C-H-U-C-K Chuck

He always used to seemingly dislike when people would add “C-H-U-C-K Chuck” into “Justice, Justice“.

Yesterday, word came out that Charles Feldman, long-time Director of Music (in the days before Reform had Cantors) at Wilshire Blvd Temple, and long-time camp director of Gindling Hilltop Camp, and long time maestro of Jewish music, passed away. It wasn’t a surprise; I had heard he was in a board-and-care home up in the Antelope Valley. But still, the news was sad. And the world wept.

I attended the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps for 10 years, between 1969 and 1979; I was at Hilltop starting in 1972. For all but that first (and possibly second) year at Hilltop, Chuck was my camp director. So many memories: his voice, his kindness, his friendly nature, his leadership, playing anagrams after-hours.

Others from my era at camp have posted on Facebook with their memories. If the measure of a person and a life well lived are the lives that you have impacted for the good, then Chuck will be remembered well. Tradition teaches that we live on in the memories of others. In that respect, Chuck will continue to live on through the music he has left behind, through the people he has influence and how they have passed on that influence down the generations, and through the memories of the man at his piano, leading songs and completely happy.

You can hear his beautiful voice on the camp album Cherish The Torah, in the songs “Sim Shalom” and “Sanctification“. Here is a short summary of Chuck’s career at Wilshire from the time he stepped down.

According to a post from Liz Biderman Gertz on Facebook, those who wish to honor Chuck Feldman’s memory may donate to the following scholarship fund:

Academy of Music Performance and Education scholarship fund
854 West Lancaster Blvd
Lancaster CA 93534

 

Share

🗯️ Anger Makes My Head Explode

userpic=divided-nationYesterday, a Conservative friend of mine began a political post (wherein he shared a link from Fox News) as follows: “Whereupon liberal heads explode…”. This is a style of rhetoric I’ve seen from the right before: Doing things just to “make Liberal heads explode”. There’s so much anger and hatred expressed towards a broad group. It is as if they were _______-ist. But what gets me most is this attitude of hate towards groups.

Further, if you think I’m letting my side off the hook, you’re wrong. I get equally annoyed when I see on the Liberal forums that a read: “Oh, that will piss them off” or other things that express hatred towards all Trump supporters or all Conservatives. Of course, these are Liberals, so we know there’s no hate or _______-ism in them. Right? But for Conservatives? [In fact, there’s a cartoon going around Facebook making just that point — of how Liberals are accepting of anyone … except Conservatives].

Hate. Hate. Hate.

I just hate hate.

Seriously: If we are to move this country forward, we’ve got to get past this hatred of groups of people. Yes, people can choose their politics, unlike their skin color, sex, gender, orientation, or other protected classes. But that’s not a reason to hate people as an entire group. Hate and protest ideas and political positions. Dislike individuals. But don’t do things just because you don’t like broad groups, or just to piss off broad groups.

Doing things to piss of groups of people — doing things to make others angry — that’s just being a bully. You are better than that.

Just stop it. In Jewish tradition, tomorrow is the day of repentance — a day to commit to make changes in your behavior. Take advantage of it, and vow to stop this senseless hatred of groups, and doing things just because it will piss someone else off. You’re better than being one of the “Get off my lawn” nasty old men.

G’mar Chatima Tovah.

Share

🎭 How To Save Paradise | “Paradise” @ Ruskin Theatre Group

Paradise (Ruskin Theatre Group)I find the shows that we see in many different ways. Sometimes they are part of a subscription. Sometimes we’re in an area and we look for a show. Sometimes I learn about a show and find discount tickets. And sometimes a publicist mails me about a show (viewing me as a critic because I write so much about theatre), and the show sounds so interesting I just need to arrange for tickets*. This was the case with Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedywhich we saw last night at the Ruskin Theatre Group (FB) in Santa Monica. I heard the words “bluegrass” (a musical genre that I love), and “musical theatre”, and I had to see it.
————
(*: Note: Publicists often arrange free tickets for critics, but I insist on paying what I would on Goldstar, because of the ethics rules I follow at work that prohibit accepting gifts above a nominal value from a supplier.)

