🛣 Headlines About California Highways – May 2019

Another month has come and gone, and already we are almost half-way through the year. But it hasn’t been an “April Showers bring May Flowers” month, as we’ve seen more rain and more snow, and one of the coolest Memorial Days in a while. But one thing is constant: Highway headlines!

  • Caltrans Delays Major East Bay Project After Local Backlash. After major pushback from Emeryville, Oakland, and Alameda County officials, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has delayed a major construction project that would tear down the “MacArthur Maze,” a series of overpasses connecting the I-80, I-580, and I-880 freeways near the eastern entrance to the Bay Bridge. Adding to their frustration, city officials say the purpose of the project isn’t clear, while other capital improvement projects on nearby state highways languish.
  • Caltrans announces year-long Palmdale Road construction project. The California Department of Transportation announced the beginning of a year-long construction safety project along State Route 18 or Palmdale Road. Caltrans officials said the raised curb median project will begin the first week in May on Palmdale Road from Cobalt Road to Highway 395 in Victorville. The project will affect those traveling to and from Silverado High School, located near the corner of Cobalt and Palmdale roads, and Cobalt Institute of Math and Science, located west of the SHS.
  • Cities along 710 not happy money is flowing to car-centric projects. Three cities ready to receive a portion of almost $1 billion in lieu of a north 710 Freeway extension are unhappy with the process, want more cooperation from Metro and are concerned their suggestions are being ignored. A letter signed by the city managers of Alhambra, Pasadena and South Pasadena to the Los Angels County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board accuses its staff of only accepting projects that enhance the movement of automobiles, namely adding lanes to regional thoroughfares in an area between El Sereno and Pasadena, from Valley Boulevard to the 210 Freeway just west of Fremont and Pasadena avenues.
  • The First Cable-Stayed Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in California Rides Gracefully Over a Freeway. The Mary Avenue Bicycle Footbridge was opened in the city of Cupertino in California’s Santa Clara County, which encompasses much of the region popularly known as Silicon Valley. The 503-foot (153.3-meter)-long bridge, which crosses over Interstate 280 and connects the north and south sections of the Stevens Creek Trail, has the distinction of being the Golden State’s first cable-stayed bridge for bicycle and pedestrian traffic that is located above a freeway.
  • Caltrans inspecting troubled stretch of I-80 freeway after concrete falls. Caltrans crews are inspecting an elevated section of Interstate 80 where a chunk of concrete broke off Tuesday night, falling 25 feet onto a street in SoMa. The stretch of freeway that links the Bay Bridge to the Highway 101 split has dogged city and state officials for years. Officers who manage police parking lots adjacent to the Hall of Justice say that they have found large pieces of debris and bolts on the ground but that their complaints to Caltrans have gone largely unaddressed.
  • Caltrans to inspect I-80 where concrete chunk fell off near Bay Bridge. Caltrans will inspect a portion of Interstate 80 where a fist-sized chunk of concrete fell to the street below, according to the agency. The chunks of concrete fell in a stretch of I-80 in San Francisco at Harriet Street, approaching the Bay Bridge, Tuesday, according to Caltrans. No injuries or property damage was reported.

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🎭 Family is What You Make It | “Bronco Billy The Musical”

Bronco Billy - The Musical (Skylight)A few weeks ago, I saw a little musical at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) called Falsettos. That musical was promoted as being about family; and more importantly, being about the family that you make with the people around you. Well, folks, that musical has nothing on the musical I just saw, which truly is about the fact that the family that you make — and that cares about you — is much more family than the one created by birth or by marriage.

So what did I saw that make me say this? What musical did I enjoy so much that I’m thinking about getting tickets to see it again (something I rarely do; I think the last time was Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Sacred Fools)? The answer:  Bronco Billy – The Musical at the Skylight Theatre (FB).

Going in, I had no idea what this show was about. I don’t go to movies; I had no knowledge of — and certainly hadn’t seen — the 1980 Clint Eastwood movie. All I had was an email from the publicist describing the show thusly:

The country’s going crazy; partisan politics, civil rights threatened, technology exploding. That’s right, it’s 1979! Somewhere in America’s heartland, with more heart than sense, Bronco Billy struggles to keep his traveling Wild West show alive. But when Billy and his ragtag troupe of misfits meet Antoinette, a Manhattan heiress on-the-run, the ride gets even wilder as she turns Billy’s world upside down

For some reason, that description drew me in. That, and the following words from the book writer, Dennis Hackin (FB), who also did the original screenplay:

The show is about living your passion. About being part of a family even if you have to create your own. With some unexpected turns through love, villainy, show business, and lots of humor, Chip, John, and Michele have beautifully honored the book and enlightened the characters with their magical musical influences. All this, during a time when everyone could use a new upbeat musical.

“Chip, John, and Michele” refer to Chip Rosenbloom (FB), John Torres (⭐FB, FB), and Michele Brourman (⭐FB). Chip and John did the music and lyrics for the show; Michele did some additional lyrics.

As I said, going in I knew nothing about the movie. When I got home, I looked it up on Wikipedia. Other than some basic structure of the story, it appears that the musical did a fair amount of story adaptation for the stage. The movie actually sounds less interesting that the story in the musical. So kudos to the writing team for the rework: it resulted in an extremely enjoyable show.

