🗯️ Four Questions for Society Today

userpic=divided-nationAfter reading the news of late, a few questions have come to me. These are not of the “Why is this night different?” variety, but they do seem to tell something about what the real attitude is of the current leaders of this country:

  • If the country is full, why the concern about abortions? If there is no room for more people, wouldn’t you want to stop unwanted births? Rather, the agenda appears to be pushing your religious views on when life begins and murder can occur on those with differing religious views.
  • If we must close the borders, why only the southern one? If the country is full and we have to close the border, why is it full only for low-income brown people? This demonstrates that the issue is not the country being full, but a bias against brown and low-income immigrants.
  • Why is there so much money for Notre Dame, and little for the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Historically Black Churches in Louisiana? Could it be we are only in favor of supporting European White culture, and don’t care about black or Islamic culture.
  • If we are concerned about the sanctity of life, why do we not care about people after they are born? There is so much energy waged on the battle against abortion, ostensibly due to a concern for the life of the unborn. But once the child is born, where is the care? Where are the programs to lift people to better lives, to move them out of the cycle of poverty and despair? Where is the concern for the refugee, for whom to return to their country of origin would be certain death? Why are you seemingly only appreciated if you are white and wealthy and Christian?

How we behave, what we do and what we say reflects who are are as a society. On Friday night, we remind ourselves about the battle to escape those who would oppress us for being a minority. We remind ourselves that we once were strangers, and so we should welcome the stranger into our homes. That is central to who we are and what we believe, and we remind ourselves of these values every year. This country’s leadership is behaving in a way that goes against those values: they reject those who are not white… they reject those who are not rich… they reject those who do not hold with their beliefs. Their values go against what America stands for, and deserve repudiation.


✡ An Insult at my Doorstep

This morning, when I went to go out and get the paper, there was an insult on my doorstep. A white, thick envelope addressed “A Message of Hope and Gladness for Jewish People”. I was already nervous. When I opened it up, there was a letter, a set of “Frequently Asked Questions By Jewish People”, and a DVD. On the front of the FAQ was “How a Jew Came to Know and Put his Trust in The Jewish Messiah”.

Oh. Hell. No.

Irrespective of the fact that the author doesn’t know rules on how to capitalize, I don’t need to be preached to about “the Jewish Messiah”. It is an insult to find this on my doorstep. Not illegal, mind you, but an insult. I do not need to be preached to about how your religion can save me. My religion is my choice. Unsolicited evangelism is a violation of my space. In essence, a #metoo in the area of religion. If I consent for you to preach at me, that’s one thing. Shoving it on my doorstep or down my throat without my consent? Hell no.

I don’t believe in “The Jewish Messiah” because he does not meet the job qualifications, pure and simple. You’re giving me a FAQ, so I’ll give you one right back:

Question 17.3:
Countering the Question: Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

The question above is a typical one asked by Christian Missionaries. The answer is easy, if one understands Jewish beliefs.

Jews do not believe that the Messiah is a part of G-d, or Divine in any way, more than any other person. Jews look only to G-d for our salvation, and when the time comes for G-d to bring the anointed king, then it shall happen. Jews do not concern ourselves with the messiah‚Äôs identity, for the messiah is a person and the messiah’s coming does not change our relationship with G-d. Jews do not accept the notion that Scripture ‚Äúforetells‚ÄĚ that G-d would robe Himself in flesh; in fact, to Jews, this idea is idolatry, and we stand against it.

The reason why Jews do not accept Jesus as the messiah is straightforward: he did not meet the requirements in the job requisition! G-d outlined these requirements in the Bible. The key aspect of proof is in the state of the world.According to the Bible, amongst the most mission of the messiah includes returning the world to return to G-d and G-d’s teachings; restoring the royal dynasty to the descendants of David; overseeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Temple; gathering the Jewish people from all over the world and bringing them home to the Land of Israel; reestablishing the Sanhedrin; restoring the sacrificial system, the Sabbatical year and Jubilee. This simply has not happened. Judaism has no notion of the messiah not doing these things on the first visit, let along needing a second visit to do these things. Whenever these things are described in the Tanach, the description says that the messiah will come and do these things‚ÄĒonce.

Want the details. Read the soc.cuture.jewish FAQ, Question 17.3.

So, I’m calling out the Israel Restoration Ministries and Tom Cantor. Your material is an insult, unwanted, and going straight into the trashcan. Attract people by how you live your life, not by proselytizing with unsolicited material on doorsteps.


🎭 Pure and Sweet Imagination | “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” @ Hollywood Pantages

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Hollywood Pantages)What distinguishes live theatre from the movies, when all is said and done? Think about the question closely. Go beyond the fact that movies are projected images, the same every time you view them. Both tell stories. Both have characters that grow. But movies — even animated movies — are realistic. They show you everything; they leave nothing to the imagination. Close up or far, what they present — if not real — is realistic.

But the stage. The stage. The stage is a home of real imagination. Shall we say, pure imagination. Go to any intimate theatre, and look at the worlds they create with just a few boxes and props. Even in the larger theatres, the sets are mere suggestions of realism. The world that is created is one that is in your imagination. Even¬† when you take a property that was once on the screen and move it to the stage, you need to adapt it for that change from a world of realism to a world of imagination. Cinema magic isn’t the same as stage magic. They are different beasts, and the story must often adapt for that change in worlds.

