🎰 Ain’t There No More, Vegas Style

We have a timeshare in Kaanapali Hawaii. I mention that because we rarely go there; normally we swap the time to stay someplace in driving distance of Los Angeles. I did that recently, spending a week at the Jockey Club in Las Vegas. The facility has an interesting history. Built in 1974 before the big building boom, it was built as a condominium (one of the first on the strip), and originally had a restaurant, high end shops, tennis courts, and plans for a casino. In 1977, they started selling timeshares. In 2004, they sold the undeveloped land and surface parking lot to a group that, after some ownership change, built the Cosmopolitan. But the Jockey Club remains, surrounded on three sides, because it will be impossible to get 14,000 owners (condos and timeshare) to ever agree on selling the buildings. It will ever be this outpost of 1980s Vegas surrounded by a town that has grown and changed around it.

I found the history of the Jockey Club interesting because one of my many hobbies is the history of Las Vegas. When we think of Las Vegas, what comes to mind is the Vegas of the late 1950s to perhaps 1980: the Vegas of neon signs on the strip. The Vegas of headliners and lounges. The Vegas with showgirls. The Vegas with name hotels like the Frontier, Sands, Flamingo, Sahara, Thunderbird, Dunes, Desert Inn. The Vegas of the Rat Pack. That Swingin’ town. The Vegas where the people had class, and dressed up. Oh, and the mob and Howard Hughes.

That Vegas is dead. That Vegas was built on hotels that had personality, that were built with an acceptable scale. They were different, each with their own character. They had unique signs, and unique people and stories behind them. But today that’s not the case. They are all massive boxes with no architectural character, and as you move from one to the next you often can’t tell you are in a different hotel. It doesn’t make that much of a difference, because they are owned by the same corporation. Rooms are the same. The pools and restaurants all feel the same. The signs are all large TV screens. “Residencies” are in massive arenas, and shows are pulsing rock music — often in rooms leased to the promoters and not programmed by the hotel. The Vegas is 2020 is nothing like the Vegas of 1960.

But as a student of history on vacation, I asked: What is left of the old Vegas. I knew the structures that were left. The answer was “not much”. There are some two story garden wings left at the Tropicana. There’s the casino at Circus Circus (circus building). There are the bones of the towers at the Sahara or Westgate (International). In terms of structure, that’s it. Although the names of the Flamingo and Caesars and Sahara live on, none of the original buildings, in their original form, are there. As for the signs? The oldest signs left (excluding Fremont Street) are the Flamingo sign (dating to 1970) and the Circus Circus clown (late 1960s). That’s it. Not much of the old town. Want the neon. Go to the museum.  The only part of old Vegas that remains is the racism under the surface.

ETA: Here are two good resources that sent me down a fun rabbit hole: (1) Mountain West Digital Library: Historical Maps of Las Vegas;  (2) Historical Maps at NDOT. UNLV also has some great digital collections.

Being a highway guy, I decided to see if I could drive and find the old Vegas. I went out W Bonanza looking for evidence of the famed Moulin Rogue. There’s nothing. An empty lot across from the LVRJ space. I could only figure it out from the mural. I went S and W out old 95: Fremont St, Charleston, Boulder Highway. The Showboat is gone, to be replaced by apartments. The big casinos near Henderson are new. You could only tell the old highway by the remaining motor courts and used car lots, many of which are derelict. The few of those that remained on old 91, by the way, are being killed by the highway work being done on LV Blvd by the City of Las Vegas. There are remnants of the neon, but not much.

I tried to imagine what my parents or grandparents saw driving into the town. I have only vague memories of that time, coming out for a Shriners Convention at the Aladdin in the mid 1970s. Vast expanses of desert. Billboards for Foxy’s Deli. SIgns with the headliners. All gone. Even the Stuckey’s by the side of the road are gone.

Do I enjoy Vegas today? To some extent, but more to explore the history and the art. The casinos are just a room; the gambling of no interest other than the math and people watching. The shows tend to be “meh”: certainly not the nice dinner shows of old.

What is it to gain a resort, and lose its soul?


