Observations Along the Road

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

Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Pantages Theatre | Tabard Theatre Company

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Feb 07, 2017 @ 8:16 am PST

Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. Today, the Pantages made the announcement about its 2018 season (or most of it; there were no shows announced after September 2018). Curious about how I did? Read on! Additionally, I’d like to share some thoughts on a season announcement for a great Northern California theatre.

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Back in December, I summarized the shows that I thought were going on tour based on the announcements that I had seen, and I predicted the following:

There are numerous other shows currently coming to Broadway that I expect to tour, but I think they would be 2018-2019 at best. So how do I predict the seasons to work out? Here are my predictions:

  • Ahmanson 2017-2018 Season: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, The Humans, Something Rotten, Waitress, and possibly the Fiddler revival, Allegiance, or a pre-Broadway musical.
  • Pantages 2017-2018 Season: Disney’s Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, Bright Star, Matilda, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Color Purple, and possibly On Your Feet.

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list. So I think I did pretty good. Here’s what was announced for the Pantages season. I’m sure they will have some fill-in shows to announce, but those might be more retreads:

  • Disney’s Aladdin, The Musical. January 10 – March 31, 2018. What is there to say? This is the upsized full-Broadway version. It is clearly a Pantages show that they expect to be a hit, given a 3 month run.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies. April 3-22, 2018. This is the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I wasn’t that crazy about. It has not played Broadway yet. I will admit I’m curious on this one, so I’ll give it a try. I was expecting they might program the long running tour of Phantom before this production, but they barely have time to do the load-out/load-in after Aladdin. They can’t even squeeze it in before Aladdin, as Hamilton ends on December 30, 2017, and Aladdin starts January 10.
  • School of Rock: The Musical. May 3 – 27, 2018. Currently on Broadway, and I enjoy the music quite a bit (and that is even with the knowledge that this is an Andrew Lloyd Webber show).
  • The Color Purple: The Musical. May 29 – June 17, 2018. This is the deconstructed and re-conceived revival that received such good reviews on Broadway; I haven’t listened to the album of this version yet. I’m looking forward to this.
  • On Your Feet: The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical. July 6 – 29, 2018. Surely to be a crowd-pleaser in Los Angeles. I’ve heard the music, and this should be good.
  • Waitress. August 2-26, 2018. This is the one show I had predicted for the Ahamanson instead, but I can see why the Pantages grabbed it — given it is the first musical by Sara Bareilles, it will bring in the kids. I’ve heard the music, and I’m looking forward to it.

A few additional notes: The Pantages has left very few holes for fill-in programming — really only the last week of April, and the latter half of June. There will be perhaps some pop-up concerts there, but a three-week run is unlikely. Expect them to add shows from September 2018 on, but that may be in their next season announcement. Regarding my predictions (which I’ll update), I think Bright Star might go to the Ahmanson. Matilda, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserables will likely wait for the 2018-2019 Pantages season instead — the first because it was already at the Ahmanson; the latter two because they are really more Pantages shows (plus Les Miz was already at the Ahmanson).

More details, and information on subscription packages, is here.

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Back in 2014, we saw an excellent production of The Immigrant from Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose. A few weeks ago, I received their announcement of their 17th season, and all I can say is that if I lived in the area, it would be worthy of subscription. We may even drive up for one of the shows (Adrift in Macao), it’s that good. Here’s their season:

  • PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. September 15 – October 8, 2017. Written by Rick Elice. Music by Wayne Barker. Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers”. Tony Award-winning play! Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 engaging and unforgettable characters, through this play with music we learn how Peter Pan earned his flight credentials and how a mustachioed pirate became Captain Hook. — We saw the tour of this when it was at the Ahmanson, and it was great. This should be a smaller production, but this is a show well suited to that.
  • MOM’S GIFT. October 27 – November 19, 2017. Written by Phil Olson. Northern California Premiere! In this comedy with a heart, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. — We saw the world premiere of this at Group Rep, and it was excellent.
  • HOLIDAY AT THE SAVOY. December 1 – December 17, 2017 Created by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta & Gus Kambeitz. World Premiere! It’s December 1945, New York City — the first post-war holiday season at the famous Savoy ballroom in Harlem where singers, dancers, and musicians put on an exciting floor show filled with the swinging sounds and steps of the day in Savoy style. — I haven’t heard of this, but it sounds quite interesting with good music.
  • EVELYN IN PURGATORY. January 12 – January 28, 2018. Written by Topher Payne. West Coast Premiere! When a complaint is filed against one of the 70,000 teachers in New York’s public schools, they’re sent to a Reassignment Center. There, they sit and wait for their case to be reviewed. Based on real teacher “rubber rooms” in New York City, this surprising and engaging dramatic comedy follows five teachers one school year while they await their hearing. — Sounds like an interesting play. One of the reasons to subscribe to seasons is to see plays you might not normally go to on your own. This sounds like one of those.
  • THE MIRACLE WORKER. February 16 – March 11, 2018. Tony Award winner by William Gibson based on Helen Keller’s biography “The Story of My Life”. 20-year old Annie Sullivan embarked on a journey that would change the life of her charge, Helen Keller, who would, in turn, change the lives of others for generations. The Miracle Worker reveals the power of commitment and strength when the choice is made to reach beyond the understandable and tangible. — This is the play that made Patty Duke’s career. A classic. I haven’t see it in years, but it is a great story.
  • ADRIFT IN MACAO. April 13 – May 6, 2018. Book and Lyrics by Christopher Durang; Music by Peter Melnick. Bay Area Premiere! With a drop-dead funny book and shamefully silly lyrics and lethally catchy music, this fast-paced musical, set in 1952 Macao, China, lovingly parodies the Hollywood film noir classics of the 1940s and ’50s. — I have heard the music from this, and truly want to see the show. It hasn’t been done in LA, at least that I’m aware of. I may work a visit to the Bay Area in my schedule to go see this.

