Observations Along the Road

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

Hollywood Fringe Festival – Downselect Help Needed

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 09, 2017 @ 8:01 am PDT

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I need your help in planning my Fringe schedule. The following was in my most recent theatre writeup about my plans for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. I need help paring down this list. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know. Note that I’m generally restricted to Fringing on the weekends (living in the valley and working full-time).

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The Price We Pay | “The Bodyguard” @ Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 07, 2017 @ 7:38 pm PDT

The Bodyguard (Pantages)Oh, the prices we pay to get tickets to Hamilton. For some, it is overpriced tickets and waiting in long lines, physically or virtually. For Hollywood Pantages (FB) Season Subscribers, it was The Bodyguard, which we saw last night.

The Bodyguard is ostensibly a transfer to the legit musical stage of the movie The Bodyguard from 1992, a movie that received a rating of 6.2/10 on Yelp, and which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston (or, as I view it in my worldview, the 1992 movie was a premake of the stage show, because the stage show always comes first). It also featured a number of Whitney Houston songs. You can just imagine the movie executives going, “Gee, we could make a great Whitney Houston tribute musical out of this.” However, the starting point was a movie with very mixed reception — 32% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 64% from the audience — and that doesn’t make a good basis for a musical.  Especially one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.

So what makes a good musical? If we go back to the formula established by Rodgers and Hammerstein, you have musical movements that propel and move the story forward. When one looks that movies that have moved from screen to stage, rarely does the original soundtrack music make the transfer. Look at Sister Act or High Fidelity or most you can think of. The popular music soundtrack is replaced by something similar that serves the story better, with perhaps the exception of one or two best-known songs (The Wedding Singer is a good example of that).

So, perhaps this is a jukebox musical — a musical designed to showcase the music of a particular artist. After all, we need a good Whitney Houston musical. Jukebox musicals take three forms: pure retrospective concerts (think Smokey Joe’s Cafe); new stories crafted around an existing catalog where the catalog songs move the story forward (think All Shook Up or Mamma Mia); or books crafted to tell the history of the artist, using the catalog songs as representative samples along the line of the bio story (think Jersey Boys or Ain’t Misbehavin’).

The major fundamental problem with The Bodyguard — the problem that doomed it to be a West-End Tour, and will kill it if it makes it to Broadway — is that it is neither fish nor fowl (although, the story smells a bit fishy and may be foul). By that I mean that this clearly isn’t a musical where the music propels the story forward at all. There are no real book related songs; there are numerous pure concert moments. But it isn’t a good jukebox musical either — it isn’t a pure concert, it isn’t a fake story crafted to use the songs of the catalog right, nor does it tell the story of the artist. It is an attempt to move a movie to the stage stuffing it full of the catalog of one pop star’s songs, with an ill-fitting book that barely provides the excuse to move from song to song. It could have been a very successful (OK, moderately successful) concert and dance show, but the producers didn’t let it go there.

So, besides that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Setting aside the problems of this musical as a musical, the book remained weak. Admittedly, there were some very cute scenes in the book. The karaoke scene in Act I was a hoot, well performed and funny. A few other scenes had funny moments here and there. But you never really got to know the characters and their relationships. The bad guy? His character was “The Stalker”. The male love interest had not a single song telling you his feelings.  You had no idea about the motivations of the stalker other than what the police told you.  You didn’t feel invested in these characters; the book seemed to be there solely so they could tie it to the movie, and move from song to song.

Now, admittedly, that’s what we had with An American in Paris, with a very light storyline, used as an excuse for dance and song. So why did that work, and this doesn’t. Well, part of the problem is that it didn’t work with An American in Paris — it really was a dance show clothed in a weak book, and it didn’t have a long Broadway run even though it toured. But the movie it was based on was the same way, and there was an attempt to work the songs into the story. Further, the characters were less caricatures than they were here. So, essentially, both were flawed.

Um, so Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the performance?

