Science Saturday – Cleanin’ Out The Chum

I’ve been really busy the last few weeks, and the chum has been accumulating. So I decided it was time to clean some clutter out of the bookmarks. Here’s a collection of science and medicine related articles that I found of interest:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis. My wife, unfortunately, gets to deal with RA. Quite a few weeks ago, I learned about an article that explored the relationship between bacteria in beef and milk and RA: In particular, a strain of bacteria commonly found in milk and beef may be a trigger for developing rheumatoid arthritis in people who are genetically at risk, according to a new study from the University of Central Florida.
  • Artificial Sweetner and Crohns Disease. Another immune system disease, like RA, is Crohns. In another study,  researchers have found that, given over a six-week period, the artificial sweetener sucralose, known by the brand name Splenda, worsens gut inflammation in mice with Crohn’s disease, but had no substantive effect on those without the condition. I’m curious is there is any impact on RA. My wife only uses Stevia.
  • Going Gluten Free. We all know that if you are Celiac (as is my wife), you need to go on a gluten-free diet. Well, it turns out that might not be enough. There are reports on some extreme cases of cross contamination, and there are now tests sensitive enough to test for it. Cross-contact can start at the farm, where gluten-free crops might be grown adjacent to, or rotated with, gluten-containing crops. It can also occur anywhere down the line in processing, packaging and shipping. When Thompson reported the study on her Facebook page, which has over 17,000 followers, worried comments spooled out, ranging from concerns about airborne gluten from the bakery section of supermarkets, to cross-contact from wheat-eating family members, to a report from one woman with a gluten-detection dog able to reportedly detect down to 1 part per million (the dog alerted her to gluten on her shopping cart). A lament from one person with celiac disease seemed to sum it up: “There is no safe place in this world for a celiac. It breaks my heart.”
  • Case in Point: Oat Milk. It appears that a new artificial mylk is about to hit the market: Oat Milk.  They are predicting it will be the next big thing. Oat milk is made by milling oats with water to create a squishy texture. The resulting starch is broken down by added enzymes like malt sugar, which acts as a sweetener. That blend is then sifted to remove whole oat shells, leaving a creamy liquid that’s pasteurized and packaged. It even foams, thanks to a little canola oil. However, whether oats are gluten-free is iffy, and the malt sugar could also be a problem.
  • Having a Heart Attack. Here’s an interesting human interest story about a nurse in the Australian Outback that diagnosed their own heart attack, and saved their own life. Alone at his station, more than 600 miles from the city of Perth and 100 miles from any hospital at all, the 44-year-old man experiences a sudden bout of dizziness and severe chest pain. What he does next is remarkable, life-saving and — to a considerable degree — instructive.
  • Germicide Resistant Computers. Computers are a big problem in hospitals, because they can’t be sterilized or dipped in germicide. Enter HP: with new germicide resistant computers for hospitals.There are three products. There’s HP’s EliteOne 800 Healthcare Edition All-in-One desktop, there’s the 27-inch HP Healthcare Edition Clinical Review Display, and there’s the EliteBook 840 Healthcare Edition notebook. The laptop lets you disable the keyboard and touchscreen while cleaning, so that nothing is accidentally inputted. All three products are built to withstand deterioration from being cleaned with germicidal wipes, which may help reduce the spread of health care-related infections.
  • ADD/ADHC: How the Symptoms Shape Your Perceptions. In this interesting article, it is noted how the textbook symptoms of ADD — inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity — fail to reflect several of its most powerful characteristics; the ones that shape your perceptions, emotions, and motivation. The article then goes on to explain how to recognize and manage ADHD’s true defining features that explain every aspect of the condition: 1. an interest-based nervous system; 2. emotional hyperarousal; and 3. rejection sensitivity.
  • Night Owls. I get up early; my wife is a night owl. According to a recent study, that’s bad for her. A new study of mortality rates of nearly half a million people finds that individuals who strongly preferred to stay up late were more likely to be dead at the end of a six-and-a-half-year period. The findings, described in the journal Chronobiology International, offer the first study linking mortality risk to night-owl sleep habits, according to the authors. The results could help researchers better understand another aspect of the role that circadian rhythms play in human health. Then again, I’ve got the big belly, which is bad for me.
  • After Death. So what do you do with your body after you die, especially if you don’t want the “hole in the ground” that wastes resources and doesn’t decompose. Here are some eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Eyebrows. I find the human face and head fascinating. Especially the odd things, like the shape of our ears (quite ugly, when you think about it), and our eyebrows. There’s some new research out on eyebrows, and how they served to separate us from our Neanderthal brothers. The brow ridge is one of the most distinctive features that mark out the difference between archaic and modern humans. The theory is that eyebrows are a canvas upon which our eyebrows can paint emotions. And as we became an increasingly social species engaged in increasingly sophisticated communication, they helped us survive.
  • Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. A collection of scientific news chum wouldn’t be complete without a belated tribute to Tom Lehrer on his 90th birthday.
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The Chai Life | “Bad Jews” @ Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Bad Jews (Odyssey)Friday night. I could have been at the synagogue, celebrating Israel’s 70th Birthday. But no, I was at the theatre. I’m a bad Jew.

