeting with a younger nun, Sister James, it becomes clear that Aloysius harbors a deep mistrust toward her students, her fellow teachers, and society in general. Naïve and impressionable, James is easily upset by Aloysius’s severe manner and harsh criticism. Aloysius requests that James report to her any odd or suspicious interactions between Father Flynn and the students. Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns from Sister James that the priest met one-on-one with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’ first African-American student. After a one-on-one meeting with Muller in the rectory, Muller returned with an odd look on his face, an alcohol on his breath. Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred. In a private meeting purportedly regarding the Christmas pageant, Aloysius, in the presence of Sister James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. He angrily denies wrongdoing, insisting that he was disciplining Donald for drinking altar wine, claiming to have been protecting the boy from harsher punishment. James is relieved by his explanation. Flynn’s next sermon is on the evils of gossip. Aloysius, dissatisfied with Flynn’s story, meets with Donald’s mother, Mrs. Muller. Despite Aloysius’s attempts to shock her, Mrs. Muller says she supports her son’s relationship with Flynn. She ignores Aloysius’s accusations, noting she’ll look the other way on anything because they only need to make it to graduation in June. Before departing, she hints that Donald may be “that way”, and that Mr. Muller may be beating him consequently. Father Flynn eventually threatens to remove Aloysius from her position if she does not back down. Aloysius informs him that she previously phoned the last parish he was assigned to, discovering a history of past infringements. After declaring his innocence, the priest begins to plead with her, at which point she blackmails him and demands that he resign immediately, or else she will publicly disgrace him with his history. She then leaves the office, disgusted. Flynn calls the bishop to apply for a transfer, where, later, he receives a promotion and is instated as pastor of a nearby parochial school. Learning this, Aloysius reveals to Sister James that the decisive phone call was a fabrication. As a result of this, she is left with great doubt in herself and her faith. With no actual proof that Father Flynn is or is not innocent, the audience is left with its own doubt.

This time I came into the show in a very different state of mind. I’ve been deeply involved in the battle between AEA and Los Angeles actors. I had just been listening to the show on implanted false memories. The presentation dynamic was also different. The REP production starred Georgan George (FB) as Sister Aloysius and Jeff Johnson/FB as Father Flynn. In contrast to Hunt’s tiny powerhouse, George was tall and thin — but equally determined. Johnson wasn’t like Cake either; whereas Cake was tall and Irish, Johnson was… the word that comes to mind is “avuncular.” Rounder and friendlier and seemingly more accessible. This left me with the conclusion — much more so than 10 years ago — that Aloysius was on a witch hunt. She was out to get the man based on a first time impression and a dislike of the changes he was bringing to her church. Those changes took many forms — the Vatican II changes, the change in relationship between Fathers and Nuns, and the changes in society. She didn’t like them, and she didn’t like this man (e.g., “I say it is spinach, and I don’t like it”). Her determination was that of a Republican congressman against President Obama — that of a conspiracy theorist who has aligned the facts to fit their particular version of the story, and any other explanation is just a ruse created by the other side.

The fact that I came away — again — with this impression is a testament to the performance of George (FB) as Aloysius, Johnson/FB as Flynn, and Alli Kelly (FB) as Sister James. George believably gave off that aura of righteous conviction, of someone who truly believed that she was right and how she perceived what she saw to be the truth (which made her doubt at the end even more powerful). Johnson, as I noted before, gave off that avuncular vibe, which made his anger and capitulation at the end even more powerful. Kelly, who provided the innocence factor, truly gave off the joy she felt when teaching her students, and equally radiated pain when forced to do Aloysius’ dirty work and work against the students and Father Flynn. She just wanted to teach. Rounding out the cast was Cherrelle éLan (FB) as Mrs. Muller.  Although she only appeared in one scene, éLan (FB) left the impression of the modern (that is, 1960s) African-American woman in the Jackie Kennedy mode — she didn’t want to rock the boat; she wanted to integrate into her community and not make waves. Great performances, all. I’ll note you can see these actors in action in the trailer that REP produced, which is up on YouTube.

