Observations Along the Road

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

Dysfunctional Relationships | “Grey Gardens” @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 10, 2016 @ 1:52 pm PDT

Grey Gardens (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonSometimes, you see a show and wonder what was going through the instigator’s mind. What prompted Stephen Sondheim to see a musical in the story of Sweeney Todd? What led Kander and Ebb to see a musical in the story of the Scottsboro Boys? Why did Merrill and Styne see a musical in the story of Prettybelle? Why, oh why, was there a notion to musicalize “The Madwoman of Chaillot” as Dear World? Musicalize Carrie? What are you smoking?

Then, surprisingly, the ideas sometimes work out. Sweeney Todd is a masterpiece. History is showing that there was more to Carrie – The Musical than originally seen. Scottsboro Boys may eventually find its place as well.

There’s no hope, however, for Dear World or Prettybelle.

Then there is last night’s show at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB): Grey Gardens, the Musical. One wonders what possessed book writer Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel, and lyricist Michael Korie, to see a musical in the documentary film “Grey Gardens” by David  and Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, and Susan Froemke, is beyond me. The result — which tells of the dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beal (“Little Evie”) — may have great performances, but the story leaves you shaking your head and asking “Why?”

Let me elaborate. The title, Grey Gardens, refers to an estate in East Hampton, NY, that was purchased in the mid-1920s by the Phelan Beale. Beale was a Wall Street banker, and his with, Edith, was socialite and singer, whose primary claim to fame was as the aunt of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Jackie, and her sister Lee, used to spend their summers with their aunt during the 1940s at Grey Gardens. Edith and Phelan’s daughter, also named Edith, was another aspiring actress. Any chance she had for marriage with thwarted by her mother, and eventually both Ediths ended up living in squalor in Grey Gardens with a collection of over 50 cats and feral raccoons. The situation was so bad they were threatened by the East Hampton health department. A documentary film was made of their story, and it became a cult classic.

The musical, Grey Gardens, attempts to tell the story in the documentary. The first half occurs in the 1940s, and centers on the engagement party for Little Edie and Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Jack Kennedy’s older brother). Big Edie sabotages the engagement to bring attention to herself, and Little Edie storms off to New York. This act takes some liberties with the story: there is no confirmation of the Kennedy-Beale engagement or this party; the actual party was a coming out party for Edie’s brother and took place earlier, with the divorce telegram actually arriving in 1946. The second half occurs in the early 1970s, and is essentially the documentary brought to life. It shows what Big and Little Evie’s life had degenerated into, their self-delusions, their dysfunctional relationship.

Ultimately, however, the show is a picture of a dysfunctional mother, and how she screwed up her daughter. Why we would want to see this — when there is no ultimate redemption — is beyond me. So you’re probably asking why I bought tickets? That’s easier to answer: I had seen the performance on the Tonys (they did the opening number from Act II), and had heard the music, and wanted to see how they handled the story. My conclusion was that there were some very good numbers, some excellent performances, but the story was one of those train wrecks that make you wonder afterwords why you found it so interesting.

My wife identified the problem well: both she and I grew up with mothers who were easily like this. We escaped. So why would we want to see a story that shows what could have been? It didn’t leave us with a great feeling.

That’s not to say there were not redeeming aspects. This wasn’t a complete train wreck like I Caligula, The Musical. A number of the songs are very entertaining, such as “The Five-Fifteen” (a dangerous ear worm), “Marry Well”, “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” (the number I saw on the Tonys) and “The House We Live In”. But I think the most poignant number is the penultimate one, “Another Winter in a Summer Town”, which could easily be a sad standard. It captures well the sadness of Little Evie’s life, what happens in the Winter for a Summer Town girl.

The performances were much stronger than the story itself. The trick conceit of this show is that the actress playing “Big Evie” in the first act becomes the Little Evie of the second act. This Edith was portrayed by Rachel York, who gave a remarkable performance. According to two of the orchestra members we spoke to after the show at the Metro station, her performance perfectly captured the Little Edie of the documentary. I haven’t seen the documentary, but it was a strong performance both in characterization and vocalization. She was just mesmerizing on stage.

Playing against York’s Little Edie in the second act, as Big Edie, was Betty Buckley (FB). Again, this was a great performance of a controlling woman, who achieved the control in various passive aggressive ways. Another example of strong characterization and vocalization. The two played well against each other — you could believe they were mother and daughter fighting.

At this point, I’ll interject to credit the director, Michael Wilson. I can never tell what comes from the director and what comes from the actor, but Wilson clearly worked with this cast to make the portrayals realistic, and it worked.

Playing against York’s Big Edie in the first act was Sarah Hunt (FB). I quite enjoyed Hunt’s performance — I thought she captured the spunk and the scheming of Little Edie quite well, and was extremely cute in “Two Peas in a Pod”.

Before I go to the other adult characters, I want to mention two who stole the show whenever they were onstage: Katie Silverman (FB) as Jacqueline Bouvier and Payton Ella (FB) as Lee Bouvier. These two little girls were cute as proverbial buttons, strong singers and dancers, and just fun to watch. Did I mention they were cute as buttons?

Turning to the main male characters. Simon Jones was very strong as J. V. “Major” Bouvier and Norman Vincent Peale — I particularly enjoyed him in “Marry Well”. The book doesn’t quite capture what he did in real life, but the performance was a hoot none-the-less. Josh Young (FB) demonstrated his strong singing and performance skills as both Joseph P. Kennedy Jr and Jerry, especially in “Going Places”.

Rounding out the male performers in named roles were Bryan Batt (FB) as George “Gould” Strong and Davon Williams (FB) as Brooks Sr. and Brooks Jr.  Both were very strong; Batt was wonderful in his facial expressions and playfulness.  I also noticed he was actually playing the piano.

Rounding out the cast as the ensemble players — choir members in some scenes, the camera and sound operators, asst. townspeople — were…. well, the ensemble isn’t explicitly credited as ensemble. Understudies are credited, so I’ll presume that the ensemble consisted of some subset of the understudies. The “understudies” were: Olivia Curry (u/s Jackie Bouvier, u/s Lee Bouvier), Rogelio Douglas Jr (FB) (u/s Brooks Jr, u/s Brooks Sr.), Steven Good (FB) (u/s George “Gould” Strong, u/s Kennedy Jr/Jerry, u/s Major Bouvier), Melina Kalomas (FB) (u/s Little Evie), Michelle London (FB) (u/s Young “Little” Evie, Dance Captain), and Rebecca Spencer (FB) (u/s Edith Bouvier Beale).

This was not your typical show, with large dance numbers with long-legged chorines. There was some dance, and there was definitely movement, and it was under the choreography of Hope Clarke. Still, some numbers exhibited great movement — in particular, “Marry Well”, “Two Peas in a Pod”, and “The House We Live In”.  Charles Swan (FB) served as Associate Director/Choreographer.

