Observations Along the Road

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

Inventive Percussion 🎶 “Stomp” @ VPAC

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 24, 2016 @ 9:28 pm PST

Stomp (VPAC)userpic=drumcorpsRemember when you were a little kid, and you would make a percussion instrument from anything you could get your hands on. A bucket. A broom. A pipe. An old newspaper. A stick. A pot. A trashcan.

That’s what we saw this afternoon.

Only amp up the quality 1000-fold. Add professional dance. Add wonderful invention. Mix, and you come up with the indescribable percussion extravaganza that is Stomp (FB), which we saw this afternoon at the Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN (VPAC) (FB). Here’s how VPAC described the show:

STOMP is explosive, inventive, provocative, witty, and utterly unique—an unforgettable experience for audiences of all ages. The eight-member troupe uses everything but conventional percussion instruments – matchboxes, wooden poles, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters, hubcaps – to fill the stage with magnificent rhythms.

I can say it was that, and more. Starting from a sequence where they are sweeping the stage and turn the pushbrooms into percussive instruments, to the last encore where they are doing a clapping number with the audience, this was an inventive exploration of making music from everyday objects — and yes, they did even throw in the kitchen sink. Of course, there were the plastic barrels and garbage pails. There were the paint cans and sticks. But there was also lighters, tubing, plastic bags, highway signs… you name it. It really was indescribable.

But there was also humor — of a type that all found funny, and that didn’t draw its humor from sex or sexual stereotypes (unlike last night). In Stomp, one tall drummer with a red hat (Charley Ruane (FB)) was the perennial odd-man out, and played it to the hilt. His was situational humor, it was reactive humor, it was facial and mime humor. Hell, it was just funny.

In a troupe like this, it is hard to single out performers to name. I only know Charlie because he came out for a meet and greet after the show, and I asked him. So here are the remarkable Stomp performers: John Angeles (FB), Leilani Dibble (FB), Dustin Elsea (FB), Eric Fay (FB), Delaunce Jackson (FB), Kris Lee (FB), Guido Mandozzi (FB), Jeremy Price, Krystal Renee (FB), the aforementioned Charley Ruane (FB), Ivan Salazar (FB), and Simeon Weedall (FB).

The program does not give production bios other than Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the directors. who happened to create the show. However, digging a bit deeper, I uncovered some useful ones. It looks like the set was designed by Yes/No Productions Ltd; and dressed by Stacey-Jo Marine. The set design was quite clever, with percussive points everywhere that were exploited by the Stomp crew. Lighting direction was by Felicia Hall. I’d like to single her out for some special attention: there were points where there were unique dancing shadows cast, which I thought were really neat. Sound design was by Drew Roberts. Although there were no spoken words, sound was important here, because stage microphones had to be set up to capture the percussive sounds from the floor, which were very soft. Roberts engineered that right so that all could hear. Other significant production credits (not including the long list of producers): Ronald Grimshaw (Production Manager); Julie Shelton (Props), DeAnn L. Boise (Company Manager).

Stomp had two shows at VPAC; the second should just be finishing as I write this up. After Los Angeles, the tour continues on to Seattle, Montana, Idaho, and loads and loads of places. If you like percussion, it is worth seeing. It isn’t your typical book musical, but it isn’t quite a concert either. It really is a unique experience.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at two theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birides) will not start 2016 shows until August. I may move the subscription to The Group Rep (FB), or I may just get individual tickets there through Goldstar. 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: Next weekend brings “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. February starts on Saturday, February 6 with Empire: The Musical at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) — this gives us not only the chance to see a dear friend (Sheri F.) who doesn’t attend as much LA theatre as she used to, but a favorite performer (Kevin Earley). The next day brings “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). There’s a rare mid-week performance on February 9 of The Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The following weekend brings the Southern California premiere of the musical Dogfight at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills.  The third weekend in February is currently open, but that is likely to change. February closes with The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March starts with “Man Covets Bird” at the 24th Street Theatre (FB) on March 6 (the day after the MRJ Man of the Year dinner) The second weekend of March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.  The last weekend of March is being held for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix).  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2. It will also bring the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) , and our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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Rapid Creativity 🎭 50 Hour Drive By @ ZJU

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 24, 2016 @ 8:42 am PST

ZJU 50 Hour Drive By 2016userpic=yorickWhen I was young, Harlan Ellison would often sit in the window of A Change of Hobbit on Westwood. He would be given a story idea from a patron, and would write a short story in a day. A similar type of rapid creativity is a staple in the intimate theatre community: Something is used as a trigger for an idea, a writer uses that trigger to come up with a story, actors are thrown in, and something goes up on the stage — all within a 24 or 48 hour period. This is quick work and an exercise / demonstration of the creative muscle; it isn’t necessarily good or deep work. Most small companies I know do something like this.

Last night, we went to Zombie Joes Underground (FB)’s contribution to the genre: their 50 Hour Drive By Theatre Festival, now in it’s 15th year. In the ZJU version, the writers are given 3 props at random on Thursday at 6:15 PM, with pen on paper at 6:35 PM. Less than 24 hours later (Friday @ 5:30 PM) they turn in their scripts. Performers arrive at 7:45 PM, rehearsal starts. The next day (Saturday) at 4:15 PM the shows are pieced together, with the first performance at 8:35 PM. Fifty hours from pen on paper to actor in front of audience.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it is always creative.

