Observations Along the Road

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

Audience Members! Awake From Your Slumber!

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 16, 2015 @ 6:29 pm PST

userpic=soapboxDo you attend live theatre in Los Angeles County? In particular, do you attend intimate (under 99 seat) theatre in Los Angeles County? If so, your quality of entertainment is being threatened by Actors Equity. Read on.

I touched on this issue in my write-up of Loch Ness, but I’d like to amplify it a bit, and ask you for your suggestions and help.

Theatre depends on a triad:

  1. Producers and Directors are required to provide the acting space, the infrastructure, and to bring together the technical components of a show. Often, they are required to program the show, in terms of selecting the script, choosing the technical staff, casting the show, providing the funding for the sets, the infrastructure for tickets, the rehearsal space.  Producers are also the ones that raise the money, pay for all the components they provide, and to pay the actors.
  2. Actors and Technical Artists are needed to create an interpret the art, to bring it to life on the stage. They are the people that get the “fame” and “glory” (such as it is). Some are lucky enough to make a living from the craft; others do the craft out of a need to create, not for the renumeration (although that’s nice).
  3. Audiences are required to receive the art, to provide the immediate feedback to the actors, to provide that energy that the actors live upon and for. Audiences are also required to buy the tickets, and provide the funds.

Recently, there has been loads of debate about the long standing “99 seat plan” in Los Angeles County. This plan, in essence, was a compromise to allow actors to create art. In particular, it was a plan that permitted actors that were part of the Actors Equity union to create art — without the plan, Equity actors would not be permitted to act in Los Angeles without giving up union status, union protection, and most importantly, union benefits such as healthcare and pensions. The plan severely limited the number of shows that could be done, required a certain number of “comp” tickets to permit the actors to promote themselves, set a cap on ticket prices. It provides rules regarding rehearsals and called for some minimum compensation (bus fare, free parking) to actors. Still, under the plan, theatre in Los Angeles thrived, and a number of under 99 seat companies were formed that do excellent work and permit the work of new authors to reach the stage. These companies often shared any surplus income with the actors.

Still, Actors Equity was unsatisfied and wanted to make a greater push into Los Angeles. Not being part of the union, I cannot know the reasons why. Whatever the reason, in late 2014 a move began to reform the 99 seat plan. Those in Los Angeles agreed reform was needed, and there were discussions exploring making changes based on the budget of a given production. As an audience member, this seemed reasonable to me. I should note that the website Bitter Lemons has been providing excellent coverage of all sides of this debate, and I urge those interested to go over to Bitter Lemons and to read and inform yourselves about it. AEA became interested as well, and at a town meeting they were told that reform was wanted, not scrapping the plan.

AEA has come back with a proposal that, essentially, scraps the plan. It provides for actor-mounted productions in theatres that do not have non-profit status. It allows for membership companies as of early February to remain, but to not have non-profit status, and to not admit additional Equity actors. For all other 99 seat and under productions in Los Angeles County, it requires that minimum wage be paid to all actors for all performances (3 hour minimum) and for all rehearsals. It removes the caps on the number of performances and ticket prices. If theatre want to continue to use Equity actors, this all but guarantees that prices will rise significantly; in the Los Angeles economy, that means — if theatres want to continue to use Equity actors — attendance will drop and theatres will close. Los Angeles is a price sensitive market. Just look at New York if you want to see the results — and the prices of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre.

Will this kill theatre in Los Angeles. Likely not. It will make it so that the intimate theatres, to survive, refuse to employ Equity actors. This may affect show quality; it may also mean actors will be force to choose between their union and performing in Los Angeles. It may mean theatres will close. It may mean theatres will move to Ventura or Orange County to get away from the plan. It will hurt LA Theatre.

Remember I mentioned the triad above. Producers are mobilizing against this. Actors in Los Angeles are mobilizing against this. But I’m an audience member. I’m not an actor, I’m a computer scientist who attends theatre. What can we do as audience members, and is there any evidence that Equity even cares what audience members think? [Again, I think back to Sex and Education at the Colony — what can we say that will convince Equity that it is in their interest to drop this proposal… and that’s likely very different than what we want.]

I’m open to your suggestions. All I can think of is a threat to boycott Equity productions at intimate theatres if this goes through, but that doesn’t hurt anyone but the actors and producers, and means nothing to Equity. Perhaps letters to Equity indicating we will stick with our theatres if they choose to eschew the hiring of Equity actors? All I know is that without us, actors are shouting at an empty space. That isn’t theatre. That’s ranting — and that’s what we blog authors do.

(taps on the screen) Is anyone out there?

 

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Oh, The Shark Has Pretty Teeth

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 16, 2015 @ 9:25 am PST

The Threepenny Opera (A Noise Within)userpic=yorickMany (many) years ago, songs used to regularly move from the stage to the popular charts (unlike today’s trend of taking songs on the popular charts and assembling them into a show). This movement was such that many people didn’t know the stage origins of the songs. Some examples are songs like “Hey, Look Me Over” (which came from Wildcat), “The Ballad of the Shape of Things” (which came from The Littlest Revue), or “Hey Jimmie Joe John Jim Jack” (from Let It Ride). Two great examples of this are the songs “Mack The Knife” (made very popular by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong) and “Pirate Jenny” (also known as “The Black Freighter”) (made popular by artists such as Judy Collins and Steeleye Span). Both of these songs actually came from a popular 1929 music by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill called “The Threepenny Opera“. Although it was a popular musical in its day, you don’t see productions of it all that often these days. So when I learned that Pasadena’s A Noise Within (FB) was doing the show in repertory with Figaro and Julius Caesar I blocked a date and started looking for tickets. Previews of the show started yesterday, and we were there for the first preview.

The Threepenny Opera is an interesting show. It started out as a German adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggars Opera. Although called an opera, it really isn’t; nor is it a traditional musical. It is really a play with musical interludes. Today, however, people think of it as a musical (but then again, people’s knowledge of the story comes from the Moritat, “Mack the Knife”). It is a very dark show, commenting on the underbelly of society — beggars, prostitutes, thiefs, whores, and the corrupt police. In many ways, it reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan in that it seemed intent on skewering and commenting on the structure of society — nowhere is this better seen by the end of the show, where Macheath is saved from the gallows and elevated to be a hereditory peer. I also have recollections (although I can’t confirm them online) that the show was intended not for the upper class opera crowd, but for the everyday public who couldn’t afford shows. Whether that recollection is true, the show is often staged as if it was — fancy productions are eschewed for rougher productions. In fact, many shows open with the reminder: An opera for beggars. Conceived with magnificence such as only beggars could imagine, and an economy such as only beggars could afford…The Threepenny Opera!”