By this point, you’re probaby wondering about the plot. It is the late 1970s, and Bronco Billy McCoy is a western entertainer barely surviving with a “Wild West Troupe” going from county fair to county fair. This troupe includes Doc, Lorraine and her husband Chief Big Eagle, Two Gun Lefty Lebow, and Lasso Leonard James. The group is hoping they can make it to Hollywood to get their big break by auditioning for a producer. Parallel to this, the founder of the Ollie the Owl Candy Bar Company dies. In a revised will, he leaves all his money to his daughter, Antoinette Lilly, pissing off his second wife, Constance. But the lawyer, Lipton, points out that there’s a loophole: If she doesn’t survive for 30 days, the bequest goes to the stepwife. After a failed attempt by Antoinette’s husband, John Arlington, to off her, Antoinette runs off into hiding — with Bronco Billy’s troupe. Still wanting the money, Constance and the Lawyer hire Sinclair St. Clair to do the “hit”. You can take it from there, with subsequent backstory reveals and the formation of a family with the Bronco BIlly troupe.

As I said, the plot is different in a number of key ways from the movie. I was glad that I hadn’t seen it beforehand.

This is a new musical, so some examination of these book and music is in order. The book is … a musical book. That means that some characters have their characterizations exaggerated for the stage. The description of the movie comes across as dark. This is light and fun. One or two jokes may be a bit strained (in particular, the recurring gag on the hit man’s name), but overall it is enjoyable. Don’t go in expecting a deep social commentary — this isn’t Dear Evan Hansen. Rather, go in expect to have fun with a story that is a bit more old fashioned: think Addams Family – The Musical or Hairspray.  I think — in terms of the underlying message — this musical creates a family in a stronger, more “extended” way than Falsettos did. The real point of the story here is that family is built by those who care about each other and what happens to them. It make the point that your past is in the past; family is what you make today, going forward. And that’s a real good point to be making in this day and age, when families are being torn apart due to politics. Perhaps that’s why this show has a new resonance.

I found the music and lyrics to be strong. There were a lot of great upbeat numbers that made me long for a cast album. The opening number “Ride With Us” really sets the tone, as do numbers like “Our Time Is Now”, or “It’s Gonna Be Great”, or “Whopper of a Song”. But the ballads are very nice as well. But I just know what I like to listen to; I can’t judge whether those who obsess about rhyme or composition would be happy. I just enjoyed it and found myself humming the tunes as I left (which is rare). A testament to this show, and how much I liked the music, was that I just went and bought tickets to see it again. Directly from the theatre (albeit with a discount code). I’m squeezing it in during the Fringe Festival. That’s how much I enjoyed the book and the music of this show.

I think the key factor in assessing this show is this: not once did I have the urge to look at my program to see when an act was going to end. In fact, the end came too soon; I was enjoying it that much.

Under Hunter Bird (FB)’s direction, the cast was clearly having fun, and the brisk was pace… pace was brisk. The acting team seemed to be really into their inhabiting characters and bringing out the joy within. I’m never sure — hey, I’m just an audience member — what part is the director and what is the actor, but I do know the director can help make the magic happen. Even more significantly, it is the director that brings the vision to the show — and the artistic vision with the wooden boxes that miraculously unfolded to become the different pieces and places was just astounding. About the only directoral complaint I might have relates to the fight sequences, especially in the Musical Showdown. I don’t know the extent to which this was direction, vs Matt Franta (FB)’s fight choreography, but a number of the fight sequences were a bit too “stagey or fake” — they needed a bit more realism to make them “hit” (so to speak). Improved sound effects to augment them would help, but there needs to be more smacks in the smackeroos. But this, mind you, is a minor complaint.

This brings us to the performance team. In the lead positions were Eric B. Anthony (⭐FB) as Bronco Billy McCoy, and Amanda Leigh Jerry (FB) as Antoinette Lilly.  Anthony was wonderful as Billy — personable, relatable, with a lovely lighter singing voice that is just beautiful in songs like “Just a Dance” and “Everything I Needed”. For those expecting a hard Clint Eastwood type, expect to have your mind blown. Think more of a Ben Vereen, which fits much more with what the West really was. I should note I’ve seen Anthony sing before — although not listed in his bio, I saw him in Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Rep in 2017. Great then, great now. The real knockout, however, was Jerry. She had a personality and internal oomph that she broadcast to the back of the theatre, with a winning look and super strong singing voice. All of her numbers were great, especially “Get Me Out of Here” and her “Be Strong” numbers.

Billy’s troupe consisted of Benai Boyd (FB) as Doc; Fatima El-Bashir (FB) as Lorraine; Michael Uribes (FB) as Chief Big Eagle; Randy Charleville (FB) as Two Gun Lefty Lebow, and Kyle Frattini (FB) as Lasso Leonard James.  I’d seen Boyd before in the Actors Co-Op production of Violet, and she blew me away then. She was even stronger here as Doc: she opens the show, she holds everything together, she has a knockout singing voice, and she is just fantastic to watch.  Also strong was El-Basher (who I had seen in Empire) as Lorraine. Together with Boyd, they made a delightful duo opening the show, plus she is wonderful in “Look in the Mirror”. Further, she tap dances. I just love a good tap dance :-). Uribes (who, you guessed it, we saw before in Robber Bridegroom) was more of a taciturn character, although he did have a wonderful number in the opening of the second act. Charleville was strong as the clown, Lefty; and Frattini did a wonderful job of playing up the comic as Lasso Leonard. [Yes, and before you ask, we did see Frattini in Shrek at 5-Star, as well as in Beatniks at last year’s Fringe].

There’s a reason I mention this repeat talent: We have, here in Los Angeles, a remarkable talent pool. Actors who love the craft, and who are just astounding in what they do. Some are primarily stage actors, some are working their way there. Some work in TV and film. But they are all incredible talents, and it is just a joy to see the best of them pop up in shows at different venues throughout this great theatre city.