Doubt was directed by Mark Kaplan (FB). I was going to comment on the dissonance created by having a Jewish director create the world of a heavily Catholic school, but I didn’t see it. The way the actors portrayed the scenes felt realistic to me. But then again, what do I know — Mark and I come from the same backgrounds! I do wonder how much the director can adjust the portrayals in this show to lead the audience one way or the other — in a sense, implanting their own layer of false memory on top of the situation. It is an interesting question, but I don’t know how I would just. All I know is I enjoyed the show. Kaplan was assisted in his directoral duties by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB).

On the technical side, there was the usual REP excellence. Scenic Design was by the REP’s artistic and executive directors, Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and presented a realistic principal’s office and courtyard. Sound design was by REP resident designer Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB; I particularly noted the directionality of the bird sounds. Nice. Lighting was by REP resident designer Tim Christianson/FB and conveyed the mood well. Costume Design was by Janet McAnany (FB); my only question was whether the clerical vestments were correct — but not being Catholic, I have no way to judge. They were close enough for Government work, and I do Government work. J. T. Centonze (FB) was the stage manager.

Doubt” continues at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall through April 4, 2015. The production I saw was only half-full — and this show deserves better. Everyone should come out and see this excellent story and this excellent cast. REP is offering half-price tickets through their Facebook page; there’s a half-price offer on their main page,  and tickets are up on Goldstar.  There’s no excuse to not go see this show — it is less expensive than a movie, and you get to see some really good people (and the people on stage aren’t half-bad either :-) ). Call (661) 288-0000 or visit the REP website for tickets. P.S.: Note also that the next REP show has changed back to what was originally planned, as REP finally got the rights to “Dinner with Friends“, which will run May 8 through June 6. REP will also be holding a fundraiser, “Law & Order: REP”, on June 20.

Pro99 - Vote No NowIf you’ve been reading my write-ups of late, you’ll know I’ve been tying each one to the battle between AEA and Los Angeles actors. Going in, I was going to write something about how REP is an example of what 99 seat theatre can be. But during the show — specifically, during the scene between Sister James and Father Flynn in the courtyard — I was struck with a realization. The story of Doubt is the story of this battle. Sister Aloysius is Actors Equity. They’ve heard a story — they’ve seen a thing or two — they’ve heard a rumor — and they have become deeply suspicious of the producers and actors in Los Angeles. They believe their view of the world is the only view of the world, and they will stop at nothing to get their way. They will slant the facts, they will implant misleading or false stories, they will create innuendo and gossip — all for the sole purpose of keeping the world they want it to be. The actor/producers and producers in Los Angeles are Father Flynn. Friendly and willing to work with everyone, out for the joy of making the world a better place. They are simply trying to do this, but keep having to rebut the false claims and mistrust of Sister A./AEA. The actors are Sister James.  They are in this for the joy of what they do, and they simply want to be able to do it. To be able to teach (act) and spread the joy that teaching (acting) brings to them to the world. The audience is Donald Muller — unseen on the stage, but impacted in so many ways by the witch-hunt of Sister A. (AEA). Now that I’ve presented this analogy, I urge you to go see Doubt at REP East, and I think you’ll agree. AEA is on an unfounded witch hunt.

I’ll wait while you see the show. […] Did you enjoy it?

So what can we do — the Donald Mullers of the world — against Sister Alyosius (AEA). We’re not being molested by the priest; there is a great working relationship between us, Sister James (the local actors), and the priest (producers). But the Sister (AEA) is on a witch hunt to bring us down. I’ll tell you what we can do: We can have a backbone, and stand up to the bullies! If you are free Monday afternoon, 3/23, go out and march with the actors on AEA headquarters. Encourage the AEA actors you know to vote “no” on this proposal. Learn about the situation through the information on Bitter Lemons, through the I Love 99 website, and the I Love 99 Facebook group. Don’t let AEA mislead you and distract you, and make you see something that isn’t there. We want change, but not this change (and a “yes” vote will bring the change we don’t want — it will get Father Flynn transferred).

