Observations Along the Road

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

Mothers Day News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 11, 2014 @ 4:43 pm PDT

Observation StewYou know you want to take your mother to dinner. But what will you talk about? Here’s a bunch of news chum stew items, accumulated over the last two weeks (I’ve been busy, what can I say) that might just do:

  • Size Matters. Here’s a great discussion topic for your mom… or for “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. A recent study has shown that, the larger your penis, the greater the likelihood that your wife will cheat on you. In particular, according to this study, every one inch longer penis increased the likelihood of women being involved in extra-marital partnership by almost one-and-half times. I think I’ll leave the subject at that and go on to the next subject…
  • Got Gas? Here’s some more useful information. Remember “Beans Beans They’re Good for the Heart”. Well, it turns out that lots of gas is a sign of a healthy biome in your gut. This reminds me of a joke from Jason Alexander. It seems there was this long married couple whose sex life was in the dumps (see item #1). The wife went to a sex counselor, who suggested they try 69. She came home and explained it to her husband. They got in bed and in the position…. and she ripped a good one. After the air had cleared, they tried it again… and she ripped another one. They were about to try it again when the husband said, “you think I’m going to do this 67 more times, you’re crazy”.
  • It’s the Place To Be. Yup, that Farm Living is the life for me. If this makes you think of Green Acres, you’re not along. There are plans for a Broadway stage play adaptation of the hicksville TV show originally starring Eddie Albert and Eva GaborThe rights to the property were acquired by director Richard L. Bare, who was one of the most prolific helmers on the original series, and by producer Phillip Goldfine through his production company Hollywood Media Bridge.
  • Cramming It In. Sony is working on new technology that will cram 3,700 blue-rays into a single cassette tape. Actually, that’s a little misleading — we’re not talking here about a C-60 or a C-90, but a specially designed cartridge. Still, the technology is intriguing: a whopping 148 GB per square inch, meaning a cassette could hold 185 TB of data. Sony uses a vacuum-forming technique called sputter deposition to create a layer of magnetic crystals by shooting argon ions at a polymer film substrate. The crystals, measuring just 7.7 nanometers on average, pack together more densely than any other previous method. The result is that three Blu-Rays’ worth of data can fit on one square inch of Sony’s new wonder-tape.
  • A Touching Story. Here’s a very touching story about a late night encounter in a supermarket, told by Mark Evanier.
  • Anything But Starbucks. A touching obituary for Herman Hyman, founder of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain. This chain, which roasts its beans in Ventura County, started in a small store on San Vicente Blvd in Brentwood in the 1970s. I think, in fact, that it started not far from my first condo.
  • Buildings Up, Buildings Down. Two interesting buildings in the news. First, the plans have been announced for the former furniture store space across from the Pasadena Playhouse. Should be an interesting project; it will be interesting to see how it changes the character of that area. In Las Vegas news, approval has been given to finally take down the Harmon. If you aren’t familiar with the Harmon, it is the oval blue-glass coated skyscraper next to the Aria and Vdara, across from Planet Hollywood and the Cosmopolitan. It was built wrong and is unstable, but they can’t implode it because it is too close to other stuff. They have to take it down piece by piece. Now if only they could do something with the Fountainbleau, which is an even bigger eyesore on the N end of the strip (where the Thunderbird once was).

 

FacebookTwitterTumblrGoogle+LinkedInLiveJournalStumbleUponEmailPinterestMySpaceShare/Bookmark

Mothers Day Reflections

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 11, 2014 @ 12:43 pm PDT

nancyuserpic=young-meI tend not to think of my mother.

There are many reasons for this. My mother wasn’t your typical mother, at least later in my life when I most remember her. One of the first female CPAs in California, she was much more focused on clients and business than being nurturing. She also had her demons: misplaced blame for my brother’s death at age 18 (when I was 10) led her to abuse alcohol and prescribed medication (as well as cigarettes). She also liked to control people, which created significant chafing between us in my early college years. By my later college years, her abuses had led to problems that ultimately took her life.

And yet….

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been doing more research into the family history. I’m beginning to see that she was a very different person when I was little, and that my brother’s death triggered a sea change in her personality that did her in, and created a long term alienation of affection from me. But I can also see that, had modern treatments for depression (and improved diagnosis approaches) been there in the early 1970s when this all started, things could have turned out very differently. I think this shows the importance of not living with depression, but getting it treated.

I’m also starting to see where I take after her, as opposed to my father. In many ways, I think the skills I use at work everyday come from my mother: the attention to detail, the sense of when some detail in intuitively wrong, and some of my facility with numbers. Alas, I didn’t inherit her sense for business — I’m more like my dad in that way, with no desire to be off on my own.

Still, it is useful to think about our mothers on this day. We all have them — its a biological requirement. Whether they are involved in our lives is up to us, yet even if they are not involved we cannot distance ourselves from them. We inherit — by nature or nuture — traits from both are parents. We have no choice in this matter. Understanding that is important.

