Observations Along the Road

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

To Boldly Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 6:49 am PST

userpic=star_trekSpace, the final frontier. Here are three articles related to exploration of space, and those that boldly go…

  • No, The One That Isn’t A Witch. When I read the headline of this article, I did a double take. Margret Hamilton — the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939’s Wizard of OZ — worked on the Apollo project? But no, that wasn’t the case. This Margaret Hamilton was much more important — she was the lead software engineer on Project Apollo. Hamilton was 31 when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon, running her code; in fact, it was able to land at all only because she designed the software robustly enough to handle buffer overflows and cycle-stealing. We need to remember these unsung women who have been out in the forefront, and keep reminding the students of the day that women can succeed in engineering and scientific fields.
  • Keep Coming Back. When I was a teen, we were regularly going to the moon. That stopped with Apollo 17. Here’s an article that presents the real story of Apollo 17, and why we didn’t go back to the moon. What changed? A public that was increasingly fiscally wary. Spending in space was something that could be done, but with far more fiscal constraints than ever before, limiting NASA to research and scientific missions in the coming years. Such programs included the development of the Skylab program in 1973, and the Space Shuttle program, as well as a number of robotic probes and satellites.
  • Looking Inward. NASA, at least from what you normally hear from the news, has been outwardly focused — that is, we’ve been paying lots of attention to Mars. But there’s another planet that is close to us: Venus. There hasn’t been much exploration of Venus due to the heat and pressure — unlike Mars, there’s no change of landing people and exploring. But why land? A new NASA study has proposed an approach to investigating Venus, including inflatable airships, that could serve as good experimentation for future Mars missions. This would be really neat to see.

 

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Musings on Sony, The Interview, and North Korea

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:53 am PST

userpic=securityAs I sit here eating my lunch, I’m thinking about all the articles I’ve read over the last week concerning the Sony cybersecurity attack, the movie “The Interview”, and the reaction thereto. Thoughts are starting to gel together, so I thought I’d share them:

  • How Could America Give In Like This? This is a question I’ve seen throughout Facebook, with an appropriate share blaming Obama for all these troubles. The response, however, shows a lack of critical thinking — for it is asking the wrong question. America — at least the government — has no connection to the capitulation to the hacker’s threats. That’s squarely on Sony’s shoulders. Further, Sony isn’t necessarily completely wrong. Put yourself in Sony’s shoes. A hacking group — which you believe to be connected to an unstable government — makes threats intimating mass casualties at theatres showing this movie. Further, a number of your exhibitors are publicly deciding not to show the film.  So which is better: Show the film, and if god forfend an attack occurs, deal with all the lawsuits… or take the economic hit for pulling it now (and possibly have insurance cover the loss). Sony made the correct business decision. Where they erred was stating the film would never be released, in any form. That’s stupid. Release it on video-on-demand across multiple platforms — there’s no way the adversary can attack all those individual homes, or all the individual servers serving the media (ETA: of course, after Obama’s statement, now Sony says they may do that). Put CDs in every Target and Walmart and Costco. Pulling it 100% is giving in to FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). I’m not only looking at Sony here — Paramount pulling Team America has given into the same FUD. Want another perspective? Read Ken Davenport. Oh, and by the way, Obama says Sony shouldn’t have pulled it.
  • But this permits (name your county) to censor our movies! Oh, and you think your movies aren’t censored now? The government may not censor them, but studio executives do every day when they decide which projects to green light and which to stop. The MPAA does it when they rate movies and amp violence over sex. What happened here will not stop such movies from being made. What it will curtail is major studio distribution of such movies, making them harder to find. That, by the way, is where studios really “censor” — in what they agree to distribute or not. There are many movies that remain unseen for lack of a distribution partner.
  • But how could this happen? Isn’t the government supposed to protect us? The government’s job is to protect government systems. There have been repeated attempts to strengthen overall cybersecurity, but they have never made it through Congress as they would involve private corporations working closer with government, and sharing information. This also appears not to be the result of a simple cracker; this seems to be a targeted attack by a determined nation state. Bruce Schneier has a good analysis of this. He also has some very good conclusions:

For those worried that what happened to Sony could happen to you, I have two pieces of advice. The first is for organizations: take this stuff seriously. Security is a combination of protection, detection and response. You need prevention to defend against low-focus attacks and to make targeted attacks harder. You need detection to spot the attackers who inevitably get through. And you need response to minimize the damage, restore security and manage the fallout.

The time to start is before the attack hits: Sony would have fared much better if its executives simply hadn’t made racist jokes about Mr. Obama or insulted its stars­or if their response systems had been agile enough to kick the hackers out before they grabbed everything.

My second piece of advice is for individuals. The worst invasion of privacy from the Sony hack didn’t happen to the executives or the stars; it happened to the blameless random employees who were just using their company’s email system. Because of that, they’ve had their most personal conversations­, gossip, medical conditions, love lives­ exposed. The press may not have divulged this information, but their friends and relatives peeked at it. Hundreds of personal tragedies must be unfolding right now.