Sad to say, none of the four shows in last night’s drive connected with us. Some came close. But I’ve got a feeling we’re not typical, because others were finding them outrageously funny. Coming home, I tried to think about the best way to assess these shows. I wanted to try to figure out why they connected with so many, but not us. I came up with the following six parameters:

  1. Use/Integration of Props. How well did the writer utilize the props in their story? Could the prop be something else without affecting the story? Did they utilize the prop for what it was?
  2. Coherence. Did the story make sense? Was there a story there?
  3. Creativity. How creative was the story? Was it pedestrian? Was it a stock story with props inserted?
  4. Writing Quality. Was it a good story? Did you care about the characters? Did they seem real (or as real as anything can be in the ZJU mileau)?
  5. Performance Quality. How well did the actors perform the story and inhabit their characters?
  6. WTF. This looks at the shock aspects or odd aspects of the story. In particular, this year there was a fair amount of nudity. We’re not prudes by any means, but I do think that if there is going to be nudity in a story, it needs to be integral and there for a purpose, not gratuitous. Were the shock aspects (such as nudity) gratuitous, or were they necessary for the plot?

Let’s look at our four stories…

El Cupacabra’s Final Escape. Written by John Semper Jr. (FB). Directed by Angelia Weitzman (FB). Props: Victoria Secret T-Shirt, Cigar Box with Coin, Small Flashlight. Cast: John Santo [Feliz Trujillo aka El Chupacabra]; Rachel Scorpio (FB) [Bree Carpenter-McMillan]; Gerald McGrory/FB [Mark Holmes]; Danielle Reverman (FB) [Jenna Sumaru]

I think this story was one of the stronger ones in this set of shows. A tale about a criminal being interrogated, it integrated the props well — and for the most part, in a way that they needed to be what they were for the story to work. That integration showed creativity, and it made the story hang and work together. Some of the performances were very strong — in particular, Santo’s Chupacabra and Reverman’s Sumaru. McGrory clearly hadn’t quite gotten all his lines yet (but this was the first show), but the actors seemed to improvise well and have fun with it. They seemed to inhabit their characters well, and you actually got them well. As for the WTF-factor: this one seemed to start off very sexual, but the reason for the sexuality actually made sense and worked within the story. The final WTF-factor, which I won’t reveal, also worked well.

Words. Written by Vanessa Cate (FB). Directed by Amir Khalighi (FB). Props: Child’s necklace in a biohazard zip-lock bag; Selfie Stick; Camouflage bandanna in a camouflage bag. Actors: Jason Britt (FB) [Finbar]; Jahel Corban Caldera (FB) [Adolfo]; Sebastian Muñoz (FB; Page) [Bartolo]; Elif Savas (FB) [Dilara].

I liked the point that was being made by this particular story: That there are people that communicate by words, and there are people that communicate by actions, and that relationship problems can occur when they come together and there’s a protocol mismatch. How that message was conveyed was…. less than effective. I’ll add: “for me”, because most of the rest of the audience found this hilariously funny. I don’t believe the props were integrated into the story well at all: for example, the fact that the bandanna was camouflage was pointless to the story: it could have been a red scarf or a blindfold without changing things. Similarly, the selfie stick was used briefly and disappeared; the child’s necklace referenced twice with little strong connection to the story. The story was also a little incoherent: I couldn’t really figure out the reason for Adolfo and Bartolo — why they were there, or the role that they were fulfilling. This had some good performances:  Muñoz was suitably silly, and I liked both Britt’s and Savas’s performances quite a bit. As for the WTF-factor: This is one of those shows that had nudity/in-your-face sexuality … but I don’t think it worked for the story. In particular, it created or demonstrated the mistaken impression that “sex” ≡ “love”, and that is clearly not the case. I think there were equal ways to demonstrate the love between the characters, and that the out-there gay sexuality between Adolfo and Bartolo, while well played and funny to much of the audience, just didn’t add much to the story.

Shadows of Paul. Written by Steven W. Alloway (FB). Directed by Jana Wimer (FB). Props: Two eyeballs; a spiked helmet; a tote-bag with stuffed teddy bear inside. Actors: Magnus MacDomhnaill [Paul / Soldier 1]; Matthan Harris (FB) [Salesman / Soldier 2]; Daniel Palma (FB) [Shadow of Paul].

This was another strong show that used the props well. In this case, the eyeballs could give glimpses of the future or of the past. In this case, the protagonist was a father. In the past was the death of his son; in the future were two ways he could deal with his anger over the dealth. The story hung together well, except for the last minute. Performances were strong — Harris was a suitably creepy and odd salesman, and Palma made a quite affecting dad/central character. The creativity was also good — I liked the use of the eyeballs and how they formed the center of the story. As for the WTF-factor: it wasn’t strong at all (this is a good thing), except for the closing tag. Perhaps the oddest thing were the eyeballs themselves.