Whatever the involvement of your mother in your life, and whatever your relationship to her, let’s thank her for at least bringing you into this world.  Those of you have have had better relationships, and to the degree you’ve had better relationships, you are blessed. And to those of you with the thankless job of being mothers (at least from your children, who never seem to send a card), thank you. Your hard work is appreciated.

Some Things Never Change

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 11, 2014 @ 10:38 am PDT

The Lion in Winter (Colony)userpic=colonyToday is Mothers Day. Some people honor their mothers. Some people cherish their mothers. Others just tolerate their mothers, and some have outright hatred for their mothers. However, in general, the normal loving family is, well, boring. You want interest, bring on the dysfunction. Bring on the obsessions. Bring on the hatreds. The entertainment industry knows this. When was the last time you saw a completely normal functional family on television? The Waltons, perhaps? Similarly, in the theatre, we like to watch dysfunctional families. They are at the heart of many of the best comedies (including quite a few we’ve seen recently, such as “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike“, “God of Carnage“, and many more. But the disfunctional family is nothing new. James Goldman‘s 1966 play, “The Lion in Winter” (currently at the Colony Theatre in Burbank) is about one such family.

The Lion in Winter” tells the story of King Henry II and the Christmas Court in Chinon in 1183. Henry has released his queen, Eleanor of Aquataine, from her imprisonment for the holidays. The story focuses on the battle between Henry, Eleanor, and their three sons — Richard the Lionhearted, Geoffrey, and John — for who will be the next King of England. Henry wants John, a foolish young man to succeed him; Eleanor wants Richard, and Geoffrey… just wants to be noticed. Added into the mix is Alais, the King’s mistress and fiancee of Richard, and Philip, the young King of France, who wants the marriage to take place immediately. The play centers around all the sniping and intrigue that goes along with such succession battles — especially battles where each of the principals has a love/hate relationship with each of the other principals, and each has the rhetorical dagger at the ready to slash at those who are currently not favored.

This is a play whose story is loaded with humorous dialogue, fury, history, anger and betrayal… but ultimately leaves one with an empty feeling. Although the performances are glorious, one wonders at the end what growth has occurred in the characters. Henry certainly hasn’t grown — his feelings for Eleanor haven’t changed and she is going back to prison. He is more disillusioned in his sons than before, but still realizes that he will need to choose whichever is the lesser of the evils. The sons themselves haven’t changed from their stereotypes: Richard is still quick to make war; Geoffrey is still the schemer; and John is still the fool. Eleanor hasn’t changed: she still wants her son Richard on the throne, and is reconciled to a continual battle with Henry. Alais is still the mistress, but recognizes her role as pawn. Perhaps Philip is the only one who has matured. With no ultimate character growth, and no clear point to be made, this is 2½ hours of witty dialogue, signifying very little other than the chance for some great actors to have fun with the words.

Have fun they do. In the lead positions are two strong players, Ian Buchanan (FB) as Henry II and Mariette Hartley as Eleanor of Aquataine. These two come off as appropriately regal, and have an excellent way of using the nuance of phrasing to bring out the knives. Their sparring is fun to watch. This should be no surprise: Hartley is a master at witty repartee given the right foil, and Buchanan serves well in this stead.

The younger contingent are no slouches either. Henry and Eleanor’s sons are played by Brendan Ford (Richard), Doug Plaut (FB) (John), and Paul Turbiak (FB) (Geoffrey). Each portrays each brother with the broad brush required by the story: Richard as the brash warrior who thirsts to be king; John as the foolish young man who delights in teasing others that he is Henry’s chosen to be king; and Geoffrey as the schemer behind the scenes who really just wants to be noticed for his talents. They are all played well. As Alais, Justine Hartley (FB) (Mariette’s daughter) plays well off of Buchanan and her mother; her interactions with the others are more limited. Perhaps the most interesting portrayal is Paul David Story as Philip. Story captures the young French king well — initially seeming naive in his youth, but hiding quite a bit of inner strength that comes out later in the story.

In non-speaking roles are Desa Julia Ilic (FB), Shannon O’Hara/FB, and Nick Vogels/FB as the castle servants. It was a surprise and delight to see Shannon on the stage — we’ve known her for quite a few years. Shannon is the younger sister of one of our daughter’s good friends. She’s currently at LACHSA, and it was just wonderful to see her on the stage. We waited afterwards to talk to her — the director was one of her high school teachers and chose her for this production, and she’s earning points towards an equity card from this. This is one of the benefits of Colony and how they treat their actors, and we’re glad that Shannon is getting this career boost.

The production was directed by Stephanie Vlahos, who kept the story moving alone. As I’ve said many times, in a good production it is difficult to see where the direction ends and the actor begins; that was the case here.

The scenic design by David Potts was a suitably drafty and old castle, with the requisite tapestries to hide behind, the stone blocks, the candles, and such. Costume design was by Kate Bergh and seemed appropriate for the character; whether they were appropriate for the period was harder to judge, but hey, this is theatre. Jared A. Sayeg (FB) did the lighting with the usual high quality, and Drew Dalzell (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects and music. Properties were by John McElveney (FB). Dale Alan Cooke (FB) was the stage manager.