This could be any of us. We have no choice but to entrust companies with our intimate conversations: on email, on Facebook, by text and so on. We have no choice but to entrust the retailers that we use with our financial details. And we have little choice but to use cloud services such as iCloud and Google Docs.

So be smart: Understand the risks. Know that your data are vulnerable. Opt out when you can. And agitate for government intervention to ensure that organizations protect your data as well as you would. Like many areas of our hyper-technical world, this isn’t something markets can fix.

  • But why would they do this? A good question. This isn’t just because the movie makes fun of the leader of North Korea. That’s been done before. Vox has a good analysis of the reasons behind this. The short summary is: To show they can. North Korea gains much of its power through its military, and by presenting the appearance of that power outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly it does it through threats and intimidation; inwardly it does it to justify spending on military rather than the people. Vox summarizes it thusly:

This is belligerence meant to deter the much stronger South Korea and US, and to draw international attention that North Korea can use to bolster domestic propaganda portraying Kim Jong Un as a fearless leader showing up the evil foreign imperialists. It is meant to foment the isolation and tension that has allowed the Kim family to hold onto rule, impossibly, for decades. It has nothing to do with Sony’s film, however offensive it may be, with the film’s portrayal of Kim, or with free speech in America. In believing North Korea’s rhetoric strongly implying a connection, we are buying into the country’s strategy and helping Kim succeed.

[…]

This strategy of portraying itself as crazy is remarkably effective at securing North Korea’s strategic goals. But it is also quite dangerous. By design, the risk of escalation is high, so as to make the situation just dangerous enough that foreign leaders will want to deescalate. And it puts pressure on American, South Korean, and Japanese leaders to decide how to respond — knowing that any punishment will only serve to bolster North Korean propaganda and encourage further belligerence. In this sense, the attacks are calibrated to be just severe enough to demand our attention, but not so bad as to lead to all-out war.

Over on the Kapersky blog, they put it this way:

“It’s not about a movie or even Sony, at all,” wrote Immunity CEO and former NSA scientist Dave Aitel on the Daily Dave mailing list. “When you build a nuclear program, you have to explode at least one warhead so that other countries see that you can do it. The same is true with Cyber.”

  • So what is the long term impact? As with anything, I believe there will be both good and bad impacts. On the bad side, we may see artists reluctant to tackle hard subjects in major films, knowing they will have difficulty getting them through the studio system. We may also see studios much more reluctant to distribute controversial films (for example, film studio New Regency has cancelled its planned movie adaptation of acclaimed graphic novel Pyongyang). This may end up being a boon for Science Fiction films, as they can often make the same point using metaphors without naming real countries and real people. More significantly, on the bad side, is the message this sends: For the controversial stuff that gets through, are we going to see more threats and intimidation? If some fundamentalist group doesn’t like the subject of a movie, can they just threaten a 9/11-type attack and have it pulled? This is bad, very bad — and it might even lead to the death of large-screen cinema (as you can’t attack video-on-demand with such threats — only large groups of people). On the good side, it may make corporations much more aware of the need for Cybersecurity, and it may help government efforts related to cybersecurity. In fact, the senate and house just passed a new cybersecurity bill that will bolster cyber research and development, the cyber workforce through training and education and technical standards for cybersecurity through NIST. It’s a start. It may also move controversial subjects back onto the live stage, as such performances often attract much less attention.

 

 

The Good, The Ugly, and the Bad

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 13, 2014 @ 12:04 pm PST

userpic=rough-roadI’m back home from ACSAC, so I thought I would share with you one good (which is thanks to the ugly), and one bad.

The Good. Normally, when I come home from ACSAC, I come home with an additional present – blisters. I do a lot of walking with the conference, and I have a tendency to get blisters on my little toes with conventional shoes and socks. I’ve tried everything — moleskin, double socks, specialized shoes — nothing worked. Until now. This trip, no blisters.

What was my secret? Listening to my wife, who recommended I pick up some toe socks and get a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers. This I did — we had picked up the socks earlier, and while we were down in Escondido this summer we picked up the ugly: A pair of Trek LS Five-Fingers in Kangaroo Suede. I wore them all week with nary a comment, and more importantly, nary a blister.

I’m so impressed, I think I’m going to go out (after the first of the year) and get more socks and another pair, likely in brown. If I can find them that is (possibly here or here, but they are out of stock everywhere else, so I’m suspicious)– I’m not sure the Trek’s are made anymore; they aren’t on Vibram’s current page. I might have to do something like the V-Classic in black, the Speed XC (although I don’t like the yellow accents), or the non-lacing KSO. Alas, the biggest problem with the Vibrams are looks — they are ugly (gee, just like the Birkenstocks of old).