As I noted before, I’d subscribe for this season, it looks that good. They are just too far away for me. But perhaps not for you. Tabard is in San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. Tabard’s pricing for Early Bird tickets (until May 17, 2017) isn’t that bad: between $69 for students to $205 for their “caberet” seating; $159 is the basic adult ticket, meaning about $26.50 a ticket. Subscription information is here.

Tied to the Railroad Tracks

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 06, 2017 @ 12:27 pm PST

I have a friend who sees every action by President Trump or his advisors as an immediate slide of the country into autocracy and dictatorship. We’re being tied to the railroad tracks, the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train, and no one will or can save us. The problem with that fear, however, is that it isn’t true.

First, the image of the damsel tied to the railroad tracks may be how we feel, but it wasn’t an actual silent film trope. It was a myth. As that article notes, “As a method of murder, this seems so melodramatic and old-timey that it must have originated back in the days of the silent film. But that scene rarely ever occurred, and probably not in the way you think it did.” To me, however, what stands out is a subsequent note:

“It’s really a tricky subject because people have this incredibly specific trope in mind (villain in top hat and mustache, screaming female victim, said villain tying or chaining said victim to tracks),” says Fritzi Kramer, creator of the silent film blog, Movies Silently. “But then when they are told that it was not actually common in silent film, they quickly grab for something, anything to prove that it happened.”

This is what is happening with many of us since the inauguration. We see or hear something outrageous the administration has done, it reinforces our belief that Trump is a Facist or wannabee dictator, and we “quickly grab for something, anything to prove that it happened.” Just as the far right did with Obama, we see rampaging Facism in everything: The President, through his executive orders, wants to be the Supreme Dictator. We must recognize that reaction is fear talking; fear of someone of a strongly different political ideology and approach taking power, and fear that our system of government will crumble in the face of the Powerful President.

The Political SpectrumThe reality? Those voices are on the fringe, and not representative of the truth.

The reality? Resistance is working.

Through our marching and boycotts, through our putting real pens to real paper and writing letters, through our calls, and through our passion, we are slowing this administration. They have had to rethink many plans. As the aforelinked Vox article notes:

Trump is getting things done, but all presidents do that. Look at what he’s not getting done. A Republican-controlled Congress bowed to public outrage over an attempt to water down an ethics office. Trump dramatically downscaled his own executive order barring entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. He’s having unprecedented difficulty getting his Cabinet nominees confirmed, even though the Senate’s rules have changed to make confirmations easier than ever. Conservatives in Congress have put their big plans to privatize Medicare and public lands on hold. And the drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act is running into very big trouble.

None of this is based on the discipline and self-restraint on the part of the White House. It’s thanks to bold acts of resistance. The result is lives have been saved, many more lives have been demonstrably improved, and the proven template for future success has been created.

The courts are listening, and standing up for the Constitution. Businesses are listening, and indicating the impact of the actions the White House has taken or will be trying to take. Congress is listening and there is increased resistance.

It is having an effect. The New York Times is reporting that this is causing the administration to change how they are doing things: [Note: You’ll be seeing more NY Times articles, as I subscribed to support journalistic opposition to the administration, and publishing the truth.]

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

[…]

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

“I personally think that they’re missing the big picture here,” Mr. Ruddy said of Mr. Trump’s staff. “Now he’s so caught up, the administration is so caught up in turmoil, perceived chaos, that the Democrats smell blood, the protesters, the media smell blood.”