The music was under the music direction of Kevin Stites, who served as the conductor and lead keyboard for the hidden orchestra. The other orchestra members were: Gerald Sternbach (FB) (Associate Conductor, Keyboard); Sal Lozano (Reed 1); Jeff Driskill (Reed 2); Laura Brenes (French Horn); John Fumo (FB) (Trumpet); Jen Choi Fischer (Violin); David Mergin (Cello); Ken Wild (Bass); and Cliff Hulling (Percussion). Robert Payne was the Music Contractor.

Turning to the other creative aspects: The scenic design was by Jeff Cowie; the lighting design was by Howell Binkley; and the projection design was by Jason H. Thompson (FB). I mention these three in one breath because they all integrated together. The scenic design was a combination of a decayed shingle house (which reflected the pictures I’ve seen of the real Grey Gardens), but built upon projections to establish the time of day and to provide background for various songs. More significantly, the projections included documentary style film output that was seemingly real-time, yet I couldn’t always find the camera. All three integrated with the lighting to focus attention and provide mood impacts. The sound design of Jon Weston was clear and didn’t overpower, although at times you could tell you were listening to the speaker instead of the person speaking. The costume design of Ilona Somogyi combined with Paul Huntly‘s wig design to bring the characters to life.  I particularly noted how the costuming reflected the real quirky sensibilities of the real Little Evie, as well as the style of the clothes that the little girls wore.  Rounding out the production credits: Original Casting – Stewart/Whitley (FB); L.A. Casting – Beth Lipari, CSA (FB); Production Stage Management – Robert Bennett; Assistant Stage Manager – Denise Yaney. This production was “inspired” by the Bay Street Theatre production with the same leads and the same director (and, not surprisingly, many of the same costumes).

Grey Gardens continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through August 14th. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Box Office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar, and $25 HotTix may be available by calling the Ahmanson at 213.628.2772. Should you go see it? If you liked the documentary, or want to see an odd musical about a dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship, go. If that’s not your bag, or you want a traditional musical, skip it.

Regarding the HotTix comment. As we walked into the show, the subscription sales pushing critter stated that HotTix will not be available next season. I haven’t been able to confirm that online; I have a question into to CTG Customer Service. Looking at their subscription packages raises a number of question, especially as they have gone to a seating plan that divides up the orchestra (which could be the rationale for eliminating HotTix). This is a plan similar to the Pantages, and it is what drove us to subscriptions. However, their pricing makes no sense: (a) they do not offer subscription seats in either the Premium or the back Mezzanine or Balcony (which both contradicts their claim of subscriptions getting the best seats, as well as providing affordable subscriptions in the back as they used to do); (b) their pricing for the full subscriptions (6 shows) tends to have higher prices than the design-your-package with a minimum of 4 shows (the “design your package”, for Saturday Night, has $23 for D, $38 for C, $65 for B, and $90 for D, whereas the full subscription is $33, $48, $75, and no option for A; and (c) the “Passport” has only a single price, making its use for the lower price tickets non-sensical (they should offer a tier of Passports that tie to the seating areas, with discounts in other areas). Again, I have a query into CTG Customer Service.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  July brings us back to conventional theatre and performance. Next weekend brings a Fringe encore performance of Thirteen’s Spring, as well as The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The end of July gets busy, with Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on July 23, Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN on July 24 (pending ticketing), and a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland on July 28, and … currently nothing for the weekend. August is a bit more open in terms of theatre. The first weekend just has a Jethawks game on Sunday; the second weekend has a hold for a Bar Mitzvah.  The third weekend brings another event from the wonderful counter-cultural orchestra, Muse/ique (FB) — American/Rhapsody — a celebration of George Gershwin. Late August sees us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September returns to conventional theatre. The first weekend has a HOLD for Calendar Girls at The Group Rep (FB). The second weekend may be another Muse/ique (FB) event — Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend has a HOLD for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Mark Taper Forum (FB). The last weekend is yet another HOLD; this time, for The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend has a HOLD for Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) HOLD: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC HOLD for An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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 Changing Valley

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 09, 2016 @ 4:54 pm PDT

userpic=san-fernando-valleyThis week I’ve seen a number of stories about changes in the San Fernando Valley and environs. I’ll note the first item is tangentially only related to the valley — but is area related and so neat I had to include it:

  • Here’s a neat animated map that shows how Los Angeles grew as a city. I’m not sure there are other cities that have growth like this — certainly not equivalents such as San Francisco or New York. It shows why, in many ways, LA is unique.
  • In Reseda, the Reseda Theatre — near the corner of Reseda and Sherman Way, and long long long time shuttered…. may be coming back to life as a Laemmle Multiplex. This is great news — it will help change the nature of the neighborhood in a good way — in a non-Caruso way — bringing in supporting businesses and perhaps pushing out some of the pawn shops and tattoo element. The Los Angeles City Council last week approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with developer Thomas Safran & Associates for a mixed-use project on the site near the corner of Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way. The plan calls for a new Reseda Laemmle Theater at 18443 Sherman Way with 34 senior citizen units on top of and behind the theater building. The Reseda theater will probably have six screens.
  • In Panorama City, change is coming: the long-empty office tower — vacant since the 1994 Northridge Earthquate red-tagged it — is going to be revitialized. Developer Izek Shomof bought the Panorama Towers building last year for $12.5 million and plans a seismic retrofitting  to make 192 live-work units and retail space on the ground floor. It’s the centerpiece of several major changes coming to the area. Another developer has purchased the struggling Panorama City mall and plans improvements. An old Montgomery Ward department store is being transformed into a mixed-used living and retail complex that will include a grocery store, movie theater or big-box retailers. No word on what is happening to the former Ohrbachs, which last I recall was an indoor swap meet. This is yet another area ripe for revitalization.
  • In Santa Clarita, it is being reported that Congress wants to turn the St. Francis Dam Site into a National Monument. Specifically, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to establish a national memorial and monument in honor of the hundreds of victims of the catastrophe. Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) authored the bill, and the Daily News reports that similar legislation may soon be introduced in the Senate. The memorial would be funded by private donations and would establish a 440-acre national monument administered by the National Park Service. Of course, the dam is the inspirations behind one of my favorite Christmas shows ever. Just remember: All dams leak.

In closing, some parting words from William Mulholland: “I can deal with the shit. It’s the farts that wear me down.”

Signs of the Times

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 09, 2016 @ 3:48 pm PDT

userpic=rough-roadRecently, I have seen various things that remind me of how society has changed since my youth — whether it is for the better, I’ll leave to you decide. It is markedly a loss of innocence and a growth of awareness.