Conincidentally, that was the title of the show we saw at the  Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) — Bad Jews, written by Joshua Harmon. We missed Bad Jews the last time it was in Los Angeles (at the Geffen, in 2015); this time the timing was right for us to make it (and, coincidentally, another of Harmon’s plays, Significant Other, is currently at the Geffen). The description of the show just made it sound so intriguing:

After a beloved grandfather dies in New York, leaving a treasured piece of religious jewelry that he succeeded in hiding even from the Nazis during the Holocaust, cousins fight over not only the family heirloom, but their “religious faith, cultural assimilation, and even the validity of each other’s romances.”

The story itself is centered around the two Haber brothers, Jonah and Liam, their cousin Daphna Feygenbaum, and Liam’s girlfriend, Melody. Their common grandfather — a holocaust survivor — has died, leaving a Chai necklace. The essence of the play centers around who wants — and who deserves — the necklace.

The characters are constructed in — at least from this Jew’s perspective — a stereotypical way. Liam is the typical secular Jew — atheistic in belief, and barely Jewish in heritage, with the typical non-Jewish blond and blue-eyed girlfriend. Davna is the type you meet at a Jewish summer camp: wearing her liberal and Israel-supporting Judaism on her sleeve; she’s strongly proud of it, but you don’t know how deep under the surface that pride goes. Jonah is more of an enigma: quiet, not wanting to make any trouble, the good kid. Melody is the non-Jewish girlfriend of no particular outward religious faith, but perhaps the most religious and moral of them all.

Bad Jews (Cast Photos)The play itself was at times laugh out loud funny, and at times darkly angry. My wife came away from it a bit disturbed. She felt the characterization of Daphna was too much of the “Jewish bitch stereotype”. It wasn’t something that would have been noticed three years ago when the play first arrived in LA, but in today’s #MeToo environment with a great sensitivity of how women are portrayed, it was a bit problematical. I also saw stereotypes in Melody: there was the immediate assumption that anyone blond and blue eyed was non-Jewish. Melody could very easily have been Jewish and just not saying anything; the question was never asked. We both noted that the playwright was a man: could this have been a problem with a man writing a role for a woman, and thus putting his perception of what Jewish women are into the characters, with them being shaped by a real Jewish women. This then raised the question of where the director, Dana Resnick (FB), came into shaping the play. After all, the current revival of My Fair Lady has been slightly reshaped for the modern era and a more liberated Eliza; was there enough directorial leeway to reshape the characters in a more realistic way (or was it forced by the dialogue). It was something we couldn’t answer, but we felt it was an interesting debate.

Other than that, we felt that the debate captured in the show represented a dilemma common with younger Jews today: what constitutes a “good Jew” in the modern era? Which character was the most deserving of the Chai? They all had legitimate claims. It is certainly a play that will leave you asking that question.

The performances themselves were strong. As Daphna, Jeanette Deutsch (FB) embodied the modern Jewish woman esthetic quite well. In other words: I remember her type from camp; I knew them and know them, and she captured it well. I thought she just went to the edge; my wife felt her a bit over-strident.

As her cousin, Jonah, Austin Rogers (FB) was much more in the background, not wanted to get involved. He didn’t scream; he observed and provided the rational foil for the characters around him.

As his brother, however, Noah James (FB)’s Liam was a different story. He was in your face and argumentative, seemingly wanting to pick a fight.  I will never forget the scene of him screaming at Dephna.

Lastly, Lila Hood (FB) captured the outsider nature of Melody quite well. Although all the characters had remarkable facial expressions, hers spoke the most while she watched the other characters arguing. She had an entire dialogue and reaction going on in that face that said volumes. She was just fascinating to watch.

As an ensemble, the four worked well together and had a believable family nature. As I said above for Lila, just watch their facial expressions. These actors are saying loads with their reactions while the other actors go at it. I don’t know if this is direction or something organic from the actors, but it was just a joy to watch.

