California Highway Headlines for March 2017

The adage is that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. Here in Southern California that is proving to be true. We started the month with the atmospheric river in full force; we’re going out with 90°F days in the San Fernando Valley. Gotta love California. Here are your highway headlines for last month:

  • Part of Route 66 in Mojave Desert to be closed until mid-September. A portion of Route 66 that runs through the Mojave Desert just east of Amboy, California, will be closed through mid-September because of bridge construction.
  • HONK: CHP has a nifty number for the public. Q: There is an easy way to remember a non-emergency number for the California Highway Patrol –1-800-TELL-CHP. Years back, I saw the number on a freeway sign. I don’t even remember the context, but the number has always stuck with me.
  • Marin looks at using Highway 101 shoulders for buses. Marin transportation officials want to be part of a pilot program that would allow buses to use freeway shoulders to speed travel times, an alignment that has been used successfully in other parts of the country. During commute hours, buses can become tangled in traffic as they cross lanes to get to bus stops on the right side of Highway 101, then cross back over to get back to a carpool lane on the far left of the freeway.
  • Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier completion date set. A date has been set for completion of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge district last month issued a notice to proceed with the project and is now targeting Jan. 12, 2021, as the date to finish it. Work has already begun.

Read More …

Share

Fears and Frailty

We all have fears. Some find strength in them. Some let them shape their lives.

Fear, thy name is Apple.

This post, of course, is brought to you by the letters “i”, “t”, “u”, “n”, “e”, and “s”. Put them together, and they spell “iTunes” — the reason for this musing, especially after reading an article titled “How iTunes built, and then broke, my meticulous music-listening system“. I’m one of those folks: curing my iTunes library, making sure the meta-data is right, the album art reflects the version of the album I have — for all of my 40,000+ songs (yes, I’ve crossed the 40K song mark). Although the article discusses the problem of iTunes with newer devices, I’m dependent on the software to sync with my modded iPod Classic (512GB storage). I’ve even stayed on iTunes 11, because I know that will work with the device. I will never get an iPhone, because that would mean upgrading iTunes — and we all know that will spell doom.

So what are my fears?

Well, my iPods could die. I’d still have the music of course: tracks lovingly downloaded, ripped from CDs, recorded by hand from LPs, extracted from videos. Most of the music not available elsewhere digitally. But that’s why I have a backup iPod Classic. Primero and Segundo. Prime.

But what if iTunes 11 no longer works when I move eventually to Windows 10. How will I sync my music? How will I move everything to another library system. I really do not want my music in the cloud. There are so many places where streaming just does not work. Not to mention, of course, that it is MY music. I paid for it, I should be the only one to control it.

That, by the way, is why I tend to buy digital music from Amazon, but not use Amazon Music.

This brings us to the problem with MP3 download collections. Unlike CDs or LPs, there’s nothing tangible. Nothing to pass on. It is in a fixed format that might not be supported in the future. Then what? Pay for your music again, if you can find it. I can still listen to LPs from almost 80 years ago (alas, I can’t deal with 78s). We can still listen to CDs from 30 years ago. 30 years ago, the MP3 format didn’t exist.

30 years from now, how will we listen to our expensive MP3 downloads? We will probably still be able to find CD players (although forget those CD-ROMs you recorded — they’re likely toast now). We’ll find the cassette players, and LP players. But will our computers still be able to play MP3s? Ask yourself this: Could you open a Wordstar file?