Sheer performance, that’s where this cast excelled — at least the singers and dancers. In the lead position as Rachel Marron was Deborah Cox (FB). Not being a Whitney Houston expert, I can’t really assess whether she successfully channed Ms. Houston. I do know that she sang and danced well, and seemed reasonable in her scenes with the other players (in particular, the cabin scene). Playing off her as her bodyguard was Judson Mills (FB) as Frank Farmer. It is telling that his Playbill bio is his IMDB bio, with no real musical credits. His role involves neither singing (he didn’t really have one sole solo song) or dancing in a heavily singing and dancing musical (even in the final dance montage, he doesn’t sing or dance). Essentially, his performance, like the character he was playing, was relatively wooden — only showing sparks of life not when interacting with his love interest, but when interacting with the young kid in the cast.

Rounding out the Merron family was Jasmin Richardson (FB) as Nikki Marron and Douglas Baldeo (FB) as Fletcher (alternating with Kevelin B. Jones III (FB)). Both were powerhouse performers — great singers, great dancers, and as good a performance as this show allows. Baldeo was particularly remarkable in the closing montage.

The other main named characters — at least those who weren’t part of the ensemble as well — were eminently forgettable. There characters were lightly drawn and tended to disappear in the background. Notable here was “The Stalker” (Jorge Paniagua (FB)) , whose sole role was to look menacing in blackouts, and had perhaps 4 lines. Others in similar small roles were: Charles Gray (FB) [Bill Devaney], Alex Corrado (FB) [Tony Scibelli]; Jonathan Hadley (FB) [Sy Spector]; and Jarid Faubel [Ray Court].

What did shine? The ensemble: Brendon Chan (FB), Megan Elyse Fulmer (FB) [+College Girl], Alejandra Matos (FB), DeQuina Moore (FB) [+Backup Vocalist, +College Girl, u/s Nicki / Rachel Marron], Bradford Rahmlow (FB) [+Assassin, +Rory, u/s Tony Scibelli, u/s Ray Court], Benjamin Rivera (FB) [+Dance Captain, u/s Stalker],  Matthew Schmidt (FB) [+Klingman, +Douglas, +DJ, +Jimmy, +Stage Manager, +Oscar Host, u/s Bill Devaney, u/s The Stalker, U/s Sy Spector, u/s Ray Court], Jaquez André Sims (FB) [u/s Bill Devaney, u/s Tony Scibelli], Nicole Spencer (FB), and Naomi C. Walley (FB) [+College Girl, u/s Rachel / Nicki Marron]. [Swings were Willie Dee (FB), Sean Rozanski (FB) [+Fight Captain], Maria Cristina Slye (FB), and Lauren Tanner (FB)]. The ensemble shone in the background in the few book scenes, silently playing characters. They shone during the main dance numbers and especially during the dance reminx finale. They provided wonderful facial expressions and reaction shots. They were just great.

The production was directed, somewhat mechanically, by Thea Sharrock, using a book by Alexander Dinelaris (FB) that adapted the Warner Brothers (FB) film that had a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Frank Thompson (FB) was the associate director.  You want music and lyrics credit — they were all songs made famous by Whitney Houston (FB), although she didn’t write them. To me, the two most notable songs were also notable covers: “I Will Always Love You“, originally written and performed by Dolly Parton (FB) in 1974; and “The Greatest Love Of All“, written by composers Michael Masser (music) and Linda Creed (lyrics) (no, not the Marron sisters as portrayed in the Musical), originally written and recorded by George Benson (FB) to be the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of the boxer Muhammad Ali (which I actually have on LP).

Although the direction was weak and didn’t improve the weak book, the dance was strong. Credit here goes to choreographer Karen Bruce (FB) and Assistant Choreographer Amy Thornton (FB), assisted by Dance Captain Benjamin Rivera (FB). I had a cousin with me who is more into the vernacular of modern concerts and such, and she indicated the dance was extremely strong. Perhaps “lit” was the term she used.

By the way, for those attempting to look up credits (as I have), note that much of the creative team has a UK / West End pedigree, not Broadway. This musical is not a Broadway musical — yet. It started in London’s West End, toured the UK, and is now touring the US hoping for Broadway. Telling is the fact that tour has not been authorized by the estate of Whitney Houston. For good reason? Perhaps.