On The Road Again

As I plan my summer vacation, travel is on my mind. So here is some news chum related to travel, with some articles you might find of use:



Confederate Statues and Route 66

While riding along Route 66 and stopping for lunch in Seligman, AZ, an odd thought popped into my mind. It was amplified, a bit, by listening to a 99% Invisible Podcast on a Plaque for Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis. That podcast pointed out that monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place.

I noted in a past post how many towns along Route 66 are dying or waning, but have a growing business in Route 66 tourism. There are loads and loads of Tourist / Money Separators being produced with variants of the Route 66 logo. But there’s no love for Route 6 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 99. There’s just a little love for the Lincoln Highway (US 30 / US 40). Why so much love for Route 66?

But then I began to think about the nostalgia, and who you see in the material. I thought about the Green Book, the guide for Negro motorists that told them where it was safe to travel. I thought about the implicit Jim Crow rules in many states, and wondered how many Negros and minorities traveled US 66. Remember, the heyday that is being remembered is from the Steinbeck days to the Eisenhower era and the starting of the Interstates. That was the period of loads of discrimination, even in non-Southern states (think about Las Vegas and the Casinos, for example).

I then begin to think about Trump, “Make America Great Again”, and the nostalgia for the “Good ‘Ol Days”. Often, that is code speak for the days when men had the privilege, when more specifically, white men had the privilege. The 1930s through 1950s, those “Happy Days” that were lily white, except for that jungle rock music.

And so I wondered: Could the Route 66 nostalgia be similar to Confederate Statues? Could it be a veiled longing for when America was last perceived to be great, the days when minorities were in their place, when the White Male breadwinner could get behind the wheel of his gleaming Buick or Chevrolet and motor down the road, secure in the knowledge that they could find a clean motor court that would accept them, and gas stations with servile attendants to address their every need. Even during the dustbowl migration, when the great road was a path for survival, it was survival for the White Farmers escaping Kansas, looking for work in the fields of California, which didn’t have the need to import those braceros.

I thought about it, and the romance of the Mother Road wasn’t quite so romantic anymore. Bringing down the statues is raising awareness of many other ways of memorializing.



The Evolution of the Hotel

Subaru UserpicAs we drove the “Mother Road” and along other former US highways and byways (US 6, US 151, US 30, etc), I couldn’t help but notice the evolution of the roadside motel and its branding. In the early days of the US highway system, things were mom and pop motels, local to the area. In the heydays of the Interstate and as the US system was bypassed, these became chains like Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and Holiday Inn.

Today? We’ve seen very few Travelodges, Best Western has gone upscale and the motels have lost their “individually owned” character. We’ve seen nary a highway Holiday Inn. The old motels have moved their affiliations to American’s Best Value Inn, Knights Inn, and Budget Host, to name a few (the first two are now the budget brands of Wyndham). These brands seem to take the old hotels and keep them viable with a network, but leave the improvements up to the owner. Former budget chains — Ramada, Holiday Inn, etc., have gone upscale and disgorged their older properties. Perhaps the franchisee requirements and new standards were impossible for the older hotels to meet.

When looking at highway motels, it is clear which are loved, which are not, which are attempts to make money, and which are dying. It is easy to see the growing conformity of the franchise — travelers know what they get, and often pay extra for that conformity. Yet in our travels we’ve seen the hotelier who loves the business, and who care about their customers, and those are still nice to see. So is it still worthwhile to see out the individual hotel, the unique, the special? I think so, but I note that you can find that even in some chain hotels (as we did).


Get Your Kicks on Route 66

We just got back from a long roadtrip: Los Angeles to Madison WI to St. Louis MO and back. We went out through the mountains (I-15 to I-70 to I-76 to I-80 to US 151), down through the heartland (I-39/90 to I-39 to I-55 to I-270), and back along former US Route 66 (I-44 to I-40 to I-15, with numerous digressions to the historical route). Here are a few observations on the trip:

  • Nevada/Arizona (I-15). Although the stretch to Las Vegas is well known, the drive further N through the canyons before St. George UT is beautiful. The Arizona stretch of I-15 is interesting when you understand that there is no accessibility to it from elsewhere in Arizona — ADOT must get to it through either NV or UT. In any case, the chiseling out of those canyons was remarkable, and it is just a great drive. I’ll also note that Nevada DOT does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Utah (I-15/I-70). The stretch of UT up to I-70 was an interesting drive, but even more interesting was I-70 through Utah. It was some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen — bluffs and plateaus and wonderful rock formations. Kudos to those who constructed the highway in this area for their hard work, and just imagine how hard it was for pre-Interstate travelers. The views are just spectacular, and the vista points are worth the stop. UDOT also does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Colorado (I-70). The stretch in Colorado between Grand Junction and Denver is spectacular as you drive along the origins of the mighty Colorado river, and through beautiful mountains and passes. Just… wow.  Also, we could tell we were moving east as the houses changed from stucco and brick to siding and brick. This is one stretch of I-70 with little to no cellular reception, at least W of Denver through Vail.
  • Colorado/Nebraska (I-76, I-80). This stretch is dull country. Flat fields of corn. You would tend to think of the plains as vast openness. Well, it is, plus corn and cows. The small towns are, well, small. Driving these roads, however, you can begin to get a sense of where Trump’s support comes from. These are very heterogeneous communities: mostly the same race, the same background, the same church. They have been hit hard by economic woes, by the money moving to the urban coastal towns, by the jobs that the legal immigrants are willing to take and do (and they don’t see in the faces the distinction between legal and illegal, so they are lumped together). The other — the person from outside their community, from outside their frame of reference — is to be feared, and Trump just played to that. I don’t think we saw a single synagogue in the small towns; the Jewish population must be negligible. This, I think, emphasizes the point that the best solution to racism is eliminating the bars of segregation. Intermingling changes people from “the other” to “my neighbor” — and it is true for race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or any other point of division you can think of.
  • Iowa (I-80). Rolling hills of farmland. It was weird driving it at night, seeing all the red lights on the wind farm towers without the ability to see them for what they were. Landing lights? Power lines? Nope, wind farm. I hadn’t realized how hilly Iowa was. Driving through Cedar Rapids on our way up US 151 to Dubuque was a land of farms, leading us into picturesque Wisconsin. We stayed at a small motel in Stuart, just outside of Des Moines. This was an example of a well-cared for old motel, unlike the motel in Julesberg CO.
  • Wisconsin (US 151). This is what farmland should look like. Postcard perfect. Beautiful country. Great cheese. Most importantly, it is where are daughter is, so “Go Badgers!”. Driving around the UW-Madison campus showed how pretty it was, and the town was easy to navigate.
  • Illinois (I-90, I-39, I-55, US 66). Our first impression of Illinois was having their hand out for a toll road: I-90 for the segment before I-39 splits off. After that, it was farmland, and highway signs that were much too wordy. We followed US 66 in some stretches paralleling I-55 for a bit, and it was well marked, although many of the 66 towns were dying or clearly dependent on 66 tourism. This was on the day of the eclipse, which we really didn’t see as we were in Rochelle IL where it was very cloudy. We did, however, see the incredible traffic on I-55 between St. Louis and Bloomington — all the people returning from viewing the eclipse. Bumper to bumper.
  • Missouri (I-270, I-44). First, I must note that St. Louis and its suburbs is still one of my favorite cities, and home to some of my favorite people. Driving through the Ozarks was interesting: I hadn’t realized that it was so forested and there were so many trees and streams. Beautiful country.
  • Kansas (US 66). We took US 66 out of Joplin because Oklahoma doesn’t make their turnpike prices and policies easy to find for tourists. This meant we actually traversed the portion of US 66 that cuts a corner of Kansas. These are towns that are clearly facing away thanks to the rerouting of 66.
