Observations Along the Road

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

Is A Puzzlement?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Oct 30, 2014 @ 7:22 pm PST

userpic=recordMy wife recently picked up an Israeli CD at an estate sale. While importing that CD into my iPod, my thoughts turned to a puzzlement from many years ago, where I had another Israeli CD. That time, no amount of searching could find me the artist name, album name, or track information. I tried again tonight, and still no luck. So I’m asking you. Below are scans of the front cover and back cover (click on the images for the full size versions). Can you help me figure out album artist, album name, and the track names so I can import this into my iPod?

Unknown Album Cover

Unknown Album Back

[ETA- 11/24/14:]

For those in the future finding this message, my step-brother-in-law transliterated the song titles for me:

  1. Ve Begin | Because of (Aramaic)
  2. Raza Dae Shabat | The Sabbath secret (Raza is Aramaic)
  3. Techiyat Ha’Metim | Resurrection
  4. Ha’Mehara | The Cave
  5. Berich Shemayah | Prayed to God
  6. Eilat Eilat | (like the southern city)
  7. Adam Holech | A person walks
  8. Zevagim | (No such word in modern Hebrew, probably Aramaic)
  9. Zakif | (It has a  double meaning : 1) stalagmite 2) a guard)
  10. HIlulah | (In free translation as there is no specific word for it in English)
  11. Asher Barah | (That he has created)
  12. Hineni | (Here I am) (public celebration in memory of a saintly rabbi)

The album’s title is “Sod Ha-Echad” (Secret of the One), and the artist is Adam. It is a product of the Kabbalah Center, and appears to have something to do with the Zohar.

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Blowing in the Winds

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Oct 29, 2014 @ 6:56 pm PST

LA Symphonic Windsuserpic=folk-guitarIf you recall from my write-up of “Pippin, I said we had two shows this weekend. The second show came about because some friends of ours (the Past President of MoTAS; I’m the current Prez) had the audacity to skip away the weekend of the Golf Tournament to take a cruise to Hawaii. They offered us their tickets, and knowing that my wife loves symphony music, we accepted. As a result, Sunday saw us not only scoping out Calabasas for the location for the tournament, but going to the new Performing Arts Center at Calabasas High for the special LA Symphonic Winds performance “Stars of the LA Winds”.

The 100 piece Los Angeles Symphonic Winds is a community band in Los Angeles. Membership is drawn from the vast pool of gifted Los Angeles-based professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians, many of whom have performed with major symphonies, motion picture and television recording studio orchestras and entertainment-world headliners. The L.A. Winds normally presents a six concert subscription series before sold-out houses in the beautiful Performing Arts Center on the campus of picturesque, suburban Los Angeles Pierce College (but as that is being rebuilt, they were in Calabasas).

The program we saw was part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days concert series, and highlighted select members of the Winds. Here is what was on the program:

  • Suite from “The Big Country”: Main Title; Waltz; Ballad; Scherzo; Finale. Jerome Moross. Arranged by Bob Joles. This was  a collection of scoring music from a motion picture. Quite enjoyable.
  • Concerto for Horn: II – Andante Moderato; III – Allegro. Ralph Hermann. Jennifer Bliman on horn. Another enjoyable piece.
  • Concerto for Euphonium Part I: I- Non troppo allegro; II – Dance: Zeibekikos. Philip Wilby. Neil Jansen on euphonum. Also enjoyable, especially the dance.
  • Concertino for Clarinet, op. 26. Carl Mari von Weber. 9 clarinetists, whom I’m not going to list. The piece itself was OK. The first three pieces were introduced by Sttephen Piazza, director of the Winds, who told the story behind each of them. This piece was conducted by Charles Fernandez, who got up, glared at the audience, and then started without a word of intro.
  • Five Folksongs for Soprano and Band: 1 – Mrs. McGrath; 2 – All the Pretty Little Horses; 3 – Yerakina; 4 – El Burro; 5 – A Fiddler. Bernard Gilmore. Sung by Christina Kushnik Roszhart. I wasn’t that crazy about this piece: folk music doesn’t work that well when sung by an operatic soprano with an orchestral quality fancy band backing. Folk cries for the simplicity. An interesting note discovered writing this piece: Roszhart was married less than two weeks ago — two weeks a newlywed.
  • Finale from “Death and Transfiguration”. Richard Strauss. I like Strauss’s waltzes. This wasn’t a waltz. I wasn’t that crazy about it.