Turning to the production side: David Offner‘s scenic design was a modern New York apartment, complete with mess, two air beds, and working appliances. It was supported by Josh La Cour‘s properties and Tom Ash (FB)’s lighting. Vicki Conrad (FB)’s costumes captured the characters well, and Marisa Whitmore‘s sound design provided the requisite sound effects. Other production credits: Emma Whitley (FB) [Stage Manager]; Gregory Velasco Kucukarslan [Asst Director]; Matthew Gold  [Assoc. Casting Director]; Ron Sossi (FB) [Producer].

Bad Jews continues at the  Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) through June 17. Tickets are available through the The Odyssey Theatre; 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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 third weekend of April has one more show: The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)) on Saturday. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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.

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Plastics

An article over at Groknation regarding a plastic fast peaked piqued my interest today. The article noted:

At the beginning of our group plastic fast, we watched the documentary Bag It, which made it crystal clear that our addiction to plastic is truly frightening. Toxins from plastics have leached into all of our bodies, including the bodies of newborns. There is an island of trash in the ocean that has been estimated as somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of Russia, and a lot of that trash is plastic.

It takes hundreds of years for a plastic bag to decompose, and we use up to a trillion single use bags annually worldwide. I always bring my plastic bags to the recycling bin at the market, but the film highlights what happens to that plastic. It is shipped overseas, where it is sorted by impoverished people who are exposed to toxins. And anyway, the vast majority of plastic bags are not recycled.

I periodically think about plastics: In particular, I think about what our life would be like without them. After all, most are made from petroleum, and that’s a limited resource. Think about all of the products we manufacture — from the plastics in our electronics to the plastics in medical supplies to the plastic insulation in our walls and our plastic piping for sewer lines — that we might not have. Think about what society would be like if we had to depend on cloth, fabric, metal, and glass only. Yes, some plastics can be made from plants, but not all.

So in addition to the trash problem, we have a limited supply and source problem. Keep that in mind the next time you grab a plastic bag for a lunch, or a plastic straw for reusability.

At the end of the Groknation article, there was a list of alternatives. Some I don’t like at all. Some are intriguing. I’d like to mention a few more worth exploring:

  • Bagpodz. This is a pod of 5 or 10 Nylon bags you can bring when you go shopping as easily reusable bags.  We use ours everytime we shop, and we love them for their convenience.
  • Stojo. This are collapsible silicon cups you can use for coffee or tea or whatever. They are reusable and dishwasher safe, and the Stojo Biggie even has a straw.

 

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What Price, Silence? | “A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-Op

A Man for All Seasons (Actors Co-Op)What is your responsibility to your internal moral compass, and how does that responsibility change when your compass points a different direction than your national leadership? This is a question that many of us face today: We have compass that teach us compassion for others, to be reasonable stewards of the world, to strive for equity and equality and even tempers. We have respect for the rule of law, and withhold judgement until we have the facts. We respect others, be they different sexes, genders, colors, abilities. But we are faced with an administration that seems to abandon those values — in fact, it thumbs its nose at what many of us respect, taking actions that appear to serve only the self interest of the ruling family and the oligarchs. Our elected officials? They seem to have no moral compass, worrying only about their own political lives and careers, and seeming to do or say only that which keeps them in office and in favor of the current administration.

But this is nothing new. Back in the era of the Showtime show The Tudors, there was a similar situation with King Henry VIII. He had tired of his wife, and wanted another woman. The only thing standing in his way was the Catholic Church, church canon, and church law. So he pressured his Bishops to find a way for him to divorce his wife, and when he couldn’t, he fired them and brought in new leadership. He bullied his administration to create a new church where he would be the supreme leader, and demanded an oath of sovereignty from all accepting that his way was the right and divine way. If you wouldn’t agree, it was the towers, torture, and beheading in your future.

But one man thought he had figured out a way to beat the system. He disagreed with the King — his moral and religious principals told him that the King did not have this authority. But he was a lawyer, and so he didn’t speak his beliefs. He stayed silent and attempted to work tightly within the law. Even when the Oath was being enforced, he stayed silent on what he thought was wrong — because silence signaled neither assent or dissent. But when the King wants an answer, silence is taken as resistance. As he would not speak up for the King, he must be against the King. And so, in the end, his head rolled like many others. He was a martyr for his silence.

He was Sir Thomas More, and he was the subject of the play just finishing its run at the  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt (which we saw last night). It was a story with which I had been familiar, being addicted to The Tudors when it was on (plus going to Ren Faire). More was a man with strong and unwavering moral conditions, but who did not speak up or act (other than to resign) . The situation of More had lots of parallels with the situation this nation is facing with Donald Trump.