The Lion in Winter” plays for one more weekend (i.e., until May 18). It’s a fun show if you like to watch dysfunctional families in history. Tickets are available through the Colony Box Office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. The Colony Theatre is also having a Costume and Prop Sale the weekend of May 30; this also includes some signed posters by Ray Bradbury for The Martian Chronicles. The Colony Theatre has also announced the 2014-2015 season. The season consists of 5 shows: (♦) “Family Planning” by Michelle Kholos Brooks (July 12-August 10, 2014), a comedy about putting a lot of relatives in the same space (stated as a World Premiere, although it was done by PRT in 2012); (♦) “What I Learned in Paris” by Pearl Cleage, a comedy about lovers in Atlanta in 1973 (West Coast Premiere); (♦) “Handle With Care” by Jason Odell Williams, a story about “love, fate, and the importance of GPS-enabled tracking devices” (West Coast Premiere); (♦) “The Road to Appomattox” by Catherine Bush, a drama about Lee’s final retreat to Appomattox (West Coast Premiere), and “Words by: Ira Gershwin & The Great American Songbook” by Joseph Vass (lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Music by Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and George Gershwin), a jukebox musical about Ira Gershwin (Los Angeles Premiere). Subscription prices run around $175 for the set of shows (at least for where we sit on a Saturday night). Subscription information for the season is here.

[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:  Next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next weekend brings the musical Lil Abner” at LA City College (directed by Bruce Kimmel, with choreography by Kay Cole). The last weekend of May is currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. 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.

Can’t Stop These Kids

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 11, 2014 @ 9:02 am PDT

Hairspray (Nobel Charter Middle School)userpic=nobelYesterday was a double theatre day. The first show was at one of our favorite amateur venues: Nobel Charter Middle School. Our daughter went to Nobel; she was involved with their theatre arts program from the beginning of its revitalization about 7 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen this program grow and grow, improving sets, lights, sound. The Spring 2014 production of “Hairspray” was one of their most astounding productions to date. Although not perfect (after all, these are middle school students at a school not dedicated to theatre), the potential talent here was a delight to see.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the musical Hairspray is based on the John Waters film of 1988. The story concerns a “hefty” teenager in Baltimore MD in the early 1960s. Not a stellar student, she lives to dance on the Corny Collins TV show (think “American Bandstand”). She also has no problem with integration, and works to integrate the show… which causes a furor in 1962 Baltimore. This non-musical movie was made into a musical stage production in 2002, with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. That production won many Tony awards, and was remade as a movie musical in 2007. You can find the full synopsis here, if by some chance you haven’t seen one of those incarnations. When I first saw the production in 2004 at the Pantages, I thought that this musical would have a long life on the amateur stage (high school). It appears I was right — this month alone there are numerous productions in Los Angeles (in addition to Nobel, the LA Weekly had an ad for a Venice HS production next weekend).

Watching the musical on the Nobel stage, one of the things that struck me were the changes that were made. Part of these changes were due to the fact that Nobel licensed the “Junior” version, which tones down a lot of the sexual innuendo and implications for a more “pure” middle/high-school audience. Examples of these changes were the reworking of lines like “they padded their cups, but I screwed the judges”. Some songs were removed (such as “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful”), and others were either shortened or reworked slightly. These changes I can understand, although the purest in me chafes a bit (and believes that, at least in Los Angeles, the students would understand all of what was cut — perhaps this is more to protect the parent’s impression of their students). The other change was a bit more interesting. During the opening, I noticed they changed “negro days” to “ethnic days”. When I inquired about this change, I discovered that it was made because the program didn’t have enough African-Americans to fill all of those roles. This was discussed in the class, which decided to make the change to “ethnic” (the other word debated was “minority”). I found this a telling observation on LA Unified, as well an interesting teaching opportunity. For those unfamiliar with LA Unified’s history, in the 1970s busing divided the district. There was much white-flight to the valley, who objected to inner-city students being bused to their lily-white districts. Those of us who lived through the era remember the fights that ensured. [As an important aside, I'll note that the fights were not over Hispanics attending the schools; "inner-city" was a euphemism for blacks]. Magnet schools were created not as an educational quality mechanism, but an integration mechanism: supposedly the programs would be so good they would act as “magnets” to draw minorities voluntarily to the valley, and to draw whites to the inner city. It is a telling reflection of both the effectiveness of magnets, and the changing demographics of Los Angeles and its population,  that the Nobel program had to change to “ethnic”. The second aspect of this was the fact that the historical fights in Baltimore were not over mixed “ethnic” dancing, but specifically black/white dancing. Although there are shows where color-blind casting can work (I’ve heard tell of it being done for “Once on This Island“), there are others where it just breaks the story. I hadn’t realized when I first saw it that “Hairspray” was one of those shows. I shudder to think how this show is tackled in the states on the great plains. Interesting thoughts (and probably ones the rest of the audience didn’t notice).