There are far too many members of the Winds to list them all, but you can find them at the Winds Website.

[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.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’ve scheduled “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto for Friday 11/21, and I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, , “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB), or possibly a show at UC Santa Cruz featuring a family friend in the cast or crew. [As a PS on the above: I’m trying to figure out a way to balance “The Immigrant”, the show at Santa Cruz, and Dickens Fair on one weekend. Am I crazy?] As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

Circuses and Magic

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 25, 2014 @ 9:42 pm PST

Pippin (Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaPippin” has one of my favorite scores — I love all the music on the original 1972 cast album, and I’ve seen the show twice in Los Angeles: once in the Reprise 2005 production (with Sam Harris as the Leading Player, Michael Arden as Pippin, Jean Louisa Kelly as Catherine, Mimi Hines as Berthe, and Conrad John Schuck as Charlemange), and once in the East West production (with Marcus Choi as the Leading Player, Ethan Le Phong as Pippin, Meagan McConnell as Catherine, Gedde Watanabbe as Berthe, and Mike Hagiwara as Charlemange). The two were as different as night and day, but served the story well. When I heard that Diane Paulus had reimagined in a Cirque-de-Solais (Circus) style, and after I saw the performance at the 2013 Tony Awards, I knew I had to see it when it came to LA. This, of course, meant toddling down to the Pantage, which we did this afternoon, to see the revival of Pippin.

So what did I think of this retelling of Pippin’s journey. Much of it worked, and much of it worked well. Some things didn’t. Let me give you the basic story, and then we’ll explore the good and the bad.

For those not familiar, Pippin is the story of the son of Charlemagne, King of France. It is the story of Pippin’s search to find meaning in life, egged on by the leading player (and hence, note that the Leading Player is “leading” in the sense of “leading the witness”, not “in the lead”). Pippin wants something extraordinary out of life, not an ordinary existence. He tries to be a soldier, but it is not for him. He visits his grandmother, but her lessons are not for him. He tries the life of physical pleasure. Not for him. He kills his father, but being King is not for him, so his father comes back to life (don’t ask). He tries many different things, including the simple life on a farm. Nothing is extraordinary. Finally, the lead player attempts to egg him on to a glorious finale in flame. But he comes to realize that it is alright to be ordinary, with the love of a good woman and son.

Let’s start with what I didn’t like. First: the hands. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the dancing in general, which was great, nor am I complaining about the use of hands in the dance, which is a Fosse trademark. Rather, they overused hand motions to ill-effect making them seem exaggerated and off. I’ll fault the director on this one. Second: the Leading Player. I liked the sense of the reimagining of the leading player with a bit more of a jazzy take on the songs — that was fine. The problem was: Sasha Allen (FB) just wasn’t up to it. She was good — I’ll give you that — and she had the acting and dance side of the role down pat. The problem is that I grew up with Ben Vereen‘s performance, and I’ve seen Sam Harris in the role. Her voice just doesn’t currently have the sustained power that the role requires: this was clearly evident in “On The Right Track” or in “Glory”, where she kept taking breaths at odd places. Patina Miller, who led the revival, had the requisite power and presence. Ah, the perils of a tour cast. Lastly, they (in my opinion) butchered “War Is A Science” when they reworked it for the revival. The original version, perhaps, had too many echoes of Vietnam that don’t fit as well today, but I just didn’t like the rewording and it made the song off for me.