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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: March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to a show on the weekend of Pesach, but unless something really calls to me, it is unlikely). The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Weekend Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 21, 2015 @ 2:59 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday — the day I pull down all those URL links that have been seasoning all week, and assemble them together with some potatoes and veggies and make some tasty news chum stew. I hope you’re hungry — we’ve got a lot of twofers in here:

 

What A Musical Is Supposed To Do

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 21, 2015 @ 9:59 am PDT

The Drowsy Chaperone (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunNear the end of The Drowsy Chaperone, the Man in Chair (who has been the guide throughout the show) notes that, while The Drowsy Chaperone isn’t a perfect show, it does what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world, it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue. Last night, during the CSUN Theatre Arts Department‘s production of Drowsy, this line really hit me. Drowsy Chaperone is really the perfect palate cleanser between the heavy message of last week’s Carrie: The Musical and tonight’s production of Doubt at REP East (FB). Drowsy Chaperone is a musical I love — it is one of the funniest musicals around (especially if you are a regular theatregoer): it makes fun of musical conventions and audiences, and pretty much everything. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and yes — it chases your blues away.

Last night’s show, which was the first of three performances of CSUN students in the Great Hall at VPAC was astounding in many ways. First, it is using the Great Hall as it really should be used — as a venue for live theatre and musicals. The Great Hall is normally concert performances ala the Broad and similar venues, but it works so well for theatre. There had once been talk about doing some CTG programming there but that never happens. Having occasional two weekend shows there would be remarkable. Even better than that, the Great Hall was being used — for the first time — for a student production musical [ETA: Corrected: The music department put on “Carmen”, and there have been instrumental ensemble productions]. If you haven’t discovered CSUN Theatre Arts, you’re missing something. We’ve seen a number of CSUN shows before — Hair back in 2006, Bat Boy in late 2014 — and this department just shines with its talent and quality. Last night was no exception: this production was (at the talent and performance level) equal to — if not better than — the production we saw back in 2008 at the Ahmanson. I’ve heard rumors that CSUN will be doing Urinetown in the fall — yet another production I love. Expect to see that on my schedule.

For those unfamiliar with The Drowsy Chaperone, here’s how I summarized it back in 2008 [I’m all for adaptive reuse]: The Drowsy Chaperone is hard show to describe, although the subtitle actually describes it best: “A Musical Within A Comedy”. As with “Curtains”, Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to musical theatre of yesteryear, told through the eyes of a character named, uhh, “Man In Chair”. To escape from his unspecific sadness, he plays his favorite musical record: The 1928 Gable-Stine Musical “The Drowsy Chaperone”, which comes to life in his living room. That musical is a silly farce about an actress leaving the stage to marry her true love, the producer who doesn’t want her to leave, and the various hijinks that lead to the wedding. After all, this is a 1920’s musical: you really expect a coherent plot? The story exists solely to connect the songs. Anyway, the characters in this musical are the ditsy Mrs. Tottendale (host of the wedding), her butler Underling, the groom Robert Martin, his best man George, the producer Feldzieg and his chorine Kitty, two gangsters, the handsome leading man Adolfo, the bride Janet Van De Graaff, her chaperone, and Trix, the Aviatrix.

The backstory behind this musical is equally interesting. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it, edited a little: The Drowsy Chaperone started in 1997, when Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and several friends created a spoof of old musicals for the stag party of Bob Martin (FB) and Janet van de Graaf (FB). In its first incarnation, there was no Man in Chair, the musical styles ranged from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the jokes were more risqué. It was later reshaped for the Toronto Fringe Festival, when the Man in Chair was added. Following the Fringe staging, there was an expanded production at Toronto’s 160-seat, independent Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999, followed by a full-scale version at Toronto’s 1000-seat Winter Garden Theatre. This caught the eye of more producers, including the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, which led to a 2005 engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, followed by a Broadway opening in 2006.

This show is much more than the story. It is a love letter to musical theatre. From it’s opening line “I hate theatre” — it just telegraphs this message. All the asides by the Man in Chair are commentaries on society, on theatre conventions, on the silliness of the shows from the 1920s through 1940s, on the over-seriousness of the shows today. Theatre audiences are equally skewered by the Man in Chair, as are stereotypes. This is one of the funniest shows — I had forgotten how hilarious it was (and I normally don’t laugh at shows). I should note, if you didn’t know it before, that the show has music and lyrics by the aforementioned Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and book by Bob Martin (FB) and Don McKellar.

This CSUN student production featured professional quality performances. The faculty leadership team — Kari Hayter (FB) (direction and choreography), David Aks (FB) (musical direction), and Christopher M. Albrecht (FB) (associate choreographer) did a great job of shaping these students into a professional team. You couldn’t see the hand of their leadership, but it was evident in the overall quality and movement and joy the actors displayed.

