Observations Along the Road

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

Did You Smell That?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 02, 2016 @ 12:29 pm PST

userpic=san-fernando-valleyI live in Northridge. Some know my community as the home of CSUN, but these days, it is better known as the community just south of Porter Ranch, home of the famous methane link courtesy of SoCalGas. This is being called a global catastrophe — I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is affecting the lives of a lot of people who are in the direct path of the odor, and it is having ancillary effects on many many more (think of all the business impacts from people moving out of the area, even temporarily, and the impacts on those just out of the area). There are only two sure things in all of this: the lawyers are going to make lots of money, and it will be all SoCalGas ratepayers that will be paying for it.

Most people, when they hear about the leak, think the gas company should fix this immediately. But it really isn’t that easy. I recently found a good summary in the Times that explains why. In short, here’s the problem. The area far underneath Porter Ranch was once a major oil producing field. After the oil was pumped out in the 1960s, the underground area was used to store natural gas that was pumped to California from other areas (which is why it was odorized). The leak is in one of the old oil well casings. After a couple of months of investigation, the Gas Company has identified the specific well and the location of the leak. The broken well site is near the top of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. The storage facility is more than 8,000 feet deep and the gas is stored in the mountain’s sandstone pores. It has a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet. The leak is somewhere in the casing of well SS25, which is 8,700 ft deep, and they believe it is above the 1000′ level. As the leak is below ground, the only way to stop it is to fill up the well casing with concrete. In order to do that, they have to relieve the pressure that is currently going up the well from the storage facility. To do that, they have to drill a relief well that will intercept the broken well near the bottom. This means locating and intercepting a 7″ pipe over a mile below the ground. Now, you should see why this is such a problem to fix.

What is so aggravating in all of this is that this problem could have been prevented.Evidently, SoCalGas knew about the corroding pipes a year before the leak, and did nothing to repair them. The pipes met the state requirements and they were inspected regularly, so they had no legal obligation. An L.A. Weekly report last week said that the 1953 well was designed with a sub-surface safety valve 8,451 feet underground. However, the valve broke and was removed in 1979, and was never replaced.

Remember what I said about the only winners being the lawyers, and the losers being all the SoCalGas ratepayers.

The post below from Erin Brockovich has been going around Facebook, and has a great diagram of the problem:

This is what the well in Porter Ranch looks like… it was completed in 1953 and was equipped with a downhole “safety”…

Posted by Erin Brockovich on Monday, December 28, 2015

Hopefully, now you understand why this is such a, to use an expression, clusterfuck. I know that those of us in the flats of Northridge, below Porter Ranch, do occasionally smell the methyl mercaptan, as it hugs the ground. I certainly smell it when I go up to the YMCA (which is in Porter Ranch) to work out. I know it is impacting our synagogue. I know it is impacting property values. Just a clusterfsck.

P.S.: This started out as the first item of the News Chum stew, but took on a life of its own.

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Don’t Be A Boob

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 01, 2016 @ 5:52 pm PST

userpic=blushingLet’s start the year right: let’s start with a news chum. Further, not just any news chum, but a subject sure to titillate. A chum that touches upon some of the issues of discrimination, diversity, and boundaries that I opine will be large in 2016.

Before I do, however, a word of introduction: I call these posts “news chum”, because I expect (or hope) for them to be like chum in shark-infested waters. Follow the links. Read the articles. Then comment with your opinion. Let’s get some discussion going. Perhaps these three articles will bloody the water some.

In any case, back to boobs:

  • The Impact of Boobs. LA Magazine is trying to draw attention to itself by rerunning some classic articles.  One of the most interesting is from 2002: an article from an editor who donned fake boobs to see how society treated her differently. A fascinating read (called “California or Bust”), she had some industry people construct a device that took her from an A cup to a D cup… and then watched for the reactions. They were, of course, predictable. To quote the article: “I’ve spent my whole life pretending breasts don’t matter. Part of me still wants to believe it’s true. I can make all the arguments, which basically come down to this: Women should be valued for their selves, not their shelves. Still, I have to admit, at the moment the breasts I’m toting feel like more than mere flesh. They feel like the source of all power.” Interesting read.
  • When is a Boob a Boob? I’ll note up front that the answer is not: “When they are elected to Congress?”. The question is a serious one, raised by a transgender fellow who is in the process of transitioning. He has been taking topless pictures of himself, and asking the question: When is the precise magical moment when the line is crossed and Facebook or Instagram considers the photo obscene? It really is a hard question. I’ve seen some theatre shows of late where men have been on stage topless, but they have had such sufficient quantity of man boob, you weren’t sure what you were seeing (or whether you wanted to see it). But that is publicly acceptable? Yet there will be some point in this fellow’s transition where what was previously acceptable no longer is. To me, it highlights this artificial distinction and prudery (that you, Mr. and Ms. Puritan) that exists in America. Truthfully, there should be no distinction.
  • Boobs and Bathrooms. The prudery in society is hitting the equality discussion large. And it is hitting us in the bathroom. Specifically, the bathroom is being used as the argument to shoot down equal rights in various areas. We’ve all seen this in action: We can’t legislate equality for transgenders: we’ll have men putting on dresses to go into the woman’s bathrooms. Yeah, right. As if people wander around the bathrooms naked (dressing rooms are potentially different matters). They forget the answer is simple: single user stalls, and single user dressing spaces.

All of these boil down to the same issue: an unspoken belief that men cannot control themselves. Large breasts serve as a benefit in plastic Hollywood because of the sexism of the male patriarchy in charge. Breasts cannot be visible on Facebook or Instagram because men will find them obscene or they will incite men into sexual acts (I don’t think I’ve women making the argument that seeing the breast of another women will incite sexual desire). We can’t have equality because that will imply mixed sex in bathrooms, and men will use it to spy on nekked women (hmmm, has that happened in the co-ed bathrooms in colleges?).

So, yes, this first news chum post of the year does boil down to its title: Don’t be a boob. Control yourself.

P.S.: Related to this, we have the whole question of Bill Cosby. My opinion on the subject is summarized by an image I saw on Facebook:  “He said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, …” But I’m still conflicted. On the one hand, we have Cosby as a womanizer (that is clear). On the other hand, we have the legacy of humor he provided: from wonderful non-sexist albums such as Wonderfulness to 200 MPH to the messages that came across on the Cosby show. How can we balance the disgust from one against the good of the other? In other areas, we’ve been able to separate the artistic legacy from the sexual misdeeds of the creator (Woody Allen, Michael Jackson) and in others we haven’t (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle). Will we be able to separate here?