The Fish. Written by Colin Mitchell (FB). Directed by Roger K. Weiss (FB). Props: Two complimentary tickets to the Neuropathy Event, 2 pronged plug with cord; Plastic fish-shaped container w/Straw. Actors: Jonica Patella (FB) [Wise old man]; Nicole A. Craig (FB) [Zabo]; Ian Heath (FB) [Very tall woman]; Charlotte Bjornbak (FB) [Handsome Man].

I often like Colin’s stuff, but this one left me … well, it was quite odd. I don’t believe the story integrated the props well at all: the fact that the tickets were tickets, or were to a Neuropathy Event, had nothing to do with the story; the cord had no real significance as a cord; and as for the fish — it was a magical McGuffin. There was no special significance to it being a fish. Although the story played well, I’m not sure it hung right with respect to motivations or logic. Why were they cross-dressing? Why was there so much emphasis on masturbation? The latter also contributed to a problematic WTF-factor: From the opening scene to the final reveal, there was a sexual nature that served to be purely gratuitous, serving more to be there just to be there than to contribute something to the story. In fact, the final reveal could have been done in a number of ways to make the same point without the sex. Whereas I could deal with most of the story, the end just didn’t work right.

***

The show featured opening and interstitial music by Kevin Van Cott (FB). I could have done without the opening drumbeat — it was a bit repetitious and was too loud, but the rest worked well. I particularly appreciated the electric ukulele. Sound engineering was by Randy Long and it worked reasonably well. I think there were some medical sounds that were missing during Shadows of Paul. There were no credits for lighting, costumes, or any of that such stuff. ZJU is an experimental black box with no scenery, and I presume the actors designed their own costumes, such as they were. The 50 Hour Drive-By Theatre Festival was produced by Zombie Joe.

Now for the obligatory Zombie Joe comment, which I seem to make every time I visit Zombie Joe’s: their website. Sigh. Their website design, which looks like an old Homestead website because it is an old Homestead website, is truly stuck in the early 1990s era of web design, with a flashy and garish background, poor organization, and what looks to be a non-responsive design. Just as I need to update my highways site, they need to update theirs. Their productions are so good, that their website shouldn’t look so amateurish. So, Mr. Randy Long. You’re their webmaster. Please make their site better — ZJU deserves it.

The 50 Hour Drive-By Theatre Festival! has two more performances: tonight (1/24) at 8:30 PM, and Monday (1/25) at 8:30 PM. Should you go see it? That’s a harder question for me. Clearly there were those in the audience that loved it, and enjoyed the type of “out there” humor and rawness in the show. If you’re that type — go, you’ll love this. For me, this year’s outing was more “meh”… but I’ll give them points for trying. Some of the attempts (❶ and ❸ above) were reasonably good, ❷ had a good premise but poorly executed, and ❹was a WTF? Tickets ($15) are available online, or by calling 818-202-4120 and making a reservation.

However, I’ll note that the occasional “meh” is just an inherent risk with this particular type of quick and dirty artform. It is an creativity exercise, a way of building the muscle in a manner that using a well-established script by a well-established writer cannot do. It is an “on the edge” artistic collaboration … and sometimes when you are on the edge, you fall off. However, dealing with the danger is part of what makes the show unique.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at two theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birides) will not start 2016 shows until August. I may move the subscription to The Group Rep (FB), or I may just get individual tickets there through Goldstar. 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: Theatre continues this afternoon with “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on Sunday, January 24. The next weekend brings “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. February starts on Saturday, February 6 with Empire: The Musical at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) — this gives us not only the chance to see a dear friend (Sheri F.) who doesn’t attend as much LA theatre as she used to, but a favorite performer (Kevin Earley). The next day brings “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). There’s a rare mid-week performance on February 9 of The Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The following weekend brings the Southern California premiere of the musical Dogfight at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills.  The third weekend in February is currently open, but that is likely to change. February closes with The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March starts with “Man Covets Bird” at the 24th Street Theatre (FB) on March 6 (the day after the MRJ Man of the Year dinner) The second weekend of March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.  The last weekend of March is being held for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix).  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2. It will also bring the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) , and our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Saturday News Chum: Real Estate, Real History, and the Rest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 23, 2016 @ 7:04 pm PST

Observation StewIt’s Saturday evening, and I’m getting ready to go out to the first show of the weekend, so what better than some news chum stew before the show. Hopefully you’ll find something tasty. We have a few themed areas as appetizers.