In the lead position was Daniel Bellusci (FB) as the Man in Chair. We should have seen Bellusci before — he’s a product of Nobel Middle School (where our daughter went in the early days of their theatre program) and he was music director for two shows there. Alas, we missed the shows he was in. No big matter. He was perfect last night — infectuous, joyful, and completely in love with what he was doing on stage. I always believe that actors who are comfortable with their roles and who are enjoying their characters telegraph that enjoyment to the audience, and this was no exception. Keep your eye on this young man — both in the show and in his career.

In the lead positions for the show-in-show were Steven Brogan/FB as Robert Martin and Skye Privat (FB) as Janet Van De Graff.  Brogan had the charm and voice to handle his numbers with ease, and he was a delight with his tap dancing in “Cold Feet”. Privat was remarkable as Van De Graff, and was particularly enjoyable in her signature number, “Show Off”. This young lady could belt and dance and act, all the while telegraphing the fun she was having onstage.

There are loads of supporting positions, so let’s do these by couples. First, there is the titlular character, the Drowsy Chaperone, played by Brooke Van Grinsven (FB). I’ve seen Van Grinsven recently in Bard Fiction, and she was even better here. Strong singing, strong movement, strong comedy — and (modulo some microphone problems) belted her way wonderfully through “As We Stumble Along”. The other half of her pair (at least by the time the show ends) is the buffoonish Aldolpho, played by Nick Bruno/FB. Bruno has great comic chops and timing, and handled his number, “I Am Adolpho” with comic aplomb. Our next couple is Mrs. Tottendale and Underling. Mrs. Tottendale, played by Valerie Gould/FB, captured the older, ditsy nature of the character well. She was particularly funny in her spit-take scenes with Underling, , and delightful in the opening number “Fancy Dress” as well as “Love is Always Lovely in the End”. Her foil, Underling (played by Lance Amann/FB), captured the all-knowing puts-up-with-everything servant well, and was strong in his shared numbers with Gould.

This brings us to the gangster side of the equation. As the producer, Mr. Feldzieg, Shad Willingham (FB) had the authority and worry down well, and had good comic timing with his leading ladies and the gangster duo. I had guessed he was older than the other students — I was proven right when the linking for the review showed that he is one of the instructors. Playing off Feldzeig was Amanda Godepski (FB) as Kitty. Godepski was a powerhouse comic and singer in a small package. Lastly, playing the Tall Brothers playing the gangsters impersonating pastry chefs were John Bernos (FB) and Matthew Kesner/FB. These two young men demonstrated good comic timing. All four were strong in their shared number “Toledo Surprise”.

Rounding out the cast, in smaller roles, were Jared Tkocz/FB as George, Khylan Jones (FB) as Trix, and Harrison Seeley/FB as the Super. Tkocz was strong in his number with Brogan, “Cold Feet”, and Jones had a remarkable voice in her main number, “I Do, I Do in the Sky”. The ensemble behind all the numbers consisted of: Evelyn Onyango/FB, Rachael Johnson/FB, Brittany Williams/FB, Jessamyn Arnstein (FB), Alissa Finn/FB, Emily Blanco (FB), Logan Allison/FB, Hyungwoo Jang/FB, Felix Valle/FB, Alexander Cody Phaphol (FB), Robert Collins/FB, and Harrison Seeley/FB.

Music was provided by the Drowsy Chaperone Orchestra, under the direction of David Aks (FB). The orchestra consisted of Justin Yun/FB, Jeff Brown/FB, James Walker/FB, Alec Olson/FB on Reeds; Garek Najita/FB, Michael Guttierez/FB, and Nolan Markey/FB on Trumpet, Ryan Ruder/FB on Trombone, Peter Shannon on Piano, Lindsay Aldana/FB on Synthesizer, Mary Duffy/FB on Bass, Eli McDonald/FB on Drums, and Lindsay Eastham/FB on Percussion.

