Observations Along the Road

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

Learning is a Journey | “Into the Woods” @ Nobel Middle School

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 01, 2016 @ 8:07 pm PST

Into the Woods (Nobel Charter Middle School)userpic=nobelLife is a journey, and there are many lessons to be learned along the way. A number of these lessons are captured in Stephen Sondheim‘s 1987 musical Into The Woods, which is currently trodding the auditorium boards at Nobel Charter Middle School (FB) in Northridge. Last night, we went to the Alumni Night performance of the show (essentially, a preview for a receptive audience before opening; our daughter was involved with their charter productions the first two years). I’ll note that this was the first production under new leadership for the Nobel Charter Theatre Arts Department. The founding teachers have moved on to bigger and hopefully better things: Fanny Araña to the position of Magnet Coordinator for Van Nuys High School, and Jean Martellaro to the English Department at Porter Ranch Community School. The Nobel Drama program is now under the direction of Kat Delancy and Artur Cybulski (FB); this production was not only a trial by fire for the students, but a trial by fire for the teachers as well. They certainly didn’t choose something easy for the first show, but that’s the Nobel way — bigger and better, every time.

Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is not an easy show. Unlike past Nobel shows, Sondheim shows have complex melodies and complicated lyrics. They also tend to have much deeper meanings within. Into the Woods is one such show. Although relatively accessible through its use of common fairy tale tropes (Jack in the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, the Baker and his Wife, and many others), Sondheim and Lapine weave these multiple stories into a morality piece, teaching many life lessons about the distinction between the fairy tale world and the real world. If there was any overriding themes to the piece, they are embodied in the statement that “Children Will Listen”, and “Be Careful What You Wish For”. It is at times a dark and foreboding piece; there are numerous meaningless deaths. It doesn’t hide the horror in the stories, but ends on an uplifting note (unlike, say, Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd) — you can teach your children. Whether the middle-schoolers performing this were able to pick apart all the lessons in this show I don’t know. I hope that its development provoked some interesting discussions. I’m of the firm belief that theatre can teach more than drama — it can challenge the mind and the spirit, it can be a space to explore dangerous ideas in a safe way.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot — you can read it over on the Wikipedia page.

Most schools, when presented with a piece such as Into The Woods, retreat to the safety of the licensed “Junior” version. This brings the running time down from three hours, and is essentially just the first “happy” familiar half. It eschews some of the more questionable themes that one might not want to expose to young minds (never mind the fact that those minds have been long exposed to those themes through the Internet). The Nobel Drama team opted instead to license the full version, and pare down much — but not all — of the second half. In particular, they excised the notion of the princes cheating on their wives and of the affair in the woods. They also changed some words here and there (I particularly remember Jack’s mother’s line, where the word “touched” was changed), and I noted that some songs (in particular, the reprise of “Into the Woods” at the end of Act I) were cut (removing my favorite lines, “The closer to the family, the closer to the wine”, and “Slotted spoons don’t hold much soup.” — always great advice to remember). But those unfamiliar with the show probably wouldn’t catch all of that.

They also made some changes particular to a middle-school large cast: they split the narrator into two, and preserved the movie’s distinction from his being the old man, and they added a choral ensemble that came in on major numbers such as “Into the Woods”. This worked just fine; I particularly liked the effect of the ensemble on the show.

[ Note: Unlike my other writeups, I’m not going to attempt to link all the performers. Few, if any, will have professional pages; it seems odd to be linking to Facebook pages of middle-school students. Plus, there are so many of them 🙂 ]

Before I talk about the performance, I must note that this was a middle school cast, at a public school. There was a wide variety of talent, much of it raw. Some songs and performances were a little bit off, but this was head and shoulders above the typical middle school performance you might expect. This being a school and not professional, I’m not going to cite any particularly weak performances (especially as this was essentially a preview and problems are still being worked out). I will note, broadly, the importance in a Sondheim show of making sure that all the words of the song are clear, and that they are said/sung in a way that the audience can here them. There’s lots of hidden meaning in those words; for impact, they need to be clear.

Within the performances, there were some gems I would like to particularly highlight. First and foremost was the production’s Cinderella, Natalie Chavez. She had a very strong voice and handled the songs wonderfully; she also performed and emoted well. Her performance of “No One is Alone” was just spectacular. She is someone I hope will continue in the field — she just really impressed me.

Also strong in both vocal and performance were James Averill’s Jack and Harmony Nielsen’s Witch.  Averill impressed me from the start in the opening prologue with his strong, clear voice, and he seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role. Nielsen was also having fun with the role, and her “The Last Midnight” was just great.

Also worthy of note were the princes, Joseph Gelardi and Derek Bradford. They had the performance aspect down great, capturing the essence of “we’re charming, not sincere”. Quite fun to watch. Also good performance-wise were Gannon Ripchik’s Baker, Sarah Borquez’s Baker’s Wife, and Nina Krassner-Cybulski’s Red Riding Hood.

Jordan Ellison and Erin Miller did a good job as the narrators.