Going in, I didn’t know much about the show other than the synopsis about a preacher coming to a small depressed town with a miracle solution to save it. As we waited for the show to start, there was music in the lobby by one of the composers of the show, Cliff Wagner (FB). I immediately made a note to get more of this guy’s music. His bluegrass was that good. After we were seated and I waited for the show to start, we were toe-tapping to the bluegrass band that was providing music for the show. They were one of the best bluegrass bands I’ve heard in a long time. I turned to my wife, and noted that I’d be happy just hearing a concert of them playing — they were that good.

Then the show started, and … and … I sat there, alternating between laughing my head off (which I rarely do during a show, even when the rest of the audience goes crazy) and being completely shocked at what was happening on the stage. Trying to characterize the show afterwards, the answer hit me with the phrase “Avenue Q meets Book of Mormon meets Trial & Error meets Elmer Gantry“. Paradise was a surreal story in a surreal setting that made specific relevant comments on the dangers of relying upon reality TV and its hucksters to bring us solutions to real life. It did so through a story that had toe-tapping bluegrass music, and songs that were incredibly outrageous.

I so want a cast album of this show. Oh, so much.

Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy (music and book by Bill Robertson (FB), Tom Sage (FB), and Cliff Wagner (★FB, FB)) is the story of depressed small small town — under 50 people — presumably somewhere in Coal Country (likely West Virginia). The town needs a miracle to survive. The “heart” of the town is Louanne Knight, who runs the corner store and post office that was started by her mama, recently deceased. She just wants to leave the town, but can’t. The mayor, a man named Gayheart, is upset that his son, “Tater”, will not take up musical comedy and that the town preacher has just up and left. Another resident, Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (called “Cyndi”, pronounced “Cindai”), has just blown up the church. There’s also Ezra, a blind man who sits on the porch and makes sardonic comments. But there is nothing to worry about. A preacher, the Reverend John Cyris Mountain, and his assistant, a former Las Vegas stripper Chastity Jones, is coming to town to save it. The preacher’s solution: Have the town star in a reality TV show produced by Peter Martinez about the most desperate downtrodden town in the nation, and use the funds to build a mega-church at the mouth of the old coal mine.

Right there, we’re in Trial and Error territory — and by this I mean the completely surreal NBC comedy about a small town in the south where everything is totally warped and weird. That’s certainly the case here, with a gay mayor who is a germaphobe who has a black son, a woman in the town that is certifiably insane, with another woman subject to virgin rage. Literally, But the songs started, and I was like … WTF? When Chasity starts singing “Jesus is deep inside me (and he won’t pull out)”, your mind just starts reeling. There are songs about hillbillies, reality TV, the importance of profit in the ministry, and more. Then it gets even stranger in the second act, with songs about flaming bags of shit, and “Tater”‘s real father, “Big Rod Brown”. Yes, they go there. This is where the Avenue Q meets Book of Mormon comes in.  But, like those shows, the offense has a point to make about society and the evangelical movements, and fits in the surrealism of the show.

That brings us to the Elmer Gantry aspect of it all: the selling of religion to small town America as salvation, with a preacher who is more than he seems, whose intentions might not be so altruistic. That’s certainly the case here — it is not a spoiler to reveal that the preacher is not doing this to save the town. He is doing it to enrich himself. This attitude of slime permits there to be many jokes that reference America’s current political leadership without being explicit, because there is similar slime using evangelical trappings to save America while leading it to its destruction. There is similar doom in place for the fictional town of Paradise, although I won’t spoil the denouement.

But of course, this is a musical, and so the town is saved … unsurprisingly, by its music. The couple find each other and the virgin is no more, and everyone gets what they wanted. Musicals, of course, must end on a happy, well, note.