The orchestra for the show was strong, under the direction of Matthew Smedal (FB), who we’ve seen a number of times on stages ranging from Cabrillo to national tours. He led an orchestra consisting of: Wendell Vaughn/FB [Associate Music Director / Keys], Owen Broder (FB) [Woodwinds], David D. Torres (FB) [Trumpet], Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar], Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar], John Toney (FB) [Bass], Joe McCarthy (FB) [Drums], plus local orchestra members John Yoakum (FB) [Clarinet, Flute, Tenor Sax, EWI], Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet / Flugelhorn], Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitar 2 / Acoustic Guitar / Electric Guitar], and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other orchestra credits: Talitha Fehr (FB) / TL Music International [Music Coordinator]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor], Mike Dixon [Production Music Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements], Chris Egan (FB) [Orchestrations, Additional Music], and Richard Beadle [Music Supervisor]. The Orchestra was also hidden not in the orchestra pit, but under the stage, to make space for the hydraulic lift used for one scene. This is notable solely for the fact that the screens showing the conductor to the actors was a bit bright, distracting the audience.

Finally, the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design by Tim Hatley made use of these odd framing devices with integrated lighting that shrunk or expanded the visual stage. They worked, but were also quite distracting at times. The set design worked better during the concert numbers, where it combined with Mark Henderson‘s lighting design to create a real concert atmosphere. Note: for those with problems with strobes or lights shining in your face, this isn’t the concert for you. There is heavy use of movers and LEDs aimed at the audience. This also isn’t a good show for the faint of heart: the sound design of Richard Brooker has a number of startling moments with gunshots and the like. Other than that, the sound was generally crisp and clear — unusual for the Pantages. Tim Hatley also designed the costumes (Leon Dobkowski (FB) was the associate costume designer for the US tour), working with hair, wigs, and makeup of Campbell Young Associates. They seemed era-appropriate for me; I noticed no glaring problems and they were suitably sparkly. The video designs of Duncan McLean worked well, although at times they seemed more movie-like than a stage production. Rounding out the production credits: Paul Hardt (FB) [Casting Director]; Jim Lanahan / Troika Entertainment (FB) [General Manager]; Melissa Chacón [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh [Stage Manager]; Stacy N. Taylor [Assistant Stage Manager].

The Bodyguard – The Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until May 21. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music 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), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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: Next weekend takes us to a dance performance that proudly admits it is a dance show (unlike our past two Pantages musicals): Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend of May brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB), as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing.

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. Expect this list to be pared down. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance° at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open. The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Naomi° at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years° at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. The second weekend of August? What makes sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Theatrical Planning News

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 06, 2017 @ 5:13 pm PDT

My last post dealt with some season announcements I was mailed. Here is some other theatrical news I’ve seen of late:

  • Allegiance. The George Takei musical Allegiance is coming to Los Angeles. I say George Takei, but he really didn’t write it: The show music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione. It was inspired, however by Takei.  It is coming to the East West Theatre: “Allegiance” is scheduled to run from Feb. 21 to April 1, 2018, at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.
  • Spamilton. Perhaps you couldn’t get — or couldn’t afford — tickets to Hamilton. Don’t worry. You can go to Spamilton instead. Spamilton is starting its National Tour at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Nov. 5 through Dec. 31. Tickets will be $25 to $75, subject to change. Single tickets are not on sale yet.
  • A Noise Within. Pasadena’s A Noise Within has announced their 2017-2018 season. A lot of classics and good shows, but nothing that is strongly enticing to me. But it might interest you. The season is: A Tail of Two Cities; The Madwoman of Chaillot; Mrs. Warren’s Profession; A Christmas Carol; Henry V; A Raisin in the Sun; and Noises Off.
  • The Tour List. Two shows that got shut out of major — or any — Tony glory have announced tours: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Anastasia. These are both shows that would expect to show up in the Pantages 2018-2019 season.
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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Actors Co-Op / VPAC

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 06, 2017 @ 4:19 pm PDT

As I have received some more season announcements (this time, to theatres to which I subscribe), it’s time for another installment of season reviews.

