Observations Along the Road

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

It Won’t Grow Up

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 05, 2014 @ 12:52 pm PST

Peter Pan Liveuserpic=televisionLast night was the second live musical in a new NBC tradition: live theatre as a Christmas special. Last year, there was “The Sound of Music Live“; this year brought us “Peter Pan Live“. Again, as with last year, the hater and snark community was out there hot and heavy (as could clearly be seen in the responses on the Forbidden Musicals group on Facebook), although the professional reviewers treated the show a little better. The basic opinion, once you threw out the obvious haters and snark, was that this was a better effort than Sound of Music, but it had its odd flaws. That’s basically my opinion as well, but I thought I’d elaborate a bit. After all, this was live theatre (well, pre-recorded for my time zone), and I watched it, meaning some sort of write-up is due. However, this won’t be a full theatre review write-up: I feel no need to summarize the reworked plot, or to list the credits and to link to every actor in the production. You want that, you go to IMDB.

The Story

If you came into this expecting the Disney version of Peter Pan, you were likely disappointed. This was the stage musical version, famously made, umm, famous by the Mary Martin telecast on NBC (although, I’ll note for the record, I’m not a fan of Martin’s Pan — I find her voice too lilting for the role). The stage version of Peter Pan, for the record, originated out of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and featured music by Mark “Moose” Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne, and most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It first appeared on stage in 1953 in Los Angeles, on Broadway in 1954, on TV in 1955, 1956, and 1960, with numerous stage revivals.

If you’ve seen the musical Pan on stage, you know it is a relatively short show. NBC had time to fill, so they talked to Adolph Green’s daughter Amanda, and worked in some additional music (and story to support that music). They reworked two songs from Do Re Mi: “Ambition” became “Vengeance”, and “I Know About Love” became “Only Pretend”. From Say, Darling they adapted “Something’s Always Happening on the River” into “A World Without Peter”. They brought in a song that was cut during previews in San Francisco: “When I Went Home”, and they added some reprises of existing songs. They also reworked “Ugg-a-wug” into “True Blood Brothers” to address Native American sensitivities, a move that got many upset.

In general, I liked the song additions and changes. Both “Vengeance” and “A World Without Peter” worked well for me; the plot changes to fit things in also worked. There are those purists out there who insist a show never changes; to them I say: “Get Over It!”. Many shows have undergone changes and tinkering — sometimes without the source author’s permission, sometimes with. In this case, Green was involved, so I have no problem. Both Do Re Mi and Say Darling are unlikely to be revived and have dated plots. I’ll note that even Rodgers and Hammerstein songs were reworked and reused: State Fair revised and adapted songs from both Allegro and Me and Juliet. As for the changes to Ugg-a-Wug: Again, I liked them. They added in words that were supposedly drawn from Native American languages, as opposed to nonsense words. They also got rid of clearly offensive lines, like “true noble redskin” (I also noted that in Hook’s song, they changed “massacre Indians”). Such changes will give this musical more life. I hope these changes will be worked into the licensed script as an option.

There were some story changes I didn’t like. I didn’t see the need for the “bomb the island” subplot — I think it was just a silly excuse for the “X marks the spot” and stealing the map as a different way of getting into what would have been the Mysterious Lady scene. It could have been done in a different way.

There was also the handling of the traditional breaking of the fourth wall — the moment where Peter asks the audience to clap to save Tinkerbell. Yes, they did it, although supposedly on the east coast they were asked to tweet to save her (we didn’t see that on the west coast). It seemed odd with no audience sound — perhaps they should have added the crew clapping at that point. The biggest problem was that the extending of the show moved this moment to about 10:20pm — long after the children who were watching were likely in bed.

Lastly, I’ll note that my view of Pan is colored by “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers“, which I saw at The Blank Theatre a few years ago. Pan is not the good little boy, just as Tinkerbell is not a delightful sprite. Pan is also out for vengeance: in his case, although he wants a mother, he feels no emotion towards her. Think about this: Not only is Pan incapable of loving Wendy, Pan injures every generation by taking away their child for an unspecified time, warping their psyche, and returning them to always look for boys in their men.

The Performances

Last year, although everyone seemed to trash Carrie Underwood as Maria, I had less of a problem with her. Allison Williams (as Pan) fared much better in the reviews, and I tend to agree: she gave a very good performance and sang well. She (well, all of the actors) adopted a British accent for the show. That wasn’t required and likely offended the purists who could see only Martin, but it didn’t bother me. She could have used a little more childish enthusiasm; however, overall, I thought she did well and I’d like to see her do more musicals.

Then there was Christopher Walken. Sigh. Yes, the man could dance. But Hook is not a dancer. The real problem was he couldn’t act or sing. His singing reminded me of Rex Harrison, who basically spoke the songs in My Fair Lady. His acting was — IMHO — wooden and stiff, and he didn’t bring the maniacal energy and character that Hook requires. The problem is — who could have done better? You need an actor who can dance, act, and sing; who is well known to the TV audience (not necessarily the stage audience); and who is available for all the rehearsals. Roger Rees? Nathan Lane? I’m not sure who else could have done this and have been the draw.

Stealing the show, as always, was Christian Borle as both the father and Smee. I think something was lost in not having Walken dual as the father, but I can understand the costuming changes (plus I’m not sure Walken could have provided the warmth Mr. Darling requires). Borle was an absolute smash in both roles and stole the scenes whenever he was in them. I also agree with the line I read on the Forbidden Musicals group: I never knew Borle had such guns!

Let’s look at the generations of Wendy together: Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling, Taylor Louderman as Wendy, and Minnie Driver as the narrator and adult Wendy. Louderman was wonderful as Wendy with a good characterization and a great singing voice (we also saw her in Bring It On in Los Angeles). O’Hara also gave a good performance as Mrs. Darling, and her duet with Wendy was delightful. Lastly, Driver did a fine narration job and was quite touching in the closing scene (especially when you realize what Peter was doing to her).

As Tiger Lily, Alanna Saunders (Gypsy) did good in her few songs, although her character came off as a bit wimpish in the final fighting scene. The claim was made that changes were made to the character to address Native American sensitivities (including Saunders’ casting, as she is part native american). She did very good on the reworked Ugg-a-Wug (True Blood Brothers), but the costuming of her tribe still seemed a bit stereotypical to me.