Janelle Miller. Link from Benjamin Timor's public Facebook albumAs I wrote earlier, the performances in this show were just astounding. Most astounding was the lead, a young lady named Janelle Miller, as Tracy Turnblad. For someone so young, she had a powerhouse voice and handled her songs with ease, grace, and fun. She also gave a strong dramatic performance, and seemed to be having a wonderful time with the character. You knew this young lady was great from her first unhesitating notes of “Good Morning, Baltimore”. I hope this young lady goes far in all her endeavors — she has loads of talent.

The rest of the leads weren’t shlumps either. Another strong performer was Alana Gardett DuPre as Little Inez Subbs, who also demonstrated a great singing voice in her numbers, as well as a great performance presence.  Also giving great performances were Matthew Bacon as Link Larkin, Andrzej Krassner-Cybulski as Seaweed Stubbs, Harry Harutyunyan as Wilbur Turnblad, and Morgan Knight as Edna Turnblad. All were very good in their musical numbers, and inhabited their characters quite well. Bacon had a nicely suave performance as Link and handled numbers like “It Takes Two” quite well; similarly Krassner-Cybulski’s handled Seaweed’s number (“Without Love”) well. The Turnblads (Harutyunyan and Knight) did a spectacular job with “(You’re) Timeless to Me”. I do need to make a comment regarding Edna Turnblad, however, completely unrelated to Ms. Knight’s performance (which was great). The traditional casting for Edna is as a man playing a woman, echoing the original casting of Divine in the role (Harvey Fierstein in the stage musical). Casting a woman in the part breaks a number of jokes in the songs, which play up Edna’s non-traditional size and non-traditional looks. It was interesting to see how the effect changed with a lady in the role.

Continuing with the leads who gave good performances: Rounding out the lead positions were Claire Frankland (Penny Pingleton), Emily Alexander (Amber Von Tussle), Rebecca Radvinsky (Velma Von Tussle), Justin Tuell (Corny Collins), and Jasmine Moore (Motormouth Mabel). All of these young men and women played their characters well and acquitted themselves well in their musical numbers.

Of the remaining large cast, there are a few additional performances I would like to highlight. The three Dynamites, Aaminah Babatunde-Bey (Judine), Alishia Maghreiva (Kamilah) and Joann Gilliam (Shayna) gave a very strong musical performance; whichever of them did the primary vocal on “I Know Where I’ve Been” was astounding. As the matron, Rose Meyers was a bit hesitant at first, but hit the final notes of “The Big Dollhouse” with surprising power and clarity. Lastly, Frenchy Wane was fun to watch for the enthusiastic way she attacked the role of the gym teacher.

Rounding out the large cast were: Jennifer Sarkisian (Prudy Pingleton); the Council members: Max Chester (Brad), Rachel Khoury (Tammy), Braden Harness (Fender), Kamryn Siler (Brenda), Jason Foster (Sketch), Charlotte Doolittle (Shelly), Ryan Wynott (IQ), Leanne Langston / Taylor “Cookie” Carlson [Sat. Matinee] (Luanne); the studio crew: Troy Richman (Orville), Brendon Harrington (Cobbs), Jacob Lipman (Nibblet); Emilio “Bongo” Godinez (Newscaster/Principal); Eli Leyberman (Mr. Pinky), Emma Cassella and Talia Ballew (Mr. Pinky’s assistants, Violet and Rosie); Brett Jariabek (Prison Guard); the detention students: Michelle Villalobos (Beatnik Chick), Kennaya Ndu (Lorraine), Jessie “The Rock” Pacheco (Gilbert), Fernanda Lopez (Cindy Watkins), David Gomez (Thad), Shawn Wadhwani (Duane), Spencer Goldman (Stooie), Juliana Barba (Tamika), Devine Moore (Dominique), and Marena Wisa-Wasef (Tanya); and the citizens of Baltimore/high school students: Nancy Turmell (Wendy), Leila Musleh (Tina), Gigi Mkchyan (Nicki), Emily Borses (Katie), Jake Dalton (Danny), Sammy Wane (Jeannie), Anthony Sottile (Johnnie), Taylor Carlson (Cookie), Willow Islas (Carrie), Hannah Protiva (Fancy), Robert Cerda (Barrrry), and Brandon Moser (Denny).

Choreography was by Carolyn Doherty, assisted by Madison Tilner (9th grade) and Ryan Wynott (8th grade), with Harry Harutyunyan, and Leanne Langston as Dance Captains. The dancing was quite good, considering that most of these kids are probably not skilled dancers. Daniel Bellusci (12th grade) as music director, assisted by Iona Della Torre. The music was prerecorded and likely supplied by MTI.