December 2015 Updates to California Highways (The Website)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 31, 2015 @ 2:41 pm PST

userpic=roadgeeking

We’re at the end of another year. I had hoped to do more frequent updates, but this little thing called life got in the way. Perhaps I’ll find more time next year. But for now, let’s look at the last four months of updates:

Before we do… an aside: People may not realize the time this takes. This round of updates took a solid three 8+ hour days, the bulk involving incorporating the headline items into the site. I need to remember to do this monthly and not let them back up. I’m also quite pleased that I was able to find more information on AAroads, but it took time to double check. For next year, a plea: If you see a news article or blog post related to a numbered state highway, please send me the link. Comment on Facebook with it, comment on the post, or even just use good ol’ email.

With that, I’ll wish everyone who likes “California Highways (The Website)” [and even those who don’t] the happiest and healthiest of new years. I don’t believe in wishing people bad things; even people who are bad you can wish to get better. My all your travels on the roads of California (or whereever you live) be safe, and remember that distracted driving can be deadly driving. Be safe when you take that picture of the roads (better yet, let your passenger take it for you). Don’t play with your cell phone while driving, and focus on the road. The life you save may just be that of another lover of the roads.

Happy New Year – 2016

Keep reading for the details of the updates. In the legislative actions, I’ve attempted to highlight the really important parts of each bill (which, of course, WordPress strips out… so you’ll need to visit the real changes page).

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California Highway Headlines for December 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Dec 30, 2015 @ 2:32 pm PST

userpic=roadgeekingAnother calendar year is drawing to a close, and so to another year of highway headlines. I’m busily working on updating the highway pages, taking advantage of “shutdown week”. So here’s the last round of headlines from 2015:

  • Here are better ideas for the land Caltrans has stockpiled for the 710 Freeway extension. We’re having the wrong debate about the 710 Freeway. To put it another way: The debate we’re having about the 710 Freeway should be a whole lot broader and more imaginative than it’s been so far. State and local transportation planners announced last year that they were finally abandoning the controversial idea of building an aboveground extension of the 710 through Pasadena and South Pasadena. In its place they presented five options, including adding new transit lines or building the roadway as a five-mile, $5.6-billion tunnel.
  • California Fights Road Expansions in the Face of a Growing Populace. The California Department of Transportation has decided that as the state’s population grows, it might be a bad idea to build more roads to accommodate the new residents. That’s the news from The Sacramento Bee, which reported last week that the department is prioritizing maintenance of existing roads above expansions and new roads. It’s a reflection of a culture shift CalTrans has been touting for a while now — latching onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s environmental policies, the department is now whole-heartedly embracing a concept it previously dismissed.
  • Terminal Island Freeway Removal Project To Face More Scrutiny Before City Takes Action . The fate of the city-owned portion of the Terminal Island Freeway, specifically regarding whether or not it’s feasible to decommission the space and transform it into park space, lurched another step forward Tuesday night, when the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously in favor of further traffic and environmental impact studies. The vote moves along a process that was initially proposed by advocates nearly a decade ago and was kickstarted when the city won a grant from CalTrans in 2013. The grant was part of an environmental justice initiative that provided it with the funds to hire a firm to come up with concepts for a potential freeway removal. That bid was awarded to Los Angeles design firm, Meléndrez, the same firm commissioned for the Bixby Park redesign.
  • Cost of 101-23 freeway expansion swells . A decision to redesign a sound wall along the 101 Freeway in Thousand Oaks could push back the scheduled completion date of the 101-23 interchange expansion weeks, if not months, according to a Thousand Oaks city official. Started in February 2014, work to expand the juncture of two of Ventura County’s busiest freeways was originally expected to last around two years. Now it’s looking more like two-and-a-half..
  • Interstate 5: The facts, the fiction, the video. For many Californians, winter vacation is a prime chance to spend some quality time on Interstate 5. This two-minute video shows you a big chunk of it — beginning with a Taco Bell parking lot in Coalinga — while sorting out freeway fact and fiction. It is a fact, for instance, that I-5 covers 796 miles in California and continues through Oregon and Washington. It is fiction, however, that Junipero Serra cast mustard seeds to show Caltrans engineers where to put the exits.
  • Roadshow: Tuesday marks 50th anniversary of Highway 85 to Mountain View. Q In 1965, I was 8 years old and living in Sunnyvale. My dad sold real estate at various subdivisions springing up around the Santa Clara Valley. Because he was a real estate salesman, he worked weekends. His day off was Wednesday. So on Dec. 8, 1965, which happened to be a Wednesday, we heard the Highway 85 freeway opening parade was to be held, and he agreed to take me. I never forgot that day and how special it was to be there with my dad. It’s one reason I’ve had a lifelong fascination with transportation of all kinds, including your column. I chaired the committee that updated the San Mateo County bike plan in 1999.
  • On the Road: Caltrans taking a look at a new freeway interchange. Q. With another 40 homes going in at the Marywood site and possible plans to replace the driving range on Meats Avenue with housing, are there any plans to move forward with building an on/off ramp at the 55 freeway and Meats in Orange? I know studies have been done, but I don’t know the results or if there is a timetable to any work.
  • Funding package could advance Highway 101 widening through Novato Narrows . Sonoma County transportation officials believe they have identified a funding source to complete a widening project at the northern entrance to the Novato Narrows, a notorious section of Highway 101 south of Petaluma that enrages many motorists. Carpool lanes would be opened on a 5-mile stretch of Highway 101 from the Petaluma River Bridge to just south of the Sonoma-Marin county line as part of the project, which faces a crucial test before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission next week.
  • Transportation bill allocates $26 billion to California. Congress has agreed for the first time since 2005 on a long-term transportation bill that will raise federal spending on highways by 5 percent and transit by 8 percent in its first year. Over the bill’s five-year life, California will get $26 billion in federal funds for a variety of transportation projects, a 14.5 percent increase.
  • Improvements and Change in Speed Limit on I-5 South Project. Crews have finished driving about one hundred steel piles for the new Interstate 5 (I-5) bridge over Avenida Pico in San Clemente, part of the $230 million I-5 South County Improvements Project. The project extends the carpool lane in both directions from San Juan Creek Road in San Juan Capistrano to Avenida Pico in San Clemente.
  • Concrete Dreams: Desire and Regret on the Freeways of LA. Los Angeles has been made of many things since September 1781. Despite the prevailing mythology that insists Los Angeles has no substance, that it’s a city only of dreams, Los Angeles has made itself out of real stuff, beginning with the city’s founding in dried mud. Dried mud is adobe, and adobe Los Angeles had the virtue of being made out of a sustainable and recyclable building material that’s also surprisingly durable. With a sound roof and some care, buildings made of adobe have survived nearly 200 years of Los Angeles rain and earthquakes.
  • CORONA: Grand Boulevard ramps to close. Ramps connecting Grand Boulevard to the 91 in Corona will be permanently closed next month. Drivers will be diverted to alternate ramps currently undergoing improvements as part of the 91 expansion project, said Riverside County Transportation Commission Deputy Director John Standiford.
  • Bay Lights are back! Watch the artist reprogram the lights this week. The lesser-loved Bay Area bridge is about to shine again. Artist Leo Villareal is currently testing the Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge so if you want another glimpse at his sparkling creation, head to your favorite view of the bridge this week. Villareal works from Pier 14, where he has custom software to control the lights. The project was initially meant to run for two years only, but it became so popular that Illuminate the Arts was able to raise the $4 million needed to make it a permanent fixture. Back in early October, construction workers installed over 25,000 LED lights along the bridge’s 300 cables.
  • Salvaged Bay Bridge Steel Awarded To 5 Art Proposals. Salvaged steel from the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge has been awarded to five projects for public display, with more awards on the way, Oakland Museum of California officials announced Tuesday. The chosen projects include a public sculpture near the Petaluma River, a gate for an arts center in Joshua Tree, two public installations near the bridge and an observation platform for a park in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, museum officials said.
  • Westlake’s new Lindero bridge wins acclaim. The American Public Works Association recently recognized the City of Westlake Village’s newly reconstructed Lindero Canyon Road Overpass with a 2015 APWA “Best” award in the transportation category for cities under 50,000 in population. Representatives from the city—including Mayor Pro Tem Brad Halpern, Councilmember Kelly Honig, city manager Ray Taylor and city engineer John Knipe—attended the APWA Southern California Chapter’s 16th annual awards luncheon Dec. 9 at the Lakewood Civic Center.
  • Bay Area’s 10 worst commutes. Ten worst commute corridors. The morning commute to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge regained its top ranking as the most congested highway. Recognize your daily slog on the Top 10 list compiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission?
  • Bay Bridge corrosion leads panel to reconsider plan. In an apparent about-face, the oversight panel for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge voted Thursday to consider the idea of installing a corrosion-fighting system on the main tower’s flooded foundation. The unexpected vote of the board — composed of the heads of Caltrans, the local Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the state Transportation Commission — came two months after the three rejected the same idea.
  • Zzyzx: Revisiting Doc Springer’s Boulevard of Dreams. Many iconic points of interest dot the Mojave Desert stretch of Interstate 15, the busy speedway linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The recent ruins of the Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark, also known as Lake Dolores, are prominent from the highway — 23 miles east of Barstow and 45 miles west of Baker. Once said to have had the world’s longest raft ride, its endless rivers have now sat dry for over a decade, slides removed, and concrete channels marvelously vandalized. For years there have been rumors of the park’s eventual reopening, but this seems less likely with each new layer of graffiti.
  • Digging Deep in the Never Ending Battle to Extend the 710. It’s one of the joys of living in Los Angeles. You can be beetling along in traffic, ruing the day gridlock was invented, and then have an epiphany smack right up against your windshield when you realize that you’re in a neighborhood you’ve never noticed before. The what-is-this-place delight is all the more heady when you’re an L.A. know-it-all. That was me as I rolled into South Pasadena 12 years ago, sunlight flickering through the thick tree canopy onto turn-of-the-century stoops and gables. Blocks of Craftsman homes led to a drowsy downtown with an old Carnegie library and a new Gold Line station. What I thought was just the nether end of Pasadena was actually a city of its own, founded in 1888 and covering three-and-a-half square miles. There were ice cream shops and small parks and, for me, the general sense of wonder at finding Brigadoon next door to the nation’s second-largest city./li>
  • Tear Down a Freeway? In Southern California? It Could Happen. A number of West Coast freeways have been decommissioned and demolished over the years — Harbor Drive in Portland in the 1970s, the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco in the 2000s. Doyle Drive in San Francisco is currently being demolished. And the long-delayed project to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a raised freeway that mars downtown Seattle’s waterfront and will be replaced with a tunnel, resumed on Dec. 22 when Bertha, a giant tunnel-boring machine, finally got repaired. But in Southern California, the freeway is king. It may be impossible to build a new freeway in L.A. County, but it’s damn near unthinkable to remove one. That may be about to change.
  • $10 million grant secured for upgrade to Old Highway 40 at Donner Summit. For the first time in roughly 50 years, a historic portion of Donner Pass Road that serves as a vital link to rock climbing, biking and hiking in the Sierra is scheduled for a major overhaul. Nevada County Public Works principal civil engineer Joshua Pack said he had been waiting to hear about a $6.6 million grant application under California’s Federal Lands Access Program. .
  • A toll crossing between the U.S. and Mexico is slowly taking shape. At a time when border waits can stretch for hours, the plan seems almost too good to be true: a major new international crossing between Tijuana and San Diego, where trucks and passenger vehicles would wait no more than 20 minutes to reach the border. Planners in the United States and Mexico are thinking big as they envision Otay Mesa East, a future port of entry that would serve both passenger vehicles and commercial trucks. Otay Mesa East would be California’s first tolled vehicle border crossing, incorporating binational lane management and toll collection. It would be privately financed through bonds in a plan where San Diego Assn. of Governments, or SANDAG, would play the central role
  • Tony Bizjak: Caltrans plans to widen Capital City Freeway – but when?. It’s the Sacramento region’s worst freeway bottleneck, by far. Every day, traffic comes to a standstill on the Capital City Freeway near the American River. The snarls are even worse some Saturdays. Now, after years of debating what to do, state and local leaders say they’ve reached a resolution: It’s time to drop the small-town mindset and go for a big fix. Caltrans has begun laying the groundwork for a $700 million freeway widening from midtown to the junction with Interstate 80. That includes widening the American River bridge to add a new multi-use lane in each direction, as well as building wider shoulders for stalled cars to pull over, a separate lane on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, and other improvements. The proposed project area is 8 miles long.

2015: A Theater Year in Review

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 28, 2015 @ 10:22 am PST

userpic=theatre_musicalsI’ve seen my last show of 2015, so now it is time for a look back. I don’t believe in awarding “best of”s, or creating artificial award shows. I’m just one person. Rather, I prefer to look at the year and discuss those shows and performances that, at the end of the year, left a lingering impression I’m still talking about.