In the smaller character roles were Kylie Hamuel (Cinderella’s Stepmother), Halle Milewski (Florinda), Niaz Bashi Shahidi (Lucinda), Nikki Eaves (Jack’s Mother), Lauren Shane (Milky White), Anthony Dakarmenjian (Cinderella’s Father), Emma Hogarth (Cinderella’s Mother), Everett Zisch (Steward); Jacob Gilliam (Wolf); Kishi Sugahara Strahl (Granny); Jillian Jergensen (Rapunzel); Anthony Carmona (Mysterious Man); Ashlyn Paulson (Witch Double); and Nina Jackson (Giant). A few notes here. Strahl’s Granny was particularly cute. I wasn’t that crazy with the directorial choice for “Hello Little Girl”, although I can understand why it was done. The song was played more for humor; the original notion of a creepy menacing “dirty old man” probably wouldn’t play well with middle-school parents. However, it made the song a bit odd (not to mention that one of the other Nobel Drama Charter members, Quest Zeidler, will always be the wolf to me).

The ensemble consisted of: Melissa Ascencio, Lila Kutchinsky, Jillian McKie, Kayla Mohammadi, Juliana Moore, Liam Naumann, Ashlyn Paulson, Grayson Ries, Zoe Stone, Samantha Biedes, Zoey Francis, Savannah Garrick, Laila Haney, Jahnie Hoffman, Sam Khader, Liana Mzrakyan, Delaney Palitang, Kira Pospeshil, Manny Sosa, Bobbi K Smith, Faith Alhadeff, Dahlia B. Delgadillo, Maya Frank, Samuel Goldenberg, Caitlyn Halpern, Ashley Kho, Kaven Prosperi, and Sophia Tedasco.

Kat Delancy and Artur Cybulski (FB) served as the directors and producers. The choreography was by Abi Franks, Kamryn Siler, and Daniela Johns.

Turning to the technical side: Long gone are the early days of the program, with no microphones, and lighting that couldn’t be adjusted and was overloading the electrical system. This performance had theatre quality sound and full theatrical lighting, reflecting work by sound engineer Tommy Chavez and Lighting Designer Artur Cybulski (FB). As this was a preview, there were some balance problems between the music and the vocals; those should be adjusted by tonight’s opening performance. The scenic design of Ben Tiber and Artur Cybulski (FB)  was also very strong, with one of the best sets I’ve seen at Nobel in ages. Again, I remember the early days of building the set for Grease; my my how this program has grown. Costumes and props were  on loan from Golden Performing Arts.

The Technical Theatre team consisted of: Tiffany Ly and Iona Pitkin (Stage Managers); Josh Pereira, Jenna Doubt, and Brooklyn Burgess (Assistant Stage Managers); Carol Ann Balkcom, Kaira Muzila, Sara Hameed, Vana Boghsian, Samantha Orozco, Julia Williams, and Yume Johnstone (Costume Crew); Josh Pereira, Adam Parra, Jackson Pfau, and Amrit Saund (Sound Crew); Aiden Martirossian, Amir Abuayash, Krisha Ande, Pamela Galleguillos, Caitlyn Missakian, Jas Singh, and Evelyn Morrissey (Light Crew); Chloe Koda, Ashley Metelski, Starlet Meza, Sydney Redmond, Celest Trejo, Emma Fernandez, Aidin Callas, Alexis Bohn, and Avi Saidiner (Set Crew).

There were numerous other adult production staff, but you are likely tired of all these names by now.

There are three more performances of Into the Woods that you can catch at Nobel: Friday and Saturday at 6:30 PM, and Saturday at 2:00 PM (the Thursday performance is ending as I type this). Tickets are available at the door.

P.S.: If you want to see a professional production, note that Into the Woods will be coming to the Ahmanson Theatre in April. Discount tickets are currently on Goldstar.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).

Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  December theatre continues with a staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

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

California Highway Headlines for November 2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 01, 2016 @ 11:08 am PST

userpic=rough-roadIt’s been a rough month, with a crazy election, loads of talk about infrastructure possibilities, the passage of Measure M here in Southern California. But I’ve still been accumulating headlines, so enjoy. I hope to do a page update during my “shutdown break” between the Jolly Fat Guy holiday and the Jolly Drunk Guys holiday.

  • Highway 99 lane expansion in Stockton. Caltrans may be celebrating a 4-mile expansion on Highway 99 in Stockton, but drivers will be the ones celebrating with less traffic and a faster travel time. “It’s been a difficult project, but great to have it done,” said Caltrans Director Malcom Dougherty. “(Hwy. 99 will) make it less congested and safer for people traveling in and out of Stockton.” The expansion goes from the Crosstown Freeway near Hwy. 4 to Arch Road in Stockton.
  • In-depth: Are I-580 express lanes easing traffic?. It is the topic that everyone in the Bay Area talks about (actually complains about)–traffic. Drivers spend hours on the road, just trying to get from one place to another, even when the destination is not that far away. Caltrans launched several new projects this year to try and get things moving. On Interstate 580, officials said you can get there faster if you pay the price.
  • Crumbling roads in SF, Oakland ranked worst in nation. To experience America’s crumbling infrastructure firsthand, look no farther than San Francisco and Oakland — ranked this week by a transportation research group as being home to the worst roads of any large urban region in the country. The Bay Area cities and their surrounding neighborhoods topped the list for having poor roadways for the second consecutive year, according to a study conducted by the Washington, D.C., group Trip.