First up, Actors Co-Op (FB), which has announced their 2017-2018 season, as well as this summer’s Co-op Too! series (which is included with subscriptions). Here is Actor’s Co-Op’s next season:

  • The 39 Steps (Sept 22 – Oct 29, 2017).  Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and film by Alfred Hitchcock. And it is with those words, playwright Patrick Barlow has crafted a crazy, over-the-top spy novel-type mystery that will have you laughing and giggling and aha-ing! in your seat. This six-time Tony Award nominee comes to life with flashes of Hitchcock movies, sprinkles of Monty Python humor, and a good dose of romance to boot. We saw this back when it was on tour after winning the Tony at the Ahmanson. It will be interesting to see a small stage production of it.
  •  The Man Who Came To Dinner. (Nov 3 – Dec 17, 2017). By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.  Get in the Christmas spirit with this comedy classic of the nightmare holiday guest who never leaves—or so it seems. Ex-convicts in the dining room, penguins in the library, and thousands of cockroaches in the kitchen, are just a few of the fallouts from the visitor who outstayed his welcome. I’ve heard about this show, and heard the musical that was developed from it, but haven’t actually seen this.
  • A Walk In The Woods.  (Feb 9 – Mar 18, 2018).  By Lee Blessing. From beloved playwright Lee Blessing, comes a story of relationship between two arms negotiators and what happens when they step out of the war room and into the woods. A Walk in the Woods, produced in 1988, played on Broadway, and Time magazine called it one of the best dramas to hit the stage that year. I have a recollection of seeing this at the Pasadena Playhouse, but can’t confirm it.
  • A Man for All Seasons. (Apr 13 – May 20, 2018). By Robert Bolt. A man of remarkable integrity, Sir Thomas More placed ethics before power. To stand up to his country’s sovereign authority cost him everything, but today it offers us one of the most inspiring stories ever staged. Although I’ve heard of this play, I haven’t seen it.
  • Violet. (May 11 – June 17, 2018). Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley. Beginning in 1964 North Carolina, Violet rides a bus through the segregated South, to a TV evangelist in Oklahoma. She is convinced he can heal her scar, which was the result of a traumatic childhood accident. From American roots to folk to gospel, VIOLET is a powerhouse of music and theatre that will have you tapping your toes, slapping your knees, and wiping your eyes. We saw this as a minimalist Kelrick Productions a couple of years ago at the El Portal; it will be interesting to see how Actor’s Co-Op does it.

A season like this demonstrates why someone subscribes to a theatre: to see shows you might not normally purchase tickets for. Given my druthers, as you probably noticed, I tend to pick musicals. Season subscriptions — back at Rep East, Pasadena Playhouse, or The Colony Theatre in the day, or at Actors Co-Op now, gives the depth to the season to balance my personal breadth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the season prices are fantastic: $85 for 5 shows for “Early Bird” (in the first three weeks), or $110 for regular subscriptions. Here’s how to subscribe.

Oh, and it turns out the seasons include the Actors Co-op Too! Summer productions… meaning we get three more shows for our subscription dollar. Here are this summer’s shows:

  • The Voysey Inheritance. (June 23 – July 1, 2017). by Harley Granville-Barker, Adapted by David Mamet. Edward Voysey’s highly principled world upturns when he discovers the family business he is inheriting has been defrauding its clients for years. To compound matters, he quickly discovers his, scandal-fearing family knew of the crime but allowed it to continue rather than face the shame of public disclosure. Haven’t seen this; sounds interesting.
  • Ruthie And Me.  (July 14-16, 2017). Book and Lyrics by Karen Westcott, Music by Marylou Dunn. A musical comedy about a love story between a man and a woman, a mother-in-law and daughter-and-law, and a people and their God. Based on the story of Ruth and Naomi. Sounds interesting.
  • The Last Five Years. (July 28 – Aug 5, 2017). Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown.Jason Robert Brown’s Drama Desk winning musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS ingeniously chronicles the five year-life of a marriage, from meeting to break-up and from break-up to meeting, showing the emotional struggle and deconstruction of a love affair. Seen this far too many times (Pasadena Playhouse, Rep East, ACT San Francisco), but it will be interesting to see yet another take on it.

In many ways, this is like REP’s 81 Series: Short run specialty pies. Should be Good.

