🎭 The Road to Hell is Quite Entertaining | “Hadestown” @ Ahmanson

Hadestown (CTG / Ahmanson Theatre)There has been a trend in the theatre of late to — shall we say — play it safe. Revive that remarkably successful old chestnut with a bit name star (never mind the problematic undertone)*. Take that very successful movie property and bring it to the stage and hope that people come out of nostalgia**. Although these often make money (especially on tour, playing to the crowds in Podunk USA), they often aren’t the best musicals. The best productions are often original stories or stories adapted from unexpected sources. Their originality wins the audience over: they get to see something they’ve never seen before, instead of the same old same old.
*: e.g., Music Man. **: e.g., Tootsie, Pretty Woman, Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, …

Hadestown, which we saw last Sunday at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), is one of those original shows. It is based on the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is connected to the story of Hades and Persephone. It featured music, lyrics, and book by a non-theatre artist: Anaïs Mitchell; after a few staged performances, she released the music as a song concept album in 2010, and it was workshopped and grew from there.  The music style is not your typical Broadway musical: it is bluesy and jazzy and has that hit of New Orleans to it. It is a seedy bar joint, at times joyous and at times dark. It is light and dark. It is, well, Persephone and Hades.

The basic myth is this: Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of nature. She is the bringer of spring and summer, the bringer of the bounty of the Earth.  Hades is King of the Underworld. Hades fell in love with Persephone and kidnapped her (although this isn’t in the play). They fall in love and marry, and agree that for six months out of the year she will live with him in the Underworld. During that time we have fall and winter. She returns for six months, bringing Spring and Summer. But Hades is a jealous and possessive man, and doesn’t want her away from him. He starts keeping her longer and longer, with predictable effect  in the world above.

Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. He had a gift of song and writing. He is guided by Hermes, who has the responsibility of conducting souls to the Underground. Hermes takes Orpheus under his wing. Orpheus is writing a song; a song so powerful it will bring Persephone back to the upper world, and bring back spring. Enter Eurydice, a woman of grace, who is tired of the endless winter. Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, and she falls in love with his melodies. This is especially true when Persephone returns. But she always must return, and when she does, Eurydice despairs (especially as Orpheus ignores her as he writes his song). She is enticed by Hades to go to the Underworld (and pay the price those who take the trip must take). When Orpheus learns of this, he travels to the Underworld to rescue her.

That’s the basic story (sans the ending). As staged, there are layers upon layers of metaphor. The most obvious one is the intimation of climate change: we have been destroying the world by driving away Spring, and we must take action to bring it back. I also detected allegories of anti-immigrant phobia, concerns about poverty making the world ugly, and even intimations of Trump and his wall, although this long predates Trump. What would you think when you hear lines like: Why do we build the wall? We build the wall to keep us free, we build the wall to keep out the enemy, the enemy is poverty. There are the workers, who toil and toil and never get anywhere — until they decide to hear each other and come together. There are deep messages in this show, folks.

As I noted earlier, the music is different than most shows. There are truly joyous songs. There are haunting songs. There are dark and scary songs. There are earworms (“Way down, Hadestown, Way down under the ground”) or “Now That the Chips Are Down”. I’ve picked up three versions of the music to this show: the concept album, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. All are excellent and slightly different.

The direction of the show is also atypical. The show was developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Chavkin is best known for Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which is another very different musical. This is a different theatre sensibility, and is unlike the typical fare one sees on the stage. I can imagine the impact of the show would be much greater in a smaller venue, but touring theatres are not small venues (and don’t work well on the thrust stage, eliminating the Taper from consideration).

The performances were also strong. Let’s start with the glue that holds the show together, provides the exposition, and moves the story along: Hermes (Levi Kreis). Let’s start off by saying that Kreis is not Andre de Shields, who won a Tony for this role. de Shields is one of a kind, and you can’t duplicate that. But Kreis works well and brings a different take to the role. More soul, and less Wiz. I enjoyed his voice and his interactions, and he was fun to watch off on the side in the small moments.

The protagonist couple, who are the center of the story, is Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) and Eurydice (normally Morgan Siobhan Green, but…).  I say “but….” because we had a substitution at our show (which started late, so I’m guessing there was a last minute substitution). We had Sydney Parra as Eurydice, who swung up from her normal role as a worker. Barasch had a beautiful lilting high tenor (at least I think that’s the right term), and expressed a lovely naivete and lightness of character. As for Parra, you would never have known she was an understudy. She deftly handled the role. She captured a lovely tenuousness and had a great voice; it was also interesting to see her come to life in the underworld. I also applaud her for not bowing to convention on stage — she was distinctly herself, and it was great to see her self confidence. Those who saw her performance will know what I’m referencing.

Our other couple were Persephone (Kimberly Marable) and Hades (Kevyn Morrow).  Again, don’t expect the Broadway actors to be cloned — no one can clone Patrick Page. But Morrow does have the baratone, but not quite the malevolence. Marable is clearly a jazz singer by trade, and she brings that joy and light to her performance. Again, these actors  embody the archetypes of their Greek counterparts: Morrow is dark, Marable is light and joy.

Directing the action somewhat and guiding things along are the three Fates: Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne. They sang beautifully, and even brought some instruments to the stage (accordion, fiddle).

Rounding out the production was the worker’s chorus. As we had some swings, I’m indicating the performers we saw by putting the names in bold, normal swings are indicated with §: Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams, Tyla Collier§, Ian Coulter-Buford§, Alex Lugo§, Eddie Noel Rodriguez§, J. Antonio Rodriguez§.  In other words: Out of the normal five workers, three were swings. You would have never known from the performances we saw, which were all strong. I particularly noticed the chorus in the scenes Underground: Why We Build the Wall, or the various chants.

Also on stage — essentially as part of the performers — were the musicians: Nathan Koci Conductor/Piano; Jacob Yates Cello / Asst. Conductor; Maria Im Violin; Michiko Egger Guitar; Audrey Ochoa Trombone / Glockenspiel; Calvin Jones Double Bass; and Anthony Ty Johnson Drums / Percussion. Of these folks, I’d like to single out Ochoa on Trombone. She was playful on stage and brought some wonderful jazz licks to the piece. But this entire ensemble was just great.

