Observations Along the Road

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

Oh, Boy! | “Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman” @ TAS Northridge

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Oct 30, 2016 @ 1:56 pm PST

Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Shermanuserpic=theatre_ticketsIt started with Bruce Kimmel (FB). I had participated in the Kickstarter for Bruce’s revue “Los Angeles: Then and Now” at LACC. It was there I met  Linden Waddell (FB) and learned about her one-woman show, Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman. I thought it would be a good fit for our congregation, Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB) in Northridge. After some back and forth, we ended up booking the show as a fundraiser for the Men of TAS (FB) and the TAS Sisterhood (FB). Thus began my second stint wearing the hat of a producer :-), similar to my ACSAC Experience.

Last night was the show, and now I can return to my traditional hat — one that fits better — that of a professional audience.  I’ll note that although I had booked Linden’s show based on the strength of her personality and my love of Allan Sherman‘s catalogue. I had actually not watched her You-Tube clip, so the show itself was a complete surprise … and a delight.

It wasn’t just me that loved the show. As the show was going on, I was watching the rest of the congregation audience. Universal smiles. People singing along quietly. After the show, talking to the attendees, there was universal acclaim.  Although many of the younger generation have forgotten Allan Sherman, with their only exposure to parody being Weird Al, the generation in attendance grew up with these parodies, and it was a delight to hear them again. The live aspect added a lot to it — if you know about Allan Sherman, you know these songs were meant to be performed live — they started out as party parodies. It added something.

Linden’s show was not just a simple performance of songs. She brought characterizations and accents and stories to add to the songs, and provided history and context to the songs. It went over very well, and the audience interaction was a delight.

Linden adjusts the songs for the audiences; at our show, the playlist was as follows:

  1. Parody Tonight (an introductory adaptation of Sondheim’s Comedy Tonight to set the context of the show)
  2. There is Nothing Like a Lox
  3. Green Stamps
  4. Academy Award Medly: Call Me / Secret Code / Chopped Liver / Overweight People
  5. Taking Lessons
  6. Crazy Downtown
  7. Shticks Medly
  8. You’re the Top
  9. Sir Greenbaum’s Madrigal
  10. Your Mother’s Here to Stay
  11. The Ballad of Harry Lewis
  12. Skin
  13. How Deep is the Ocean/Birdbath
  14. One Hippopotami
  15. Night and Day (with punctuation marks included)
  16. When I’m In The Mood for Love
  17. Harvey and Sheila
  18. Smog Gets In Your Eyes
  19. All of My Laughter (from The Fig Leaves are Falling)
  20. Shake Hands with your Uncle Max
  21. Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

What’s nice is that there was  a mix of the familiar and unknown (and that unknown was Amazon’s gain, as I filled in the 6 albums I was missing). Songs that I hadn’t known — such as “Secret Code” or “All of My Laughter”, and it was amazing how many of these songs — from 60 years ago — were still relevant today. You can really see how artists like Weird Al owe there existence to artists like Allan Sherman.

About the only regret I have with the show is that the audience was not bigger. We tried our best to spread the word via social media and promotion, but it obviously didn’t reach the right demographic. This wasn’t the fault of the show — it was our learning curve on this aspect (and one I think many groups need to learn — from my conference experience, publicity is one of the hardest jobs there is and one that often gets left to those without the connections to do it right). A number of attendees expressed interest after the show in booking it for groups they know — I think that is a wonderful testament to the universality combined with nostalgia of this music. Still, I’d estimate we had nearly 100 at the show, which is pretty good attendance.

Linden was accompanied during the show by accompanist Marjorie Poe, who join in on a few songs.

Production credits: The show was directed by Janet Miller (FB), who alas was not in attendance (I enjoy seeing Janet). Linden is booked by Jeannine Frank / Frank Entertainment. On the Temple side, credit goes to the members of the Sherman Show committee: Jackie Zev, Jennifer Kassoy, Larry Hoffman, Roger Lowe, and lil ole me. Our sound was run by Andrew Petrak and Jacob Zonis, alumni of the Nobel Middle School Drama program. A special shout out to Aaron Solomon, the TAS Executive Director, who came over in the late afternoon to help us figure out how to get the connections right and the sound working perfectly. Thank you also to the spouses who helped (Karen Davis (my lovely wife) and Dorothy Hoffman), and all the kids and volunteers who helped usher and set up. A special thank you to our sponsors: Larry and Dorothy Hoffman, and Bernard and Tamara Singer.