One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war.

Those who know Trump well are spreading the word of how the impact if affecting Trump. Howard Stern, who is a close friend of Trump, is saying that Trump will hate being president and the role will be detrimental to his mental health:

“He just wanted a couple more bucks out of NBC, and that is why Donald is calling for voter fraud investigations. He’s pissed he won. He still wants Hillary Clinton to win. He’s so f—ing pissed, he’s hoping that he can find some voter fraud and hand it over to Hillary.”

Of course, that won’t happen. Hillary will not be in the White House. But as Donald becomes unhinged, as he attempts more and more unconstitutional actions, as he continues to go around Congress (which is pissing off Republican leadership), the talk of possible Impeachment will increase. People will investigate the in-capacitation provisions of the 25th Amendment. Congress will strengthen their resolve.

Our job: Keep it up. We need to keep making the point to the Republican electorate that Trump has sold them a bill of goods: he’s not giving them what they promised, and is weakening America. More importantly, we need to make clear to the Republicans in Congress that their jobs are in jeopardy if they support him. Right now, Congress is not resisting because they don’t fear the general election; they fear the primary challenges. We must make clear they will be challenged — by other Republicans — if they don’t stand up for Republican principles and just roll-over to Trump.

We also need to keep pushing for consistency in Congressional action: if you would have resisted Obama on it, you must resist Trump. Insist on ethical appointments, ethical behavior, and no conflicts of interest. Fully investigate all nominees. Investigate bungled military operations and appearances of malfeasance. To do that when Obama was President and then not to do it for Trump says one of two things: (1) either you investigated Obama solely because he was a Democrat, which is putting party above the country, or (2) you investigated Obama solely because he was Black, which is racist. I have yet to have a Republican give me a good reason that Trump should be treated any differently.

For us Democrats: resist however you can. March. Write. Call. Boycott. Lower those ratings. Challenge those orders. Mr. Trump must come to realize that there is a power that is superior to that of the President — the Constitution, and the People will stand for the Constitution.

 

Fearing Who Are Different | “Zoot Suit” at Mark Taper Forum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 05, 2017 @ 6:20 pm PST

Zoot Suit (Mark Taper Forum)Where were you from mid-August to the beginning of October, 1978? Me? I was in my second year as a Junior Counselor up at Gindling Hilltop Camp (FB), followed by starting my Sophmore year at UCLA. I wasn’t the avid theatre-goer back then, although I do remember seeing another Center Theatre Group (FB) show at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), They’re Playing Our Song with Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (FB). I recall that I knew about a new show called Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB), but I certainly hadn’t been to the Mark Taper Forum, nor was I going to go up to the Mutual Ticketing Window at the Student Union to get full price tickets for it (for there was no notion of discount tickets back then). I even didn’t get tickets after it moved to the Aquarius Theatre. However, I do remember the El Pachuco ads all around the city. I later learned of the significance of the production — for its message, for its impact on Chicano theatre, and for its impact on the œuvre of the Los Angeles centered play. I am still sorry I missed the original production.

So when I learned that Center Theatre Group (FB) was celebrating its 50th anniversary by remounting Zoot Suit, I had to get tickets. We were able to fit one of the preview performances into our schedule, and so last night saw us at the Mark Taper, bookmarked and interspersed with a series of what can be best called “adventures”.

Zoot Suit is a dramatized retelling of the incidents surrounding the Sleepy Lagoon Murder and the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Names were changed, and some events altered slightly, but what strikes me in reading the linked Wikipedia pages is how much of the truth of what happened made it into the show. Note: If you are curious where the Sleepy Lagoon was, wonder no longer — this website has the answer.

A good summary is from the ABC-CLIO website on the show:

A work of historical fiction, Zoot Suit follows two significant stories of racial injustice in Los Angeles from the 1940s. Set in the streets of East Los Angeles, Zoot Suit recounts events of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon case and the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots. These incidents became symbolic of the racial injustice against Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and across the country during this time period. The play follows Henry Reyna and members of the predominantly Mexican American 38th Street Gang, who were wrongly accused and convicted of murder. The play also treats incidents from the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, where racial tensions escalated into violent confrontations between zoot suit–wearing pachucos, U.S. servicemen, and Los Angeles law enforcement. The play is set against actual testimony from the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and press headlines from the 1940s, recounting these historical events through the eyes of a group of Mexican American youth. At the center of Zoot Suit is the character El Pachuco, an idealized zoot suiter played memorably by Olmos during the play’s (original) Los Angeles run.