As for the remaining characters, they are mostly indistinguishable. I will note that the Lost Boys seemed to be too old to be Lost Boys, but that’s how theatre casting goes if you want strong dancers. Some of the supporting pirate crew had some few cute moments. According to Playbill, here are the remaining major credits: The Lost Boys are played by Ryan Steele (Curly), Jason Gotay (Tootles), Jacob Guzman (Twin 1), David Guzman (Twin 2), Chris McCarrell (Nibs), F. Michael Haynie (Slightly), Dyllon Burnside (Prickles), Daniel Quadrino (Bunting), Garett Hawe (Patches) and Michael Hartung (Sniffler). The Pirates are played by Bryce Ryness (Starkey), T. Oliver Reid (Oliver Shreeks/Islander), Michael Park (Cecco), Chris Sullivan (Noodler), Alan H. Green (Cookson), Austin Lesch (Bill Jukes), Gary Milner (The Vicar/Islander), Matt Wall (Skylights/Islander), Ryan Andes (Admiral Chrichton) and John Arthur Greene (Robert Mullins/Islander). Assuming multiple roles are Dominique Kelley, Marty Lawson, Charlie Williams, Michael Munday, CJ Tyson, Alex Wong, Andrew Pirozzi, James Brown III and Keenan Washington.

I also note that they made Nana a real dog. She/he/it worked and made her marks — I was particularly amused to see the dog trained to turn down the bed.

The Technology

Many of the reviews I read complained about the visibility of the wires. This didn’t bother me at all. Consider: When you are seeing a stage production, most people are typically far from the stage, making the wires less visible. With TV — and especially with HDTV and Ultra-HDTV — you’re up-close with the actors. Of course you’re going to see the wires. Suspend your disbelief, folks.

CGI was used in a number of places, and (to me) it didn’t work too well. The animation for Peter’s Shadow was problematic, especially when you could see it against Peter’s real Shadow. More importantly, the opening scene where he was dancing with the Shadow was marred by overuse of transition effects (the Shadow breaking apart into butterflies, for example). Tinkerbell worked better and was similar to laser effects (which I’ve also seen used), although again there were some transition problems. More problematic was the fact that the CGI overlay seemed to create odd screen problems, such as white squares at times. The electronic fairy dust worked OK.

Doing the production across sound stages, as opposed to a single proscenium stage, allowed for fancier sets. There were still problems. The Darling’s nursery was far too expansive, and I wasn’t crazy about the map effect on the floor in Neverland. The weird spatial relationship between the pirate ship and Neverland was made worse by all the different sets there — this actually hindered suspension of disbelief. Lastly, I noticed all the Christmas set dressing — trees, wreaths, etc. This is not specifically a Christmas story, other than Michael flying when he says “Christmas!”. So why they chose that dressing is beyond me.

TV likes to emphasize the risk of doing things live, forgetting that real theatre people do it live 8 times a week. As expected, it looks like a few props didn’t work, and there were times the actors were visibly out of breath in the scenes after a major dance.

The Music and Movement

I loved the new orchestrations and intend to pick up a copy of the soundtrack. I could not tell if the music was live and piped in or pre-recorded. I hope the former — it makes it more of a challenge.

The dancing was good, and it was clear they extended a number of scenes to add extended dance. The Pirates, in particular, danced much more than usual.

Overall Impression

Overall, I liked it. Walken’s performance was perhaps the weakest part of the show for me. Is this a keeper to watch again? Unclear. We don’t see NBC repeating last year’s Sound of Music; we don’t see ABC repeating their musical versions of Cinderella, Annie, or Music Man. I think people want to see their performances live. However, I do want to pick up the soundtrack, if only to have a copy of the added and changed songs.

The Usual Disclaimers

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

There’s no theatre on the books this weekend; I’m heading off to the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) in New Orleans. When I return, it will be “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim in the afternoon, followed by an Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  Ticketed productions pick up in February, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on the weekend of March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach. 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.


Go, Go, Go, Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Dec 03, 2014 @ 6:46 pm PST

Joseph and His ... (Nobel MS)userpic=nobelWay back ago, in the dark ages of 2007, a theatre arts program was revived at my daughter’s then middle school. Two English teachers, Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro, brought back a theatre arts program, and with nothing more than enthusiastic students and parents (of which we were two), these teachers energized students and created a spark of learning through theatre. That program had borrowed lights on overloaded extension cords, no sound to speak of, and a hastily assembled set. Jump ahead seven years. This program now has professional quality lighting and sound, professional quality sets, and a large cadre of students coming back as Alumni to teach and help run the program. That qualifies as a success in my book.

Needless to say, we’ve been attending and supporting these programs since Day Zero. So it wasn’t a surprise that, even thought our daughter is safely back at UC Berkeley after Thanksgiving, we were invited to the first Tuesday Alumni Night performance of their latest show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat“. As I’m likely dealing with the TL;DR generation, here’s the bottom line: Especially considering this is a middle-school production, go see this. You’ll be blown away by the production values, which rival any high school or community theatre production. Although the book has its weaknesses, the enthusiasm makes up for it; although the kids are not professionals, they do an excellent job that far exceeds middle-school production expectations. But then again, you would expect no less from the Nobel Middle School Theatre Arts program.

If the production has one major weakness, it is an unavoidable one: the selected show. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a late 1960’s pop cantata, 35 minutes long– it was the first published work by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, it was rewritten and lengthened with some novelty musical numbers — but at its heart, it is a simple pop cantata, essentially sung through. It tells the Biblical story of Joseph from the incident with the coat of many colors through the brothers return to Egypt through pastiches of musical styles, and is — to put it succinctly — cute. It requires some strong lead vocals, and has loads and loads of choral parts. This is why it is a great middle school show. I have the original pop cantata album, and I saw the 1982 tour (with Laurie Beechman  and Bill Hutton) when it was at the newly remodeled Pantages theatre  — in fact, I think it was one of the first shows after the remodeling. Since then, it has been lengthened a little each time it hits Broadway again. This adds material, not depth. But none of this is anything to those who license it can change (but who would deny me the fun of railing against Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber). Further, for most people (and, truthfully, even for me), this is a fun little show.

So, you ask, how did Nobel do with the show. First, please note my observations are based on an Alumni performance — essentially, a preview night. They asked for notes from the audience, which we gave. So I expect that the performances this weekend will be even stronger and better than what I saw. As a result, I will withhold some of the comments on things I expect to be easily resolved by Thursday night. You should also be aware that these kids are not professional actors, singers, or dancers. They are middle school students who have had some training. Their voices are good with glimmers of great and occasions of not-so-great. There are some wonderful dancers (I recall some particularly spectacular ballet moves); and there are some who are a little less so. There are some who give great performances to accompany what they are saying, and there are the occasional few who overemphasize or underplay. But considering these are kids — and we’re talking the 12-14 age group here — they are doing remarkably well. I will say their performances soars over some high school performances I have seen.

Traditionally, in Joseph, the powerhouse player is the narrator. This requires a strong belting voice — something you rarely find in a public middle school. The directors (Fanny Araña, Carolyn Doherty, and Daniel Bellucci) wisely decided to change the single narrator to a quartet. The result worked quite well. The four narrators — Alana DuPre, Amanda Magaña Kamryn Siler, and Rebecca Radvinsky — worked very well together. They sang with good strength and quality, and added strong acting and emoting to their performance (making them quite fun to watch).