Keep that in mind when you read reviews, for some reviewers don’t get that fundamental aspects of the stage. Even theatre reviewers forget it.

The children’s author Roald Dahl understood imagination well. His books centered on imagination, and understood that kids don’t fear the scary or gross — they embrace it. Three of his stories have been adapted into musicals (to my knowledge), and as of last Thursday, we’ve seen all three.¬† The first of his stories we saw on stage was¬†Matilda, which we saw back in 2015, and again a few weeks ago. Many compared¬†Matilda¬†to the movie: there were changes from the movie to the stage, and the movie was not a musical. The approach to the story was a bit different, and the stage depended much more on imagination. Then there was¬†James and the Giant Peach, which we saw a little over a year ago. There is an animated version of the story, which I’ve never seen. I throughly enjoyed the stage version, which was much more oriented towards children, but still harnessed significant imagination in making the characters come to life with human actors. The music of Pasek and Paul didn’t hurt.

Then there’s¬†Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which we saw Thursday night. The problem here is that the original 1971 movie is both iconic and a musical. Gene Wilder stamped himself on that role, and most people can’t separate his portrayal from how they imagine the story. There’s also a 2003 version with Johnny Depp, but it never achieved quite the same iconic nature, is downright creepy, and is best forgotten.¬† But the Wilder version: that’s so iconic that when the stage musical (with songs by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; and book by David Grieg) was transferred from London’s West End to Broadway, they had to interpolate songs from the movie, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, into the stage musical in order for it to be accepted. In many ways that’s too bad: I have only heard the London Cast Album, and enjoy it quite a lot.

So many people come into the stage musical expecting to see the equivalent of the Wilder movie on stage, and they don’t get it. I believe this is why many reviewers have walked out of this show disappointed: they don’t see the magic of the movie on stage. Well, GET OVER IT. This is a stage musical, and must be viewed on its own. Changes are made as the story is adapted to the stage; characters are updated so that children of today can related to them. The story must be designed to talk to adults (who can afford to pay for the tickets) as well as the children. Most of all, the imagination that is on stage must be uniquely theatrical.

If you can set aside your preconceived notions from the 1971 movie and watch this version of¬†Charlie on its own terms, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. There is loads of creativity in the show. There’s lots of song and dance, and both the children in the audience and the children in the adults will entertained. There are sufficient references back to the 1971 movie to provide that modicum of comfort and familiarity, and there isn’t a single trace of Johnny Depp.

I probably don’t need to go in detail into the story. You’ve quite likely seen either or both of the movies. Basically, reclusive chocolate manufacturer and creator Willy Wonka decides to reopen his factory to five children who have found golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars. Four of them meet horrible death or injury due to repulsive habits, but the one who is pure of heart wins the grand prize: the factory. It’s just like a horror movie, but with kids.

So what has changed in this version. Let’s start with the kids: none appear to be British. Augustus is the least changed from what he was in the movie. Veruca is Russian, and the same spoiled brat she always was — except she does ballet. Violet Beauregarde still chews gum, but is now black and hip-hop-ish and from Los Angeles. Mike Tevee is more spoiled teen videogamer who hacks computer systems, vs. the TV watching kid he was. Charlie is essentially the same, except he went from having two parents in the movie, to having just a father in the London version, to having just a mother in the Broadway version. Oh, and the character of Slugworth and the whole notion of kid’s spying is gone.

Instead, there’s a new framing device added that changes the tone of the piece — a framing necessary by the theatrical demands of having your most entertaining character be on stage for both acts. This is because the first act, due to the demands of exposition, must introduce you to each of the children, and provide the background on their characters, their faults, and their ambitions. That’s a story that — if you recall the movie — is absent Willy Wonka. In the movie, Wonka doesn’t show up until the start of the factory tour. But that cannot work on stage: you want to see Wonka. So the story now opens with Wonka on-stage, explaining that he has decided it is time to pass the factory down. He then transforms into the owner of the candy shop that now sells Wonka products, and starts interacting with Charlie, encouraging him to buy a bar. He keeps encouraging him throughout the first act, as each ticket is found, being disappointed that Charlie cannot afford to buy the bar that the candy shop owner so clearly wants him to buy (and, with the audience in on the secret of who the candy shop owner is — they know Wonka really wants Charlie to get a ticket). In desperation, after the 4th ticket is found, Wonka closes the shop claiming to be sold out, but leaves a dollar on the floor for Charlie to find … and plants the bar where Charlie can purchase it. Random chance of Charlie getting the ticket? Doesn’t pass the sniff test, with the framing device.

Most reviews I have read do not like this change. Most reviews I have read complain about the first act taking so much time to introduce the characters. But the story just doesn’t work with any other structure. The framing device changes the story, yes, but in a way that works for the stage, and lets the audience in on a secret that the characters on stage don’t know. I’ll note that reviewers also complain that the only child on stage is the actor playing Charlie. All the other kids are portrayed by adults. Again, these are the demands of the stage (children, for example, can’t do that much on-pointe dancing), but the suspension of belief of the stage makes it work.