Turning to the technical side. The sound design was by Michael Zeigler was generally clear and crisp, however a few actors had microphone problems, and I’m not sure the spit take did the equipment any good. The lighting design by Nick McCord created the mood without intruding. The scenic design of François-Pierre Couture was nothing like the 2008 Ahmanson design with people coming out of refrigerators and beds opening up. The apartment set was realistic and worked; the remainder of the set was mostly scaffolding and stairs, combined with some very effective projections. Costumes were by Elizabeth A. Cox and were extremely effective. Geoffrey Stirling/FB was the stage manager.

The Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN has two more performances: tonight at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Tickets should be available at the on-site box office, as well as by calling 818/677-2488. Go see it. You’ll be astounded.

Pro99 - Vote No NowOur theatre stars of tomorrow get their starts in college productions such as The Drowsy Chaperone. The subsequently hone their skills working alongside AEA actors in Los Angeles’ wonderful 99 seat and under theatre scene. Their ability to do so is seriously threatened by the recent AEA proposal that would require most 99 seat and under theatres to pay minimum wage (along with the concurrent employer taxes and pension benefits and union fees) to AEA actors for fixed minimum rehearsal times and performance times. This would force many theaters to go non-union (because they are already losing money as is), and would derive new actors from the learning experience. KEEP LOS ANGELES INTIMATE THEATRES ALIVE AND VIBRANT. If you are an AEA actor, vote “No” on the proposal when you see it. If you are activist, join the march on AEA Western HQ on Monday, 3/23. Find out more information at http://www.ilove99.org/.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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: Tonight brings “Doubt” at REP East (FB). March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things (including our annual drum corps show). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

My Father: A Remembrance (2015)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 19, 2015 @ 2:24 pm PDT

userpic=father-and-son

Every year on my dad’s birthday I post a remembrance that I wrote the day after he died in 2004. Today he would have been 93. As I wrote last year: As I get older, I see more and more of my father in me — and I like what I see, and I’m grateful he gave so much to me that makes me who I am.

My father was born in Flushing NY in 1922. He was the eldest of four brothers; the son of a tailor who lived over his shop. I can’t give you too many details of the early days; Uncle Herbert can (and perhaps he will reply to this post and do so). His mother died young, when he was in his twenties, and sometime thereafter, his family moved to Los Angeles (how’s that for glossing over details). My dad went to Southwestern School of Accounting, and was a Public Accountant. He married his first wife in the late 1940s, and my brother was born in 1952. He loved my brother very, very much. He divorced that wife in 1955, and retained custody of my brother. He married my mother in 1956, and I was born in 1960. My mother was a CPA, so they formed an accounting company of their own, Faigin and Faigin. My brother died, reportedly due to an accident (I never knew the true details) in 1970. It devistated both my parents. My mother died in 1990 on my wedding anniversary. My father remarried a year or so later to Rae, who had lost her husband. This brought me some new wonderful family members. This should bring you up to date on the familial backstory.

So, who was my dad, and what do I remember. This is a jagged collection of memories.

I remember being in Indian Guides with him, painting rocks and bark to invite people to meetings. I remember going on Indian Guide campouts with him. It is because of this that I did Indian Princesses with my daughter, continuing the tradition. I recommend this program to anyone who is a dad.

I remember going on trips with him to East Los Angeles, to visit his clients. We would hit small mom and pop grocery stores, mexican candy companies. I’d always get sweets… and get to sort the paid bills afterwards.

I remember him taking the time to be with me.

I remember him telling bad jokes, and being enamored with old-time radio stars, such as Al Jolsen (his favorite), Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, and so on.

I remember his teeth. Specifically, I remember how he would remove his dentures just to gross out us kids.

I remember him taking me to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion to see musicals, starting in 1972 when my mother was too sick to attend The Rothschilds. From this came my love of musicals.

I remember him reading Robert W. Service to me, especially Bessies Boil.

I remember him, at the Passover Seder, reading the Four Sons. He loved to act, mug, and play with his voice to make a point during the story.

I remember him being active in the Masons and the Shriners, especially with his good friend, Raymond Schwartz. I remember him going to the Masonic Picnics.

I remember him playing bridge with my mom and their friends, the Cohens, the Schwartzes, and the Strausses. Perhaps this is where I got my love of gaming.

I remember him telling stories of his time in the Navy, when he was a pharmacists mate, 2nd class, at Camp Elliott, which is now part of Mirimar NAS in San Diego. He found it ironic that he was in the Navy, as he could never swim.