  • When I was up at camp Friday night, I noticed in the dining hall a brit that all campers had to sign. This evidently has been part of camp for the last (mumble) years since the current director came, and I think is it a good thing. It requires all campers to acknowledge that camp is a mutually supportive safe space, that embraces individuality. Back when I went to camp in the 1970s, we had that feeling (although there were a few bullies), and I believed that everyone came away with the impression that camp was a safe space. I certainly did, and I was one of the more individualist campers out there. But today we have to say it and remind people — a sad commentary on not only the prevalence of bullying, but the acceptance of bullying in some circles.
  • Back in the 1960s, the Smothers Brothers had a routine about updating old musical standards that reflected societal mores no longer in vogue — the example I remember was the all-white MacNamera’s Band requiring integration. The other day I read a review of Beauty and the Beast in the Daily Cal that captured another thing people might have missed, best embodied by this paragraph: “At this point, most audiences — and, indeed most Americans — know the plot of “Beauty and the Beast”: Belle, a brilliant woman utterly suffocated by the patriarchy and her small town, escapes marrying a misogynistic, violent, entitled alpha male (Gaston), and ends up being held captive by another man in his castle. ” The reviewer goes on to castigate the show as outdated, but you’ll find a large number of Broadway successes (and even Shakespearean successes) have such equivalent dated values, from Merchant of Venice to How to Succeed to Flower Drum Song to … you name it. My comment is more on the increased awareness we have of these issues — our increased recognition of art that accepts violence and perpetuates stereotypes, or that appropriates culture. Again, a loss of innocence from our youth, but perhaps for a good reason.
  • The third item is also from the Daily Cal, this time looking at the Venmo culture. Again, here’s the key paragraph: “Short Venmo transactions — supposedly aimed at discreet, cold-cut convenience — were enough to make me feel left out. Something about the nature of their publicized transactions screamed: “We don’t want to announce to the world that we hung out, but we still want you to see and imagine what we did.” And that’s when it struck me: We, as Millennials, have entered a whole new territory of humblebragging.” Through Facebook and Venmo and Twitter, we’ve entered the era where we regularly state our status by sharing our activities, humbling our friends who cannot afford such luxuries. I’ll admit I’m guilty of that with my theatre reviews — it is hard to know the balance. But again, the issue here is awareness — we’re increasingly aware of when privilege comes into play.
  • That brings me back to camp. While at camp — with this increased sensitivity — I was realizing that most of our Jewish summer camps are camps of privilege — just due to the nature of the makeup of Judaism as predominately white. There are black Jews and hispanic Jews and Jews in lower socioecomic spectra, but what do we do to reach out to them to provide that camp experience — that safe shared space. If they came, would it be humble-bragging of our position? I don’t know, but it would be good to find a way to reach out.

 

Changes to the California Highways Website: January – June 2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 06, 2016 @ 7:13 pm PDT

userpic=roadgeeking

Yes, I know updates are starting late. Between all my theatre (you do read my theatre reviews, don’t you), the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and other volunteer activities, I haven’t had time to do much on the site. But it is May (and now it is June … and now it is July 4th weekend), and I really should get something done. So let’s at least catch up…

But first, if you take a look at the bottom of this page, you’ll see that this site has existed, in some form, for 30 years. It started as posting of a highway list to the various highway related USENET groups. It then became a site of its own on Pacificnet (which, surprisingly, is still around, but I have no idea who still uses it). During the days at Pacificnet, the cahighways.org domain was created. When Pacificnet got rid of shell accounts in 2004, I moved the site to Westhost, where it has been since. But 30 years. Wow.

I have debated making some changes to the look and feel, possibly going to a content management system. I’m not sure if I could juggle two WordPress installations (as my blog is a WordPress installation on the site). I’ve also though about possibly moving the main information to a wiki. There’s a possibility those would make it easier to edit. However, editing isn’t the time sink — it is going through all the headlines, all the legislative actions, and all the CTC minutes. That simply takes time, whatever the content management approach. I am aware that the look and feel is dated (and not at all well-suited to mobile). I’m open to your comments on this. Please leave your comments on potentially changing the look and feel on this change post on the blog, or mail them to me at faigin -at cahighways.org.

One change that I will likely explore is moving the site to https://. Part of me objects to that change: encryption is really only needed if you have something to protect, and this site is public information. But search engines are starting to insist on it, so when I find time, I’ll check with Westhost and see what is involved. It may mean moving to a newer virtual machine, and will mean upgrading the blog and possibly all the other sites hosted here (mljewish.org, scjfaq.org, casaeclectica.com). But the key words are: when I find time. For now, let’s look at the last four-five months of updates:

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum. Both of the before are through the end of May 2016. I’ve given up on misc.transport.road. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from John Culbert(2), djsekani@AAroads(17), Andy Field(3), Ralph Herman(4), Inyomono395@AAroads(5), Jeffe@AAroads(6), Jonathan Ledbetter(7), JustDrive@AAroads(8), Laurence Maller(9), OccidentalTourist@AAroads(10), Joe Rouse(11), Rschen7754@AAroads(12), Arturo Salazar(13), Chris Sampang(14), Larry Scholnick(15), sparker@AARoads(18), Jeffrey Stone(17), and Joel Windmiller(16): Route 1(1,14,8), Route 3(1), Route 4(1), I-5(1,7,3), I-8(3), I-10(1), Route 11(12), Route 12(1,3), Route 14(13), I-15(1), Route 17(1), Route 20(1), Route 23(1), Route 25(1), Route 24(17), Route 29(1,3), Route 37(1,3), Route 39(1), US 50(1,3), Route 41(3), Route 43(3), Route 52(1), Route 57(1), Route 60(1), Route 65(1), Route 66(1,3), Route 69(18), Route 71(1), Route 74(1), Route 75(1,3), Route 76(3), I-80(1,16), Route 89(1), Route 90(1), Route 91(1), Route 92(1), Route 99(1), Route 100(14), US 101(1,3,6), Route 103(10,3), I-105(1), Route 110(1,13), Route 111(17), Route 118(1), Route 119(1), Route 120(1), Route 121(1), Route 126(3), Route 132(1), Route 134(1), Route 138(1), Route 140(1), Route 148(9), Route 154(1), Route 160(1), Route 162(3), Route 180(1), Route 198(3), I-210(4), I-215(1), Route 221(1), Route 245(18), Route 246(1), I-280(1), US 395(1,5,16), I-405(1), I-580(1,11), I-605(1), I-680(1), I-710(1), I-805(1), I-880(1), Santa Clara County Route G4(1), Sacramento County Route J10(2). Los Angeles County Route N4(15), Los Angeles County Route N6(15), Los Angeles County Route N7(15).

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There’s Stupidity and There’s Stupidity (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 06, 2016 @ 11:23 am PDT

userpic=nixonJust as there are different levels of infinity (ℵ0, ℵ1), there are different levels of stupidity, as this year’s Presidential campaign is showing. I’m finding myself increasingly agreeing with conservative commentator P. J. O’Roarke, on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me: when he endorsed Hillary Clinton:

“I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises,” O’Rourke said. “It’s the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she’s way behind in second place. She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

Wrong within normal parameters. That says a lot about this year’s viable Presidential candidates (although I expect the Green and Libertarian candidates to see a significant increase in support, I don’t believe they will reach a level where they have electoral college impact).

Let’s look at the recent stupidities.