The Bad. We came home from the conference to find a dead DirecTivo. We have a Samsung DirecTivo SIR S4080R dating back to 2005. When we got home, it was passing through no signal; just snow. We rebooted the unit. We get the grey “Initializing…” screen, and then the “DirecTV is starting up, just a few minutes more…” and then…. nothing. It goes back to the black no signal condition. My guess is that we got a power hit that fried something (possibly the disk). We’re sending it in to Weaknees for diagnosis, but if it is gone, we lose loads of recorded programs (including everything from last week while we were away at the conference), plus the ability to record this week and likely next. In that case, we’ll contact DirecTV for a newer replacement unit. We’ll also see what we can recover from CBS Online (we might have to subscribe) and Hulu.

 

A Week of Security

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 11, 2014 @ 5:25 pm PST

userpic=securityI’ve been at ACSAC all week, and it has been a great conference. The committee and the Universal Hilton have a lot of work to do to top this year’s conference at the Hyatt French Quarter. But I’m confident they/we will. So what is more appropriate than some security-related articles:

  • Remember Benford’s Law. Here’s an interesting summary of an article about how accountants are using Benford’s Law to fight fraud. Benford’s Law, for those that don’t recall it, refers to the frequency distribution of digits in many (but not all) real-life sources of data. In this distribution, 1 occurs as the leading digit about 30% of the time, while larger digits occur in that position less frequently: 9 as the first digit less than 5% of the time. Benford’s Law also concerns the expected distribution for digits beyond the first, which approach a uniform distribution. The accountants looked at a log of financial ATM transactions for an ATM with a limit of $50, and saw an abnormal number of first digits that were 4. This led them to find financial fraud. Think about this for analysis of audit trails…
  • Two-Factor Authentication. One point that has been continually made this conference relates to the value of two-factor authentication. We even heard from Avi Rubin on how to use two-factor in online poker. However, there is a major problem with two factor: what happens if you lose the second factor. Here’s an article that explains what to do. Now that you know what to do, you have no excuse. Enable two factor authentication.
  • Cyberphysical Attacks. One major theme of the conference has been cyberphysical security. You probably think it was Stuxnet. Wrong. A recent article points to a 2008 Turkish pipeline explosion, which was caused by a cyberattack that overloaded the pressure on the pipe. As Avi pointed out, as we get more and more devices in our houses and lives that are network connected, how susceptible will we be to cyberattacks.

Want to learn more about these problems? Come to the 2015 ACSAC, December 7-11 2015 at the Universal Hilton. Paper submissions, training submissions, workshop submissions, and similar stuff are all due around June 1, 2015. As Local Arrangements and Tutorial Chair, I look forward to seeing you for what will be my 25th ACSAC on the Conference Committee!

I Come Not to Bury the iPod Classic

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Dec 09, 2014 @ 7:31 pm PST

userpic=ipodIn October, Apple discontinued the iPod Classic. Do you think that made the iPod Classic worthless? Hardly. In fact, the iPod Classic is currently the most expensive iPod out there, commanding almost double its original shelf price. This makes me very glad that I picked up a backup iPod when I did. However, I’ve only got 15GB left. So I thought I would do a post on iPod Classic replacements. To me, the biggest drawback on all of these replacements is that they don’t have iTunes. Music is installed by dragging and dropping it on the device. They don’t support playlist, and I doubt they would move over my ratings and play counts from iTunes. Here’s what I found in looking for devices:

As I said, the two drawbacks of the alternatives are price (the price of the player doesn’t include the SD card storage, making the overall price high), and the lack of a good music manager. You can move the music easy (but note that you’re moving MP3s or AACs, and these machines are designed for non-compressed music and high fidelity).

 

Saturday News Chum Stew: It’s On The Radio

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 06, 2014 @ 2:58 pm PST

userpic=masters-voiceToday’s weekly news chum stew leads off with a few items related to radio and items on the radio…. and goes rapidly downhill from there:

  • Living By The Clock. This is an article from a few weeks ago, but it’s still interesting: On November 18th, NPR changed their news magazine clocks. Now you probably have no idea what this means. The clocks are the second-by-second scheduling of what happens when during the newsmagazines, including newscasts, music beds and funding credits. They also affect when stations can insert their own local content. In announcing the date for implementing the clocks, NPR also said that it will not impose limits on stations’ ability to replace newsmagazine segments with programming from other producers. That proposal had prompted criticism from station programmers, who argued for control over programming choices, and producers, whose programs would be excluded under the rule. This directly relates to the next article: some of those producers are podcast producers, whose segments are often included in NPR news magazines (and thus, it brings them in money).
  • The Podcast Is The In-Thing. If you listen to podcasts (as I do), you know we’re in a new era of podcasts. The “This American Life” podcast has spun off a new #1 podcast, “Serial“. Roman Mars, of 99% Invisible (who was very concerned about the above clock change) used his Kickstarter success to create Radiotopia, and expanded it with this year’s Kickstarter to add new shows. Producer Alex Bloomberg left Planet Money to found a new podcast company, Gimlet Media, and is documenting the process in a new podcast. The Verge has an interesting article on this phenomena: “The New Radio Star: Welcome to the Podcast Age“. Never mind the fact that the “pod” has been discontinued, and no one really “casts” anymore. That’s like saying television is confined to networks over the air.
  • You Can Get Anything You Want. Traditions are funny thing. Who would think a TV show would span a tradition that revolves around a pole? Here’s another one for you: A tradition of listening to a particular song on Thanksgiving, simply because the event described in the song happened on Thanksgiving. This latter one, of course, is referring to Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant”. Here’s an interesting article about Arlo looking back on the song, which turned 50 this year.
  • Shaming and Discrimination is Never Acceptable. The events in Ferguson and in New York have finally started to make people aware about White Privilege, and being aware is the first step to doing something about the problem. But there’s another type of privilege people aren’t talking about: Thin Privilege. Our society is biased towards the thin — all it takes is one airplane ride or sitting at a booth in a restaurant to realize that. Thin Privilege can also be life threatening. Here’s an interesting article that explores that aspect of fat hatred: the particular fact that the auto industry refuses to make large-sized crash dummies, and so crashes are more likely to be fatal to the obese than the thin.
  • Fighting Antisemitism. Here’s an interesting Indiegogo project: Yaakov Kirschen of Dry Bones is fundraising to turn Dry Bones into an antisemitism fighting engine. If you’re not familiar with Dry Bones, look here. I haven’t yet decided if this is an effect tool in the fight, or an attempt by Yaakov to obtain steady funding (after the success of his Dry Bones Haggadah). Still, anything that fights is a good thing.
  • Your Username is Invalid. We’ve all been taught in security that you shouldn’t give away information in the login error message, and so you don’t indicate whether it was the user name or the password is bad. But here’s an article that points out that such care doesn’t buy you anything. It’s an interesting point of view.
  • Should I Upgrade? For years, I’ve been using Paint Shop Pro. I’m currently on the last JASC version, Paint Shop Pro 9. PCWorld has a very interesting review of the current Corel Paint Shop Pro X7,  and I’m debating upgrading. Thoughts?

 

It Won’t Grow Up

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 05, 2014 @ 12:52 pm PST

Peter Pan Liveuserpic=televisionLast night was the second live musical in a new NBC tradition: live theatre as a Christmas special. Last year, there was “The Sound of Music Live“; this year brought us “Peter Pan Live“. Again, as with last year, the hater and snark community was out there hot and heavy (as could clearly be seen in the responses on the Forbidden Musicals group on Facebook), although the professional reviewers treated the show a little better. The basic opinion, once you threw out the obvious haters and snark, was that this was a better effort than Sound of Music, but it had its odd flaws. That’s basically my opinion as well, but I thought I’d elaborate a bit. After all, this was live theatre (well, pre-recorded for my time zone), and I watched it, meaning some sort of write-up is due. However, this won’t be a full theatre review write-up: I feel no need to summarize the reworked plot, or to list the credits and to link to every actor in the production. You want that, you go to IMDB.

The Story

If you came into this expecting the Disney version of Peter Pan, you were likely disappointed. This was the stage musical version, famously made, umm, famous by the Mary Martin telecast on NBC (although, I’ll note for the record, I’m not a fan of Martin’s Pan — I find her voice too lilting for the role). The stage version of Peter Pan, for the record, originated out of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and featured music by Mark “Moose” Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne, and most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It first appeared on stage in 1953 in Los Angeles, on Broadway in 1954, on TV in 1955, 1956, and 1960, with numerous stage revivals.

If you’ve seen the musical Pan on stage, you know it is a relatively short show. NBC had time to fill, so they talked to Adolph Green’s daughter Amanda, and worked in some additional music (and story to support that music). They reworked two songs from Do Re Mi: “Ambition” became “Vengeance”, and “I Know About Love” became “Only Pretend”. From Say, Darling they adapted “Something’s Always Happening on the River” into “A World Without Peter”. They brought in a song that was cut during previews in San Francisco: “When I Went Home”, and they added some reprises of existing songs. They also reworked “Ugg-a-wug” into “True Blood Brothers” to address Native American sensitivities, a move that got many upset.

In general, I liked the song additions and changes. Both “Vengeance” and “A World Without Peter” worked well for me; the plot changes to fit things in also worked. There are those purists out there who insist a show never changes; to them I say: “Get Over It!”. Many shows have undergone changes and tinkering — sometimes without the source author’s permission, sometimes with. In this case, Green was involved, so I have no problem. Both Do Re Mi and Say Darling are unlikely to be revived and have dated plots. I’ll note that even Rodgers and Hammerstein songs were reworked and reused: State Fair revised and adapted songs from both Allegro and Me and Juliet. As for the changes to Ugg-a-Wug: Again, I liked them. They added in words that were supposedly drawn from Native American languages, as opposed to nonsense words. They also got rid of clearly offensive lines, like “true noble redskin” (I also noted that in Hook’s song, they changed “massacre Indians”). Such changes will give this musical more life. I hope these changes will be worked into the licensed script as an option.