The production was also an interesting juxtaposition of play and the mission of Actors Co-Op. Being Jewish, I’m always a bit troubled by the religious aspect of this theatre group, whose mission states they are a company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m always worried a bit about proselytizing or particular themes in productions. However, the quality of the productions wins me over. I felt their mission a bit more with this show — in particular, I felt them not being silent through it. For as much as the evangelicals back Trump, the President’s actions and behavior are decidedly non-Christian. They show none of the compassion shown by Jesus towards the poor and the stranger; they have none of the social justice component of Christ’s ministry (and none of the social justice of the Old Testament and Jewish beliefs). This belief is social justice is shown in the ministry of Actor’s Co-Op sponsoring organization, the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I believe that, through this show, Actors Co-Op wasn’t being silent: they were saying that Trump’s values are not Christian values, and that people attempting to claim they are do so to preserve their power and position, not to make the world a better place.

I applaud Actors Co-Op for this reminder. Sir Thomas More went to the gallows for being silent and not speaking up. Had a person of More’s moral conviction and standing spoken up sooner, might things have changed. Challenging authority with the truth is dangerous, but vital if change is to occur and the world is to become a better place. This production made you think about the need to speak up and the need to stand for what is right, even in the face of personal danger. If you can, speak; if you can’t, let your silence be a thorn in the side of authority. Don’t let misguided authorities go easy into the good night.

Director Thom Babbes brought out strong performances from his acting ensemble, drawing you in and keeping your focus on the story. This is a dark story with an ending that isn’t happy, but he found a way to bring in just enough humor and bathos to not let the darkness overwhelm. The actors were believable when necessary, but there was enough in the staging to remind you that this was a play, and that what you were seeing wasn’t real life. This, in turn, made our real life situation even scarier, as the parallels became clearer.

In the lead position was Bruce Ladd as Sir Thomas More. Ladd gave an outstanding performance: strong and yet personable, forceful and believable, yet with warmth underneath. It was just riveting. Also strong was Co-Op regular Deborah Marlowe, who portrayed “The Common Man”. This was a role the brought together all the minor characters from stewards to boatmen to innkeepers to jurors to jailors, and also served as the narrator and framing device for the story. As such, Marlowe got to portray numerous different characters and personalities, and she did so with aplomb and skill, and was just a joy to watch.

More’s family was portrayed by Treva Tegtmeier as his wife, Lady Alice More; Elsa Gay as his daughter, Lady Margaret More, and Issac Jay as his eventual son-in-law, William Roper. All gave great performances, I particularly liked the flashes of character from Gay.

In the circle of acquaintances and friends of More — at least initially — were Sean McHugh as The Duke of Norfolk and Michell Lam Hau as Master Richard Rich. McHugh’s Duke came off as a gregarious sort who was truly friends with More, and did what he could to save him from his fate — but ultimately, failed. Hau’s Rich was more of an opportunist: he was there to get the better job and the better pay, and didn’t let philosophies trouble him. This explains why this character came off as the Toady he was, especially with respect to Cromwell.

The mention of Cromwell brings us to what I would call the King’s circle: John Allee as Thomas Cromwell; Greg Martin as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer; Vito Viscuso as Signor Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador; and Ian Michaels as King Henry VIII.  Allee gave a chilling portrayal of a determined Cromwell, and Viscuso was a warm and welcoming Chapuys. Viscuso and Michaels really only had a few scenes, but were good in them.

Turning to the production side of things: Rich Rose‘s Scenic Design was simple but effective: a space with a generic square background; some boxes on stage from which props could be extracted, some stairs, and tables. But with the imagination, it worked well. This was augmented by Shon Leblanc‘s costumes, which seemed appropriately period for the caste and time. Lisa D. Katz‘s lights served to augment the mood, and Juan Sanson‘s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Other production credits: Eric White – Stage Manager; Thomas Zabilski – Asst Stage Manager; Selah Victor – Production Manager; and Carly Lopez – Producer.

Due to a change in the schedule, our “early bird” tickets for A Man for All Seasons turned into tickets for the penultimate performance; the final performance is occurring as I write this. The next production at  Actors Co-op (FB) is Violet, running May 11-June 17, 2018.

***

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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 third weekend of April brings Bad Jews at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Friday, followed by The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)) on Saturday. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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.