Let’s start by exploring the shows that I saw in 2015. Here’s the list; I omitted most of the pure concerts such as Tom Paxton, Muse/ique Planet Bernstein, Neil Diamond, Rick Recht and Sheldon Low, and Noel Paul Stookey. I also omitted the two movies: Into the Woods and The Big Short. In total, I saw 68 stage productions, 6 concerts, and 2 movies.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Most Talked About

I think one measure of a show is how much you find yourself citing and mentioning it to others. In that category, I think the top of the list is  Pulp Shakespeare or Bard Fiction. This was a retelling of the movie Pulp Fiction, but as if Shakespeare wrote it. Since then, I’ve actually seen Pulp Fiction, and grown to appreciate the show even more for their attention to detail and their approach to humor. I never knew that Quentin Tarantino was such an interpreter of the bard. I meant to ask Bill Shakespeare about it when I saw him at the Nottingham Festival, but I forgot.

Another show that I kept talking about during the year was The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam. This was the first show that I had seen that had focused on Cybersecurity. I ended up booking it for the ACSAC conference (where I do local arrangements), and it was performed with a Nigerian senator and two members of the Nigerian money laundering commission in the audience. It helped convince them to present a case study at the 2016 ACSAC.

Repeat Performances

It is rare that I see a show more than once. This year, that happened twice. One time was with a show that also fell into the “Most Talked About” category: Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Sacred Fools Theatre Company (FB). I happened to see this on a rainy day on my own while my wife was out of town and was blown away by the humor and creativity. I took her back to see it, and she was equally blown away.

A second time was with a show at REP East Playhouse (FB): Jesus Christ Superstar. The first time I went it was one of worst REP shows I had seen in my years going there. The second time I went, it was one of the best. So what changed? They replaced the actor who was playing Judas, and brought in live music. Two little things made a gigantic difference.

New Companies

The year saw me trying a number of new companies. Which companies impressed me the most, and made me want to pay attention to their work and monitor them for potential repeat performances?

The first was Sacred Fools Theatre Company (FB), where we saw Astro Boy and the God of Comics. I’ve heard about the company for years, but never made it to a show. This show just blew me away. Sacred Fools has just moved from their longtime space near LA City College to the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood — I look forward to their doing great productions there.

The second was Theatre 68 (FB). This company has been producing in the smaller space at the NoHo Arts Center (FB), and we’ve seen two of their shows: Serial Killer Barbie and Who Killed Santa?. Both were wildly inventive, and executed with remarkable creativity.

I’d add some runner ups (because we’ve seen at least one show there before, IIRC):  Anteaus Theatre Company (FB) and Uncle VanyaTheatre of Note (FB) and Entropy; and Zombie Joes Underground (FB), where we saw three shows.

Musical Surprises

As you read through the list, you’ll see that I tend to like musicals. There were some particular shows this year that were pure surprises: shows I still mention and remember well. We can divide this into a number of groups: Brand-New Musicals, Turnarounds, and Broadway shows.

Musical Surprises (I) – Brand New Musicals

Leading the pact here was Loch Ness – The Musical at the Chance Theatre (FB). This was a new musical: a telling of a love story between a girl and a mythical monster. Creatively done. Creatively executed. Beautiful music.

The second was Words by Ira Gershwin at the The Colony Theatre (FB). This introduced me to Gershwin’s story, and introduced me to a lot of music that I had never connected with before.

Musical Surprises (II) – Turnarounds

This category covers productions of shows that were failures during their initial Broadway runs. In this category, the leader was the immersive staging of Carrie – The Musical at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). This was a show whose Broadway incarnation had been held up as a massive flop; it was an example of how not to do a show. The La Mirada staging turned that around in an creative fashion. It found the heart of the show. It emphasized that the heart of the show was a statement of the impact of bullying, which was very timely.

A close runner up was the beautiful staging of The Bakers Wife at The Actor’s Co-Op (FB). This was a failed Steven Schwartz musical, which even he forgets to mention. But the story and the music is timeless, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The third surprise was the Kelrik Productions (FB) incarnation of Violet. Starring Kristin Towers-Rowles (FB, FB) as Violet, this was just a — to paraphrase Steve Stanley — wow. A remarkable production from a company that is better known for their youth-oriented productions.

Musical Surprises (III) – Broadway

This category includes musicals that were successes on Broadway, and were then either revived or toured to Los Angeles.

First up in this category is the student production of The Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN, produced by the CSUN Theatre Arts Department. Drowsy is a fun musical, and CSUN had fun with it, making it pure fun for the audience.  They had the joy of being able to produce this gem on the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) stage, and it demonstrated the remarkable quality of this student organization. The VPAC programming team should make a commitment — as part of their service to the campus community — to put up at leats 2 CSUN Theatre musicals a year, and to let them run two weekends each.

The second Broadway show was the recent national tour of The Bridges of Madison County at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). This was a show that was moderately successful on Broadway, but I had written off as “chick-theatre” — another The Light in the Piazza. I went to see it primarily because I’m a Jason Robert Brown (FB) completist. The show surprised me: it was blown away by the tenderness of the story, the beauty of the music, and the quality of the performances.

A notable runner up in this category was he Good People Theatre Co (FB) production of Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in Burbank.  C’mon now: Maltby and Shire music on a 9½ foot Mason & Hamlin (FB) grand piano. Unspeakably beautiful.

Classics

We saw a number of classics this year, including Brecht, Chekov, and Shakespeare. Both of the most memorable were variations on Shakespeare.

Hamlet is an interesting play. Traditionally a very dark play, it has served as the inspirtation for numerous retellings in different contexts. The Four Clowns (FB) company had an interesting take on it in Four Clowns Present Hamlet. They presented one of the funniest Hamlets that I have seen — one that I still remember fondly to this day. In doing so, they took something dark and inaccessible and made it accessible to a broader audience without neutering the story.

The second was the Theatricum Botanicum (FB) production of As You Like It.  I had a bad taste in my mouth from the last time I had seen the show, an incredibly bad production (titled As U Lyk It: A California Concoction) at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2006. This production was set loosely in the context of the Civil War, and came off beautifully. It presented the Shakespeare, again, in a wonderfully accessible manor. I should also mention the wonderful Theatricum Botanicum (FB) production of Green Grow The Lilacs the next day — it provided a wonderful understanding of Oklahoma that I had not had before.

An honorable mention should go to Anteaus Theatre Company (FB) and Uncle Vanya —  again a remarkable production of something that is hard to get right.

Strongest Meaning

There are a few productions that stand out for their dramatic impact and performances, exhibiting a good mix of story and performance.