There were some story changes I didn’t like. I didn’t see the need for the “bomb the island” subplot — I think it was just a silly excuse for the “X marks the spot” and stealing the map as a different way of getting into what would have been the Mysterious Lady scene. It could have been done in a different way.

There was also the handling of the traditional breaking of the fourth wall — the moment where Peter asks the audience to clap to save Tinkerbell. Yes, they did it, although supposedly on the east coast they were asked to tweet to save her (we didn’t see that on the west coast). It seemed odd with no audience sound — perhaps they should have added the crew clapping at that point. The biggest problem was that the extending of the show moved this moment to about 10:20pm — long after the children who were watching were likely in bed.

Lastly, I’ll note that my view of Pan is colored by “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers“, which I saw at The Blank Theatre a few years ago. Pan is not the good little boy, just as Tinkerbell is not a delightful sprite. Pan is also out for vengeance: in his case, although he wants a mother, he feels no emotion towards her. Think about this: Not only is Pan incapable of loving Wendy, Pan injures every generation by taking away their child for an unspecified time, warping their psyche, and returning them to always look for boys in their men.

The Performances

Last year, although everyone seemed to trash Carrie Underwood as Maria, I had less of a problem with her. Allison Williams (as Pan) fared much better in the reviews, and I tend to agree: she gave a very good performance and sang well. She (well, all of the actors) adopted a British accent for the show. That wasn’t required and likely offended the purists who could see only Martin, but it didn’t bother me. She could have used a little more childish enthusiasm; however, overall, I thought she did well and I’d like to see her do more musicals.

Then there was Christopher Walken. Sigh. Yes, the man could dance. But Hook is not a dancer. The real problem was he couldn’t act or sing. His singing reminded me of Rex Harrison, who basically spoke the songs in My Fair Lady. His acting was — IMHO — wooden and stiff, and he didn’t bring the maniacal energy and character that Hook requires. The problem is — who could have done better? You need an actor who can dance, act, and sing; who is well known to the TV audience (not necessarily the stage audience); and who is available for all the rehearsals. Roger Rees? Nathan Lane? I’m not sure who else could have done this and have been the draw.

Stealing the show, as always, was Christian Borle as both the father and Smee. I think something was lost in not having Walken dual as the father, but I can understand the costuming changes (plus I’m not sure Walken could have provided the warmth Mr. Darling requires). Borle was an absolute smash in both roles and stole the scenes whenever he was in them. I also agree with the line I read on the Forbidden Musicals group: I never knew Borle had such guns!

Let’s look at the generations of Wendy together: Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling, Taylor Louderman as Wendy, and Minnie Driver as the narrator and adult Wendy. Louderman was wonderful as Wendy with a good characterization and a great singing voice (we also saw her in Bring It On in Los Angeles). O’Hara also gave a good performance as Mrs. Darling, and her duet with Wendy was delightful. Lastly, Driver did a fine narration job and was quite touching in the closing scene (especially when you realize what Peter was doing to her).

As Tiger Lily, Alanna Saunders (Gypsy) did good in her few songs, although her character came off as a bit wimpish in the final fighting scene. The claim was made that changes were made to the character to address Native American sensitivities (including Saunders’ casting, as she is part native american). She did very good on the reworked Ugg-a-Wug (True Blood Brothers), but the costuming of her tribe still seemed a bit stereotypical to me.

As for the remaining characters, they are mostly indistinguishable. I will note that the Lost Boys seemed to be too old to be Lost Boys, but that’s how theatre casting goes if you want strong dancers. Some of the supporting pirate crew had some few cute moments. According to Playbill, here are the remaining major credits: The Lost Boys are played by Ryan Steele (Curly), Jason Gotay (Tootles), Jacob Guzman (Twin 1), David Guzman (Twin 2), Chris McCarrell (Nibs), F. Michael Haynie (Slightly), Dyllon Burnside (Prickles), Daniel Quadrino (Bunting), Garett Hawe (Patches) and Michael Hartung (Sniffler). The Pirates are played by Bryce Ryness (Starkey), T. Oliver Reid (Oliver Shreeks/Islander), Michael Park (Cecco), Chris Sullivan (Noodler), Alan H. Green (Cookson), Austin Lesch (Bill Jukes), Gary Milner (The Vicar/Islander), Matt Wall (Skylights/Islander), Ryan Andes (Admiral Chrichton) and John Arthur Greene (Robert Mullins/Islander). Assuming multiple roles are Dominique Kelley, Marty Lawson, Charlie Williams, Michael Munday, CJ Tyson, Alex Wong, Andrew Pirozzi, James Brown III and Keenan Washington.