  • Oklahoma (US 66, I-44, I-40). As noted above, Oklahoma does not make turnpike policies easy to find, and so we tried to follow 66. That didn’t always work, especially in Miami OK where 66 isn’t signed well when it meets US 59/69. This lead us in the wrong direction, and then nav took us even further afield. We eventually make it to Tulsa, however, and then to Oklahoma City where we were finally turnpike free. I-40 and following US 66 was much easier W of OK City, where it is signed as OK 66. Long flat prairie. Lots of dying towns.
  • Texas (I-40, US 66). US 66 was pretty easy to follow in Texas. Again, long flat prairie, with towns dependent on US 66. Amarillo had a load of construction along I-40 that made it hard to follow the frontage road. I really hate the frontage road onramps to I-40 that are neither well-marked, nor provide safe access. Only in Texas would the hotels have waffle makers shaped like Texas. I did have fun playing a lot of “I’m leaving Texas” songs as we left the state.  I did try to find the Cadillac Ranch, although I couldn’t find the cars.
  • New Mexico (I-40, US 66). Long, flat, and straight. That’s I-40 in New Mexico E of Albuquerque, with the occasional ride through US 66 towns such as Tucumcari. Albuquerque is neat: they are preserving the Route 66 neon along Central Ave, even if they aren’t preserving the buildings. There is also an incredible amount of public art in the city. Central Ave is really gentrifying. We also knew we were back in the West again, as stucco reemerged. The NM-DOT interchanges in Albuquerque are also quite nice; however, they make it a real pain to get on the freeway with the long frontage roads — especially near the I-25 / I-40 interchange. I’ve also decided that Santa Fe exists to separate wealthy people from their money. West of Albuquerque is flatland, with increasing bluffs and some lovely Route 66 diversions in both Grant and Gallop. Former trading posts along Route 66 were being replaced by Native American Casinos (I’m guessing slot machines are an easier way to separate tourists from their money than selling pottery and blankets). There are still Native American stores near the highway, and a few of the “old school” shops exist in the larger Route 66 cities. However, the merchandise seems mostly to be the same everywhere (including the jewelry), making me wonder how much is Native American made, vs. Native American ordered. New Mexico does a pretty good job of signing historic Route 66, but it is clear that many of the towns are highly dependent on Route 66 tourism and nostalgia — and there are so many dead / dying motels and gas stations. One other oddity: Unleaded gas is 86 octane in both Texas and New Mexico, not the 87 we’ve come to expect — which is a pain when your manual insists on 87 or higher.
  • Arizona (I-40, US 66). In many areas, the old 66 trading posts still exist, and seem nicer than the touristy ones. We particularly liked the ones just across the AZ/NM border in Lupton AZ. As we noted in NM, a lot of the old trading posts have been upsized into full casinos to separate the tourist from their money. We did take a number of US 66 diversions, especially those that were also Business I-40 loops. This included the classic towns like Holbrook and Winslow. Loads of loads of dead motels along the way (and dead gas stations). Were I still in the photography mode, there could be some beautiful photo-essays there. I still remember the dead outposts at Meteor City (the exit before the actual crater), Fort Courage, and a number along the path in Holbrook and Winslow. However, classic trading posts such as those in Lupton and the Jackrabbit are still around. As the “Route 66” song says, we didn’t forget Winona, although it was very forgettable — perhaps two gas stations. It was also well off the road and not on a Business 40 routing — you took County 515 up past Winona to US 89, and then US 89 into Flagstaff. Given there is a different routing now for former 66, I think the routing past Winona was an older one from perhaps the 40s, and was replaced by a more southerly routing that leaves 40 near exit 204 (then again, it could have been that Winona was near the highway, and was so dead with missed it and thought it was further up the mountain). and well off the road). ADOT doesn’t do pretty interchanges, and tends not to maintain old 66 except in the major Business 40 towns.
  • California. It is so nice to see postmiles and Botts Dots again (even though the latter is going away). California is doing a better job of signing Historic Route 66 along I-40, although it tends to spell it out vs. using the historic sign. However, they refuse to use the Business I-40 shield: they would rather spell it out. Seeing the SBD CR 66 sign reminded me of my role in getting that route created: they came to me for the sign specifications (and it should have been either N-66, P-66, R-66, or S-66 to be proper, given the county group). There are many dead hotels and gas stations in Needles, and an increasing number in Barstow. Next stop: Home!