This is a musical that has long been in development. It was first presented back in 2013, and was based on a reality TV experience of the authors, combined with the wonderful song about Jesus not pulling out. Times have changed, and with Trump in the White House, it was even more appropriate to revive and revisit the piece. As I noted before, I found the show hilarious and wonderful, and would love to see it again (if I could get a seat). But what is it’s future. With its’ scale, this isn’t a Broadway show. It is just too small and doesn’t have the elements that would make it work on the grand stage. But this is a wonderful musical comedy at the off-Broadway level: satirical and toe-tapping, along the lines of a Toxic Avenger or Bat Boy musical. It shocks while it comments, and the bluegrass music and genre is infectious (and rare in musical comedy — I can think of only a few musicals that use the genre, including Robber Bridegroom and Bright Star, and perhaps Big River). I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think it helped that the performances, under the direction of Michael Myers (FB), were so over the top. These actors were having fun with their roles, occasionally going above and beyond to top each other, and this was transmitted to the audience (who were transmitting the fun back). This doesn’t happen with movies, folks — it is unique to the stage and what makes live performance so magical. An amplification loop was formed, and the results were just so spectacular.  The actors also played to the audience, which meant that there were — at times — overly exaggerated dance movement and synchronization and seemingly playful amplification through positioning and movement. With this show, that worked quite well.

As the heart of the town, Kelsey Joyce (FB)’s Louanne Knight is spectacular. She’s making her debut (which I why I couldn’t find anything about her online — girl, make a website!). She has a lovely singing voice for bluegrass, and is able to maintain her small town innocence despite all the crazy around her. She’s just wonderful to watch, and I hope to see her in other shows in the future.

Dave Florek (FB)’s Blind Ezra Johnson is the first character we meet — he’s on the porch listening to the band as the audience is seated, and eggs on the band to do more. He has a wonderfully sardonic way about him and is a hoot to watch.

Chip Bolcik (FB)’s Mayor Gayheart is hilarious. His performance captures the character to a “T”, and his feedback loop with the audience is remarkable. He is over-the-top wonderful, completely surreal. At our performance, Jeff Rolle Jr. (FB) was playing the role of his son, “Tater” (normally played by Randy Taylor (FB), according to the program). Rolle was very strong in the role, with a great presence and interaction with Bolcik as his father. His reactions in “BIg Rod Brown” and his performance in “I Don’t Wanna Sing on Broadway” were just great.

This brings us to Paige Segal (FB)’s Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (Cyndi / Cindai). Again, a hoot who creates a feedback loop with the audience for her craziness. Her performance in the song “The Missing Link” — about leaving a flaming bag of shit on a porch for revenge — is hilarious.

Driving the story around these characters are the preacher and his assistant: Jon Root (FB) as Reverend John Cyrus Mountain and Nina Brissey (FB, resume) as Chastity Jones. Root is wonderful as the preacher — slimey and talented, manipulative and handsome, just a devil of man. Brissey is the only performer who was in the 2013 version of the show, and her familiarity with the material shows in her comfort with her role as a former stripper. She brings the sex to the role, together with wonderful singing and dancing. Both are a remarkable team.

Lastly, there is Jamie Daniels (FB)’s Peter Martinez. His character, like Joyce’s Louanne, is anchored in reality. He’s the trust fund kid who is producing the show. He captures the sane-in-a-world-of-crazy well, and has a nice chemistry’s with Joyce’s Louanne.

The listed understudies are: Jamie Daniels (FB) [Reverend Mountainu/s], Donovan Farwell (FB) [Ezra Johnsonu/s], Emily Anna Bell (FB) [Louanne Knightu/s], Charlene Rose (★FB, FB) [Chastity Jonesu/s, Dance Captain], Michael Berckart (FB) [Mayor Gayheartu/s]Jeff Rolle Jr. (FB) [Tater Gayheartu/s] (who went on at our performance), Hamilton Matthews (FB) [Cyndiu/s], and Ryan Stiffelman (FB) [Peter Martinezu/s]. I’m intrigued by Matthews casting as Cyndi. ’nuff said.

Music was provided by a wonderful bluegrass band consisting of: Jim Doyle (FB[Musical Director, Drums]; John Groover McDuffie (FB[Guitar, Banjo]; Gregory Boaz (FB) [Bass]; and Devitt Feeley (FB) [Guitar, Mandolin]. These guys need to put out a bluegrass album, and then play at McCabes — they are that good. It does appear that one of them is in a local bluegrass band.