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Definitely, This is #2 – “Love Never Dies” @ Pantages

Love Never Dies (Pantages)When you go to theatre as much as I, you learn there are a number of adages. The first is that the perfect subscription season is rare. There is typically one clunker that you need to endure because you’re that interested in the rest of the season (and, admit it, watching a well-orchestrated train wreck can be quite entertaining). Another is that, with musicals, sequels never work. From Annie 2/Annie Warbucks to Bring Back Birdie to The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public to even A Doll’s Life — they seem to be doomed to failure (there’s only one successful musical trilogy, of which the latter two-thirds became one musical, Falsettos, also this is a little less true for actual plays, where sequels (Clybourne Park), trilogies (the Eugene Trilogy), and even longer sequences are successful). These two adages came together Saturday night at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), when we had our series subscription tickets to Love Never Dies, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB), lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB) (and additional lyrics by Charles Hart), based on a book by Ben Elton, which in turn was based on the book The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick ForsythLove Never Dies is the sequel to the blockbuster Phantom of the Opera, taking place in 1908, ten years after the events in Phantom (which occurred in 1881). Don’t sweat the math. They didn’t.

As usual, this writeup will go in my usual order: my thoughts on the plot and the book (including a synopsis), then we’ll look at the acting and the production/creative teams and aspects. Hint: Those latter two aspects were good. As for the first, let’s just say you can use the number two in a different context.

Love Never Dies moves the action to America and the carnival that was Coney Island at the turn of the 20th Century. The Phantom, having escaped/faked his death in Paris, has been smuggled to the US by Madame Giry (the balletmistress in Phantom), and set up in a Phantasm carnival together with Mme. Giry’s daughter, Meg. Meg is hoping to get the Phantom’s attention and affection, but he is still pining for Christine Daaé (his object d’obsession in Paris). But — surprise of surprise — he learns Christine and her husband, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny are coming to the US to sing at the request of Oscar Hammerstein. So guess what happens? Yup, he arrives first, squirrels them off to Phantasma at Coney Island, and then begins to haunt and pine. Christine and Raoul have brought along their son, Gustave, who is just about 10 years old (you do the math — see the first paragraph), who wants to see Coney Island. I think you can see the various triangles that have been set up. I will note that at the end, I turned to my wife and said: Part III – My Two Dads, as the Phantom and Raoul raise Gustave. It’s just so — today.

If you want a more detailed synopsis, read the Wikipedia synopsis of the 2010 Australian version, as that’s the version on tour. This production has not been on Broadway. It was about to go when it first left London, but critical reaction there led to a retooling. This led to the Australian version, which as marginally more successful. That’s what’s on tour, and rumor has it that it won’t be going to New York. As for cast albums, what is on Amazon is the Original CONCEPT Album, and many songs there have been tossed or rearranged (per a great interview with Glenn Slater on Broadway Bullet). The tour is selling the Australian Cast album for $35 (ouch), and it isn’t available elsewhere.

So what did we think of the show?

First, if you are a Phantom lover, what we think doesn’t matter. Phantom lovers will ignore the story, love the performances, love the romance (and no, you can’ use that as your pull quote) and be completely teary eyed at the end.  They will be happy, as will much of the blithely unaware Pantages audience that only knows the spectacle and doesn’t think much further.

As for the rest of us….

I tried to look at this show from a number of levels: First, how well did it stand-alone (i.e., how much context was required)? Second, did I enjoy the show? I’ll note that I’m not an ALW fan, but I’m not an ALW hater either. I quite like Evita, and I’m looking forward to School of Rock, which is from the same team. I think Cats is a spectacular dance show. I don’t like Jesus Christ Superstar, but that’s because I’m Jewish and it just gives of an antisemitic vibe. But I could never get into Phantom. I saw it ages ago. I never saw the romance in the show; the memory it left was something deep and ponderous, with a few songs that become earworms and a few good novelty songs. I truthfully didn’t remember the characters.

So as to the first question: Not remembering the characters, I found that I was lacking the backstory that would make Love Never Dies instantly accessible. There were relationships and clues and passions that I just couldn’t glom onto because I didn’t know them. The opening exposition was inadequate to draw the audience into that context; there wasn’t anything in the program to provide that context. For a sequel to work, this is a problem. The show must not require seeing something else first in order to understand what is on stage.

As to the story: The first thought I had watching it was: This seems entirely inappropriate for the #MeToo world of today. Here you have someone who has mentally and physically abused and tormented a woman, where the central point of the show is his getting back with that woman for a second chance. Come again? How does that play in today’s world, unless the show is just her standing up to him and making him wear a mask somewhat lower on his physique as rips something off his body. But that’s not the show — instead we have intimated abuse and gaslighting. It just comes off wrong and dark and ponderous. I’m pleased to see I’m not the only one with that view, as the LA Times wrote:

The storytelling twists itself into knots trying to make the Phantom less icky, most notably by attempting to convince us that Christine was more enamored of him in the first musical than we might have suspected. Still, with the tale barely underway, the Phantom not only abducts Christine once again, but her family as well. He later flies into a rage with Christine, then begs forgiveness. And once he meets the musically precocious Gustave, he develops a worrisome fixation on the boy as well.