If you remember Allan Sherman — and even if you only know Weird Al — I’d recommend you see this show. Alas, for us, it was a one-time event. Luckily, for you, you can check Linden’s website and find future showings.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  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). 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:  November starts with another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB): Culture Clash’s Vote or Die Laughing. The following weekend brings Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Nottingham Festival (FB). We then lose a weekend as we travel to Palo Alto for a Bar Mitzvah. The third weekend of November brings Funny Girl, a Conundrum Theatre Company (FB) guest production at  The Colony Theatre (FB) and a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]. November concludes with a HOLD date for Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. The last month of the year will include Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); 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 a single hold date for Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). February 2017 gets back to being busy: with a hold for 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 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: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. 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.

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A Night of Funny 😃 Elayne Boosler @ TAS

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 03, 2016 @ 4:18 pm PST

boosleruserpic=laughingLast night, Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB) threw a special fund raiser in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the formation of TAS as TAS out of the merger of two other congregations (Temple Beth Torah (1951-2016) and North Valley Reform (1962-1965)). For this fund raiser, TAS presented comedienne Elayne Boosler (FB).

When this was first announced, I was excited. As you’ve probably figured out, I attend loads of live performances every year, and I write up each and every one of them. Yes, that obsession extends to Temple events. So, last year, when we held a cantor’s concert, I felt obliged to write that up. It’s OK when things are good, but when they go south, well, it can be a bit awkward.

So, when I heard about Ms. Boosler coming, I was very happy. I could write up the show without worrying about feelings. Further, she was someone I had heard about, and about whom I had heard positive things. My wife, who isn’t always enamored of Temple events, didn’t even put up a fuss with the tickets.

So, last night came. And we were blown out of the water. The evening was extremely funny — I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen my wife laugh like that; it certainly topped both Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and An Act of God. There were some stories that I’m not sure I ever expected to hear from a bimah, but they were true and effective commentaries on life — which is what we get normally from a bimah. Evidently, a lot of the material was part of her regular act (which I hadn’t). I can’t remember a lot of the stories, but I did enjoy the reference contrasting Donald Trump with a Jackie Mason delivery.

During the show, Elayne mentioned her charity Tails of Joy, which does dog and cat rescue and supports such organizations. This made us think of our dear friend Mindy, who works with Boxer Rescue LA.  Mindy would have gotten a kick out of the show.

All, in all, a very enjoyable evening, with wonderful desserts. Congratulations to the 50th Anniversary Committee at TAS for doing this event; I hope an evening like this become an annual tradition. It’s something we’ll certainly go to.

Disclaimer: I must disclose that I am President of the Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom; as such, I am also a member of the Board of Trustees.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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 had been subscribing at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and REP East (FB): but all have gone or are going dark., I just added a subscription to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next up is a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The following weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April will be the Four Clowns (FB) production of Lunatics and Actors at the LA Shakespeare Center on April 30. May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond MusicalAlien vs. MusicalHamlet (Las Vegas Style) ✨. But that’s just a small percentage; there are over 200 shows listed now.  We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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An Ages Old Tradition

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 23, 2015 @ 2:40 pm PST

userpic=tallitToday, my congregation participated in an ages-old Jewish tradition that many felt was a long missing tradition, and others found incredibly offensive. So what did they do?

Did they sit the men separately from the women?

Did they not let women sing or lead from the bimah?

Did they swing a dead chicken around their head to get rid of sins?

Nope. None of those. They did a congregational fund-raising appeal on Yom Kippur morning.

Now at many congregations I’ve been at, fund raising during the high holy days is a common tradition. One morning service you get hit up for Israeli Bonds. Another morning the Temple President (or designee) would get up after the Rabbi to appeal for the needs of the congregation. People were used to it, and they planned and gave every year. At our current congregation, however, that wasn’t the practice. There would be a supplemental annual appeal at the end of the Tax Year, and various fundraisers through the year. So this year’s appeal was a new thing — and as such, uncomfortable for those not used to it.

[At this point, the small Rabbinic voice in my head says: “But isn’t that the job of religion: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?”]