First up is the  Circle X Theatre (FB) production of Trevor. This was a remarkable story about a former TV chimpanzee named Trevor and his owner, Sandra in the decline of his career. Trevor simply wants the life that he had: to work and actor and be with people like Morgan Fairchild, and achieve success like his mentor, Oliver. Sandra simply wants a home with Trevor and a life that she knows. When a new neighbor with an infant child moves in and is threatened by the risk to safety that Trevor creates, the motivating factors of the story are set up. The Sheriff is called in; he brings in an Animal Control Officer to assess the situation. When the assessment occurs, the situation rapidly goes south. Strongly moving performances from the leads: Laurie Metcalf (FB) as Sandra Morris and Jimmi Simpson (FB) as Trevor.

Second is The Colony Theatre (FB) production of The Best of Enemies. The Best of Enemies tells the true story of C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater. C.P.  Ellis, at the time of the start of the play, was the Exaulted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Durham NC. Atwater was a prominent black civil rights leader in the same community. As 1971 started, Bill Riddick was sent by the Federal Government to handle the long-delayed desegregation of Durham schools. To do this, he organized a series of charettes to bring the entire community together to solve the problem. Riddick realized that the charettes could not succeed if the entire community was not behind them — meaning not only the black community or those in favor of civil rights, but those — such as the KKK and its factions — that opposed segregation. He therefore worked to get Ellis and Atwater to chair the Durham Charette — called Save Our Schools. He had no idea of whether it would succeed or fail. This play is the story of that effort. Strongly moving performances from Larry Cedar (FB) as C.P. Ellis and Tiffany Rebecca Royale (FB) as Ann Atwater.

The Honorable Mention in this category goes to Lombardi at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre (FB). The story has less of an impact, but did feature a powerhouse performance of Bert Emmett (FB) as Vince Lombardi.

Conclusion

userpic=99loveLooking back over the theatrical year, it demonstrates the wonderful breadth and depth of the Los Angeles theatre ecosystem. From bare-bones productions of remarkable theatre at Zombie Joes Underground (FB) to first-class theatre at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) or the Pantages (FB); from intimate theatre in 99-seat and under venues to mid-sized Equity houses to Broadway tours: Los Angeles — and Southern California in general — presents a remarkable range of theatre. The community ranges from actors who make their living on the live stage, to quality actors whose bread and butter is TV and movies, but who love to exercise their acting muscle on the stage; or those who love the theatre but primarily work in other fields. Then there are those like me: the “professional audiences” who don’t have the skills or the imagination to be on stage, but who are the critical reflectors: the audience that processes and amplifies the energy of the actors.

This year saw an attack on this ecosystem by the Actors Equity union; but as the year ended, the sparring parties were back in negotiation. Hopefully, their result will enhance the ecosystem as opposed to destroying it. After all, we are all for improving the ecosystem, not destroying it (or, as we were saying in April, “We’re for change, but not this change.”)

On Christmas Day, we saw one of the few movies we see. Using Fandango, the two tickets cost almost $30. One can see intimate theatre in Los Angeles for that price (certainly if you use a discount service like Goldstar). Unlike movies, theatre is different at each performance; it is not a chosen best peformance, but one with slight imperfections that makes it unique. As we all know, what shapes our beauty is our imperfections; perfection is cold.

May 2016 find you healthy, happy, and at a Southern California theater performance.

🎭 🎭 🎭

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). February starts with a hold date for “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The rest of the February schedule is empty except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

The Mother Superior Ship

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 28, 2015 @ 8:02 am PST

Nunsense (Crown City)userpic=theatre_ticketsEspecially when contrasted to movies, sequels in the live theatre business are extremely rare. In general, for theatre, sequels flop. Just look at Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, or Love Never Dies. When you move to the arena of Off-Broadway (i.e., smaller size houses), sequels and series fare better. There are, of course, the Holiday spinoffs (e.g., Plaid Tidings, Winter Wonderettes). There are a few live theatre tentpole seriess: the Forbidden Broadway series, the Don’t Hug Me series, and the extremely popular Nunsense series (which is just about to launch a streaming TV series), written by Dan Goggin.

I’ve known about the Nunsense series for years, having many of the cast albums in my collections. However, I’ve never actually seen a Nunsense in the wild. That is, until last night.  When I learned that Crown City Theatre (FB) was doing Nunsense as their holiday show, the ticket watch started. We ended up ticketing for this weekend, and so we were blessed with Nunsense as our final live theater show of 2015. I’m pleased to say that this production lived up to the excellent quality standard we’ve seen from Crown City. More on that in a paragraph or two.

So what is Nunsense about? The elevator pitch explanation is, to put it bluntly, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?” Well, forget those nuns in The Sound of Music. Those are not the nuns that you are looking for. For which you are looking. Oh, never mind.

Here’s a longer summary from the Nunsense website: Nunsense begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the eighth grade production of “Grease.” Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.

Or, as I said, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?”  This is not high concept theater, folks.

Luckily, funny it is. Under the direction of Kristen Towers Rowles (FB), these nuns have fun, let loose, and generally ham it up (which they can do, because they do not keep kosher). The sense is playful from beginning to end, and I even got the sense that there was some level of improvisation (at least in how some bits were done).

Nunsense Production StillsThe performances … at least the ones we saw … were excellent. I add that caveat because there are swings for every role; at our performance we had the swing for Sister Mary Hubert. Thus, I cannot speak to the folks we didn’t see, but given the playfulness of this bunch, I’d expect them to be great.

As Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior, we had Michelle Holmes (FB) [Swing: Karen Christie (FB)]. Holmes seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role, as could be seen in the Unexpected Discovery scene near the end of Act I, the “Just a Coupl’a Sisters” song, and in particular, the “Baking with the BVM” scene. About my only comment on her performance is easily correctable: there are a number of lines in the script that imply that the Mother Superior is a bit more on the hefty size, or at minimum, has a hefty rump. However, Holmes is relatively skinny — which made those lines incongruous. Some slight adaptation to the script would solve the problem.

At our performance, Sister Mary Hubert was played by Elizabeth Jane Charlton/FB, the swing [Normally: Renee Cohen (FB)]. I really liked Charlton’s Hubert. I’m sure part of this is that she fit my mind’s image of Hubert, for some reason. She had a very good singing voice, which manifested itself in her number “Holier Than Thou” much more than in her other numbers. She was fun to watch.

Sister Robert Anne was portrayed by Lisa Dyson (FB) [Swing: Kristin Farrell (FB)]. Dyson gave off an appropriate New Yawk street smart vibe, which worked well. She did very well in her number “I Just Want to Be a Star”.