Let’s go from there to what I did like. First and foremost, the circus addition was spectacular. Pippin has always had the elements and feeling of a circus, and this just brought it, and the magic, to life. As with Bring It On – The Musical, the producers brought in real circus performers as part of the cast, and it worked well. Now they just need to do this to Barnum! Seriously, the additional balance and risk of the performances added a lot to Pippin’s journey. Next, Andrea Martin as Berthe. In the original cast, Berthe was played by Irene Ryan, who everyone knew as Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. She was on stage for the one scene. Subsequent performances have played similarly: older actors on for just that role. As promised in her LA Times article, Martin brought something new and special to Berthe — something I won’t spoil — but it changed her character completely. She was reworked to be part of the characters on stage in a number of group scenes, and it was just great. Third, the other original revival stars: Matthew James Thomas (FB) as Pippin, and John Rubinstein (FB) as Charlemange. Thomas brought a wonderful boyish energy and playfulness to Pippin. His voice wasn’t as strong as some as the other’s I’ve seen, but it worked well for his performance in the role. Rubinstein was the original Pippin in the 1972 production, and he seemed to just be having fun with with this production and the role. Modulo the problems with “War is a Science” (which I blame more on the director and Stephen Schwartz tinkering with the music), he was just fun to watch.

What else worked… and didn’t. I liked the revised ending, with the hint of Theo (Lucas Schultz (FB) at our performance, alternating with Zachary Mackiewicz (FB)) continuing the quest. Schultz, in general, gave off a great “kid” vibe in his few scenes. Lewis (Callan Bergmann (FB)), on the other hand, came off as more playful than menacing — I think my favorite portrayal of Lewis was the one in the East West version, where there was real menace.  I really liked Kristine Reese (FB)’s portrayal of Catherine, but then I seem to love Catherine’s in general (I really liked Jean Louisa Kelly), perhaps because the role is so, ordinary. On the other hand, although Sabrina Harper‘s performance of Fastrada was very strong (and her costume changes and vocal performance during “Spread a Little Sunshine” were amazing), she came off as a little young for a stepmother of Lewis — and not quite as menacing as a Fastrada should be (again, here the East West production excelled).

Hmm, that seems to have covered all the primary players. Rounding out the cast as the players, with additional specialty roles as noted, were: Skyler Adams (FB) (Swing), Sascha Bachmann (FB) (“With You” Hand Balancing), Bradley Benjamin (FB), Dmitrious Bistrevsky (FB), Mark Burrell (FB) (Dance Captain, Swing), Mathew deGuzman (Peasant, Manson Trio), Fernando Dudka (FB) (“With You” Hand Balancing), Mirela Golinska Roche (FB) (Bolero), Kelsey Jamieson (FB), Preston Jamieson (FB) (Bolero), Lisa Karlin (FB) (Noble), Alan Kelly (FB) (Head), Mélodie Lamoureux (FB), Tory Trowbridge (FB), Mackenzie Warren (FB) (Swing), Borris York (FB) (Manson Trio).

Turning to the music side. If you’re not dead, you likely know that Pippin has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (and a book by Roger O. Hirson, although no one ever remembers the book writer of Pippin). If you know Pippin, you likely know that there was lots of uncredited tinkering by Bob Fosse, and a well publicized feud between Fosse and Schwartz. With the revival, Schwartz had the last laugh, and it is unclear if some of the changes to the music were the result of restoring cuts that Fosse made that Schwartz liked. As I noted before, I wasn’t that crazy about some of the changes. Modulo that, it was performed and orchestrated well — kudo’s to Larry Hochman. Music supervision and arrangements were by Nadia DiGiallonardo,  with Music Coordination by John Miller and Music Direction by Ryan Cantwell. Cantwell also led the combination touring and local orchestra, which consisted of, well, a whole lotta people who you probably don’t want me to list and link — I count 14 people!

The choreography by Chet Walker (“in the style of Bob Fosse”), assisted by Associate Choreographers Mark Burrell (FB) and Brad Musgrove, in general, worked very well — with the exception noted above of too many “wow” hands or hands to express emotion. Now Fosse was well known for his use of hands and body parts, but I think this was not only in the style of Fosse, but above and beyond. Other than that, the dance integrated well with the circus performances. Speaking of the circus side of things, that was spectacular — and credit goes to Gypsy Snider of Les 7 doigts de la main. In general, the movement — be it circus performance or dance — was just great to watch. Illusions were by Paul Kieve.