Real Estate Chum

  • Increasing Property Value. Every day, as we head home from work, we pass an office building on the NE corner of El Segundo and Continental, across from the large Raytheon facility that used to be the Hughes Space campus. This office building used to be occupied by Raytheon, in fact. But defense shrunk, they downsized out of it about 4 years ago, and the building was sold and remodeled. Now it is a “creative campus” and worth twice as much. Bixby Land partnered with real estate investment manager Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers in purchasing the building in 2013. They spent $25 million to acquire and transform the traditional office space into flashier, more modern offices. Perks at the 113,606-square-foot building include a dog park and beach cruisers for workers. There are polished concrete floors, exposed ceilings and a shared outdoor patio with a rectangular fire pit and couch. They just sold it for $49 million.
  • Decreasing Property Value. Then there’s Porter Ranch, near where I live. Sigh. Here’s an interesting article with a different perspective on Porter Ranch: When the subdivision was laid out and sold, worry about gas wells wasn’t even in the discussion. In fact, the environmental impact reports for the development did not have to disclose anything. Why? Here’s what is really interesting: Neither the old oil wells nor that natural gas facility had to be mentioned in those environmental impact reports. The wells would be included if the housing project was to have an impact on them, but not the other way around. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, an analysis of the impacts of existing environmental conditions on a project’s future residents is not required. Think about that for a minute: An environment impact report details the impact of the new development on the existing environment, not the risks from the existing environment to the new development.
  • A School Goes Away. For the last of this trilogy, there is the announcement of the closing of Pinecrest Schools. It is unclear if this is due to property values, or just the owners not able to afford the loss. Will the land be able to stay a private school? Your guess is as good as mine. It may benefit a number of local private schools in the area.

Not So Pleasant History

  • Racism and Route 66. Many people wax nostalgic about Route 66, and the travels from Chicago to Los Angeles. But there’s one characteristic of those people: they’re white. If you weren’t white, travels on Route 66 were less than pleasant. Black people weren’t traveling on the Mother Road. This is easy to see via a new interactive map created by the New York Public Library, which digitized 21 volumes of the Negro Motorist Green Book and imported data from 1947 and 1956 volumes into it. It shows that through much of the southern portion of the route, especially through Texas and Missouri, it was impossible for black people to get evening lodgings, or even be in a city after sundown.
  • Racism and Donald Trump. Woody Guthrie sang of the dustbowl refugees that traveled Route 66. Guthrie also happened to rent a room from Donald Trump’s father, and was not happy about it.  He was especially bothered by the racism of daddy Trump, and even wrote a song about it: I suppose / Old Man Trump knows /  Just how much / Racial Hate / he stirred up / In the bloodpot of human hearts / When he drawed / That color line / Here at his / Eighteen hundred family project ….” and  “Beach Haven ain’t my home! / I just cain’t pay this rent! / My money’s down the drain! / And my soul is badly bent! / Beach Haven looks like heaven / Where no black ones come to roam! / No, no, no! Old Man Trump! / Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!”
  • Leaving the Fold. This one may be premium content if you go to it directly, but often you can get to these things from Google. This is a fascinating story about a Haredi family who decided that the Haredi life was not for them, and escaped the community. A really interesting read, with some interesting illumination about the history and control within that community.

And The Rest

  • ! Yes We Have No Bananas. Bananas are returning to La Conchita, after 18 years. I remember when there were locally grown bananas in Southern California. Then they went out of business, landslides occurred, and they were gone. Now they are back. I’ll have to look for them.
  • When Can You Reuse Oil. This is a real interesting article about fried foods, and when you can reuse fry oil. What I found especially fascinating was the explanation of how foods become greasy when frying: “Incidentally, the folk wisdom that oil that’s too cool will cause foods to absorb more oil is bunk. In fact, because oil tends to move into spaces that were formerly occupied by water, the amount of oil a piece of fried food absorbs is directly related to the amount of moisture that is driven off, which in turn is directly related to the temperature you cook at, and the temperature to which you cook your food to. The hotter you fry, the more oil food will absorb.”
  • Loss of Focus. Here’s an interesting explanation for that loss of focus: Adult onset ADHD. More and more adults over the age of 50 are newly diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder occurs as the brain is developing, and symptoms generally appear around age 7. But symptoms can last a lifetime. For adults, the problem is not disruptive behavior or keeping up in school. It’s an inability to focus, which can mean inconsistency, being late to meetings or just having problems managing day-to-day tasks. Adults with ADHD are more likely than others to lose a job or file for bankruptcy. They may overpay bills, or underpay them. They may pay bills late, or not at all.
  • The Why of Clutter. Here’s an interesting article on why you accumulate clutter. One reason is that most people don’t know how to get rid of it, how to start, or how to address the overwhelming amount of it.
  • Sometimes, Local Music is Better. People are rediscovering the value of having your music collection locally, as opposed to the cloud. They are wising up to the cloud computing ‘trap’ by using ‘old’ MP3 players like the iPod Classic instead of music streaming services that require costly monthly subscriptions and internet access.  Both of the articles I’ve seen on the subject, however, talk about what is being done, but not how. The “how” is easy: Get yourself an iPod Classic 5th Generation or later. Then visit Tarkan’s iFlash site. There you can get a board that can replace your hard disk with solid state memory. Depending on the version of the iPod Classic, you can either max out at 128GB or 1TB. I know. My iPod Classic 7.5G is now at 512GB. I’ve just ordered my second board to convert my alternative iPod. The only worry is wear leveling.