When Wonka returns to the stage as Wonka, the energy and the imagination ramps up. This is hinted at in the closing number of the first act, but even more so as the second act opens and the tour begins. The stage cannot duplicate the film, but does imagination in its own way. How they handle the fates of the children is both more violent than the movie, and much more imaginative. Violet explodes on stage. Veruca is torn limb from limb. MIke becomes an animated puppet. But I think the best sequence is before Mike’s demise: when they must walk across the marshmallows, make a u-turn into the wind tunnel, and then walk across the field of flying frying pans. Mind you: there is nothing on the stage. They are doing this with pure pantomime and sound effects, and it is magical. Pure stage magic. For me, this was the scene that made the entire show magic. No projections. No props. An empty stage with pure performance and imagination magic.

Then there are the Oompa-Loompas. When they make their entrance, the audience goes wild. They are a combination of puppetry and dance, and are magic in the imagination displayed. They are indescribably funny, and they are such a creative use of the ensemble.

Through a combination of projection effects, puppetry, and performance, this production creates a new level of stage imagination. It is different than the movie, and to compare the two is to invite disappointment. They are different, and must be judged separately. The stage Wonka provides a different type of lunacy than Wilder brought to the role, although there is a modium of the deadpan WIlder aspects that cannot stop the children from their natures.

So, yes, I enjoyed it.

Kudos to the director, Jack O’Brien (and the London director, Sam Mendes), and the choreographer, Joshua Bergasse (and the London choreographer, Peter Darling) for the creativity and movement they brought to this production.

Let’s now turn to the performance aspect of the piece.

Willy Wonka is created on stage by Noah Weisberg (FB). Weisberg does not have the same demented deadpan nature as Wilder, but he does make the role his own in his own way. Watch the joy of the character in the first act as he portrays the shop owner. Then see how his nature changes in the second act as the lunacy and the foreknowledge kicks in. He knows who the bad kids are, and knows that nothing he will do will stop them. In many ways, he is much more knowingly leading them to their demise, putting just the temptation in front of them that will pull to the problems in their nature. Note that he does this with Charlie at the end as well, but the temptation is of a different nature and in a different direction, and it is that different direction that allows Charlie to succeed. Weisberg’s Wonka succeeds well in pulling off the character. Just watch his face closely in the opening numbers, and you can see that he is making clear that his character is much more … omniscient … than perhaps he is saying with his words. He sings well, dances well, and handles the comedy spectacularly.

Charlie Bucket is played by the only children on stage — and three young men divide the role. At our performance, we had Rueby Wood (IG); the other performers are Henry Boshart (IG) and Collin Jeffery (FB, IG).¬† Wood captured the character well. I initially was unsure about his voice, but it got stronger throughout the evening and worked well. He was able to capture the right range of emotion and wonder for the character, and sang and moved well for someone so young.

Turning to Charlie’s family next: three of the four grandparents were mostly comic relief and played more as part of the ensemble. We’ll cover them there. The standalone family members were Amanda Rose (FB) as Mrs. Bucket and James Young (FB) as Grandpa Joe.¬† Rose’s mom was sweet and caring; you knew she knew she had a special child that she had to nurture in a hard world (and one can, perhaps, understand why they changed it from just the dad in London). She sang beautifully in her main number. Young’s Joe (I want to say Mighty Joe Young) was much more of a comic character. Unlike the movie’s Jack Albertson who was just sweet and old, this Joe had an imagination equal to young Charlie, as demonstrated by the story telling. He sang well and performed well; his character was less pushed into the dance aspects.

This brings us to the other “children”, all of whom were played by adults. Most of these performances were limited by book to be somewhat broad and stereotypical. In the required fat suit was Matt Wood (FB) as Augustus Gloop.¬† Wood’s Gloop was perhaps the least characterized of the kids: food gluttony is easy to portray on stage, and he didn’t do much more than stereotypically go after his food. His mother, played by Claire Neumann‚óä (FB),¬† was less rounded as Augustus, but more rounded as a character. She captured well the mom that couldn’t say no to her children in terms of food.

[Hmmm, as an aside, one wonders if this is a cautionary tale more for the parents than the children, for all the parents of the problematic children had one thing in common — they could not say no to their children … whereas Charlie’s parent was the only one that said “no” and stood by that decision. Would that the parents of the child in the White House have learned that lesson, and taught the meaning of “no” … but I digress]

Anyway, back to Neumann’s Mrs. Gloop. She played his mother well, and had a strong voice in her number introducing Gloop. The second child was Veruca Salt, played by Jessica Cohen (FB). She certainly had the demanding aspects of the performance down well, both in the “I want it now and my way” aspects, but even more so in the continual ballet pointe dancing. Naturally, she moved well and had a good singing voice. Her father, played by Nathanial Hackmann (FB), was a much more stereotypical Russian portrayal. It worked, for what it was. This brings us to our third child, Violet Beauregarde, played by Brynn Williams (FB). When she came on stage, I turned to my wife and said, “that girl has a voice!” She sings strongly and powerfully, and had great dance moves and was fun to watch. Again, her father on stage was much more stereotypical “professional hood dad” — for which I fault the writing — but David Samuel handled it well. Our last “child” as Daniel Quadrino (FB)’s Mike Tevee. His role was more teen brat, but he did remarkable in the wind-tunnel scene, and had a wonderful interaction with Wonka over his cell phone. It was a lesson I wished the audience members took to heart. Stealing her scenes, however, was Jennifer Jill Malenke‚óä (FB) as Mrs. Tevee. Her wonderful knowing looks and interactions with Wonka over alcohol were just priceless and delightful to watch.