This brings us to the villains of the piece: Michelle Azar (⭐FB, FB) as Constance the Step-Mother; Marc Cardiff as the Lawyer Lipton, Chris M. Kauffmann (⭐FB, FB) as Antoinette’s husband, John Arlington, and Pat Towne (FB) as the hit-man Sinclair St. Clair. All were written as broadly comical roles, and all were played as broadly comical. Think of the hencemen in Kiss Me Kate or The Drowsy Chaperone. As such, for how they were written, they were played very well. Azar had the lead on a number of different numbers and had a lovely voice.

Rounding out the cast in smaller character roles and ensemble parts were: Bella Hicks (FB) – Mitzi, Female Ensemble; Anthony Marciona (⭐FB, FB) – Sam, Gas Station Attendant, Disco Guy, Stage Manager; Jamie Mills (FB) – Dee Dee, Ensemble. All were great. I noticed Mills first, as she was out before the show working the crowd with a wonderful personality (and a tiny little hat). Hicks caught my eye when she came out as Mitzi; in later roles, her personality just lit up and she was a delight to watch. Marciona had a face that kept making me think of a good friend from our synagogue’s mens club; he clearly had fun playing a large number of different parts – and was funny in his last role as stage manager, staying in role even after the bows.

Understudies who were not on stage were Richie Ferris (FB), Molly Livingston (FB) and James Olivas (FB). We’d see the latter two before in Steel Pier at UCLA; alas, we didn’t seem them at our performance.

Music was provided by an on-stage band conducted by Anthony Lucca (FB) – Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard. Other band members were: Austin Chanu (FB) – Woodwinds, Percussion; Jeff Frantom (FB) – Guitars; Cyrus Elia (FB) – Electric and Upright Bass; and Ryan McDiarmid (FB) – Drums, Percussion. The band had a great sound, and even had one chance to interact with the actors. Other musical credits: David O (FB) – Arrangements and Orchestrations.

The Choreography was by Janet Roston (FB), who brought some wonderful dances to the small space that is the Skylight. As the world premiere of a new musical, it is always worth asking whether this can scale to bigger and better venues. Dance is a large part of that. The dances in this show were expressive and fun, and I believe that they could scale to the larger stage of a Geffen or the Pasadena Playhouse, if not even bigger houses. There was a mix of the Western styles including what appeared to be some line dancing, as well as broader ballet and pop styles.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative side: The director worked with well-known LA scenic designer John Iacovelli (FB) worked with Properties Designer Kevin Williams (FB) and Projection Designer David Murakami (FB) to create a masterpiece of boxes that folded and unfolded to create all the different locations and locales and set pieces, blending overall design with properties, and occasionally with projections on the sides of the boxes. The magic of it reminded me a bit of Astro Boy with the overall creativity show for the space. As I write this, I hearken back to Falsettos again with the creative use of the stage pieces. Theatre need not always be strongly realistic; imagination on stage does wonders. Brian Gale‘s lighting design established time and place well; I particularly noted the heavy use of moving mirrors that were required in the space. That’s an unforgiving technology, and it worked well. Cricket S. Myers (FB) and Daniel S. Tator (FB) did the sound design, and it works reasonably well except for a few microphone crackles, and either some cell-phone interference or a mis-timed sound board queue. Sound effects were good, but could use improvement in the fight scene. Ann Closs Farley (FB)’s costume designs worked well, bringing in modern Western design, a touch of both the ridiculous and sublime, and just some nice looking outfits. Other production credits: Matt Franta (FB) – Fight Coordinator; Christopher Hoffman – Production Stage Manager; Ben Altman (FB) – Stage Manager; Garrett Crouch (FB) – Stage Manager; Michael Donovan CSACasting Director; Patty Onagan ConsultingMarketing; Guillermo Perez – Graphic Design; Gary Grossman (FB) and Tony Abatemarco (FB– Producers.

Bronco Billy – The Musical continues at the Skylight Theatre (FB) until June 30. I liked it enough that I’m squeezing it in during Fringe to bring my wife to see it again. Translation: Yes, you should see this. Tickets are available through the Skylight Online Box Office; the code BILLY20 works at selected performances for 20% off. 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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

June is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): June starts with another concert: Rick Ruskin and Roy Bookbinder at Boulevard Music (FB). I may go to a check-in reading of a new play about Frank Lloyd Wright at Ensemble Studio Theatre (FB) before that. Fringe previews start the next week. We’re squeezing in a return to Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB) on June 15. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB), and we might do rush tickets for Alice in Wonderland as well. In between those points, August is mostly open.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🎶 Pop Stars and Folk Musicians | Lea Salonga and Noel Paul Stookey

Lea Salonga (Soraya 2019)This week was a week for concerts. The first was Wednesday night, when we saw Lea Salonga (FB) at the Saroya (FB), which was known as the Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN the last time Ms. Salonga played there in April 2016. If I had to characterize this show, which was the penultimate stop in her The Human Heart tour, it would be: Ballads and Anthems. Unlike back in 2016, where we were treated to a number of upbeat songs, including some songs in her native language, this was primarily slower songs and power songs. The two act show had the following songs:

Act I:

Feeling Good
Go the Distance
Reflection
Fast Car
Drops of Jupiter
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Part of the Human Heart
I Give My Life for You

Act II:

Another 100 People
In a Very Unusual Way
Story of My Life
Take On Me
Blurred Lines
Burn
A Whole New World
Dead Girl Songs: I Dreamed A Dream / On My Own
Encore: You Will Be Found

Accompanying Ms. Salonga was Larry Yurman (FB) – Piano, Music Director; Kevin Axt (FB) – Bass; Paul Viapiano (FB) – Guitar; and Ray Brinker (FBDrums.