We also noticed, along the road, the dearth of decent coffee shops. You only found good local coffee and tea — or even marginal Starbucks — in the larger cities. At the truck stops and gas stations along the major interstates — no decent coffee. In many of the small and dying towns — no decent coffee. It appears that Starbuck-style coffee shops, as opposed to diner-style coffee shops, only exist in areas with sufficient disposal income.

As for our thoughts on where we stayed, which will eventually go into reviews:

  • La Quinta, St. George UT. Very nice hotel. Some portions were under-construction, but no big deal. Very pet friendly, nice breakfast. In fact, it was so pet friendly that they had a “pet row” on the first floor; it turned out that next to us was the wife an Aerospace employee with her pet. It reminded how much we liked the La Quinta chain; when we last did Route 66 we stayed at a number of their properties.
  • Motel 6, Grand Junction CO. Cheap and clean, although you paid extra for the WiFi. Spartan furnishings, but worked well for the pet. And I do mean Spartan: thin smaller towels (but clean), lighter blankets, not updated for a lot of plugs, paying extra for the wi-fi, smaller rooms. But they were clean and everything worked. Motel 6 is what it advertises itself to be: clean and cheap. But that is also why we normally don’t stay there, except when I’m having to pay for two rooms and to have a pet-friendly motel.
  • Budget Host Platte Valley Inn, Julesburg CO. An old highway motel, pet friendly but that’s about it. Restaurant closed, about to reopen. Our daughter’s room smelled of animal urine (as the pet room), but then had a roof leak from an air conditioner so they moved her. Bathroom skimpy. The place needs some TLC. No working ice machine. Note that there are no restaurants nearby, and the ones somewhat close are closed by 8pm. Your best bet is to go to Big Bs Bar and Grill in Ovid — we had some great ribs there. (It turns out they used to run the restaurant at the hotel, but that’s a long story)
  • Stuart Motor Lodge, Stuart IA. Yet another old highway motel, but this one was loved. Nice room, nice amenities. Clean and cared for. Yelp reports it as closed, but it is open and we liked it quite a bit. I did get a chuckle from the sign at checkin that indicated that locals could not stay in the hotel. Hmmm. As for the hotel: Nothing particularly fancy, but we didn’t require fancy. It worked very well for my daughter’s dog.
  • Best Western East Towne Suites, Madison WI. The first hotel that didn’t need to be pet friendly. Nice, clean, comfortable, with a good breakfast. Good location: near I-90, and easy to get to our daughter’s room with lots of shopping nearby. When we go back to Madison, we’ll certainly consider this place.
  • Comfort Inn and Suites, St. Louis (Westport) MO. Not as nice as the reviews made it out to be. The Ice machine on the first floor wasn’t working, and the parking left a lot to be desired. We had some sort of water leak near the A/C that we realized the 2nd day, which left our room a bit musty. Still, for what we were doing, the location was nice.
  • Country Inn, Tulsa OK. Nice hotel with nice personnel. Decent breakfast. We’ve always liked this chain. They were easy to get to.
  • Sleep Inn and Suites, Amarillo TX. What is it with the Choice Hotel chain and water? First the door key wouldn’t work, so they moved us to a different (and much nicer room). Kudos to the very receptive front desk staff on duty that evening. This would have been great… except that there was a water leak by the A/C that left 1/3 of the room with a sopping floor, and although there was a TV for the in-room whirlpool, there were no controls for the TV. The Waffles were in the shape of Texas — only in Texas. Alas, the front desk staff didn’t stay good: we never got a receipt because the front desk clerk couldn’t be bothered to do it, insisting instead that our third-party booking company (AAA) would send us one. They never did.
  • Econolodge Old Town, Albuequerque NM. One of the nicer motels we’ve been at — good breakfast, good people. This was clearly an older hotel that had been updated by an owner that cared about the property. They even had posole out in the evening for guests, and made their typical breakfast very nice. One oddity: Their wireless network keeps changing its identification from “Econolodge N” to “Econolodge N+1”. We’re now up to 4. This isn’t a new network, mind you — you stay connected, you don’t have to re-login. It seems to be just a new name. The water problem here? The vanity sink drained slow — that was about it. So Econolodge was the best of the Choice chain.
  • Green Tree Inn, Flagstaff AZ. Nice room, no identifiable problems (except for the couple in the room next to us who were loud). The hotel has gone green, meaning pump bottles of amenities instead of little bottles. They also had an interesting stall shower instead of the usual tub/shower combination. They also had the largest bath towels of any of the hotels on this trip — a win in my book.  They were the only hotel to provide two luggage racks — another plus. They were in this area with loads of hotels off former 66, right next to I-40 where I-17 ends, over by NAU.
  • River Valley Inn, Needles CA. This is an older Route 66 hotel, but again well maintained. No breakfast. The room did have a ceiling fan, which was useful. But clean room (modulo the occasional small desert flying bug that goes with the territory), well insulated, that didn’t cost much.