(more…)

Here Comes The Sun

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 30, 2016 @ 12:01 pm PST

userpic=donnaI’m someone who doesn’t like change. Well, I like finding change in my pockets; but in my life, less so. We’ve done minimal changes around our house since we moved here in 2005 — a burst before moving in, and then one bathroom. This month, however. We’re ch-ch-ch-changin’. Going from small to large….

Televisions. When we moved in, we got a standard definition DirecTivo. That finally died (although we’ll see if we can salvage anything off it). This resulted in us changing out the Tivo for a DirecTV Whole House DVR — a Genie. It’s been really neat. It led to us deciding to get rid of the 13″ CRT TV in the Media Room that had a bad flyback transformer, and replacing it with our 27″ RCA CRT TV, which could work with the amplifier better. We then went out and took advantage of a pre-Black Friday sale to get a 40″ Vizio 1080p HDTV. No, we haven’t upgraded to Blu-Ray yet. Not sure when that will happen.

Wall Oven. As I wrote the other day, our wall oven decided to have a board fail just before Thanksgiving, The part is no longer available, so over Black Friday I ordered a new Whirlpool Wall Oven from Lowes. We’ll lose convection, because there are fewer 24″ dual electric options nowadays, but still we’ll have a new oven. I was able to get a good bargain, and 18 months at 0% as well (making it a cash-flow level).

Solar. Three months ago, we had one of the largest DWP bills we’ve ever had: over $1,500 for power, water, and sanitation for the July-August period. Last month, it was over $1,200 for September-October. This got me seriously thinking that it was time to bite the bullet on solar. Why haven’t I done it before?

  • I was worried about anyone working on the roof.
  • I had heard horror stories about leases and the problems that ensure.
  • I had heard horror stories about getting connected to the LA DWP grid.

In the years since the solar industry started, however, process maturation has occurred. The connection to the DWP is now much easier, and there are plans in place for purchasing, rather than leasing, the systems. One of our credit unions does solar loans at somewhat decent rates (2.99% for 144 mos up to $75K, which is where we are at) and one of their approved contractors was a long-time roofing contractor before they got into the solar business.

We had them come in and talk to us. It turns out that we can get some additional credits for reroofing at the same time (which we would likely need to do anyway — the current roof is ~15 years old). We’ll be moving to an energy-efficient reflective roof (with new gutters that don’t leak). We’ll be getting a sufficient large system to cover our usage (50 SolarWorld 285 w panels with Enphase microinverters, with a system size of 14.25 kW, and estimated annual production of  19.2 kW total, for an electric usage offset of 103% (meaning we should be ahead 471 kW/year, given past usage). The cost is large, but we should be getting back about a third of it in rebates or credits.

This is a scary thing for me, but the numbers look like our savings will more than cover what the new payments will be (and we’ll re-amortize once the credits come in). I’ve got a few smaller worries — like relocating/reinstalling the DirecTV dish and the loss of power when they upgrade the panel. I’ve been reassured somewhat that things will be OK, plus I’m doing what I normally do when worried — I’m blogging about it.

Despite the worry, I know this is the right thing to do. With “global warming”, it is only going to be getting hotter during the summers here in the valley. Power usage (and my bills) would keep going up, and this will allow us to get ahead on them. Further, with the new administration there is no guarantee that solar incentives and rebates will continue (the President would have to balance his disbelief in climate change with the jobs and economic activity that the solar rebate programs create). Better to get them now while they still are in place.

 

Counting the Days

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 29, 2016 @ 11:10 am PST

userpic=calendar#BlackFriday

#SmallBusinessSaturday

#CyberMonday

#GivingTuesday

Ever since #ThanksgivingThursday, the days this week have been relentlessly programmed to separate people from their hard-earned funds in a rampant display of capitalism or guilt-driven charity. Getting up early to go shopping at the stores on #BlackFriday (you should have seen the crowds when we drove past the Citadel Outlets late Friday night). Encouraging people to support small local businesses instead of global conglomerates on #SmallBusinessSaturday. Cajoling people to spend time at work on #CyberMonday to do their holiday shopping under their employer’s noses. And for those guilty from all that excessive consumerism, you can donate to your favorite charities on #GivingTuesday.

Lord knows what they have planned for tomorrow. Perhaps #WelfareWednesday anyone?

All of this, of course, is part of the global machinery to encourage excessive spending on Christmas, which is where most retailers make their money for the year, combined with the typical year-end exhortations to encourage people to donate so you can deduct in the current tax year.  We have turned holidays that have religious significance — Christmas celebrating the start of Christianity, Chanukkah demonstrating a win in the battle against assimilation, and Kwanzaa celebrating… well, I’m not sure what it celebrates — into events designed to line pocketbooks and purses.

That seems wrong, at least to me.