 

That Orange County Sound 🎭 “That Lovin’ Feelin'” @ Group Rep

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 17, 2016 @ 11:09 am PST

That Lovin' Feein' (Group Rep Theatre @ Lonnie Chapman)userpic=theatre_ticketsWhen you think about great rock groups that emerged from that teen-age rock incubator that was Orange County in the early 1960s, what comes to mind? That surfin’ sound? Sorry, the Beach Boys were actually out of Hawthorne.  Rock and roll? Nope, the Turtles were out of Westchester HS. Pop? Nope, the Carpenters were actually out of Downey, at the edge of LA County. The answer — which I didn’t know going into That Lovin’ Feelin’ at The Group Rep (FB)  last night — was the R&B sound of The Righteous Brothers (FB). The Righteous Brothers was formed when bands of two Orange County youth, Bill Medley out of Santa Ana and Bobby Hatfield out of Anaheim, came together; after some whittling down, the result was an R&B duo that made history by being a group that sounded too black for the white stations of the time, and that were too white for the black stations of the time.

That Lovin’ Feelin’ , which is running at The Group Rep (FB) through January 24, 2016 (actually, February 21, 2016, after two extensions), tells the story of the formation of the band, its struggles through the years, its successes, its splits, its reunions, and the final reconciliation. At its heart, though, That Lovin’ Feelin’ is a jukebox musical, an excuse to revisit the music of The Righteous Brothers.

Playwright James A. Zimmerman developed the story out of a personal relationship with Bill Medley (FB) (Personal Site) of the Righteous Brothers, combined with information from an autobiography that Medley wrote. Zimmerman told this story by framing the jukebox musical with a scaffolding of a reporter from Western Michigan at a 2003 conference conducting an interview with Bill Medley for the school paper. During this interview, he gives her the press release version of the story. As she pushes him harder and harder, eventually the real story of the reasons for the breakups and the reunions come out. This scaffolding provides the bones to expose the story of the group, and the excuse to go through some of their better known hits and songs in chronological order.

When viewed as a book musical, the story is weak. This isn’t to say that the conflicts inherent in the Righteous Brothers history aren’t theatrical. The problem is that the manner of the story telling doesn’t really place the burden of telling the actual story on Bill and Bobby. The burden of the exposition is placed on the 2003 version of Bill Medley and the reporter, Ali. In between the expositions we get flashbacks of history with the younger versions of Bill and Bobby, and characters in their life. While we’re in the flashbacks, the older Bill and Ali just freeze on stage. This structure reduces the product to “and then I performed this… and here is what was happening in my life then…. and then I performed that… and here’s what was happening in my life then. This is just a dry exposition that is saved only by the charisma and talent of the performers.

That Lovin' Feelin' (Publicity Photos)I think what is disappointing is the missed potential in the story — in letting Bill and Bobby, and the people in their lives, re-enact and tell throughout instead of in snippets, of letting us see the growth of the characters in the characters themselves, and not by having a third character tell us. That is not to say that the scaffold is bad — for it certainly wasn’t. Rather, it could just have been so much more: a true dramatic story. On the other hand, a similar scaffolding of having a character tell the story worked for Jersey Boys, so one can see why they thought it would work here.

What truly elevates That Lovin’ Feelin’ over the exposition are the performances — in particular the performances of the younger versions of the Righteous Brothers. We’ll get to them in a minute; first, let’s talk about our expository duo: Paul Cady (FB) as the older Bill Medley, and Sarah Karpeles (FB) as Ali (who has a last name given in the show but now the program). Cady, who also served as the Music Director, conveys the elder Medley with comfortable realism. He has a lovely singing voice which, alas, you only hear in three songs. However, I found myself watching Karpeles more — even when I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching her. She had a relaxed and humorous nature about her that just was projected by her character. I particularly enjoyed her smiling through the music at a number of points — this was likely the only concession she could show to liking the music, given the nature of the “freezes” that she and Cady had to endure.

What was blowing Karpeles away blew the audience away as well: the performances of Morgan Lauff (FB) as the younger Bill Medley and Brenden MacDonald (FB) as Bobby Hatfield. These two recent college graduations gave spectacular performances, capturing not only the drama of the persona they were inhabiting, but singing with style and strong telant. Not being an expert on the Righteous Brothers, I can’t speak to whether they sounded like the originals. But Lauff seemed to be able to do a great job with Medley’s low notes, and MacDonald seemed to easily reach Hatfield’s high notes. All I know is that I enjoyed their singing, and isn’t that enough.

Sometimes, things off to the side or behind catch my eye or ear. For example, in the Beatles “When I’m Sixty-Four”, I find myself listening to the back clarinet or bass sometimes. That happened here at one point, where the actresses who were playing backup singers just caught my eye: Nicole Renee Chapman (FB) [Actress 1, Joy Hatfield, Donna Thomas]; Amanda Dawn Harrison (FB) [Actress 2, Julie Stedham, Cher, Lucinda Chatfield]; and Brooke Van Grinsven (FB) [Actress 3, Karen Medley]. The first one to draw my attention was Chapman, who just seemed to be radiating “fun” out of her backup singer character, and then again when we saw her as Joy Hatfield. She was having the time of her life dancing and singing, and that joy was just beaming out to the audience. Also being was Van Grinsven, who we have seen before in Bard Fiction and The Drowsy Chaperone. She continued her winning streak here, also radiating the fact that she was having a great time with this character. Again, very strong singing, dancing, and performance. In fact, during some of the later numbers, if you listened closely, you could hear that both Chapman and Van Grinsven had powerhouse voices (which, now realizing that we saw Van Grinsven in Drowsey, should have been no surprise). Harrison rounded out the trio. She didn’t impact me as much, but I think that’s because of her positioning on the stage, which was usually in the middle, putting her being other characters when viewed from a seat near the aisle. I enjoyed her portrayal as Karen, and I also enjoyed her dancing, and I thought I could pick out both her voice and the fun she was having the few times I could see her behind the Lauff and MacDonald.