I’ve already mentioned the movement when discussing the director, but some of that credit goes to Tor Campbell (★FB, FB)’s choreography. In general, the dance was strong, especially the group numbers. I should note that this is the only show I’ve seen with a credit for Pole Dance Choreography (Jess Hopper)

Finally, turning to the production side. Stephanie K. Schwartz‘s scenic design captures Appalachia well, with a number of nice little touches. It works well with Edward Salas‘s lighting design to establish mood and time. Chip Bolcik (FB)’s sound design was unobtrusive. Dianne K. Graebner‘s suited the characters and established them well. Other production credits: Amelia Mulkey [Graphic Design]; Paul Ruddy [Casting]; Judith Borne [Publicity]; Meagan Truxal [Stage Manager (at our performance)]; Nicole Millar [Stage Manager (in program)]; John Ruskin [Artistic Director]Michael Myers (FB) [Managing Director].

Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy continues at the Ruskin Theatre Group (FB). No end date is listed, but the ticketing website shows only one more weekend, September 21-23, which is sold out. Hopefully, they will extend — this is a great show. Update: Per a comment received, they have been extended, so please check their ticketing website.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The fourth weekend of September has the first show of the Actors Co-op (FB) 2018-2019 season: Rope, and the fifth weekend brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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.

Share

🎭 The Power of the Group | “Ain’t Too Proud” @ Ahmanson

Ain't Too Proud (Ahmanson)With the passing of Labor Day, we’re out of the summer show season and into the fall theatre season. This brings the season openers for many companies, including the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The Ahmanson’s first show is an odd beast: it was essentially a replacement for Crazy for You, announced for February 2018 but later postponed. This meant that it was an addition to the previous season as well as being (due to timing) the first show in the 2018-2019 season. This made me glad I hadn’t gotten tickets to Crazy for You, because we ended up subscribing. This also meant that there was essentially double the audience fighting for seats, so that when we changed our seats due to our vacation, we ended up in the far back row (row Z; our subscription is Row S).

This is also a biographic jukebox musical, along the lines of Jersey Boys. However, the songs generally don’t serve to tell the story, but to tell the time — presented chronologically where they are in the storyline, as opposed to being used to provide the story line.

Lastly, this is also a pre-Broadway musical. It has been announced for the Imperial Theatre, although the cast or opening date is still pending. The Los Angeles production is the 3rd developmental production; there is still one to go in Toronto.

Hence, when looking at this musical, we’re not just judging it as a replacement show for a revision of an (essentially) George Gershwin jukebox (for that, really, is what Crazy for You is). It is a new musical, and it needs to meet the standards of Broadway.

Does this production, which features a book by Dominique Morisseau (FB), based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams (FB) with Patricia Romanowski, music and lyrics from “The Legendary Motown Catalog”, and direction by Des McAnuff, meet those standards? No. In many ways, it reminds me of Baby, It’s You that we saw at the Pasadena Playhouse many many years ago … and which went to Broadway and quickly disappeared. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, but in its present form, it will have problems. Luckily, these problems are primarily book-based (a major problems for shows). The Motown music catalog is always a delight, although with the recent Motown and shows like Dreamgirls, it may be a well that has been drawn from too frequently.

As just noted, the story is based on the book written by the one constant member of the Temptations, Otis Williams. As such, it does tend to present his view of the story; given the various infighting over the years, one would expect some differing views might have emerged — but they are never presented. Reading through the Wikipedia history, the version on stage seems to capture the highlights, although it glosses over many of the numerous changes and problems over the years.  All for entertainment sake, I guess. In terms of all the personnel changes and the fighting over the group’s name, it reminds me of all the changes in groups like The Kingston Trio or the Limeliters over the years. I guess folk and R&B are connected. In terms of how accurate the music was, I must confess to not having even a shallow Temptations catalog — out of the 45,000+ songs on my iPod, only 5 are from the Temptations — and 3 of those are from the Motown musical.

The main book problem with the show is that it is very narrative driven. The scenes in the show often don’t tell the story — they are performances. What tells the story is the narrator. That’s wrong for a musical. In a musical, either the scenes or (ideally) the music should tell the story. That it doesn’t here is a problem that book writers need to address before this arrives on the Great White Way.