At our house, we operate on the philosophy that we get goodies for ourselves and our families when we can afford them, and when we need them. We don’t wait until the holidays. We also patronize retailers that offer good prices all year round — not retailers that mark things up over the year for everyone so they can offer deep discounts to a few on #BlackFriday or #CyberMonday. We make a point of always patronizing the small local business first. These are our practices — we don’t need marketed days to remind us.

We also determine the charities and organizations we support at the beginning of the year, and support them year round as best we are able: either through donations or spreading the word about them to others.

We need to start pushing back against this commercialization of the week after Thanksgiving. The holiday season is not about sales and spending. It is about family, and reminding us on what our values should be. It is not wondering if the 3 wise men stopped at a #BlackFriday sale to pick up the frankincense, myrrh, and spices they brought to Baby Jesus, or if the Maccabees took advantage of #CyberMonday to order their oil and menorahs at a bargain price.

Do We Rejoice at the Death of an Enemy?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 27, 2016 @ 7:45 am PST

userpic=hugsI was reading Facebook this morning (as I do when I get up), when I saw a post from a politically-conservative roadgeek friend of mine related to the death of Fidel Castro. It showed a picture of President Obama in Cuba, and said:

Why wouldn’t this piece of work send condolences for his departed hero? We already know what he’s about. There’s plenty of room in Hell for every damn one of them.

I stopped and I looked at it. I stared and thought. I wasn’t surprised to see this from this friend — he’s part of a group of very conservative folk who are still filled with hatred — burning hatred — for President Obama, and who have been gleeful at the death of Castro. But what I was thinking — and what triggered this post — was that the stone cold hatred that our partisan political atmosphere has engendered over the past 24 years (since the election of President Clinton), has burned out human compassion.

I’m not Christian, but my understanding from my Christian friends is that Christ taught compassion — he taught us to see the humanity even in those we hate. He preached love and caring, not hatred and war. In Christian theology, who is it that practices a philosophy of hatred, who wants to foment war, who wants to advance Armageddon, to wants to turn men against their neighbors? Who, on the other hand, preaches that we need to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated? To care about the sick and the hurt and those in pain? When we, as humans, give into all consuming hatred of anyone (and that includes our political opponents), who are we letting win the war?

I do know that in Jewish tradition, compassion is a key part of our tradition. During the Passover ceremony, where we remember our escape from the tyranny of Egypt and from Pharaoh, we read:

Though we descend from those redeemed from brutal Egypt,
and have ourselves rejoiced to see oppressors overcome,
yet our triumph is diminished
by the slaughter of the foe,

We remember the Talmudic teaching: “When the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation.  God silenced them and said, “My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?””

So, to the question at hand:

Why wouldn’t this piece of work send condolences for his departed hero?

Why would you not send condolences when someone dies — even someone you hate. There are commonalities for every human: we rejoice with a family at a safe birth, and we mourn with a family when someone they love has passed way. This is human compassion. Condolence aren’t about the person who died — they are about the family and loved ones left behind. Even if a person was pure evil, they had mothers and fathers who, at least at some point in their life, loved them. They had people that, at some point in their life, cared about them. What does it cost us to show human compassion to those left behind? We might not feel sorry; we might not be able to say, “I feel sorry for your loss.” But we should be able to say, “I understand the pain and sorry you feel at your loss.”

Further, little gestures of compassion can go a long way. Responding to hate with compassion demonstrates the people that we are. It shows that beneath the rhetoric, we see that our foes are people to. They have parents that love them; they love and care about their children. They have close friends who will miss them when they are gone. Even the Grinch and Scrooge, deep inside, had a spark of humanity, and had someone who cared about them. Even for an evil person, showing compassion to their loved ones can rebuild and mend bridges.

In the case of Fidel Castro, it is a great thing for Cuba and the Americas that he is gone. We can share in the joy that one more brutal dictator has passed away. But we must temper that joy with the realization that Castro still had family that loved him, and that there are many people in Cuba in mourning at his passing. What does it hurt us to offer condolences to them? What can’t we have empathy for their loss, even though we are glad that the man is gone?

To my friends who feel this white hot political hatred, whether it is directed at the Democratic leaders (Obama, Clinton) or the Republicans (Trump, Pence) — I say: “remember compassion.”. If Hillary Clinton dropped dead of a heart attack, and all you would think is “Ding dong the bitch is dead” — and not have any compassion for those the loved her and were left behind — then you are the problem. And to those on my side, if the same were to happen to Donald Trump, and if you were to gloat instead of feeling compassion for his wife, children, and friends — you are also the problem.

Fidel Castro’s death is a test for us. Have we given in to the hatred around us and allowed the evil inclination to win, or do we still have our humanity and compassion? Can we see that we all started out as God’s children, and that God mourned even at the death of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh’s first born?

Challenging Convention | “Little Women” @ Chance Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 26, 2016 @ 12:59 pm PST

Little Women (Chance)userpic=theatre_ticketsI have a number of quests in my life. One quest is to add music to my iPod, and often this includes Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I haven’t seen, but are recommended. Another quest is to see musicals I’ve only heard. This weekend was an opportunity to do the latter, informed by the former, when we went to go see the second preview performance of Little Woman: The Broadway Musical at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway).