The thing is: the appeal is needed. As with most non-profits, subscriptions and memberships only cover about 70% of expenses. The rest depends on annual giving, and low giving means things like deferred maintenance and deferred dreams. It can also lead to little things like “temporary” lines of credit that can create even more deferrals.

So we did the right thing: We brought back the annual High Holy Day appeal.  We made the attempt. We swung at the pitch.

Did we hit it out of the park? I have no idea. I know for some it struck just the right tone; for others, it was too much, too heavy handed. Here are some thoughts of mine:

  • A very wise Kindergarten teacher at Wilshire Blvd Temple, Lillian Fisher, taught me when I was her assistant that the first time you do something it is not a mistake. There is a distinct possibility that today’s pitch was too heavy handed. But at least we tried, and we can fine tune the presentation over upcoming years.
  • Someone else who is very wise — perhaps Mark Twain somewhere on the Internet — said that 90% of everything is not in what you are saying, but how you say it. I certainly think that was the case here. I do believe that how the message was presented could be improved, but it was vital that the message get out there. We just need to work with people to enable them to look past the manner or length of presentation and focus on the underlying message and need.
  • Yet another person who is very wise — our current congregational president, Gail Karlin — taught me a very important lesson with respect to appeals like this. The most important thing is not the amount given, but the fact that you participate. A person or families’ participation in an appeal or fundraiser — at whatever level is comfortable for them, even if it is just $1 — is what is truly significant. Participation demonstrates you are part of the community, and that you are willing to give something to support the cause. Alas, far too often we structure our fundraisers to focus on the big machers, and push away the small givers. The message must get out that all participation is equal and valued and necessary.

So do I think doing the appeal was wrong? Nope.

Did I participate? Yep, at a level I was comfortable with. As they would say, you can “count me in”.

Did I particularly like how it was said and presented? Not fully, but I was able to see past the presentation to  the need and the message, and I hope that other congregants and supporters can do the same. The need is too great to let a little mishandling of how they present it get in the way. Presentations are ephermeral and tactical. The focus must be on the ongoing need for annual support that is necessary for the strategic long term.

[ETA, for those unfamiliar with the terms: Tactical == short to mid-term, what you need to do now or shortly. Strategic == long-term, the overall end-game approach.]


P.S.: How could they have done it better? Some were uncomfortable with the Rabbi participating in the appeal build-up with his sermon, seeing that more as the role of a Board member. I can see that, but this was the first year after a long dry spell of appeals, and it could be tied in well to the Jubilee year theme. I do think it went on a little long, but I’m a “tell ’em what your gonna say, say it, tell ’em what you said” kinda guy. More significantly, I think the Board Member ask should have been after the Rabbi but before the Cantor’s song, so as to allow people to fill out the cards while the Cantor was singing.

P.P.S: You want to help? You can donate to the congregation here.

P.P.P.S.: Another way to help is to support the Men of TAS Annual Golf Tournment, which helps MoTAS help TAS.

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Continuing the Tradition

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Apr 20, 2015 @ 6:56 am PST

Songleaders Boot Campuserpic=folk-guitarAs I wrote yesterday, this has been a music weekend, not a theatre weekend. Last night was the concluding concert of the Songleader Bootcamp Regional Conference – Los Angeles (FB) (SLBC) at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), featuring Rick Recht (FB) and Sheldon Low (FB). It was a truly special night, highlighted by the unexpected — running into my cousin Robin who was part of the SLBC staff.

SLBC is an effort to educate future Jewish songleaders. As we were heading out of the concert, my wife was trying to explain the concept of the Jewish songleader. She thought it dated from Chuck Feldman of Wilshire Blvd Temple. I disagreed. To me, the Jewish songleader is a direct result of the folksinger movement of the late 1950s/early 1960s, which was also the time of the formation of the Jewish camping movement. The 1950s and 1960s was also a time you saw high school students picking up guitars and forming singing groups. This led to the Jewish camps adopting the singing of the emerging folksongs (if I recall the songbook of the Wilshire camps in the 1960s, there was a large number of songs from the folk movements). Other factors flavoring the mix were the emergence of modern Israeli music in the 1950s and 1960s, and the encouragement of folksongs that addressed social justice issues. Put all these factors into a blender, and what emerged was the songleader: a young adult with a guitar leading a Jewish camping community modern Jewish song (and possibly writing them along the way). This moved Jewish music from the traditional cantorial style to the “Rabbis with Guitars”. The seminal emergence here was from Minnesota, which gave us Debby Friedman in the early 1970s; this led to the modern Jewish artists that came out of NFTY, artists such as Rick Recht, Sheldon Low, Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, and many many more.