But that’s structural, and structure is often different than entertainment. This show is entertaining, no question. The music is a collection of Motown hits — and not just from the Temptations, but from other Motown groups such as the Supremes. There is the remarkable dance and choreography of the Temptations, recreated by the choreographer Sergio Trujillo.  There is the remarkable on-stage but hidden band  under the direction of Kenny Seymour. When they rock out at the end of the show, you are just blown away. As a concert and dance performance with a Cliff Notes story, this is just great.

The performances — especially the singing and dancing performances — are exceptional. The main problem is that with so many changes in the composition of The Temptations, many of the later members become indistinguishable, especially if you are seated at a distance. This is complicated by the reuse of the ensemble in multiple roles — making it difficult to tell who is who.

Luckily, that’s less of an issue for the top tier — the main Temptations: Derrick Baskin (FB) [Otis Williams], James Harkness (★FB, FB) [Paul Williams]; Jawan M. Jackson (★FBFB) [Melvin Franklin]; Jeremy Pope (★FB, FB) [Eddie Kendricks]; and Ephraim Sykes (★FB, FB) [David Ruffin]. They are unmistakable, especially Jackson’s deep voice.

A few others have primary named roles and a few background unnamed ensemble tracks: Saint Aubyn (FB) [Dennis Edwards, Fight Captain, Ensemble]Shawn Bowers (FB[Lamont, Asst. Dance Captain, Ensemble]; E. Clayton Cornelious (★FB) [Richard Street, Ensemble]; Jahi Kearse (FB[Barry Gordy, Ensemble]; Joshua Morgan (★FBFB[Shelly Berger, Ensemble]; Rashidra Scott (★FB, FB[Josephine, Ensemble]; Christian Thompson (★FB[Smokey Robinson, Ensemble]; and Candice Marie Woods (FB[Diana Ross, Ensemble]; Note that Morgan is the easiest ensemble member to identify; he’s the only white guy in the cast.

As for the rest, the multiple casting makes them hard to tell apart: Taylor Symone Jackson (FB[Johnnie Mae, Mary Wilson, Ensemble]; Jarvins B. Manning Jr. (★FB, FB[Al Bryant, Norman Whitfield, Ensemble]; and Nasia Thomas (FB[Mama Rose, Florence Ballard, Tammi Terrell, Ensemble].

Swings were Esther Antoine [Dance Captain]; Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. (FB); and Curtis Wiley (★FB).

As I said before, the orchestra was strong, under the direction of Kenny Seymour [Keyboard1]. The other members were: Sean Kana (FB[Assoc Conductor, Keyboard2]Sal Lozano [Reed]Dan Fornero (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]Robert Payne [Trombone, Contractor]; Keith Robinson [Guitar]; George Farmer (FB[Bass]; Clayton Craddock [Drums]; Mark Cargill and Lesa Terry [Violins]; and Lance Lee (FB) and Joey de Leon [Percussion]. Other music positions were: John Miller [Music Coordinator]; Steven M. Alper [Music Preparation]; Randy Cohen (FB[Keyboard Programmer]; Tim Crook [Assoc Keyboard Programmer]. Orchestrations were by Harold Wheeler. Music was by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side. The scenic design by Robert Brill was tightly integrated with the lighting design of Howell Binkley and the projection design of Peter Nigrini. It made heavy use of projections and LEDs, and was at times very busy without the traditional scenic elements. It was, perhaps, a little too busy for my tastes, but generally worked. The sound design of Steve Canyon Kennedy was clear in the back of the theatre. The costumes of Paul Tazewell worked well, as did the hair and wig designs of Charles G. LaPointe. Rounding out the production team: Steve Rankin [Fight Director]; Edgar Godineaux [Assoc Choreographer]; Molly Meg Legal [Production Stage Manager]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]. Most of the other credits are management, but two are of note: Shelly Berger, who was the original Temptations manager, was the creative consultant, and Otis Williams, the last remaining original Temptation, was an Executive Producer. 

AIn’t Too Proud continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through September 30. It was quite entertaining, even if it needs some work. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Box Office.  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. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Today will bring  Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend of September has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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.