Little Women: The Broadway Musical is a 2005 musical written by Allan Knee (FB) [Book], Jason Howland (FB) [Music], and Mindi Dickstein (FB) [Lyrics], based on the 1869 novel by (all together now) Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps surprisingly to some, I have never actually read the novel (although I do recall having a copy of the sequel, Little Men, as a boy, which I also never actually read). So, going in, my only knowledge of the story was from the cast album, which I had really only listened to on shuffle. I knew it was about four sisters, and one was a writer, and that’s about it.

Reading the Wikipedia summary of the book after the show, I came to see that the stage production was a condensation and approximation of the book. It captured, at least based on Wikipedia, the major themes of the books and some of the major incidents. It also played a little loose with the timeline in the book, but not in a way that seemed to affect the themes in the story. Being a condensation, it was only able to draw the characters broadly; I think this is a flaw that would be found in many musicals that are based on condensations of larger novels — the time available makes it difficult to build deep characters and move the story along. For that, you need TV and binge watching.

The focus of the story is the growth of the character Josephine (“Jo”) March from approximately 15 to her early 20s during the time of the Civil War; it is also a semi-autobiographical tale of the original author as represented by Jo. It explores the relationship between Jo and her sisters (Meg, Beth, and Amy); the societal expectations on women in that era; the perceived role of men in relationship to women; and the perceptions of a headstrong, independent, woman to Civil War society. Thinking about that statement as I write it, I’m drawn to a parallel between Jo March and another headstrong literary woman at the end of the Civil War: Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind. One Northern, one Southern. Hmmmm.

As opposed to attempting to write a detailed synopsis, I’m just going to point you to the Wikipedia page. I’d rather use this space to explore my observations on the story and its presentation.

Much of the first act is spent establishing the characters and their personalities. With so many significant characters (the four March sisters and Laurie), that takes a while and quite a few songs (and is very different than a story with one or two protagonists).  The main character, Jo, is someone who must have been quite a draw when the story was first written: strong, independent, headstrong, eschewing the cultural norms. They must not have known what to make of her. In fact — being unfamiliar with the story — I had the feeling at the end of the first act that she might be either asexual or lesbian. There was just some sense about her. That proved not to be the case (and isn’t a surprise given when the story was written), but one wonders if that was an attraction of the book (or is an artifice of the musical). Thinking about her in contrast to Scarlett O’Hara is interesting. Jo achieves what she does through her wits and essentially independent of any man. Scarlett has the wits but keeps them to herself; she manipulates men through her femininity and her exploitation of cultural mores. Is this a reflection on the North vs. the South of the time? Ultimately, both attract the men they need by being themselves — their mates love them for who they are and less as a societal caricature. Both are also fiercely loyal to family and relationships. There are significant differences: Jo starts out poor and earns her money; Scarlett starts out rich, becomes poor, but acquires money through manipulation of men. It is still an interesting parallel.

The authors establish the characters of the other sisters to a much lesser extent, and mostly through interaction with Jo. The superficial aspects are sufficient for a musical, although some of the comments I read on the original production felt that was a flaw. I didn’t see it that way. Let’s look at the characters through the performers that created them.

In the lead position was Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) as Jo March. We’d seen Nelson before in Dogfight, and she was equally strong here. The characterizations of Jo March I’ve read online talk about her as beautiful. I’m not sure you get that classic beauty with Nelson, but you get that same strong inner beauty that shone through in Dogfight. In fact, you get a bit more — there are these telling little smiles and expressions that are just delightful to watch; her performance brings forth the inner fire within Jo to succeed. As such, her performance is mesmerizing. One of the best places to see this is in her interactions with Laurie — just watch during “Take a Chance on Me”, or her face on the lovely “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. A truly delightful performance.

Jo’s sisters were less strongly drawn in the script, but still gave remarkable performances. Laura M. Hathaway (FB), as Meg, the oldest sister, seems more traditionally drawn. She shines in her interactions not only with her sisters in the group numbers, but in her one-on-ones with John Boone. Again, watch the face and the little things, especially during her number “More Than I Am”. Another remarkable performer was Emma Nossal (FB)’s Beth. In fact, it was her performance in “Some Things Are Meant To Be” that made me realize remarkable acting. She was flying a kite on stage just through her movements, and I could swear that I could see the string to the kite. That’s a great performance, where through craft alone one can create the image and impression of existence of the non-existent.  She also had a lovely singing voice, which you can see in the delightful “Off to Massachusetts” number. The youngest sister, Amy, was portrayed by two actresses: Olivia Knox was the younger Amy at our performance (she alternates with Alea Jordan); Angela Griswold (FB) was the older Amy. Young Amy is primarily in the first act and mostly has group songs, yet is still fun to watch  in her performance. The older Amy has a remarkable and distinctive smile and voice — watching her interact with Laurie in “The Most Amazing Thing” is a delight to watch.

This brings us to Laurie (Theodore Laurence III), the orphaned grandson of the neighbor across the street, Jo’s best friend, and … well, you’ll find out. He is portrayed by Jimmy Saiz (FB), who brings a remarkable energy, spirit, and bounce to the role. You can rapidly see why he and Nelson’s Jo become best friends. Again, he has a strong singing voice that is demonstrated both  in “Take a Chance on Me” and in his wonderful duet with older Amy, “The Most Amazing Thing”.