Before we turn to the scenic and other production aspects, let’s finish off the music and the movement. The production was choreographed by David Neumann, with help from Katie Rose McLaughlin Associate Director / Choreographer.  The movement was very jazz oriented and fit the piece well; this wasn’t your typical chorus line. Rounding out the music team was Liam Robinson Music Supervisor and Vocal Arrangements; Michael Chorney Arrangements and Orchestrations; Todd Sickafoose Arrangements and Orchestrations; Nathan Koci Music Director.  Note that none of the music team are your typical Broadway music types. Assisting in the direction was Chika V. Ike Associate Director.

The scenic design was interesting. A New Orleans type blues pub was at the center (with a small turntable); on the sides were the musicians and high-boy tables. On a balcony in the back was space for Hades and Persephone to watch. There was a circular staircase, and the back opened to be a train. This tour design was by Rachel Hauck Scenic Design. It was supported by the other design aspects: Michael Krass Costume Design; Bradley King Lighting Design; Nevin Steinberg Sound Design; Jessica Paz Sound Design; and Jennifer Mullins Hair Design. All these pieces combine to establish the mood and the characters well.  Rounding out the production team were: Ken Cerniglia Dramaturg; Stewart/Whitley Casting; Joel Rosen Production Stage Manager; Annelise Castleberry Stage Manager; Zachry J. Bailey Assistant Stage Manager; Denny Daniello Company Manager; Aurora Productions Production Management.

Hadestown is well worth seeing; we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 29, 2022. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: We’re done with our May shows. June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🎭 And Succeed It Does | “How To Succeed in Business …” @ Musical Theatre Guild

MTG UserpicTootsie wasn’t the only show we saw last weekend, and it’s not the only review I owe you. We also saw the one-night-only performance of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying from  Musical Theatre Guild (FB). MSG has an interesting conceit: They do rarely produced musical under a special contract with Actors Equity: it is treated as a staged concert, with minimal set pieces / costumes, only 25 hours of rehearsal, and actors performing with scripts in hand. That’s right: Tootsie was non-union, and How To Succeed was an Equity production.

Going in, I was expecting to do a compare and contrast of this musical with Tootsie. After all, both deal with the work place, and especially women’s roles in the workplace. There’s at least a 20 year difference between How to Succeed and the film Tootsie (1962 vs 1982), and 40 years from screen to stage for Tootsie (1982 vs 2022).

Expectations get dashed. I was expecting How To Succeed (book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser) to be a period piece. In how it portrayed the American office — it was. Offices have changed greatly since the 1960s: there are no open bullpens, there aren’t the ubiquitous secretaries or a secretarial pool. We have office professionals now. But where I was expecting a completely sexist image with loads of sexual harassment … there was precious little. As the song emphases, “A Secretary is Not a Toy”. The show makes clear that the sexual harassment part is off the table. Office romances aren’t, but those still happen today. Would an office professional of today have as their goal marrying the boss? I can’t answer that. More likely, with the harassment policies in place, they would marry someone else’s boss.

So the story isn’t as creaky as one might expect — and certainly it wasn’t problematic like Tootsie was. It was, however, very funny. I’ll admit it was hard to not see the recently departed Robert Morse in the role (and in my mind’s eye, I did see him). But this cast brought the funny to the show, and the director Yvette Lawrence brought it out of them. I’m of the belief that in a staged concert like this, a lot of the character comes from what the actor brings; the director is bringing the individual actors into an ensemble. Both worked well: great individual performances combined with a strong ensemble. The dancing (choreography was by Cheryl Baxter) was relatively simple, but the nature of this performance dictated that: with 25 hours the goal is to get the acting and singing right first; complicated dance pieces are a lower priority. But what was there was good.

In the lead positions were Travis Leland J. Pierpont Finch and Chelsea Morgan Stock Rosemary Pilkington.  Leland brought a wonderful voice and playfulness to Finch; he beats Morse out in the handsome department. He was a lot of fun to watch. Stock was strong was Rosemary, even with some microphone problems at the top of the second act. Cute and delightful to watch, with a strong singing voice.

The secondary characters in this story require strong comic abilities. Luckily, Katie DeShan Smitty and Joshua Finkel Bud Frump were up to the task. Strong in singing, and strong in comic ability — they were fun to watch. They both seemed to be having a lot of fun with the roles.

In more supporting roles were Thomas Ashworth J. B. Biggley; Melissa Fahn Hedy LaRue; and Kim Yarbrough Miss Jones.  Ashworth brought the right gravitas to Biggley, whom we’ve all run into if we’ve been in the corporate world. He was strong in “Groundhog”. I was a big less impressed with Fahn. She got the voice and characterization right, but less so the look (although she tried). Yarbrough’s character is mostly a rarely seen office professional; she’s notable for the standout performance she gets in “Brotherhood of Man”. She did great there, which was where she was supposed be great.

Rounding out the cast were: James Gleason Mr. Twimble / Mr. Wally Womper; Bryan Chesters Mr. Bert Bratt; Todd Gajdusek Mr. Miilton Gatch / Executive Toynbee; Jennifer Bennett Miss Krumholtz / Scrubwoman; Nancy Lam Miss Matthews / Scrubwoman / Wickette; Sharon Logan Miss Johnson / Scrubwoman / Wickette; Kevin Matsumoto Mr. Davis / Wicket Dancer; Mark C. Reis Mr. Ovington / Wicket Dancer / Company Policeman; Brent Schindele Mr. Jenkins / TV Announcer; Paul Wong Mr. Tackaberry; and Susan Edwards Martin Voice of the Book. I’ll note that we saw Bennett in a Cantors Concert recently at our synagogue.