I also note that they made Nana a real dog. She/he/it worked and made her marks — I was particularly amused to see the dog trained to turn down the bed.

The Technology

Many of the reviews I read complained about the visibility of the wires. This didn’t bother me at all. Consider: When you are seeing a stage production, most people are typically far from the stage, making the wires less visible. With TV — and especially with HDTV and Ultra-HDTV — you’re up-close with the actors. Of course you’re going to see the wires. Suspend your disbelief, folks.

CGI was used in a number of places, and (to me) it didn’t work too well. The animation for Peter’s Shadow was problematic, especially when you could see it against Peter’s real Shadow. More importantly, the opening scene where he was dancing with the Shadow was marred by overuse of transition effects (the Shadow breaking apart into butterflies, for example). Tinkerbell worked better and was similar to laser effects (which I’ve also seen used), although again there were some transition problems. More problematic was the fact that the CGI overlay seemed to create odd screen problems, such as white squares at times. The electronic fairy dust worked OK.

Doing the production across sound stages, as opposed to a single proscenium stage, allowed for fancier sets. There were still problems. The Darling’s nursery was far too expansive, and I wasn’t crazy about the map effect on the floor in Neverland. The weird spatial relationship between the pirate ship and Neverland was made worse by all the different sets there — this actually hindered suspension of disbelief. Lastly, I noticed all the Christmas set dressing — trees, wreaths, etc. This is not specifically a Christmas story, other than Michael flying when he says “Christmas!”. So why they chose that dressing is beyond me.

TV likes to emphasize the risk of doing things live, forgetting that real theatre people do it live 8 times a week. As expected, it looks like a few props didn’t work, and there were times the actors were visibly out of breath in the scenes after a major dance.

The Music and Movement

I loved the new orchestrations and intend to pick up a copy of the soundtrack. I could not tell if the music was live and piped in or pre-recorded. I hope the former — it makes it more of a challenge.

The dancing was good, and it was clear they extended a number of scenes to add extended dance. The Pirates, in particular, danced much more than usual.

Overall Impression

Overall, I liked it. Walken’s performance was perhaps the weakest part of the show for me. Is this a keeper to watch again? Unclear. We don’t see NBC repeating last year’s Sound of Music; we don’t see ABC repeating their musical versions of Cinderella, Annie, or Music Man. I think people want to see their performances live. However, I do want to pick up the soundtrack, if only to have a copy of the added and changed songs.

The Usual Disclaimers

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

There’s no theatre on the books this weekend; I’m heading off to the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) in New Orleans. When I return, it will be “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim in the afternoon, followed by an Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  Ticketed productions pick up in February, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on the weekend of March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Go, Go, Go, Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Dec 03, 2014 @ 6:46 pm PST

Joseph and His ... (Nobel MS)userpic=nobelWay back ago, in the dark ages of 2007, a theatre arts program was revived at my daughter’s then middle school. Two English teachers, Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro, brought back a theatre arts program, and with nothing more than enthusiastic students and parents (of which we were two), these teachers energized students and created a spark of learning through theatre. That program had borrowed lights on overloaded extension cords, no sound to speak of, and a hastily assembled set. Jump ahead seven years. This program now has professional quality lighting and sound, professional quality sets, and a large cadre of students coming back as Alumni to teach and help run the program. That qualifies as a success in my book.

Needless to say, we’ve been attending and supporting these programs since Day Zero. So it wasn’t a surprise that, even thought our daughter is safely back at UC Berkeley after Thanksgiving, we were invited to the first Tuesday Alumni Night performance of their latest show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat“. As I’m likely dealing with the TL;DR generation, here’s the bottom line: Especially considering this is a middle-school production, go see this. You’ll be blown away by the production values, which rival any high school or community theatre production. Although the book has its weaknesses, the enthusiasm makes up for it; although the kids are not professionals, they do an excellent job that far exceeds middle-school production expectations. But then again, you would expect no less from the Nobel Middle School Theatre Arts program.

If the production has one major weakness, it is an unavoidable one: the selected show. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a late 1960’s pop cantata, 35 minutes long– it was the first published work by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, it was rewritten and lengthened with some novelty musical numbers — but at its heart, it is a simple pop cantata, essentially sung through. It tells the Biblical story of Joseph from the incident with the coat of many colors through the brothers return to Egypt through pastiches of musical styles, and is — to put it succinctly — cute. It requires some strong lead vocals, and has loads and loads of choral parts. This is why it is a great middle school show. I have the original pop cantata album, and I saw the 1982 tour (with Laurie Beechman  and Bill Hutton) when it was at the newly remodeled Pantages theatre  — in fact, I think it was one of the first shows after the remodeling. Since then, it has been lengthened a little each time it hits Broadway again. This adds material, not depth. But none of this is anything to those who license it can change (but who would deny me the fun of railing against Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber). Further, for most people (and, truthfully, even for me), this is a fun little show.