This brings us to the second tier of characters, who are drawn with a much lighter pen. Rachael Oliveros Catalano (FB) portrays Marmee, the mother of the March clan. The scenes she has show here as the glue of stability for the family, and she has some lovely numbers in “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty”. Beyond that stability and the tension and pain she is facing as woman running a house while her man is away in the Civil War, we don’t learn much about here. Similarly lightly drawn is Glenn Koppel (FB)’s Mr. Laurence, the wealthy man who lives across the street, and who initially is the caricature of the mean rich man. He has a remarkable transformation in his number with Nossal’s Beth, “Off to Massachusetts”, which is quite fun to watch.

One of the characters we meet in the first scene we don’t see again until the top of the second act. Although also lightly drawn, he is one of my favorite performances — Nicholas Thurkettle (FB) as Professor Bhaer.  Not a super amount of lines, but watch closely his interactions with Jo and his facial expressions — particularly in “How I Am” and “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. That last number in particular I found quite touching — I’m sure many of us know relationships like that.

Laurie’s tutor, and Meg’s eventual husband, John Brooke is portrayed by Stefan Miller (FB). We don’t get to know much about John, but the actor has a great duet with Hathaway’s Meg in “More Than I Am”. Lastly, the authoritarian Aunt March is portrayed by Sherry Domerego (FB). We’ve all known or had an aunt like that (I certainly did). Domerego captures the character to a “T”, and is fun to watch in her number with Jo, “Could You”.

The production was directed by Casey Long (FB); Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB) was the Associate Director. As I’ve written before, as a non-actor I have trouble determining where the actor ends and the director begins, or is that where the direction ends and the acting begins. Perhaps it is the distinction between the individual (which is more acting) and the ensemble (which is management of the group). If so, then this production shows the talent of the direction team in not only bringing out strong individual performances, but it bringing out strong group interactions — be it the interactions of the March sisters in numbers like “Our Finest Dreams” or “Five Forever”, or the small two person interactions I’ve previously mentioned. Supporting the directoral team on this was the choreography of Jessie McLean. The dance numbers in this show weren’t all that fancy, but they worked well and supported the story.

Bill Strongin (FB) was the music director, and presumably the on-stage piano player. It was interesting hearing this with the single piano approach. I was only familiar with the full orchestra approach of the Broadway cast album. The single piano worked just fine.

Turning to the behind the scenes creative and supporting professionals: The scenic and lighting design was by Masako Tobaru (FB). I am always impressed by the creativity of the Chance set designs, and this was no exception. This was a clever mix of large book pages (I am still trying to determine if they printed large sheets, or applied words in a reasonably straight line), a projection along the back, and a raked wooden platform, supplemented by a few movable pieces. It worked remarkably well, and was supported by spectacular lighting that made up quite well for the Chance’s lack of a moving spot. In fact, the lighting and set worked well together to direct the attention to particular areas and lessen the focus on others. The Sound and Projection Design supporting this was by the director, Casey Long (FB). I initially thought I would notice the projections more; as it was, the set and lighting moved my perception of the projections to the background. As a result, they supported, instead of actually defining, the sense of place. Sound was similar, as the actual design was only apparent during the storms. The actors were not miced. This isn’t really necessary in a small space like the Chance, although a few could use a pinch more volume. Costume Design was by Erika C. Miller (FB), assisted by Associate Designer Barbara Phillips. The costumes seemed reasonably period to me, and there was only one minor malfunction (which I attributed to the 2nd preview — a dress didn’t get fully zipped). Original fight choreography was by David McCormick. Teodora Ramos/FB was the stage manager.  You can find a list of the Chance Staff here.

Little Women: The Broadway Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway) until December 23. You can get tickets through the Chance Online Box Office, or by calling 888.455.4212. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The show is worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre has just announced their 2017 season. In the main series is (1) Claudio Quest, January 27 — February 26 2017, a new musical from the team behind Loch Ness about video games; (2) Middletown, April 21 — May 21; (3) Parade, June 30 — July 30; (4) in a word, September 8 — October 8 ; and (5) Tribes, September 22 — October 22. The TYA Series consists of (1) The Little Prince, February 17 — March 5; and (2) Fancy Nancy, the Musical, May 5 — May 28. The OTR series consists of four shows: (1) How to Conquer America: A Mostly True History of Yogurt on March 1; (2) Ted Malawer’s The Anatomy of Love: OTR LAB Workshop on July 20-23; and (3-4) two TBA shows on May 10 and October 18. The Holiday series consists of The Secret Garden – The Musical, November 24 — December 23 and the return of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, December 8 — December 23. Of these, only one show currently appears worth the 63 mile drive from Northridge: Claudio Quest. As for the other musicals, I’ve seen them up here (or their time period is completely booked). However, I might make an exception if my niece and nephew want to see Parade. If you live in Orange County, however, this looks like a great set of shows for an affordable price.