The Phantom’s behavior is exactly what #MeToo is calling out right now.

Moving past the wrong direction of the storyline, there is the basic Phantom style itself, which comes across as melodrama: overplayed for the sympathy, perhaps to hide that there’s really nothing there. If you think in terms of character changes from the events in the story, who has changed? The Phantom? Hardly. His behavior hasn’t indicated he learned anything at all from his behavior during the show. Christine? Nope. Raoul? Again, he’s not a better dad, and there’s no evidence he gambles less. Meg? Unclear. No one really changes. They are the same wretches we saw at the beginning. I’m not sure there was a particular point being made through this story.

Further, after rereading the synopsis of the original show, the central catalyst incident for this entire show might not even have happened at all. You need to suspend your disbelief in that one incident. If you’re a romantic Phantom fan, you can. The rest of us?

So the book, in general, just does not work, and probably cannot be made to work…. unless they decide to focus on the portion of the story that is of interest: a story that takes place in a circus in Coney Island in 1908, and just jettison the characters from Phantom. Create new characters that we care about, and let the story change them from living in this environment. Perhaps that was done already with Side Show?

As with Phantom, the music consists of a number of melodies, repeated and repeated (and repeated and repeated (and repeated and repeated (and repeated and …)))). There are a few good novelty musical numbers, but it is telling when the circus sideshow numbers and circus leaders are much more interesting than the primary leads. I know that ALW and Slater can do better — I’ve heard the cast album of “School of Rock”, and it is great — and from ALW and Slater. This was written in the ponderous and dark style of the original Phantom. Luckily, we were at an open-captioned performance, so I could actually read what that characters were saying.

So, besides the book and the music, did I enjoy the show?

I’m pleased to say that, aside from the story, the performances themselves were great. I’d like to start not with the leads but the first three performers we see on the stage: Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch, portrayed by Katrina Kemp (FB), Stephen Petrovich (FB), and Richard Koons (FB), respectively. These were extremely unique performers (particularly Kemp, who is a little person), unlike what you see on the stage today — more appropriate to Cirque de Soleil. As such, your eyes were drawn to them whenever they were on stage. They sang strong from the opening “Coney Island Waltz”, and moved strong, but most importantly, they created the sideshow environment that characterized this show. As the rest of the ensemble joined them, you were drawn to the wide variety of shapes and portrayals and talents. It was this troupe that actually made the show as spectacular as it was.

Of course, that’s not what the Phantom Romantics will say. For them, it was Gardar Thor Cortes (FB)’s Phantom, and Meghan Picerno (FB)’s Christine that were the stars. It is true they had spectacular, operatic voices that were a joy to close your eyes and listen to. Their execution on their numbers such as “‘Til I Hear You Sing” or “Love Never Dies” — the first time you hear them — is lovely. They showed romance and passion. But to me, the Phantom was cape and flash, a two-dimensional and wooden portrayal. I don’t think that is the actor — I think that’s the writing and the idea, and yes, an extension of how the Phantom was in the original. Picerno’s Christine had more flashes of spirit and light, but was ultimately too operatic in her performance to capture the character as fluid.

The next tier of characters, Sean Thompson (FB)’s Raoul, Mary Michael Patterson‘s Meg, and Karen Mason (FB)’s Mme Giry, were much more spirited. Thompson captured Raoul’s cad aspects quite well, and Patterson’s Meg was just a delight to watch (especially in the Bathing Beauty scene).  Mason captured the evil expression of Mme Giry, while not turning her into quite a caricature villain. All sang strongly. I particularly enjoyed Thompson in “Devil Take The Hindmost” and Patterson in “Bathing Beauty”.

A big surprise was Jake Heston Miller (FB)’s  Gustave (he alternates with Casey Lyons (FB)).  Miller was a very strong performer, with a lovely voice and great expression.

Rounding out the cast were the members of the ensemble: Chelsey Arce [Asst. Dance Captain], Diana DiMarzio (FB[u/s Mme Giry], Tyler Donahue (FB[u/s Gangle], Yesy Garcia (FB[u/s Fleck], Tamar Greene (FB), Natalia LePore Hagan (FB), Lauren Lukacek (FB[u/s Mme Giry], Alyssa McAnany (FB[u/s Meg Giry], Rachel Anne Moore (FB[Christine-Alternate], Bronson Norris Murphy (FB[Phantom-Alternate], Dave Schoonover (FB[u/s Phantom, u/s Raoul, u/s Gangle], John Swapshire IV (FB), Kelly Swint (FB[u/s Meg Giry, u/s Fleck], Lucas Thompson (FB[u/s Squelch], and Arthur Wise (FB[u/s Squelch]. Swings were Erin Chupinsky (FB[Dance Captain], Alyssa Giannetti (FB[u/s Christine], Adam Soniak (FB), and Correy West (FB). Additional understudies were: Michael Gillis (FB[u/s Phantom, u/s Raoul]. As I noted earlier, the ensemble was strong and a joy to watch. If you are close enough (or brought your binoculars), watch their wonderfully expressive faces.