This brings us, at last, to the very talented ensemble. They got to not only be dancing and acting as characters in the background, but became the Oompa Loompas in the second act. In those roles, they shone. They covered the lesser grandparents and the reporters, and made the magic happen behind the characters. They consisted of (additional named roles as noted): Sarah Bowden (FB, FB) also Cherry Sundae; Alex Dreschke (FB); Jess Fry (FB); David R. Gordon (FB); Chavon Hampton (FB); Sabrina Harper‚óä (FB); Benjamin Howes (FB)¬†also Grandpa George; Karen Hyland‚óä (FB)¬†also Grandma Josephine; Lily Kaufmann (FB); David Paul Kidder (FB); Joe Moeller (FB); Tanisha Moore (FB); Joel Newsome (FB) also Jerry Jubilee; Kristin Piro‚óä (FB) also Grandma Georgina; Armando Yearwood Jr.‚óä (FB)¬†also Mrs. Green; and Borris Anthony York (FB). Of particular note here were Yearwood’s Mrs. Green, who was hilarious,¬† and Howes’s Grandpa, who got some wonderfully comic lines.
[◊ indicates performers swung up from the ensemble or as swings]

Swings who weren’t swinging were: Colin Bradbury (FB); Elijah Dillehay (FB); and Kevin Nietzel (FB). Normal performers who weren’t on at our performance were: Madeleine Doherty (FB) normally Mrs. Teveee; Kathy Fitzgerald (FB) normally Mrs. Gloop; Clyde Voce (FB) normally Mrs. Green/Ensemble, and Caylie Rose Newcom (FB) normally Ensemble.

Music direction was by Charlie Alterman (FB), who conducted the Pantages orchestra (with John Yun (FB) [Assoc. Conductor]). The orchestra consisted of (🌴indicates local): Charlie Alterman (FB) Keyboards; John Yun (FB) Keyboards; Kelly Thomas (FB) Keyboards; Greg Germann (FB) Drums / Percussion; David White (FB)¬†Bass; Jen Choi Fisher¬†(FB) 🌴 Violins; Ira Glansbeek 🌴 Concertmaster, Cello; Richard Mitchell 🌴 Reed 1 (Flute / Piccolo / Alto Sax / Clarinet); Jeff Driskill¬†(FB) 🌴 Reed 2 (Clarinet / Soprano Sax / Tenor Sax / Bass Clarinet); John Fumo¬†(FB) 🌴 Trumpet / Piccolo Trumpet / Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas (FB) 🌴 Trombone; Mike Abraham¬†(FB)¬† 🌴 Guitar (Solid Body Electric, Jazz Electric, Banjo, Nylon Acoustic, Steel Acoustic); Alby Potts¬†(FB) 🌴 Synth Sub. Other music support: Eric Heinly (FB) 🌴 Orchestra Contractor; ¬†Doug Besterman (FB) Orchestrations; Marc Shaiman (FB)¬†Arrangements; John Miller (FB)¬†Music Coordinator; Nicholas Skilbeck¬†(FB)¬†Music Supervisor; Michael Starobin (FB)¬†Additional Orchestrations; Phij Adams (FB)¬†Music Technology; JoAnn Kane Music Service / Russell Bartmus, Mark Graham, Josie Bearden, Charlies Savage¬†Music Copying.

Finally, turning to the production, creative, and support side of the equation. Mark Thompson‘s scenic and costume design worked well. The main set pieces: the Wonka factory, the Chocolate Store, the Bucket Residence, and the various pieces in the factory itself — were suitably creating and worked well for the story. Similarly, the costumes worked well to establish each character in broad strokes with their personality. This was supported extensively by Jeff Sugg‘s video and projection design, which provided the amplification of the imagination. It will be interesting to see how regional productions of this adapt without the heavy video usage. More imagination, I guess. Basil Twist (FB)’s Puppetry Design was spectacularly — not only for the Oompa Loompas, but for the miniaturized Mike Tevee who was believably shrunk. Also supporting these on-stage design aspects was Campbell Young Associates‘s hair and makeup design, as Buist Buckley (FB)’s production properties. Andrew Keister (FB)’s sound was reasonably clear and had good sound effects; Japhy Weideman‘s lighting established place, time, and mood well. Other creative and support were: Kristin Piro¬†(FB)¬†Dance Captain; Kevin Nietzel (FB) Asst. Dance Captain; Matt Lenz (FB)¬†Assoc. Director; Alison Solomon (FB)¬†Assoc Choreographer; Andrew Bacigalupo (FB)¬†Prod. Stage Manager; Alan D. Knight (FB)¬†Stage Manager; Cate Agis¬†Asst. Stage Manager; ¬†Telsey + Company¬†(FB) Casting; Juniper Street Productions¬†Production Manager; Foresight Theatrical¬†General Management.

Due to our having to shift seeing this production due to a wedding, we saw it much later in the run than normal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory closes at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Sunday, April 14. If you can get tickets, go see it.


Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I‚Äôve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I‚Äôve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I‚Äôm 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 (or I‚Äôll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at¬†5 Star Theatricals¬†(FB), the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB),¬†Actors Co-op¬†(FB), and the¬†Ahmanson Theatre¬†(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‚Äôs production, I focus on the positive ‚ÄĒ 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:

Tonight brings us to the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB) for our rescheduled performance of¬†Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.¬†The next weekend brings the annual visit to¬†the Renaissance Pleasure Faire¬†(FB). The third weekend of April will bring¬†Fiddler on the Roof¬†at¬†the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB). The fourth weekend of April is interesting, as my wife is having a small procedure during the week. Thursday may bring Chris McBride‚Äôs Big Band at the Saroya¬†[nee¬†the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)]¬†(FB), but this is looking less likely. Saturday will bring In The Heights at the LA Pierce College Theater (FB) (featuring a performer we saw at REP), but for me alone. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act¬†at¬†Casa 0101¬†(FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings¬†¬†Falsettos¬†at the¬†Ahmanson Theatre¬†(FB) and¬†Les Miserables¬†at¬†the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB). The third weekend of May brings¬†The Universe (101)¬†at¬†The Main¬†(FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as¬†The Christians¬†at¬†Actors Co-op¬†(FB).¬† May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at¬†the Saroya¬†[nee¬†the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)]¬†(FB) and¬†Noel Paul Stookey¬†at¬†McCabes¬†(FB) ‚Ķ and that‚Äôs not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the¬†Hollywood Fringe Festival¬†(FB). I’m just starting to wade through the list of 306 shows, but I already see some I want to see, including¬†The Seven Year Itch,¬†[title of show], and the return of¬†Tabletop: The Musical. As for July, it is already starting to fill, with¬†Miss Saigon¬†at the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB) and¬†West Side Story¬†at 5 Star Theatricals¬†(FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-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.


🚉 A Train Breaks Down … But What About the System?

Yesterday, I had to take LA Metro from El Segundo (El Segundo Green Line Station) to the Pantages (Hollywood/Vine Red Line Station) for a rescheduled show. I’ve done this many times with no problems. I’m a long time Metro support, following all you do for my highway pages, as well as being a participant in the Metro Vanpool Program. But this time, there was a customer service problem. Below is the message I wrote to LA Metro this morning about it:

I had tickets at the Pantages theatre last night, so after taking the van to work, I planned to take Metro (Green to Blue Line Shuttle to Blue to Red) to the Pantages. All was good until we hit the Grand/LATTC stop… where we stopped. We were told to get off the train due to a mechanical problem ahead, and the train was going to go back the other direction. This left those of us completely unsure how to continue our journey.

I’m 59, out of shape, dealing with a poor back. I ended up having to walk to the 7th and Flower station to get the Red Line, where (due to the distance) I got to pay for the privilege as continuing on the red line wasn’t seen as a transfer. I made it, and got my walk for the day (unintended), but was exhausted all evening.

But what about all of those riding Metro who couldn’t walk that distance? Those who didn’t know the city or where to go? What about those that couldn’t afford to pay that extra $1.75?

Trains and stations have problems — I understand and recognize this. It is how we respond to those problems that matters, and this is poor customer service. When a train breaks down, there needs to be clear and repeated customer service and communication, a bus needs to be provided to get the passengers on the train speedily to their next destination, and the driver must take the lead on doing this (instead of walking off to take the train in the other direction). If we fail to do this, what does it say about Los Angeles? What does it say about Metro customer service?


🎭 In Good Company | “Steel Magnolias” @ Actors Co-Op

Steel Magnolias (Actors Co-Op)The first thing I noticed when I read through the program for¬†Steel Magnolias, which we saw Saturday night (early bird subscription) at Actors Co-op¬†(FB) in Hollywood, is that we had seen all of the actresses before. In fact, we had see them all on the Actors Co-Op stages. We’d seen Ivy¬†in the recent Anna Karenina; Lori¬†most notably in Ruthie and Me; ¬†Deborah¬†is practically everything; Nan¬†in A Walk in the Woods¬†and¬†33 Variations; Heidi¬†in Rope; and Treva¬†in Man for all Seasons¬†and¬†33 Variations. It reminded me of the glory days of REP East, where there was an actors ensemble that fit well and worked well together, and were like a family.

This casting, and this family, meshed perfectly with the themes written by Robert Harling of Steel Magnolias, which deals with the family you have, and the family you create. We last saw the show back in 2008 at the aforementioned REP East; before that, we saw the original Los Angeles production at the Pasadena Playhouse way back in 1988.

One advantage of having seen a show before is that I can steal the synopsis. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:

This play was written in 1987 by¬†Robert Harling. It is set in a beauty salon in rural Louisiana, and tells the story of six southern women: Truvy, Annell, M‚ÄôLynn, Shelby, Ouiser, and Clairee. The play begins on the morning of Shelby‚Äôs wedding to Jackson (an unseen character) and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby‚Äôs decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. Over these years, we see the friendships grow between the women, see the relationships mature. We see people change as self-confidence is gained and life moves on. But what underlies it all is friendship and strength. The title refers to that strength: ‚Äúmagolias‚ÄĚ are a reference to southern women, and as for the steel, M‚ÄôLynn says it best when she indicates that men are supposed to be made of steel, but women are actually stronger. In 1989, the play was made into a movie (with additional characters) starring Dolly Parton (Truvy), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser), Sally Field (M‚ÄôLynn), Julia Roberts (Shelby) and Daryl Hannah (Annelle).