At the heart of this show, however, is Joseph (Jake Dalton). Joseph not only is the center of the action, but has quite a few key songs (including some of my favorites, “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do”). As Joseph, Dalton played the role well, and his singing was reasonably good. I kept hearing an odd slightly British accent, which I didn’t know was the student or the coaching. I commented on that, so it might be corrected. There were also some odd phrasings to my ear, but that could just be due to over-familiarity with the original cantata and the 1982 OBC (Original Broadway Cast). Other than being plagued by microphone problems, there were no major issues and Dalton did very good for a student.

Joseph’s brothers (Reuben (Shane “Squishy” Smith); Simeon (Colby Haney); Levi (Arno Nizamian), Judah (Kasha Bansal), Dan (Anthony Tedesco), Naphtali (Jesse “The Rock” Pacheco), Gad (Troy Richman), Asher (Nicholas Aguilar), Issachar (Brandon Moser), Zebulun (Robert Cerda), and Benjamin (Max Chester)) all played their roles well. As they were unamplified, they could use a bit more oomph in the choral numbers (but, again, that may be addressed by opening night — it could also be addressed by increasing the pickup on the drop microphones). A few of the brothers got leads in the songs; I was particularly taken with Smith’s performance in the French Bistro number (“Those Canaan Days”).

The wives (Talia Ballew, Taylor “Cookie” Carlson, Willow Islas, Hannah Protiva, Marena Wisa Wasef, Kennaya Ndu, Ellie Zahedi, Elizabeth Ramos, Daniela Johns, Rachel Khoury, Amanda Macias, Ariana DeLeon) and the chorus (Abigail Beck, Amanda Pipolo, Charlotte Doolittle, Inaya Durfied, Joann Gilliam, Jordyn Lowe, Julia Denny, Rena Rodriguez) were less distinguishable as characters — they are not called out by the story by name, and provide mostly background voices. I did like the chorus in the black leotards, although when they came out carrying the jail cell it looked like a scene from Chicago: The Musical. There were some particularly good dancers in this crew — especially the ones adding ballet moves. Alas, I couldn’t identify the good dancers by name. As with the brothers, a bit more oomph in the choral numbers would be good; drop microphone pickup can be adjusted to compensate. There were also some good performances by the three ensemble members acting as waiters in the French Bistro scene.

Rounding out the cast were the other minor characters: Pharoah (Justin Tuell), Potiphar (Jacob Lipman), Mrs. Potiphar (Brooke Kier), the Baker (David Gomez), the Butler (Spencer Goldman), Jacob (Samuel Katz), and the guards (Kevin Foster, Kyle Kaplan). A few comments here. Tuell was good, but could amp up the Elvis impersonation (one wonders how much this generation even knows about Elvis, sigh….). The character is intended to be overplayed, but less as “the King” and more as “Elvis, the King” (thankyouverymuch). This may be addressed by opening. Kier did some lovely dancing as Mrs. Potiphar; I found it interesting the (necessary) middle school script change of “come and lie with me, love” to “come and be with me, love”. I had forgotten that Jacob was more of a be seen than heard role — he has a snippet of a song in the opening and is thence quiet (although he performed quite well).

Musical direction was by Daniel Bellucci, a Nobel alumni. This was less of a “musical” direction (as in orchestrations) and more in the form of vocal direction. Bellucci had a lot of work to do — a large cast of kids who likely had little to no vocal training, doing a sung-through show. I think he did remarkable. Although there were some odd phrasings at times, and a few kids who had voices that were occasionally off, the result was spectacular for less than a semester’s worth of work and untrained talent. I don’t think you can compare vocal quality here to Equity and trained actors; for what these kids are, they did extremely well (and you’ll be very surprised). The one musical problem was more on the other side: this was intended as a sung-through show, not a typical musical where there is space after each song for applause and scene changes. As a result, the musical transitions were very abrupt and jarring, especially the spaces between songs. Some of this was unavoidable — at a school production, you have to plan for applause after each song (parents and students being proud of their offspring and friends); some might be addressed through some soundtrack editing.

Dance in this show was very good. The choreography, by parent Carolyn Doherty and Alumni students Madison Tilner, Ryan Wynott, and Michael Lertzman (MRM) worked very well. They were able to take advantage of those students with dance training, and even those without formal training moved well.

The remaining aspects of the show were primarily technical. The sets were spectacular, reflecting the transition over the 7 years. They were well constructed, realistic looking, worked well, and established place very very well. Credit goes to long time Set Consultant Dennis Kull, as well as Alumni set designer Ben Tiber assisted by parents and alumni on construction. Props (coordinated by Kamille Flack) also worked well. Costumes worked well — I particularly liked the white outfits worn by the narrators, the black leotards previously mentioned, the Elvis outfit, Jacob’s outfit, and the general desert clothing of that era. No credit is given for costume and makeup design, but the costume lead was Tam Le.

Sound and lights reflect the tremendous growth of this program — even more remarkable when you realize there is no funding support from LA Unified. This is all from parent contributions and grants. The lighting, which in the early days were some side lighting trees on overloaded extension cords and no ability to program lights (or even get to overhead lights) has grown to professional lights, on professional fixtures, with professional software. This worked effectively to build and convey the mood. Credit goes to Lighting Coordinator Terry Meadows, Lighting Designer Artur Cybulski, and Alumni Lighting Consultant Nicholas Carlson. Zarah Shahinian was the crew lead for lighting, and David Manalo and Isabelle Saligumba were the crew leads for spots. Sound is also markedly better than the early days, where there were about three stand-up mikes. Today, there are about 8 wireless microphones, two hanging microphones, and a full sound board. In general, the sound worked well, although there was a balance problem between the music and the voices at times. That may be corrected by opening night. There was also a lot of wireless microphone static, especially on Joseph’s microphone and Pharoah’s microphone. This could be placement or interference; again, I expect it to be corrected by opening. Credit here goes to Sound Consultant (and Alumni) Michael McNabb, assisted by Stephen Rabin (crew lead). There were numerous additional supporting technical credits, which I’m not going to list. I will note that Tam Le also served as stage manager, and David Manalo as house manager.

This was the first show that Fanny produced on her own; well, not really on her own, as she the help of a lot of Alumni, plus her co-directors. She did a great job, but we still miss Jean (Ms. M) (who is off in Vermont on a leave of absence). A birdie says she will be back in town for the weekend performances — we might not stay for the performance, but might just drop by to say “hi”. Fanny deserves kudos for her work on this — pulling middle-school children into a coherent team for a production such as this is worse than herding cats. However, the teams and the relationships that this intense activity builds in the kids changes their lives forever; it also changes the teacher. You could see Fanny last night just soaking up the love that 7 years of students have for her. Financial rewards for teachers are nice and necessary to sustain the family, but my belief is that the best teachers get the sustenance for their heart and spirit from the success and love of their students.