The story of The Threepenny Opera revolves around two principle characters: Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) and Polly Peachum. Mac makes his living through theft, murder, and other crimes. Peachum income — actually, her parent’s income — comes from the beggars of London, whom Mr. Peachum has organized, outfitted to best appeal and allocated throughout the city (skimming a hefty percentage from the top). Other principle characters include Tiger Brown, an Army buddy of Macheath now a police officer in London who watches out for his friend (and gets kickbacks); Brown’s daughter Lucy, who is seemingly pregnant by Macheath; and Jenny Diver, a prostitute who used to be Mac’s girlfriend. A Noise Within describes the story as follows (edited a little):

The story begins in the shop of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, who controls London’s beggars, equipping and training them in return for a cut of their earnings. He enlists a new beggar with the help of his wife, after which time they notice that their grown daughter Polly did not come home the previous night. The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath is about to marry Polly as soon as his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings. No vows are exchanged, but Polly is satisfied, and everyone sits down to a banquet. Since none of the gang members can provide fitting entertainment, Polly does it herself. The gang gets nervous when Chief of Police Tiger Brown arrives, but Brown turns out to be an old army buddy of Mack’s who has prevented him from being arrested all these years. Everyone else exits and Mack and Polly celebrate their love. Polly returns home and defiantly announces her marriage, as her parents urge her to get a divorce and Mrs. Peachum resolves to bribe Mack’s favorite prostitutes. Polly reveals Mack’s ties to Brown, which gives Mr. and Mrs. Peachum an idea about how to snare Mack, and the trio meditates on the world’s corruption. // Polly tells Mack that her father will have him arrested. He makes arrangements to leave London, explaining his bandit “business” to Polly so she can manage it in his absence, and departs. Polly takes over the gang decisively as Mrs. Peachum bribes Jenny, Mack’s old lover, to turn him in. On the way out of London, Mack stops at his favorite brothel to visit Jenny. Smith arrives and apologetically arrests Mack, who goes to jail. He bribes the guard to remove his handcuffs; then his wife, Lucy—Brown’s daughter—arrives and declares her love. Polly arrives, and she and Lucy quarrel. After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Mack’s escape. When Mr. Peachum finds out, he threatens Brown and forces him to send the police after Mack, which engenders another mediation on the unpleasant human condition. // Jenny comes to the Peachums’ shop to demand her bribe money, which Mrs. Peachum refuses to pay. Jenny reveals that Mack is at Suky Tawdry’s house. When Brown arrives, determined to arrest Peachum and the beggars, he is horrified to learn that the beggars are already in position and only Mr. Peachum can stop them. To placate Peachum, Brown’s only option is to arrest Mack and have him executed. Jenny mourns Mack’s plight. In the next scene, Mack is back in jail. He begs the gang to raise a sufficient bribe, but they cannot. A parade of visitors—Brown, Jenny, Peachum, and Polly—enters as Mack prepares to die. Then a sudden reversal: A messenger on horseback arrives to announce that Macheath has been pardoned by the Queen and granted a castle and pension.

Note that the story is in some sense fluid. The original was in German, and there have been numerous translations. I was most familiar with the Marc Blitzstein translation from 1954 (as that was the recorded version I have) — this has the best known lyrics for Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny, and allocates Pirate Jenny to Jenny in Act I. ANW’s used the Michael Feingold version developed for Broadway in 1989 (with Sting as Macheath). This version returned Pirate Jenny to its original performer and place (sung by Polly Peachum to entertain at the “wedding” in Act I), and made some lyrical changes that made some songs a bit jarring (in particular, Pirate Jenny doesn’t refer to “The Black Freighter” but a Galleon). However, that is not the fault of this particular production; productions often use the most recent translation.

ANW’s production, which was directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, made a number of production decisions that, in my opinion, hurt the production. Before I go into them, I must note that what I saw was a preview (in fact, the first preview), so there is a good chance that these may be corrected by the official opening. I hope they are.

As ANW’s production opened, the cast members were strewn around the auditorium saying random things in character. The point of this was unclear. Was it to establish character? We had no idea who these overly costumed folks were. Create ambiance? Unclear. The show then started with the lights dimming, the overture starting, the characters assembling in chairs onstage, and launching into The Ballad of Mack the Knife. There was not a balladeer, nor was there an announcement made to remind the audience (which, being a Sunday matinee, was loaded with senior citizens) to turn off their cell phones.  I think this was a poor decision for the opening. These days we need “the announcement” (as we were reminded when someone’s cell phone went off loudly about 20 minutes in); I also think the balladeer is a better way to present the Moritat than a group choral number with alternating parts.

There were other jarring technical aspects as well, which I’ll get out of the way before we launch into the good.  As this was a preview, all of these may be corrected by the official opening. The lighting design by Ken Booth was, in short, distracting. There were moving lights moving for no purpose other than to distract, and lekos going off and on in the back — again, seemingly only to distract. The overall lighting was dark — not only in mood (which was understandable) but in intensity. This often left the performers in shadow, which isn’t good. The costume design (by Angela Balogh Calin (FB)) and hair, wig, and makeup design (by Gieselle Blair (FB)) also had an occasional jarring aspects. In particular, the eyebrows on many of the actors were overdone, which served to distract rather than to illuminate. I also found Polly Peachum’s outfit distracting — in particular, the hose, as there were dark splotches that made me constantly wonder if it was a hosiery effect or if the hose was hiding tattoos. All of these were unnecessary distractions — and luckily, I believe all of them are easily correctable (and, hopefully, will be corrected during the preview process). They are also non-fatal.

Luckily, the performances themselves were quite good (modulo the common problem with shows set in England of American performers doing English accents so heavy that they are hard to understand). All of the leads had wonderful voices and performed their characters well. There were some slight elements of overplay, but that’s a suspension-of-concern as I believe that is the nature of this show. There wasn’t quite the joy in the characters I like to see, but that could be reflective of (a) this being an early preview, before the actors have gotten to know the characters well, and (b) this being a repertory production where the actors are regularly swapping their characters for others in Figaro or Caesar. It could also just be the fact that this is a dark show: there’s no joy of the actors in their characters because there is little joy in the characters themselves.

In the leading tier of performers were Andrew Ableson (FB) as Macheath and Marisa Duchowny (FB) as Polly Peachum.   We’ve seen Ableson before in both Ionescapde and The Beastly Bombing. Both had lovely voices and handled their numbers well. I particularly liked Duchowny’s “Pirate Jenny”, and all of Ableson’s numbers. Immediately supporting them were Geoff Elliott as Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum and Deborah Strang (FB) as Mrs. Peachum. Elliott’s Mr. Peachum had the appropriate gravitas and stench of corruption for the character; Strang’s Mrs. Peachum blended a bit more in the background, but came out strong in her interactions with Jenny Diver (especially in the middle of Act II). Both sang their numbers well, and moved quite well when they climbed the scaffolding.

In the next tier are probably the last well known characters: Jeremy Rabb (FB) as Tiger Brown; Stasha Surdyke (FB) as Jenny Diver, Maegan McConnell as Lucy Brown.  We’ve seen Ms. McConnell before, back in the East-West production of Pippin.  I recall liking McConnell’s take on Catherine there, and she did a lovely take on Lucy Brown here (both in singing and performance). Surdyke’s Jenny was also strong, especially in the opening number for Act II and the number with the ropes. Rabb was also good as Tiger Brown — he was notable not only in his number with Macheath, but his number and performance in the closing where he essentially explained why the large painting of the horse we see at the beginning of Act I looks so odd.

Rounding out the characters in the show are the crew supporting Macheath, the beggars supporting the Peachums, and the various prostitutes supporting Jenny. Although some of these characters have names, the story is such that you never get a sense of them as characters. All performed well. This tier consisted of: E. K. Dagenfield (FB) (Filch/Weeping Willow Walt), Henry Noble (Matt the Mint), Abubakr Ali (FB) (Crook-Fingered Jack), Matthew Ian Welch (FB) (Sawtooth Bob), Jack Elliott (Jimmy), Fionn James (Ned), Alison Elliott (FB) (Dolly), and the ensemble members: Laura Lee Caudill (FB), Shea Donovan (FB), Aly Easton (FB), Zachary Kahn (FB), Carly Pandža (FB), Toby Dalton Riggle, and Nichole Trugler (FB).