***

Let’s start with Ms. Wrong-Within-Normal-Parameters. Andy Tannenbaum’s Electoral Vote site summarizes the stupidity regarding the email issues well, noting how the FBI director said she was extremely careless and might have put national security at risk, but that he was simply following the law and she didn’t break it. Specifically, they stated:

The law does not make being careless with classified information a crime. To reach the level of an actual felony, three factors have to be present. First, there has to be an intentional mishandling of classified information. Being sloppy is not enough. Second, there has to be a large amount of classified information exposed. About 110 of her more than 30,000 emails were classified at the time she sent or received them, but almost none were marked as such. Many more were classified months or years later, a common government practice. Third, there has to be some indication of disloyalty to the United States or else obstruction of justice. Nothing like that was present in her case. The DoJ prosecutors will next have to decide whether to indict, but Comey said that no reasonable prosecutor would indict someone for what she did. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has the final say and she already stated that she would follow the FBI’s recommendation. Thus it is virtually certain that Clinton will not be indicted. There will be much partisan yelling and screaming in the coming weeks and months, but in the end, she dodged the bullet.

The LA Times makes a similar argument:

Federal law makes it a crime for a trusted U.S. official to “knowingly and willfully” disclose or transmit secret information to an “unauthorized person.” A second law makes it a crime to “remove” secret documents kept by the government or to allow them to be stolen through “gross negligence.”

Neither law applies clearly or directly to what FBI Director James B. Comey described Tuesday as Hillary Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of classified emails that were sent through her private system when she was the secretary of State.

“It’s just not a crime under current law to do nothing more than share sensitive information over unsecured networks,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “Maybe it should be, but that’s something for Congress to decide going forward.”

Comey made clear, Vladeck said, that “however much we might want federal law to make her carelessness a crime, nothing she did falls within the letter of the relevant federal criminal statutes.”

The Time’s concluding thought is particularly noteworthy:

Stewart Baker, a top national security lawyer in the Bush administration, called Comey’s statement “pretty damning for Secretary Clinton, even if the facts don’t make for an impressive criminal case. He suggests that she should have been, or arguably could still be, subjected to ‘security or administrative sanctions.’ What he doesn’t say, but what we can infer, is that she ran those incredible risks with national security information because she was more worried about the GOP reading her mail than of Russian or Chinese spies reading it. That’s appalling,” he said.

This shows where our incredible partisanship, and the hatred of the Republicans for the Clintons, has gotten us. My take on this mess is that, although what Clinton did was stupid, it appears to have had no significant national security affect. Further, similar classified data has been found in the emails of other Secretaries of State. More importantly, I don’t think it is a mistake that would be repeated: Clinton has been sensitized to the issue, and the staff supporting her if she becomes President are unlikely to permit the situation to be repeated. Then, of course, there is the fact that the President is the ultimate arbiter of what is classified, as the head of the Executive Branch.

Of course, the Republican side isn’t letting the issue fall, and again Electoral Vote captures it:

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans made clear that they intend to open a new investigation into the e-mail server, with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) promising that Comey would be called before the House of Representatives to answer for himself.

Undoubtedly, the GOP wants to keep the e-mail server in the news for as long as is possible, and Congressional hearings would certainly do that. However, those hearings would also be a supremely bad idea. Whatever damage that emailgate is going to do has already been done—those who are going to hold the server against Clinton, and those who are going to overlook it, have already made their decisions. Short of a game-changer, like an indictment, not much is going to change on that front. However, holding hearings after the FBI has made its recommendation, along with the Benghazi hearings, and the Merrick Garland obstruction, would give the Democrats a powerful argument that the Republican members of Congress are less interested in doing their jobs than they are in abusing their positions of power in service of partisan ends. One can scarcely imagine something that would do more to help the blue team in their efforts to retake the legislature.

***

Now, let’s look at Mr. Wrong-in-So-Many-Ways. Here is someone who keeps making new stupidities — again, not at the criminal level (perhaps), but at the appalling level. Over the last few days, we’ve had Trump posting an antisemitic image in a tweet on Clinton, and the subsequent identification that the image came from a white supremacist website. Electoral Vote summarizes the concern well: “Even if he got the image in a completely non-problematic fashion (say, a retweet from a supporter), it still shows an incredible lack of awareness on the part of the candidate. A lack of awareness that does not line up well with the sensitivity demanded of the leader of the free world.”

Speaking about leadership, today’s revelation has Trump praising the leadership of Saddam Hussain (the equivalent of praising Hitler). Here’s the quote from the LA Times: «“He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” Trump said at a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday night. “They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. It was over.”»

Trump, of course, has his own email issues that have made the news, which (of course) have been overshadowed by his stupid statements. In particular, he was accused in early June of destroying email evidence. As the article noted:

In 2006, when a judge ordered Donald Trump’s casino operation to hand over several years’ worth of emails, the answer surprised him: The Trump Organization routinely erased emails and had no records from 1996 to 2001. The defendants in a case that Trump brought said this amounted to destruction of evidence, a charge never resolved.

At that time, a Trump IT director testified that until 2001, executives in Trump Tower relied on personal email accounts using dial-up Internet services, despite the fact that Trump had launched a high-speed Internet provider in 1998 and announced he would wire his whole building with it. Another said Trump had no routine process for preserving emails before 2005.

Then again, there’s the issue of Trump and (sigh) child rape in the past:

An anonymous “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump last week, accusing him of raping her in 1994 when she was thirteen years old. The mainstream media ignored the filing.

In fact, as both the article linked above and another article highlights, this appears to be a pattern of behavior. Of course, then there’s the whole issue of Trump University and the Trump Institute, and how Trump exploited people for personal gain.

Shouldn’t these be subject to the same scrutiny and investigation that the email non-issue of Clinton has had? Where are the Congressional inquires into Trump University, Trump Institute, and the rape charges? Where are the investigations into patterns of hate speech, sexism, and racism? Where are the investigations into the deletion of emails in legal cases?

***

This brings us back to the question of what are normal parameters, and how wrong is wrong? The mistakes we’ve seen from Clinton are mistakes that are likely not to re-occur, given the checks and balances provided through Congress and the heightened sensitivity of White House staff. We certainly have not seen statements that reflect misunderstanding of foreign policy or demonstrate lack of sensitivity at anything close to the racism or sexism demonstrated by Trump. In fact, the general impression is that Clinton enjoys public service and wants to give back to the country through it — that’s where her life has been devoted. Trump, on the other hand, clearly puts his mouth or typing-fingers in gear long before there is any connection to the brain — and that is dangerous in the leader of the Free World. He has also clearly done what is necessary — racist or not — to get personal gain.

Wrong-within-normal-parameters. Clinton may not be the perfect candidate, but of those who have the potential of obtaining sufficient electoral voices, she’s the best shot we’ve got. Or, as WWDTM put it: “Wrong within normal parameters. I’ll take it.”