 

 

Share

🎭 A Cursed, But Great, Show | “Macbeth” at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Macbeth (Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival)A few weeks ago, we were on vacation up in Lake Tahoe. We never let a vacation stop us from our interests, and one of those interests is good theatre. So I always check the listings and see what is in the area. In this case, we were able to catch the last performance of Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB). Summer is the time for outdoor Shakespeare, and we do enjoy hitting at least one show during the summer, so this fit well. The venue itself was beautiful; I snapped the picture to the right from our original seats at the show. There are two seeing areas: formal seating on dirt rows, and less expensive seating at the top and the sides with chairs set in sand. We were in the latter.

Our location is significant because this, after all, is the Scottish Play. The curse of the play hit us before the show, while we were sitting in our seats eating the dinner we had brought. My wife took a bit of her sandwich … and got a hornet, which stung her tongue and cheek. She was worried about an allergic reaction (as was I), and I had visions of trying to get her out through the sand … whereas she was worried about a helicopter evacuation. Luckily, one of the volunteers was an RN and had Benedryl with her. This was able to damp down the reaction; they also moved us much closer to the front to the handicapped seats so they could observe her and make it easier to get out in the dark. In any case, the incident unnerved us — and let me to put off doing this writeup until I bumped into having to write up another show.

We had another show last night.

One other note on the venue. In the tickets, they advise you that it gets cold in the evening. Believe them. Even though it was hot when we arrived, as the sun went down the altitude and thinner air led it to cool off very quickly. We were glad we had brought jackets and a blanket.

So, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. Quite likely, you are familiar with the story of The Scottish King, who uses murder to achieve his position. A King who goes mad and kills his rivals. A king that sees conspiracies everywhere. A play with that famous line: “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”. I shant summarize the story as you can find it on Wikipedia.

What struck me, watching the play, was an echoing similarity to the Presidency of Donald Trump. A man who wants power. A man who wants adoration. A man who will seemingly do anything to keep that power. A man who tells a tale of sound and fury, but ultimately signifies nothing. I encourage those  familiar with the story to review it and see if they agree.

This production, which was directed by Charles Fee, was magnificent. With Shakespeare, I find that the dated language and style make it harder to get into the story at the start, but once I got into it, this presentation gripped me. There was no attempt to modernize or change the setting of the story: this was traditional Shakespeare, told in a traditional fashion. I’ll note there were a few understudy substitutions that — due to my wife’s hornet sting — I didn’t note down. There was also one player performing with what appeared to be a strained or broken ankle in a cast or boot. Live theatre, folks. The show must go on, even a cursed one.

As I’m writing this three+ weeks post show, it is a bit harder to remember the tiers of performances. But some stand out even through the mists of times.

As the Scottish Prince, the thane of Glamis, Lynn Robert Berg (FB) was spectacular. I still remember the anger and evil that radiated from him, and the power of personality that held people in his thrall. Very, well, Trump-ish. Erin Partin (FB), was not like Melanie. She portrayed the Scottish lady as the Prince’s equal in evil, someone equal in plotting, but who was literally driven mad by it.

Also strong were the three weird sisters, Sara J. Griffin (FB), Meredith Lark (FB), and Jessie Cope Miller (FB). They had a movement and style that made their performance just great .. and somewhat unworldly. Just a joy to watch.

Also sticking out in my mind for their performances (but the specifics are lost) were David Anthony Smith (FB)’s King Duncan; Jonathan Dryud (FB)’s Banquo, and Christopher Tocco (FB)’s Macduff.

Rounding out the cast (and other roles) were: Lavour Addison (FB[Ross]; Joe Atack (FB[Lennox]; Peder Benson Bate (FB[Sergeant, Murderer, Ensemble]; Remell Bowens Jr. (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Aled Davies [Seyton]; Sara J. Griffin (FB[Weird Sister, Lady Macduff]; Jeffrey C. Hawkins (FB[Malcolm]Meredith Lark (FB[Weird Sister, Gentlewoman/Lady Macbeth’s Attendant]Jessie Cope Miller (FB[Weird Sister]; Andrew Pope (FB[Nobleman, Ensemble]; Peter Ribar (FB[Donalbain, Ensemble]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Duncan, Siward]; Mark Anthony (M.A.) Taylor (FB[Murderer, Ensemble]; Daniel Telford (FB[Young Siward, Ensemble]; and Colin Unruh [Maduff’s son, Fieance]. Understudies included the ensemble members and non-lead players, as well as Brittni Shambaugh Addison (FB), Briana Biller (FB), Adriano Cabral (FB), and Gregory J. Klino (FB) (whom I’m guessing also served as swings).