One last thank you to be acknowledged: the Nobel Administration. When this program started, the Nobel administration was at best neutral towards it. This attitude has changed as the program has proved itself. The Tuesday Alumni Night was an experiment that should be continued… for a number of reasons. First, it cements a love of students for their middle school. This is no little thing — our society encourages high school support, but middle school alumni are forgotten (take that, Paul Revere JHS — Pali contacts me, but you… never). Second, it provides the emotional sustenance for those that bring this program to life. Third, it bonds student to student. Fourth, and most importantly — from an administration point of view — it provides the school (which is now a charter school) with an alumni base to provide financial support. Think about the fact that the first cohort of students from this program are just about to graduate with their Bachelors Degrees (my daughter, who was a 7th grader the first year, is a junior). If they love this program, they love the school, and will be there to respond to fundraising appeals. This is no little thing at the middle school level, in a cash-strapped district that cannot afford the extras for the students.

There are four performances of “Joseph“: Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6 at 6:30PM, and Saturday at 2pm. Tickets are $5, available through the Nobel Student Store or at the door. Additional contributions are welcome. Nobel Middle School is located at 9950 Tampa Avenue in Northridge, CA 91324 (Cross-streets are Tampa, Merridy, Vanalden, and Lassen). Enter off of Merridy.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

There’s no theatre on the books this weekend; I’m heading off to the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) in New Orleans. When I return, it will be “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim in the afternoon, followed by an Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  Ticketed productions pick up in February, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on the weekend of March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach. 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.

California Highway Headlines for November 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 01, 2014 @ 5:41 pm PST

userpic=roadgeekingIt’s the end of November. We’ve just had Thanksgiving, and I — for one — am thankful for the great highways we have in the state of California, and for all the dedicated professionals who helped design, build, and maintain them. Here are some headlines that caught my eye in November:

  • Map of Proposed Beverly Hills Freeway. Some links to maps of the proposed freeway
  • VTA board to decide on Highway 85 express lanes on Nov. 6. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors is set to make a decision on how to best proceed on a major toll lane project that could bring congestion relief to Highway 85. On Nov. 6, VTA staff will ask the board to support a plan that would convert carpool lanes on each side of the approximately 24-mile route into toll lanes open to other motorists. The project proposes to convert the existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes on State Route 85 from U.S. 101 in South San Jose to U.S. 101 in Mountain View to allow single-occupancy vehicles to pay a fee during rush hour to join carpool, clean-air vehicles, motorcyclists and transit buses in the relatively faster lane. Today, SR 85 has six lanes, including a carpool lane in each direction.
  • VTA May Convert Carpool Lane Into Toll Lanes Along Highway 85. The Valley Transportation Authority is looking to convert miles of a carpool lane into toll lanes for solo drivers along Highway 85. The stretch on the freeway is among the South Bay’s slowest commutes and VTA officials think some drivers are willing to pay to speed things up.
  • Funds Diverted From Other Caltrans Projects To Make Up For New Bay Bridge Span Deficit. The new Bay Bridge eastern span will likely end up at least $35 million in the red, and officials are shifting money from other completed Caltrans bridge projects to make up the difference. Until recently, bridge officials were hopeful the span would cost less than the budgeted $6.4 billion. But there’s still as much as $110 million worth of unbudgeted work to be done on the span, according to Caltrans estimates to be presented to a bridge oversight panel on Tuesday.
  • Bay Bridge rod problem worse than previously thought. A problem with grout missing from protective shields around big steel rods in the $6.4 billion new Bay Bridge is more widespread than known a month ago, Caltrans officials said Wednesday. More testing has found that at least five rods — and possibly up to 35 more rods — are missing nearly all the grout that was supposed to fill a metal sleeve to block out potentially corrosive water. All in all, some grout is missing from 135 of the 423 rods, and several of the rods were exposed to water, Caltrans said.
  • Tribes Say CalTrans Illegally Destroying Historical Sites for Bypass . In the fall of 2012, Mike Fitzgerral was driving outside of Willits in Northern California, on Highway 101, the famous coastal roadway that wends through the awe-inspiring Redwood Forest, and he noticed construction workers had started erecting orange mesh fencing and cutting down oak trees. Fitzgerral, Chairman of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, knew the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) had been investigating constructing a 5.9-mile bypass around Willits that would likely cut through the heart of Little Lake Valley, the lush wetlands and ancestral home of many Pomo tribal members in the area.
  • Freeway Cap Could Sew East LA’s Biggest Park Back Together. Freeway cap park fever has spread from Santa Monica to Hollywood to Downtown and now to East LA, where the LA County Department of Regional Planning has started to dream about putting a cap park on top of the 60 Freeway in East LA, once again joining the two halves of Belvedere Park, which have been separated since the freeway cut through more than 50 years ago. The 31-acre park is the largest in East LA proper and already has an Olympic-sized pool, an amphitheater, and a skate park, says Eastsider LA.
  • A year after Joseph Gatto slaying, LAPD again asks for public’s help. […] Also on Wednesday, part of the 10 Freeway was dedicated in Joseph Gatto’s name. The dedication ceremony was held in front of a mural of Gatto at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, which he helped found.
  • Toll lane project on Hwy. 85 through Saratoga, Cupertino hits standstill, at least until January. A major toll lane project that could bring congestion relief to Highway 85 is at a standstill at least until January after the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors moved to temporarily suspend the project.
  • Orange County takes continuous-access approach on carpool lanes . Freeway carpool lanes are being extended and tied together across Southern California, but one county is taking a decidedly different — and some studies suggest safer — approach to how they work. Orange County is reconfiguring its 267-mile network of HOV lanes so motorists can enter and exit anywhere, rather than just in designated areas that are often spaced far apart.
  • Exit sign on 710 Freeway misspells Olympic Boulevard as ‘Olimpic’. Even in this era of automatic spell check, we all still make typos. But rarely are they as big as what appeared this month on the northbound 710 Freeway.
    lRelated L.A. traffic the day before Thanksgiving will be the worst in U.S. On Nov. 6, a subcontractor installed a new sign for the Olympic Boulevard exit. It read “Olimpic.” A construction crew with the California Department of Transportation spotted the mistake the next morning, but it was too late.
  • Tall freeway spans will be relatively safe in quakes, Caltrans says. The sweeping, graceful arches of Southern California’s towering interchanges form some of the most iconic features of the world’s most famous freeway network. But in a region crisscrossed by fault lines, the ramps that soar hundreds of feet above traffic, and the lanes that run beneath them, can be disconcerting territory for drivers hyper-aware of earthquake risks.
  • Tunnels North Of Golden Gate Bridge May Finally Get Named After Robin Williams. State Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has formally proposed legislation that would name the highway tunnels near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge after Robin Williams.
  • Muting the Freeway: How roadside noise barriers are designed to absorb sound and evade attention. The freeway sound wall may be as overlooked as it is ubiquitous. Lining interstates and highways and freeways across the United States, these concrete and cinderblock structures are a blur in the peripheral vision of our automotive world.
  • Metro will study adding more pay lanes to Southern California freeways. An overflow of commuters signing up for access to pay-to-ride carpool lanes on the 110 and 10 freeways prompted the county’s transit agency to launch a study Thursday on how to convert more free lanes into pay lanes. Future freeways being studied for toll lanes include the 405, 5, 210 and even extensions of the 110 and 10 pay lanes, according to Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member and Duarte City Councilman John Fasana.
  • New Bay Bridge demolition plans could preserve piers. Bay Area transportation officials are contemplating a plan to leave parts of the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge in place, a proposal that could preserve history and bring down the price of demolition by millions of dollars. Month by month, the skyline over the Bay changes as the old eastern span of the bridge is demolished. But the new plan proposes the questions: should crews leave some of it behind?
  • When the flow of traffic was all aboard the ferries. From 1850 to the early 1940s, ferryboats were the most important form of transportation in the Bay Area. They were also uniquely beloved — thanks to their leisurely pace, the on-deck friendships they fostered and, above all, the fact that they gave countless people an intimate daily connection with the San Francisco Bay.