SLBC is an organized effort to keep this movement alive to the next generation. Musical leaders and Jewish educators spend an intense weekend with regional Jewish teens, focusing on the music and the message. What emerges are teens supercharged to take their guitars (or fiddles or trombones or ukuleles or … whatever) and lead and inspire. From what we saw last night, that’s just what happened.

Songleaders Boot Camp ConcertAs with any concert like this, writing a traditional review is pointless. This was a high-energy songfest, with a mixture of songs led by Rick and Sheldon, and featuring various subsets of SLBC participants and leaders, and encouraging audience participation. It was a camp song session in Northridge, not a sit-in-the-chair-and-listen concert. What songs were sung? Here’s an attempt at a song list, although you must note that many variations of songs have the same name being based on common texts:
(Note: The picture to the right was snarfed from Facebook)

  1. Salaam/ Ki Va Moed
  2. Am Yisraeil Chai
  3. Kobi’s Lullaby
  4. Shalom Aleichem
  5. Halleluyah
  6. One Day
  7. The Rainbow Song
  8. Shehecheyanu
  9. In This Home
  10. The Hope
  11. Hinei Ma Tov

So here are some general observations of the concert:

  • One of the things I did during this show was watch the faces of the participants — and they were just radiating “joy”. I saw this on the faces of Rabbi Lutz and Cantor Roher as they joined in the leadership; I saw it in the faces of the educators; I saw it in the faces of the kids. I wished I could just bottle this joy — this joy from the leadership is what draws people in. As those who have been to Jewish camp say: if every day at a synagogue had the spiritual joy of a day at a camp….
  • The event was remarkable for its inclusiveness. I’m not talking about the fact that there were more than just guitars present. Rather, I’m referring to the point where Rick called up his Chevra. This was clearly a group of special needs participants — and their participation just amplified the joy and energy just mentioned. No particular “look at us for doing this” was called out — it was just another group of normal participants. It was this non-emphasis that created the extra message of inclusiveness that was great to see. The unsaid says so much.
  • As President of MoTAS (the Mens Club at the Synagogue), I found it telling what members were at the concert and what members weren’t. I was heartened to see so many MoTAS folks there, and it demonstrated a divide that wasn’t strictly age — rather, it identified those that were young at heart. These are the leaders that MoTAS needs for the next generation, and I was pleased that so many of them have already been — or are — in leadership positions.
  • The fact that TAS (and Temple Ramat Zion) were the hosts and coordinators for this event says a lot about the congregations and their focus to the community — a message that is a good one and one that must be shared.

At this point, I’d link in a video of the show. Loads of folks were filming. But so far, nothing is up on YouTube. I’ll edit this post if I find something.

Different things draw people to synagogue. Some come to find the ritual they had in their youth. Others come for the spiritual community, the kehilla kedosha. What will make synagogues succeed in the 21st century will be the ability to create that community, and that means figuring out how to bring the camp energy, experience, and spirituality out of the woods (or the California hills) and into the edifices, transforming them. This bootcamp — and the concert we saw resulting from it — is a great way to do so.

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 Shows: Today we head out on vacation — Las Vegas, baby! Two shows are already booked: Menopause the Musical at Harrahs, and Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood, and Crazy Girls at the Riviera (before the Riveria goes away on May 4th) — the particular show depends on what shows up at Tix4Tonight.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! 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.