So a big fear of my: My music won’t age well with me. Of course, in 30 years I’ll be 87. I probably will have forgotten how to use a computer. Hopefully, my iPod Classics will still be working 🙂

Share

The Past, It Is Just History

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like posts about interesting transitions. I’ve been accumulating the following articles on transitions for a while, so let’s take a walk through memory lane:

  • Earthquake Panorama. The Northridge Earthquake was almost 25 ago. Since then we’ve moved from near Panorama City to Northridge, and almost all the damage has been repaired. But there’s been one building — a blighted high-rise near Roscoe and Van Nuys that has remained standing and unoccupied. Not for much longer, though. Plans have finally been announced for redevelopment of the 1962 Welton Becket designed building. It is going to become housing and retail, with an “open mall” next door. But that’s not all. A large mixed use project on the site of the former Montgomery Ward department store is also in the works, while the recent purchase of the Panorama Mall by Primestor Development has inspired speculation that a major overhaul of the shopping center could be on the way.
  • Albertsons and Sprouts. Talk about a mixed marriage! Evidently, Albertsons and Sprouts are in merger talks. This would be Albertsons (parent of Safeway) buying Sprouts, putting Sprouts in a better pricing tier and meaning more bad news for Whole Paycheck. Here are the details from Bloomberg.
  • Downtown Redevelopment. Panorama City isn’t the only place being redeveloped. There are big plans for Downtown LA, or in newspeak, DTLA. Parker Center would be replaced with a 27-story structure set to include around 713,000 square feet of office space, along with 37,000 square feet of street-level retail. A second office tower would be constructed at the site of the Los Angeles Mall, where one can currently find City Hall power players chowing down on chicken plates and sandwiches from Quizno’s. The project would include 545,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet of retail, and 80,000 square feet of flex space. There is no word on what will happen to the Triforium.
  • New Digs for Valley Outreach. Valley Outreach Synagogue finally has a home. On March 19, in a ceremony 32 years in the making, 400 VOS members attended the grand opening of the Valley Outreach Synagogue and Center for Jewish Life in Calabasas. Formerly a warehouse, the 15,000-square-foot facility, located at 26670 Agoura Road, has a library, a coffee bar, offices and a Meeting and Learning Center. Its high-ceilinged sanctuary seats 500 and features three flat-screens on the walls as well as a Jerusalem limestone-lined ark housing four newly donated Torah scrolls.
  • Dancing the Airport Boogie. Are you ready to dance? Come May, if you fly a number of airlines in/out of LAX, you might need to. There’s going to be a gigantic gate shuffle, with Delta moving to Terminals 2/3, and most of who is in 2 and 3 moving hither and yon. Having been in Delta’s beautiful Terminal 5, the logos and style are going to be out of place for the folks moving in there.
  • Neon Museum Grows. Moving from LAX to LAS, there’s welcome news that the Neon Museum will be growing. They have acquired the ugly building next to them, will be tearing it down, and soon there will be more dead neon signs. Maybe even some new lit ones. Makes me want to go back to Vegas.
  • Remembering TWA. Dead neon is pretty. Dead buildings, less so. But we still have the unfinished Fontainebleau in Vegas, where the Thunderbird used to be. Blame is squarely on Carl Icahn. But that’s not the only thing he killed. He also killed TWA, which was a great airline. I recall many a flight to STL on TW 91. Luckily, there’s a neat TWA museum in Kansas City. It even has a Carl Icahn Voodoo Doll.

 

Share

Losing the Battle

Well, I like to think I fought the good fight. I mean, I’m an old fart. Old habits die hard, and for the longest time I just kept using the term I was used to, even though it was politically incorrect. After all, I held on to other ideas that I believed were morally superior, only to watch them get discredited by the new-think, by people that didn’t know what was right was right, and what was wrong was wrong.

Eventually, though, I caved. I started using the updated politically correct term. People no longer looked at me funny, they no longer made fun of the way that I talk. As for my discredited ideas, well, I kept them to myself, lest I be made fun of. After all, in today’s world, you have to use the right terms and speak the right way and think the right things.

Right?

But then, of course, a new term came in for what I previously knew. I resisted, because resistance is good. After all, the new term was, to put it bluntly, stupid. It was idiotic. It didn’t refer to what they said it referred. But I forgot my Star Trek. Resistance is futile.

OK, “cyber“. You win. I mean, HelpNet even says as much.

I grew up in an era when it was “Computer Security” and COMPUSEC, when we believed we could write multi-level secure systems that provided high assurance. What did we get for our efforts? perl, and a High Assurance Brake Job.