I remember his disorganized tool-bench, where eventually you could find what you need. I still have his 30 year old power drill, which I still use today.

I remember him taking care of my mother as she died of cancer, and fiercely defending her when we would fight.

In his later years, I remember him fighting with the computer, and eventually learning to use it and to use Email. However, he could never quite get the printer figured out. I would get calls from him that stuff wasn’t printing, and it was because he had been playing with the printer queue again.

I remember him cooking. He loved to cook peppers and onions in olive oil. He made a mean spaghetti sauce, and a great pot roast in tomatoe sauce. Rae says that I got my cooking skills from him, with which I must agree, as I don’t think my mom could cook.

I remember him collecting autographs and first day covers. For many, he would frame them and put them all over the walls.

I remember his love of baseball, which never rubbed off.

I remember him taking pictures. And more pictures. And more pictures. And still more pictures. I’ll probably find about 50 cameras at the house, together with probably 200 photo albums. In particular, I remember a few specific cameras: His Konica T-3 SLR, which I have. His Fuji POS, which he received at a special party my mother threw for him at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

I remember him loving fountain pens, just like me. He had boxes of pens, and even more ink. He’s the only man I know that has a quart bottle of Schaeffer Black Quink Ink in his supply closet. There are about 6 bottles of ink on his desk (I only have 3).

I remember him being a luddite when it comes to computerizing financies. I’m going to have loads of two-peg journal books to go through to figure out stocks and bank accounts.

I remember him being a packrat. He collected office supplies. He collected biographical books. He collected CDs. You name it, he collected it.

I remember him being a good friend and caring about other people. After my mother died and he remarried, his new wife’s children were treated the same as his natural children, with the same love. He was a second grandfather to my sister-in-law’s children. He was there when people needed him. Until his last year, he volunteered to help seniors with their taxes.

For many years, I remember him being a staunch Republican, going counter to my mother, the strong liberal. I remember him backing Nixon and Reagan. This year [nb: this was written in 2004], however, had he been strong enough, he was going to vote for John Kerry.

I remember him being a people person. He would just light up when he was around people, especially those that hadn’t heard his stories before.

I remember him being there for me and my family. We spoke weekly on the phone, something I will miss, talking about everything. He had good advice, which I grew to respect as I got older. To the youngsters reading this: listen to your parents. They’ve been their and made the same mistakes. They do know what they are talking about.

I remember his love for his granddaughter. He had pictures of her everywhere, and she loved him. I remember him taking her to Disneyland when she was three, and being there in the hospital when she had her open heart surgery at the age of four.

I remember his love for his family. He enjoyed spending time with his brothers, Herbert, Ronald, and Tom, and researching family history. When my daughter was little, we picked up a copy of Grandfather Remembers and gave it to him. He filled it out, and now it is a lasting memory for her of her grandfather. To those of you who are grandparents: take the time now to write out your memories for your grandchildren. Record an oral history. Annotate your photo albums. It is worth the time. You will create that memory that will outlive you.

I remember how he loved Yiddish and Yiddish stories. I remember him reading the Freiheit.

I remember (or have discovered) how he loved his wives. I remember how he loved my mother, Nancy, even through the depths of her depression, her anger, her rages, her illnesses. I remember how he rarely lost his temper (and when he did, you needed to worry). I remember when he first told me he had met Rae, and how they quickly grew to love each other. Even though there was an age difference there, I saw the deep affection that existed between them. He chose well.

I remember how he touched people. A few months ago, I went to a funeral that was packed to the gills of people who loved the deceased. My father had friends all over the world, and helped many people.

In short, I remember a deeply caring man, who I really think was responsible for making me the way I am today (both for good and for bad). He does live on in me, and I think he lives on in my daughter as well. As long as we remember someone, they never die.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesP.S. In the above, you’ll note that my father introduced me to theatre back in 1972 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. I don’t know if he ever went to 99 seat theatre when he was alive; I think he was out of theatre mode other than dinner theatre by the time of the 99-seat explosion. But I think he would have loved the small theatre for the closeness and being with the actors. Whereas the big shows were affordable back in the 1970s, they aren’t now. 99 seat theatre is needed to grow new audiences. You can read my full thoughts on that here, but for now — AEA members, please vote down the 99 seat proposal from AEA. We need change, but not this change.