The production was directed by Simon Philips, and choreographed by Graeme Murphy AO. Together, these two are responsible for the second great part of this show: the staging and movement. Irrespective of the weak book, the movement and spectacle on the stage was a joy to watch. From magical movement and circuses to mermaids in a box, from the large and the small, the visual aspects were quite strong and distracting from the weak book. But not quite enough.

Thirdly, the music of the show, as one would expect, was quite lush. Credit here goes to the music director, Dale Rieling (FB), and his orchestra: Eric Kang (FB[Asst. Conductor, Keys 3]; Dominic Raffa (FB[Keys 1]; David Robinson (FB[Keys 2]; Dmitriy Milkumov (FB[Concertmaster]; Hector J. Rodriguez (FB[French Horn]Gary Cordell (FB[Trumpet]; Ric Becker (FB[Bass Trombone, Tuba]; Aaron Nix (FB[Percussion];  Grace Oh (FB), Jen Choi Fisher (FB), Lesa Terry (FB), Ina Veli [Local-Violins]; Karen Elaine, Jody Rubin [Local-Violas]; Ira Glansbeek [Local-Cello]; Sara Andon [Local-Reed 1]; Richard Mitchell [Local-Reed 2]; Jeff Driskill [Local-Reed 3]; Judith Farmer [Local-Bassoon]; Michael Valerio [Local-Contra Bass]; and Steve Becknell [Local-French Horn]. Other music credits: Stuart Andrews [Keyboard Programmer]; Eric Heinly [Local Music Contractor]; Kristen Blodgette [Music Supervisor]; David Lai and Talitha Fehr [Music Coordinator]; David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) [Orchestrations].

Lastly, there is the creative and production team, and the miraculous sets by Gabriela Tylesova (who also designed the costumes). Again, here the circus aspects win out. The leads costumes were what you would expect, suits ties and fancy dresses. The circus performers, and the world they lived in, was just magical. This was assisted by the wig and hair design of Backstage Artistry. Nick Schlieper‘s lighting design established the mood well, and Mick Potter‘s sound design was adequate in the cavernous space that is the Pantages (although the open captions helped quite a bit). Other production credits: Edward Pierce [Design Supervisor]; Randy Moreland (FB[Technical Direction]; Tara Rubin Casting and Lindsay Levine CSA [Casting]; Anna E. Bate [Production Manager]; Karen Berry [General Manager]; Aaron Quintana [Company Manager]; Daniel S. Rosokoff [Production Stage Manager]; Gavin Mitford [Associate Director]; Simon Sault [Associate Choreographer]; Eric H. Mayer [Stage Manager]; and Lauren Cavanaugh [Assistant Stage Manager].

Love Never Dies continues at the Hollywood Pantages through April 22. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar and other outlets. If you love Phantom or are an ALW completeist, this is worth seeing. As for the rest of you, save your funds for School of Rock.

Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (VPAC/Soraya)Note: Two days before this, we saw the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at  the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). This was a concert of big band jazz, and I didn’t write down a set list. So there’s isn’t a formal review, other than to note that this is another great big band jazz group with CSUN alumni (others include Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Big Phat Band). We enjoyed the show quite a lot.

***

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 company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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:

Next weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of April brings Bad Jews at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Friday, followed by The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)) on Saturday. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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.

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Social Media and Saturation

April Fools Day. What better time to start clearing off the accumulated news chum. Here are some interesting articles I’ve seen over the last few weeks related to social media and media consumption. In this week where Facebook has been in the news, and #DeleteFacebook has been in the news, much of this is quite timely and relevant.