Music was provided by an onstage band consisting of Dan Redfeld Piano / Conductor; Justin Smith Guitar, Shane Harry Bass, Joe Martone Percussion, and one more on trumpet who was named at the time of performance.

Rounding out the production team was: Susan Edwards Martin Production Coordinator; Leesa Freed Production Stage Manager / Production Manager; Stacey Cortez Assistant Stage Manager; Abbey Perez Assistant Stage Manager; and Shon LeBlanc Costume Designer.

This was the only performance of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🎭 I Shouldn’t Be Laughing | “Tootsie” @ Broadway in Hollywood

Tootsie (Broadway in Hollywood)Whew! It’s been a week, hasn’t it. I feel more exhausted than an actor trying to juggle pretending to be someone whom I’m not who is then trying to be someone who they are not while not letting out a secret… well, more on that in a minute. But I have been really busy, so please excuse the lateness of these writeups. They took a back seat to some other projects this week — working up updates to my highway pages,  and continued new work on getting a new podcast about highways off the ground. Combine that with a full time job, caretaking for my wife who is still down after her accident, and an ear infection, and … whew!

In any case, let’s talk about Tootsie, which is the current production of  Broadway in Hollywood (FB) at the Dolby Theatre. We saw it last Saturday, and I’m really conflicted in my reaction.  On the one hand, it was extremely funny with great comic timing. On the other hand, it is an attempt to bring 1980’s attitudes about men and women to a context 40 years later, and that just doesn’t work. Add to that the fact that this is a non-Equity tour (with the labor issues related thereto): yes, it gives talented actors their start, but it also treats them like second class citizens. Hmm, like women in a professional field. As I said, conflicted.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Tootsie is based on a 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, with a screenplay adapted by Larry Gelbart, Barry Levinson, Elaine May and Murray Schisgal from a story by Gelbart and Don McGuire. The basic premise is: perfectionist male actor, who is so annoying he has been blackballed by most directors, pretends to be a woman in order to get an acting job. In doing so, he takes a job away from his actress best-friend, and turns what is a crappy soap-opera into a smash success with his suggestions for improvement. He falls in love with the leading lady of the soap-opera (who is having an affair with the director), and has a male leading man fall in love with him. When the secret comes out, then (as they say) hijinks ensue.

This was really funny stuff in the 1980s folks. I mean that this was the second most profitable film of 1982, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture. In 1998, the Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. You can just imagine a producer thinking, 20 years later: This would be great on Broadway!

But the times, as Bob Dylan sang, are a changin’. The whole schtick of man dressing as women for humor isn’t as funny as it once was. Show real trans folk. That’s fine. Show real stories of drag queens, as serious drag queens (cough, Kinky Boots, cough, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie), OK. But dress as a woman for humor (as we saw in My Fair Lady or as is likely in the upcoming new version of Some Like It Hot), and it doesn’t work. I’ll note there are similar problems with playing on old and tired gay stereotypes — how well would a La Cage revival work these days. Perhaps this is why we’re hearing so little about Mrs. Doubtfire, currently on Broadway. It plays up the man dressed as woman for humor, and that just doesn’t fly. (Hmmm, he wondered, why there are so few shows that find humor in a woman dressing as a man? I can only think of two — both Shakespeare — and the humor is situational. Victor Victoria, perhaps? But I digress).

Now, add to this the problems related to #MeToo, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the growing concern about men not listening to the voices of women (as well as a man taking a woman’s job). You have to keep saying to yourself: What were these producers thinking smoking?

Yet with all these problems, Tootsie came to Broadway and found some measure of success. It was nominated for a slew of Tony awards and won two (including Best Book of a Musical). It beat out Beetlejuice, which was better and far less problematic. Yet problems remain.

To their credit, the new book by Robert Horn makes some significant changes. It moves the milieu from New York and the soap opera scene to Broadway. Now the actor (Michael Dorsey) is finding failure with Broadway directors, and so becomes an actress (Dorothy Michaels) in a successful new Broadway production. This makes it more accessible, and adds to the in-jokes that only those in the Broadway profession would get. But it works better on stage. Horn also explicitly acknowledges the problems with what Michael is doing: there is gnashing and wailing about how this is wrong, followed by jokes about how he’ll get paid less. There are scenes calling out Michael for mansplaining, while there are no remarks about the hidden-in-full-view Michael as Dorothy mansplaining away, and getting heard while women staffers are ignored.

So there are loads and loads of problems remaining in the book. And yet … I laughed. Especially in the second act, where Michael’s subterfuge is uncovered, and there are some wonderful comic timing scenes taking place. This thing is laugh out loud funny, while you’re thinking at the same time that it is so wrong. Just like Jackass. This is likely why it won best book: if the book can make you laugh at something that is patently so wrong these days.

While we’re talking book, we mustn’t forget this is a musical. In this case, the music and lyrics are by David Yazbek, The songs are very funny, but what kept bothering me is how much they sounded like Yazbek’s other work. I kept hearing hints of The Band’s Visit  or Women on the Verge and even The Full Monty. There are some particular riffs and styles that Yazbek likes, and they seem to have recycled themselves here. It was distracting, and Yazbek needs to work better on getting his musicals to not sound so much … like Yazbek-stereotypes.

The production was directed by Dave Solomon; Scott Ellis was the original Broadway director. Broadway choreography was by Denis Jones. Buried in the small print were the key local folks: Augustine Ubannwa Asst. Director and Chip Abbott Associate Choreographer. All are members of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. I always have trouble telling direction from performance (which is how it should be), but the comic aspects of the direction were strong. Dancing was a bit weaker: there wasn’t anything that particular stands out in my mind a week after the performance.