I think the saddest thing about Zoot Suit is that it is again relevant. The unjustified racial animosity against Mexicans, Filipinos, Blacks, and other non-whites during the 1940s has sadly seen a resurgence today, and the techniques and biases and riots that were seen then, built out of a fear of xenophobia, has infested our society today. Back then, it was the zoot suit that tarred many hard-working men unjustifiably as dangerous; today, it is the hijab, the beard, and the hoodie. Almost 75 years later, and white society is still fearful of the stranger that is coming to attack their privilege. Back then, they registered Japanese and Hispanics; today, it is Muslims. Reading the history, leaders like Ceser Chavez and Malcom X were zoot suiters. Will we ever learn from history? Our leaders today want extreme vetting and bans to keep out muslims, and they want a wall to keep out, yes, the Mexicans.

Back in December, Donald Trump complained that theatre should not make one uncomfortable. He is wrong. Although there are times theatre is an escape, theatre at its heart makes one uncomfortable. It speaks truth to power, it dramatizes messages that must be heard, and be heard, and be heard again until they sink into our thick skulls. What makes our country great is not the top 1% with all the money. What makes our country great are the immigrants, the workers, and those who struggle everyday; they are the ones who work the hardest to make a better life. They don’t want to keep people out to protect the life they have.

So, do I think you should see Zoot Suit? Hell yes. See it. Talk about it. Learn from it.

One other thought related to the overall show. Two weeks ago, we saw another Hispanic production, the Dual Language version of Disney’s Aladdin at Casa 0101 in East LA.  Very different, but very similar. Both tell a story of Love. Both tell a story of class and non-acceptance. Both have elements of intolerance. Both mesmerize, but in different ways. Zoot Suit was the start of Chicano theatre in Los Angeles; looking back at intolerance of Pachuco culture in our city. Aladdin is where Chicano theatre is today, building upon dual language while still demonstrating how lack of understanding between cultural groups can divide. A cartoon going around Facebook this week showed Jasmine and Aladdin on the carpet, noting that “I can show you the world… well, except the United States.” Speaking truth to power, have we come that far and grown. Alas, perhaps not.

The realization of the show by author and director Luis Valdez (FB) had a very newspaper-ish esthetic: stacks of newspapers served as chairs, tables, and beds; there was lots of emphasis on the headlines of the day and newspaper reporters; there was projection on to Venetian blinds. Looking back at some original production photos, however, and it appears this was much like the original conception. It still worked.  Valdez also gave the show a very authentic Chicano and Pachuco feel; one got the impression that the feel of the show was the feel of the original. I’ll note here that the show was co-produced with El Teatro Campesino (FB), Valdez’s theatre company. ETC was also the birthplace of Culture Clash, who we saw at VPAC back in November — in many ways unknowingly preparing us for Zoot Suit and introducing us to the music of Lalo Guerrero, who composed much of Zoot Suit‘s original music. Alas, there is no CD of Zoot Suit, and the movie soundtrack is only available on vinyl. Pity.

Leading us through the Zoot Suit dramatization was El Pachuco, played originally by Edward James Olmos (FB), and here by Demian Bichir (FB). El Pachuco is perhaps the alter-ego of the lead character and “leader” of the gang, Henry Reyna. He eggs Henry on, pushes him in various directions, spreads the Pachuco way, and provides a little clarity to the audience.  Bichir channels the character well, embodying the style and attitude that is so important in the Pachuco culture.

Playing the lead character, Henry Reyna, and his girlfriend Della Barrios were Daniel Valdez (FB) and Rose Portillo (FB), respectively. Wait, strike that. Those were who played those roles in the original 1978 production. In this production, Valdez and Portillo provided interesting continuity with the past by playing the parents of Henry Renya, Enrique Reyna and Dolores Reyna. It was an interesting nod to the original and a passing of the torch; I’m sure it was astoundingly meaningful to the acting ensemble.

Let’s try this again, in this production, playing the lead character, Henry Reyna, and his girlfriend Della Barrios were Matias Ponce (FB) and Jeanine Mason (FB), respectively. Ponce is on-stage for almost the entire show and he has the presence to carry it off. His portrayal captures well the opposing natures of Henry: leadership and violence, family and love, the tormented conflict of one under constant attack by “the man”. Mason’s role is smaller, yet she is still quite fun to watch and shines in her scenes at the conclusion of the story.

The remainder of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants and the key gang members we see are Ismael “Smiley’ Torres (Raul Cardona (FB), also: u/s El Pachuco), Joey Castro (Oscar Camacho), and Tommy Roberts (Caleb Foote (FB)). They embodied their characters well, bringing distinct personalities to what could have been cookie-cutter portrayals. Their individual moments during the jail sequences were great.