  • Your Media Diet. One of the sites I follow, Boing Boing, brought this to my attention: Faris Yakob of the creative agency Genius/Steals developed a “Media Diet Pyramid” modeled after the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid. The basic question is: What is the appropriate amount of each type of media to consume? This pyramid attempts to answer that.
  • Types of Facebook Users. With all the buzz about Facebook, here’s an interesting question: What type of Facebook user are you? The article identifies four types: The Relationship Builder, The Selfie, The Town Crier, and The Window Shopper. I think I fall into the “Town Crier” model, as most of my posts are shares of articles or from this blog, with a few comments on things (mostly correcting information). What are you?
  • Where Next? So you’re thinking about deleting Facebook. One big problem: Where do you go next? Here’s a list of services that supposedly provide the same services as Facebook. I’ve had one friend recommend MeWe, although I haven’t explored that yet.
  • Facebook Friction. One of the reasons that it is so hard to leave Facebook is that it is integrated everywhere. Sites “simplify” your life by allowing you to log in with your Facebook, and if you delete your Facebook, that account goes away as well — with all its history. All your friends are on Facebook and not elsewhere, so if you delete, you won’t stay in touch with them. Here, FB has taken a lesson from bank bill-pay systems: when you use your bank and define all the people you pay, it is too much work to leave as you would have to redefine everything again. Same thing with browsers and bookmarks. These companies know you are lazy.
  • We’ve Been There Before. This is nothing new. Here’s an interesting exploration of why fandoms left Livejournal, and where they would go after Tumblr. Social Media is cyclical. From Usenet to Livejournal to Myspace to Facebook to Instagram. All move from “Hot” to “Not”. I started on LJ before its heyday (2004), and continued on it until they went to Russian terms of service (and my account is still there; I just never post anymore). But that article points out something quite relevant to FB: “it wasn’t enough for LiveJournal to do some things that people described as deal-breakers—there were some design things, there were some policy things, basically everyone really soured on LiveJournal around the same time—but it wasn’t enough for that to happen; there also had to be a viable alternative.” Right now, what is the viable alternative to FB: a place with the right mass of people and users, the right communication and sharing tools. There isn’t one. It is a fragmented market.

 

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Thoughts of the Day – The Fool on the Hill

“Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” — Tom Lehrer

April Fools Day became meaningless when Trump was inaugurated, making every day more foolish than the other. Nowadays, one reads Twitter or watches TV Journalism, and what we might hope to be real is fake, and what we hope is fake is, far too often and alas, real.

I had thought about doing an April Fools joke about either deciding that Trump was right, and I was going to move to being a Trump supporter, when I realized that there are those who would not understand the joke. With Trump’s inauguration, our sense of humor has been lost as well. I then thought about doing an April Fools joke about ZJ day†, either along the lines of an Elvis sighting or conversion — but again, people wouldn’t get the humor.

I’d even thought about wishing that next year’s April Fools Day would seen a return of the humor, a return to normal Government in Washington — a wish that November begins the turnaround. But again, there are those who might see that as a joke as well.

Sigh. The fool is out golfing for the weekend, and we’re the bigger fools for electing him — whether you voted for him, or voted for “the other clown” (or didn’t vote at all) because you believed the rhetoric that the propaganda engines pumped out of the Book of Face, on behalf of the fool’s overlords.

†: ZJ = Zombie Jesus. After all, they say he returned from the dead. Many of his followers these days mindlessly follow the April Fool, only seeing brains as junk food, not food for thought. No insult intended for those that are more than just followers in name, for those followers remember the dictums of the religious observance I celebrate:

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. You shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
(Leviticus 19:33-34)

You shall rejoice before Adonai with your son and daughter… and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow in your midst. Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt.
(Deuteronomy 16:11-12)

You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

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Headlines about California Highway – March 2018

Ah, the month of March has come to an end, bringing us the fools of April, with bunnies that lay eggs and matzahs that have balls. So what’s been happening with the highways of California? Let’s find out:

  • 710 Freeway is a ‘diesel death zone’ to neighbors — can vital commerce route be fixed?. For decades, the 710 Freeway has been the commercial spine of Southern California, funneling the trucks carrying thousands of tons of furniture, clothes, televisions and other goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach into the region’s sprawling network of freeways and warehouses. But the steady stream of freight traffic on the 710, driven by the country’s growing appetite for imported goods and two-day shipping, has taken its toll. The pavement is cracked, bottlenecks are common, and the share of trucks on the freeway is three times higher than engineers in the 1960s expected.
  • Metro to decide on 710 Freeway widening in Long Beach. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plans to upgrade the heavily-congested 710 Freeway from Long Beach to East Los Angeles may take a significant step forward Wednesday, but with the key caveat that any widening of the freeway would not be allowed until after a decade or so’s worth of other improvements are accomplished.
  • Metro board moves forward with 710 overhaul, but wants to wait on widening. Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a plan today to revamp the 710 freeway from Long Beach to East Los Angeles, but it’s holding off on the most costly and contentious part of the plan: widening much of the route to five lanes in each direction. Instead, the board approved fast-tracking portions of the plan that would be cheaper to implement and wouldn’t result in displacement for residents and business owners in areas close to the freeway. The board still needs to nail down the projects, but they could include parks, air filters in schools, and road improvements near the freeway.

Read More …

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