In terms of music and movement, the production was reasonable. There were no choreography credits, so presumably much of the movement came from the directoral team. Sergio Leal and Isabella Grosso from Latin Dance Pro were consultants for the tango. The music was under the direction of DeReau K. Farrar (FB), who also served as conductor of the 7 member band: Melissa Sky-Eagle on keyboards, Scott Roewe and Wes Smith on woodwinds, Angela Romero on trumpet, Adam Liebreich-Johnson on tenor and bass trombone, Robert Oriol (FB) on guitar, banjo, and bass, and Tim Curle on percussion. In general, the orchestra provided a good sound. There was the occasional dissonance — I’m not sure if it was a flat, a minor note, or intentional — but it seemed to fit with the nature of the beggar’s production, so I’m going with intentional. Only occasionally did the music overpower the singers.

Turning to the technical side now. The scenic design by Frederica Nascimento was on the order of… what scenic design. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way. The scenic design was simple — lots of visible scaffolding, hand painted signage, hand labeled boxes, and little things to suggest location. It worked well for a repertory production, but it definitely wasn’t elaborate. It gave off the sense of this being an itinerant theatre troupe giving a cheap touring production — which I guess was the intent. It was supported by the props from Marissa Bergman (FB) which worked well.  I’ve commented on Ken Booth‘s lighting before: there were lots of lights in the back blinking on and off for no apparent reason, and there were times the lighting bridge was lowered — again, for no clear reason. Lighting should be invisible and subtly create the mood; this wasn’t. The sound design under sound consultant Robert Oriol (FB) was reasonable, although the leads could have done with stronger amplification to make theme clearer. For the most part (i.e., modulo the minor problem in Polly’s costume) the costumes of Angela Balogh Calin (FB) worked well. Similarly, modulo the occasional distracting eyebrow, Gieselle Blair makeup worked well. It was a little overdone, but that’s the style of this form of show — it’s not as naturalistic as Saturday’s production of Loch Ness was. Remaining technical credits were: Aaron Michaud/FB (Audio Engineer), Juliana McBride (FB) (Stage Manager), Nike Doukas (Dialect Coach), Marc Chernoff/FB (Technical Director), Maria Uribe/FB (Costume Shop Coordinator), Orlando de La Paz (Scenic Painter), and Samantha Sintef (Assistant Stage Manager).

I’ll also note that I found ANW’s program to be one of the more confusing programs out there: a thick booklet consisting of a few pages on each show, followed by an alphabetical listing of all the actors in all the shows combined. Although this does make sense for a repertory company, it makes it hard for an audience to read about the actors in their particular performance. I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of actors in this show that had their own webpages (good). As I tend to add Facebook links, I’ll also note that I had a large number of people that had learned to limit the visibility of their friendslist (a good thing, security-wise), and there was a larger proportion of people without Facebook links. Is this an indication of the decline of Facebook? I remember when I used to always include MySpace links until no one maintained them anymore. But I digress.

The Threepenny Opera continues in repertory with Figaro and Julius Caesar through  May 9 (Threepenny runs Feb 15 through May 9; Figaro runs March 1 through May 10; Caesar runs March 22 through May 8). The official opening night is February 21. Tickets are available through the ANW Box Office, and on Goldstar. Even with the technical distractions (which will hopefully be corrected) this is a production worth seeing: Threepenny is rarely done in Southern California, and this one is done reasonably well.

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

Upcoming Shows: February concludes with a lot of theatre in Burbank. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). 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.

 

Wanting to Believe

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 15, 2015 @ 11:02 am PST

Loch Ness (A New Musical)userpic=theatre_ticketsThis year seems to be starting out on a particular theme — one that is emphasizing creativity and expressiveness.  We saw that creativity earlier this year at ZJU’s 50 hour theatre; it was also apparent in the creative reimagining of Pulp Fiction.  We’ve seen super expressiveness on stage as well, both with the puppeteers of Avenue Q, the clever ideas behind Serial Killer Barbie, and the wonderfully expressive lead in Redhead. We saw both combined in the new musical now playing at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hils: Loch Ness.

Loch Ness, a new musical by the father/son team of A. D. Penado (FB) (lyrics and book) and Marshall Pailet (FB) (director, music, books), tells the story of the Loch Ness monster, of course (although that term is a little pejorative :-)). But that’s only part of the story in Loch Ness (the musical). The real focus of the story is on belief, holding on to that belief in the face of reality, recognizing when to give up on a mistaken belief, and coming to the realization — when you do so — that what you gain by giving up may be much more than you gain by holding on. Loch Ness (the musical) is a story about relationships and love — but it isn’t the traditional romantic love that was celebrated in the Chance’s last musical, She Loves Me; rather, the love celebrated in this musical is the love between parent and child, and between child and parent. The two notions — belief and love — combine to create the necessary “I want” that propels the story forward, and provide to be what, ulitmately, make the story successful.

So what is the story behind Loch Ness? It centers around the Westerbook family: the father, Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and his daughter, Haley Westerbrook (and her pet frog, Mudpie).  The Westerbrooks recently lost Haley’s mother in an aircraft disappearance over the North Sea. After searching and searching and searching — exhausting all family funds — Dr. Westerbook gave up the search. The only work he could find was for a wealthy patron, Leana Callaghan, who had once seen the Loch Ness monster when she was young and snapped a picture of her (which looks like a smudge). After a timely inheritance, she now had the funds to prove she exists. She hired Dr. Westerbrook to do the search. Haley comes along, although she’s supremely pissed at her father for giving up the search for her mom and keeps running away and rebelling. Assisting Dr. Westerbrook in the search are Captain Jameson (who prefers to be called “CJ”, the C being for Captain) and two French research assistants, Pierre and Eclair. Not surprisingly, during one of her rebels, Haley discovers Nessie. Nessie, too, is searching for her mother and wants to return to the North Sea to find her. She believes that she can, if only she can get big enough. This gets to the underlying myth of this show: Nessie shrinks when she is photographed and reality comes into play; she grows when people simply believe in her. This starts Haley’s quest: to get people to believe in Nessie while preventing her father’s mission (and Lady Callaghan’s mission) to provide photographic proof of Nessie. If Haley succeeds, Nessie has promised her that she will take her to the North Sea to find her mother. Lurking behind everything is the mysterious “Oiler”, who keeps muttering about things in the Scottish highlands. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the adventure along the way, but suffice it to say that by the end of the show, both Haley and Nessie have found what they needed, even if it was not necessarily what they believed. The overall effect was just beautiful, creative, and touching.

Katie Brown, Nessie, and Julia Cassandra Smith. Photo ©2014 True Image Studio provided by the Chance Theatre press websiteMuch credit goes to the direction of Pailet (FB), the choreography of Kelly Todd (FB), and the masterful scenic and puppet design of Fred Kinney (FB) and Megan Hill (FB). These folks used creative collaboration to create an environment where Nessie came to life through the work of multiple puppeteers. Using the same technique seen in Avenue Q, the puppeteer’s faces were visible and were amplifying the limited expressiveness of the actual puppet head (which was a single-rod puppet). Katie Brown (shown to the right) served as the main face and voice of Nessie (more on her later), while other actors doubled controlling other parts of Nessie and were equally visible and expressive. It was remarkable to see and emphasized why intimate theatre is a necessity — in the scale of a large auditorium, this magic would be lost for much of the audience.

Julia Cassandra Smith and Nessie/Katie Brown. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Theatre press websiteMusically, Loch Ness was well-assembled as well. A complaint with many new musical writers these days is that they don’t know how to write musicals. The songs seem like the novelty songs of old — dropped in because they wanted music at that point, but the music simply repeats what had been said in the story, or provides an entertaining diversion. This was a problem in the recent Serial Killer Barbie.  I’m pleased to say that this musical gets it right — the songs are integral to the story and propel it along. I’d give specific examples with the names of the song, but (alas) no song list was provided and one could not be found online (even at the press site, hint hint). A few musical moments do stick in my mind the morning after. In Act I, there is the moment where Nessie and Haley express their shared hope, their desire to fly back to their mothers. This is just a beautiful song that moves the story along perfectly. Another song that sticks in my mind is the opening to Act II, where CJ, Pierre, Eclair and the Oiler express their joy at finally realizing Nessie is real. The creative musical nature of the number was remarkable. Lastly, there is a touching song in Gaelic that perfectly captures the emotion between parent and child.