Rounding out the cast were some non-singing male roles: Robert Axelrod (FB) [who in addition to playing Bass in the band, as Actor 3, Dusty Hanvey, and John Wimber]; Patrick Burke/FB [Actor 1, Phil Spector, David Cohen]; Timm Damiano/FB [Tim]; and J. Christopher Sloan (FB) [Actor 2, Ray Maxwell, Jerry Perenchio, Doctor]. All seemed to inhabit the characters who they were playing well. I’dll single out Axelrod here, primarily because he had a look that reminded me of my maternal grandfather, which brought back some very nice memories. He also played a mean bass :-).

That Lovin’ Feelin’ was directed by Jules Aaron, assisted by Michele Bernath (FB) (who also served as Choreographer).  This was one of those shows where I couldn’t really sense the director’s presence, which is a good thing. The actors seemed to be having fun inhabiting their roles, and they seemed to be naturally in their personas. I do find interesting the fact that the director is working on a Sammy Davis Jr. musical (I Will, I Can!) — now there is a story worth musicalizing and something I would definately go see. The choreography by Michele Bernath was good — alas, I don’t remember if the dance moves from the 1960s were accurate, as I wasn’t watching dance that closely then. They seemed right; my only question is whether the same moves and clothes would be used by backup singers for 60s acts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rounding out the onstage performers was the onstage band, which was sponsored by F. Murray Abraham and Kate Abraham. The band was led by Richard Levinson (FB), who also did a wonderful job on the keyboard. The aforementioned Robert Axelrod (FB) was rocking away on the bass, with Bill Scott (FB) next to him on the guitar. Rounding out the on-stage band was Lance Crow/FB on drums. Overall, the band had a great rockin’ sound; it was especially fun to hear them solo on the playout after the bows.

Moving on to the production and creative credits. The set design by Chris Winfield (FB) was simple: a performance stage with a pull-out substage, a dressing room off to the side,  and some decorative effects. It wasn’t as realistic as some, but served its purpose to support the action. What created sense of place were the projections, which were either uncredited, done by the set designer, done by Doug Haverty (FB) the graphic designer, or done by J. Kent Inasy (FB), the lighting designer. Whoever did them, they worked well given the large variety of locations in this show and the budget size of intimate theatre. Other lighting worked well to establish mood in a way that wasn’t obtrusive. The costume design by Angela M. Eads (FB) worked well for the most part, although my wife had two minor quibbles from what she remembers from the era. The make-up, hair, and wigs of Judi Lewin (FB) also seemed appropriately period, and the transition between the large number of wigs worked well. The sound design of Steve Shaw (FB) was what a sound design should be: realistic and unobtrusive, although there was a little microphone noise. Nora Feldman did the public relations. The stage manager was not credited, but Timm Damiano/FB  was the assistant stage manager. That Lovin’ Feelin’ was presented by The Group Rep (FB), and produced by Doug Haverty (FB) and Larry Eisenberg (FB).

That Lovin’ Feelin’ was originally scheduled to close January 24, 2016, but has been extended until February 21, 2016. Tickets are available through The Group Rep (FB) box office (which is by phone or email, sigh). Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar (they are almost sold out as of now); they may also be available through LA Stage Tix. Into early February, That Lovin’ Feelin’ is running in repertory with A. R. Gurney’s Another Antigone, which is running in GRT’s new 2nd stage upstairs.

🎭 🎭 🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at two theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they haven’t indicated a 2016 season yet, and I may move the subscription to The Group Rep (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: Theatre continues next week with  Zombie Joes Underground (FB)’s 50 Hour Drive-By Theatre Festival on Saturday, January 23, and “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on Sunday, January 24. The next weekend brings “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. February starts on Saturday, February 6 with Empire: The Musical at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) — this gives us not only the chance to see a dear friend (Sheri F.) who doesn’t attend as much LA theatre as she used to, but a favorite performer (Kevin Earley). The next day brings “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). There’s a rare mid-week performance on February 9 of The Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The following weekend brings the Southern California premiere of the musical Dogfight at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills.  The third weekend in February is currently open, but that is likely to change. February closes with The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix).  There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  If we have no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP).  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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Week End News Chum: Threading a Connection

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 16, 2016 @ 8:56 am PST

Observation StewFor some, this is the start of a 3 day weekend; for others, just the normal weekend craziness. Whichever it is, it’s been a busy week. I’ve been accumulating a lot of articles of interest, but none of them have themed into groups of three, or proved to be the start of a single-subject rant. So let’s toss them into the crock-pot of discussion, and see if we can at least come up with a thread to connect each to the next:

Lastly, I’m sure you think I’m crazy in the head for trying to thread all these disparate articles together. Speaking of crazy in the head: how’s this for a headline: “Doctors dismissed his pain as migraines. Then they said he had 24 hours to live.” Did that get your attention? It got mine. The connected article was about something I mentioned last week: undetected subdural hematomas. Scary.