To put the issue another way: In an ideal world, both of the major parties would have run viable, intelligent, and appropriate candidates who held reasoned views of the issues. None (or precious few) of the candidates in the candidate pool achieved that (yes, that includes Bernie). Further, both parties are stuck with presumptive nominees with significant problems, and do not have the option of going against the will of the majority of the voters to go with a different candidate (and yes, that includes Bernie). This country needed strong candidates from both parties — candidates that would make strong Presidents were they elected. Instead, the Democratic side let the oversize donkey that was Clinton fundraising and history scare off other moderate potential candidates (or they didn’t look ahead sufficiently to groom any, being distracted by the fights with the GOP. The GOP was no better, permitting candidates that appealed to the wacko, evangelical, and ultra-conservative and isolationist fringe to lead, as opposed to finding a moderate Republican who could have broad appeal.  As a result, we don’t have that honest, moderate, slightly to the left Democrat; we don’t have that honest, moderate, slightly to the right Republican.

We have Donald and Hillary.

Wrong-within-normal-parameters. Sometimes, that’s the best that you can do.

Western Corps Connection 2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 05, 2016 @ 6:48 pm PDT

Western Corps Connection (2016)userpic=drumcorpsAs you are probably aware by now, I write up every live performance that I go to (and even some filmed performances). Our Sunday evening experience is no exception: we drove out to Riverside for the Western Corps Connection (FB), our annual drum corps show. For those unfamiliar with drum corps — think of it as a musical competition. Here’s a summary of the history from Wikipedia:

Beginning after World War I through the 1970s, corps and competitions were often sponsored by the VFW, Scout troops, churches, the Royal Canadian Legion, and the American Legion. Owing to many of these groups’ roots, corps were traditionally militaristic. By the late 1960s, many corps wanted more creative freedom and better financial compensation than was offered by their sponsoring organizations. Some felt the prize-money structures, based on competitive placement, were not fairly compensating all corps for their appearances. Additionally, some felt the current judging rules were stifling musical and theatrical possibilities. At the peak of North American drum corps participation (with perhaps a thousand active corps in the U.S. and nearly as many in Canada), several corps decided to “unionize”, as stated by Don Warren (founder of the Cavaliers). They formed their own organizations, which ultimately led to the formation of DCA in 1965 and DCI in 1972. By this time, many corps had already lost their church or community sponsors.

For the corps that remained, longer travel times were necessary to attend the shrinking numbers of contests, further adding to the financial and time demands on the organizations and their individual members. At the same time costs for the increasingly complex field shows mounted and creative and instructional demands rose leading many competitive corps to falter and become inactive. By the late 1990s only a fraction of the corps that existed in the 60s and 70s remained, although several new corps, some of which have become very successful, did start up along the way.

Non-competitive classic-style corps (often and sometimes inaccurately known as “alumni corps”) saw a renaissance beginning in the mid-1980s and they continue to organize in the 21st Century; members often remain vigilant about the traditions and virtues of the drum corps activity before the advent of electronic technology, band instruments, dancing and singing.

Freed from the traditional and more-restrictive judging rules of the late 1960s, corps began making innovative changes such as the use of Bb brass instruments, wide-ranging tempos, intricate asymmetric drill formations, elaborate guard costumes and props, and the use of stationary orchestral percussion instruments. A common criticism of drum corps is that it has become too similar to marching band, but although the two activities are very similar they are still clearly distinct. A few corps still utilize the traditional G Bugle which is very rarely found in DCI marching units. The competitive season for drum corps is in the summer rather than fall, with auditions and initial ensemble rehearsals beginning as early as late October of the previous year. The top-tier competitive corps are often very complex and more professional than the average marching band, as members in full-time touring units have no distractions outside of their organization during the season and membership is achieved only through highly competitive auditions.

My interest in Drum Corps comes from my wife, just has her tolerance interest in theatre comes from me. She marched in a youth band in the early 1970s (Royal Cavaliers (FB) out of Van Nuys), and was in competitions with some of the classic corps of the era — Anaheim Kingsman (FB),  the Troopers (FB), Madison Scouts (FB), Santa Clara Vanguard (FB), Concord Blue Devils (FB). The sport (and, yes, it is a competitive sport) has changed quite a bit since the 1970s, but it still emphasizes musical excellence, precision, and art. You can learn more at the Drum Corps International (DCI) (FB) website.

I like to describe the competitions as follows: take approximately 120 young adults aged up to 21. Divide them roughly into thirds: brass, percussion, and guard, with a small number in a front pit. The brass primarily march with trumpets and similar horns; the percussion have various drums, and the guard is for visual effects using all sorts of props, but usually including sabres, marching rifles, tall flags, and other things that can be tossed. A small group will be in a pit in front with larger drums, xylophone type percussion, and more recently, keyboards, sound boards, and even a bass guitar. Heresy! Now have these kids develop a 15 minute show and put them in competition. Judging is based on general effect, visual, and music. DCI uses the scoring:

Total possible score: 100
General Effect 40 Visual 30 Music 30
General Effect 1 20 Proficiency 20 Brass 20
General Effect 2 20 Analysis 10 Analysis 10
Color guard 10 Percussion 10
Total ÷ 2 Total ÷ 2

The general effect score includes an assessment of precision.

Now that you know what corps is, on to the show. The Western Corps Connection is one of the oldest shows on the west coast, and is hosted by the Riverside Community College band. It is typically one of the last shows in California, so it gets the most mature program within driving distance of L.A.  There is typically a large number of open class (i.e., not full contingent) corps, and some of the top western World Class corps, including some visiting from outside the west.

Neither my wife nor I are corps experts, especially in the new style. She tends to view corps based on her experiences in the early days; she’s not that enamored of some of the new changes. I tend to judge corps based on my theatre experience: the quality of the music, the accessibility of the music, the effect on the crowd, and (to me, most importantly) are they able to tell a story, or are they just performing a jazz concert. Neither of us tend to be attuned to the tricks and techniques that might wow the judges, but go over the heads of the audience.

I’ll note that this year, I also wasn’t in the most receptive mood going in. Before we left I had, shall we say, a disagreement, with my daughter (who has moved back into our house after graduating UC Berkeley… and developing her own housing style). She had been doing her usual passive-aggressive approach to cleaning up our house (i.e., guilting us, and then just moving our stuff where she thought it should be), which had resulted in my yelling and tripping over stuff (leaving me bruised). A late lunch from Smashburger — specifically the fries — was also making itself known through massive indigestion. I was also dealing with an allergy attack from her fostering two dogs over the Fourth of July weekend. This meant that during some of the early open class corps I was less attentive on the program.

The following Open Class corps (nee Division B) were in competition ([final placement: score]):

  1. Impulse (FB) (Buena Park, CA) [4 : 46.95]
  2. Incognito (FB) (Garden Grove, CA) [5 : 39.5]
  3. The Watchmen (FB) (Riverside, CA) [3: 47.5]
  4. Golden Empire (FB) (Bakersfield, CA) [2: 52.95]
  5. Gold (FB) (San Diego, CA) [1 : 54.45]

I recall that there was much more use of vocal sound effects than I had seen before, and that I liked both Impulse’s program and Golden Empire’s program. However, none had music or a show that stuck with me.

During the intermission, there was performance from the Edmonton Sabres Marching Band (FB), a marching band for children aged 6 to 14. from Edmonton, Alberta. Here is there performance from their FB live feed.