Then it became “Information Assurance” and “Information Security“. A1 systems? Sorry, but A1 was reserved for steak.  Multi-level systems? They were for special uses; no one would write a general purpose MLS operating system. Formal Methods? Never in your wildest dreams — that’s Gypsy talk. Ina know about you, but I need some Jo.

But now? We have Cybersecurity and Cyber and Trustworthiness. We’ve lost the war. Here’s what HelpNet has to say:

We have lost the cyber war. No, not that cyber war. Maybe war of words is a better way to put it. Whether we like it or not, cyber has become the default way for everyone else to talk about what we do.

[…]

It’s tempting to take the moral high ground and refuse to engage with cyber. Instead, we could choose to refer only to information security because we believe it accurately reflects both physical documents as well as digital assets, while giving importance to each one.

It’s fair to say that some of the industry’s suspicion about cyber comes from the fact that it’s broad enough to cover the charlatans in the industry who think there’s a buck to be made by scaring people into stocking up on silver bullets instead of informing them in a responsible way about how security can help them to do business better.

[…]

But if you open a dictionary, you’ll find cybersecurity is the only term of its kind. One survey ranked information security as the least popular term among the general public, even lower than e-security.

e-Security? Well, at least I can be thankful that term didn’t win.

e-Security? Sheeesh.

Share

Be Careful What You Wish For

Over the weekend, I read an interesting article in the LA Times about how studios are currently shuffling leadership around as they attempt to adjust to the declining revenues of films in theatres. The explanation that was given was that the business model of the film industry is changing. The only “successful” movies on the big screen are the blockbuster tentpoles; the previous mid-market movies just are not succeeding in the theatres (although they do well on the smaller screen). The other “success” are the very low budget movies, but it is easy to make money on those with a modest success.

Well, duh.

This is a clear demonstration of being careful what you wish for, combined with not understanding the market. First, we have been pushing the quality of televisions up and up. We had HD, and UHD, and 4K, and even more. So for stories that are more slice of life, non-special effects, stories, why do I need to go to the theatre to see them. Further, I think filmmakers and actors are discovering that the 2-3 hour movie is limiting, and a story can be told with more depth of character as a 10 episode limited miniseries (which is also why you’re seeing more sequelitis).

So what will succeed?

Blockbusters work for a number of reasons: first, you need the big screen for the spectacle, the sound, and most importantly, the shared experience. If you are watching something where the mood of the audience will feed into the reaction, it works better when you watch surrounded by people.

What else? One word: Live.

Broadway musicals are growing because the live experience is different every time, it is a shared experience, and it is something that cannot be duplicated in the living room. “Live on Film”, such as the limited one-or-two time broadcasts of shows, can also be successful because of the limits. Live is why professional sports remain successful: the shared live experience is unique, and time sensitive.

Could this be why many big name studies have gotten into the Broadway show business?

Share

The Art of the Dance | “An American in Paris” @ Hollywood Pantages

An American in Paris (Pantages)At least Bob Fosse was honest about it.

At the beginning of Bob Fosse’s show Dancin’ many years ago, an actor came out on stage and said sometthing like: “If you are looking for any plot in this show, don’t bother. This show is about dance.” And it was. Spectacular dance.

Last night, we went to go see the tour of An American in Paris (FB) at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We went expecting to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. By this I mean that your traditional musical tells the story through the music and lyrics, with a bit of connecting dialogue. An American in Paris tells its story — spectacularly — through dance, with a bit of connecting dialogue (that was written by Craig Lucas). The actual timeless music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin? The lyrics really don’t matter to the story; the mood and the music and the rhythm — oh, that rhythm — propels the dance that gives life to the story. Paris is a city of light, of beauty, of style, of art. Substance? Have another baguette, let’s sit at the corner patisserie shop, and watch the people.

But this isn’t a bad thing.