Turning to the technical side: the scenic design of Scott Pask was very clever and evoked the circus feel well; this was aided by the costume design of Dominque Lemieux. The sound design of Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm was clear and crisp — a pleasant surprise at the Pantages! The lighting design of Kenneth Posner worked well in creating mood and illuminating the festivities. Jake Bell was the technical supervisor, Mahlon Kruse was the production supervisor, and Bill Schaeffer was the company manager. Tour casting was by Telsey * Company, with original casting by Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley.

“Pippin” continues at the Pantages through November 9, 2014.

[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.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  October currently has one show remaining: Los Angeles Symphonic Winds (FB) at Calabasas High School on 10/26 (followed by the MoTAS Golf Tournament the next day at the Calabasas Country Club). November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’ve scheduled “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto for Friday 11/21, and I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, , “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB), or possibly a show at UC Santa Cruz featuring a family friend in the cast or crew. [As a PS on the above: I’m trying to figure out a way to balance “The Immigrant”, the show at Santa Cruz, and Dickens Fair on one weekend. Am I crazy?] As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

November 2014 Election Analysis – Part III: The Judges

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 25, 2014 @ 7:06 pm PST

userpic=voteAs I wrote in Part I, which covered the major offices and in Part II, which covered the propositions, the general election is just about a week away, and that means it is time to go through the ballot to revisit how I should vote. I do this afresh each election, and I post my analysis here for you to review. If you disagree, let me know with a convincing reason why I should support the other side. But more importantly, I encourage you to do the same: Go through your sample ballot, where ever you are, and study the candidates and make an informed decision. Put some critical thought behind your vote. Don’t just vote a slate without thinking — on either side. Don’t just vote against the other guy; vote for the positions you like. This is your chance to make a difference. Most importantly, remember to vote. Many many many, and even many more, have given their lives so that you have the ability to vote. Respect them, and exercise your franchise. Even if you disagree with me.

On to Part III: The Judgeships. Often, it is asked why we vote on these — after all, no one knows any of the candidates. It often seems a waste of candidates money; a waste of ballot space; and it opens the judges up to bribes in the form of campaign contributions. We vote on judge because the electorate demanded it: they wanted to be able to throw out judges that they felt were soft on crime, or who ruled the way that didn’t like. In other words, they wanted judges to enforce their political positions, not necessarily the law. So, what do I look for in a judge? Simple:

  • Strong qualifications from respected legal associations
  • Absence of evidence of malfeasance or bias
  • Evidence of strong ethics, and ideally, being governed by the law even if they personally disagree

Do they have to agree with me? No, they have to follow the law. Secondary considerations are encouraging the vision of a judicial body that reflects the makeup of society. We are judged by our peers, and that is more than just the jury. Judges require varied backgrounds to understand and interpret, and that is something not exclusive to white men and white women.

So, as they used to say, “Here come ‘de Judge”. Note that many of these offices are not races; they are confirmations of appointments.

(more…)

November 2014 Election Analysis – Part II: The Propositions

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Oct 23, 2014 @ 11:51 am PST

userpic=voteAs I wrote in Part I, which covered the major offices, the general election is just about two weeks away, and that means it is time to go through the ballot to revisit how I should vote. I do this afresh each election, and I post my analysis here for you to review. If you disagree, let me know with a convincing reason why I should support the other side. But more importantly, I encourage you to do the same: Go through your sample ballot, where ever you are, and study the candidates and make an informed decision. Put some critical thought behind your vote. Don’t just vote a slate without thinking — on either side. Don’t just vote against the other guy; vote for the positions you like. This is your chance to make a difference. Most importantly, remember to vote. Many many many, and even many more, have given their lives so that you have the ability to vote. Respect them, and exercise your franchise. Even if you disagree with me.

(Note: Although this post is posted at lunch, it has been in development since the weekend)

On to Part II: the propositions. Part III, the minor offices, will be in a future post.