Basically, the play is a very funny ensemble piece about a group of women that have become like a family based around a shared beauty shop in small town Louisiana, just as men bond in barber shops. The story, as noted above, revolves around Shelby — her marriage, her having a child, and the subsequent decline in her health leading to her death. Through this character’s transition, we see how it changes the women around her: the shop owner Truvy and her assistant, Annelle; Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn; the wife of the former mayor, Claree, and the town grouch, Ouiser. The casting and direction by director Cameron Watson¬†(FB) plays to the strengths of each actress, making the production seem effortless. Our production was marred by just a few line hesitations, but that seems to be common with this show.

As noted above, the ensemble was excellent. The center of everything was Nan McNamara¬†(FB)’s Truvy, the beauty shop owner who knew about, as most importantly, cared about, all her clientele. As opposed to the more no-nonsense portrayals we’ve seen from McNamara in the past, this characterization was playful and for the most part happy and upbeat, and fun to watch. Her assistant, Annelle, was played by Heidi Palomino¬†(FB). Whereas her characterization in¬†Rope¬†was bubbly and upbeat, her performance here was much more subdued, capturing a quiet soul dealing with a troubled marriage and attempting to restart her life, and growing and coming out of her shell — and finding herself — around this group of women. Palomino captured that path well, and you could see her character change over the years portrayed in the show.

As Shelby,¬†Ivy Beech¬†(FB) brought a joyful and youthful energy to the stage, capturing that characters’ positive nature and love for life. Her energy here was very different than in¬†Anna; there was a transition from the controlled Russian nature to a much more youthful and joyful exuberance, and this fit Shelby well. Her mother, M’Lynn, was played by Treva Tegtmeier¬†(FB). We’d seen Tegtmeier in more stern roles before in¬†33¬†and¬†Seasons. Here, she captured a more motherly role: concerned that everything was right with her daughter and her family, and that her family was seen right in the community.

That brings us to the remaining, shall we say, comic relief characters. Lori Berg (FB) captures older women well, as we saw in both Ruthie and Violet. Here, she provided a more senior authority figure as the wife of the pre-deceased mayor. That experience gave her the ability to dish back as well as she received.  Deborah Marlowe (FB) has wonderful character roles in almost every Co-Op production that we have seen, and appears to have loads of fun finding the comedy and humor in each character, bringing what appears to be an irascible nature to each. Her Ouiser here was no different: she was clearly having fun with this character and her attitude, and it came across in the performance.

Stephen Gifford¬†(FB)’s scenic design did a great job of recreating a beauty shop inhabiting a former car-port, down to the metal trellis used to support the carport roof, and the flaky electricity.¬† It had the right Southern character and feel to it. It was supported well by Abe Luke Rodriguez (FB)’s properties. Terri A. Lewis (FB)’s costumes seemed period-appropriate and worked well. This is a production that depends heavily on hair and wig designs, and Jessica Mills¬†(FB) (whose bio didn’t mention she did the recent¬†Matilda at 5-Star) work was up to the task. There were a few points where one could tell they were wigs (and I worried about the hair styling impacting the wigs), but for the most part the hair seemed natural, to fit the characters, and to stand up to the damage a beauty salon inflicts. Mills clearly has her work cut out for her repairing things after each show. Cameron Combe¬†(FB)’s sound effects worked well — notably the opening booms — and Andrew Schmedake¬†(FB) worked well to establish time and place. Adam Michael Rose (FB) did a great job of making the characters sound suitably Southern. Ellen Mandel (FB) provided the original music. Other production credits: Emma Rempel (FB) [Asst. Director]; Shawna Voragen¬†(FB) [Stage Manager]; Jaime “Jai” Mills (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Nora Feldman¬†[Publicist]; Selah Victor(FB) [Production Manager]; Lauren Thompson¬†(FB)¬†[Producer].

Steel Magnolias continues at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood through May 5. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. The show is very funny and very well performed, and well worth seeing.


Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I‚Äôve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I‚Äôve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I‚Äôm 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 (or I‚Äôll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at¬†5 Star Theatricals¬†(FB), the¬†Hollywood Pantages¬†(FB),¬†Actors Co-op¬†(FB), and the¬†Ahmanson Theatre¬†(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‚Äôs production, I focus on the positive ‚ÄĒ 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:

Tonight brings us to the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-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.


✡ Symbols, Stories, and perhaps a little Politics with your Bitter Herbs

Sunday evening, I had the honor and privilege to organize, and essentially lead, the Men’s Seder for our synagogue brotherhood, using a liturgy that I cobbled together from the MRJ Mens Seder, my personal Seder, and materials from the Temple Beth Hillel Seder we used in 2018. I did not design the Seder to espouse a particular point of view, but to teach about the symbols of the holiday, explore how we use symbols in the Seder to teach lessons, and to explore what we are teaching about men and men’s issues. Still, during the service, one of our attendees got up, made a speech about how leftist the liturgy was, and stormed out (he has since apologized to me for the outburst, which I accepted). This has left me vaguely troubled and thinking … and sometimes the only response is a blog post.