If you’ve ever seen the 1951 MGM musical, you know the purpose of the film was not to tell a significant story, but to listen to glorious Gershwin music and watch Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance. Why should the stage show be any different? The stage adaptation of the movie plot adds a hint more of darkness, but the characters and the songs remain the same: three buddies, two Americans (Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg) and one French (Henri Baurel); one beautiful dancer (Lise Dassin); a wealthy art patron (Milo Davenport); and, well, who cares who else. The story is the scaffold on which the dance is built.

It should be no surprise, then, that the director and the choreographer of this show, Christopher Wheeldon (FB), are one and the same, and that Wheeldon is primarily a ballet artist. It should be no surprise that, reading the credits of the performers, that there is a very large emphasis on ballet skills. About the only surprise is that the program does not provide any credit to the tour medical and physical therapy team, who must be on their toes to keep these athletic dancers in tip-top shape. This is just a very physically demanding show,  8 times a week, on tour. The astounding physical skill to pull it off and not suffer stress injuries is remarkable, and the unnamed medical team who keep these professionals together behind the scenes deserves a lot of credit. [Luckily, my Google-Fu is strong, and it appears that the folks keeping these dancers together is NeuroSport (FB)]

All of the performers are strong singers and have great voices. All can emote well, and all inhabit and are having fun  with their lightly drawn characters. Remember — this isn’t a deep character drama. You have socialites, dancers, artists, and performers. Not a rocket scientist in the bunch. (Well, at least on stage. At our performance, there was at least one rocket scientist in the audience.)

In the lead positions at our show were Garen Scribner (FB) and Sara Esty (FB), as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, respectively (they alternate with Ryan Steele (FB) and Sara Esty’s twin sister, Leigh-Ann Esty (FB) (who is also a great photographer), who move from the ensemble to the leads at select Sunday performances). Both were spectacular dancers — their final ballet sequence in “An American in Paris” was truly spectacular.

Supporting our leads on the male side were Etai Benson (FB) as Adam Hochberg and Nick Spangler (FB) as Henri Baurel. Benson’s role involved a fair amount of dance, especially in “Stairway to Paradise” — but his role was more as narrator and as one of the vocal leads, which he handled quite well.  Spangler — who evidently won the Amazing Race in 2008 — who knew, but I follow Survivor — was also a strong singer and jazzy dancer, as demonstrated in the aforementioned “Stairway to Paradise” as well as the opening “I Got Rhythm”.

The secondary love interest, Milo Davenport, was played by Emily Ferranti (FB). Ferranti brought a lovely style and grace to the piece, and danced wonderfully in “Shall We Dance?”

There were a few other named characters, but they all dropped back into the ensemble at points (with the exception of Gayton Scott [Madame Baurel]) and were very lightly drawn. As usual, it is hard to single out the ensemble members, but I do want to note their wonderful athleticism and fluid movement was on display throughout, and that this is one show in particular that depends on the dancing ensemble: it is their talent, in group numbers like “An American In Paris”, that make this show the spectacular dance show that it is. This splendid dancing team consisted of the aforementioned Ryan Steele (FB) and Leigh-Ann Esty (FB); as well as Karolina Blonski (FB); Brittany Bohn (FB); Stephen Brower (FB); Randy Castillo (FB); Jessica Cohen (FB); Barton Cowperthwaite (FB) [also Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner]; Alexa De Barr (FB); Caitlin Meighan (FB) [also Returning Soldier’s Wife]; Alida Michal (FB); Don Noble (FB) [also Monsieur Baurel, Store Manager]; Alexandra Pernice (FB); David Prottas (FB); Lucas Segovia; Kyle Vaughn (FB) [also Mr. Z]; Laurie Wells (FB) [also Olga]; Dana Winkle (FB); Erica Wong (FB); and Blake Zelesnikar (FB). Swings were Jace Coronado (FB); Ashlee Dupre (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Erika Hebron (FB); Christopher M. Howard (FB) [Dance Captain]; Colby Q. Lindeman (FB); Nathalie Marrable (FB); Tom Mattingly (FB); Sayiga Eugene Peabody (FB); and Danielle Santos (FB). There were far too many understudy allocations to list them all here. The one thing that comes from hunting down the links of all these actors/dancers is the immense amount of dance and ballet talent in this group. This is why these dancers are so good — they have been working hard at it.