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November 2014 Election Analysis – Part I: The Major Offices

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Oct 19, 2014 @ 5:28 pm PST

userpic=voteThe general election is just about two weeks away, and that means I should start going through the ballot to revisit who I should vote for. I do this afresh each election, and I post my analysis here for you to review. If you disagree, let me know with a convincing reason why I should support the other bum. But more importantly, I encourage you to do the same: Go through your sample ballot, where ever you are, and study the candidates and make an informed decision. Put some critical thought behind your vote. Don’t just vote a slate without thinking — on either side. Don’t just vote against the other guy; vote for the positions you like. This is your chance to make a difference. Most importantly, remember to vote. Many many many, and even many more, have given their lives so that you have the ability to vote. Respect them, and exercise your franchise. Even if you disagree with me.

On to the ballot… as this is long, I”m going to split this into three pieces: the major offices, the propositions, and the minor offices.

(more…)

Marital Discord in the Back Woods

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Oct 19, 2014 @ 8:20 am PST

Don't Hug Me, We're Married (The Group Rep)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in August, when I was planning my theatre for October (you can stop laughing now), I noticed a period where my wife would be out of town and I had no theatre booked. “Aha!,” said I, “This is a perfect time to book something my wife might not like.” It turns out I was wrong. Yes, I booked a silly show in a series I had long heard about but never attended. However, it turns out that my wife would completely enjoy it. Luckily, it runs until mid-November, so perhaps she can squeeze it in. By now, you’re probably curious about the show’s identity. Last night I went to the Group Rep (FB) in North Hollywood to see the fifth show in Phil and Paul Olson’s long running “Don’t Hug Me” (FB) series: “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married“, featuring Book and Lyrics by Phil Olson (FB), and Music and Orchestrations by Paul Olson (FB).

Ads for the show describe it as follows:

“Set in a north woods bar in Bunyan Bay MN, plans are on tap for a double wedding. But before the nuptuals transpire, we’ll have to deal with a surprise visitor, two un-Hallmark proposals, an over-zealous wedding planner, a stag and stagette party, uber-mosquitoes, a quirky male stripper, an unhappy bridesmaid, a gigantic hangover, a sexy cheerleader, a rapping minister, and the dreaded wedding dress. One small hitch before the hitchings, they can’t find anyone who will pay for the wedding. What could possibly go wrong?”

What this doesn’t say is that all of the above takes place with a cast of 5.

When the show ended, I kept hearing the same word from others in the audience: “cute”. Indeed, about 10 minutes into the show, that was my one word summary: “cute”. This show is not high art — I don’t think it was intended to be high art (in fact, Phil seems to imply that was the intent in this interview). The songs and dances related to the plot, but they weren’t memorable and at times seemed to stick out (although they were well performed). The plot itself was very humorous, although it wasn’t a joke-a-minute-fest, and some of the recurring gags recurred a little too much. But that’s what this show was: cute humor for small casts; not high art but definitely entertaining. Art snobs wouldn’t like it, but audiences would enjoy it. It wasn’t “donuts for dinner” (as defined in “[title of show]“), but it wasn’t a gourmet meal either. It was Applebees, ummm no, it was Cracker Barrel. A filling meal, a tasty meal, a meal you enjoy when you eat it even if the surrounding are a bit corny…. but a meal that you didn’t choose because of the nutrition.

But on the way home a realization hit me: Although the presentation was a little corny, the underlying subject wasn’t — in fact, the underlying subject was something I had just been thinking about. Let me explain. My favorite little theatre, Repertory East (FB), loves to do a lot of fundraisers where you dress up: tux, tails — in fact, next week they are doing a full costume event (FB). I never go to these. I rarely get dressed up (the last time I wore a tux was my wedding); I never go out dancing. I don’t bring my wife flowers or do the spontaneous romance. In other words: I’m just like Gunner in this show. I’m not a romantic. On the other hand, my wife is like Clara. She’d love the romantic gesture (once she picked herself off the floor). She’s probably silently disappointed in my lack of romance. Yet we both love each other dearly — just like Gunner and Clara do in this show. On the other hand, there are couples just like Bernice and Aarvid in this show: couples deeply in love, who will make any gesture to show it. They wear their love on the outside; they have the courage to express it and it just shines away.