Turning to the technical side: every Nobel production improves upon the previous ones in these areas. From the early days of simple sets and backdrops, just a few lights on overloaded extension cords, and barely audible sound, yesterdays productions was 1000 times better. Professional quality sets were designed by Dennis Kull and constructed by Huan “Papa” Chu, Barrrrrry Borses, and Roman Jariabeck, with significant period props that Nobel has never had before. Artur Cybulski‘s lighting design was spectacular, and I thought I saw a few new LED lights on the stage. This, folks, is where your donation dollars go, so donate if you can. The sound was the best of any Nobel production to date — credit should go to Isaijah Johnson (9th grade) and his sound crew who miked the performers well, tuned the auditorium, and ensured there was no difficulty in hearing people. The costumes by the Nobel Drama Mamas seemed appropriately period.

A special call-out to the folks who did publicity on this one: the poster (designed by Michelle Franks) was one of the best ones yet, providing performance dates, prices, and addresses. Katelyn Bauer also made a wonderful promotional video (follow the link — it really is good). This was the first show that Nobel had formal tickets and prices. This is a good thing, but may have impacted donations. I suggest, for the future, that they raise prices (Venice HS was charging $10 at the door, and Van Nuys has charged $10 in the past, and I think this performance was better than any HS performances), and consider a higher price yet for better seating. To address the fears for the parents of students that cannot afford, vouchers for a discounted “parent price” could be provided. Those who can should consider writing a check to this program — contact Fanny Araña for a donation address or mail a check to the school to her attention.

Fanny and JeanThe production was produced by Fanny Araña and directed by Jean Martellaro (assisted by Harry Harutyunyan (8th grade)). Fanny and Jean have been the cornerstone of this program since its inception. They have inspired hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students with their energy and enthusiasm. They are examples of what teachers should be.

Alas, the last performance of “Hairspray” was last evening.  Keep an eye on Nobel Middle School for an announcement of their Fall 2014 production.

[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:  Following “Hairspray“, we went to Burbank to see “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB). That write-up will be posted shortly. Next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next weekend brings the musical Lil Abner” at LA City College (directed by Bruce Kimmel, with choreography by Kay Cole). The last weekend of May is currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. 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.

 

We’re Alone in the Woods. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 07, 2014 @ 11:47 am PDT

Evil Dead The Musical (V Theatre)userpic=las-vegasLast night, we saw our third show in Vegas: “Evil Dead: The Musical” (FB). This is a musical I’ve been wanting to see for a while — I’ve had the CD on my iPod since 2009, and I’ve gotten a hoot out of the 2006 original off-Broadway cast. Sirc Michael’s production (FB) of the show at the V/Saxe Theatre Complex (FB) in the Desert Passage Mall Miracle Mile Mall has been running a while (I think they said it is the longest running production of the show), and our visit was an opportunity to finally put the show with the music. I’m glad I did, and modulo a few problematic areas, the show is a hoot and well worth seeing. Be careful, however, if you are in the first few rows.

As you may have surmised, “Evil Dead: The Musical” is a parody of all the slasher horror films, and particularly the Evil Dead franchise. Reading through the summary of the films (which I actually have never seen), it is about 80% of the original Evil Dead movie, 80% of the sequel Evil Dead II,  and perhaps 10% of Army of Darkness. The story concerns five college students: Ash, an S-Mart Housewares Employee; Linda, his girlfriend; Cheryl, Ash’s younger sister; Scotty, Ash’s best bud and friend; and Shelly, a girl Scotty picked up at a nearby bar three days ago. They are going off to break into an abandoned cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. When they arrive at the cabin, they start to hear odd voices, and while investigating, discover a copy of the Sumarian Necronomicon (Book of the Dead), a number of weapons (axe, historical knife, gun), and a recording in the cellar. Playing the recording unleases the demons… and one by one each gets possessed and killed in various bloody and punny ways. That’s the basic story that come in from the original movie. The sequel comes in through the introduction of Annie (daughter of the cabin’s owner); Ed, her boyfriend; and Jake, their guide to the cabin. They eventually make their way there and discover Ash and all the dead bodies. Not surprisingly, they start to get possessed as well, and things get even bloodier. Eventually, Ash (who cut off his hand when it turned evil) mounts a chainsaw on his hand (hence, the picture) and starts killing every demon in sight. But demons never stay dead, do they?

Before I go into the production itself, a few words about the theatre itself. As you know if you know me, we go to theatre very regularly. When a show is called for a particular time, we’re used to being able to go into the theatre about ½ hour before the show. We’re used to getting a program that lists the actors and provides their credits. There was none of that here. We were told to arrive at 9pm to start lining up for a 10pm show. We arrived about 8:50pm, and were directed upstairs to the bar area (others arriving later were evidently lined up and had souvenir pictures taken — we’re glad we missed the pictures, but the V Theatre needs a consistent process). Eventually, the groups combined upstairs… and waited. The previous show, Zombie Burlesque, was running late. When you added in their picture process, we didn’t enter the theatre until around 10:15 pm, and the show didn’t start until around 10:30 pm. There was no communication of this delay to the audience. We entered the theatre — with no program being handed out (luckily, I learned from talking to a staff member that credits were available online). These are all correctable problems — and they should be addressed to provide a good audience experience.