Let’s turn to the performances, but before we do: When this production was originally booked for Broadway in Hollywood (back in the pre-pandemic days), it was to be an Equity tour, with Equity actors, and Equity pay scales, and Equity health insurance and such. But, on the verge of going out, it was recast and went out as a non-Equity tour. So note: Union directors and choreographers, union scenic artists, union back and front of house, but non-union actors. This is not meant as a disparagement of the actors, who do a remarkable job (as I’ll describe below). But it is a ding to the producers, who are getting away with paying them less and providing fewer benefits (pay breakdown) and worse working conditions. This has led to increased efforts from Equity to go after the non-Union tours. In particular, they are going after the touring companies that often have union and non-union versions, feeding back into the same pockets. If you ever want a key difference between Broadway in Hollywood and Center Theatre Group: CTG only does Equity productions on the main stages (and CTG does show production, not just booking). BIH books both Equity and non-Equity productions. Rant over, and I will say that I do still love Broadway in Hollywood — their subscriber support folks are the greatest (more on that later). I just wish the talent got treated as well, and part of that is encouraging the industry to do Equity tours.

Despite being young, the cast was excellent — drawing heavily from other non-Equity tours and the strong regional theatre markets. In the lead position was Drew Becker Michael Dorsey / Dorothy Michaels . Becker was remarkable in the role, with great comic timing and performing chops. He captured both the masculine and the feminine sides well, and had a strong singing voice. But as I noted, what really impressed me was his comedy. There were times where he said everything with a simple facial expression, a pause, or a simple reaction. To this untrained eye, that goes beyond the direction to bringing the actor’s chops to the role. I hope others see it.

The other key people in Michael’s direct sphere of influence were Payton Reilly Sandy Lester and Jared David Michael Grant Jeff Slater. Reilly’s role is really written more as comic relief, and we don’t see as much of her as we would like. She has a recurring song motif that is extremely funny and self-deprecating (even if it sounds like it could be plopped down in Women on the Verge). Reilly handles this well with great comic timing. Grant gets to play the lovable schlub friend — and you wouldn’t expect such a strong performance for that character. But Grant excels at the comedy — again, he’s a master of the timing and the look and the reaction. The scenes with him, Reilly, and Becker are just masterpieces. Watching their performances, you wouldn’t realize that these are relatively new actors — they are that strong in their roles.

Next we have the key people in Dorothy Michael’s stage life: Ashley Alexander Julie Nichols and Lukas James Miller Max Van Horn.  Alexander (who also appears to go by Ashley Seldon) has a remarkably strong voice and come across as a credible actor in her role. She gets less opportunity to play the role for the comic side. Miller, on the other hand, is heavily comedy — especially in the second act. The scene where he comes and hits on Dorothy is priceless, but his introductory scenes are strong as well.

In supporting roles we have Kathy Halenda Rita Marshall; Steve Brustien Stan Fields and Adam du Plessis Ron Carlisle.  All are written and played with appropriate stereotypes in mind. Halenda is the aging woman producer who wants to champion other women; Brustien is the typical agent; and du Plessis is the over-egoed director. The actors play them well.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller named parts as noted are: Leyla Ali Gone Female Trio, Connor Allston Stuart, Darius Aushay, Michael Bingham, Kyra Christopher, Delaney Gold Gone Female Trio, Maverick Hu, Dominique Kempf Suzie, Gone Female Trio, Marquez Linder, Lucy Panush, Alec Ruiz Carl, and Stefanie Renee Salyers. Swings are Lexi Baldachino Dance Captain, and Ashton Lambert Asst. Dance Captain. The ensemble was strong, performing with spirit and energy, and seeming to enjoy what they were doing.

Music was provided by an orchestra under Andrea Grody Supervising Music Director and Andrew David Sotomayor Music Director The orchestra consisted of: Richard Mitchell Alto Sax, Flute, Piccolo, Recorder; Sean Franz Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Soprano Sax; Aaron Smith and Javier Gonzalez Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas Trombone; Chris Thigpen Bass (Acoustic/Electric); Brian LaFontaine Guitar (Electric / Acoustic / Mandolin); Carl Thomson Drums / Percussion; Adam McDonald Keyboard 1; and Mary Ekler Keyboard 2. Other music credits: Dean Sharenow Music Supervisor; Talitha Fehr Music Coordinator; Eric Heinly Music Contractor; Billy Jay Stein and Iro Iida (for Strange Cranium Productions Inc) Electronic Music Design; David Chase Dance Arrangements; and Simon Hale Orchestrations.

Lastly, we turn to the production team, starting with the lead designers. Overall, the scenic design was suitable, although there were sound problems that left the distinct impression that some speakers were not working (because the music sounded off to one side). The set was relatively compact, with elements that opened up to create Michael Dorsey’s apartment, and that when closed became a generic New York skyline. My biggest complaint with the set design was more of a tour set design issue: there was a large frame around the set that would create site line problems for anyone sitting off to the far side. That’s bad design: even for a tour, sets should be designed to be clear and visible to all. The scenic design team consisted of: David Rockwell Original Scenic Design; Christine Peters Tour Scenic Design; William Ivey Long Costume Design; Christopher Vergara Costume Coordinator; Donald Holder Lighting Design; Brian Ronan Sound Design; Paul Huntley Hair & Wig Design; and Angelina Avallone Make-Up Design.  One costume/make-up note: The quick changes for Drew Becker (Michael Dorsey) were impressive, including changing the nail polish!

Rounding out the production team were: Binder Casting Casting; Andrew Terlizzi Company Manager; Suzayn Mackenzie-Roy Production Stage Manager; Brianna Thompson Asst Stage Manager; Brian Schrader General Manager; Heather Chockley Production Management. The tour manager was Troika Entertainment.

I mentioned earlier about the superb customer service from the Broadway in Hollywood subscription team. My wife currently is in a wheelchair, which requires handicapped seating. When I booked the show we were not in accessible seats; I had changed the tickets, but hadn’t realized they weren’t accessible either. Day of the show, the subscription folks in the box office got us changed to wheelchair accessible seats (in the orchestra, no less) without any muss. They may book non-union tours, but I still think Broadway in Hollywood is great!