The following World Class corps (nee Division A) were in competition:

  1. Pacific Crest (FB) (Diamond Bar, CA) [6 : 60.25]
  2. Mandarins (FB) (Sacramento, CA) [5: 62.65]
  3. The Academy (FB) (Tempe, AZ) [4: 66.4]
  4. Blue Knights (FB) (Denver, CO) [3 :67.05]
  5. Madison Scouts (FB) (Madison, WI) [2 : 69.85]
  6. Concord Blue Devils (FB) (Concord, CA) [1 : 77.55]

We didn’t have Santa Clara Vanguard (FB) this year ( 😡 ), and neither Blue Devils nor Vanguard appear to be marching their B or C corps anymore (at least in Southern California).

In this division, the shows were more memorable.

  • Pacific Crest (FB) had an interesting show with a train theme — they ended up building railroad tracks. Although I enjoyed the visual effects, the music itself didn’t stick in my head.
  • The Mandarins (FB) show was visually nice, but the music didn’t connect.
  • The Academy (FB) did a real interesting show called “Drum Corpse Bride” that told the story of a marriage, using a lot of accessible music and really neat visual effects. I liked their show quite a bit.
  • Blue Knights (FB) had a technically proficient show, but the music just didn’t connect and the visuals told no story.
  • Madison Scouts (FB) had an excellent show, building upon the music of Jesus Christ Superstar to tell the story of Judas. Powerful sound, powerful performance. One of our favorites; we think they were robbed in the scoring.
  • Blue Devils (FB) did what Devils do best: excellent musicianship and a performance that hits what the judges are looking for, but that doesn’t connect with a story for the audience.

Overall, I noticed much more use of the marching musicians for visual effect and guard effects. There was also much more use of pre-recorded vocals and keyboard effects. The days when there was the emphasis on basic brass and drums is gone. I also noticed how the guard marches people of all sizes, and how the corps are increasingly more diverse.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  July brings us back to conventional theatre and performance. Next weekend brings Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The weekend of July 15 may bring a Fringe encore performance of Thirteen’s Spring, as well as The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The end of July gets busy, with Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on July 23, Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN on July 24 (pending ticketing), and a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland on July 28, and … currently nothing for the weekend. August is a bit more open in terms of theatre. The first weekend just has a Jethawks game on Sunday; the second weekend has a hold for a Bar Mitzvah.  The third weekend brings another event from the wonderful counter-cultural orchestra, Muse/ique (FB) — American/Rhapsody — a celebration of George Gershwin. Late August sees us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September returns to conventional theatre. The first weekend has a HOLD for Calendar Girls at The Group Rep (FB). The second weekend may be another Muse/ique (FB) event — Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend has a HOLD for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Mark Taper Forum (FB). The last weekend is yet another HOLD; this time, for The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend has a HOLD for Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) HOLD: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC HOLD for An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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.

 

Music is a Beautiful Tapestry | “Beautiful” @ Hollywood Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 04, 2016 @ 10:22 am PDT

Beautiful (Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaAnd just like that, with the coming of July, the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) is over (except for the encore extensions). For us, that means a return to our typical mix of shows (both large and small) and other live performance events. First up: Beautiful — The Carole King Musical (FB) at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). Beautiful purports to tell the story of singer-songwriter Carole King (FB, Wiki) through her music.

Watching the show Saturday night — which was excellent and very entertaining — my mind mused about the potential of this show in the regional and amateur markets, and drifted to other similar shows I have seen. I thought about 1978’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, 1981’s Sophisticated Ladies, 1995’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and 2005’s Jersey Boys.  Each show has had a successful after life, and each essentially captured the music of a generation: Ain’t Misbehavin’ captured Fats Waller’s music of the 1930s; Sophisticated Ladies captured Duke Ellington’s music of the 1950s; Smokey Joe’s captured Lieber and Stoller’s music of the 1950s; and Jersey captured Franki Valli’s music of the 1960s. All focused on what were essentially singer-songwriters; that is, people who primarily played their own music. Musicals that focused more on the cover artist have never gained the same traction — can you think of a successful Broadway musical that has addressed Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley (neither of whom were writing their own music), or even the rock writing teams (about the closest are Beatlemania or The Who’s Tommy, and I don’t think anyone has addressed the Rolling Stones).

But focusing on the evolution of the singer-songwriter does capture the audience; often, such a focus captures the music of a generation. That was clear to me at Beautiful, which captures much of the catalog of Carole King — in particular, the songs of the 1960s and her emergence as a singer-songwriter in the Laurel Canyon scene of the early 1970s (which also gave us folks like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell). Never mind the fact that, if you do a little research,  you discover that the story presented plays a little loose with the chronology (especially the order in which the songs were written and became hits). It does capture the people and the key personalities; it does show the pain behind the stories. In doing so, it does attempt to imbue particular songs with a meaning that, perhaps, they only have in hindsight.

More importantly, the story it tells is one of empowerment. We see a daughter of the 1940s and 1950s — a daughter who believed her voice was dictated by her looks and her husband — take control of her life. The audience reaction when Carole King decided that she was the right person to sing her songs, and that she was the one who could dictate how they sound was transformative. It demonstrated the importance of controlling your own destiny to one’s self-worth.

So what if the first song that King wrote and sold was 1958’s “The Right Girl”, as opposed to 1962’s “It Might as Well Rain Until September”. So what if 1959’s response, “Oh Neal” wasn’t mentioned in relation to Sedaka’s “Oh Carol”. So what if the story stops back in 1971 at the Carnegie Hall Concert. — essentially shortly after the success of Tapestry, with no mention of her first album, Writer. So what if there is no mention of the other three husbands. This is theatre, where life and music is rearranged to fit the story to be told. Oh, and that music, that music. It is the music of a generation (and, I must admit, it is my generation — Tapestry is one of my favorite albums.

It should be noted that King did not write the book for the musical — that task fell to Douglas McGrath. McGrath’s story focused primarily on the tumultuous relationship between King and her first husband, Gerry Goffin; the competitive relationship between Goffin and King and their contemporary songwriting team of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.; their relationship with producer Don Kirshner; and the growth in confidence and self-assertiveness in King with her transition from background composer to confident singer-songwriter. Originally, King did not want to see her story replayed on the Broadway stage;  it was far too painful for her to relive. Eventually, her daughter convinced her to let the story be told, and she gave the show her blessing. She finally saw the full show after it opened.

I’m not going to detail the story as presented in the musical. There’s a good synopsis on the Beautiful Wikipedia page, and I’ll let you go there.  Suffice it to say that this is a jukebox musical in the same sense as the ones I listed at the start: songs are presented in historical context and somewhat historical order, but only rarely are they used to illustrate a character’s feelings or mood (unlike songs in a traditional book musical).

Reading the above you might get the impression that I felt the modifications to history hurt the presentation. They didn’t; most of the audience was probably not aware of them. The audience (and this audience member) heard the music and was instantly transported to the good time. The story as told flowed smoothly, and the performances were fantastic. How close they were to the originals I can’t say, but they were very enjoyable.