On the whole, we put almost 4900 miles on the car in just under 3 weeks. The Subaru was a champ on the road, although it did have a bit of effort at the higher altitudes. But then again, so did I. The best full tank “milage to empty” was 690; typically it was between 500-560. A few more Mother Road observations in some follow-on posts.


Travel and Transit Chum

Continuing to clear out some articles, here’s some travel and transit related articles:



HFF17 Batch 2: The Heart Change | 86’d | Insuppressible/Leah Rimini

userpic=fringeYesterday, we saw our second batch of Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) shows: Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change, 86’d , and Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story. Unlike our first Fringing day, there was nary a clunker in the bunch. We found parking for the first two easy, and were able to pick up our Fringe pins at Fringe Central without difficulty. The only sour spots for the day were our continuing headaches, and the parking ticket I got in West Hollywood for not being precisely within the parking space markings. Cost of doing business, I guess — I haven’t had one in over 20 years. On to our first show….


The Heart Change - INK Theater (Hollywood Fringe)We selected Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change because the description sounded so interesting: here was a show not only with kids as actors, but the kids wrote it, designed it, choreographed it, designed it — it was basically a creative project for a bunch of kids ages 7-12. The subject was also interesting: “When a group of kids have to face a crabby Hollywood director and realize just how powerful they are. ” Shows done by kids are usually fun at Fringe – witness last year’s Titus Andronicus Jr. – so this had good potential.

I’m pleased to say that I sat through this entire show smiling. No, by adult standards, it was far from perfect. Some jokes were sophomoric, the story was a bit simplistic and stereotyped, and there was a bit of caricature/overacting in the performance. But these kids aged 7-12. For their ages and what they did it was remarkable.

Last week I saw adults in a show that was painful because of the potential squandered. This week, I saw kids in a show that was imperfect, and all I could see is the potential-to-be.

The basic story the kids developed is this — insert the appropriate suspension of belief. Hollywood director is forced by his studio to make a movie with kids. He hates kids, and needs the money. The kids audition and get the movie, but problems arise immediately between the kid’s personality/sense of entitlement and the director’s desire to control. It doesn’t end well, and the kids quit the production. But the cameraman relates the story of one of the kids, and as the director and the kids learn more about what is driving them and what their behavior was making, they have a change of heart and learn to work together.

This is a story written by kids under 12. Pretty remarkable isn’t it. It also contained three songs, performed by the kids on-stage, and a dance.

There were also some great performances. You’ll have to excuse my imprecision here: there were no photos in the program, and these kids don’t have an internet presence yet (being under 13), so I can’t necessarily put names with the performances I liked. There was a little black kid who kept spouting scientific stuff about nutrition and eating tomatoes who was just hilarious. I also liked the two girls who sung — such a great effort (I think they were Bela Salazar and Caytlin McKinney). One girl kept reminding me of my niece with her vocal style and behavior (this is in a good way), and the two kids who played the baboons were just hilarious. This was just a delight to watch.

The cast consisted of: Olivia Brumit – Alexandria; Stephen Ramsey – Bob; Sienna Sullivan – Charlotte, Waiter; Emma Patti – Eliza Jane; Malachi Turnbull – Jacob; Gael Bary – John Pierre; Ruby Miller – Luna; Bela Salazar – Mercedes; Nadia Gray – Ms. George; Zoe Gray – Nelly; Terydan Green – Roberto; Caytlin McKinney – Sunshine; and Tegan Linehan – Toby.

Credited adult supervision was Rachel Kiser (FB) – Director; Sarah Cook (FB) – Producer / Choreography Coach; and Erin Hall (FB) – Acting Coach / Stage Manager.

There is one more performance of The Heart Change, today at 7:00pm. If you enjoy watching kids with potential — hell, if you enjoy just watching incredibly cute kids on stage — go see this.


86'd (Hollywood Fringe)The second show that we saw was, 86’d, a one-woman show about life in the service industry — something every actors supposedly knows because being a waitron is supposedly one of the best subsistence jobs. I went into this show expecting it to be a one-woman monologue of vignettes. Instead, Co-writer and performer Courtney Arnett (FB) presented a series of scenes from what was ostensibly her life as a server at a restaurant called “Sweats”.