It’s All About Sex

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 30, 2014 @ 9:29 am PST

Kinky Boots (Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaThere’s something I’ve never understood about women — namely, their attraction to shoes. To most men, shoes are utilitarian things, bought not for style but for comfort. We have perhaps three or four pair, categories not by style but by function: work, gym, hiking, beach. But women have a very different relationship. Here’s an example: Yesterday afternoon I saw a show at the Pantages. They post tweets about the show on their front page, and here’s one that caught my eye: “What could be better but to see a musical about SHOES?” As a guy, I could think of many things better. So what explains my interest in the musical “Kinky Boots“, which I just saw at the Pantages (FB)? Two things: Cyndi Lauper and the message.

Let’s start with Cyndi Lauper (FB). If you look at the theatre in the 1940s and 1950s and I ask you to name the composers, who likely rolls off the tongue? Rodgers and Hammerstein. Rodgers and Hart. Irving Berlin. Cole Porter. Comden and Green. Go to the 1960s through 1990s and you get new teams: Bock and Harnick. Kander and Ebb. Sondheim. This was an era when Broadway music became the popular music. Nowadays the composers are different: Jeannie Tesori, Andrew Lippa, Michael DeLaChusa, Jason Robert Brown, Ahrens and Flaherty. But what we’re also seeing is movement of major pop musicians into the theatre field. We’ve had major shows with music and lyrics by folks such as Elton John, Sting, U2, Green Day, and others. Kinky Boots represents the first forey by Cyndi Lauper on the stage, and for her effort she added a Tony award to her previous Grammy and Emmy awards. For us to have the next generation — and to have a theatre that speaks to the younger audience — this is a must. Of course, I had previously heard the music to Kinky Boots; however, I just had to see how it worked into the story.

Next, let’s look at the message of Kinky Boots. It is a simple and clear one: accept people for who they are. This is a message increasingly important these days, and it transcends the surface subject matter of drag queens and transvestites. To elaborate: when I came home from Kinky Boots, I was watching the 50th Anniversary special on Peter Paul and Mary. It pointed out their emphasis on human rights, and how our society has moved on from civil rights. It concluded with talking about Peter’s work with Operation Respect — an effort to get rid of bullying. When Kinky Boots hit Broadway, we were in the midst of the gay marriage debate. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was on tour, as was Billy Elliott, and La Cage had recently returned. Drag was in, and we were focusing on acceptance of gays. Look at today, and our focus is back on race — but the issue is again acceptance for who people are, and removing the notion of privilege based on stereotypes. Kinky Boots sends a strong message — do not bully and stereotype people based on their appearance, but see them for who they really are. It is a message that will continue to resonate — and one that must be repeated and heard — until it becomes part of our being.

Kinky Boots, which has a book by Harvey Fierstein (FB) and is based on the motion picture of the same name written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, tells the true story of the WJ Brooks shoe factory (Price and Sons in the movie and on stage) and how the factory was rescued by a forey into drag queen footwear. The true story was abstracted someone (in what some claim is formulaic sitcom fashion) into the movie, and then slightly rearranged and reworked for the stage. The basic story, as presented, is one about two boys. One, Charlie, is on track to inherit his father’s shoe factory in Northhampton UK, even though he doesn’t like shoes and wants to move to London to be with his fiancee. The other, Simon, is a flamboyant boy who loves wearing high heels (note that he is neither gay nor transvestite, as the story makes clear). The two boys grow up as expected, with Simon adopting the stage name of Lola and becoming a drag queen, and Charlie inheriting the shoe factory (after he had moved to London with his finacee, Nicola). Charlie discovers the factory is failing, and through a chance encounter with Lola, identifies that ladies heels and pumps are not suited to the male frame. A co-worker, Lauren, convinces Charlie that a niche market is needed for the factory to survive, and sexy shoes for men becomes that market.  The story, from this point, becomes somewhat predictable and along the lines of Billy Elliot: Lola comes into the factory to design the shoes. Lola is not accepted by the small town. Lola convinces the most bigoted man (Don) the value of acceptance. Don becomes the key factor in saving the factory. Charlie dumps Nikola for Lauren. The shoe factory is saved.

Many reviews I have read have complained about the sitcom and predictable nature of this story. But that didn’t bother me. Many Broadway shows have predictable storylines, going back to Oklahoma (was there any doubt Laurey would end up with Curly) and Sound of Music. That doesn’t make them bad, as long as the journey along the way is entertaining, doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief, and has music that works. Further, one can’t blame Fierstein for the nature of the story; reading the Wiki summary of the movie, he only did some slight rearrangement. As for the music, Cyndi Lauper did a pretty good job for a first time outing. It wasn’t perfect — there were a few numbers that didn’t quite serve to advance the story or illuminate the characters, or that went on too long. But for the most part, the music was exciting and energetic, advanced the story, and worked well. What is interesting is how the combination ended up stronger than the pieces: this was a musical that was a shot of energy to Broadway and has continued to perform strong. [What is unclear is the long term life of the piece — will this musical pop-up everywhere once it is released for regional productions? That’s happened to Mary Poppins, In The Heights, Avenue Q, Addams Family and Memphis. I haven’t seen it happen to Billy Elliot or Priscilla.]

One other common complaint I have seen in the reviews relates to the heavy accents in the story. This was a major problem in the tour of Billy Elliot, where the accents made the story hard to hear and follow. I don’t think the problem was as bad here, although you did need to take a little effort to listen carefully, and there were a few points where I could not make out the words.

As usual, for the touring production, we didn’t get the names that were on Broadway. Gone are the days of the LA Civic Light Opera, already forgotten by the LA Times, where LA got the Broadway starts. Luckily, the touring cast (under the direction of Jerry Mitchell (FB), with D. B. Bonds as the Associate Director and Tour Direction by The Road Company) does an excellent job. In the lead positions are Steven Booth (FB, TW) as Charlie Price and Kyle Taylor Parker (FB, TW) as Lola. Booth has a nice boyish charm about him, and handles the acting, singing and dancing quite well. Parker is a powerhouse knockout as Lola, taking over the stage with his personality. Both are quite fun to watch.