Turning to the production side: The scenic design by Russell Metheny was simple and Shakespearean, and appeared to make great use of the LTSF facility. Costumes by Kim Krumm Sorenson seemed appropriately period. The lighting design by Rick Martin I recall as being sufficient, but I think there was the occasional actor in the dark. The sound design by Matthew Webb was good during the show, but the sound used for the pre-show announcements was much weaker. Rounding out the credits were: Ken Merckx [Fight Choreography]David Anthony Smith (FB) [Text and Speech Coach]; Casey Hagwood (FB[Stage Manager]; Sarah Kelso (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]Jonathan Dryud (FB) [Fight Captain]Macbeth was a co-production of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB), the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (FB), and the Great Lakes Theatre (FB).

We caught the last summer performance of the LTSF and Macbeth at Sand Harbor. Were we back in the area, we’d look at future productions.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 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’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

This weekend brings Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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.

Share

📰 The Last Straw

Humans are technological creatures. We invent new technologies. We embrace new technologies. Quickly. Often before we fully consider the ramifications or consequences. As we’ve seen over the last few years, the Internet is a great example of that. It has enabled marvelous new things. It has allowed us to keep in touch with friends and relatives across the globe, and to write and express our opinions with ease. Perhaps too much. It has also amplified the voices of the haters, enabled them to discover each other and grow their propaganda. It has enabled foreign countries to manipulate our media and propaganda easily to achieve their goals, and we’ve seen who and what those goals have elected to our highest offices, here in America. A two-edged sword indeed — with remarkable benefits, but with a terrifying downside.

But I’m not here to write about the Internet and Trump. I’m here to write about a different technology, one that was immortalized in that famous exchange from The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Have you ever thought about how plastics have changed the world? Look around you. How much of what you see is made of plastic, or depends on plastic, or has components of plastics? Think about how much of our lifesaving medical marvels depends on plastics, on how much of our technology depends on plastics for cases and insulation and structures. Just imagine what life would be like without plastics — a world where we only had fabric, wood, strone/concrete, metal, rubber/latex, and glass.  Now think about where much of our plastic comes from. Do you know? Petroleum. The big risk of our dependence on oil — a limited resource — is not the fuel for our cars, but that one day we may not be able to make more plastic, or that it will be very expensive. Look around you, and think of that impact the next time you throw away your sandwich baggie.

But our dependence on plastic and our acting like they are an unlimited resource is not the only problem we didn’t consider. There’s also the disposal problem. Plastics last in the environment for a long time. Unless specifically engineering to biodegrade (and that’s a different can of worms, so to speak), plastics will be in landfills for many generations to come. We can’t recover the oil from plastic, just like we can’t recover the sand from concrete. Lightweight plastics find their way to the ocean, together with microplastics from so many cosmetics and containers, and everything we discard in the street that goes down storm drains. There they get smaller and smaller, forming the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other trash eddies. Sea life eat these and absorb the plastic, and we eat that sea life, and … you get the picture.

This brings us to the actual point of this article: banning straws, and other news about plastics. First and foremost — why are we banning straws? To be precise, they aren’t being banned, but they are moving to “on request only”, as some people need plastic straws due to disabilities (ADA). There are lots of reasons, but the simplest is: it’s a low hanging fruit. Straws and lightweight grocery bags are easy things to ban because reusable alternatives are easily available, or can be made from other substances. They increase visibility of the issue without being a major pain, except from the Conservatives who use the issue to make fun of Liberals. There would be much more impact from banning disposable styrofoam take out containers, disposable cups, plastic eating utensils. But straws and grocery bags are easy. Some companies are even finding ways to thrive.