Loch Ness Set. From Marshall Pailett's websiteI mentioned the set design earlier with the puppet, and I’d like to discuss it before I go into the actors. The picture to the right, from Marshall Pailett’s website (there were no good set pictures on the Chance website), gives you an idea. There was this large wooden sided pit with Viking wood carvings in front, topped by a movable bridge that could slide back and forth. The bridge represented the ship or land; Nessie and her puppeteers moved in the pits, ducking under the bridge as necessary. At the back of the set were wooden doors that could open up to prove a few specific locations. Dealing with the movable bridge and its back and forth was a different style of choreography on top of the few somewhat traditional dance numbers (this was more of a performance than a dance show). The set worked magic to create the sense of place, especially in the opening where fog machines were used to great effect to create the image and feel of steam rising off the Loch, and the bridge creating the image and feel of being out on the water. You may have heard the phrase “stage magic”. This was stage magic — art and imagination combined to create something real but not realistic, something that bridged the world between the imaginary and the concrete. About my only worry is whether this would scale — it wouldn’t work in many theatres, might lose the magic in large theatres, and there could be problems (as noted in the talk-back) in theatres with balconies. Then again, those are problems you want to have to solve, because that means a future life for the show.

Turning to the performances — they were remarkable (however, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the Chance Theatre (FB)). In the lead tier were Julia Cassandra Smith (FB) as Haley, and Katie Brown (FB) providing the “face” and voice of Nessie.  Both were remarkable. Smith’s Haley was youthful and playful and gave off a delightful depth of spirit — and she had a wonderful voice. Brown’s face was remarkably expressive and just made you melt; again, she also had a delightful voice that worked quite well with Smith’s.

Loch Ness - Jackson Tobiska, Matt Takahashi and Angeline Mirenda . Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Press websiteIn the second character tier were Jackson Tobiska (FB) as Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and Angeline Mirenda (FB) as Leana Callaghan. We’ve seen Tobiska before in both Triassic Parq and Lysistrata Jones. He plays the scientist well, and captured the fatherly nature of the character quite well. He had a very nice singing voice. Mirenda was seemingly the villain of show — the women hellbent on proving the existence of Nessie. She captured that aspect of the character well both in look and performance.

As we enter the next tier, we’re getting to characters who not only played their “name” roles, but who also helped manipulate the puppets. The first half were the main ship characters: Alex Bueno (FB) as CJ, Keaton Williams (FB) as Pierre, and Gina Velez (FB) as Eclair. We’ve seen both Bueno and Williams before in Parq and were impressed with them then; they were perfection here. Velez is new to us but was also fun to watch. As their name characters they were delightful — both in the little comedy asides (in particular, CJ and the coffee cup at the beginning of the show, and the interactions between Pierre and Eclair) and in their singing and dancing (as I noted before, the opening of Act II is just spectacular). Williams and Velez were also notable for their manipulation of Nessie — especially when they were working close to Smith’s Haley, where the expressiveness of their faces (especially Keaton William’s face) was indescribable for what it added to the show. You can see the three of them in the image to the right.

Loch Ness - Gina Velez, Alex Bueno and Keaton Williams. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance press siteRounding out the characters in the show were Corky Loupe (FB) as the Oiler, Matt Takahashi (FB) as Angus Ogilvie, and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as the Balladeer. We saw all three before in She Loves Me. These roles were minor, although Louple’s Oiler provided a wonderful comic relief in his few songs and asides — in particular with the toaster joke (no, not that toaster joke) and the percussion in the Act II opener. I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the Balladeer; I saw her more as an echo of the mother who was lost at sea (and it might have been better to refer to her that way). All three provided other background characters and puppet manipulation, and were wonderful in those aspects (in particular, the pub crawl scene).

Music for this show was prerecorded to provide the lushness that that the composer wanted. Mark Sonnenblick (FB) was the Musical Director, and Ryan O’Connell (FB) was the orchestrator.  I do have a few wishes for the music: (a) that a song list was provided somewhere — this not  only helps those who want to share the show with our friends, but helps match the songs with the actors that performed them (a boon to the actors); and (b) that there was a cast recording. I strongly suggest that a Kickstarter be considered for such a recording (hell, if Evil Dead: The Musical or Now. Hear. This. can do it) — it can not only promote the show, but would preserve this wonderful cast (and might even provide income for the Chance). (PS: There also needs to be a scene list in the program)

I’ve talked before about the wonderful set and the Nessie puppet. Remaining credit in those areas goes to Baxley Andresen (puppet mechanics/fabrication) and Amy Ramirez (FB) (props designer). The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), and was notable not only for the quality of the amplification (which did occasionally overpower the singers, but that was positional and got adjusted during the show), but more so for the ambient noise that was provided that increased the feeling that one was at the Loch. Lighting was by Jonathan Daroca (FB) and it effectively established the mood. I particularly noted the effect of the LED lighting used on the side; I don’t recall this use of LED lighting before at the Chance.  Costumes were by Rachael Lorenzetti and worked quite well. The tight skirt and hose on Lady Callaghan actually made her character seem more evil; Haley’s outfit made her more kid-like, and the outfits of the crew made them appear to be suited for a ship. There were also all those woolens and plaids! There was no credit for makeup or wigs. Remaining show credits: Nora Ives (FB) (Associate Director), Nichole Schlitt (FB) (Stage Manager); Mary Kay Fyra-Mar (FB) (Executive Producer); Lee Seymour (FB) (Associate Producer). I’m not going to list all the Chance staff positions that were in the program; you can find them listed on the Chance website. Two that are worthy of note are Oanh Nguyen (FB), the artistic director, who presumably picked this show for the season (good choice!); and whomever is the marketing director (I’m guessing Molly Dewane, based on a web search), for her well-done speech before the show.

Loch Ness: A New Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) until March 1. Tickets are available through the Chance website; they may also be available through Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre is lucky — they are in Orange County and not affected by the proposed changes to the 99 seat plan from AEA. These changes, if enacted, could create major changes in the intimate theatre scene in Los Angeles County — and have the potential to at worst decimate it, and at best move many small theatres to eschew the use of actors belonging to Actors Equity or other unions. This will hurt everyone — actors, producers, and audience members. I strongly urge everyone to read about the proposed changes. Colin Mitchell and Bitter Lemons has been doing a remarkable job of being THE source for information about this. Read. Learn. If you are in a position to do so, speak up about it. Alas, I don’t believe Actors Equity would care about the opinion of audience members (that is certainly not their constituency); they likely don’t care about the Producers either (or they wouldn’t have proposed this). They certainly don’t understand the Los Angeles theatre scene. Still, if can never hurt to let your opinions be known — as audience members, we can also choose to stay away from Equity productions under this proposal — after all, a show without an audience. Whatever you do, be out there to support LA Theatre and Southern California theatre.

Dining Notes: Yet again we had an excellent meal before the show at True Shabu. Wonderful organic hot-pot cooking, with farm fresh and healthy ingredients. It’s a shame it is so far away, or we would eat there more often.