Kelly Dorney (FB)’s Sister Mary Amnesia gave one of my two favorite performances in the show (Swing: Amanda Walter (FB)). She brought a wonderful playfulness to the role, and an even more remarkable singing voice. I was just blown away by her singing. Wow. Umm, where was I. Oh yes. It is hard to pick a favorite performance of hers, but I really liked her “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” number, but “So You Want To Be A Nun” comes a close second.

My other favorite performance was Shayna Gabrielle (FB) as Sister Mary Leo (Swing: Alix Isom (FB)). Gabrielle was just mischevious, especially later on where you could see she was getting into the overall humor and starting to crack up at the antics of the other performers. Her comic dance in “Soup’s On” was just spectacular. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.

The movement of the nuns was choreographed by Lisaun Wittingham (FB), assisted by Michael Marchak (FB). In general, the dances worked well. Particularly notable was “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” and the aforementioned “Soup’s On”.

Music Direction, arrangement, and performance was by William A. Reilly (FB).

Turning to the production side. The program states that the set and prop design was by the Eighth Grade Class at the Mount Saint Helen School, but I truly doubt that. I’m guessing it was done by the dedicated folks at Crown City. Of course, this show doesn’t really need that much of a set, and the primary prop is Sister Mary Annette. Costume design was by Tanya Apuya (FB), and they looked suitably nun-like to this Jew. Lighting Design was by Zad Potter (FB), who also served as Production Stage Manager.  Lighting is an interesting challenge at Crown City, as there is no space for a traditional spot and use of a moving mirror is required. This worked reasonably well, although there was some flicker either coming from either the spot or the floor lighting. Remaining production credits: Sound design: Joe Shea (FB); Projection/Video Design: Chris Thume/FB; House Technical Manager: Michael Pammit/FB.

Nunsense continues at Crown City Theatre (FB) until at least January 17, 2016, with a possible extension (which is highly likely, as Crown City shows love to extend). Tickets are available through the Crown City website; they are also available through Goldstar and Plays411. Go. You’ll enjoy it.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This was our last live theater show for 2015. Next up is “year in review” writeup. The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). February starts with a hold date for “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The rest of the February schedule is empty except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

An Unexpected Love

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 27, 2015 @ 11:26 am PST

The Bridges of Madison County (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonIt is rare that I am surprised by a show. For most shows, going in, I’ve heard the score, read the synopses, and seen a few reviews. For The Bridges of Madison County (FB) at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [which we saw last night], however, I was pleasantly surprised. Going in, I had never seen the movie or read the book upon which this was based. Going in I had heard the music — but this is a show where the music alone does not convey the story. Had I read the synopsis? Perhaps, but I certainly didn’t remember it. I had seen that the show had good — and locally, some great — reviews. But in my eyes, this was a romance. For some treason, it was stuck in my head as being another The Light in the Piazza: a romantic chick-theatre outing that wouldn’t particularly excite me.

I was wrong, and I admit it. This show got me hooked into the story. It was beautifully crafted, beautifully performed, and beautifully executed. It was a show where the score — which hadn’t particularly stuck with me before (I preferred the score to JRB‘s Honeymoon in Vegas) — resonated more deeply now that I was able to connect it the story. I truly enjoyed this show. It is one of those special shows where the sum of the parts: the performances, the story, the technical, and the score come together to hook you in a way any individual piece might not.

The story itself is a romance. I’m not a big lover of romances; being an engineer, that’s something that’s not really in my nature. As I said above, I had never read the original novel by Robert James Waller (FB). I had also never seen the Oscar-nominated movie with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. I hadn’t even read the synopsis with the CD. Perhaps you haven’t either. So here’s the elevator version of the story (you can find a more detailed synopsis on the show’s Wikipedia page): Francesca is a war-bridge, who moved to Madison County, Iowa with her soldier husband, Bud, after the war. Eighteen years later they are still together, with two teenage children (Michael and Carolyn), who are about to head off to Indianapolis IN for the State Fair with their father. Francesca stays home expecting a few days of peace, quiet, rest, and relaxation. A National Geographic photographer, Robert, comes by the farm looking for directions to a particular covered bridge in the county. Francesca directs him to the bridge, and shortly they find themselves falling for each other. Robert fulfills a need she had forgotten in herself; he listens and cares about her as her, in a way her husband doesn’t. Observing this all are her neighbors, Charlie and Marge.  The two lovers grow closer, but all to soon the family is returning home, and the photographs have been taken. Robert goes off, hoping that Francesca will one day contact him. The family returns, and Francesca is soon drawn back into world of family and the love of family. She comes to realize that while the romance was a beautiful fantasy, the reality of family is strong… but she is haunted by the “what if?”. I’ll leave the epilogue to the epilogue.

For the stage, the original book by Waller (FB) was adapted by Marsha Norman (FB) [who did the book for The Color Purple and The Secret Garden], and augmented by the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown (FB). An interview in the program with Norman notes that, while the book tells the story from Robert’s point of view, the musical focuses on Francesca’s point of view. It points out that this is one of the few shows that actually has a book by a female playwright, and she describes a picture of the Broadway production’s Francesca, Kelli O’Hara (FB), holding a picture with a wonderful quote: “I need stories by women on stage because my daughter will hear the echo of their voices.” This was a point echoed in the Broadway Bullet, Episode 608 podcast, which was specifically focused on women’s voices and diversity in the theatre (and it dovetails with my diversity post). I’m not sure that I could particularly detect the women’s voice in the story vs. what it might have been with a man’s voice, except perhaps in the gentleness, the memory, and the ongoing battle between passion and family.

Overall, I found the story strangely compelling. It wasn’t the sappy romance I had gone in expecting. The situations and the performances combined to create a world and characters that you quickly grew to care about.

The music was pure Jason Robert Brown (FB) [JRB]. The music reminded me most of his romantic work in The Last 5 Years and the power of Parade, as opposed to the more rockish scores of 13 or Honeymoon in Vegas. There were some wonderful moments that moved into the country and bluegrass side; a style of music which I love. I found that the show made me appreciate the score and cast album more. I particularly liked the energy of “State Route 21”, and the gentle piano background of “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”.  I also found Marian’s number, “Another Life”, quite touching. The Los Angeles audience was also treated to having Brown as the conductor of the orchestra, not the normal tour conductor (Keith Levenson (FB)). Brown also had the luxury of a good size locally-based orchestra: Caleb Hoyer (FB) (Associate Conductor) on Piano; Michelle Maruyama (FB) (Concertmaster) on Violin; Daniel Erben/FB and Justin Rothberg (FB) on Guitars; Sharon Jackson (FB) on 2nd Violin; Pam Jacobson (FB) and Adriana Zoppo (FB) on Viola and Violin; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick on Cello; Ian Walker (FB) on Bass; and Ed Smith (FB) on Drums and Percussion. Michael Keller (FB) and Michael Aarons (FB) were the music coordinators, and Robert Payne and Dan Savant were the music contractors. Keith Levenson (FB) was the Music Director. Tom Murray (FB) was the Music Supervisor. Jason Robert Brown (FB) did the Orchestrations.