The orchestra was under the direction of music director and conductor David Andrews Rogers (FB). The other members were Brad Gardner (FB) (Assoc. Music Director, Keys); Ray Wong (FB) (Key 1, Piano); Henry Palkes (FB) (Keys 2); Katherine Fink (FB) (Reed 1); Tansie Mayer (FB) (Reed 2); Tom Colclough (FB) (Reed 3); Sam Oatts (FB) (Trumpet 1); Anthony DiMauro/FB (Trumpet 2); Dave Grott (FB) (Trombone); Susan French (FB) (Violin 1); Adrian Walker (FB) (Violin 2); Nick Donatelle (FB) (Cello); and Paul Hannah (Drums/Percussion). These were augmented by local performers Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin, Concertmaster); Adriana Zoppo (FB) (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach (FB) (Cello); Steve Kujala (FB) (Flute, Piccolo); Dick Mitchell (Flute, Clarinet); John Yoakum (FB) (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet); Marissa Benedict (FB) (Trumpet 2, Flugelhorn); Andy Martin (FB) (Trombone); Wade Culbreath (Percussion); David Witham (FB) (Keyboard Sub). Other music credits: Emily Grishman (Copying / Preparation); Seymour Red Press (Music Coordinator); Brian Miller (Orchestra Contractor). Orchestrations were by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott. Dance arrangements were by Sam Davis. Todd Ellison was the music supervisor. The Musical Score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rod Fisher.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative team. I’m going to combine the set and costume design of Bob Crowley and the Projection Design of 59 Productions together because they truly worked as a singular whole (hmmm, both are UK based, as is the director — odd for an AMERICAN in Paris 🙂 ). Anyway, this was another show that depended quite heavily on projections — the main scenic design elements, other than props and such, were various flats and mirrored surfaces upon which the projections were placed. These were animated and changing and extremely creative and .. well, in many ways, they were vital set elements of the overall design. This went to the costumes as well, especially as in the block-patterned American in Paris dance sequences, where the Mondrian-style color scheme of the set was repeated in the block primary color scheme of the ensemble’s costumes. This was all augmented by the lighting design of Natasha Katz (FB), which used scaffolds around the stage behind the proscenium, combined with two movers one on each side of the balcony (in other words, there wasn’t the universal array of Lekos and movers midway above the orchestra, and the follow-spot was by programming). The sound design of Jon Weston (FB) was unnoticeable, as a good sound design should be.  Rounding out the production credits were: Kenneth J. Davis (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Rick Steiger (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Troika Entertainment / Laura Dieli (FB) [Production Manager]; Telsey + Company (FB) / Rachel Hoffman C.S.A. [Casting]; Dontee Kiehn (FB) [Associate Director / Choreographer]; Sean Maurice Kelly (FB) [Associate Choreographer / Resident Manager]; Donvan Dolan (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Lori Byars [Asst. Stage Manager]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Props Supervisor]; Unkledave’s Fight House (FB) [Fight Direction]. The Executive Producer was 101 Productions Ltd. The list of producers and associate producers is far too long.

An American in Paris (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through April 9. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online or by calling (323) 468-1770. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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 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 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: April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

 

 

Share

Mostly Pesach

Some more clearing out of the news chum. This collection is mostly Pesach (Passover) Related, with a few articles at the end that are more peripheral:

Passover

Peripheral

Share

A Bluegrass Fable, Upon a Natchez Trace | Robber Bridegroom @ LAVC

The Robber Bridegroom (LAVC)My musical taste is wide and varied (if you hadn’t figured that out by now), but one of my favorite styles is folk, which then connects to bluegrass, some elements of country, and celtic. My Uncle Tom had similar tastes, and many years ago he introduced me to a favorite musical of his, The Robber Bridegroom (book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, music by Robert Waldman, adapted from the novella by Eudora Welty, based on an even older folktale). Especially for when it was first produced in 1975, it was a rarity among Broadway musicals, for it had a country and bluegrass score, with the musicians on the stage. I can count the musicals that have done this on one or two hands, the latest being last season’s Bright Star with a score by bluegrass artist and comedian Steve Martin.