Back to the show itself. This show is a cheesy and fun parody. If that’s the type of show you enjoy, you’ll get a kick out of this. There is loads of profanity, but words only — this is not risque in what you see (at least in terms of sex). The violence and gore is very cartoonish. As for the parody itself … I happen to enjoy parody musicals. I’ve seen quite a few, from Brain from Planet X, to Silence: The Musical, to Triassic Parc: The Musical, to … This is pretty good on the parody scale: it amps up the silliness of the original concept, grabs and exaggerates the recognizable parts of the original movies, and most importantly … it knows what it is. The cast has fun with this, playing with the puns and the humor. It is clear they enjoy their work, and get a kick about giving the audience a good show and a good time. This probably is why this show gets such reviews — it isn’t perfect, but it is fun. If you want polish, go see Elton John or Rock of Ages. One other thing that I appreciated is that, at least based on the cast album, this production included the entire show (including the intermission). This is rare for a Las Vegas Strip production — most of the shows do slightly cut-down versions for audiences that can’t sit for longer than 90 minutes with no intermission.

This show advertises itself as “4D”. That’s not a count of the deaths :-). Rather, it refers to the fact that if you are in the first few rows, you will get wet. They give T-Shirts to the official “splash zone”, but with the amount of liquid they drench you in, don’t wear something you care about. The actors seem to enjoy drenching the audience in the front. Note that there may be a little overspray, so be prepared.

The performances themselves were quite good. In the lead position was Ben Stobber (FB). Stobber has won awards for this performance, and it is easy to see why. I’ve written before about how I enjoy it when actors take a role, inhabit it, and have fun with it — and Stobber is clearly doing that with this role. Although he had one or two minor off notes, they get lost in the overall effectiveness of his performance. I also found it interesting to watch the height differential between Stobber and the rest of the cast: he seems to tower at least a foot over most of them. It creates this interesting image of this clean-cut good guy, towering over evil, chainsaw in hand, as he prepares to kick ass.

Another notable performance was given by Lorie Palkow (FB) as Cheryl, Ash’s younger sister. Palkow originally caught my eye because I tend to be drawn to nerdy girls. Looking a little bit like Sarah Gilbert, she gave a performance full of enthusiasm and fun. She had a strong singing voice and handled the change in personality quite well. As with Stobber, you could just tell she was having fun with this role.

Rounding out the members of the cast drawn from the first Evil Dead movie were Jennifer Daquila (FB) (Shelly), Kolton Rostron (FB) (Scotty), and Lynnae Meyers (FB) (Linda) [it is unclear who played the possessed Candarian Demon moose]. Daquila (in her Shelly incarnation) captured the dumb blonde caricature well and with enthusiasm. Rostron also captured his caricature  of the dumb bro well, especially in his overuse of the “Stupid Bitch” line. Rostrom was particularly notable for his glee in drenching the first few rows of the audience with the blood from his intestines. Lastly, Meyers’ Linda was a beauty who drew your eyes when she was onstage, at least before she became demonic. All were good singers an performers. Lastly, Beau Rigbye/FB was an obvious Fake Shemp in his role as the dead headless Linda (the belly gave him away). [By the way, what is it with actors and concierges? Both Stobber and Meyers work as concierges at Aria; my friend Shae, who is also into performing, also works as a concierge.]

Turning to the cast members drawn from Evil Dead II:   Jennifer Daquila (FB) reappeared as Annie, discarding her dumb blonde for a more overbearing sort. Christopher Lyons/FB was her boyfriend and bit-part player Ed, and Greg Korin (FB) was good ol’ Jake. All played their roles well, and Korin in particular (if memory serves correct) enjoyed drenching the audience.

Lastly, rounding out the cast as performers according to the website, but with unspecified roles, were: Shawnnie Slaughter (FB), Big Sexy, Chris Weidman, Tori Imlach/FB, Kirsten Heibert, Evelyn Benitez, Jeremiah Riesenbeck, and John Tomasello (FB). Slaughter was fun to watch as some sort of zombie who was entertaining those waiting in the bar with some interesting improv, as well as seating guests in the theatre. As for the others, I guess that they are understudies, swings, and other unnamed people (such as the MC).

Turning to the technical side of things…. big sigh. Lets start with what worked: the sets (designed by Tim Burris) were simple, but they worked. This show apparently moves between theatres in the V/Saxe complex, which demands simple movable sets. What they had was sufficient for the job. Similarly, the costumes by Stephen C. Halford were effective and titillated just a little (although there were some continuity problems with Linda’s blouse); his  special effects were a little more cheesy (but that’s an artifact of the time they have to change in and out of them). No credit is provided for the lighting, but it worked reasonably well. The blood effects by LeeAnn Wagner were plentiful and smelled of cherry; I was glad I was not sitting in the front row.

So, you’re wondering, why the big sigh? The answer is the sound design of Thomas Chrastka. I understand the demands of having to shift theatres, and of coming in after a different show with different actors and different demands. Still, the actors were over-amplified, making it difficult to hear the clever dialogue and puns… and even worse, during the musical numbers, there was too much reverb which muddied the actor’s signing. The sound system needs some retuning to return it to the crispness required.