Although this show has a cotton-candy exterior, at its heart it is appealing simply because people see themselves in it. They see themselves so much they just start cheering for the characters. You want these characters to end up happy. It is this tender and sentimental heart that makes this show work. So what if an intuitive karaoke machine provides silly music with a look and a nod. So what if you suspend your disbelief when the dances come out and the singing starts. That’s the nature of this beast, don’tcha know.

The basic plot of the show is this: On the one side, you have Clara and Gunner: married for 20 years with the typical long-married blues. They are having a contest on who can be the better spouse. On the other side is Bernice, who has just decided to marry Aarvid. This upsets Kanute, who wants to marry Bernice. Thrown into the mix is Trigger (who is played by the same actor who plays Gunner, but in female clothing, explaining why the two are never seen in the same place at the same time and a number of other wink wink nudge nudge jokes — a running joke), who wants to marry Kanute. A double wedding is arranged, with predictible sitcom results and outcomes. This basic story, as I’ve noted before, is cute and sitcomish, but it is fun to watch.

The songs and accompanying dances range from silly to, ummm, sillier. None of the songs stick with you afterwards, although a number are very cute (there’s that word again): in particular “The Day That Bob Dylan Was Here”, “It’s All Comin’ Together” (notable for the clever passage of time), and the “Bunyan Bay High School Fight Song”. There was one number that truly made me suspend disbelief titled “We Are Gathered Here Today”, but I won’t spoil the twist.

One last note on the show itself: I fear that this series may depend too much on people knowing the recurring jokes and motifs from the previous episodes. In fact, if you read the synopsis of the past shows on the series website, you’ll see that all of the plays involve the same five characters in different situtations. That’s great if you’re a fan of the series; it makes it harder to get into if you’re thrown  into the latest incarnation without knowing the backstories and relationships that underlie some of the humor. Essentially, this is a musical sitcom on stage: the first show or two introduced you to the characters in depth, but the rest build upon your prior knowledge of these characters and their quirks. If you come into the show in the middle, it takes a while to warm up, and sometimes you wonder why people are laughing. Multi-part stories rarely work in the theatre; when they do, they are designed to also work as standalone pieces (Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach trilogy is an example of that, as are August Wilson’s works). Pure sequels (cough, Annie 2, cough, Bring Back Birdie) often don’t work as well, but usually that is because they try to repeat the same jokes and structure as the original. Having not seen the earlier incarnations, I can’t assess how much of that is the case for this play (but it surely seems to be based on the other play’s synopses).

The performances were very good. I was particularly smitten by both female leads: Truett Jean Butler (FB) as Bernice and Rebekah Dunn† (FB) as Clara. Butler just had some quality that drew me to her — I don’t know if it was her face, her expressions, her emotions — but my eye was just drawn to her character. Similarly, Dunn had that weary long married look of exasperation I know so well :-); and she had a completely different look in the second act when she let her hair down that gave the real demonstration of how love endures in a long term marriage. As my wife says, “Divorce never, murder frequently”. Both had good singing voices but came across a tad week — I think that was more the nature of the songs and the orchestrations than anything else. It would be interesting to see them in a caberet performance.
(†: In previous shows, this actor appears to have been credited as Rebekah Brown Czarnecki)

The male performers were equally strong — in particular Don Schlossman (FB) in his dual roles as Gunner and Trigger (which must be exhausting). Bert Emmett (FB) was good in his comic relief role as Kanute. Lastly, Troy Whitaker (FB) gave off a lovely boyish naive charm as Aarvid. Again all sang well but not strong due to the nature of the songs.

The direction, by Doug Engalla (FB) assisted by Natalia Santamaria (FB), worked reasonably well to make the characters as believable as possible given the story and the setup. The dance, under the choreography of Stan Mazin (FB), seemed simple. On the one hand, these are supposed to be patrons and owners of a backwoods bar in Minnesota — you’re not going to be seeing anything fancy there (unless it is with a moose). On the other hand, however, the simplicity of the dance and the nature of the movement made the songs stand out that much more: they became more like novelty numbers than seemlessly integrated. I can’t help but wonder if a different approach to the movement might have made the songs fit in a little better. Perhaps not. It could just be that is the nature of this particular beast. They do grow them strange in the back woods.