Understanding Your Customer

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 17, 2015 @ 11:38 am PDT

Pro99 - Vote No Nowuserpic=theatre_musicalsOne of the most important adages on the Internet is: “If you are using a website for free, you are not the customer… you are the product being sold.” The emphasis here is on understanding who the customer really is. If you are going to sell a product — and create a business selling a product — you must know who your customers are (and ensure you will get more). I’m bringing this up because (a) it is lunchtime (when I can write about ideas), (b) two articles came across my RSS feeds that put the brain in motion, and (c) I’ve got the whole 99 seat discussions that have been going on in my mind. As you know, I’ve been very involved in those discussions, and have been trying to bring the audience viewpoint to them.

The first article was actually a line in a piece by Jay McAdams of 24th Street Theatre on Bitter Lemons: “If you’d of asked anybody in the theatre community last spring what the biggest problem facing 99-seat theatre was, almost everyone would have said lack of audience. Most would have pointed out the need for some sort of large scale marketing campaign to let the world know what LA theatre artists have long professed; that LA is indeed a theatre town.”

The second article was a much more detailed piece by Ken Davenport over at the Producers Perspective that explored the demographics of the Broadway touring audience. This article noted statistics such as:

  • The average age of the Touring Broadway theatregoer was 53 years.
  • Ninety-two percent of Touring Broadway theatregoers were Caucasian.
  • Seventy-six percent of the audience held a college degree and 34% held a graduate degree.
  • Forty-nine percent of national theatregoers reported an annual household income of more than $100,000, compared to only 22% of Americans overall.
  • Women continued to be more likely than men to make the decision to purchase theatre tickets.
  • The most commonly cited sources for show selection (other than being part of the subscription) were: the music, personal recommendation, Tony Awards and articles written about the show.
  • Sixty-two percent of the audience said that some kind of incentive would encourage them to attend theatre more frequently, such as discounts or special perks.
  • Nearly three quarters of respondents said they used Facebook.
  • Theatregoers said that the most effective type of advertising was an email from the show or presenter.

In Los Angeles, this equates to the audience you would find at the Pantages or the Ahmanson. I subscribe at the Colony, and in the past have subscribed at the Pasadena Playhouse. When I go there, what do I see? Again — an older, caucasian, wealthier audience. We feel young — and we’re 55! Even when I go to Cabrillo Music Theatre — a regional house — what do I see: an older audience. I’d even be willing to bet you’ll find similar audiences if you look at regional community theatres that do similar programming: Glendale Center Theatre, Canyon Theatre Guild, etc.

I’ll scream the point of the above: IF OUR AUDIENCE REMAINS OLD AND WHITE, THE FUTURE OF THEATRE IS BLEAK. Don’t believe me? Where is the audience for full opera today?

On the other hand, I subscribe at Repertory East Playhouse, an 81 seat theatre in Newhall that falls on the intimate scale. The audience I see there has a broader mix: young adults (in their 20s-40s). I go to theatres in NoHo and Hollywood and West LA. Again, a much younger — and much more diverse audience. Here’s the message to shout regarding this: INTIMATE THEATRE DRAWS A YOUNGER AUDIENCE DUE TO PRICE AND EDGIER SHOWS.

Now, to bring everything together as lunchtime is coming to a close (and I need to present in under an hour): What will be the impact if the AEA proposal passes? (1) Ticket prices will go up and discounts will go away as theatres have to cover the additional costs of AEA actors, (b) edgier shows will be eschewed in favor of safer fare that will bring in paying audiences; and (c) those safe audiences will be wealther and courted to provide increased donations to cover increased costs. A vicious circle will be created and… let me shout the net effect: WE WILL GIVE UP CREATING NEW AUDIENCES FOR LIVE THEATRE IN FAVOR OF THE WEALTHY, NEARLY DEAD AUDIENCE.

Just a little salad left: The conclusion of this is that AEA is shooting itself in the foot: By destroying the potential of the new audience, 20-30 years down the road, there will be no one to pay to see AEA actors in large AEA shows. So not only is an approach like the 99 seat plan (which does need updating) an incubator for authors, designers, and actors, it is an incubator for new audiences.

Remember folks: without an audience, actors are simply bloggers in the wind.