***

This brings us to our next season: The Valley Performing Arts Center (FB). They, too, have announced their 2017-2018 season. We typically do a mini-season with them: 5-8 shows out of the entire season. Here is their season, and whether I am likely to ticket:

  • Sat 9/16 | 7PM. AMADEUS LIVE. Richard Kaufman, Conductor. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Members of the LA Opera Chorus.
  • Thu 10/12 | 8PM. Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble. Korngold – Sextet for Strings in D Major. Shostakovich – Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet. Mendelssohn – Octet for Strings in Eb Major
  • Sat 10/14 | 8PM. Upright Citizens Brigade All-Stars.
  • Thu 10/19 | 8PM. To Ray with Love, Starring Maceo Parker Featuring The Ray Charles Orchestra & The Raelettes
  • Thu 11/2 | 8PM. Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Pavel Kogan, Conductor. Dmitry Masleev, Piano. Rachmaninov – The Rock. Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1. Scriabin – Symphony No. 2.
  • Sat 11/4 | 8PM. Flamenco Legends by Javier Limón: The Paco de Lucía Project
  • Sat 11/11 | 7PM. DIAVOLO: 25-Year Anniversary Marathon. Signature works from the company’s Past, Present, and Future.
  • Tue 11/14 | 8PM. The Sachal Ensemble. Song of Lahore.
  • Fri 11/17 | 8PM. Bernstein on Stage. John Mauceri, Conductor. New West Symphony .
  • Sat 11/18 | 8PM. iLe. Special Guest Gaby Moreno.
  • Sun 11/19 | 3PM. Imago Theatre. La Belle, Lost in the World of the Automaton
  • Thu 11/30 | 8PM. Anat Cohen Tentet. Musical Director, Oded Lev-Ari
  • Sun 12/3 | 3PM. Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat. Musical by Justin Roberts & Ernie Nolan. Fairy Tale by The Grimm Brothers. Animation Director: Micah Chambers-Goldberg. Directed by Michael Matthews.
  • Wed 12/6 | 8PM. Eliot Fisk. J.S. Bach – Cello Suites
  • Fri 12/8 | 8PM. Michael Feinstein Holiday Celebration.
  • Sat 12/9 | 7PM. Fiesta Mexicana: Feliz Navidad.
  • Sun 12/10 3PM. Colburn Orchestra.
  • Sat 12/16 | 8PM. The Klezmatics. Happy Joyous Hanukkah.
  • Fri 1/19 | 8PM. Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars with Harold López-Nussa Trio
  • Sun 1/21 | 7:30PM. Leilah Broukhim. Dejando Huellas (Traces).
  • Thu 1/25 | 8PM. Cheech Marin Hosts an Evening of Comedy. 3rd Annual CSUN Alumni Performance.
  • Fri 1/26 | 8PM. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London. Charles Dutoit, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. Debussy – Petite Suite. Haydn – Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major. Stravinsky – The Firebird.
  • Sat 2/3 | 8PM. KEIGWIN + COMPANY Celebrates Bernstein.
  • Fri 2/9 | 8PM. Step Afrika! Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence.
  • Sun 2/11 | 3PM. MUMMENSCHANZ: you & me.
  • Fri 2/16 | 8PM / Sat 2/17 | 8PM. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Featuring Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
  • Wed 2/21 | 8PM. Danish String Quartet.
  • Sat 2/24 | 8PM. On the Waterfront, Film with Live Orchestra.
  • Sun 2/25 | 3PM. Dublin Irish Dance. Stepping Out
  • Thu 3/1 | 8PM. Miles Electric Band.
  • Sat 3/3 | 8PM. The Ten Tenors.
  • Sun 3/11 | 3PM. Yamato—The Drummers of Japan. Chousensha – The Challengers.
  • Thu 3/15 | 8PM. Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Joshua Bell, Director & Violin. A New Commission by Edgar Meyer.
  • Sun 3/18 | 3PM. Manual Cinema. The Magic City.
  • Fri 3/23 | 8PM. Billy Porter. The Soul of Richard Rodgers.
  • Thu 3/29 | 8PM. Kathleen Battle. Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey.
  • Thu 4/5 | 8PM. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
  • Sat 4/7 | 8PM. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
  • Fri 4/13 | 8PM , Sat 4/14 | 3 & 8PM, Sun 4/15 | 3PM | Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. McCoy Rigby Entertainment & La Mirada Theatre.
  • Wed 4/18 | 8PM, Thu 4/19 | 8PM. Cécile McLorin Salvant.
  • Sat 4/21 | 8PM. ¡La Nueva Cuba! The Next Generation. Roberto Fonseca. Daymé Arocena. Pedrito Martinez Group.
  • Thu 4/26 | 8PM. Amir ElSar’s Two Rivers Ensemble.
  • Sat 4/28 | 3PM. LA Opera presents Great Opera Choruses.
  • Tue 5/1 | 8PM , Wed 5/2 | 8PM. Terence Blanchard. Breathless featuring The E-Collective.
  • Sat 5/5 | 8PM. Quetzal with Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
  • Sat 5/12 | 8PM. An Evening with David Sedaris.