Rounding out the Reyes family were Stephani Candelaria (FB) as Lupe Reyna and Andres Ortiz (FB) as Rudy Reyna. Candelaria’s Lupe was fun to watch, especially in her initial scenes with the family before the first dance. Ortiz’s Rudy showed the power of drink to change a personality, with the actor handily capturing the transformation from kid wannabe to dangerously hot-tempered drinker.

Rounding out the lead characters were Brian Abraham (FB) as Henry’s attorney, George Shearer, and Tiffany Dupont (FB) as Alice Bloomfield, head of the committee that was arranging for the legal defense of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants.  Abraham’s Shearer was a typical grizzled attorney who cared about his clients deeply, and came across well. Dupont’s Bloomfield captured the style of the era well and had great chemistry and humor with all four of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants, but especially with Ponce’s Henry.

Rounding out the cast in various roles were: Mariela Arteaga [La Pachuca Hoba, u/s Bertha Villareal]; Melinna Bobadilla (FB) [Bertha Villareal, u/s Dolores Reyna]; Fiona Cheung (FB) [La Pachuca Manchuka]; Holly Hyman (FB) [La Pachuca Lil Blue]; Kimberlee Kidd [Dance Captain, Guera, u/s Alice Bloomfield]; Rocío López (FB) [Elena Tores, u/s Della Barios / Lupe Reyna]; Tom G. McMahon [Press]; Michael Naydoe Pinedo (FB) [Ragman / Cub Reporter / Sailor , u/s Rafas / Marine , u/s Joey Castro , u/s Sergeant Smith / Baliff / Bosun’s Mate]; Gilbert Saldivar (FB) [Rafas / Marine, u/s Enrique Reyna / Ismael ‘Smiley’ Torres]; Richard Steinmetz (FB) [Lt. Edwards / Judge F.W. Charles / Prison Guard]; Evan Strand (FB) [Swabbie, u/s Tommy Roberts / Cub Reporter]; Bradford Tatum (FB) [Sergeant Smith / Boson’s Mate / Baliff, u/s George Shearer / Press / Lt. Edwards / Judge F.W. Charles / Prison Guard]; and Raphael Thomas (FB) [Dance Captain / Newsboy, u/s Swabbie]. All were strong dancers and performers. I want to highlight Bobadilla’s Bertha Villareal, who was a standout in her scenes.

Turning to the music and movement side: Daniel Valdez (FB) was the music director, with choreography by Maria Torres (FB). The movement and dance was strong, with what seemed to be (at least to me) period appropriate dance. Hand in hand with the movement was the fight direction of Steve Rankin (FB). With respect to music, it appears to have been pre-recorded, as there are no credits for musicians.

The scenic design, which I mentioned previously and worked quite well, was by Christopher Acebo. It was complemented by the projection design of David Murakami (FB) and the lighting design of Pablo Santiago. I particularly appreciated the latter’s use of red lighting in a few scenes to create a very ominous tone. Murakami’s projections provided the news backdrop, especially when projected against the Venetian blinds. The sound design was by Philip G. Allen. At the preview performance there were numerous sound problems, including some very bad computer-created static in Act I and some very low microphones — all of which I presume will be ironed out by opening, as will some overly loud sound effects. <rant> What won’t be ironed out was the static caused by cellphones!!! People — please — put your phones in airplane mode or turn them off during a show. You can focus your attention for something live for three hours instead of your silly screens! </rant> The costume design of Ann Closs-Farley and the wig design of Jessica Mills (FB) worked together to recreate the 1940s — the costumers were just fantastic for both the ladies and the gents (credit also goes to El Pachuco Zoot Suits in Fullerton for the wonderful suits). Rounding out the credits were David S. Franklin – Production Stage Manager; Neel Keller – Associate Artistic Director; and Phillip Esparza — Executive Producer / El Teatro Campesino. Michelle Blair and Susie Walsh were the stage managers.

Zoot Suit continues at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) through March 19. Tickets are available through the CTG website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Don’t miss this show this time.

: Such as, you ask: We had a relatively bad dinner at Black Bottom Southern Cuisine at Vineland and Cabrillo in NoHo: it may have been takeout hipster, but it wasn’t great Q (the BarBeQue Bar up the street is much better) or good Southern, and they used too much MSG. My wife left her purse on the Metro when we got off at Civic Center; luckily Metro security nabbed it and had it at Union Station for pickup, but we had to go back in and ride one stop to Union Station and back to pick it up before the show (this left my wife’s knee in pain); the preview audience was poor — arriving late (stand up to let them in) both for the show and after intermission (ouch! that was my toe!), leaving early, and using their cell phones; coming back the Metro accelerated harder than usual throwing us across the train because we hadn’t sat down yet; and then driving back we drove through a cloud of burning rubber on the freeway. Good show around a bad evening.