In the secondary positions (at least in terms of stage time and the story) are Lindsay Nicole Chambers (FB, TW) as Lauren and Joe Coots (FB) as Don. Chambers was a delight as Lauren. I was sitting near the back, and kept bringing out my binoculars to watch her. She had an extremely expressive face, and just seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role and the character — which to me, adds and extra something to the performance. She also sang and danced quite well. Coots was convincing as Don, which made his conversion to a new attitude in the story work well. It was also nice to see a different side of Coots at the end — we always seem to catch the Equity Fights AIDS performances, and Coots did the appeal from the stage. He gave off the vibe that this was a company that had fun working together — and perhaps this is why this production gives off the energy that it does.

Much of the rest of the cast consisted of ensemble, dance, and smaller named roles. This makes it hard for characters to stand out and be noticed, but there are a few I’d like to highlight. First and foremost is Bonnie Milligan (FB). The underlying message in this story — acceptance for who you are and what you are — goes beyond skin color, gender, or how you like to dress. It also goes to size acceptance, one of the few areas where our society today still openly judges. This is where Milligan comes it. It was an absolute delight to see an actress of size (i.e., not the normal twig-sized actress) having fun on stage, moving, playing, singing well, emoting well, and just exuding joy. She was a true, true delight to watch, especially in the “What a Woman Wants” number. Also notable were the kids in the cast — Anthony Picarello as Young Charlie and (at our performance) Troi Gaines as Young Lola. They were cute during their two scenes, but their real personality came out during the closing number, when they were onstage dancing and having fun to “Raise You Up/Just Be”. Just fun to watch. Completing the cast were Grace Stockdale (FB) (Nicola), Craig Waletzko (FB) (George), Damien Brett/FB (Ensemble), Stephen Carrasco (FB) (Dance Captain/Swing), Lauren Nicole Chapman (FB) (Ensemble), Amelia Cormack (FB) (Trish / Ensemble), J. Harrison Ghee (FB) (Swing), Blair Goldberg (FB) (Ensemble), Andrew Theo Johnson (Young Theo Primary) Darius Harper/FB (TW) (Angel / Ensemble), Crystal Kellogg (FB, TW) (Swing), Jeffrey Kishinevskiy (Young Charlie Standby), Jeff Kuhr (FB) (Swing), Ross Lekites (FB) (Richard Bailey / Ensemble), Patty Lohr (FB) (Swing), Mike Longo (FB) (Harry / Ensemble), Tommy Martinez (FB, TW) (Angel / Ensemble), David McDonald (FB) (Mr. Price / Ensemble), Nick McGough (FB) (Angel / Ensemble), Horace V. Rogers (Simon Sr. / Ensemble), Ricky Schroeder (FB, TW) (Angel / Ensemble), Anne Tolpegin (FB) (Milan Stage Manager / Ensemble), Juan Torres-Falcon (FB, TW) (Angel / Ensemble), Hernando Umana (FB, TW) (Angel/ Ensemble), and Sam Zeller (FB) (Ensemble).

Turning to music and movement. The production was choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (FB), assisted by Associate Choreographer Rusty Mowery (FB) and Dance Captain Stephen Carrasco (FB). Overall, the movement worked well — it was energetic and fun to watch. In terms of music, Stephen Oremus (FB) was the Music Supervisor and Arranger and Michael Keller was the Music Coordinator. Adam Souza was Music Direcotr and Conductor, as well as playing Keyboard in the touring orchestra. Additional members of the touring orchestra were Ryan Fielding Garrett (Associate Conductor / Keyboard 2), Josh Weinstein and Oscar Bautista (Guitars), Sherisse Rogers (Bass), Adam Fischel (Drums). They were supplemented locally by Kathleen Robertson (Violin), Paula Fehrenbach (Cello), Dick Mitchell (Flute / Clarinet / Alto Saz / Tenor Sax), John Fumo (Trumpet), Alan Kaplan (Trombone), Paul Viapiano (Guitar 2), David Witham (Keyboard Sub). The sound produced by these musicians was good, clean, and at time, loud.

Lastly, there’s the technical side of things. The scenic design of David Rockwell worked quite well; I particularly liked the roller tables of the “Everybody Say Yeah” number (which was seen on the Tonys). The sound design of John Shivers was reasonably good, although any sound design requires tuning to be heard in the massive and auditorily-bouncy monstrosity that is the Pantages. The lighting design of Kenneth Posner was dark at points, but otherwise worked well. The costumes (Gregg Barnes), hair (Josh Marquette), and make-up (Randy Houston Mercer) were spectacular. Rounding out the technical and other credits: Kathy Fabian (Props), Amy Jo Jackson (Dialect Coach), Telsey + Company (Casting), Smitty/Theatersmith Associates (Technical Supervision), Peter Van Dyke (Production Stage Manager), Jack McLeod (Stage Manager), Kate McDoniel (Assistant Stage Manager), Foresight Theatrical (General Manager), and loads and loads and loads of producers.

Today is the last performance of “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages. I’m sure you can catch it at future tour stops; next up is San Francisco.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Theatre continues Tuesday with the Alumni Performance of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School (normal performances are Thursday through Saturday). Following that is the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) in New Orleans. When I return, it will be “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim in the afternoon, followed by an Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  Ticketed productions pick up in February, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on the weekend of March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach. 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.

Stirring the Stew Pot

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 29, 2014 @ 8:02 pm PST

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and we’re overdone for some stew. I’ve been on vacation last week, and I left some links at work when I left before vacation, so this is a short list:


Let Me Be Your Guest

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 26, 2014 @ 10:36 pm PST

userpic=travelI am no longer a virgin.

Perhaps I should clarify that. I’m no longer a sharing economy virgin. I just completed my first stay with AirBNB. I thought I would share some observations that aren’t specific to my particular host and location, but things I perceive to be peculiar to the AirBNB experience. For the TL;DR and TLA contingent: BLUF: I would use AirBNB again, but this emphasizes the importance of choosing your hosts and locations correctly.

For those who don’t know what AirBNB is: It is people putting up underused spaces for rent on the Internet. People looking for places to stay can rent them short term. This can range from a tent or a tea house in the backyard, to a room in a house, to an entire house. But it is not a hotel experience. There is no maid. Your bed is probably not made up for you. You likely have the same towel every night. There is no on-site restaurant or business center.

What I did — and what I guess is the typical experience — is rent a room in someone’s house. In essence, you are their houseguest (although you are paying for the experience). I was very conscious of this, and tried my best to be a good guest. This meant following house rules (which, in Berkeley, with limited water, included “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…”, which was a bit uncomfortable for me, but I understood why it was done and respected the rule). This also meant I was very conscious about the noise I made, both while listening to my music at night and walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night (the floor squeaked).  I had kitchen privileges, and so when I dirtied a dish, I always washed it and put it away. Lastly, I always made up my bed in the morning.