Note that some of the shows we may opt not to ticket, if the total gets too high, and we might decide to include some of the shows.

 

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A Problem of Definitions

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 04, 2017 @ 1:06 pm PDT

userpic=trumpYou may have noticed I’m doing fewer political posts. A lot of it is because I get far too disgusted when I read the political news these day. I realized yesterday that the root of our problem comes from our failure to establish good definitions.

If you ever work with government rules and regulations, you know that a key part is getting the terms defined correctly and precisely. One wrong definition, one wrong comma, and you don’t get what you want. Millions of people voted for Donald Trump, and his stated goal of “Make America Great Again.” There’s only one problem. They failed to precisely define “Great”.

I know, for me, what a “great” America is. It is one that ensures that its citizens are treated right. It is one that make sure there is no discrimination on race, sex, orientation, gender, size. It is one that protects those that needs protection, and one that uses laws to restrain the evil inclinations inherent in our kind. It is one that ensures there is affordable housing, healthcare, and safe living conditions. It is one where jobs and job training is available. It is one where any person can succeed if they wish, but where success does not come with class warfare or class exploitation. It is a Nation where people can feel safe in their beds and on the streets, no matter their color or class. It is one that provides the necessary infrastructure to support fair commerce. It is one where people want to pay to provide those services, because they believe that benefits come with responsibilities — where those who have feel the obligation to help those who have not.

But I recognize that my definition of “great” is not universally shared. It certainly isn’t shared by our current leadership.

I recognize that those who voted for Trump have a different definition of “Great”. They see “Great” as something we once were, back in the days of the Greatest Generation. The days when the Government didn’t do so much, didn’t involve itself in so many lives. The days when the middle class — and it was mostly a white middle class back then — could be assured of well-paying jobs. They were looking for the “Leave It To Beaver” world, a “Father Knows Best” world, where protest didn’t happen, when America’s might was unquestioned, when those pesky people that looked different or talked different were invisible (unless you were a Cuban band leader). That was the “Great” they expected Trump to bring back.

Was that Donald Trump’s definition of “Great”? I think not.

Donald Trump is a simple man, and his definition of “Great” is simple: America is great when Donald Trump is winning.

Donald Trump wins when taxes on the wealthy go down (which repealing the ACA does). Donald Trump wins when environmental regulations and bureaucratic red tape is cut. Donald Trump wins when petty dictatorships talk to him and permit him to market and build in their countries. Donald Trump wins when his financial dealings aren’t disclosed.

A man like Donald Trump would fit right in with the Robber Barons of the late 1800s, when there were no anti-trust concerns, political power was absolute with the right bribes and connections, when being white was right, without question. A time when the poor were working in horrid conditions, with no government protections. A time when America was isolationist, not spending funds on foreign activities.

Donald Trump would love those time to come back. They would make him Great again, and if he is Great, America is Great.

Damn that pesky definition.

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A Father’s Journey | “Menashe” at LAJFF

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 03, 2017 @ 7:41 pm PDT

MenasheIf you don’t know it by now, my daughter is a Yiddish scholar. Seriously. She’s about to head out to UW-Madison to get an MS and PhD in History, specializing in the Yiddish culture of Southern California. My wife, wanting to keep up with her, signed up for a Yiddish Class through American Jewish University (FB). As part of that class, we all (that is, my wife and daughter, myself, and my cousin and her daughter (who is now staying with us)) went to Beverly Hills to see the West Coast Premiere of Menashe, a movie shown in Yiddish with English subtitles, which was being shown as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (FB).