Rounding out the credits: the production was directed by Sirc Michaels (FB) — as I’ve noted before, I can never separate direction from the acting. Choreography was by Jennie Carroll, and it worked well — particularly during the necronomicon dance. Fight choreography was by JP Dostal, and could have been a little stronger during the shooting sequences. You can see the remainder of the credits (including technicians, publicity, and the like) at the Evil Dead website.

Evil Dead: The Musical” (FB) continues at the V/Saxe Theatre Complex (FB) well, umm, until it no longer brings in enough money to cover the rent. Tickets are available through the V/Saxe Theatre Complex Box Office, and through numerous discount outlets throughout the city. I found it worth the money, especially if you are looking for a fun time and enjoy parodies. Note that the show runs very late, and watch out for the splash zone.

A final comment on the location of the show. The V/Saxe Theatre is in the former Desert Passage Mall, which wraps around the former Aladdin hotel. We were there for the ACSAC conference in 2003, and a number of the stores are still in the mall from that time (particularly Cheeseburger Mary’s and the Italian restaurant across from the theatre). Much as Planet Hollywood has tried to “Miracle Mile” the mall, the interior still screams Desert Passage, and the southern exterior is almost unchanged from the faux Arabian desert. I kept trying to remember what was in the V Theatre space back in 2003, but I drew a blank. I think, if PH wants to successfully transition away from the Aladdin legacy, they need to do something about retheming the mall whilst staying open and keeping vendors. A difficult problem. I did read that they are about to retheme the southern exterior.

[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:  We have no more shows planned for while we are in Vegas, but it’s busy when we return: Saturday is a twofer day: Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School followed by “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next two weekends are currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. 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.

Feeling Blue

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 06, 2014 @ 6:12 am PDT

Blue Man Group (Monte Carlo)userpic=las-vegasBefore we went on this trip to Las Vegas, I asked my wife what show she wanted to see. Her response, “Blue Man Group“. This started a quest for decent discount tickets for the show. Online, I found some discounts at TravelVegas, but these seemed to lead straight to the hotel’s Ticketmaster site — meaning that on top of the ticket price, there would be the city taxes, venue fees, and Ticketmaster fees. No thank you. Instead, we ended up using the service we’ve used for all the shows we’ve seen this week: Tix4Tonight. I went down to the booth in front of the Aladdin Planet Hollywood yesterday, and got two mezzanine tickets for BMG for around $67, including fees. [I should note that we're doing pretty good: Using Tix4Tonight, we've gotten tickets to three shows for around $260, meaning each show is roughly $40 on average]. Last night, we walked over to the Monte Carlo and saw the show. For $67, we ended up in the second row in the mezzanine in the center — perfect seats.

The show itself? In a word, spectacular.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe Blue Man Group. I started with the phrase “childlike wonder”, but shortly realized that the Blue Men are simply a fancy form of clowns. They like to explore silliness, make people laugh, and just play with things. They submerge their individual identities to personas to focus people on the laughter. This is the essence of clowning.

As for the show itself, it is hard to describe. Looking back, a number of things stick in my mind. First was the giant floating things that circulated through the audience before the show. There was the percussion and the lights, and the playfulness of creating instruments out of anything and everything. There was the audience interaction (I wonder if that woman in the first row ever got her credit card back). There were the robots. There was the playing with the food and the Twinkies. There was the GiPhone and the heavy use of lights. There was the penultimate ending, with balls floating everywhere through the audience and paper going all around. There was the actual ending, with the drums of color. In short… spectacular.

One problem with Las Vegas shows is that they never provide a standard program or credit. That’s too bad. For what makes BMG successful is not only the three blue men (who are always never named), but all the musicians and technicians and staff behind them. That was certainly true last night: the musical team behind BMG was just great, and the technical work that goes into the show — from sound to lights to timing to projections to programming to playfulness — was remarkable. They deserve to be credited, and I acknowledge their efforts.

Dining Notes: Before BMG, we ate a totally non-special dinner: Rubios in the Food Court. But before that was something spectacular: one of the few non-Starbucks coffee venues we’ve seen in a hotel: Sambalatte. Now I’m not a coffee drink, but my wife tells me that the coffee she had there was one of the best cups she’s ever had. Sambalatte has three locations. [I’ll note they were less spectacular for tea — they were using bags — but there are no spectacular tea shoppes in Vegas: there’s Teavana (which is Starbucks now), but they have limited non-flavored black tea options); there’s Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, which is always good but is more coffee focused; and there’s … umm … Starbucks :-( ).

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Tonight is our last Vegas show: “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the V Theatre in the Desert Passage Mall Miracle Mile Shops. Once we return, we’ve got a twofer day: “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School followed by “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next two weekends are currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. 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.