So, you ask, how did Nobel do with the show. First, please note my observations are based on an Alumni performance — essentially, a preview night. They asked for notes from the audience, which we gave. So I expect that the performances this weekend will be even stronger and better than what I saw. As a result, I will withhold some of the comments on things I expect to be easily resolved by Thursday night. You should also be aware that these kids are not professional actors, singers, or dancers. They are middle school students who have had some training. Their voices are good with glimmers of great and occasions of not-so-great. There are some wonderful dancers (I recall some particularly spectacular ballet moves); and there are some who are a little less so. There are some who give great performances to accompany what they are saying, and there are the occasional few who overemphasize or underplay. But considering these are kids — and we’re talking the 12-14 age group here — they are doing remarkably well. I will say their performances soars over some high school performances I have seen.

Traditionally, in Joseph, the powerhouse player is the narrator. This requires a strong belting voice — something you rarely find in a public middle school. The directors (Fanny Araña, Carolyn Doherty, and Daniel Bellucci) wisely decided to change the single narrator to a quartet. The result worked quite well. The four narrators — Alana DuPre, Amanda Magaña Kamryn Siler, and Rebecca Radvinsky — worked very well together. They sang with good strength and quality, and added strong acting and emoting to their performance (making them quite fun to watch).

At the heart of this show, however, is Joseph (Jake Dalton). Joseph not only is the center of the action, but has quite a few key songs (including some of my favorites, “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do”). As Joseph, Dalton played the role well, and his singing was reasonably good. I kept hearing an odd slightly British accent, which I didn’t know was the student or the coaching. I commented on that, so it might be corrected. There were also some odd phrasings to my ear, but that could just be due to over-familiarity with the original cantata and the 1982 OBC (Original Broadway Cast). Other than being plagued by microphone problems, there were no major issues and Dalton did very good for a student.

Joseph’s brothers (Reuben (Shane “Squishy” Smith); Simeon (Colby Haney); Levi (Arno Nizamian), Judah (Kasha Bansal), Dan (Anthony Tedesco), Naphtali (Jesse “The Rock” Pacheco), Gad (Troy Richman), Asher (Nicholas Aguilar), Issachar (Brandon Moser), Zebulun (Robert Cerda), and Benjamin (Max Chester)) all played their roles well. As they were unamplified, they could use a bit more oomph in the choral numbers (but, again, that may be addressed by opening night — it could also be addressed by increasing the pickup on the drop microphones). A few of the brothers got leads in the songs; I was particularly taken with Smith’s performance in the French Bistro number (“Those Canaan Days”).

The wives (Talia Ballew, Taylor “Cookie” Carlson, Willow Islas, Hannah Protiva, Marena Wisa Wasef, Kennaya Ndu, Ellie Zahedi, Elizabeth Ramos, Daniela Johns, Rachel Khoury, Amanda Macias, Ariana DeLeon) and the chorus (Abigail Beck, Amanda Pipolo, Charlotte Doolittle, Inaya Durfied, Joann Gilliam, Jordyn Lowe, Julia Denny, Rena Rodriguez) were less distinguishable as characters — they are not called out by the story by name, and provide mostly background voices. I did like the chorus in the black leotards, although when they came out carrying the jail cell it looked like a scene from Chicago: The Musical. There were some particularly good dancers in this crew — especially the ones adding ballet moves. Alas, I couldn’t identify the good dancers by name. As with the brothers, a bit more oomph in the choral numbers would be good; drop microphone pickup can be adjusted to compensate. There were also some good performances by the three ensemble members acting as waiters in the French Bistro scene.

Rounding out the cast were the other minor characters: Pharoah (Justin Tuell), Potiphar (Jacob Lipman), Mrs. Potiphar (Brooke Kier), the Baker (David Gomez), the Butler (Spencer Goldman), Jacob (Samuel Katz), and the guards (Kevin Foster, Kyle Kaplan). A few comments here. Tuell was good, but could amp up the Elvis impersonation (one wonders how much this generation even knows about Elvis, sigh….). The character is intended to be overplayed, but less as “the King” and more as “Elvis, the King” (thankyouverymuch). This may be addressed by opening. Kier did some lovely dancing as Mrs. Potiphar; I found it interesting the (necessary) middle school script change of “come and lie with me, love” to “come and be with me, love”. I had forgotten that Jacob was more of a be seen than heard role — he has a snippet of a song in the opening and is thence quiet (although he performed quite well).