Menashe is an extremely interesting movie. It tells the fictionalized-but-based-on-fact story of Menashe Lustig, a man in an extremely insular Chasidic community in New York whose wife died almost a year ago. The strictures of the community require that the children be raised in a two-parent household. As a result, Menashe’s only son has been sent to live with his uncle and his wife, something Menashe doesn’t like. The film is the story of Menashe trying to get his son to live with him, and the various trials and tribulations involved. These are not only religious issues, but financial ones as the community is extremely poor.

The film itself was an interesting view into a community that one would never normally see. The actors in the film were mostly people who had left the community, and supposedly their portrayal (other than the variety of Yiddish dialects) was pretty spot on. I found the language to be more a poetic background to the subtitles; it enhanced the authenticity of the story being told (as if you were the fly on the wall, or the worm in the lettuce).  At times the pace dragged a bit (but not as bad as the recent Jackie), but on the whole it was a very interesting film. It explored the issue from the viewpoint of someone who wanted to remain in the community, as opposed to someone who felt the only way to deal with the community issues was to escape it (something I recall seeing in another recent film about the Chasidic community, which I can’t recall the name of right now).

 

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Relationships and Science | “The Theory of Relativity” @ CSHP/Harter Hall

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 03, 2017 @ 7:31 pm PDT

The Theory of Relativity (Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse)Many years ago, there was this beautiful musical on Broadway that failed in an absurdly small number of shows: The Story of My Life. The failure, in my opinion, was not due to the book or the music, but because it wasn’t a Broadway show: it was a tender small musical that got lost in a gigantic house. I saw the show a few years ago at the Lillian Theatre (now Sacred Fools) in Hollywood, and it fit perfectly. I urge you to get the cast album for the show — you’ll find some of the best crafted and most touching story songs you have ever heard. In 2014 the authors of that musical — book writer Brian Hill (FB), composer and lyricist Neil Bartram — developed another musical focused on the experience of college-age students, designed to be performed by college students. In a recent music purchasing binge, Amazon recommended this musical to me — The Theory of Relativity. I ordered it… and fell in love with another show. The music was extremely well crafted, the stories told by the songs were great, and a number of songs were just instant favorites. I thought nothing of it until I was reading the program during our recent visit to The Sirens of Titan. There was an ad for The Theory of Relativity being done at a small playhouse in Woodland Hills that we knew nothing about: The Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB) on the grounds of Woodland Hills Community Church (at Canoga and Dumetz) in Harter Hall. I’m sure you can guess what I did when I got home.

We went out to see the show last Sunday (excuse the delay in the writeup — a crazy week), and it was just a delight. Very simply staged — no scenery, just chairs — with 12 performers, it was essentially a song cycle about relationships. Most of the show was song, there were a few dialogue only pieces that added some additional characters or serving to tie everything together. Underlying them all together was the notion — and the question — of relativity: What makes a relationship? Is it the relationship as seen by the participants in the relative frame of motion? Is it the observations from the outside? Are relationships mathematical and precise, or messy and going against all logic? In going against logic, are relationships sometimes predictable? This was all wrapped up in some delicate and well-performed music, especially considering that this was at the level of community theatre (i.e., this was not an Equity-member cast; rather, there were some that had worked in a number of shows, and others for whom performing is more a passion than a career). I found the show to be extremely enjoyable.

The Theory of Relativity (Cast)Let me talk about some of my favorite numbers (and the performers as well). They have a teaser video set up on YouTube, and the photo montage to the right was snarfed from the theatre’s Facebook page:

  • One of my favorite numbers in the show is “Me and Ricky”, a story about a woman whose first love was bad news. This was performed quite well by Caitlyn Rose Massey (FB). She could have used just a pinch more belt in the voice, but it was truly enjoyable.
  • Another favorite number is “Promise Me This”, about Mira, the miracle baby and the relationship between a parent and their child. This was performed by Laila Abdo (FB), who just knocked it out with a strong clear voice and wonderful facial expressions. An aside about that: it was remarkable just to watch the faces of these performers, both when they were “on”, and even more so when they were “off” (that is, in the background just listening to another performer).
  • “The End of the Line” is another fun number performed wonderfully by Paulina Logan (FB) and Tiffany Bailey (FB). Here, the cute lyrics dovetailed with simple but great performances by the actors to make something special.
  • One of the most touching numbers was “Footprint”, about what makes a place a home. This was sung very well by Larry Collica (FB), who also served as Musical Director for the show.
  • “Apples and Oranges” is a number that comes across very different on the album from on stage; the stage performance brings across a different meaning to the terms used. Chris Clonts (FB) and Daniel Koh (FB) handled the number extremely well, and I think their touching performance gave the number the something special that was needed. I’ll note that Koh had an extremely strong and beautiful voice.
  • The multiple parts of “Pi”, performed by Kyle Sundman (FB), were cute, but they didn’t get their additional meaning until the spoke “Manicure” number featuring Katie Lynn Mapel (FB). PS: I loved Sundman’s Lego tie.
  • Another set of paired scenes were the second number, “I’m Allergic to Cats” (performed by Justin Huff (FB)) and “Julie’s Song” (performed by Kristine Gilreath (FB)).  “Cats” was really cute for its wording, but Huff’s performance of it was touching to those of similar nature (like me); when paired with Gilreath’s song and her wonderful look, it was magical.
  • Mackayla Hill (FB) primarily only had a series of scenes about a cake (which were cute); but I actually noticed her voice more in the ensemble numbers, where there was quite a bit of power in that package.
  • Kaiya Cheyenne Wynn (FB) was featured in a number of numbers, notably in the opening and the closing. A very nice strong voice, again, which I noticed even more in the ensemble numbers.

One thing notable about this show was the variety of the cast. Often, your stage productions have casts with a similar look to them. This cast was extremely diverse in color, size, style … and it worked to make an important statement of its own about the diversity we see in relationships. Another cast point that I mentioned above was the facial expressions. Especially in a small musical like this where you can be up close with the performers: watch the facial expressions. Here, they were spectacular as the messages of the songs clearly resonated with the performed, and thus were amplified by the ensemble and carried out to the audience.

Turning to the creative side of the production: Stage Direction and Choreography by Marshelle Giggles-Mills (FB). I’ve noted the set was simply a bunch of chairs moved around and a small platform up front; there was no other real scenery. Dance was simply and more movement, but it worked. There was no credit for costumes or hair design — presumably, these were picked by the actors from their personal wardrobes, demonstrating yet again the diversity in this team. Musical Direction was by Larry Collica (FB) on the piano. The production design was by Jessica Worland (FB), who also served as stage manager. The Theory of Relativity was produced by Suzanne Ryan (FB).

The Theory of Relativity has one more performance weekend — May 6 and 7. Tickets are available through the CSHP’s Brown Paper Tickets website; use the code “einstein” for a discount. Discount tickets may also be available through Goldstar. I enjoyed the show very much, and recommend it.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music 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), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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: May starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. Look for the theatre plans for the third quarter of the year (July through September) in my next writeup.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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California Highway Headlines for April 2017

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 01, 2017 @ 6:17 pm PDT

April has been a busy busy month for me, so (alas) you don’t get a clever introduction. Here are the headlines I collected for the month:

  • Funding OK’d for Highway 37 traffic, flooding study in Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Solano. A group of agencies exploring solutions to flooding and traffic on Highway 37 has taken its first significant step, funding a study that is anticipated to identify actual projects that can be built along the 21-mile roadway. But with construction funds lacking, officials are unsure when any of the future work might take place.
  • Questions remain on Caltrans Hemet state Route 74 median project plan. After responding to Hemet merchants’ criticism of the planned Florida Avenue Raised Curb Median project and $1.5 million in revisions, Caltrans engineers still found some questions regarding the project slated to begin in 2018. Caltrans invited local merchants and other interested citizens to an open house meeting at the Hemet Simpson Center March 20, to further explain the safety reasons for the project and some changes to the left-hand turn lane and U-turn additions made to the original plans. It was the second Caltrans meeting held for Hemet city engineers and local merchants outlining the goal of the project Caltrans believes will prevent cross-median collisions that have been rapidly increasing in recent years.
  • California faces $860-million repair bill for roads battered by record winter storms. There were many dramatic images from California’s extreme winter: interstates flooded, bridges buckled, highways covered in mud, snowbanks blocking key highways. In Topanga Canyon, the lasting memory for many locals was the massive boulder that blocked Topanga Canyon Boulevard in January after one fierce rainstorm. The huge rock became a popular spot for selfies and social media posts.

(more…)

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