Before I go into the performance, let’s explore the dance. There was none. OK, being serious, there was no choreographer credit, only the broader Movement, credited to Danny Mefford (FB). There is, however, a dance captain in the person of Lucy Horton (FB). The translation of this is that there was none of the gratuitous dancing that you’ll find in other Broadway shows (if you recall, I complained about the gratuitous dancing in the background of last week’s If / Then ). There were one or two dance moments: Robert and Francesca in the kitchen; some brief dancing at the State Fair. But more of the dance was really movement — I might even call it a ballet — of the ensemble members moving the set pieces on and off set. The manner of gentle movement of those pieces were a dance, and were as much part of the story as any kickstep or waltz.

The performances were under the principal direction of Bartlett Sher (FB), who did the Broadway direction, and Tyne Rafaeli (FB), who was the tour director. In a broad sense, if I had to describe the direction, it would be “gentle”. The directoral team allows the performances and story to be front and center, and devised a way for the flashback scenes to be effectively presented.  The only thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why he had ensemble members sitting on the stage just watching the action.

In the lead performance positions were Elizabeth Stanley (FB) as Francesca and Andrew Samonsky (FB) as Robert. I’ll note that Stanley was recently a guest on the wonderful Theater People (FB) podcast. Stanley’s performance was great. Looking nothing like her picture in the program or her website, she just came across as real. She had a lovely voice, and her singing style in this show was so different than in so many other shows. Just beautiful. I also particularly appreciated the little touches she added — facial expressions, little touches here and there such as straightening the hair of her daughter. Opposite her, Samonsky had an easygoing style and a lovely voice that was remarkably appealing. I think the chemistry and interplay between these two are a major reason for the impact of this tour.

In the next tier, we have the remainder of Francesca’s family: Cullen R. Titmas (FB) as Bud, Caitlin Houlahan (FB) as Carolyn, and Dave Thomas Brown (FB) as Michael. Here I was particularly taken with the spunkiness and energy of Houlahan’s performance; she was just fun to watch. Titmas was also quite strong as Bud — he did a great job of conveying the love he had for his family and his wife. Titmas was also very strong in “It All Fades Away”, and the whole family was strong in “Home Before You Know It”.

Also in this tier were the neighbors, Mary Callanan (FB) as Marge and David Hess (FB) as Charlie.  These were smaller roles, but both Callanan and Hess brought something special to them. Calanan was particularly strong in “Get Closer”, and Hess in “When I’m Gone”.

Rounding out the cast were the one-scene characters and ensemble members: Katie Klaus [Marian, Chiara, State Fair Singer]; Cole Burden (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Robert]; Caitlyn Caughell (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Carolyn, u/s Marian / Chiara / State Fair Singer]; Brad Greer (FB) [Ensemble, Paolo, u/s Robert, u/s Michael]; Amy Linden (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Carolyn, u/s Marian /  Chiara / State Fair Singer]; Trista Moldovan (FB) [Ensemble; u/s Francesca, u/s Marge]; Jessica Sheridan (FB) [Ensemble; u/s Marge]; Matt Stokes (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Bud, u/s Charlie]; and Tom Treadwell (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Bud, u/s Charlie). Swings were Lucy Horton (FB) [Dance Captain; u/s Francesca] and Bryan Welnicki [u/s Michael]. The player board indicated that Welnicki was performing at our performance, but there was no substitution announcement and no indication of which ensemble member was not there. Particularly noteworthy here was Klaus — she just was perfection on both “Another Life” and “State Route 21”. There was also an ensemble member that kept drawing my eye, but alas I do not know here name: all I can recall is that in the “State Route 21” number, she was in boots and a shortish skirt, and I want to say blonde, so based on pictures along, I’d guess Jessica.

Finally, let’s turn to the production team and other creatives. The scenic design by Michael Yeargan, with additional set and adaptation by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams (FB) was simple and effective. There were a few fly-down components that evoked location — the edge of a roof, a sign here or there. But most of the pieces were set pieces on wheels moved in and out by the cast members. They worked remarkably well, and became the dance component of the overall production. The kitchen set was particularly nice. This combined with the excellent lighting design of Donald Holder to create a particularly strong unified picture. I particularly appreciated the lit backdrops/projections that worked wonderfully to establish the sense of overall place and mood. The costume design by Catherine Zuber combined with the hair and wigs of David Brian Brown (FB) to create a very good picture of the characters (he also did the wigs for If / Then). I particular admired the costuming and wigs used for Francesca — these made the character look completely different from the actress. The sound design of Jon Weston was clear and unobtrusive. Stephen Gabis was the dialect coach, and (at least to my ears) Francesca sounded Italian — so he must have done something right. Rounding out the production team were: The Booking Group (FB) [Tour Booking]; Telsey+Company (FB) [Casting]; Type A Marketing (FB) [Marketing and Press]; Melissa Chacón (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Joshua Pilote (FB) [Stage Manager]; Norah Scheinman (FB) [Assistant Stage Manager]; and Ryan Parliment [Company Manager]. There were numerous producers; notable members of the producers team were Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Ken Davenport (FB) [who does an excellent blog and podcast called The Producers Perspective]; Independent Presenters Network [meaning that the LORT theatres on the tour helped get the show off the ground], and Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures (FB) [meaning that the movie team invested in the musical].

The Bridges of Madison County – The Musical (FB) continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 17, 2016. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; Hottix may be available by calling 213.628.2772. Discount tickets are also available on Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing; I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This was our penultimate show for 2015. Our last show is later today: Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). After the writeup for that show is posted, expect a “year in review” writeup. The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). February starts with a hold date for “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The rest of the February schedule is empty except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

Planet Money, Writ Large

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 26, 2015 @ 10:25 am PST

The Big Short (Movie)userpic=moviesIf you haven’t figured it out by now, I normally go to live theater, even though I live in the movie capital of the world. But that’s not meant to imply I never go to the movies, and one of the few days that I reliably opt to watch a projected image is on Christmas Day, where tradition — if not the Talmud — demands that I see a movie and eat Chinese food.