These are things you don’t think about in a hotel. But when you are a guest in someone’s house, you think about them. If this is something you cannot live with, then stick with the hotel. There, you pay for the privilege not to think about this stuff.

Here are some other things you don’t think about. There’s no ice machine (or microwave, or coffee pot in your room). You need to remember to ask about those things (for example, I knew I could use the microwave, and kept using the same mug. I would have felt weird going into the refrigerator for ice, tho. You might be sharing a bathroom with your host, with all that entails — including not adjusting the showerhead or the water temperature, out of courtesy.  That level of personal contact is something you don’t have in a hotel. You typically don’t have hotel-provided amenities, so remember to bring your own soap and shampoo, and potentially your own alarm clock (although your cell phone can serve as one).

What this boils down to is this: The AirBNB experience can be great. But don’t go into it just to save money. Pick your hosts carefully and ensure they are compatible, especially if you will be sharing space in their house. Read your location description carefully. Someone warned me about this, and I truly enjoyed staying with my host, Stephani (in fact, she seemed like someone with whom I could get along with outside of the AirBNB experience).

Will I use AirBNB again? I certainly think so. It is great for going someplace with few hotels (such as Berkeley) and when you’re traveling alone. I’m not sure I’d do it if I was traveling with my wife, but if I did, I’d pick the host and location to be compatible.

So, have you used AirBNB? Do you’re experiences jibe with mine?


Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 25, 2014 @ 6:32 am PST

userpic=soapboxYesterday, a Grand Jury delivered an indictment. But, you say, the news says they decided not to indict. That may be the case regarding the officer, but that decision itself was an indictment of our legal system, and highlighted both its strengths and its failures. The reaction to it was a statement as well — a statement that many people don’t understand the legal system, and that many people do not understand the ways to bring about change.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: I was going to title this post “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty” (in deference to an old Doonesbury comic). It is clear the officer, Darren Wilson, shot Michael Brown. There is no disputing that fact.

However, the law does not view all shootings as equal. This goes back to biblical days — the commandments do not say “Do not kill”, but “Do not murder”, making that fine distinction between killing and murder. We kill every day in war, but do not prosecute the soldiers. We watch TV shows where cops kill clearly bad guys, and that is justified with no penalties. So “guilt”, at least for the killing, is only the first step.

The next step is determining which of the many crimes for which Wilson could be charged would have sufficient evidence to convince a jury to render a unanimous decision that he is guilty. First degree murder is out: you clearly couldn’t show premeditated intent. As this article noted, second-degree murder charges were theoretically possible, but this choice was unlikely if jurors decided that Wilson feared for his life when he killed Brown. If jurors concluded that Wilson was negligent when he shot Brown, they could have gone with a charge of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Let’s look at that “feared for his life”, and add in the complicating factor. We’re dealing with a police officer here, not a normal civilian. Police officers, by definition of their role, are expected to carry guns and occasionally use deadly force, with justification, as part of their job. As a result, there are strict definitions of the conditions when such force is justified; if those conditions are met, murder charges cannot be substantiated. In this case, it isn’t “white privilege”, but “police officer privilege”. One of those conditions is “fear for your life” (and that is an internal judgement call, something slippery to disprove).  The other is to prevent a known felon from escaping.

Now, add to this that a Grand Jury’s function is not to judge guilt, but to decide if there appears to be sufficient evidence to convince a jury to render a guilty verdict (which must be unanimous). In other words, the Grand Jury needed to review all of the evidence provided, and make a determination that it convincingly and unambiguously demonstrated that the officer had no reason to fear for his life, no reason to believe that Brown was a likely felon, and no reason to believe he was trying to escape. From what I’ve read, the evidence wasn’t quite that clear.

This left the Grand Jury with a difficult meta-decision: Do they indict on weak evidence, and risk a Not Guilty version at the trial, or do they not send the case to trial unless it is clear that Guilty would be returned. If you think the reaction to non-indictment was bad, just imagine the reaction to a Not Guilty verdict.

Next, let’s explore the question of whether white privilege was involved. I believe that it was, but its involvement was subtle. A long history of such privilege probably led to a different quality in the evidence based on who gave the evidence (I wanted to say “race”, but that’s incorrect). There was also the impact of the skin color of the people who collected the evidence, and a judgement by the Grand Jury of how the skin color of the eventual jurors might judge the evidence. It was also present in the decision of whether the officer feared for his life — that fear was also the product of prejudice and privilege. This is all subtle, but present.

In the end, an indictment was delivered: an indictment of our criminal justice system. It is a system that ultimately does not judge guilt or innocence, but whether specific crimes can be proven. The standard of proving those crimes is harder if they were committed by a law officer in the performance of their job. It is complicated by the fact that, in the general sense, the legal system works very hard to keep the innocent out of jail, making standards of proof difficult. And yes, it is an indictment of the inherent privilege effects in that system, for subjective belief is involved, and the jurors eventually judge the evidence through the lenses of their biases. This isn’t CSI with purely factual evidence and a purely factual decision.

You’re probably asking, if you’re read this far, if I agree with the decision. That’s hard to answer. Do I feel the shooting was justified? Based on what I heard, no. Do I believe the Grand Jury decision was correct? Having not read all the evidence, I can’t answer whether it would be sufficient to convince a jury unanimously that the shooting was justified, because all jurors do not think as I do. I can believe that the Grand Jury might think the evidence was insufficient. That is the fault of the prosecutor, who had the responsibility to build a convincing case. This prosecutor did no such thing — he dumped the mounds of evidence on the Grand Jury and left it to them to build the case, connect the dots, and decide the charges. That poor performance probably led directly to the Grand Jury decision, which may have been what the prosecutor wanted.  Do I believe the system is biased towards the police? Yes, and we’re not helping by giving them former military equipment and creating the mindset of “them against the enemy”, as opposed to protecting the population. There are deep mindsets to change here.

In the beginning of this post, I talked about how to bring about change. I’ll note that looting is never the way to bring about change. Protesting can be, but not violent protests that result in creating biases against the protesters. King and Gandhi had it right — non-violent protest is the way to go, if one must protest. The best way to bring about change is from within, but it is often too slow for many people’s taste. Voting is important, but even more important is doing — getting people educated about the inherent biases and problems in the system, and then getting them to run for office to change the laws and the system to reduce or mitigate that bias.