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Seeing A Different Side

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 01, 2015 @ 11:00 am PST

Cantors Concert (TAS)A Cantors Concert. When you hear that phrase, you probably think of a long religious service with lots of liturgical music. While, indeed, that is a form of a musical presentation given by a cantor, it is part of a worship involving a congregation (which you must never refer to as the “audience”, as Rabbi Sheryl always used to remind me). A true concert provides the opportunity for a cantor to perform in front of an audience. It provides the opportunity for a cantor, who is a trained music professional as well as a liturgical leader, to make selections designed to showcase their talent. It also allows the community to see a cantor as more than just a religious musician, to see the cantor as a fully-rounded entertainer. These concerts can also serve as fundraisers for a congregation, where congregants, friends, and family can support both the cantors on stage and the congregation as a whole through their paid attendance. Given this, one can look at a “cantors concert” through multiple aspects: the performance aspects, the fund-raising success, and the extent to which it deepened the relationship between the audience (which contained some percentage of congregation members) and the cantor.

I mention all of this because last night I attended the Cantor’s Concert at our synagogue. I was torn: do I write it up (because I write up every live performance I go to), or do I take a pass (because I’m president of the Men’s Organization at the synagogue)? I decided to write it up. Firstly, because I believe in the organization, and I believe in the talent we have in our cantor, cantor emerita, and cantorial intern. Secondly, because I believe that by publicizing the event, I’ll either entice someone to come visit our synagogue, or I’ll entice someone to support a cantors concert near them. Lastly, because I believe it is important to encourage attendance at live performances. You can see a movie anytime — a concert, play, musical, or other live performance is by its nature “one time only”. Every performance is different. Just ask anyone who has seen Frank Ferrante or Dame Edna, and you’ll know what I mean.

Last night’s cantors concert featured the three cantors associated with Temple Ahavat Shalom: Cantor Jen Roher, Cantor Emerita Patti Linsky, and Cantorial Intern Lily Tash. The program was titled “Songs About Life, Love, and Other Necessities”. It featured the following songs (performer shown in {}):

  1. “Magic To Do” (Pippin) {All} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  2. “What I Did For Love” (A Chorus Line) {Tash} [M: M. Hamlisch / L: E. Kliban]
  3. “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (Avenue Q) {Roher} [M/L: R. Lopez & J. Marx]
  4. “100 Years” {Linsky} (M/L: J. Ondrasik)
  5. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” {All} [M: S. Secunda / L: J. Jacobs, S. Cahn, S. Chaplin]
  6. “Far From The Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof) {Tash} [M: J. Bock / L: S. Harnick]
  7. “Taylor, The Latte Boy” {Roher} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  8. “Defying Gravity” (Wicked) {Linsky}  [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  9. “The Man I Love” / “Nice Work If You Can Get It” / “Fascinating Rhythm” {Roher} [M: G. Gershwin / L: I. Gershwin]
  10. “Lullaby of Broadway” (42nd Street) {All} [M: H. Warren / L: Al Dubin]
  11. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” {All} [M/L: D. Raye, H. Prince]
  12. “It Don’t Mean a Thing” {Linsky} [M: D. Ellington / L: I. Mills]
  13. “For Good” (Wicked) {Linsky, Roher} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  14. “Alto’s Lament” {Tash} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  15. “Music and the Mirror” (A Chorus Line) {Roher} [M: Marvin Hamlish / L: E. Kliban]
  16. “I Am Enough” {Linsky} [M/L: P. Linsky]
  17. “Seasons of Love” (Rent) {All} [M/L: J. Larson]

In general, this was a good selection of songs for the theme, although the lyrics of the opening selection didn’t really fit the show (I have never really realized before how specific they are to the show Pippin). Picking a set of songs for a show is difficult. Although I have some minor quibbles with the selection (some shows were a little over-represented, and it was surprising to not see any Kander/Ebb, Coleman, Ahrens/Flaherty, or Maltby/Shire), those are mine. The audience was unaware and enjoyed every selection; the songs worked into the theme well.

Overall, the performances were good. There are a few I would like to single out:

The trio did very well on the jazzier / swing numbers. The voices blended very well and provided exceptional harmony in songs like “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, and particularly “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” featured some really good scat singing and wonderful piano, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” has some wonderful audience interaction. Given the quality of songs like these, the group should consider focusing next year’s concert on this style of music. It could be truly exceptional.

In solo performance, Cantorial Intern Tash did very well on both “Far From The Home I Love” and “Alto’s Lament”.  On the former, she hit the emotional aspect well as she related it to her own life; on the latter, she was able to pick up and amplify the comic aspects of the song.