Tootsie continues at the Dolby Theatre for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) until May 15. Tickets are available through the BIH box office (they have specials for $39). Discount tickets may be available through GoldstarTootsie goes next to the Segerstrom in Orange County.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – April 2022

The last headline post was on April 1st, so I must confess that there was one falsehood in the post:  “Maybe the right answer is just to put a fake headline somewhere in the headline list, and see if anyone falls for the rickroll.” That was just a tease to get you to go through all the headlines. Nothing was false.

However, there was one near truth:

  • How about: I’ve heard a lot about the growth of podcasting. Maybe now is the time for me to do that podcast I’ve always dreamed about doing detailed Theatre Reviews. I could make 10s and 10s of dollars towards my retirement. Now that’s worth quitting my job for. Plausible, but… would folks really fall for it.

The real truth is that I am starting a podcast, but it isn’t on theatre reviews. Right, I’m doing it with Tom Fearer from Gribblenation, and we’ll be going route by route through all the numbered highways in California. Right now, we’ve got a teaser episode up, and a sample and first episode written. We’ll be getting more written in May, and recording the same and first few episodes. You can find the forever home of the podcast at California Highways: Route by Route (caroutebyroute.org); you can find the alternate route over on anchor.fm. Subscribe, and we hope to have the sample episode — exploring Route 105 — up sometime in May.  We are still looking for someone to donate a public domain theme for the podcast; contact daniel@caroutebyroute.org if this interests you. We will also (eventually) be looking for podcast donors and sponsors, but that isn’t set up yet.

I’m also still working on the March/April updates to Cahighways.org. The ✔ below means that I’ve gone through the headline for the pages; I still have to go through the Gribblenation updates, the AAroads updates, the legislative actions, the CTC and Coastal Commission minutes. I also will need to go through the updated STIP and SHOPP, as they were approved at the March meeting. So the March/April updates should be posted sometime in late May.

The headline list is much smaller this month. Perhaps there are more paywalls blocking things. Perhaps there are less articles of interest for my pages (there are loads of articles on transit, but few new roads or major road changes right now). But you take what you get. Still, there are a few things of interest.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • ✔ Officials Approve $312 Million for 126 Highway Projects in California (Construction Equipment Guide). As part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s landmark $1.1 billion Clean California initiative, Caltrans is awarding $312 million for 126 projects along the state highway system. Designed to foster cultural connections and civic pride, the projects are expected to generate 3,600 jobs as part of the multiyear initiative led by Caltrans to upgrade interstates and beautify community gateways and public areas along highways, streets and roads while creating thousands of jobs for Californians. Ninety-eight percent of the projects will benefit historically underserved or excluded communities. […] Developed in close collaboration with tribal and local governments, non-profits and businesses, the 126 state beautification projects include art installations, green space and proposals that improve safety and promote community connections. Construction begins in April 2022. Some of the larger projects include: …
  • ✔ Public Feedback Wanted On Caltrans’ HWY 49 Project (myMotherLode.com). Caltrans and the Calaveras County Public Works Department want to hear from the public regarding a construction project on Highway 49 in San Andreas. The State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) construction project stretches from one end of town to the other along the highway. The town hall will give the public a chance to hear and see drawings of the project that will upgrade facilities to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards with curb ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks.
  • ✔ Caltrans to add 41 parking spaces in Downtown Ramona starting this month (Ramona Sentinel). After a year-long delay, Caltrans will start a project to create 41 parking spaces in Downtown Ramona as early as this week, Caltrans officials said Tuesday. The parallel parking project between Eighth and 10th streets on state Route 78 could be done a few weeks after it starts, said Caltrans Public Information Officer Cathryne Bruce-Johnson. The restriping will create parallel parking spaces for 21 vehicles on the westbound side of SR-78/Main Street, and 20 parking spaces on the eastbound side of the street in currently designated No Parking areas.
  • $$ Temecula ‘smart freeway’ project could improve 15 Freeway commute (Press Enterprise). Transportation officials are banking on technology to ease the frustrating 15 Freeway commute in southwest Riverside County. The Riverside County Transportation Commission is investing $18 million in a “smart freeway” pilot project that will target the northbound drive along 8 miles of the 15, from the San Diego-Riverside county line near Temecula to the 15-215 freeways split in Murrieta. In that section, where commuters returning from San Diego County jobs daily encounter delays, the agency plans to work with Caltrans to install an array of sensors to measure traffic flow, volume and speed at various points, said David Lewis, capital projects manager for the commission.
  • ✔ Southern Marin routes eyed for flooding relief (East Bay Times/Marin IJ). Officials are considering plans to raise portions of Highway 101 and Highway 1 to ease flooding in southern Marin. A proposed project along Highway 101 would elevate a portion of the southbound lane and offramp at the Marin City exit; construct a 700-foot floodwall between the highway and a stormwater pond; and install pumping mechanisms to increase flow from the pond into the Richardson Bay, according to Caltrans and state Sen. Mike McGuire. The project also includes an effort to raise Highway 1 north of the Manzanita commuter lot, which is closed routinely because of flooding. An automatic tide gate would be installed at the lot and drainage would be reconstructed. The Mill-Valley-Sausalito multiuse path also would be raised by about 3 feet.

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🎭 A Political Firebrand | “Ann” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Ann (Pasadena Playhouse)Back in February 2020, I was visiting my daughter in Madison WI. Tickets had just gone on sale for a show my wife really wanted to see, Ann, at the Pasadena PlayhouseAnn was a one-woman show that told the story of Ann Richards, Democratic Governor of Texas from 1991-1995.  Richards was a political firebrand known for speaking her mind, which was well demonstrated at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (where we first learned about her). It was Richards who came up with the line I’m sure you’ve heard: “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

We had been planning to see the show in May 2020. But then COVID happened. The show was cancelled; we had a credit at the Playhouse that we rolled into their new membership program. The new season was announced. Guess what was on the season? Yup. Ann was back.

We ticketed it as soon as we could, and coordinated the handicapped seating for my wife.