These vignettes begin when she has been working a double shift, and gets assigned a clueless newbie to train. They continue through the life of the restaurant, its decline, its rebirth as a new venue with the same chef and staff, until that venue’s eventual decline and closing. It ends, fittingly, with her being the newbie at a new restaurant.

During the saga, we get to see how a life such as this doesn’t permit her life to go on. She may meet bartenders and busboys and chefs, but her reason for moving to Los Angeles is never achieved, and she never achieves her goals of family either.

However, that is the character in the story. My hopes for this actress, however, are much more. In this production, she demonstrated a remarkable singing voice, great comic timing, wonderful expressions, and an easy-going way of relating to the audience. We found the show very enjoyable, providing a different view of those servers we see every day.

The title, “86’d”, refers to a term used in the restaurant industry for running out of a food or service items (e.g., “We’re 86’d on the haddock today.”). Early in the show, the running joke is that everything on the menu is 86’d except for the hamburger, fries, and Miller Lite.

86’d was cowritten by Julia Meltzer (FB), who also directed the piece. Courtney Arnett (FB) created the piece. It was produced by Terri Arnett, Rachel Germaine (FB★; FB) [who was checking us in at the door], and Matt Robinson. Music was by Kait Hickey and Ariana Lenarsky (FB). Tech by Colin Johnson (FB).

86’d has 3 more performances: Wednesday June 14th @ 700pm; Monday, June 19th @ 830pm, and Friday, June 23rd @ 1130pm. It plays at Studio C as the Asylum, which is right next to “The Complex” group of theatres near Fringe Central.


Insuppressible - The Absolutely Unauthorized Leah Remini Story (Hollywood Fringe)The last show we saw yesterday was Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story at The Actors Company facility in West Hollywood. Yes, this is where I received the love note from the West Hollywood Traffic Force for not being exactly between the lines. Not worth contesting, but something others should note when visiting this venue. Perhaps they were agents of David Miscavige, mad about my seeing this show.

Going in, my only knowledge of Scientology was what I picked up by listening to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. I had heard roughly about the disappearance of David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, but hadn’t followed the Leah Remini (FB) series. My wife, however, had.

[ETA: I completely forgot, until the tweet with this writeup was re-tweeted, that we saw Squeeze My Cans at last year’s HFF. That show was one woman’s story of how she got drawn into the tar-baby that is Scientology, how she worked her way into the upper tiers of the religions, and how she eventually escaped its grasp. Not only did this effort take more than a decade, it decimated her finances. Quite interesting to think about, when paired with this musical.]

Insuppressible started late due to the previous show running late (this is Fringe, folks); I’m sure the show after us was late due to the same shift, plus the confetti left by this show. I’m glad to say, however, the show was worth the wait.

I went into the show, for some reason, thinking that his would be  a one-woman musical. Far from it. This was a large cast (8) musical, executed well, with strong song and dance, and great effects. This was the exact opposite of Robot Monster: The Musical. This is a good thing.

Insuppressible tells, in five scenes, the story of Leah Remini’s path through Scientology. It opens with her making friends with Shelly, and Shelly to encourage her to persue her dream of acting. It then moves to her professional pinnacle in King of Queens, and her being a Scientology Celebrity up there with Tom Cruise. It then moves to the wedding of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, where all the resentment that Remini has with Scientology starts to bubble up, leading to her split with the group. It ends with her getting the courage to leave Scientology and go onto a life of success or something close thereto.

This was a fringe show. Jeffrey McCrann (FB)’s book and Robert Hill (FB)’s music were relatively entertaining, although it is unclear if they could extend the piece into a fully-sustained two-act musical with a deeper book and connection of the songs to the inner turmoils of the characters as opposed to being more scene oriented. Still, it might be worth a try. I certainly didn’t sense the show dragging, although I would have liked to find out more what happened afterwards, and to see some more fleshing out of the beliefs of the group and how strange they are. But then I’m always for exposing strange rituals.

The performances were excellent. In the lead position was Leslie Rubino (FB) as Leah. We saw her a few weeks ago in Freeway Dreams, and again we were blown away by her talent, voice and sense of comic timing.  It is worth seeing this show alone just for her performance.