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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), 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: February 2017 continues with the Manhattan Transfer at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on February 9th, followed by 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB) over the weekend. The third weekend brings Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (FB) on Friday, February 17, with seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it 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). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.

Going, Going, Gone

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 02, 2017 @ 6:11 pm PST

This post brings together a collection of news chum articles from the past weeks about things that have died, are dying, or will be dying — and no, I’m not talking about the American way of life. That was and will be covered in a separate post.

 

Nightmares and Reality

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 02, 2017 @ 11:18 am PST

Yesterday, I was awoken by a nightmare. I had dreamed that President Trump had pissed of some country or another, and they had retaliated by wiping Fairbanks AK off the map. I was listening to the news reports on the radio, and the horror woke me up screaming. I had to go and check on the net to make sure it was, indeed, a dream.

We’ve reached the point where the news is giving me nightmares.

What is even more scary is that reality is more frightening than the nightmares, and that we have created it. Reading the headlines this morning, this is what I see:

This is not a Liberal vs. Conservative issue. This is a President who does not understand the Constitution he has sworn to uphold, who is attempting to govern by fiat, who is letting his narcissism and hatreds come out, who is working for personal gain. This is a Congress that has abrogated their duty to provide checks and balances. This is the result of the slippery slope that started with the intense partisanship that arose with the election of Bill Clinton, and continued through the subsequent presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. We are being torn apart.

Yes, I know this sounds like the Republicans sounded during Obama’s turn. That has me even more scared. I had hoped that, despite my fears for Trump, his narcissism would lead him to want to be the best President ever. Instead, it has led him to the lowest approval rating of any President, and we are only two weeks in.

And yet, I know I am lucky. I’m white, Judeo-Christian, and of normative sexual orientation. I work in a field that is a priority for the government. I live in California, which will stand up to Trump. There’s a good chance that I personally would be OK. But this isn’t just about me: it is a concern for the country and all of those would would not be OK.

I don’t know what we can do, other than hope for impeachment and removal, and that the replacement (Pence) understands the Constitution better. But that takes time, and so much damage can be done. This is something the founder’s didn’t anticipate; we need a constitutional amendment permitting a recall and a redo of the election (but even that takes time).

I really wish I could wake up and discover this was all a dream.

California Highway Headlines for January 2017

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Feb 01, 2017 @ 11:45 am PST

Welcome to 2017 — a new year. Whether it will be a better year I can’t say, as we are in tumultuous times. But I have been collecting headlines about California. One note: This has been an exceptionally rainy month for California, and there have been many headlines about road closures due to weather-related road damage. I’m not including those in the list below, because they will quite likely be overtaken by events by the time I go to update my pages. Hopefully. But to give you an idea on some of the roads that are or have been closed due to the storms: Route 1, Route 17, Route 18, Route 23, Route 26, Route 27, Route 37, Route 41, Route 59, Route 74, I-80, Route 84, Route 118, Route 128, Route 158, Route 178, Route 182, Route 198, Route 269, Route 299, US 395. The preliminary damage total was $158 million.

So here are some longer-impact headlines:

  • Westside Parkway in Bakersfield, CA. Here is a link to a site with photos and information about the new construction on the Westside Parkway in Bakersfield, CA.
  • Median barrier on Golden Gate Bridge repaired as system marks two years. Crews repaired the Golden Gate Bridge’s movable median barrier Tuesday after it sustained damage sometime the day before from a passing vehicle on the Marin side of the span. Two lanes were closed for about an hour on either side of the barrier during the repair, which occurred at about 10:30 a.m. Golden Gate Bridge crews noticed the damage to the unit at 1:30 p.m. Monday during a lane configuration change.
  • Horgan: Resolve to avoid Highway 92 if you can. New Year’s resolutions are easily broken. But here’s one that has real immediacy for those on the Peninsula: Avoid Highway 92 if you can. It has become, for all intents and purposes, our horrible “Highway From Hell.” Specifically, stay away from it during weekday commute hours east of Interstate 280. Of course, that’s easier said then done.

(more…)

Getting Needled

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jan 31, 2017 @ 3:58 pm PST

While I’m getting ready to post the highway headlines and collecting information for some future themed news chums, here’s a little diversion: some articles related to the fiber arts:

  • Wall-to-Wall. No, I’m not talking about Trump’s wall. We’re talking carpet here — that tufted shag that keeps your tootsies warm. Have you ever wondered where carpet came from? Did it fly in like magic? Wonder no more: here’s a history of carpet. You’ll also learn about the infamous Empire Carpet jingle.
  • Knitting Disorder. I must confess: I live with a fabric artists. Right now, she’s on a knitting binge — and has been for a few years to the detriment of the numerous other fabric projects like needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing projects, quilting, and dolls. I now have a possible reason: there is a connection between excessive knitting and addiction.
  • Hats and Marches. By now, you all know about the “pussy hats” that marchers wore on the Womens March on Washington after the inauguration. There’s going to be another march — this one for science — and here’s how to knit a brain hat.
  • Dusting It Off. Don’t want to knit a hat? How about crocheting a duster? Here’s how you can crochet your own Swooffer.