The performances in this show were top notch. In the lead position was Abby Mueller (FB) as Carole King (and the regulations state that we must note that her sister, Jesse, originated the role on Broadway). Mueller was a fantastic King, capturing the voice and the character well. She also appeared to actually be playing the piano, at least in those scenes with the grand piano (as opposed to the upright, where they hid the hands on the keyboard).

Playing off Mueller’s King were her songwriting contemporaries: Liam Tobin (FB) as her husband, Gerry Goffin; Becky Gulsvig† (FB) as Cynthia Weil; and Ben Fankhauser (FB)   as Barry Mann.  All presented good characterizations of their characters and did remarkable on thier songs. I was particularly taken by Gulsvig’s personality as it came across in her performance.

Rounding out the main named characters were Suzanne Grodner (FB) as Genie Klein, Carole’s mother and Curt Bouril† (FB) as Don Kirshner. Both are primarily character, as opposed to singing roles. In both cases, the actors did a great job of creating appropriate characters.

[†: At our performance. I must note that this show had the most “date-ranged” cast I’ve seen in a while; it is unclear whether those who were off returned to the ensemble in unnamed roles, or were just not present on stage. I’ll indicate where appropriate date ranged roles. † will indicated if they played the role at our performance on 7/2.]

In many ways, what made this show was the ensemble, who not only played unnamed background singers and characters, but rotated in and out as major performers of the 1960s. The ensemble consisted of Ashley Blanchet (FB) [Ensemble; Shirelle; Little Eva; “One Fine Day” backup singer], Sarah Bockel (FB) [Ensemble; Betty (6/22-6/30, 7/5-7/17); u/s Carole, Genie]; Andrew Brewer (FB) [Ensemble; Don Kirshner (7/3-7/7); Righteous Brother† (6/22-7/2, 7/8-7/17); Nick† (6/22-7/2, 7/18-7/17); u/s Gerry, Don]; Britney Coleman (FB) [Ensemble; Shirelle; “One Fine Day” backup singer; “Uptown” singer]; Rebecca E. Covington (FB) [Ensemble; Shirelle; Janelle Woods]; Josh A. Dawson (FB) [Ensemble; Drifter]; John Michael Dias (FB) [Ensemble; Neil Sedaka; Righteous Brother; Lou Adler; u/s Barry]; Sidney Dupont (FB) [Swing]; Ryan Farnsworth (FB) [Swing; u/s Barry]; Matt Faucher (FB) [Swing; Don Kirshner (7/8-7/10); Righteous Brother (7/3-7/7); Nick (7/3-7/7); u/s Gerry, Don], Rosharra Francis (FB) [Swing; Lucille (7/3)]; Jay McKenzie (FB) [Ensemble; Drifter]; Alaina Mills [Swing; Betty† (7/1-7/3); Cynthia Weil (7/7); Marilyn Wald (6/25-6/30); u/s Carole, Cynthia, Genie; Dance Captain]; Paris Nix (FB) [Ensemble; Drifter]; Noah J. Ricketts (FB) [Ensemble; Drifter];  Ximone Rose (FB) [Swing; Lucille (7/5-7/10); Marilyn Wald† (7/1-7/3)]; Salisha Thomas (FB) [Ensemble; Lucille† (6/22-7/2, 7/12-7/17); Shirelle; “One Fine Day” backup singer]; DeLaney Westfall (FB) [Ensemble; Marilyn Wald (6/22-6/24, 7/5-7/17); u/s Cynthia]. Whew. A few performances I wanted to note: I like Ashley Blanchet’s Little Eve — quite a bit of spunk and a nice costume transition. I also liked Andrew Brewer and John Michael Dias’ Righteous Brothers — it was interesting seeing the same scene we saw earlier this year from the other side of the story.

Turning to the music and movement side of the equation: The choreography was by Josh Prince, and seemed to reflect the early 1960s style of dance well. Other than dance as part of musical groups, there wasn’t much Broadway style dancing. The composers and lyricists were mentioned previously (i.e., Goffin / King, Mann / Weil). Music use was by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing (FB). Orchestrations, vocal, and music arrangements were by Steve Sidwell. Music supervision and additional music arrangements were by Jason Howland (FB). The music director was Susan Draus (FB), and the Music coordinator was John Miller (FB). The band consisted of Susan Draus (FB) as conductor and on keys; Nick Williams (FB) as assistant conductor and also on keys; Shannon Ford (FB) on drums; Eric Stockton (FB) on first guitar; Dick Mitchell on alto sax, flute, tenor sax, and alto flute; John Yoakum (FB) on tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, and flute; Wayne Bergeron (FB) on trumpet and flugelhorn; Andy Martin (FB) on trombone and bass trombone; Trey Henry (FB) on bass and electric bass; Paul Viapiano (FB) on guitar and second acoustic guitar, Brian Kilgore (FB) on percussion, David Witham (FB) on third keyboard. Christian Regul (FB) was the keyboard sub, and Brian Miller (who I discovered happens to be married to Carol Burnett) was the orchestra contractor.   If you follow those links you’ll see why the music was so good: they got some top notch musicians for the show — both local and on tour. I’ll note that it also looked like the lead, Abby Mueller (FB), was actually playing the grand piano.

The production was directed by Marc Bruni (FB), who did a good job of making the performers seem to be the characters they are supposed to be.

The scenic design by Derek McLane was simple but complicated — an elaborate background, frames, drops, risers, etc, that all made extensive use of LED lighting to get a multitude of colors, but providing minimal sense of place except for hints of set pieces — a sofa here, a table there, a tape deck here, a barstool there. Peter Kaczorowski‘s lighting design did well to establish and support the mood. Brian Ronan (FB)’s sound design was clear but loud; those with sensitive ears should bring foam earplugs. Alejo Vietti (FB)’s costume design was clever and seemed period appropriate; I particularly noted Little Eva’s transformation. Wig and hair design was by Charles G. LaPointe (FB), with make-up design by Joe Dulude II (FB). As with the costumes, the wigs seemed very era appropriate. Rounding out the production credits: Casting – Stephen Kopel, CSA; Production Stage Manager – Eric Sprosty (FB); Production Management – Juniper Street Productions, Inc. (FB) Stage Manager – Nicole Olson (FB).

Beautiful — The Carole King Musical (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through July 17. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This is a very enjoyable musical, well 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 and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  July brings us back to conventional theatre and performance. Yesterday was the Western Corps Connection (FB) in Riverside. The weekend of July 9 brings Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The weekend of July 15 may bring a Fringe encore performance of Thirteen’s Spring, as well as The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The end of July gets busy, with Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on July 23, Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN on July 24 (pending ticketing), and a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland on July 28, and … currently nothing for the weekend. August is a bit more open in terms of theatre. The first weekend just has a Jethawks game on Sunday; the second weekend has a hold for a Bar Mitzvah.  The third weekend brings another event from the wonderful counter-cultural orchestra, Muse/ique (FB) — American/Rhapsody — a celebration of George Gershwin. Late August sees us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September returns to conventional theatre. The first weekend has a HOLD for Calendar Girls at The Group Rep (FB). The second weekend may be another Muse/ique (FB) event — Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend has a HOLD for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Mark Taper Forum (FB). The last weekend is yet another HOLD; this time, for The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend has a HOLD for Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) HOLD: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC HOLD for An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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.