Turning to the technical side: The set design by Chris Winfield (FB) evoked the backwoods bar well; evidently, there were hidden homages to the past instances of the series. In any case, it was a well done set. This combined with costumes by Jocelyn Finn that again evoked backwoods Minnesota well, including some cute costumes for Trigger and Bernice. Steve Shaw (FB)’s sound design provided appropriate sound effects, although the music itself was a bit electronic. The lighting design by J. Kent Inasy was simple and mostly, umm, white; no particular instance of using light to create or enhance mood stands out to me.  The show was produced by Laura Coker (FB).

There’s one other technical credit I want to call out: Nora Feldman, who did public relations. Nora didn’t get me to this show; in fact, by the time she sent me the press release I already had tickets for the show (for some reason, I’m on a number of lists for theatre press release). Nora did, however, respond to me when I asked if she could coordinate a ticket donation for the upcoming MoTAS Charity Golf Tournament, and that enabled me to meet Bert Emmett, the President of the Group Rep Board of Directors. I had a delightful conversation with Bert after the show about theatre and such. So I thank Nora and Bert: both for making the donation (for which MoTAS thanks you), and for taking the time to talk to me (which I appreciate).

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” continues at  the Group Rep (FB) until November 15. Tickets are available through  the Group Rep (FB) box office, and discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. The remainder of  the Group Rep (FB) season looks interesting: the farce “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (December 12, 2014-January 25, 2015); “Tiger by the Tail” (March 6-April 9, 2015), “Love Again” (a set of three mini-musicals) (May 15-June 28, 2014), and “Lombardi” (July 24-September 6, 2015). I particularly want to see that last show, “Lombardi“.

[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.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  October currently has two shows remaining: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, and the Los Angeles Symphonic Winds (FB) at Calabasas High School on 10/26 (follows by the MoTAS Golf Tournament the next day at the Calabasas Country Club). November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

 

Saturday News Chum: Better Late than Never

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 18, 2014 @ 3:36 pm PST

Observation StewI know, I’ve been abnormally quiet the last two weeks. Combine business travel, coming back with a cold, a busy week, and planning for a golf tournament (you can still sign up to play) and… whew! Still, I’ve got a few articles accumulated:

  • Passwords. Passwords of the bain of our existence online. For the longest time, I resisted the pull of password managers, keeping my passwords on a card in my wallet in 4 pt type or smaller, with only a code for the account and the password. Even that got unmanagable, and based on the recommendations of a number of others, I went with Lastpass. That’s all in the way of leadin to this article on what you should consider in a password manager. I looked for one that never handled the decrypted password vault in the cloud, and that could support two-factor authentication. It has certainly moved me in the direction of having longer and stronger passwords, which is a good thing. What is annoying, however, are the large number of accounts out there that do not provide anyway to change your passwords once established. Here’s a related useful article on how to enable two-step authentication on almost everything.
  • Getting the Youth. The Golf Tournament I mentioned above is for the Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom. We have a problem: often, when I’m in a meeting, I’m the youngest in the room. How do we get college age kids active and involved? Here’s an interesting article from the Forward on Open Hillel, and how they got young folks back. Interesting thoughts. Intellectual debate about religion. Whou’da thunk it? :-)
  • Abandoned Malls. I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl”, but here’s an interesting article on the abandoned mall in the movie — which is in Southern California. Abandoned things are interesting — I still remember as a young child of perhaps 12 or 13 visiting some abandoned homes near my grandmothers in West LA that were about to be torn down. I go to that block today (1 block south of Santa Monica off Veteran) and all those homes have been replaced by large apartments. I still see the homes.
  • A Nobel Cause. I almost had a theme to post here last week: I had an article on how to dissolve your Nobel prize, and an article about carrying a Nobel prize through an airport. Never could find a third Nobel prize article.
  • Halloween Ideas. Seen on the news: The Teal Pumpkin campaign to indicate houses safe for those with food allergies.
  • Microsoft Patches. Lastly, I lost a good hour this week to failed Microsoft patches. I warned folks on Facebook, but here’s an article on the problem from Information Week.