The story of the show’s origins is best described by the LA Times. It is a play that Holland Taylor (who folks probably remember best as the mother in Two and a Half Men, but whom I remember from It’s a Living) was compelled to write. Taylor was a regular on “Two and a Half Men” when the desire to write “Ann” seized hold of her. She dropped to a visiting role, and started to write and research (starting in 2006). She did extensive research, and seemingly channeled Richards. The play started its life at a venue we knew well, the NoHo Arts Center (the executive producer is married to James Mellon, who ran NoHo ACE). It played in Texas in 2010, on Broadway in 2013, and was recorded for Great Performances. Taylor has indicated this is the last time she’ll be putting on the wig and playing the role.

(and, yes, I’m writing this review a week late. Last Sunday was really busy with preparations for a new podcast I’m starting, and I didn’t get to the review)

The presentation of the show is simple, and best divided into three parts (it runs just under two hours, plus an intermission). It opens with Richards giving a graduation speech at a Texas university I didn’t recognize, where she reminiscences about her life and her origins, include her life with her parents, her marriage, and her entry into politics. It then transitions to the Texas Governor’s office, where we get to see Richards at work playing the political game. The third part is after she’s left office, talking about her post-governor life.

The show was laugh-out-loud funny, which isn’t a surprise given Richards opinions and lack of a filter. It was also a reminder of how politics has changed — especially in places like Texas. Texas used to be a Democratic stronghold — remember they gave us LBJ — and even their Republicans were often moderates (when you look back at the Bushes, you can see that). I’ll note Richard’s didn’t have a high opinion of Bush — she’s the one that said “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She also said of Republicans, “You have to be against government interference in business until your oil company, corporation or Savings and Loan is about to go broke and you beg for a government bailout.” So her attitudes are refreshing, and very far away from where Texas is today. Texas really needs someone who can speak the truth and be listened to; which is very far from the current leaders who toe the Trumpublican line.  Perhaps Beto will be that person.

Hopefully the few Conservatives in Southern California can go to this play and enjoy it. But it really works well given the progressive nature of the area. We really enjoyed it.

Supporting Taylor, but not seen, was Julie White as the voice of Nancy Kohler (Richards’ office professional)

Turning to the production side: The production was directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein, who directed the show on Broadway and kept the pace lively and the performances believable. The simple scenic design (a podium in front of a drape; the governor’s office) was by Michael Fagin (no relation), who also designed the Broadway production. The production team connections with this show continued with the sound and light: Ken Huncovsky Sound DesignSarah Ec Maines Lighting Design. Costume design was by Julie Weiss; and Hair and Wig design was by Paul Huntley. This was probably one of Huntley’s last productions; he passed away in July 2021. Both costumes and wigs were simple but critical: a light blue pantsuit, and Richards’ signature Beehive hairdo. Projections were by Zachary Borovay. Other production credits: Kevin Bailey Executive Producer; Bob Tolaro Stage Manager; Kevin Bailey Asst Stage Manager; TJ Norton Production AssistantThere was no credit for a COVID safety officer. Although it wasn’t in the Playbill, writing this up I discovered that Bailey was in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse we fondly remember, Heartbeats.

Ann continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 24. Tickets are available through the Playhouse’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix. It is well worth seeing.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: Next weekend brings the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – March 2022

April 1st.  April Fools Day. So what could I tell you that you would plausibly believe, but would be completely false?

  • How about: I’ve decided that the numbering naysayers are right, and I-238 is truly an abomination and they should complete the I-710 no matter what it takes. No, you would see right through that as well. I’m too neutral to take positions like that.
  • How about: I’ve decided that the vaccy naysayers are right, and I’m not going to get that 4th shot. Nah, you’d see right through that.
  • How about: I’m getting close enough to retirement. I’ve decided to chuck it all and go out for one gigantic roadtrip, traveling every road in California. Nah, I think I enjoy my real job too much, plus gas is far too expensive for anyone to believe that.
  • How about: After all this time, I’ve decided that music streamers are right, and I’m going to chuck my iPod Classics and stream away. Me? Never. They are my Precioussssssss.
  • How about: I’ve heard a lot about the growth of podcasting. Maybe now is the time for me to do that podcast I’ve always dreamed about doing detailed Theatre Reviews. I could make 10s and 10s of dollars towards my retirement. Now that’s worth quitting my job for. Plausible, but… would folks really fall for it.

Maybe the right answer is just to put a fake headline somewhere in the headline list, and see if anyone falls for the rickroll. That sounds good. So with that, let’s get to the roads.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  •  Who decides what roads and freeways get fixed next? (Daily Bulletin). Q: Rosie Shaw asked about road construction. Shaw, who lives in Riverside County, asked how it’s determined which roads and/or freeways are tabbed for construction work or repairs, including roads in small cities, and where the funding comes from.
  • State Route 26/Fremont Street Bridge Replacement Project (FB/District 10). The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is preparing to begin a project that will improve vertical clearance for freight vehicles by replacing the State Route 26 (SR-26)/Fremont Street Overcrossing of State Route 99 in Stockton. Beginning February 28, 2022, crews will work during day and night shifts for approximately 200 days – Sundays through Fridays – with completion expected in late 2022. Roadside message signs will be placed on SR-26/Fremont Street and on SR-99 to alert motorists of scheduled highway and ramp closures.
  • State Route 99 Rehabilitation Project Through the City of Merced (FB/District 10). The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is preparing to begin a project that will rehabilitate approximately 20 lane miles of State Route 99 (SR-99) between Franklin Road and Childs Avenue through the city of Merced. Construction will be done in phases and is scheduled to start on Sunday, March 6, 2022, with completion expected in August 2023.
  •  The Ghost of Harry Bergman’s Roadside Museum on Highway 371 (Esotouric’s Secret Los Angeles). Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love. For our latest post that’s hidden from the rest of the internet, we want to take you on a very short road trip along State Highway 371, the rural road between Aguanga (pronounced Ah-WAHN-ga, from the Luiseño word awáanga, meaning “dog place”) and Anza—or between Temecula and Palm Desert, to use more familiar destinations.
  • Opinion: Alien circles in downtown? (Madera Tribune). Some years from now, passengers in a low-flying airplane may report seeing “alien circles” right in downtown Madera. However, unlike the “crop circles” that are sometimes reported to exist in mid-West farmlands, the local phenomenon has a logical explanation. After years of prompting and procrastination, Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) is finally going to do something to improve State Route 145 through the City of Madera. After multiple meetings with city officials and stakeholders, the state has produced “State Route 145 Pavement Project and Complete Streets,” under the direction of John Liu, Deputy Director, Caltrans District 6 Maintenance and Operations. The plan consists of a “South Segment” along 3,020 feet of South Madera Avenue, from Avenue 13 to the East Madera Underpass Bridge; a “Downtown Segment,” including major modifications from E Street to Lake Street; and a “North Segment” from Lake Street to an area a bit short of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) underpass.
  • The US highway that helped break segregation (BBC Travel). Along US Route 40, African diplomats were routinely denied service at local establishments. But their treatment set off a civil rights struggle that led to outlawing segregation. Adam Malick Sow had a headache. He was several hours into his trip from New York to Washington DC, and after his limousine crossed into the state of Maryland, he asked his driver to find a place to stop. A few miles later, the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from the African nation of Chad stepped into a diner along US Route 40 and asked for a cup of coffee. The answer on a summer day in 1961 would change history.