Here’s the TL;DR summary: The system is broken. Most people don’t understand the system. The system worked, but didn’t give the answer the unwashed masses thought it should deliver. To fix the problem, violence is not the answer — get educated about the problems and work to fix the system from within.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 23, 2014 @ 8:36 am PST

The Immigrant (Tabard Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in 2012, I went to the West Coast Jewish Theatre (FB)’s production of “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza“. At that time, I learned that their next production was to be the musical version of Mark Harelick (FB)’s play “The Immigrant“. I obtained a copy of the CD, and started to try to fit it into my theatre schedule — but, alas, I couldn’t. This year, when planning my trip to the Bay Area to visit my daughter (who is in her third year at UC Berkeley, and her second year of Yiddish studies), I discovered that Tabard Theatre Company (FB) was doing the original play during my visit. I quickly made arrangements to attend — which we did yesterday, seeing the penultimate performance of the play. I am extremely glad that we did — this was a very very moving play; I play I want to see again when it revisits Southern California. I’d recommend you go see it, but it closed last night.

One thing common to all Americans is the immigrant experience. For some, it is so far back there is no memory (native Americans). Others try to forgot those times (“I came over on the Mayflower”). In the Jewish community, most know their immigration story. For example, I know how my grandfather came to American from Vitebsk, entering at the Port of San Francisco and going to New York. I know that other branches of my family came from Germany to New York, and then to Nashville. These are experiences that shape a family.

The Immigrant” tells one such story — and one that is true. It tells the story of the Harelick family (yes, the author of the play), whose patriarch (Haskell Garelick, changed to Haskell Harelick) immigrated from Russia in the early 1900s to Galveston TX, and thence to a small community on the Texas plains called Harrison. Starting life with a pushcart selling bananas, he befriends the town banker (Milton Perry) and his Southern Baptist wife (Ima Perry), coming to live with them. Perry helps Harelick move from a pushcart selling bananas to a horse-drawn cart selling fruits and vegetables to a dry-good store. Harelick saves money to bring his wife (Leah in the play; Marleh in real life) over from Russia. The family thrives and grows with the addition of three sons. A friendship grows between Leah and Ima, and Haskell and Milton become estranged. Near the end of Milton’s life, they reconcile. The family goes through WWII, with Milton eventually dieing in 1987 at the age of 100.

This is the story of the play. The first act is centered in 1909 and 1910, and focuses primarily on Haskell’s arrival, his befriending of Milton, and the initial growth of the business and the bringing over of his wife. At least 60% of the first act is in Yiddish. The second act provides the rest of the story very fast in little vignettes: the budding friendship between Leah and Ima, the birth of each child, a Sabbath dinner, the reconciliation, and a epilogue that finishes the story. All the while, projected around the actors between scenes, are pictures of the real Harelik family that correspond to the times being presented.

The overall picture presented is a very touching one — and a very American one — that shows the impact of the immigrant on a community, and the values that an immigrant can bring to a community. It shows how a community can fear the outsider. It also highlights (in the WWII scenes) how America’s attitude has changed — the country used to welcome the immigrant; now it fears the immigrant (witness the recent situation in Washington DC).

This play also brought to mind two other plays that I have seen recently. The first (and most recent) was Handle with Care” at the Colony. That play was also a fish out of water situation. In the play, Ayelet can speak very little English, and is speaking rapid fire Hebrew to the audience. The audience (well, most of the audience) likely cannot understand the words, yet quickly understands the meaning. Similarly, in The Immigrant, the audience (well, most of the audience) does not understand the Yiddish that Haskell is speaking, but they get what he is saying. The other play this evoked was “Bat Boy: The Musical“. That play also explores how strangers are received, but with a much more tragic end. All of these plays make us realize that we can see the stranger in our community with fear, or we can get to know them and learn that they are good people.

A final observation on the story itself: As I said at the beginning, I was more familiar with the musical. As I watched the play, I could easily see the places where they musicalized the story, and why the story cried out for the musicalization. I look forward to the day when I can see the musical version.

I really only had one minor quibble with the story: In the Sabbath scene, after Leah lights the candles alone and they do the blessing over the children, they indicate they are doing the blessing over the wine… and then proceed to recite the blessing over the candles (which should be said as you light them). They then do the (short) blessing over the wine. This is probably something only I would catch.

Let’s now look at the performance in this piece, which was under the direction of Karen Altree Piemme (FB), who clearly worked closely with these actors to draw out extremely moving performances.

The Harelick family was portrayed by Steve Shapiro (FB) as Haskell, and Erin Ashe (FB) as Leah. Shapiro was remarkable in the role, handling the language and dialect with aplumb (at least to my untrained ear, and I didn’t hear any complaints from my daughter). Shapiro just seemed to become Harelick, inhabiting the character and bringing him to life seamlessly. Ashe’s Leah had a touching vulnerability about her throughout the story; you could see it slowly turning to strength as she lived longer in America. Together, the two had a great chemistry and were a believable couple.

The Perry family was portrayed by Donald W. Sturch (FB) as Milton and Diane Milo as Ima [note that Denee Lewis/FB was Ima for all but our performance day]. Sturch was very good as Milton, portraying both a gruff and a tender side. He was particularly good near the end of the play as the aged, and obviously overcome by stroke, Milton. Milo was also very good as Ima (especially considering that this was her only performance day), showing a character that was initially unsure about the stranger but clearly warming up to the family… especially seeing them more as kindred souls than her husband did.

Overall, the four performances combined with the story to create a truly moving portray. Just excellent. I’ll note you you can find the full program, with all actor credits, here.

Turning to the technical and physical side. First I should note that the Tabard facility is a beautiful one — comfortable chairs and a few tables wrapping around a thrust stage, with a full bar in the back. The scenic artist (Migi Oey (FB)) turned this stage, with just a few props (a door here, a table there, some steps over there) into distinct scenic locales; this combined with Ruth E. Stein (FB)’s very realistic properties very well (they must go through a lot of fruit and veggies each show). Also supporting the overall scenic design were the costumes of Marilyn Watts. The sound design by Robert Lewis had some microphone problems in the beginning, but in general worked well. This was similarly true for the lighting design of Rover Spotts (what a name for a lighting designer): the use of LED lighting and Leikos combined well to evoke mood, although the sudden shift to red in the one fight scene was a bit heavy handed. Technical direction (and presumably, the projections) was by Joe Cassetta, assisted by John Palmer. These worked extremely well to establish the mood and provide the historical context. Kiana Jackson was the stage manager. “The Immigrant” was produced by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta (who I believe was the one that was so kind to let me take a program home; normally, they leave them for the next performance and email the link to the program to the attendees).

Alas, “The Immigrant” at Tabard is no more. The final performance was last night. That’s too bad. However, if that show is indicative of this theatre’s work, I encourage those in the area to see their future shows. I know that if I lived in the area, I would be particularly interested in the musical “Violet“, running April 10 through May 3. Alas, whereas I’ll drive from Northridge to the Anaheim Hills for “She Loves Me” (about 67 miles); driving from Northridge to San Jose (326 miles) is a bit much. Then again, it might be an excuse to spend time with my daughter :-).

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Theatre continues today with the Dickens Fair (FB) in Daly City. After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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.