We first saw The Robber Bridegroom in 2011 at ICT Long Beach (FB); it tends to be rarely done. Last week I learned that LA Valley College (FB)’s Department of Theatre Arts was doing a student production of the show (FB). We decided to give it a try, and squeezed it into the weekend. As I wrote back in 2011:

[The Robber Bridegroom] tells the fable of the Robber Bridegroom in 1795 in Rodney’s Landing, Mississippi. It is a fable about, as the song says, “A gent and a robber all in one, A girl who made the moon burn like the sun. A greedy witch, A man that rich. A brain that big, A filthy pig. A talkin’ head. … Once upon a Natchez Trace!” So let’s meet the characters. The “gent and robber all in one” is Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman robber who is also the Bandit of the Woods. He charms to get in, and takes what he wants. The girl who made the moon burn like the sun is Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of the “man that rich”, Clemment Musgrove, a wealthy planter, and the step-daughter of the “greedy witch”, Salome, current wife of the planter. Rosamond wants love, and finds it with the Bandit of the Woods, but doesn’t want to get married to the gentleman her father prefers, Jamie Lockhart, who wants to marry Rosamond not for love, but for the plantation. The “brain that big” refers to the brain the size of a pea belonging to “Goat” the simpleton hired by Salome to kill Rosamond to gain the reward of a suckling pig. The “filthy pig” refers to Little Harp, a thief and robber who travels the country with the talkin’ head of his brother, Big Harp, and who plans to steal both the gold and the girl of the planter. “Once upon a Natchez Trace”, of course, refers to the historic forest trail that connects landings like Rodney MS with the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans LA. As you can imagine from this cast of characters, we have a backwoods story of greed, love, lust, and desire. Quite a fun tale.

This production, as I noted earlier, was a student production under the direction of Cathy Susan Pyles (FB), with musical direction by Evan J. Marshall (FB). The fact that this was a student production means the range of talent and experience is wide and varied. We had some performers for whom this was their first time on stage … ever. We had some who had been in a fair to large number of amateur and other unspecified shows. In other words, this was a cast with a range of raw talent in both performing and singing. The latter is significant, for LAVC does not have a formal musical theatre program, and so there was not a formal effort to improve and strengthen vocal quality with this show (at least noted in the program, as there was no credit for vocal coaching, and no vocal coaches on the LAVC faculty). Again, raw talent up and coming, gems that required various levels of polishing. One doesn’t go into a show like this expecting virtuoso Broadway-caliber performance; one expects to be able to note strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, the performers expect this as well, taking any weaknesses as areas to work on for the future. And thus, the caveat is ended.

In the lead positions were Jacob Reynolds/FB as Jamie Lockhart and Tiffany Fuller/FB as Rosamund. Both were good (at least to my untrained eye) on the performance side — believable as their characters, having fun with their roles. I was particularly smitten by Fuller’s performance (and not just due to her smile and other charms) — writing this up I discovered she was from Kentucky, and that clearly showed in the accent and country mannerisms she brought to the role. Both had good singing voices that were pleasant to listen to, but that could use a tad more strength and volume.

Rosamund’s family was portrayed by Nicholas Goodreau/FB as Clemment Musgrove (Rosamund’s father) and Victoria Pizarro/FB as Salome (Rosamund’s stepmother). I quite enjoyed Goodreau’s performance — he had the right bearing and style for the role. For the most part his singing was good, especially in some harmonies, although there were just a few time he was a little off. This was Pizarro’s first time on stage, according to her credits. Especially in consideration of that, her acting performance was strong and it was clear she was having fun. Where the inexperience showed was vocally, although it was unclear the extent to which that was part of her character. Her voice was a bit weaker and all over the map at times. An area to work on.