Musings on ⇒ Porter Ranch and Ancillary Damage

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 15, 2016 @ 12:05 pm PST

userpic=disasterI seem to be in a musings mode this week, and today my lunchtime thoughts are about the clusterfuck that is the Aliso Canyon (Porter Ranch) gas leak (SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Leak Info Site)

For reference, this map shows approximately the distance from my house to the leak (it’s about 7 mi, uphill, to the leak); this page shows an estimate of the areas impacted. Here’s my previous post on the subject. Recent news has shown how massive of a clusterfuck this is turning into:

We don’t live in Porter Ranch. We do live in Northridge, downhill and downwind from Aliso Canyon. There are mornings we have smelled the mercaptan, but it isn’t persistent or heavy. The YMCA I go to is in Porter Ranch; our synagogue is on the edge of Porter Ranch. I don’t personally know folks who have evacuated yet, but I’m sure I’ll learn more names when I go to the next temple event.

Fixing the leak isn’t easy. They’ve already undermined the wellhead, and made the problem worse with each stoppage attempt. The crater around the wellhead is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wellhead sits exposed, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt. The well pipe and its control valves are exposed and unsupported within that hole, atop a deep field of pressurized gas. So Cal Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks. If it fails, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels. A blowout would also increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. This is on top of the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. This well is in the middle of a brushfire area, and is subject to very strong winds.

Further, this is a problem that won’t go away when they finally fix the leak. Businesses have been impacted (the Y is almost empty when I go up there). I know it is impacting our synagogue, and I could easily see it creating difficulties for the upcoming cantoral search. It is going to drastically lower the property values of homes in Porter Ranch (which weren’t cheap — I’d guess between $750K and $1.5Mil), and I could see numbers being abandoned out of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and distrust). It is going to impact the property values of neighboring communities as well, and will certainly make it difficult for those looking to sell.

Then, of course, there is the increased cancer risk, which might not appear for decades and would be difficult to positively attribute to this source.

Further, our society being what it is, lawsuits will abound. Already, the sharksarecirclingand smellingthe chum. Who will they sue? SoCalGas, which is part of Sempra Energy, which was formerly San Diego Gas and Electric. Where do they get their funds? Ratepayers. Who will pay for the lawsuits? Ratepayers and Insurance Companies. Further, you know the actuaries at those insurance companies will increase their rates in response: both for the utilities affected (hitting the ratepayers), as well as for homeowners and businesses living in the area. These will all come back to bite those in Porter Ranch and neighboring neighborhoods.

The sad part of this all is that I don’t see any good resolution, and those of us in the area are stuck, either in one end or the other.

Musings on ⇒ 🎥 The Diversity of OSCAR (#OscarsSoWhite)

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 15, 2016 @ 7:44 am PST

userpic=moviesA morning quickie on yesterday’s announcement of the Oscar nominees, and the surprising (or should I say unsurprising) lack of diversity of the nominees:

Last year, Gene Spafford had a wonderful post on the issue of encouraging women in computer security. Among many great ideas in the post was this nugget:

If you are invited to speak or appear on a panel at an event, ask who else has been invited. If they don’t seem to have invited (m)any women, suggest some and don’t agree to speak until they filled out the roster a little more. I have heard one good rule of thumb (which I try to follow) is not appear on a panel unless at least one woman is also on the panel. Help give other voices a chance to be heard.

Can’t think of any? Then either you aren’t paying attention or you are willfully ignoring the situation. Here’s a partial list of some of the better known women in the field of cybersecurity/privacy, all of whom I hold in great regard (and my apologies as there are many more I could list — these are off the top of my imperfect memory): Anita Jones, Dorothy Denning, Mary Ann Davidson, Window Snyder, Jean Camp, Elisa Bertino, Rhonda MacLean, Deborah Frincke, Melissa Hathaway, Chenxi Wang, Terry Benzel, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Jeannette Wing, Cynthia Irvine, Lorrie Cranor, Dawn Song, Helen Wang, Cathy Meadows, Harriet Pearson, Diana Burley, Rebecca Herold, Shari Pfleeger, Shafi Goldwasser, Barbara Simons, Erin Jacobs, Becky Bace, Radia Perlman, Nuala O’Connor Kelly, Wendy Nather, Linda Northrup, Angela Sasse, Melissa, Dark, Susan Landau, Mischel Kwon, Phyllis Schneck, Carrie Gates, Katie Moussouris, Ronda Henning…. There are literally thousands more who are less senior but are likely to have interesting things to say. Simply look around. And if you’re organizing the event, consider this.