When I do see a movie, I like to ask myself whether this is a cinematic story. For example, take Star Wars (which I plan to see in the upcoming week). That’s something that clearly must be a movie: it cannot be told in its form effectively on the live stage, and even with the growth in screen sizes, it requires that shared experience and large screen. I also find myself observing those things that make film different from stage: the cinematography, the emphasis on movement and visual storytelling (as an example of this,  I was listening to The Producers Perspective podcast episode with Stephen Schwartz, where he noted that whereas people can just stand in one place and sing on stage, on film all songs require motion — be it motion of the singer or of the camera). I truly like my movies to be something that requires the movie treatment — something that gains from the big screen, the audience, and the shared experience.

I’ll note that I’m likely unique in this view — witness the popular success of movies that are then adaptable and adapted for the stage, and the number of stage shows that get adapted for the cinema. However, I think there is something special from the stage, where the actors and the audience can create a feedback system that amplifies the energy. I’ll note that you can go see live theatre for what it costs to see a movie — that’s certainly true for yesterday’s show, where tickets were up to $12.50 and a large popcorn to $8.75. Learn about Goldstar.Com, and the ability to get half-price tickets, and you’ll never look back.

Independent of my love of theater, yesterday was Christmas. Christmas tradition demands a movie, not live theater. Looking at the selection in the theaters (and wanting to put off the crush around Star Wars), we settled on The Big Short, a comedy about the financial meltdown, directed by Adam McKay (FB), and starring Christian Bale (FB), Steve Carell (FB), Ryan Gosling (FB), Brad Pitt (FB), Hamish Linklater (FB), and many others. Why? The buzz on the movie had been good, and I was growing to be more impressed with McKay’s work from his new podcast on Gimlet, Surprisingly Awesome. McKay does that podcast with Adam Davidson (FB), who he made when Davidson consulted on The Big Short. Davidson was brought in as a consultant because of his experience as co-founder of Planet Money, an excellent podcast from NPR that figures out how to explain complex financial things in an understandable way.  In their new podcast, the two team up to, through entertaining explanation, change things that seem dull into something interested. Basically, their new podcast is the Planet Money approach applied to something broader than economics.

But The Big Short was about economics. In particular, it was about the environment leading up to the financial meltdown in 2008 — a meltdown that helped provide the final push to put the Obama administration into office. I already had a good understanding of this meltdown thanks to Toxie, the Toxic Asset bought by the Planet Money team to explain the financial meltdown (later the subject of a This American Life episode). Toxie was a tool to get to the podcast/radio audience: by looking into what it took to buy one of the toxic bonds (collateral debt obligations), PM could look at the mortgages in the bonds, how those bonds were constructed, and how their game brought down the housing market. But short of an animated movie, Toxie would not work well on the screen.

Enter Michael Lewis (FB). Lewis wrote a book on the financial crisis called The Big Short. This book provided a character-driven true story about the crisis, starting in the feeder markets: the bond and real estate derivative markets where new types of securities are invented to maximize profits irrespective of the costs to society. In a manner similar to the play Enron, the story illustrates how greed overcame common sense; how a desire to Make More Money created blinders to where the system was failing — or, more properly, being propped up with supports made of paper. Character driven stories. This is something that works well on the screen.

Enter McCoy and Charles Randolph. They worked with Lewis, and consultants such as Davidson, to adapt this to the screen. The result, at least to my eyes, was a Planet Money episode writ large: a two-hour retelling of the rise and fall of the housing market told in such a way as to make the story interesting. This included translating what were apparently footnotes in the book providing exposition of complex terms into asides by unrelated actors explaining complex terms in understandable ways (for example, Richard Thaler and Selena Gomez explaining collateralized debt obligations). This struck me as very Planet Money way of telling the story. There were also points in the story where the character doing the narration turned and spoke to the audience. But that’s also very Planet Money-like.

The end product had the feel of a documentary. Other than the asides and recognizing one actor (Linklater — yes, I didn’t recognize Brad Pitt), it did not feel like a reenactment. It felt like it was a narrated version of real life. I guess that is a testament to the direction and the quality of the actors that they were believable.

So, let’s go back to my original questions. Why is this a movie? Does it deserve to be on the big screen?

First, I think we can dismiss the cinematography. On a lot of movies, I find myself “seeing” the cinematography. Although we all see the results of the cinematography, it shouldn’t be obvious — just like we shouldn’t be able to tell there was a sound engineer or a lighting designer. On The Big Short, the cinematography was the documentary shaky cam work we see on things like Modern Family, which I normally hate. But given the documentary feel of this movie, it worked here. Further, it didn’t stand out as obvious cinematography.

Second, could this have been told on stage? I don’t think so. It wasn’t super-dependent on special effects, but the manner of the story construction didn’t fit with the linear deep story of the stage. There were too many places, too many asides, and the nature of the character story just wouldn’t work.

Third, did it need the big screen? Here’s where I think the movie did fail. The story didn’t require the big screen to tell the story in the manner of a Star Wars or Harry Potter. It would work just fine on a smaller screen. However, I think it did benefit from the audience — in that shared pain is lessened. Watching this alone at home could be very painful, especially for those sucked into it. Watching it in the theater shares the pain.

What I don’t know is the impact of the pain. The movie makes clear that the financial meltdown occurred because of a greed for more and more money. It showed how that administration of the time — the Republican administration of George Bush — likely knew the problem but didn’t want to suffer the popularity loss that would stem by slowing the economic growth. They were lax on regulation and let banks proceed unchecked in their excesses. When things failed, they bailed out their buddies. As this movie comes out, we’re entering into the election year of 2016. Is this movie bad news for the Republican candidates — emphasizing their desire to make money at the expense of the lower economic classes? What might be the impact of this on Trump, whose name is synonymous with money and privilege? Or will the people, in the words of 1776, be more interested in protecting the possibility that they might be rich to avoid the reality of facing the fact that they are poor?

Overall, I walked out liking this movie a great bit. It changed something that was very complex into something understandable. It had remarkable performance — remarkable in their realism. Will this movie win “gold” at the Oscars because of it? That I can’t answer — it might have too much of a documentary feel for Academy Voters to see the performances as performances. It certainly isn’t the classic dramatic story that seems to win, but it also isn’t the popcorn-checking action adventure.

Whatever the gold status, I think it is worth seeing.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: There may be one more movie in December: Star Wars VII, sometime during the week. In terms of theatre, this last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.