Salonga had a great rapport with the audience, telling wonderful stories before most of the songs. Her duet on “A Whole New World” was wonderful. On the whole, it was an enjoyable show, but I did find myself wishing for a few more upbeat numbers. We did support the artist by picking up one CD: The Story of My Life: Live from Manila, with the BYU Chamber Orchestra.


Noel Paul Stookey (McCabes 2019)Our second concert saw us in Santa Monica at McCabes (FB) for a favorite artist of ours: Noel Paul Stookey (FB), who is best known as Paul in Peter Paul and Mary (FB). We last saw Noel Paul in a concert with Peter Yarrow in Thousand Oaks in 2017; our last solo visit with him was 2015 at McCabes. Noel Paul just recently did a concert in Ventura. Paul, and his musical companions, hold a special place in my heart: My first favorite group was PP&M, and folk music was a constant in my life even before there were the tunes from Broadway. McCabes also holds a special place: I remember seeing Shep Cooke (FB) there many many years ago with my uncle, back in the 1980s.

Noel Paul’s repertoire at this two set show was a mix of PP&M tunes and many of Noel Paul’s more recent solo tunes. There were just a few that I had never heard before. Alas, although he teased in the first act that he might do “Impeachable“, he didn’t. But the sentiment was clearly there.

Noel Paul’s sets were (🌟 indicates new songs):

Set 1

Standing on the Shoulders🌟
Not That Kind of Music
Puff the Magic Dragon
Ives🌟
Right Field
The Winner
Imagine (Alternate Version)🌟 / For The Love of It All
Revolution (1 x 1)
Where Have All the Flowers Gone
Love Rules!

Set 2:

Whatshername
Cabin Fever Waltz
Cue The Moon
Love With a Capital “L”🌟
The Wedding Song
One & Many
Jean Claude
America the Beautiful
Blowing in the Wind
In These Times
Encore: If I Had a Hammer

Noel Paul has roots as a comedian, and it shows in how he tells stories before each song. He clearly loves performing at McCabes, which holds a special place with folk musicians. His shows there are extremely enjoyable, and are not to be missed.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 one last show for May: Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong 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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎶 Fly Me to the Moon on a Rocket Player, Modulo a Few Bumps

I’ve written recently about the problems with my iPod Classics, and how I had selected a backup solution on my Android Device using iSyncr and Rocket Player. As I’ve been using the apps — especially Rocket Player — more, I’ve encountered a few hiccups. Some are clear bugs (which I am reporting), some I’m still exploring to determine if they are bugs, and some fall into the category of enhancement requests. The purpose of this post is to keep track of what I’ve reported; I plan to ✔ when something has been fixed or an enhancement made. 🆕 indicates items added in subsequent updates.

I’m still hoping to figure out the reason why the iPods have been acting up and fix it. But I know that one of these days, the 10 year old hardware will die, or I will exceed the internal database size. So I need a good backup solution (which, until I recover things, is right now my primary solution). Rocket Player is about 90-95% there. I want to help them get the rest of the way to being perfect.

Confirmed Bug List

  1. When a Live List playlist gets empty, it refills as the entire media library, modulo excluded genres. Tested with a playlist of “(plays = 0) & (a number of excluded genres)”
  2. When a Live List playlist is sorted by album, for multi-CD sets, it sorts the album by track increasing, and then disk decreasing, giving (disk,track): 2,1; 1,1; 2,2; 2,1; …
  3. When a Live List playlist has a predicate that results in songs being removed from the list after being played (such as the playlist I have for songs where “(plays > 0) & (last played > 730 days)”, when you set a song for repeat-1 and the list is on shuffle, it plays the song a second time displaying the art for the next song in the live live shuffle, and then instead of the third playing, it plays the song that would have been next in the shuffle while displaying the album art for the song after that. In other words, suppose the shuffle order is A, B, C, D, E. Here’s what’s happens: A, B (press repeat-1), B (displaying art for C), C (displaying art for D, even though repeat-1 is still on), … . Further, when you stop it a few seconds into C, it has already marked C as played.

Tentative Bug List

Note: On these, I think I’ve seen a problem, but I haven’t been able to consistently repeat it. So these might not be a problem after all until I play with it a bit more.

  1. There may be a bug where the first song in a Live List that updates based on last played date does not get updated.
  2. There may be a bug where the Rocket Player lock screen does not prompt for PIN or fingerprint to unlock after sliding the slider.

Enhancement List

  1. Support for “Skip When Shuffling”
  2. Splitting the global “Stop after Each Song” flag into two flags: one for music, and one for podcasts.
  3. Add the ability for Live Lists to test on track length, and to sort by track length.
  4. Improved predicate language for Live Lists in order to support constructs like: “A & B & (C | D | E) & F”
  5. Having Live Lists show a count of how many songs on the list have been played.
  6. Having an option to display the time left in a song, vs. the total track length, when a song is playing
  7. Having the ability to go back and replay the last song played, even in live lists that remove the song from the list after playing.
  8. Having the ability to delete a single rule in a Live Live, vs having to clear the list and start over.
  9. Having new string tests in Live Lists, such as “Starts with”. A full regular expression tester would be even better, but ….
  10. Adding a test for “is not” for numeric comparisons (right now, there’s only =, <, and >).
  11. Improved speed in scanning for new songs, when coming into Live Lists, when displaying artists, etc. In general: the program needs to be much faster when dealing with extremely large libraries (e.g., over 40,000 songs).