I’m going to opine the following: We will never have diversity be considered important in the Oscar race until the Oscar nominees have the gumption to, as a group, refuse to accept their nominations unless they are part of a diverse group of nominees. Until that happens, they are just passing the buck, considering diversity to be someone else’s problem.

In *every* category, there is sufficient talent out there to nominate a diverse field of candidates. Not having diversity is a statement about those in charge, who their friends are, and the diversity of the circles they operate in. Working diverse breeds diversity. Writing diverse breeds diversity. The Oscar field not being diverse is a statement, reflection, and indictment of the industry as a whole. The cinema (just like the theater) must reflect and tell the stories of society as a whole. Making that happen takes strength of character and strong resolve, having principles and insisting on them, both in the on-camera talent, the behind the camera crew, and in the stories.

So, I’ll say it again: We will never have diversity be considered important in the Oscar race until the Oscar nominees have the gumption to, as a group, refuse to accept their nominations unless they are part of a diverse group of nominees. Until that happens, they are just passing the buck, considering diversity to be someone else’s problem.

Musings on ⇒ Recent LA News of 🏫 Kings and 🏈 Rams

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 13, 2016 @ 11:59 am PST

userpic=los-angelesOver lunch, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on some recent LA-centric items in the news:

Former Teacher Michelle King Named First Black Woman to Head LAUSD

Before I explain why I’m so pleased with this selection, a bit of bio from the article:

According to the district, King attended Century Park and Windsor Hills elementary schools and Palms Junior High School. She graduated from Palisades High School and attended UCLA.

She began her teaching career at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, teaching math and science, before becoming the math, science and aerospace coordinator at Wright Middle School in Westchester. She later served as assistant principal and principal at Hamilton High School in Cheviot Hills.

She served as Cortines’ chief of staff during his previous administration, then as a deputy under Superintendent John Deasy and again under Cortines following Deasy’s departure.

First, I’ll note that King and I went to the same high school, and we even went at the same time (I was class of ’77; she was Michelle Brewster in the class of ’79). I don’t believe I knew her, alas, but I’ve got the feeling that a number of my friends did (including the sister of one of my best friends). She also taught at the Junior High I attended (for 7th grade): Wright in Westchester. She’s also a UCLA grad!

Further, note what she taught: math and science, and then coordinated math, science, and aerospace. This means she is a technical woman, and knows the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). She also taught at Hamilton High, which has a performing arts magnet — meaning she likely understands the value of the arts as well. STEAM, in one package.

Next, note that she taught in both the valley and in the city, meaning the needs of the valley will be understood. She doesn’t appear to have experience in the inner city (the set of schools at which she attended or taught are mostly middle-class), but you can’t have it all.

She’s a product of the glory days of LAUSD (at least defined by when I went there), and knows what LAUSD is capable of.

Most importantly, she’s a great face for diversity and success. She’s a black woman leader, and I know from working at a company with a similar leader the value that such leadership can have in inspiring young woman today, and making the statement that with hard work, anything is possible.

Ms. King — best of luck in making LAUSD the best district in the nation.

NFL will return to Los Angeles for 2016 season

Now, I’m not a person who follows professional sports, or who even watches football, baseball, basketball, or hockey games with any frequency, or even at all. But the return of the Rams to Los Angeles just feels right. After starting in Cleveland in 1936, the Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, becoming the first NFL team to play in Los Angeles. They also became the first integrated professional football team during their first year in Los Angeles, when they signed Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946. (As a side note: Kenny Washington was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Football Team … another being Jackie Robinson, the man responsible for integrating professional baseball with a team that would later move to Los Angeles).

The Rams played in Los Angeles until 1980 (34 years), and I remember well driving past their headquarters on Pico Blvd in West LA. They then moved to Anaheim in 1980, and then departed for St. Louis in 1994. That’s a total of 48 years in Southern California. They were in St. Louis for only 20 years. Much as I love St. Louis, the Rams are really LA’s team.

Further, they are getting a new stadium without any public financing, and a stadium that will also be able to house NFL West Coast operations. I may not care about football, but I do care about Southern California — and that will be a significant economic driver for Inglewood and the surrounding communities both in year-round employment, support operations, and tourist dollars.

As for the other teams in the deal: I’m glad the Raiders are on the bottom. I remember them during their years here. They really didn’t have civic loyalty, and they projected an image that I wasn’t crazy about. More importantly, just like the Rams were never really STL, the Raiders were never really LA. The Raiders were born in Oakland (1960), came to LA in 1982 and left back for Oakland in 1996. That’s 14 years in LA, vs. almost 42 years in Oakland. They are an Oakland team, and their home should be Oakland.  Hopefully, their owner can figure out a way to reconcile with the city and get a new stadium there; if not, I hear St. Louis wants to build a stadium. Musical teams, anyone?

With respect to the Chargers: although they started in LA in 1960, they’ve been in San Diego since 1961. Ideally, the approval to be the second team plus the 100 million from the NFL might help San Diego get off its collective tush and build them a suitable stadium. They are a great draw for Orange County and San Diego. If not, well the new Inglewood stadium has room for two.