Musical direction was by Daniel Bellucci, a Nobel alumni. This was less of a “musical” direction (as in orchestrations) and more in the form of vocal direction. Bellucci had a lot of work to do — a large cast of kids who likely had little to no vocal training, doing a sung-through show. I think he did remarkable. Although there were some odd phrasings at times, and a few kids who had voices that were occasionally off, the result was spectacular for less than a semester’s worth of work and untrained talent. I don’t think you can compare vocal quality here to Equity and trained actors; for what these kids are, they did extremely well (and you’ll be very surprised). The one musical problem was more on the other side: this was intended as a sung-through show, not a typical musical where there is space after each song for applause and scene changes. As a result, the musical transitions were very abrupt and jarring, especially the spaces between songs. Some of this was unavoidable — at a school production, you have to plan for applause after each song (parents and students being proud of their offspring and friends); some might be addressed through some soundtrack editing.

Dance in this show was very good. The choreography, by parent Carolyn Doherty and Alumni students Madison Tilner, Ryan Wynott, and Michael Lertzman (MRM) worked very well. They were able to take advantage of those students with dance training, and even those without formal training moved well.

The remaining aspects of the show were primarily technical. The sets were spectacular, reflecting the transition over the 7 years. They were well constructed, realistic looking, worked well, and established place very very well. Credit goes to long time Set Consultant Dennis Kull, as well as Alumni set designer Ben Tiber assisted by parents and alumni on construction. Props (coordinated by Kamille Flack) also worked well. Costumes worked well — I particularly liked the white outfits worn by the narrators, the black leotards previously mentioned, the Elvis outfit, Jacob’s outfit, and the general desert clothing of that era. No credit is given for costume and makeup design, but the costume lead was Tam Le.

Sound and lights reflect the tremendous growth of this program — even more remarkable when you realize there is no funding support from LA Unified. This is all from parent contributions and grants. The lighting, which in the early days were some side lighting trees on overloaded extension cords and no ability to program lights (or even get to overhead lights) has grown to professional lights, on professional fixtures, with professional software. This worked effectively to build and convey the mood. Credit goes to Lighting Coordinator Terry Meadows, Lighting Designer Artur Cybulski, and Alumni Lighting Consultant Nicholas Carlson. Zarah Shahinian was the crew lead for lighting, and David Manalo and Isabelle Saligumba were the crew leads for spots. Sound is also markedly better than the early days, where there were about three stand-up mikes. Today, there are about 8 wireless microphones, two hanging microphones, and a full sound board. In general, the sound worked well, although there was a balance problem between the music and the voices at times. That may be corrected by opening night. There was also a lot of wireless microphone static, especially on Joseph’s microphone and Pharoah’s microphone. This could be placement or interference; again, I expect it to be corrected by opening. Credit here goes to Sound Consultant (and Alumni) Michael McNabb, assisted by Stephen Rabin (crew lead). There were numerous additional supporting technical credits, which I’m not going to list. I will note that Tam Le also served as stage manager, and David Manalo as house manager.

This was the first show that Fanny produced on her own; well, not really on her own, as she the help of a lot of Alumni, plus her co-directors. She did a great job, but we still miss Jean (Ms. M) (who is off in Vermont on a leave of absence). A birdie says she will be back in town for the weekend performances — we might not stay for the performance, but might just drop by to say “hi”. Fanny deserves kudos for her work on this — pulling middle-school children into a coherent team for a production such as this is worse than herding cats. However, the teams and the relationships that this intense activity builds in the kids changes their lives forever; it also changes the teacher. You could see Fanny last night just soaking up the love that 7 years of students have for her. Financial rewards for teachers are nice and necessary to sustain the family, but my belief is that the best teachers get the sustenance for their heart and spirit from the success and love of their students.

One last thank you to be acknowledged: the Nobel Administration. When this program started, the Nobel administration was at best neutral towards it. This attitude has changed as the program has proved itself. The Tuesday Alumni Night was an experiment that should be continued… for a number of reasons. First, it cements a love of students for their middle school. This is no little thing — our society encourages high school support, but middle school alumni are forgotten (take that, Paul Revere JHS — Pali contacts me, but you… never). Second, it provides the emotional sustenance for those that bring this program to life. Third, it bonds student to student. Fourth, and most importantly — from an administration point of view — it provides the school (which is now a charter school) with an alumni base to provide financial support. Think about the fact that the first cohort of students from this program are just about to graduate with their Bachelors Degrees (my daughter, who was a 7th grader the first year, is a junior). If they love this program, they love the school, and will be there to respond to fundraising appeals. This is no little thing at the middle school level, in a cash-strapped district that cannot afford the extras for the students.

There are four performances of “Joseph“: Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6 at 6:30PM, and Saturday at 2pm. Tickets are $5, available through the Nobel Student Store or at the door. Additional contributions are welcome. Nobel Middle School is located at 9950 Tampa Avenue in Northridge, CA 91324 (Cross-streets are Tampa, Merridy, Vanalden, and Lassen). Enter off of Merridy.

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

There’s no theatre on the books this weekend; I’m heading off to the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) in New Orleans. When I return, it will be “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim in the afternoon, followed by an Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  Ticketed productions pick up in February, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on the weekend of March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.