Cantor Roher also had some performances worthy of highlight. Her introductory story on “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” was interesting (and prompted a mention of the “Marvin Hamlisch Story” after the show, given the other Hamslich songs); the song itself was well sung. In addition to her singing, her acting side shone on “Taylor, The Latte Boy” where she was able to personify and become the character in the song. Her enthusiasm and joy was contagious (in a good way) during “Fascinating Rhythm”, and she wowed with her dance moves in “Music and The Mirror”. Overall, Cantor Roher’s performance and selection enabled the audience to see a truly different side of her. In addition to the singing ability, she has a playful performance side and remarkable enthusiasm that can’t always be expressed on the bimah. It was a delight to see them here.

Cantor Linsky was exceptional in “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, not only for the singing but in remarkable interactions with the audience and the musical combo. She was very touching in her own composition, “I am Enough” and handled “Defying Gravity” (a difficult number) quite well.

The three were backed by a very strong musical combo consisting of Chris Hardin on keyboards, Kirk Smith on bass and guitar, and Dan Schnelle on drums.  The three were very good, and shone during the jazzier numbers. I could just imagine how well the three might do on  jazzier Cy Coleman music. The interplay with the artists was also very good, especially in “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and the opening of “Taylor, The Latte Boy”.

Overall, the show was enjoyable, and was warmly and enthusiastically received by the audience.

Turning to the technical side of things: Sound was provided by Drew Dalzell and Diablo Sound.  We’ve seen Drew’s work before at The Colony Theatre (FB), and the quality of the sound here demonstrated why the congregation needs to upgrade the bimah sound system (anyone got a spare twenty thousand to donate?) Lighting was the standard bimah lighting; the facility doesn’t provide a lot of flexibility in that area. The other aspects of the production were smooth; Wendy Krowne, Jan Saltsman, and the Concert Committee deserve commendation for the hard work that went into this. My only quibble was that there needed to be the obligatory cell phone reminder — the folks sitting next to me kept bringing out their cell phone and texting during the performance, which was quite distracting. One would hope that, in this day and age, “the announcement” would no longer be necessary. Hope, alas, sometimes gets dashed on the sharp rocks of reality.

During the show, it was reported that this Cantors Concert was the most financially successful concert in the history of Cantors Concerts at TAS. This is very good thing. If you missed this concert, you’re out of luck — it is a one time event. I’m sure there will be another one in 2016, and before then, you can come and hear Cantor Roher on the bimah almost every Friday night.

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 Shows: February performances start later today with a concert performance of the musical Redhead at Theatre West (FB).  We have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7, so there is no theatre scheduled that weekend. The next week makes up for it with two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon. Those who enjoyed the Marcy/Zina songs should note that there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. 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.

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My Dues Are Too High! (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:36 am PST

userpic=tallitYesterday, I read a very interesting piece on Kveller titled “My Local Kosher Market is Closing & I’m Part of the Reason Why“, and I set it aside to write a post related to it. Yesterday evening, Rabbi Lutz posted a link to an article about why one should choose synagogue membership. Both are worth reading, so I’ll wait while you do so.

(taps feet, looks at watch, taps feet again, while the theme from Jeopardy plays in the background)

OK, so now you’ve read them. What both emphasize, in slightly different ways, is the importance of having the Jewish community — and by extension, Jewish communal institutions — there when you need them. The value of these institutions cannot be viewed solely on what you get back in services over a given time period. In fact, looking at Jewish institutions (or any religious institution) in a fee-for-service manner just will not work. You can’t say: I pay $2000 a year to be a member, and that’s cheaper than buying the services ala-carte.

The reason we join together in the groups we do (be that brotherhoods and sisterhoods, or the congregation as a whole) is to create a community, pure and simple. We want to create a community that will be there to support us — to help us and lift us when we are having trouble, to be there to share our joys. We build relationships within the community, and we help others in the community. We may not always like everyone in the community, but the community should have common values, goals, and mores. Most importantly, we want the community to be there when we need it.

In the past — at least in the progressive Jewish communities — we’ve been told that there is a price of admission to the community (boy, doesn’t it sound wrong when I put it that way?) This price: dues. There are dues for the synagogue, dues for brotherhood, dues for sisterhood. This notion of dues turns people off. It is one thing to have fees for specific services (such as a fee for religious school)… but being told by some entity that you must pay $X to be considered a part of the community seems wrong (although, to be fair, they do allow you to negotiate the value of $X depending on your circumstances).