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

Upcoming Shows: Theatre continues this afternoon with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB). The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Saturday News Chum: Deaths, Mergers, Departures, Health, and Foreign Aid

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 14, 2015 @ 10:14 am PST

userpic=lougrantFinally, it’s Saturday. This has been a busy week — I’ve been accumulating articles, but haven’t had time during the week to post them. Before we jump into the stew, Happy Valentine’s Day to those that observe. What are we doing? We’re going to a wonderful organic Shabu Shabu restaurant we’ve discovered, and then seeing a musical story about the Loch Ness monster. And you?

  • Deaths in the News. A few major deaths have happened in the last couple of days that are quite noteworthy — primarily because these are people about which no one says anything bad. Really good people are rare to come by, and we’ve lost three. The first is Stan Chambers, long-time newscaster at KTLA — and by long, I mean 63 years! This is someone beloved in the news industry, a fixture in Los Angeles, who just reported the story and the facts. Forget your Brian Williams and Dan Rathers — this was the real deal, a reporter to look up to. The second is Gary Owens, a long-time radio and TV personality in Los Angeles. Again, this is someone who everyone looked up to, who helped loads of people with their careers, and of whom no one said anything bad. The third is Florence Sackheim, a long time member at Temple Beth Torah — again, this is someone who was there for everyone else, and whom no one had anything bad to say about.
  • Corporate Mergers. There are a number of corporate mergers of interest. Two weeks ago. Staples made an offer to buy Office Depot Office Max. This is a major consolidation in the office supply industry, and I think it is a bad thing. Loads of stores will close, loads of employees will lose jobs, and prices will rise without two equivalent competitors. Where are the regulators. In a similar consolidation, this week Expedia made an offer to by Orbitz. Expedia already owns Travelocity, so this is a major consolidation in the online travel booking industry. Again, I think this is a bad idea, although there’s a little less of a problem here in that the two services were about the same on price.
  • Going Away. Last week, the news was focused on Radio Shack going away. This week brings news of some other going-aways. First, Costco is celebrating Valentine’s Day by breaking up with American Express.  Well, the breakup will happen in 2016. AmEx has already been hammered as this brings them a lot of business; I know it is the only reason we have a non-corporate Amex card. Costco is reportedly near a deal with a new issuer; it is unclear whether accounts will be transferred, or reapplication will be necessary. In another going-away, the rumors are increasing that the Riviera Hotel may soon be closed and demolished. This makes me sad — there’s not much of 1950’s Vegas left on the strip — some two-story wings at the Tropicana and the original 9-story 1955 Riviera are about it. When the Riviera goes, so goes the history. However, the plan makes sense: the place has become a dump and cannot compete with the newer hotels; it is on the slow end of the strip next to a dead partially completed hotel, across the street from Circus-Circus and… not much else, as Echelon/Genting World is still under construction as well. Supposedly, the Riv is being bought by the Las Vegas Convention Bureau, who want to extend the Convention Center’s reach up from Paradise Blvd to LV Blvd, between Convention Center and Riveria Blvd. Not much is there — the parking lot that was the Landmark, a Dennys, a Walgreens, the Riv, and a 3-story apartment complex and some small businesses. I think we can kiss the Riv — and it’s history — goodbye.
  • Nose and Throat. A week or so ago, on This American Life, I heard a segment on a annoying condition (for some) called Vocal Fry. I’d never heard of it, or could even notice it — so luckily, Mental Floss had a nice article on Vocal Fry.  Now that I know what it is… I still don’t get why people are annoyed. People’s voices are their voices. Get over it. In another interesting article, Vox had a nice exploration of mucus. I actually found this interesting, as I have continual sinus trouble (and I’m also one of those addicted to Afrin).
  • You Know How Foolishly Generous Those Americans Are. So said Stan Freberg in United States of America, and many people believe America gives too much Foreign Aid. However, those beliefs don’t correspond with the facts — and American really doesn’t give that much foreign aid. In fact, less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget goes to foreign aid. The largest portion of the money goes to health: a third of the U.S. foreign aid budget in 2014, or more than $5.3 billion. The next two biggest portions go toward economic development and humanitarian assistance. Small sums of aid support democratic elections in other countries. A tiny portion goes to protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. Some aid funds programs that train local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking. (But no foreign aid goes directly toward another country’s military.) Proof again that most people wouldn’t know the facts if they bit them in the …
  • Dealing with Death. One problem when you die is that you can’t update your Facebook anymore. Fear not. Facebook will soon let you appoint a digital heir.  This is actually a good thing, as  there are more and more memorial Facebook pages, and it would be nice to know they are memorials (so you don’t keep wishing them a happy birthday).
  • Used Bookstores in LA. LAist attempted to do a list of the 10 best used bookstores in LA. Used bookstores are great, and we have lost some significant ones in the last year — both Cliffs and Brand Bookstore are gone. But LAist missed some great ones — in particular, Bargain Books in Van Nuys, and Books 5150 in Chatsworth. But this is no surprise — all those Los Angeles lists are done by westsiders who forget that the valley exists.
  • Women and Work. Last week’s Backstory was on women and work.  As part of this, they did a special segment on women in computing.  Well worth listening to, and something we should encourage. The segment gives me the opportunity to pimp for a project of ACSA: the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security.

 

Saturday News Chum: Retirees, Dues, Ethnic Markets, Death, and More

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 07, 2015 @ 7:37 am PST

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links. I’m doing it a little earlier than usual today, as I’ve got a Bat Mitzvah service at 9 AM and the party afterwards that will take up much of the day:

  • What is this word, “Retirement?”. This article is here because it has some interesting things to say about my place of employment. It is about “boomerang” workers: people who retire, and then come back to the company to continue working on a part-time basis. This is something vitally important at the ranch: we depend on the corporate memory and deep skills of these workers; newbies don’t often break the depth of experience and familiarity with lessons learned required. I should note that the ranch was also ancillarily (if that’s a work) related to another article in the news: an article about a firebombing in Manhattan Beach. The mom in that family is our general counsel. I am appalled that in this day and age incidents like this happen; I am grateful that her family is safe.
  • Doing Away with Dues. One big distinction between synagogues and churches has always been how they are funded. Churches are truly faith based: they rely on big donors and “pass the plate” weekly — there are no membership dues. Synagogues have traditionally been dues based, which resulted in their being treated as fee for service. A few congregations are experimenting with doing away with that, and moving to a “pay what you want model”. It is unknown whether it will work — we’re in our second year of trying it with our men’s organization at TAS. This builds on the earlier question of what synagogues can learn from megachurches.
  • Mexican Markets. Alas, the secret is out. Shopping at ethnic markets is where it is at. Here’s an interesting article looking at the 5 things you learn shopping at Mexican markets. I’ll say that they are true — I regularly like to shop at the two Asian markets near us, and we love to get our tea at some of the Russian and Armenian markets. We rarely shop at the majors (SuperValu == Vons == Safeway == Albertsons, Kroger == Ralphs) anymore.
  • Restaurants and Death. Here’s an article that I found interesting: What happens when a restaurant dies? I’ve never quite understood the restaurant business: how you estimate food, how you deal with the waste, how you optimize cooking times, and such. This article explores what happens when a restaurant closes: the impact on employees, where all the equipment goes, where all the food goes.
  • Guys and Dolls 2. If you recall, when I posted on the Colony season, I mentioned they were doing a new Frank Loesser musical based on the Damon Runyon stories. Here are more details on that show courtesy of Playbill. It’s not quite a sequel; it is set in the same universe but uses other short stories by Runyon in a series of scenes. It also recycles other Loesser music as well as songs cut from Guys and Dolls.
  • Losing Weight. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been struggling with weight. Although I don’t formally diet, I try to stay away from junk. I try to exercise, but time often doesn’t permit it; plus when I do, I don’t see much loss. As you get older, the weight gain is stubborn. Here’s an interesting article about a new pill under development. It tricks your body into thinking you’ve eaten, and thus adjust your metabolism to burn the bad fat and transform it into the good kind. It will be interesting to see if this pans out in studies.
  • iPod Alternatives Update. Just a quickie one here. The Pono Player is out. The opinion on it is meh. The reality is that most people are satisfied with MP3s and can’t hear the difference. I’m more concerned about the criticisms of the Pono’s form factor and interface. After all, the Pono allows one to go up to 192GB of storage.  I’m not sure it is worth the interface problems. Please, Apple, please: come out with an iPod Touch or equivalent with significant storage or support for microSD memory cards. You’ll get back the iPod Classic market if you have that Touch with 256GB.
  • Anthem Hack. I’ve been watching the news on this with interest, primarily because I’m an Anthem subscriber. As with any of these hacks, there’s not much I can do about it other than watch and wait — how corporations protect our data is often beyond our control. I did note a couple of articles of interest. The first provides a bit more detail, and demonstrates how this was a targeted attack against Anthem. I’m sure there was social engineering involved as well. These are the hardest types of attacks to prevent. I think a big fallout of this will be calls to encrypt the data at rest, forgetting the fact that you have to decrypt the data if you are going to operate on it, and it is at this point that data is vulnerable. The second attempts to say how to protect yourself, but IMHO gets much wrong: Anthem has indicated they didn’t go after medical data, meaning they didn’t go after website accounts or patient records or stuff like that. The advice that she gives are generally useful and good to do; they are just unrelated to Anthem. Her first advice is most useful — enacting a credit freeze. However, if you do it now you have to pay for it. Anthem is determining who was affected, and if you were, they will pay for the monitoring and freeze. I’d rather let them pay for it (as long as they don’t raise rates to cover it, but I’ve got a feeling that they have insurance in place to cover it).