The other major characters were R. J. Godinez/FB (Little Harp), Robert Butler/FB (Big Harp), Tristan Samson/FB (Goat), and Cameron Caddell (FB) (The Raven). As his character, Butler’s performance was more limited (he was a talking head in a box, after all); but the others were all strong as their characters. I was particularly taking with Godinez and Samson’s performances and characterizations; both also had good singing voices was reasonable strength. I did really like Caddell’s voice as the Raven — it was quite lovely — and her peformance was remarkably athletic in all the climbing and jumping and movement she had to do.

Most of the cast also played members of the ensemble. Other ensemble members and minor characters were: Serena El-Farra (FB) (Ensemble, Goat’s Mother); Carlos A. Gomez Jr./FB (Ensemble, The Caller); Ann Kriss/FB (Ensemble); Chase Mac Leay/FB (Ensemble, Landlord); Mariam Petrosyan/FB (Ensemble, Goat’s Sister); Zihan (Layla) Zhao/FB (Ensemble). There was quite a skill mix here, but all were clearly having fun and doing their best to be characters at the given place and time. Singing-wise, there was a wide range of performances, from strong singers to weak. There was also a good variety of shapes and looks. A few specific notes: Although she didn’t have a large singing role, the few times I could single out El-Farra’s voice, I was quite impressed with it. On the other end of the spectrum, Zhao needs to work a bit on her voice. Not singing (as I don’t recall being able to single out her singing voice), but more moving past her native accent to get the words out a little bit clearer and stronger.  I also recall that I enjoyed Petrosyan’s voice the one or two times I could pick it out, and thinking Kriss could have made an interesting Salome.

On-stage music was provided by a four-piece bluegrass group led by Evan J. Marshall (FB) on Mandolin. Rounding out the group were Mike Ley (FB) on Bass Fiddle, Alex Finazzo (FB) on Guitar, and Hiro Goto (FB) on Fiddle. Jean Sudbury (FB) does the fiddle on March 25 (tonight). I was very impressed by the music during the show, and will actually look for albums from the Mandolin and Guitar artists.

There was no specific choreography credit.

Robber Bridegroom Cast and Musicians (LAVC)Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic and lighting design by Jennifer L. Read (FB) was quite strong. I still recall the scenic design of the ICT production, with a large metal scaffoding in a U-shape with a large center portion. Read’s design was very different: very wooden and muscular, with a wood floor, sawhorses and planks, and a wooden structure along the back of the stage with ladders and ropes and such. She much of had fun shopping at Home Depot or Lowes :-). It worked quite well and was used in many creative ways by the cast to create all sorts of objects. The lighting design was equally strong, combining use of Lekos and what appeared to be some LED lights and spots to establish mood and focus attention. Mary Reilly‘s costume design seemed appropriately rural and rustic, as befits Rodney MS at the end of the 18th century. The costumes also served to distinguish the characters well and were quite fun to watch. To the right is a picture of the cast and musicians, which also shows the wonderful set and costumes (picture snarfed from the director’s FB page — and shows L-R, (back row) A. Kriss, C. Caddell, C. Mac Ley; (back +1) T. Fuller, J. Reynolds; (back + 2) M. Ley, H. Goto, R. Butler, Z. Zhao, V. Pizarro, N. Goodreau, M. Petrosyan, S. El-Farra, E. Marshall, A. Finazzo; (front -1) C. Gomez,  R. J. Godinez; (front) T. Samson).

Rounding out the production credits were: Victor Gonzalez/FB – Production Stage Manager; Mark Svastics (FB) – Technical Director; Jade Hill/FB and Ryan Schmitt/FB – Assistant Stage Managers.

The Robber Bridegroom (FB) continues at LA Valley College (FB) throughout this weekend, with matinees today and Sunday, and an evening performance tonight and Sunday night. Tickets are available at the door or via BrownPaperTickets.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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 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 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 evening our gears shift to Gershwin, with the touring company of An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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.

Share