Dining Notes: Whenever we go to the Chance, we always eat at the same place: True Seasons Organic Kitchen (FB), a healthy organic hot pot restaurant across the street from the Chance. Healthy vegetables, healthy meat, gluten free options, and home-made flavoring broths.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).

The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Note that Chromolume Theatre (FB) is doing a “Black Friday” sale, with 20% off their subscription with the code in the linked email. That’s three musicals for just $16 each (and then donate the 20% back for a tax deduction). You only have until midnight on Monday to take advantage of this special.

Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  December starts with Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, and staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

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

Disturbing Trends

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 25, 2016 @ 10:13 am PST

userpic=headlinesToday’s collection of news chum serve to highlight some disturbing historical and societal trends:

  •  Fake and Satirical News Sites. If this election has demonstrated anything, it is that they will believe a headline as long as a friend shares it on Facebook. The impact of fake news and satirical news has been potentially significant, as is the blurring line between journalism and opinion pieces (I’m looking at you, Borowitz). If it sounds too good to be true — if it confirms your biases — then check it before sharing. Here’s a great start at that: a list of BS, fake, or biased news sites.
  • Manipulating Historical Images. Lehrhaus has a very interesting article on the trend of photoshopping historical photos. The example they use are some historical images of Orthodox girls photoshopped to reflect current modesty norms in the community, but the actual concern is much larger. The manipulation of history — the notion is that history is what I say it is, not what the historical record proves — was, so to speak, yuge, in this election. With photoshop, we can change that historical record. Did you know there were four shooters at JFK’s assassination?
  • I Can Fix That. When I was growing up, if something broke, you would fix it. Ovens, washers, TVs, and all sorts of things — even toasters — were such that when they went bad, you took them to a repair shop where they were fixed for a reasonable cost — certainly, less than buying new. Our oven failed earlier this week, and the bad part along was almost $600 — had it been in stock. That’s half the price of a new oven. Our disposable society wastes resources, and creates waste that often will never degrade. The latest example: The new MacBook Pro. The new MacBook Pro, like its earlier Retina designs, has a glued down battery and has RAM that is soldered into the computer’s logic board. Unless you’re an expert microsolderer, the specs of the computer you buy are the specs you’ll have until the end of its life. Kiss those repair shop jobs goodbye. Here’s what the article says about that: “Apple has little incentive to help them, and arguably has little obligation to build computers that can be repaired and resold on the secondary market. That said, a computer that can be salvaged from the scrap heap and used for several more years is many times more environmentally friendly than one that has to be shredded into a million tiny pieces because it has a bad stick of RAM or because you can’t buy an affordable replacement SSD.”
  • Shopping Shopping Everywhere. An abandoned sanitarium in La Crescenta is becoming commercial space: Gangi Design LED Build will renovate 14 buildings from the 1920s-era institution and convert them to “retail and nonprofit use.”  A friend of mine recently complained about the loss of manufacturing and manufacturing jobs, and here’s why: we’ve shipped those jobs overseas because we didn’t want the polluting factories, or labor was cheaper even after the tariffs, [ETA: or automation has replaced those jobs] and we’re left with more shops trying to sell overpriced imported crap to people who no longer have the jobs to pay for them. I’d say this sounds crazy and those proposing the idea should go into a sanitarium, but we’ve been closing the sanitariums.

 

Thanksgiving, America, and Antisemitism

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 24, 2016 @ 5:27 pm PST

userpic=schmuckToday is Thanksgiving day — a day when, in America, we share what we are thankful for. One thing I am thankful for in this country is the freedom to practice my religion, as well as the freedom to not have others force their religion on me. I hope that, in years to come, I can continue to be thankful for such things.

However, what has happened in 2016 has given me some reasons to doubt. Today’s news chum brings together a collection of articles I’ve seen related to this doubt. Part of me said, “Don’t post this on Thanksgiving”. Another part of me said that it was important to do so, precisely because being thankful for something doesn’t mean we should be complacent about it. We have numerous freedoms in this country for which we are all thankful. We must fight for these freedoms every day; the forces that want to take them away make it a constant struggle. So let’s fight, so that we can continue to be thankful for what we have (and not be remembering what we have lost).

Let’s start with a post by Mayim Bialik, who wrote a letter to her haters. This was in response to her posting “a very disturbing article reporting that the New York City Memorial of Beastie Boys frontman Adam Yauch had been desecrated. All of the Beastie Boys were Jewish, and Yauch’s memorial had swastikas and pro-Trump graffiti scrawled all over it.” In it, she writes:

I’m going to state this very plainly, America: many people in this country are racists. Many people think that the Nazi party was correct and they are part of organized organizations that seek to continue the pledges of the Nazi party for white supremacy and the elimination of minorities. Is it 50% of this country? Absolutely not. Is it enough that we should be concerned? Absolutely.

She goes on:

Don’t you think it’s time we stop pretending, America? We have problems. If you are not one of the problems, that’s great. And I’m going to keep posting about things like this to as many people as I can. Not because I’m a celebrity. But because I’m a citizen of this country. I’m the granddaughter of immigrants. I am a Jew. And I am offended and disgusted that people are doing things like this while so many of us don’t want to believe it’s really happening.