Hair at Harrahs

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 05, 2014 @ 7:49 am PDT

Jason Alexander (Harrahs)userpic=las-vegasYou may have noticed that it’s been quiet from this end of late — I’ve had some high priority projects at work sucking my time, plus we’ve been getting ready for a little vacation. On the vacation now we are (did you appreciate that little call-out to Star Wars in honor of 5/4) (even though I’m still working in the mornings :-( ), so I thought I would bring you up to date with my thoughts… plus I think I’m incapable of seeing live entertainment and not writing about it.

Every time I come to Vegas I realize how this town has changed from when I was here as a kid in the 1970s. Gone are the headline entertainers and the “dinner show” showrooms; gone are most of the production shows. Gone, in fact, is everything serving the great god of gaming — everything is its own profit center now. Still, when you’re in Vegas, you see shows (and there are a few I want to see, if the price is right).

One of the shows we discovered was in town was the end of Jason Alexander’s stint at Harrah’s. Now, I’ve never watched Seinfeld (I’ll repeat that, because you probably don’t believe it — I’ve never watched Seinfeld). However, I am a fan of Mr. Alexander from his work on the stage — he was in a number of Broadway shows, and we saw him give a great performance in The Producers in Los Angeles. We’re also aware of him from his movies — our daughter was a big fan of Dunston Checks In. Given that his show wasn’t that pricy, we went last night.

I’m glad we did. It was a very funny show. Jason combined music, musical parody, and great comedy observations to create a hilarious two-hour show. He riffed on a variety of subjects — Seinfeld (of course), hair, relationships, and sitcoms are a few I remember. We just enjoyed the show immensely. If you get a chance to see Jason Alexander, it is worth it.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we ate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at the Flamingo. We chose them because they were one of the few restaurants in walking distance with a gluten-free menu. Very good food, and fun entertainment.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  While in Vegas, we’re also hoping to see Blue Man Group at the Monte Carlo, as well as Evil Dead: The Musical“. Once we return, we’ve got a twofer day: “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School followed by “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The next weekend brings both “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB). The next two weekends are currently unscheduled: Karen is helping Erin move, and there’s not that much calling to me from Goldstar. June is busy. It starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see “The Fantastiks” at Good People Theatre. We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface” at the Pasadena Playhouse on June 22, and “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such, but things start to get busy again in September and October. More on that later. 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.

California Highway Headlines for April 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 01, 2014 @ 8:48 pm PDT

userpic=roadgeekingWhile everyone else was doing their taxes, I’ve been collecting highway headlines…

  • Highway 12 project nears milestone. Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon has two different looks as the state continues its drive to turn a two-lane, narrow road into a four-lane, modern highway. The 3-mile Solano County portion from Interstate 80 to the Solano/Napa border remains a two-lane construction zone. Crews are still working on a retaining wall on the lower part of a hill that they’ve carved out to make room for a wider roadway.
  • Zanker connector, Coleman widening planned but not funded. Q With the new major development announced for First Street and Brokaw Road in San Jose, do you know if the developer will be asked to pay for the “often thought of but never financed Zanker Road to North Fourth Street connection” to alleviate the traffic congestion the development will create?
  • Old Bay Bridge eastern span cut in half in demolition milestone. Crews dismantling the old east span of the Bay Bridge have cut it in half by slicing through metal sections of the cantilever section east of Yerba Buena Island.
  • O.C. tollway cancels studies for controversial extension . Orange County’s largest tollway operation announced Tuesday that it has canceled environmental studies for a controversial extension project that was widely criticized and ultimately rejected by the California Coastal Commission in 2008. The Transportation Corridor Agencies rescinded two notices to proceed with federal environmental impact statements for the Foothill South extension, which would have connected the 241 tollway with the 5 Freeway south of San Clemente.
  • Solution sought to Highway 101 widening. With stretches of the Highway 101 expansion project still underfunded, one Petaluma city official is hoping new revenue generated from an anticipated county sales tax measure could lead to the completion of highway widening from Petaluma to the county line.
  • Metro to publicly finance HOV toll lane project for Santa Clarita Valley. Metro and Caltrans have decided to publicly finance the project instead of seeking a public-private partnership (known as a PPP). Why? It’s less expensive to publicly finance the project by using $352 million in now-available Measure R and other funds and a federal low-interest loan for $175 million.
  • Resolution introduced to name freeway stretch for late Sen. Jenny Oropeza. The section of the 710 freeway in Long Beach would be designated as the Senator Jenny Oropeza Memorial Freeway under a resolution introduced Monday by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
  • Commuter Collection Jewelry. Westways Magazine had an interesting article on this artist, who make necklaces, tie tacks, and rinks in the shape of California highway signs.
  • The Train Tunnel in This 1898 Film Is Now Part of Pacific Coast Highway. Santa Monica’s McClure Tunnel—is there a more dramatic 400 feet of roadway in all the Southland? First, the daylight fades as you leave behind the Santa Monica Freeway and plunge through the tunnel’s eastern portal. The road curves through the darkness, and then a new world flashes before you. As your eyes readjust, it all comes into focus: the rolling surf of the Pacific, a white sand beach, the hills of Malibu. You are now driving the Pacific Coast Highway.