 

The Drugs We Need

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Feb 04, 2015 @ 11:42 am PST

userpic=progenitorivoxYesterday, when I got home and caught up on Facebook, I discovered that some Facebook friends had posted the image below, which was shared from the “National Vaccine Information Center” (an innocuous sounding group, until you visit their website and discover that they are against vaccination). This image, and the discussion that accompanied it, stuck in my craw. Trying to write a cogent response within the Facebook response limitations was difficult, so I decided to let it simmer and write something up over lunch. Here’s the image that prompted everything:

Anti-FDA Image for Discussion Purposes
Let’s start by acknowledging that the FDA isn’t perfect. There is clearly a problem with the approval process, because it often takes far too long to get approvals to bring drugs to market, especially when there is urgent need. There are also issues where the FDA does not detect fraudulent data submitted by the drug manufacturers and testers, and let’s drugs through that shouldn’t get through. Both of these are real problems, and both are partially addressed by the same solution: increase the funding to the FDA so that they may, in turn, increase staff to review reports and verify results. Many of the anti-Vac are also anti-government, however, and so they are leery of more government funding to do anything. Sorry, but independent review of drug testing results and protocols fits within the mandate to promote the general welfare, and is a task that must be free of any interference from drug manufacturers. That is a government function.

So let’s talk about the claim in the viral image. How does the FDA prove a drug safe and effective? They go through a multi-year process that involves modeling, animal testing, and eventually, testing in human subjects. The human testing is both for efficacy and to ensure the drug is not harmful. Any reaction identified by the human subjects is noted and goes into the list of potential side effects, just to be on the safe side (translation: there is no guarantee those effects will happen). However, because some conditions are rare and it is difficult to get a suitably sized statistical test pool, and given the wide variation in reactions in humans, problems do get missed. Additionally, testing time is also limited. This is especially true for cumulative side effects that might not be noticed in a 1 year or 2 year test… but only after 25 years of use (which is difficult to test).

So the FDA testing protocol isn’t perfect? What is the alternative? I don’t see the people knocking the FDA coming out and proposing an alternative better protocol. I don’t see them saying we should use drugs without any testing. As for other counties — most other countries don’t have a protocol as strong as the FDA. There are only a handful of countries — Canada, UK, Germany — where I would trust their testing protocols as a viable alternative.

This is all an area of risk mitigation, not 100% risk avoidance. Drug testing does not eliminate the risk, but reduces it substantially. Many things are not risk free, but we accept the risk tradeoff. Taking an airplane — actually, less risk than driving on the street. Have a pool in your home — there’s more risk there than having a gun in the house.  Are there risks with vaccines? Sure, but those risks are very small (and do not include autism — that link has been dis-proven). Anything you put in your body can harm you, from too much water to a single peanut. For the vast vast vast majority, there is no risk with vaccines. On the other hand, the risks of being unvaccinated (as we are currently seeing) are high, for it can expose other people at risk — the elderly, the immune impaired — and has a high likelihood of death for those people.

The summary: Do read and be informed about the drugs you take. Read the inserts with the drugs (which is something the FDA mandates, by the way, and contains information from testing). If you are worried, go to reputable sites to see the incidents of side-effects, and remember that more people are likely to complain when something doesn’t work than will comment when something does work. Talk your fears over with your doctor, but don’t be afraid of science, and despite what you see in the movies, don’t be afraid of government scientists. They actually are working for you and watching out for your best interest (which cannot always be said of corporate science). But in the end, don’t fall for wanting no risk: go for reasonable risk.

ETA: Epilogue: Here’s an interesting article recommended by Mark Evanier: “Rise Of The Know-Betters: Just The Facts About Anti-Vaxx“. It has a good collection of pointers that refute the supposed “facts” stated by the Anti-Vacc movement (I don’t use Vax; Vax is a computer system once manufactured by Digital Equipment, thank you, just as an E Ticket is something that was once used at Disneyland).

ETA № 2: Here’s more info from Vox, including a pro-vacc position from Benjamin Franklin.

Another Redhead Near Universal

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 01, 2015 @ 7:39 pm PST

Redhead (Theatre West)When you think of Universal City and redheads, you probably think of Lucille Ball. While Lucy is a fixture on the Universal lot (and often played by a talented actress of my acquaintence), she’s not the only redhead of note — at least for one more week. Down Cahuenga Blvd from Universal there is another redhead worth seeing — the musical Redhead, being presented in a lightly staged version by Theatre West (FB) as a benefit for the Betty Garrett Musical Comedy Workshop.

Right now, you’re probably going “Redhead? What’s Redhead? I’ve never heard of it.“. That’s not a surprise. As I implied in my  last post, I have a large collection of cast albums and show information. I’ve had the musical Redhead in my collection for some time, but had never seen it before. When it was on Broadway (in fact, it was running on Broadway when I was born), it was popular. It won 5 Tony Awards in 1959, including Best Musical, Best Lead Actor (Richard Kiley), Best Lead Actress (Gwen Verdon), and Best Choreography (Bob Fosse) [although admittedly it was a weak year]. It marked Fosse’s debut as both director and choreography. Yet since it closed in March 1960, it has never returned to Broadway. In fact, it has had only three productions of note anywhere. Due to its rarety, Theatre West chose to produce it as part of this series, and record it for posterity. I had heard about the production and wanted to see it, and it happened to hit the sweet spot of an open weekend, tickets on Goldstar, and something I wanted to see.