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🎭 When You Think of Southern California, Think of … Live Theatre

When you think of Los Angeles, what comes to mind? Freeways (but of course). Traffic. The Movie and Television industry. But what about live theatre? I ask this question because this week there was a an article in the New York Times about Annette Benning,  when the New York Times said, “In Los Angeles, where no one notices theater,…” Over in some of the theatre discussion groups I frequent, this prompted a … kerfuffle. Many argued about the article, and I posted the following comment:

As an audience member, I think there is an audience for theatre in LA, but that most of the theatre loving people here only know the Pantages, Center Theatre Group, and other large theatres that advertise. Our local papers don’t care about theatres, our TV stations only know the largest theatres, and there’s precious little other publicity. So unless you are already a theatre lover and well connected to the information streams (as I am), you think the only theatre in this city are the tours that are at the big boys.

And that’s wrong. That’s why I tell anyone I can about Fringe; that’s why I write up almost every show that I go to on my blog (which takes about 3 hrs) (and we go to at least one live performance show a weekend on average; sometimes more), and that’s why I spread the word.

I’m an engineer. I can’t act or inhabit characters. I wish I could. But I can be an audience, and I can spread that word that LA is the best theatre city around.

Consider this post part of the effort. It was spurred on by another post that I saw titled “L.A. is a Theatre Town: A Guide to Indie Venues“, which although a good start, was woefully incomplete. So this is my top-of-the-head guide to some of the places you should be exploring — places that will make you realize that Los Angeles is indeed a theatre town. Suck it up, New York Times. Except for the commercial juggernaut that is “Broadway”, we may have you beat. I’ll note that this discussion excludes all the wonderful concert hall venues in the area such as the Saroya (FB), the Broad Stage (FB), the Wallis (FB), the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza/Kavli (FB), Hollywood Bowl (FB), the Ford Theatres (FB), and others of that ilk, as they rarely present multi-week runs of plays or musicals. ° indicates theatres where I personally subscribe or have recently subscribed.

My apologies in advance for any theatre I left off this list. This is just off the top of my head. I’ll be glad to edit this post to add your company or venue in.

The Oxygen Suckers

These are the big boys: the theatres that get all the publicity. Of course, I’m talking venues such as the °Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the theatres within the Center Theatre Group (FB): the °Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Pantages (now under the “Broadway in Hollywood” moniker, as they are also presenting at the Dolby Theatre (FB)) exclusively does tours. The Ahmanson does almost all tours, or productions in pre-Broadway tryouts. The Taper and Kirk Douglas will do both tours and locally produced shows. But these theatres get almost all the publicity, to the extent that it seems other theatres don’t exist in the city. I should note that tours also come to the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts (FB) in Orange County, and the Kavli in Thousand Oaks (FB).

The Other Big Boys

There are a number of other larger theatres that present well acclaimed seasons and get some level of publicity for it. The best known of these are venues such as the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) and the Geffen Playhouse (FB) in Westwood. But some other theatres with equal quality and programs include A Noise Within (FB) in Pasadena, International City Theatre (FB) in Long Beach, the Laguna Playhouse (FB), Rubicon Theatre (FB), South Coast Rep (FB), and the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB), which with McCoy Rigby Productions does some excellent remounts of musicals.

Also in the “Other Big Boy” category would be musical companies that do short runs of shows, such as ° Musical Theatre Guild (FB) in Glendale, Musical Theatre West (FB) in Long Beach, and °5 Star Theatricals (FB) in Thousand Oaks.

The Intimate (Small Theatre) Companies

LA is blessed with a number of smaller companies that regularly produce multi-show seasons” of great work. If you had the funds and the time, you could subscribe to all of these; but you can certainly find the companies whose missions and programming align with your tastes.  In general, I’d have no hesitation to see a show from any of these great companies; I have been to almost all of them for at least one show or another. This list would include companies such as °Actors Co-op (FB), the Actors Gang (FB), Anteaus (FB), Boston Court (FB), East West Players (FB), Sacred Fools (FB), Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), Group Rep (FB), Pacific Resident Theatre (FB), Odyssey Theatre (FB), Theatre West (FB), Casa 0101 (FB), Theatre of Note (FB), the Celebration Theatre (FB), the Road Theatre (FB), the Chance Theatre (FB), the Blank Theatre (FB), the Sierra Madre Playhouse (FB), Theatricum Botanicum (FB), 24th Street Theatre (FB), Write Act Rep (FB), Theatre 40 (FB), Skylight Theatre (FB), Ruskin Group Theatre (FB), Promenade Playhouse (FB), Greenway Court Theatre (FB), Garry Marshall Theatre (FB), The Fountain Theatre (FB).

…and then there are (the first): there are other excellent small companies that may not have formal seasons, but that produce multiple shows and also do excellent work: Company of Angels (FB), Ensemble Studio Theatre (FB), West Coast Jewish Theatre (FB), Zombie Joes (FB), Circle X (FB), Echo Theatre (FB), Theatre Unleashed (FB), Little Fish Theatre (FB), IAMA Theatre Company (FB), Victory Theatre Center (FB), Open Fist Theatre (FB), Conundrum Theatre Company (FB), Proof Doubt Closer Theatre Company (FB), The New American Theatre (FB).

…and then there are (the second): there are theatres that are less companies, but more providing homes and rentals to shows. This would include venues such as the Hudson (FB), the Santa Monica Playhouse (FB), the El Portal (FB), the Whitefire (FB), the storefront theatres at the Complex (FB), the Secret Rose (FB), the Lounge Theatres (FB), the Actors Company, The Edgemar Center (FB), Grove Theatre Center (FB), The Pico (Playhouse) (FB).

…and then there are (the third): There are some companies that recently lost their space, do great work, and are looking for new spaces: Crown City Theatre (FB), the Cupcake Theatre (FB).