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🎭 Update: Prognostications for the 2023 Pantages/Ahmanson Seasons

Back in mid-February 2022, I posted my predictions for Broadway in Hollywood (FB) (Pantages) and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) seasons. BIH just made their announcement, so how did I do?

For the record, here’s what I wrote for Broadway in Hollywood:

  • Mean Girls. This was postponed from 2020.
  • Six.
  • Beetlejuice.
  • Tina – The Musical.
  • Ain’t Too Proud. This started out at the Ahmanson and went to Broadway. It is likely not to repeat at the Ahmanson — they want to reach a different subscriber base.
  • Wicked. On tour, currently at the Segerstrom. A likely retread that performs well and can do an extended sit-down at the Pantages.
  • Girl from the North Country (although this could end up at the Ahmanson)
  • Aladdin The Musical. This is a “newly imagined” version, and could be a draw.
  • Maybes:
    • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.
    • The Cher Show. The tour was postponed, but it might come back.
    • The Spongebob Musical. One can always hope.
    • MJ The Musical. This was just announced (3/21) as going on tour in 2023. It is the type of show that would be at the Pantages, but I think the announcement is too late for the 2023 season. But one never knows; it might make it in.

What did we get?

I got the first four right on the button:

In my maybe list, the two retreads ended up being in the season:

  • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.

Two of the shows I thought for the Ahmanson are coming into BIH instead:

I didn’t see a remounting of The Lion King; I wasn’t even aware they were still on tour. The Playbill article on current and upcoming tours indicates the Lion King tour ends in October 2022, and the BIH announcement indicates it is coming in 2023.

So where does this leave the other traditional touring house: The Ahmanson. There’s a push at CTG for more diversity and there’s a new managing director, so there could be some changes in direction. CTG/Ahmanson also does more local stuff, and stuff moving up. So what will we see from the Ahmanson? Here’s the revised prediction.

Ahmanson Theatre

The Ahmanson Theatre, in Downtown LA,  is a large venue that in the past has programmed both National tours, shows it has locally produced or produced pre-tours, or select touring productions from elsewhere, such as the West End. It has smaller capacity than the Pantages/Dolby, can accommodate mid-size runs but not long sit downs. There has been a recent strong push for diversity and local productions at CTG, and there is new artistic leadership, so I expect to see more diverse playwrights and local productions as opposed to only the tours we’ve seen of late.

My prediction:

    • To Kill a Mockingbird (Tour). This was postponed from 2021.
    • 1776 (Musical). This was postponed from 2021.
    • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This could be a local mounting as a tour hasn’t been announced, but there has been a sister production at the Curran in SF. This isn’t a formal tour, so it would require a local mounting of the show — which means it would require the Ahmanson, as Broadway in Hollywood doesn’t locally mount stuff.
    • Jagged Little Pill. This just seems a bit more like an Ahmanson show.
    • Girl from the North Country
    • MJ: The Musical
    • Diversity author slot.
    • Pre-Broadway or West-End Musical

I still believe that Ain’t Too Proud will NOT come back to the Ahmanson, but I could be wrong. The Ahmanson did bring back both Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, which they presented before. Other tours are shows that are retready enough they don’t fit CTG, such as Aladdin The Musical or Wicked, and although a new production of 9 to 5: The Musical is going on tour, I don’t think it would be a sufficient draw for CTG.  I still don’t think Emojiland: The Musical  will end up at the Ahmanson either.

And still no Spongebob Musical. But one can always hope.

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🎭 What You Find in Community | “Trayf” @ Geffen Playhouse

Trayf (Geffen Theatre)As you may have figured out by now, I wear many hats. Some look like train engineer hats. Some are whatever a roadgeek wears. Some protect your information technology investments. And others, well, clip on with a hair clip and cover your head in shul. In other words, a kippah. Now, mine isn’t always black, nor do I wear a fedora on top of that, or any other additional hat. Still, I know those communities well, being a co-maintainer of a set of Frequently Asked Questions on Judaism, as well as founder and moderator of the Liberal Judaism Mailing List.  More on that in a minute.

With my kippah on, I serve as facilitate for a group out of our Reform synagogue in Northridge that regularly attends Jewish-themed live theatre. We’ve attended a wide variety of shows over the years: Eight Nights at Antaeus; It Shoulda’ Been You at MTG; Shared Legacies at JWT;  Stars of David at the Y! I Love Yiddish Fest; Fabulous Fanny Brice; Allan Sherman Unmasked!; and Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily In That Order). So I’m always on the lookout for Jewish themed theatre for our group; and as COVID restrictions were lifting, something we could do in person again. So I was very pleased to get an email from the Geffen Playhouse announcing a production that sounded interesting. Here was the description:

Zalmy lives a double life. By day, he drives a Chabad “Mitzvah Tank” through 1990s New York City, performing good deeds with his best friend Shmuel. By night, he sneaks out of his orthodox community to roller-skate and listen to rock and roll. But when a curious outsider offers him unfettered access to the secular world, is it worth jeopardizing everything he’s ever known? This road-trip bromance is a funny and heartwarming ode to the turbulence of youth, the universal suspicion that we don’t quite fit in, and the faith and friends that see us through.