 

A 4-Bit Player in an 8-Bit World | “Claudio Quest” at Chance Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 29, 2017 @ 8:14 pm PST

Claudio Quest (Chance)I have a confession to make: I’m not a video gamer. Although at times I have played games on the computer, they have all been text-based, starting with the lunar landing game on the HP 3000C. I’ve played Adventure and Zork, and my level of dungeon games are things like nethack and larn. But those video games? Perhaps Pong?

So I went into the new musical Claudio Quest, opening this week at the Chance Theatre (FB), with the same sense of disconnection I felt when I saw Bard Fiction when I had never seen Pulp FictionClaudio Quest, featuring music, lyrics, and book by Drew Fornarola (FB) and Marshall Pailet (FB), tells the story of a video game roughly analagous (so I’m told) to Super Mario Brothers. The rough conceit of the bulk of this musical is that we are in the game itself: the characters have come to life, and we are seeing their doubts, fears, and questioning of their motives. In particular, and to put it in Mario terms, it is the story not of Mario (Claudio) but of Player 2 — Luigi (Luis) — and how does he face his position of being second banana and having to become a hero.

I’ll note that figuring out that aspect of the story didn’t come clearly: I found myself wondering for much of the first act where the story was going: who were we rooting for, what was the ultimate goal. As this was a preview performance of a developing musical, perhaps that is something worth improving: having the goal and motivation be a little clearer in the first few establishing songs.

The video game story constituted the bulk of the musical; it was wrapped and interspersed with a real-world wordless story of two brothers: one who continually played the game Claudio Quest and kept winning, and his younger brother who seemingly longed to play with him. The message and relationship between these two worlds came through by the end, but I found myself wanted to know more about these two other than just seeing them with cartridges, controllers, and a screen.

The game story itself supposedly paralleled Super Mario Bros, but veered just enough to avoid a trademark violation. The heroic older brother Claudio, in a blue jumpsuit, was on a continual quest to rescue Princess Poinsettia of the Eggplant Kingdom, who had been kidnapped by the evil Fire-Breathing Platypus Bruiser. Claudio was Player 1, and wore the golden eggplant, which allowed him to jump upon and destroy the various creatures set to attack him.  He was aided by his younger Brother  and the dinosaur Y. The Younger Brother, Luis, was Player 2 and wore an orange jumpsuit; he carried Claudio’s backpack and was able to transfer extra lives to Claudio. The Princess’s sister, Princess Fish, also wanted to be a player but the game wasn’t designed that way.

As the show went on, self-awareness of the characters increased, and Luis and Fish increasingly were able to play and introduce new ideas into the Eggplant Kingdom. Basically, they added a dimension to their two-dimensional lives. When this existential crisis resulting in Claudio losing his last life, it remained for Luis and Fish to figure out how to rescue the Princess and save the kingdom.

OK, OK. I’m sure by now you’re going: A musical about a video game? That’s as stupid as a movie about a board game., or a musical about a kid’s cartoon. But as this show went on, there was a surprising depth to the questions raised. What particularly comes to mind is near the end of the first act where the two main videogame characters are arguing about self-will and self-determination? Do they have it? Is there the ability to do what they can do preordained or controlled by some outside higher power, or do they have the ability to take control of their own lives? In facing such a question, they are asking themselves something that has been a question for religious folks for years: does God direct our actions and pre-ordain our destiny, or are we free to do whatever we want to do with our lives. In many ways, this is a similar question to that raised in Pailet’s earlier musical, Triassic Parq, which explored the world of Jurassic Park from the point of view of the dinosaurs, and their becoming self-aware and wanting to take control of their lives.

The musical also explored the question of what makes a hero? A heroes only the people who constantly win, and win in the same way everytime? Can one be a hero and still have doubts and fears? Are heroes the people who come up with new ways to do things, of new solutions? Most importantly, are heroes the people that appreciate the diversity around them, and who use that diversity to learn new ways to attack problems and survive, which changing their world along the way.

For an 8-bit videogame, it had surprising depth.

Under Pailet (FB)’s direction, the actors made a similar transformation in directionality. Initally, in the videogame world, actors moved very two-dimensionally: jerky, up and down, never forward and back. As the game and story progressed, their movement became three dimensional. They could turn and face, they could kick and rotate. This was also reflected in the staging — more on that later.