For the most part, religions use holy days to do one of two things: mark the passage of time, and tell stories. The former are occasional (think Rosh Hashanah or Rosh Chodesh); the latter are prevalent. Sometimes the stories that are told are repeats of the religious fables, but sometimes the stories convey a different message and meaning. Often, that meaning is to remind people of themes central to the religion. For example, while Chanukah ostensibly celebrates a miracle, it more importantly reminds people of a military victory and the battle against assimilation. The story of the recent holiday of Purim is a continual reminder of the fight against antisemitism; the central notion is that Haman is a character that keeps showing up, and against whom we must continually fight.

This brings us to Passover, and the Passover Seder. Although one might like the Seder to be apolitical, it is an inherently political story. It is a story that reminds us to stand up to oppressors, to fight for our freedoms, and to welcome the stranger into our midst. All are Jewish values, at the core of our moral system. They are why we tell this story, and why — in home rituals — people augment the telling to highlight the fact that this wasn’t just in the past. The battle against those who want to oppress us continues to this day. The need to fight for freedom for ourselves and others who are oppressed continues to this very day. The need to welcome the stranger in our midst, because we were once strangers in a strange land, continues to this day. The need to remind ourselves that it wasn’t just God who brought us out of Egypt while we were passive, but God working through us to stand up and say, “No, Let our people go!”, and to get up and leave. These are battles we fight to this day.

People add symbols to their Seder plate to take this historical story and demonstrate that the battle to move from oppression to freedom continues to this day. Whether is it the battles of women for equality and a voice, of LGBTQ individuals to be seen, oppressed people in nations from Eastern Europe to Palestine to Africa to America to be free, to workers under oppression, to …. you name it. People use the home service and the Seder to draw parallels to the causes near and dear to them, and to show that the battles fought by Moses and Aaron and Miriam and the people in the desert were not just “one and done”, but continue everyday until oppression is gone.

In the service I developed, I did not intend to take a side. I did intend, however, to explore how the Seder is used in this way. I did intend to remind people that the battle was not done: that there still is ethnic violence, that there still is oppression of Jews, that there are still battles to be fought. I did intend to raise the question of how to bring back the men’s voices: with the increasing movement of women into leadership roles, men’s voices have been disappearing. Perhaps they consider the roles devalued, perhaps … something else. In any case, we need both voices, talking equally and not over each other. How do we recover that was a question I intended to raise.

But then I got accused of having an “agenda” that someone didn’t like. And that, for a people-pleaser like me, continues to gnaw at me and bother me. (On the other hand, the complaint that the liturgy was too long is a valid one — this was essentially a first run through, and we’ll trim and evolve for next year)

But what bothers me more is the notion that a Seder should be apolitical. We’re telling a story every year that is — at its heart — inherently political, inherently subversive, inherently agitating. There’s a reason that Early Christians were scared about the retelling of the story at the Seder. It wasn’t the antisemitic tropes you hear about — it was the message that in every generation we must rise up and fight oppressors, that in every generation we must remember that we were strangers. It is a message that is at the heart of Judaism: a religion that (unlike Christianity) lives for today, and making this world a better place for everyone.


🛣 Updates to the California Highways Web Pages – March 2019

It is time for the first update of the year. This is a normal update to the naked eye; however, it is notably the first update after doing¬†a tech-refresh at home. In other words, this update is being done with my new HP Envy 17 laptop, after years of updates done with my trusty Toshiba A665. The¬†intended remodeling¬†is still planned, but I need time to (a) read my responsive design book, and (b) pick a design that I like. As I’ve noted before, I have no plans to change the content or my method of content generation. I have settled on my replacement editor for¬†HoTMetaL Pro:¬†BlueGriffon. as it seems to have a good tag manipulation mode. I also plan to use¬†Pinegrow¬†to check the responsive design aspects. and plan to continue to use¬†Amaya¬†as the main editor (even though Amaya seems to be abandonware). You can see¬†my thoughts on what I would like from the redesign here; it also explains how the site is generated.