What may be next? Balloons. True, these are more made of latex or different plastics, but they create significant problems — both for power companies with the mylar metallic coated plastic that causes electrical shorts when they hit power lines, to the traditional balloons that go up so pretty …. and then deflate and come down for animals to eat. There is a move afoot to ban balloons, or to at least ban releasing balloons. Another area of concern is glitter. Glitter is a lot of small pieces of plastic mylar, that easily goes down the drain and to the ocean, to be consumed by animals.

What about all this consumption? We tend to think of plastic as something inert and non-reactive. It isn’t. Research is increasingly showing that using plastic for food — especially heating and microwaving food — is potentially very bad. [ETA: Even supposedly BPA free plastic appears not to be food-safe.] Consider this (from the linked article):

Most of our food containers — from bottles to the linings in aluminum cans to plastic wraps and salad bins — are made using polycarbonate plastics, some of which have bioactive chemicals, like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

These man-made chemicals can leach from the containers or wrappings into the food and drinks they’re holding — especially when they’re heated. Research released earlier this year found that more than 90 percent of bottled water from the world’s leading brands was contaminated with microplastics, sparking a review of plastics in drinking water by the World Health Organization.

The main cause for concern is that these chemicals can mess with our hormones. Specifically, they can mimic hormones like estrogen, interfere with important hormone pathways in the thyroid gland, and inhibit the effects of testosterone.

There are those who opine that this one reason for the marked decrease in male fertility and births in recent decades. It could also be behind increases in cancer. What ever it is, there are reasons to use glass for food instead. Of course, manufacture of glass requires sand (another limited resource), but glass can be recycled.

Do you feel better now? Do you have a better understanding of why the humble straw is just the tip of the concern?

P.S.: Of course, there’s always more to be worried about. Millennials may killing mayonnaise, and all those pesticides we use on our crops (such as Roundup) may be ending up in our breakfast cereals and granola bars.

Share

🍏🍯🍎🍯 L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5779

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown Sunday night, September 9th (yarrr, Errrrev Rrrrrrosh Hashanah is Talk Like a Pirate Day). Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog,  Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5779. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the Ruler of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 18th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

Share

🛣️ August Headlines About California Highways

Another month has passed, and so it is time for another accumulation of highway headlines. Hopefully, your summer has been filled with interesting travels along the roads of this state. Speaking of states, I’ll note that I’m currently in the process of the second phase of the site remodel: I’m starting to add maps to the county sign route pages. So far, I’ve done routes in the A, B, C, D, and E groups. I’ll announce when that effort is completed.

Here are your headlines for August:

  • Route Highway 37 through American Canyon? Napans shudder. One idea to save Highway 37 along San Pablo Bay from predicted sea level rise is moving a section north to drier land along a new route through American Canyon and rural southwest Napa County. The Napa County option would mean combining the 40,000 autos using Highway 37 daily with the 45,000 autos using Highway 29 daily through the city of American Canyon. American Canyon is already a notorious traffic chokepoint in Napa County.
  • Caltrans I-5 rehab on track for 2019.  When Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean tried to use the freeway earlier this month, her experience, like many in the Santa Clarita Valley, was a bit tumultuous. As McLean tried getting on the freeway at Lyons Avenue traveling northbound, blocked lanes made it difficult for her to dodge the trucks going by “pretty fast.” That’s because the California Department of Transportation’s Interstate 5 Roadway Rehabilitation Project is well underway. The 15.8-mile stretch of I-5 under construction cuts through the Santa Clarita Valley, and has served daily traffic for 50 years.
  • 405 Freeway widening project moving forward with closure of McFadden Avenue bridge on Aug. 7.  It’s time to start paying attention to the 405 Freeway widening project – and to figure out alternate routes. Beginning next week, bridges crossing over the freeway will lose lanes or – in some cases – be shut down altogether. Construction work, however, will be staggered along the 16-mile stretch to help alleviate traffic jams sure to plague each area as it takes its turn.
  • Trans-Sierra Highway Passes; Interstate 80 Donner Summit. Back in 2016 I attempted as many Trans-Sierra Highway Passes as I could upon my return to California.  I started with Interstate 80 over Donner Summit during the late winter on the way to Lake Tahoe and Virginia City.

Read More …

Share