How do Christian congregations handle this? Ever hear of something called “faith offerings”? Ever seen the basket passed? Congregational support is often done at the end of services with passed baskets, with people giving as the community moves them. This never took hold in Jewish communities because of the traditional prohibition of handling or carrying money on Shabbat. There is also tithing (giving 10% of your “income”) to the church, but (to my knowledge) this is unlike dues in that it is voluntary, not a price of admission.

Some Jewish institutions are exploring a different model. In $mens_club, we’ve done away with our dues system, and made all men in the congregation members. We have ask them to send in support to the community, if they feel the community is valuable, in an amount they deem appropriate. If we do our job right and build a valuable community with strong relationships, then people will want the community to exist and will be willing to support it financially. Yes, it is a risk. However, it is a better level of feedback than robotic collection of dues for an organization that might no longer have a purpose.

What it boils down to is this: You need to support your communal groups if they are to survive and be around whenever you need them. You might not utilize them every day; you might not get back in services what you contribute in support. If you want them to survive, you contribute. This is true whether the organization is your congregation’s brotherhood or sisterhood, whether it is the congregation itself, or whether it is your local Kosher market or JCC. If an organization has value to you, support it.

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Secret Relationships

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 08, 2014 @ 11:49 am PST

userpic=tallitIf you ask most congregations, they’ll tell you they are the best kept secret in $location. In fact, they shout to the world that they are the best kept secret (as well as being the most friendly, ummm, haimish, congregations around). They think that shouting they are a secret will overcome the fact that nobody knows what they are doing. The truth, of course, is that most congregations fail horribly on publicity (and a large part of that is exacerbated by the Internet, which has gotten rid of flyers and made newspaper ads much less effective). So, to that end, I’d like to do my part over lunch by publicizing some Jewish stuff of interest on my little blog, which most people don’t read anyway (at least judging by the comments).

  • Separation of Church and State. The issues concerning separation of church and state are big news. There is the battle over the Satanist statue in Oklahoma, and the LA County Board of Supes just voted to add a cross back into the county seal. Want to learn more about the issue? Come out to Northridge CA this Sunday when Michael Risman of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State will be speaking on “Will the Wall Come Tumbling Down? An Updated Look at Church and State in Los Angeles and Elsewhere”. This is a joint event of $sisterhood and $mens_club at $current_congregation (you can probably figure those out now, but they’re cool to write, so click here for directions), and starts at 10am. There will be a $mens_club business meeting before the talk at 8:45am. Here’s the flyer and the abstract: “The 200+ year experiment of separating Church and State in the United States has been a resounding success by most measures. The political model has been emulated since that time in most all modern democracies and adopted by most UN member nations as a universal human right. And yet, as a front line worker for decades on behalf of the preservation and promotion of the First Amendment, the challenges seem only to have grown exponentially in the US in recent years. With presidential candidates and US Supreme Court judges denouncing the principle, religious groups regularly granted special privileges and shielded by law from accountability, and an array of powerful and well-funded organizations actively seeking to use the power of government to promote their religious ideologies, we may now be facing the strongest challenges to church/state separation in the US today in all of that history.”
  • Relationships With the Community. I’ve been talking for a while about $mens_club; here’s an opportunity to meet us. We’re doing a special $mens_club Shabbat service, with a dinner and short presentation beforehand, and the community is invited. The dinner is at 6:15pm and is a Chinese New Years celebration menu (don’t ask me, I didn’t pick the menu) done by one of the congregation’s excellent caterers — in fact, the caterer that did my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah (the caterer is also active in another local Brotherhood, which I think is cool and a way to build a relationship between the two groups). After dinner, there will be a short presentation by moi on $mens_club, followed by the service which will be performed conducted by members of $mens_club. Visit here to sign up for the dinner.
  • The Secret Rabbi. One of the members of $mens_club alerted me to this interesting post in the Jewish Journal with a wish list for the upcoming year. One suggestion was for the great Rabbi exchange: “So, let’s pick one Shabbat a year and call it the Great Exchange — a day when every rabbi in town gets to speak in a different shul.”. Secrets and fears are the main reason this won’t happen. Consider: Everyone is afraid that if their great rabbi speaks in another community, that community will discover him and hire him away. The other community is afraid that if another rabbi speaks, then the people will make like Moses and “exodus” to that Rabbi’s congregation. Therefore, having another rabbi speak only happens when the rabbi lives far enough away for people to not run over there. In doing so, people are keeping their greatest weapon (for good or evil — you decide) secret. They are also demonstrating a fear that their relationships aren’t strong enough. Banks build sticky relationship with customers by entwining themselves throughout their daily lives. Modern congregations are so detached this never happens. We need to make it happen so that we can be confident when we work with other congregations near us.