Moving on to the updates: Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to¬†the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road”¬†and to the¬†California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the¬†the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Anneliese √Ögren(2), Tom Fearer(3), ClassicHasClass on AAroads(4), DTComposer on AAroads(5), Mark F on AARoads(6), Kniwt on AAroads(7), Plutonic Panda on AAroads(8), richardwm15 on AAroads(9), Sparker on AAroads(10), Chris Sampang on AAroads(11), Oscar Voss on AAroads(12), Alex on AAroads(13):¬†Route¬†1(1,2,3,9), Route¬†2(1),¬†Route¬†4(1,3),¬†I-5(1,6), I-10(1), Route¬†11(1),¬†Route¬†12(3), Route¬†13(3), Route¬†14(1),¬†I-15(1), Route¬†16(3), Route¬†17(1,3),¬†Route¬†18(1), Route¬†20(1,13),¬†Route¬†21(1,3),¬†Route¬†22(1,6), Route¬†24(3),¬†Route¬†25(1),¬†Route¬†29(1), LRN¬†30(3), Route¬†33(1,3),¬†Route¬†36(10), Route¬†37(1), I-40(1),¬†US¬†40(3), Route¬†41(3), Route¬†45(3),¬†Route¬†46(1), US¬†48(1,3), Route¬†49(1),US¬†50(1,3), Route¬†57(1), Route¬†59(1),¬†Route¬†60(1,4), Route¬†61(3,10),¬†LRN¬†69(3),¬†Route¬†70(3), Route¬†71(1), Route¬†74(1),¬†LRN¬†74(10), Route¬†75(1),¬†Route¬†77(3,11),¬†I-80(1,3), Route¬†82(3),¬†Route¬†84(1,3,10),¬†Route¬†87(5,10), Route¬†91(1,6,8),¬†Route¬†92(10),¬†Route¬†96(1), Route¬†99(1,3),¬†US¬†101(1,3,8),¬†I-105(1), LRN¬†105(3), Route¬†108(1),¬†Route¬†110(1), Route¬†111(1),¬†Route¬†112(3),¬†Route¬†113(3), Route¬†117(10),¬†Route¬†120(1,3,7),¬†Route¬†123(3), Route¬†126(1),¬†Route¬†128(1),¬†Route¬†134(1), Route¬†141(3,10),¬†Route¬†146(12),¬†Route¬†149(3), Route¬†154(1),¬†Route¬†162(3),¬†Route¬†166(3), Route¬†179(3,10),¬†Route¬†180(1),Route¬†185(3,11), Route¬†187(1),¬†Route¬†191(3),¬†Route¬†192(1), US¬†199(1), I-210(1),¬†Route¬†220(3), Route¬†227(1),¬†Route¬†229(3),¬†Route¬†238(1), Route¬†241(1,6,8),¬†Route¬†242(3),¬†Route¬†243(1), Route¬†260(3),¬†Route¬†262(3),¬†Route¬†275(3), I-280(1,3,10),¬†Route¬†282(1),¬†Route¬†299(1), I-380(1,3), I-405(1,10),US¬†466(3), Route 480(1,3),¬†I-505(3,10), I-580(1,3), I-680(3),¬†I-710(1), I-780(3), I-880(1),¬†I-980(3), County Sign Route¬†G9(3), County Sign Route¬†J2(3),¬†County Sign Route¬†J4(3),¬†County Sign Route¬†J7(3), County Sign Route¬†J9(3), County Sign Route¬†S21(7).

Thanks to Keilah Keiser, removed some broken links from the links page. Went through and updated all the regional links. If you identify any links that are bad, please let me know — they haven’t been checked in a long time. Kudos to those folks that kept their pages up or had redirects. Boos to those who took down their pages, abandoned their sites, or didn’t tell me when things moved. Surprisingly, all those Angelfire sites are still up. Tripod and Geocities, not all that much. I also went through and changed all the Sure Why Not? blog links to Gribblenation.org blog links. I also went through the Road Links on AAroads, which resulted in more changes and confirmations for all the links on the highway resources page, as well as updates to regional links.

Added some additional map sources to the maps page.

Reviewed¬†the Pending Legislation page, based on the¬†new California¬†Legislature site. As usual, I recommend to¬†every¬†Californian that they visit the legislative website regularly and see what their legis-critters are doing. Although numerous bills have been introduced, none have gone to the Governor for signature yet. As many people are unfamilair with how the legislature operates (and why there are so many “non-substantive changes” and “gut and amend” bills), I’ve added¬†the legislative calendar¬†to the end of the Pending Legislation page.

Read More …


🛣 Headlines and Articles about California Highways – March 2019

March has continued the rains of February, eliminating our drought and adding to the snowpack. It has also been creating havok on the roadways. But all news is not bad — I’ve been getting closer to finishing the first round of highway updates for the year. Here’s the last batch of headlines, articles, and posts that will make it into that update. As always: ready, set, discuss.

  • Caltrans District 4 – MacArthur Maze Vertical Clearance Project. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is holding two encore open houses for the
    Macarthur Maze (Maze) Vertical Clearance project. Caltrans is proposing to partially lower, raise, replace, or reconstruct connectors in the Maze. These four alternatives are being proposed to increase the vertical clearances at three locations in the Maze to meet the current Caltrans standard of 16 feet 6 inches to allow for more efficient travel of freight and oversized vehicles.
  • Caltrans Marks Completion of State Route 99 Realignment in Fresno. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 15 to mark the completion of work on the ‚ÄúState Route 99 Realignment for High-Speed Rail‚ÄĚ project in the City of Fresno.
  • Westbound Highway 37 in Novato stays closed for now. State transportation workers are using motorized pumps to flush out the floodwater that has forced closure of westbound Highway 37, but it‚Äôs unclear when the traffic nightmare will end. Caltrans officials Thursday hoped to install up to six pumps along the highway that was closed in both directions Wednesday after a torrential downpour caused the swelling Novato Creek to overflow its banks.
  • Highway 154 now open after month-long closure. Highway 154 reopened Friday morning after a month-long closure, according to Caltrans. The highway that connects Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley has been closed since February 2 after heavy rain storms. A culvert near Cachuma Lake was clogged with debris, mud¬† and burnt trees from the Whittier fire following those storms. That caused flooding and damaged the roadway.
  • CHP reopens access to Idyllwild, San Jacinto Mountains, but warns the route will take longer. ¬†Tourists can head back into San Jacinto Mountain communities after two weeks of restrictions caused by winter rainstorms that washed out sections of the two highways leading into the area, the California Highway Patrol said Thursday.¬† It‚Äôs welcome news for mountain businesses.¬† ‚ÄúWe were almost an island,‚ÄĚ said Frank Ferro, owner of Ferro Restaurant and Idyllwild Brewpub. ‚ÄúThe entire community is very excited that the road is going to be open. It‚Äôs definitely been a hardship on the business community.‚ÄĚ

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