Nowadays, the story of Redhead would be dismissed as something light. It was written by Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields, Sidney Sheldon, and David Shaw, with music by Albert Hague (Prof. Shorofsky from Fame), and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Here’s the the high level synopsis from MTI: “When a young actress is murdered in 1900s London, the enterprising Simpson Sisters’ Waxworks installs a tableau of the grisly deed. Muscle man Tom Baxter, the actress’ friend, comes to complain, and there he meets Essie Whimple, a plain girl with a hyperactive imagination. Smitten with Tom, Essie pretends to have been attacked by the murderer, as well, and hijinks ensue – complete with cunning disguises, spine-tingling chases, and an ill-fated show at the Odeon Musical Hall!”

Ah, that phrase “hijinks ensue”. It should be a warning sign of a light plot. Alas, there is no longer full detailed synopsis online — MTI only gives three-quarters of Act I. Basically, here’s what happens. In 1890’s London, a young actress is murdered by an unknown killer who strangles her with a purple scarf. After the murder, the Simpson Sisters Wax Museum (run by Maude and Sarah Simpson) installs a tableau of the murder, designed by the niece of the sisters, Essie Wimple. Wimple, 29, has never had a beau, but keeps having visions of the man she will marry. Near the waxworks is the Odean Musical Hall, run by Howard Cavanaugh. Howard and his cockney comedian, Goerge Poppett, attend the opening of the tableau, together with Inspector White, who has never failed to solve a case. When the tableau opens, they are surprised to see the killer has a blank face. In comes Tom Baxter, the newly-highed strongman from America, objecting to the display. He doesn’t want to see the girlfriend of his best friend, Sir Charles Willingham, displayed like that. While they are arguing over the display, the scarf disappears. Essie, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Tom, and schemes to be together with him by lying that she saw the killer. She goes into protective custody at the Odeon, and she and Tom start falling in love (aided by George, who dresses her as a redhead, Tom’s favorite type). This all goes to hell in a handbasket when Tom asks Essie to identify the killer. She goes into a trance and has a vision and identifies a man that looks like Sir Charles. In telling Tom this, the lie is revealed, and Tom stomps out. End of Act I. Act II starts with Tom trying to date other women and failing, and Sir Charles trying to meet with Essie to ask her some questions about the killer. This leads to Essie hiding with some ladies of the evening in a bar, getting arrested, and then coming up with a complicated scheme, suggested by George, to unveal the killer by putting the head she made on the wax tableau. Tom reveals his love and vows to help her, but unbeknownst to both of them, George is the killer dressed up as Sir Charles. When the scheme comes down a slapstick chase ensures, and … well, you can guess the ending… this is a musical, after all.

As I said: a light and silly plot. It wouldn’t pass muster today; it would be dismissed as light entertainment. But with Gwen Verdon as Essie, Richard Kiley as Tom, and direction and choreography from Fosse, it wowed the audiences — beating out Flower Drum Song and Goldilocks (as I said, a light year for competition). But it is still worth seeing — even with the silly plot. There is some clever and energetic music from Hague and Fields; the songs (while not particularly “stick in your head”) are entertaining, and it is a fun diversion. Think about it this way: not all theatre is Sweeny Todd; there is room in the space for the Mamma Mia as well. This is in that latter ilk.

As I noticed, this is lightly staged. In fact, it was advertised as a concert version, but there are minimal props to establish place and light costuming appropriate for the show. The fact that it appears more staged than it really was is a credit to the director and choreographer, Mark Marchillo (FB). Marchillo turned what was primarily a concert into a show — I felt like I was watching a musical production equal to that of any other intimate theatre in Los Angeles. I didn’t miss the set dressing or elaborate props. This is a case where I’ll give the director props for bringing the acting team together to create this illusion in a short time. What do I mean by “a short time?” The lead actress provides the details on her Facebook: there were just 13 rehearsals, folks!

As for the acting team: It was generally wonderful. In the lead position as Essie Wimple was Caitlin Gallogly (“Official” FB)… and I was smitten. This young woman had one of the best voices I’ve heard in ages, a remarkable comic stage presence, and great dancing ability. I’ve heard people go on and on about Verdon (and I saw her back when she was in Chicago in LA, as well as in numerous movies). But she never won me over, and her singing voice was never pure. Gallogly won me over instantly with a personality and enthusiasm that was just remarkable, and an incredibly pure and wonderful singing voice. If anything, her only drawback was that she was too beautiful to be a plain girl that couldn’t get a beau at 29. Suspension of disbelief and all that rot — that’s how great her performance was. She was great in all of her numbers, being they romantic (“The Right Finger of My Left Hand”) or humorous (“Erbie Fitch’s Dilemma”). Playing against her was Michael James Thatcher (FB) as Tom Baxter. Although he didn’t appear that muscular, his set of pushups on stage proved otherwise. More importantly, he had a chemistry with Gallogly that worked quite well, and had a singing voice that was very strong (although not quite Richard Kiley). You could see the talent in his voice in numbers such as “My Girl is Just Enough Woman for Me”. Both were just a joy to watch.

In the second tier, on Essie’s side, were Barbara Mallory (FB) as Sarah Simpson and Linda Rand (FB) as Maude Sympson. Both captured the characters well, and it was interesting to see the difference between the two: Sarah with the sly side that understood what Essie was going through, and Maude as the older and more cautious sister.  The two actresses were able to bring out these aspects well, and were a hoot in their joint number “Behave Yourself”.

Also in the second tier, on Tom’s side, were David Mingrino (FB) as Howard Cavanaugh and John David Wallis (FB) as George Poppett. Mingrino gave off the appropriate air of the theatre owner more concerned with his show than the people, and provided the necessary opening exposition. Wallis was fun to watch as Poppett; throughout most of the play he gave out absolutely no indication of the dark side to come. He sang well in the “Uncle Sam Rag”.

Rounding out the cast in smaller named roles were Anibal Silveyra (FB) (Inspector White), Marjorie Vander Hoff (FB) (May), Kerry Melachouris (Tillie), and Donald Moore (FB) (Sir Charles Willingham). My only complaint here was with Silveyra; his accent was too strong to make him believable as a Scotland Yard Inspector. Vander Hoof and Melachouris were spectacular, together with the rest of the ensemble and Gallogly, in “We Loves Ya, Jimey”.

Rounding out the production was an ensemble consisting of Rebecca Lane (FB), Michael ‘Tuba’ Heatherton (FB), Lee Meriwether (FB), and Janie Steele. There were also four dancers on stage, chosen from this pool of eight from the Los Angeles Ballet Academy credited in the program: Lauren Barette (FB), Paris Bromber/FB, Lauren Galiote/FB, Lee Grubbs/FB, Sarah Miller, Lexi Nitz (FB), and Simone Woodruff/FB. Notable in the ensemble was Heatherton’s performance as the London Bobbie (especially in the Jail Cell tango). The ensemble sang well, although one or two (I’m guessing Janie Steele, from her web page) had very powerful voices. The dancers were good and it was interesting watching them become integrated into the action. This musical was at the end of the era when there were big exclusive dance sequences. There were some slight costuming problems with the dancers, but as this was a short run semi-staged, they get a pass.

Music was provided by Jake Anthony/FB on the piano; Anthony also served as  Musical Director.

Turning to the technical side: there were minimal sets and props. Lighting was by Yancey Dunham (FB) and worked well to establish the mood. Costumes were by Emily Brown Kucera (FB) and worked well, with the exception of the aforementioned problem with the dancers (who need seem straightening on their stockings, and some minor adjustments to keep the visual appearance clean). I particularly enjoyed the costuming of the leads (especially Essie’s costumes), as well as the Simpson Sisters. Roger Kent Cruz (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Connie Ball. Graphic design was by Doug Haverty (FB). Publicity was by Philip Sokoloff (FB).  Redhead was produced by Jill Jones (FB).