Better Get Them To Sign It In The Next Coupla Days…

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 04, 2016 @ 8:19 am PDT

Every year I post this on the 4th of July. For all that certain groups purport to know what this country’s founders wanted, I think it is best expressed in the sentiment “life, liberty, and the purſuit of happineſſ”. We still have that, for all the complaints. At times we may not like our leadership, at times we may think that those running for political office are clowns or buffoons, and at times we may be frustrated at how our government is working (or not), but it is still the best system out there. Lastly, as much as I get annoyed at what those on the other side of the political spectrum say, I am still pleased to live somewhere where they have the right to say it. Happy Independence Day!

Narrator: The trouble continued to brew. It was a time for action, a time for words. On a hot July night in 1776, Benjamin Franklin was aroused from his work by the call of destiny.

(door knocks)
Jefferson (J) (faintly): Hey, you in there Ben?
Franklin (F) (grouchily) Who’s that, Sylvia?
Sylvia (S): It’s the call of destiny.
F: C’mon, take a look through the curtains.
S: It’s Tom Jefferson
F: What? Again?
J: Pounds on door harder
F: Well, it’s no good, I’ll have to let him in. (walking to door) I’m coming, I’m coming.

(door opens)
J: Hi, Ben.
F: Tom.
(door closes)
J: You got a minute?
F: To tell you the truth, we were just going out of town for the weekend.
J: But it’s only Wednesday.
F: (signs) Well, you know. A penny saved is a penny earned.
J: (pauses) What does that got to do with anything, Franklin?
F: I don’t know. (chuckles) It’s the first thing that came into my head. I was just making conversation. An idle brain is the devil’s playground, you know.
J: Say, you’re pretty good at that, aren’t you?
F: They’re some new “wise sayings” I just made up.
J: Wise sayings?
F: Yeah, I call ’em “Wise Sayings”.

F: What can I do for you?
J: I’ve got this petition I’ve been circulating around the neighborhood. I kinda’ thought you would like to sign it or something. It’s called a Declaration of Independence.
F: Yeah, I heard about that. Sounds a little suspect if you ask me.
J: What do you mean “suspect”?
F: You’re advocating overthrow of the British government by force and violence, aren’t you?
J: Well, yeah, yeah, but we’ve had it with that royal jazz.
F: Who’s “we”?
J: All the guys.
F: Who’s “all the guys”?
J: George, Jim Madison, Alex Hamilton, Johnny Adams… you know, “all the guys”.
F: Heh, the lunatic fringe.
J: Oh they are not.
F: Bunch of wild-eyed radicals. Professional liberals. Don’t you kid me?
J: You call George Washington a wild-eyed radical?
F: Washington? I don’t see his name on there?
J: Yeah, but he promised to sign it.
F: (laughs) That’s George for you. Talks up a storm with those wooden teeth of his. Can’t shut him off. But when it comes time to put the name on the parchment-o-roonie, try to find him.
J: What are you so surley about today?
F: Surly to bed and surly to rise makes a man…

J: Alright, Alright. Let’s knock off the one-line jokes and sign the petition. What do you say, huh, fellow?
F: Well, let me skim down it here. “When in the course of human events…” so-so-and-so. hmm-hmmm-and-hmmm. “… and that among these are life, liberty, and the purſuit of happineſſ?”
J: That’s “pursuit of happiness”
F: Well all your “S”s look like “F”s
J: It’s stylish. It’s in, it’s very in.
F: Well, if it’s in. (clears throat and continues) “…we therefore, representatives of the United States of America…” so-so-and-so. hmm-mmm-and-hmmm. “…solemnly publish and declare…” hmmm-hmmm-and-hmmm. “…and there absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.” And so on.

F: A little overboard, isn’t it?
J: Well, uh?
F: You write this?
J: Yeah, I knocked it out. It’s just a first draft.
F: Why don’t you leave it with me, and I’ll mail it in?
J: C’mon.
F: I’ll tell you Tom, I’m with you in spirit. I’m sure you understand that, but I got to play it conservative. I’m a businessman. I got the printing business going pretty good. Almanac made book of the month. I’ve got the inventions. I’ve got pretty good distribution on the stove. And, of course, every Saturday evening, I bring out the “mag”.
J: The what?
F: “magazine”
J: Oh. That reminds me. That artist I sent by, did you look at his stuff?
F: The Rockwell boy? Skinny kid with the pipe?
J: Yeah, that’s the kid.
F: I glanced at it. Too far out for me.
J: Yeah, I know you gotta play it safe. But getting back to the signing of the petition, how about it, huh?
F: Well, uh.
J: It’s a harmless paper.
F: Oh sure, harmless. I know how these things happen. You go to a couple of harmless parties, sign a harmless petition, and forget all about it. Ten years later, you get hauled up before a committee. No, thank you, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life writing in Europe.
J: Ah, c’mon.
F: C’mon what?

(bell note)
J: C’mon and put your name on the dotted line.
F: I got to be particular what I sign.
J: It’s just a piece of paper.
F: Just a piece of paper, that’s what you say.

J: C’mon and put your signature on the list.
F: It looks to have a very subversive twist.
J: How silly to assume it
J: Won’t you nom de plume it,
J: today?

J: You’re so skittish? Who possibly could care if you do?
F: The Un-British Activities Committee, that’s who?

J: Let’s have a little drink-o and fill the quill.
F: It sounds a little pinko to me, but still…
J: Knock off the timid manner
J: If you want a banner, to raise.
F: (banner to raise)

J: You must take (F: I must take)
J: A stand (F: a stand)
J: For this brave (F: for this brave)
J: New land (F: new land)
J: For who wants (F: who wants)
J: To live (F: to live)
J: So conser- (F: so conser-)
J: vative? (F: vative)

F: I don’t dis- (J: he don’t dis)
F: agree, (J: agree)
J and F: but a man can’t be too careful what he signs these days.

(musical flourish, and the song ends)

F: Well, if I sign it, will you renew your subscription?
J: If you promise not to keep throwing it on the roof. If it isn’t on the roof, it’s in the rosebushes or in the mud.
F: My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, you know. Besides, it’s hard to hit the porch from a horse.
J: C’mon, all we want to do is hold a few truths to be self-evident.
F: You’re sure it’s not going to start a revolution or anything?
J: Trust me.
F: OK, give it to me. You got a quill on you?
J: Here you go.
F: Look at this showoff “Hancock”. Pretty flamboyant signature for an insurance man. (signs it)
J: You did a good thing, Ben. You won’t be sorry. Now if I can just get another three or four guys, we’ll be all set.
F: I’ll tell you one thing…
J: What’s that?
F: You better get them to sign it in the next couple of days, before they all take off for the Fourth of July weekend.