…and then there is (the fourth): The unique beast that is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): over 380 different shows across multiple venues in Hollywood. Look here to see what we’re seeing, but there are so many shows to see, and so little time.

Community Theatre Companies

There are also companies that do great work at the Community Theatre level. These use a true mix of local talent, combined with people that work primarily in TV and Film. This would include venues such as the Morgan-Wixson Theatre (FB), Glendale Center Theatre (FB), Canyon Theatre Guild (FB), Simi Valley ARTS (FB), Theatre Palisades (FB), Kentwood Players (FB), Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB), Whittier Community Theatre (FB), Long Beach Playhouse (FB), and numerous other companies.

And Many Many More…

On top of all of this, there are all the little Shakespeare companies: Independent Shakespeare (FB), Shakespeare by the Sea (FB), and many others. There are city owned theatres, such as The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita that present loads of short runs. There are places like The Colony (FB), which (alas) has become a mostly rental house. There are pop-up companies like 4-Clowns (FB). There is theatre going on in every nook and cranny in this town.

So How Do I Learn About All of This?

By now, you’re thinking there is so much theatre in LA, how do I learn about it all?  After all, I haven’t bamboozled the publicists into thinking I’m a critic (like you have), so I don’t get all the mailings. Here’s my advice:

First, find the theatres you like and join their mailing lists. Follow them on Facebook.

Second, visit Better Lemons, @ This Stage, Stage Raw, and Footlights. Join the LA Stage Alliance.

Third, get on broader mailing lists like Plays 411 and BroadwayWorld.Com.

Fourth, join Goldstar, and get on their mailing list, as well as liking theatres (which gets you email when they have new shows listed). I’m sure TodayTIX has something similar.

Read my post on how to find discount theatre in LA for more suggestions.

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🎭 Congregational Schisms | “The Christians” @ Actors Co-Op

The Christians (Actors Co-Op)I’m Jewish. In fact, I’m one of the maintainers of the soc.culture.jewish FAQ, and for a long time ran the Liberal Judaism Mailing List until it withered away. I say that as point of reference #1.

I’m an avid theatre-goer. When a favorite small theatre in Santa Clarita went belly-up a few years ago, we moved our subscription to a small company in North Hollywood called Actors Co-op (FB), based on the quality of their work and their season selection. I tend to believe that subscriptions should be used to bring you to shows you might not choose to see yourself; to take you out of your comfort zone. This is point of reference #2.

But although we like the work of the company, everytime we walked on their campus we were a bit uncomfortable, as their host church had signs at the time indicating they sponsored Jews for Jesus. I would read in their program that they are a “company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Reference point of reference #1. So when I saw that the last show of this season was to be “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath — about which I knew nothing — needless to say I was a bit worried. Was this going to be overlay Christalogical? Would it be overly preachy? Would I be squiriming in my seat: a Jewish boy in a sea of goyim?

Luckily, the answer was “no”, and this company continued their tradition of producing thought-provoking theatre of the highest quality, that didn’t tell you want to think but made you question what you thought. That is what theatre — and churches and synagogues — should do.

The Christians is about a megachurch that is on the precipice of a schism, only they don’t know it yet. At the worship service that starts the show, Pastor Paul starts with a four-part sermon that explores where the church is today, how it got there, and where it is going. He relates a story, and raises a controversial notion: What if you don’t have to be Christian to be saved from the fires of Hell? What if Hell doesn’t exist? What if you don’t have to believe to get into Heaven? Initially, much of the church goes along with the pastor, except for the Associate Pastor Joshua, who can’t accept the notion. Joshua and his followers leave, going off to form their own church. And thus from this little crack…

Soon, questions start to emerge. What is the impact of this on Church donations and membership? What was the history behind the relationships, and the conflicts, between Paul and Joshua? Was the timing questionable — why did the pastor wait to drop this until just after the mortgage was paid off? More and more questions, with answers that weren’t always easy, or provided.

Where to start analyzing this… especially this week, when we’ve seen a number of states attempting to legislate what is in essence a religious decision, ostensibly to help prevent people from going to Hell for their actions…

Let’s start with the Jewish perspective. My wife turned to me during the show, when the Pastor gave his sermon, and said it sounded like he had a Jewish conversion. The Jewish notion of Gehenna (what the Christians call Hell) is very different than the Christian notion; quoting from the FAQ: “Gehennom (lit: the valley of Hinnom, in Jerusalem; i.e. hell) is the sinner’s experience in the afterlife. In other words, it’s the same “place” as gan eiden (lit: the garden of Eden; i.e. heaven) — it’s the perspective of the individual that makes it one or the other.” As for Satan: Satan is no devil with horns. He is the challenger, placed there to give you the choice between good and evil, so that you have the ability to choose to do good. Thus, it turns out that this play — which I feared would be pushing Christian notions of believing in Jesus to be saved, was actually presenting a very Jewish notion.

But, of course, it wasn’t accepted. There was a growing number of people that couldn’t accept that heaven and hell were the same place, with only perspective differing between them. They wanted there to be a requirement to believe in Jesus to be saved. That, indeed, is a fundamental notion in many churches. It is the belief that is important more than action. It is witnessing that belief to others, to convert more people to Jesus. As the play showed, that provided comfort to many, and a growing number wanted that path.

Was it the right path? The play does not answer that question.

Schisms in congregations are nothing new. Our congregation in Northridge had something similar. The Board had a difference in direction from the Senior Rabbi, and he was let go. He has since attempted to form his own congregation, while the original congregation is finding its way. If you look at a history of the congregations in the valley — and I’m sure this is true for the churches as well — they all form from splits from other congregations, each tweaking what they saw as their missions and their interpretations of their core teachings. Who is right and who is wrong? I can’t say, nor can our country. We have the freedom to find many paths to our salvation, and some of those paths might even involve belief systems that eschew notions of God completely (and yes, that’s a belief system as well). All we can say for certain is that we all question why we are here at some point.