But that’s just one example. A few days ago, CNN actually reported a debate on the question “Are Jews people?”. Here’s what Boing Boing said:

Here’s us, suggesting that media people stop using the cutesy term “alt right” to describe Sieg Heiling white supremacists. But they’re already moving onto panel discussions on whether Jews are people.

Would you ever think such a discussion would be on CNN? But it’s there, because Trump’s election has emboldened the white supremecists who make up the euphemistically-titled “alt-right” — and Trump has gone so far as to appoint someone they see as a leader, Steve Bannon, to be a chief advisor.

The Forward explored the question in a different way. There, they looked at the reaction that ensued when Mike Pence was addressed by the actors of Hamilton, reading a statement from the producers, writer, and actors. They asked: “What if this had happened at Fiddler on the Roof?”:

Picture this: It’s a lovely evening at the Broadway Theater and “Fiddler on the Roof” is nearing its finale. Soon, the little village of Anatevka — beset by pogroms and the disruption of tradition — will be little more than a memory. Some will try to adhere to the old ways, others will try their luck with America and assimilation.

The lights go down, then come back up. Applause clatters through the theater, then Danny Burstein, the actor playing Tevye, steps forward and tells the audience that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is in the house. Burstein silences the boos, then reads from a prepared statement:

“We, sir, we are the diverse America, who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Burstein says. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

What would the reaction have been?

Would the actors had been booed? Would there be demands for an apology? Hamilton was a target because it has “the efftrontery to present unapologetically a vision of a wholly diverse America. It’s an America where founding fathers engage in rap battles, and employ the sort of language that the president uses in the locker room but finds filthy when others use it, particularly those who come from different backgrounds and have different visions of America than he does. “Hamilton” represents what America truly looks and sounds like today”. Trump voters want it back where it was in 1964. The Forward continues:

What if there really was a #BoycottFiddler movement? What if Breitbart News declared the “Fiddler” cast to be “whiny Jews?”

A new sense of fear would right now be coursing specifically through the Jewish community, the same way it is coursing through African-American, immigrant and LGBTQ communities; it would be the same fear that is both chilling and galvanizing artistic communities throughout the country as we see grim portents arising from a president-elect who demands safe spaces for himself and his followers and none for anyone else.

Given the reaction of Trump followers, should we be worried about safe spaces for Jews?

By the way, if you think you can leave the US to be safe, think again. The Jewish Journal is reporting that Francois Fillon, a leading contender in the upcoming French presidential election, suggested Jews do not respect French law. He talked about how the French are fighting Muslim sectarianism, and “We fought against a form of Catholic sectarianism or like we fought the desire of Jews to live in a community that does not respect the laws of the French Republic.” If they come to register and restrict the rights of Muslims, what religion is next?

Let us be vigilant about increased antisemitism — and more importantly, remember that we are in a common battle: that racist attacks on any group for a religious, racial, gender, or sexual characteristic is an attack on us all. An opinion piece in the Washington Post from over a year ago opines:

America is unique in Jewish history because the social construct of power and oppression in this society came to be based more on skin color than on religion or ethnic identity. Because of that, along with the best of American values and our own hard work, we now find ourselves as another privileged white ethnicity. Despite our only good intentions, we are — all of us — full participants and beneficiaries of the American evil known as racism.

The brilliance of being Jewish, though, is that we stubbornly refuse to fit into any social construct of power or oppression. We are simply Ivri’im, people from “somewhere else,” people who struggle with God and justice, who demand that the rest of the world does, too, and see every human life as sacred because we are all in the image of God. And the truth is, we have never belonged to one race alone. The Torah tells us that we left Egypt with the “erev rav,” with a mixed multitude of peoples. Around the world there are Jews of color, Asian Jews, Jews of all kinds. The idea that Jews are white is not only ridiculous, it’s offensive to who we really are! Yes, societies like America come along sometimes and give us privileges and powerful labels like “white.” In America’s racist social construct, Jews are very much white people, but we must never again think of ourselves that way — it’s time for us to opt out of that racist paradigm, because we are Jews.

Imagine what we and our children could be like if we associate our Jewishness with an essential statement against racism and discrimination. Even though we and our children have benefited from the best schools and jobs and housing that whiteness affords, we can be the ones to challenge the system from within. We can be the ones who change business practices, housing codes, policing, correctional facilities, social policies, unequal schools — motivated by our values and our Jewish historical experience. Indeed, so many progressive leaders in this country have been Jews (including some Jewish founders of the NAACP), motivated exactly by this vision. But so many more of us need to own our real power, which is not our whiteness, but our Jewishness, our Torah and our tradition that motivates us to remember the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt; that calls on us to lift up the cause of all those who are oppressed.

We must all work together to ensure that what we are thankful for this year is not taken away in the coming year: the freedom to practice our religion, the freedom from other religions and their values being imposed on us by the government, the freedom to marry who we want, the freedom to control our bodies and our minds, the freedom to speak against power when we see injustice, and the freedom to fight for justice. We need to make it so next year we can be equally thankful.