The production was Trayf , written by Lindsay Joell and directed by Maggie Burrows, which would be running at the Geffen from March 1 through April 10, 2022. So I put out a call to see if there was interest, and coordinated group tickets. We ended up with a group of 18 temple members, who came out to Westwood Saturday afternoon to see the show. It was a very successful outing.

Trayf tells the story of Zalmy (Ilan Eskenazi) and Shmuel (Ben Hirschhorn), two Chassids out Crown Heights, best friends since grade school, who are going around encouraging people to do mitzvahs. For shoe unfamiliar with Chassidic Judaism, you should consult my FAQ let me explain (from my FAQ): Chassidic Judaism is a group within the broader rubric of Orthodox Judaism. It started in the 1700’s (Common Era) in Eastern Europe in response to a void felt by many average observant Jews of the day. The founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (referred to as the “Besht,” an acronym of his name) was a great scholar and mystic, devoted to both the revealed, outer aspect, and hidden, inner aspect of Torah. He and his followers, without veering from a commitment to Torah, created a way of Jewish life that emphasized the ability of all Jews to grow closer to G-d via everything that we do, say, and think. In contrast to the somewhat intellectual style of the mainstream Jewish leaders of his day and their emphasis on the primacy of Torah study, the Besht emphasized a constant focus on attachment to G-d and Torah no matter what one is involved with. The group continued, as modern Lubavitch Chassidism,  commonly known as Chabad, follows Rabbi Schneerson and his teaching. They are still very active today with Chabad Houses in almost every community. They are well known for inviting more secular Jewish in to do commandments laid out in the Torah, such as joining them for Shabbat, laying Tefillin. Back in the 1990s, when this story took place, they were active going out on the streets to pull folks in to do Mitzvahs. I remember them regularly on the streets of Westwood when I was at UCLA.

So, back to the story. Zalmy and Shmuel are in Chabad, best friends in the insular community that is Crown Heights, following all strictures of Orthodox — including separation from the secular world. Their own outreach is the Mitzvah Tank — a van they take to neighborhoods to “spread the word” (but only to other Jews, as Judaism does not encourage conversion). Shmuel has a secret, thought … he loves secular music and is drawn to it. One day, in comes Jonathan (Garrett Young), a young man whose father just died, and who discovered information that his father’s family were survivors of the holocaust, rescued by a non-Jewish family. He wants to get in touch with his Jewish soul. One of the through lines of this play is Jonathan’s movement into the insular community. As he learns about Chabad’s enthusiastic brand of Judaism, he is drawn in deeper.

But we do learn in Judaism that no one’s path is travelled in isolation. Jonathan’s journey impacts others. One person impacted is Leah (Louisa Jacobson), Jonathan’s girlfriend. Suddenly — although she is Jewish by birth — she is no longer Jewish enough for Jonathan. You see, she was raised Reform. Her kitchen isn’t kosher; she doesn’t observe the strictures, and Jonathan pulls away. Also impacted is the tight friendship of Zalmy and Shmuel. Shmuel is drawn to Jonathan for the secular music, and keeps encouraging Jonathan to come into the Chabad community more. But as he comes in, the secular is pushed out. This drives wedges between Jonathan and Shmuel, and Shmuel’s embracing of the secular draws a wedge between him and Zalmy.

On one hand, this story is a deep examination of the power of friendship, and whether that friendship can survive someone moving out of an insular community. Is the strictures of one’s faith more powerful than friendship. But this is also an examination of what an insular community can do to someone: how it can draw them in and get them to reject their former live and friends. But for me, what was most telling was the one scene with Leah, where a Reform Jewish woman was considered “less than” by these two young Chabbadniks. That’s not really what Judaism teaches, yet it is an attitude that is far too common.

This got me thinking back to my days at UCLA, across the street from the Geffen. I was effectively a Jewish Studies minor, and I knew a few Chabbadniks. Yet I never gave in to going to the Chabad House (or Hillel). I know folks who did. But one of my best friend was from the Orthodox Yeshiva community, and we had wide ranging intellectual discussions I treasure to this day. There is beauty in what Chabad does; but I don’t always agree with their isolating approaches. But it did trigger those memories.

In general, I think this was a great show for our little group (I’ve also recommended The Lehman Trilogy, which we saw last week). I’m on the lookout for our next show.

Rounding out the cast as the necessary understudies one needs in this COVID world: Katie Croyle U/S Leah; Josh Green U/S Zalmy / Shmuel; and John Garet Stoker U/S Jonathan.

The scenic design by Tim Mackabee was simple: chairs, a streetlight, some signs, a center auto console with a tape deck. This conveyed enough to establish the needed sense of place. It was supported by Lap Chi Chu‘s lighting design that established the mood, and Everett Elton Bradman‘s sound design, which provided the soundscape for the lives and communities. Denitsa Bliznakova‘s costumes captured the Chabad esthetic well. Rounding out the production team were: KC Monnie Choreographer; Rachel Wiegardt-Egel Dramaturg; Leia S. Crawford Production Stage Manager; Matt Shakman Artistic Director; Gill Cates Jr. Executive Director; and Behnaz Ataee CFO.  I always make a point to credit the COVID-19 Compliance Manager, Phil Gold, without whose work the theatre would not happen.

Trayf continues at the Geffen Playhouse through April 10. Tickets are available through the Geffen; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 (or I’ll 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. As for the remainder of the first half of 2022: We have no more theatre in March. April brings Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB), the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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