 

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Talking the Talk

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 20, 2013 @ 11:24 am PST

userpic=mlj-signWednesday night, I attended a calendaring meeting and a board meeting at $current_congregation. I was there at the request of the President of $mens_club, as the bum was off vacationing in Cancun. The things I do for my friends :-).

More seriously, I did attend the board meeting, and a few things about it have been sticking in my head… and the only way to get them out of there is to share. Hence, this post.

I’ve written in the past about how I would like to have $mens_club be a role model in how to do welcoming right. It appears that one of the themes of the board this year is similar — they are trying to establish relationships along the lines of those talked about by Rabbi Wolfson, and they were all energized to do this from the recent UAHC URJ Biennial. We did an exercise of doing elevator speeches about selling the congregation to someone you meet, and that word “welcoming” was constantly there. People were sharing their wonderful experiences about making friends, kids in the religious school, etc. I even shared about $mens_club.

But… but…

Something was off. I noticed it because I’m not a member of the board. This was my first meeting there. And other than the one person I know from Sisterhood who I sat next to (and who did calendaring with me), no other board member came over and greeted the new person. Translation: Although they talked being welcoming, they didn’t follow through with the stranger in their midst. This is the problem: we can all say we are welcoming, but it takes actual effort to break away from your friends and greet someone you don’t know. They had the opportunity to establish a new relationship, and potentially draw in a new volunteer (c’mon, if I’m stupid enough to attend a temple board meeting in someone’s absence, I can be talked into anything)… and they didn’t follow through. This is yet another example of just not seeing the little things that aren’t welcoming. Welcoming is more than a nametag and a hello: it is an attitude shift and (in many ways) a paradigm shift from the comfortable cliques.

I was also thinking, during the elevator pitches, about the pitches themselves. As someone who hasn’t had the positive experiences (other than with $mens_club), they weren’t resonating. Consider: someone who hadn’t seen the warmth was just hearing words about how warm the place was. What is needed (and I couldn’t put it in words at the time) is something that goes beyond words: doing something that demonstrates the warmth. Invitations. Personal connections. Now there was some of that in the speeches, but perhaps I’m too much of the colder computer scientist to always pick up on it. However (and I think this is important), when giving such speeches, one needs to be aware that you might be talking to someone like me. What do I want to hear? Tell me why this isn’t the typical Reform congregation — why this isn’t a marble house of plastic people.

I had a second observation on the meeting itself. The meeting consisted mostly of reports — there were almost no action items for the Board to act upon and discuss. Some of these reports went on longish, perhaps too longish. I’ve learned from my ACSAC meetings that meetings work best when condensed down to the actions that require the entire board to take, or short announcements that the entire Board needs to hear regarding upcoming due-dates. I didn’t get that sense here. Further, there was the sense of exclusion again. When there were committee reports, there was extensive attention paid to the $youth_group representative, who was new. Other groups that might have had items to report (I shyly raise my hand) were never given the opportunity. Why one group over the others? In short: more focus was needed — reports should be (a) from all committees and auxiliaries, and (b) highlighting upcoming actions and activities within a 60 day period (which is significant for publicity purposes). The focus should not be selecting particular groups to report, and then cutting off when the time limit is reached. Meetings are for the efficient conveying of information and the taking of necessary actions. Meetings are the forum for cross-committee interactions, or extra-committee or higher-level decisions. In particular, upcoming events should be discussed to ensure that there aren’t surprise impacts, and so that everyone can support and discuss them.

Will this scare me off of volunteering again. Probably not. This was a typical temple board meeting — I’ve been to my share. It only means that work of being the role model is even more important.

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