In the end, we left the show — and the talkback afterwards — quite pleased. Theatre did what theatre is supposed to do: raise questions. This company did what its mission is: “pursuing the highest standards of theatrical excellence”. It made the audience think and question their beliefs; it provided understanding without preaching. I’m very glad that we saw the show.

It didn’t hurt that, under the direction of Thomas James O’Leary (⭐FB, FB), the cast was uniformly excellent. At the talkback, we learned that the script was quite unusual, which many actions not spelled out (e.g., lines that were “…” or “and and and”). This director did an excellent job with the cast of expanding the unwritten lines, the hidden text, into performance. Not being a performer, I always have trouble understanding what a director does, but this production provided more insight on the role.

In the lead position was Townsend Coleman (FB) as Pastor Paul. Coleman had the bulk of the stage time: the whole sermon, and the whole questioning afterwards. His performance was mesmerizing — holding the audience’s congregation’s attention, teaching, questioning, and in the end, doing an effective job of questioning himself. We truly enjoyed watching him.

Working in a different direction was Thomas Chavira (FB) as Associate Pastor Joshua. Joshua was true to his name: blowing the trumpets that started the walls tumbling down. Chavira did a great job of youth in opposition: a man with a different belief that was equally strong, and that he turned into leadership when confronted. It was interesting to watch.

The other characters on the bima pulpit were smaller: Phil Crowley as Elder Jay, and Kay Bess (⭐FB, FB) as Elizabeth, Pastor Paul’s wife. Both were effective in the questions they raised to Pastor Paul, and in how they inhabited the characters that question. Where Crowley really shined was in the talkback: we had a delightful theological discussion with him that could have gone on for hours (and who knows, perhaps we’ll connect again in real life and it will).

Behind the pulpit was the choir, which was wonderful. Before I note the choir members, I must call out Jenny, played by Nicole Gabriella Scipione (FB), who gave a wonderful testimony and raised some very pointed questions. She was truly believable; what more can you want from an actor. The choir consisted of the following members — and note that there was an A and B choir, and we had the A choir. Note also that our A choir was truly “A”: they had the most wonderful and angelic expressions as they sang. The combined choirs consisted of: Khara Bigham (FB); Aislin Courtis (⭐FB, FB); Hattie Sue Dahlberg (FB); Mary Moore Driggers (FB); James Everts (⭐FB, FB);  Catherine Gray (FB); Tim Hodgin (FB); Laura Kelly (FB);  Deborah Marlowe (FB); Maurice McGraw (FB); Kyle Montgomery (FB); Ariel Murillo (FB); Fadeke Oparinde (FB); Amanda Peterson (FB); Andrew Retland (FB); Daniel Schwab (FB); Cody Scurlock (FB); Kevin Shewey (FB); Isaac Sprague (FB); Paige Stewart (FB); and Bria St. Julien (FB).

Turning to the production side: Nicholas Acciani (FB) did something I’ve never seen before in the Crowley Theatre — laid down wall-to-wall carpet. I hope they find a good use for it after the show. Other than that, not being familiar with the layout of a Christian pulpit — which changes by denomination, and is very different from a bima layout — I can only state that it gave an appropriate Christian feeling. Donny Jackson (FB)’s lighting design seemed appropriate, and worked well with Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s projections. David B. Marling (FB)’s sound design used something you don’t see in this day and age: wired microphones, and worked really well. E.B. Brooks (FB)’s costume design seemed reasonably churchly.  Rounding out the production credits: Josie Austin (FB) – Stage Manager; Heather Chesley (FB) – Artistic Chairwoman; Nora Feldman (FB) – Publicist; Jazmin Henderson (⭐FB, FB) – Asst. Stage Manager; Carly Lopez (FB) – Producer; Noriko Olling (FB) – Music Arranger / Pianist; Dylan Price (FB) – Choir Director; Selah Victor – Production Manager.

The Christians continues at Actors Co-op (FB) until June 16th. If you’re not Christian, don’t be put off by the title — this is a great debatable theological question for everyone. If you are Christian, well, it’s still a great debate and a great show. In any case, it will do what theatre is supposed to do: make you think. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op website; 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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong 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.

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🗳 June 2019 Los Angeles Special Election Ballot Analysis

Well, it’s that time again. I’ve received a sample ballot, but it’s an odd year, meaning an odd election:

There’s was another special election mid-May to fill a vacant LAUSD board seat. What that wasn’t combined with the parcel tax election, I have no idea.

So we have a situation where Council District 12 has two issues on the ballot (for which we’ve gotten voluminous mail — I’ve never gotten this much for a city council election before), and the rest of the city just has the parcel tax. Talk about a recipe for low turnout (and due to business travel, I’ll be voting absentee ballot).

Still, a sample ballot is a ballot, and calls for a ballot analysis. This may be LA County’s last election using ink-a-vote, unless we have something in November. In 2020, LA County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will be open for 11 days, and voters will be able to vote at any center in LA County. How successful it will be is unknown, but hey, what can go wrong during the most critical Presidential election in this nation’s history.

On to the ballot analysis….