I’ll note that there was a similar transformation in the music itself. I recently listened to a fascinating episode of the 20 KHz podcast on 8-bit sounds. This was a unique world, very different than our sounds of today. Chips were designed to work independent of the CPU; they weren’t playing prerecorded songs but generating songs based on chords supported by the chips in a very limited fashion. This uniqueness was paralleled in the score. Songs, under the orchestration and musical direction of Ryan O’Connell (FB), went from being primarily 8-bit to more fully realised. The songs themselves were of a quality similar to Triassic or Loch Ness. Some had surprising depth, some were quite funny (in particular, the Platypus Song, and a number were quite cute. Unfortunately — and this could be a side-effect of only seeing the show once — I didn’t walk out humming any of them.

Turning to the performances: the cast consisted of a number of folks we’d seen before at other Chance musicals and elsewhere around the Southern California stages. The performances overall were good, with a few interesting quirks and looks that caught the eye and stuck in the head.

Our heroes — Claudio and Luis — were played by Beau Brians (FB) and Andrew Puente (FB), respectively. Both brought quite a bit of character to the show, and both had wonderful singing voices. Brians’ Claudio had the correct amount of bravado and swagger, while Puente’s Luis had the right hesitancy one would expect from a Player 2.

The heroines, Princess Poinsettia and Princess Fish, were played by Kim Dalton (FB) and Monika Pena (FB), respectively. We have seen Kim in a number of shows now (Dogfight, Toxic Avenger), and she always brings a strong performance and a great voice to any role. Her role gets the chance to shine in the latter half of Act II; the writing has her role more two dimensional earlier in the show. Her number with Bruiser and the scene in the dungeon are great. Pena’s Fish, in contrast, breaks out of the gate running demanding to be herself on her own term. The actress brings a spunk and vitality to the character that is quite a bit of fun to watch. Both sang and moved very well.

The villain, Bruiser the Platypus, was portrayed by Miguel Cardenas/FB. In the first act, Cardenas’s character was mostly bluster. However, in the second act, his number with Poinsettia, “The Platypus Song”, was just hilarious. He was also great in his interactions with his therapist.

All of the other characters (with two exceptions) were played by members of the ensemble: Kellie Spill (FB) (Engafink / Ensemble); Amy Rebecca King/FB (King Eggplant / Ensemble); Elise Borgfeldt (FB) (Kevin the Turtle / Ensemble); Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) (Boof / Ensemble); Joseph Ott/FB (Big Brother / Gary / Ensemble); and Jimmy Saiz (FB) (Steve the Turtle / Ensemble). I would like to single out a few performers here. First, Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB). Ms. Nelson has been the lead in Dogfight and the lead in the recent Little Woman; she’s in the ensemble here and also serves as what I guess would be the narrator in the game. In that latter role, she is hilarious. As always, she is a singing and dancing and comedic joy to watch. Next, Amy Rebecca King/FB.  When featured as King Eggplant, Ms. King is extremely funny and a joy to watch. Lastly, there are the two turtles, who get a very funny scene in the second act.

Rounding out the cast were Jack Reid, alternating with Dylan Shuba as Little Brother. I’m not sure which one we saw, but whichever it was, there were some wonderful facial expressions. Lastly, there was Y, who played himself. I regretfully must comment that his performance was a bit wooden.

The choreography was by Maxx Reed (FB), and the Scenic Design was by Fred Kinney. Chris Baab and Jalen Morgan were the welders. There’s a reason I lump all of these together for this show. Although there was dancing — and excellent dancing — choreography is also movement. That’s where the scenic design came in, with a design reminscent of Loch Ness with multiple moving platforms. These were used to give the suggestion of levels in the video screen, and were constantly moving in and out. This meant that the characters were also moving on top of moving platforms and from platform to platform. That’s choreography, my friends: lots of well-executed movement that created magic without anyone getting hurt.

The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), with lighting design by Matt Schleicher (FB). Both were executed well with clear sound. The lighting was particularly interesting, using a type of moving light that I hadn’t seen before. Animation was by Justin Melillo (FB), and primarily consisted of a great video game opening for the show. The costume design by Rachael Lorenzetti was suitably 8-bit appropriate and entertaining. Makeup and hair design was by Marci Alberti/FB and was character appropriate (especially Princess Fish’s stache). Courtny Greenough/FB  was the Stage Manager.

Claudio Quest continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) through February 26, 2017. It’s a cute musical, well worth seeing for the performances, the creativity, and if you are in to video games and Super Mario Brothers. Tickets are available through the Chance website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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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), 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: February 2017 starts with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals.; we’re also seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it 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). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.