Redhead (the musical) has two more performances at Theatre West (FB): Saturday February 7 @ 8 PM, and Sunday February 8 @ 2 PM. You won’t have the Super Bowl as your excuse next week, so go.  Tickets are available online, by calling the box office at (323) 851-7977. Discount tickets at Goldstar are sold out.

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

Upcoming Shows: We have no theatre next week due to a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7. The next week makes up for it with two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon. Those who enjoyed the Marcy/Zina songs should note that there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. 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.

Seeing A Different Side

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 01, 2015 @ 11:00 am PST

Cantors Concert (TAS)A Cantors Concert. When you hear that phrase, you probably think of a long religious service with lots of liturgical music. While, indeed, that is a form of a musical presentation given by a cantor, it is part of a worship involving a congregation (which you must never refer to as the “audience”, as Rabbi Sheryl always used to remind me). A true concert provides the opportunity for a cantor to perform in front of an audience. It provides the opportunity for a cantor, who is a trained music professional as well as a liturgical leader, to make selections designed to showcase their talent. It also allows the community to see a cantor as more than just a religious musician, to see the cantor as a fully-rounded entertainer. These concerts can also serve as fundraisers for a congregation, where congregants, friends, and family can support both the cantors on stage and the congregation as a whole through their paid attendance. Given this, one can look at a “cantors concert” through multiple aspects: the performance aspects, the fund-raising success, and the extent to which it deepened the relationship between the audience (which contained some percentage of congregation members) and the cantor.

I mention all of this because last night I attended the Cantor’s Concert at our synagogue. I was torn: do I write it up (because I write up every live performance I go to), or do I take a pass (because I’m president of the Men’s Organization at the synagogue)? I decided to write it up. Firstly, because I believe in the organization, and I believe in the talent we have in our cantor, cantor emerita, and cantorial intern. Secondly, because I believe that by publicizing the event, I’ll either entice someone to come visit our synagogue, or I’ll entice someone to support a cantors concert near them. Lastly, because I believe it is important to encourage attendance at live performances. You can see a movie anytime — a concert, play, musical, or other live performance is by its nature “one time only”. Every performance is different. Just ask anyone who has seen Frank Ferrante or Dame Edna, and you’ll know what I mean.

Last night’s cantors concert featured the three cantors associated with Temple Ahavat Shalom: Cantor Jen Roher, Cantor Emerita Patti Linsky, and Cantorial Intern Lily Tash. The program was titled “Songs About Life, Love, and Other Necessities”. It featured the following songs (performer shown in {}):

  1. “Magic To Do” (Pippin) {All} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  2. “What I Did For Love” (A Chorus Line) {Tash} [M: M. Hamlisch / L: E. Kliban]
  3. “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (Avenue Q) {Roher} [M/L: R. Lopez & J. Marx]
  4. “100 Years” {Linsky} (M/L: J. Ondrasik)
  5. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” {All} [M: S. Secunda / L: J. Jacobs, S. Cahn, S. Chaplin]
  6. “Far From The Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof) {Tash} [M: J. Bock / L: S. Harnick]
  7. “Taylor, The Latte Boy” {Roher} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  8. “Defying Gravity” (Wicked) {Linsky}  [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  9. “The Man I Love” / “Nice Work If You Can Get It” / “Fascinating Rhythm” {Roher} [M: G. Gershwin / L: I. Gershwin]
  10. “Lullaby of Broadway” (42nd Street) {All} [M: H. Warren / L: Al Dubin]
  11. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” {All} [M/L: D. Raye, H. Prince]
  12. “It Don’t Mean a Thing” {Linsky} [M: D. Ellington / L: I. Mills]
  13. “For Good” (Wicked) {Linsky, Roher} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  14. “Alto’s Lament” {Tash} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  15. “Music and the Mirror” (A Chorus Line) {Roher} [M: Marvin Hamlish / L: E. Kliban]
  16. “I Am Enough” {Linsky} [M/L: P. Linsky]
  17. “Seasons of Love” (Rent) {All} [M/L: J. Larson]

In general, this was a good selection of songs for the theme, although the lyrics of the opening selection didn’t really fit the show (I have never really realized before how specific they are to the show Pippin). Picking a set of songs for a show is difficult. Although I have some minor quibbles with the selection (some shows were a little over-represented, and it was surprising to not see any Kander/Ebb, Coleman, Ahrens/Flaherty, or Maltby/Shire), those are mine. The audience was unaware and enjoyed every selection; the songs worked into the theme well.

Overall, the performances were good. There are a few I would like to single out:

The trio did very well on the jazzier / swing numbers. The voices blended very well and provided exceptional harmony in songs like “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, and particularly “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” featured some really good scat singing and wonderful piano, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” has some wonderful audience interaction. Given the quality of songs like these, the group should consider focusing next year’s concert on this style of music. It could be truly exceptional.

In solo performance, Cantorial Intern Tash did very well on both “Far From The Home I Love” and “Alto’s Lament”.  On the former, she hit the emotional aspect well as she related it to her own life; on the latter, she was able to pick up and amplify the comic aspects of the song.

Cantor Roher also had some performances worthy of highlight. Her introductory story on “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” was interesting (and prompted a mention of the “Marvin Hamlisch Story” after the show, given the other Hamslich songs); the song itself was well sung. In addition to her singing, her acting side shone on “Taylor, The Latte Boy” where she was able to personify and become the character in the song. Her enthusiasm and joy was contagious (in a good way) during “Fascinating Rhythm”, and she wowed with her dance moves in “Music and The Mirror”. Overall, Cantor Roher’s performance and selection enabled the audience to see a truly different side of her. In addition to the singing ability, she has a playful performance side and remarkable enthusiasm that can’t always be expressed on the bimah. It was a delight to see them here.

Cantor Linsky was exceptional in “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, not only for the singing but in remarkable interactions with the audience and the musical combo. She was very touching in her own composition, “I am Enough” and handled “Defying Gravity” (a difficult number) quite well.

The three were backed by a very strong musical combo consisting of Chris Hardin on keyboards, Kirk Smith on bass and guitar, and Dan Schnelle on drums.  The three were very good, and shone during the jazzier numbers. I could just imagine how well the three might do on  jazzier Cy Coleman music. The interplay with the artists was also very good, especially in “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and the opening of “Taylor, The Latte Boy”.

Overall, the show was enjoyable, and was warmly and enthusiastically received by the audience.

Turning to the technical side of things: Sound was provided by Drew Dalzell and Diablo Sound.  We’ve seen Drew’s work before at The Colony Theatre (FB), and the quality of the sound here demonstrated why the congregation needs to upgrade the bimah sound system (anyone got a spare twenty thousand to donate?) Lighting was the standard bimah lighting; the facility doesn’t provide a lot of flexibility in that area. The other aspects of the production were smooth; Wendy Krowne, Jan Saltsman, and the Concert Committee deserve commendation for the hard work that went into this. My only quibble was that there needed to be the obligatory cell phone reminder — the folks sitting next to me kept bringing out their cell phone and texting during the performance, which was quite distracting. One would hope that, in this day and age, “the announcement” would no longer be necessary. Hope, alas, sometimes gets dashed on the sharp rocks of reality.

During the show, it was reported that this Cantors Concert was the most financially successful concert in the history of Cantors Concerts at TAS. This is very good thing. If you missed this concert, you’re out of luck — it is a one time event. I’m sure there will be another one in 2016, and before then, you can come and hear Cantor Roher on the bimah almost every Friday night.

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

Upcoming Shows: February performances start later today with a concert performance of the musical Redhead at Theatre West (FB).  We have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7, so there is no theatre scheduled that weekend. The next week makes up for it with two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon. Those who enjoyed the Marcy/Zina songs should note that there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. 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.