Read More …

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🎶 App Review: iSyncr + Rocket Player

If you recall, I recently wrote about some problems I was having with my iPod Classics, both of which had been modified with the Tarkan iFlash adaptor to 512GB. Luckily, the fellow who installed the adapter for me was able to get them out of the Reboot loop, and I have restored them. That got me thinking again about non-iPod solutions. There were a variety of options available:

  • Dedicated music players such as the Fiio or Astell & Kern provide great sound quality, but are expensive, require additional SD cards for storage, do not support smart playlists, and cannot integrate with my large existing iTunes library. There are precious little details online about their interfaces, and especially about their interfaces on the PC side for managing the music libraries.
  • An iPod Touch does not work, because their storage is not expandable and currently maxes out at 128GB. An older iPhone has more storage, but is also much more expensive, and has been designed by Apple to have diminishing battery life — plus planned obsolescence.
  • Using my existing Android phone, which can support Micro-SD cards up to 2TB.

When I started exploring the Android ecosystem, the first option was a cloud subscription model. For a multitude of reasons, I do not like streaming music — you need larger data packages for your phone, and you may not always have service where you want it. But programs like Apple Music and Google Play Music (GPM) do allow you to, within limits (50,000 songs for GPM; 100,000 songs for AM), upload your music library to their cloud (where they may substitute existing tracks they have), and then download it into the SD card from your mobile device. Initially, I thought about that option, in particular with Apple Music, which would support Smart Playlists. Both work with iTunes, either natively or with a media manager. They also have other arbitrary limits, such as GPM limiting playlists to 1,000 songs. Both also require monthly payments to Apple or Google, companies that don’t need your money, avoid taxes, and are not longer out to do good, IMHO.

But then I stumbled upon the apps from a small family company, JRT Studio (FB). They have two apps: iSyncr and Rocket Player, that were of interest. The apps had free and pay version, and the pay version was a one time payment. They appeared to do what I wanted to do: iSyncr would read the iTunes database and move the music to an SD card; it would also sync back to iTunes play times, counts, and ratings. Rocket Player was a music player designed to play music from an Android’s internal storage, and provided a widget to add ratings. I use ratings to flag tracks I like, and tracks that need repair.

So, after stumbling on a sale on 512GB MicroSD cards (for $99 at Amazon, half-price!), I decided to go the iSyncr route. I ordered the card, installed it, and attempted to sync. The good news is that, after some stumbles, I was able to get the process working and copied all the music and playlists to my SD card. The Rocket Player works well, and even additionally supports its own form of smart playlists so that I could create ones that do live updates (existing smart playlists in iTunes transfer as a static copy that do not update). In general, the process was easy once I figured it out. Over time, I’m playing with tuning the process to make it more efficient.

I cannot, however, give the products a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ rating at this time. I have to dial it back to ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ because of some problems.

For iSyncr:

  • The interface is, at times, user unfriendly, or at least, non-intuitive. It took me a while to realize using the USB transfer that it was calculating the space as a preparation to sync, and that you had to initiate the sync separately. If you want to keep adding playlists slowly, it has to rescan iTunes for each playlist. Establishing the permissions for it to communicate is also a bit complicated, although that is in some ways due to Android and Windows. The Windows component also installs straight to the system tray, and the user interface is not explained well.
  • The product needs to be a bit more security aware: it may require too many firewall permissions (it is unclear if those can be dialed back, in particular, the public access option if you only want to sync on home networks), and I’m not 100% sure on the Android permissions. They also need to sign their Windows executable. I understand why they don’t sign it (privacy issues), but I believe those should be surmountable.
  • It would be nice if the product communicated over Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi and USB.
  • There seemed to be a bizarre interaction after resetting the Android Media Library that resulted in a large playlist (Music) being limited to 100 songs. It appears that everything in the playlist transfers, but that the project of the playlist itself is what is short. We thought it was a license issue, but it turned out to be a permissions problem. It was resolved by deleting that playlist in Rocket Player (which required re-granting permissions to the directory on the SD card), and then re-syncing that playlist via iSyncr on WiFi.

For Rocket Player:

  • Their live list capability is a bit more limited that iTunes. Here are a few things that I noted:
    • iTunes smart playlists provide full equation capability — that is: a & b & (c | d) & (f | g). Live lists give each predicate an option of mandatory or optional, where “optional” means connected to the other predicates with an “or” (and that only really comes into play if there is one required component — if all are optional, you get the entire library)
    • There are conditionals available on iTunes, such as “starts with”, that are not available for live lists. Of course, Apple needs full regex matching, but that’s probably a reach.
    • There are fields you can test for in iTunes, such as the length of the track, that are not available for Live Lists. This was particularly annoying for me, as I have Smart Lists that partition my podcasts based on length, and I couldn’t reconstruct them in Rocket Player
  • One of these apps (I suspect Rocket Player) may be a battery drain. I noticed since adding the apps that the battery drains faster, but I haven’t fully figured out the culprit. It appears it may be Rocket Player, when it is in the foreground or rescanning the SD card. It appears to be managable. What is unknown if other players would be equally draining if they were the ones in the foreground and doing the scanning.

However, the biggest problem for both apps was, well, dealing with bigness. The programs do not work efficiently with very large libraries such as mine: 45,600 songs, playlists that are 20,000 songs, and at least 256GB in music and podcasts. iSyncr originally took an hour or two to process the playlists to sync. By tinkering with which playlists I transfer (and recreating the smart playlists and live lists and not transferring them), I’ve gotten the time down to 15-30 minutes.  Rocket Player takes a long time to start up and recognize the music, and an even longer time to scan for new music. Some of this may be due to the Android media library, but I don’t think that’s the entire picture. I think they tested in on smaller libraries and it worked just fine; my library is an anomaly and very large.

Given that the products are (currently) a backup, and that I only plan to sync once a day when it is near my computer, the faults are not insurmountable. Still, they are annoying (and thus the 4½⭐ rating). I hope that they can improve the efficiency and user interface of these products in the future.

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