The remaining seven cast members all are strong. Jaimie Day/FB‘s Katie Holmes was mostly a caricature, but she was spectacular in her solo number “Katie and Tom”. A great LA theatre debut. There was just something about Tiffani Ann Mills (FB)’s Shelly Miscavige that was a delight to watch. Perhaps it was her believable friendship with Leah; perhaps it was her look; perhaps it was her singing in the opening number — in any case, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Libby Baker (FB)’s Mother was strong in the opening number, but then the writing moved her to more of a background role, although she was strong in “The Gaslighting Song”. Nicole Clemetson/FB‘s J-Lo was a hoot — I have no idea whether J-Lo acts like that in real life, but that’s how I want her to act.  Clemetson was also a strong singer. Lastly, of the female cast, Sohm Kapila (FB) was Nicole Kidman. She only had one scene as Nicole in the end and was good in that. Note that all of the actresses other than the lead were also in the ensemble in various scenes.

There were two male members of the cast: David Wilkins/FB as Tom Cruise and Milo Shearer/FB as David.  Both were strong performers and strong singers — they were particularly strong in “Matter, Energy, Space, and Time”.

Music was a mix of prerecorded music and on-stage music from Robert Hill (FB).

No credits were provided for choreography, set design, costumes, sound, lighting etc. With respect to those creative areas, a few observations. First, someone went crazy with the glitter glue. Second, I’m sure the production following this wanted to shoot this production for the on-stage confetti gun that left confetti everywhere. Third, there was some sort of sound problem that sounded like constant rain, which was annoying. Other than that, however, the costumes and props were clever, and the show fit in and out of the Fring requirements great.

The production was directed by Jeffrey McCrann (FB).

Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story continues at the Let Live Space at the Actors Company with four more performances: Sunday June 11 2017, 5:30 PM; Thursday June 15 2017, 8:30 PM; Friday June 23 2017, 11:30 PM; and Saturday June 24 2017, 4:00 PM. We found this to be a very enjoyable production, and predict you will as well. If not, well, there are always soup cans.


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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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.

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.


Finding Acceptance 👗 “Casa Valentina” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Casa Valentina (Pasadena Playhouse)userpic=pasadena-playhouseIn the last two years, we’ve seen remarkable strides in the acceptance arena. We’ve seen homosexuals get the right to be married; we’ve been able to observe the transformation of Wheaties Box Heroes from one gender to the other. We’ve seen acceptance of a wide range of sexual preference in society, from no preference at all (asexual) to traditional preference to non-traditional preferences. We’ve seen similar understanding (perhaps not full acceptance yet) of the full range of gender identities. But this hasn’t been comfortable for many; arguably, many wish for those simpler days when the roles and nature of the sexes were much more separate, and those roles and orientations that went against “what nature intended” were best hidden from sight.

The play Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein (FB), officially opening tonight for a run through April 10, 2016 at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) (which we saw last night) explores those days. It is based upon the true story of Casa Susana, a resort that existed in the Catskill Mountains of New York in the 1950s and early 1960s. The resort catered to men who wanted to release the girl within; in other words, it provided heterosexual men a place where they could endulge their desire to dress as women.  This is an era when homosexuality was firmly in the closet, and any inkling of transvestism except as humor tended to be an offense that could land you in jail. The genders, for the most part, were clearly distinct (and God meant them to be that way).

In the play, George (Valentina) and his wife Rita are the proprietors of Chevalier d’Eon, a resort in the Catskills catering to men who like to dress as women. We meet them when a first-timer, Jonathan, arrives for the weekend. He is greeted by Rita and Bessie (Albert), a large friendly girl. Both welcome him, and Bessie helps him get over his fear of transformation into his alter ego, Miranda. We shortly learn that this is a weekend when most of the regulars are present, because there is another special first time guest: Charlotte (Isadore). George arrives home, and during his transformation into Valentina provides more information. Charlotte is from California and is the publisher of a transvestite magazine for which Valentina regularly writes articles. Charlotte has an announcement that could be the savior of George, Rita, and the resort.  George also discusses with Rita the reason he arrived late: he was being questioned by the postal inspectors about an envelope of pictures of naked cross-dressing men that had been addressed to him. This worries Rita, and she asks him to discuss it with another of that weekend’s guests, Amy (The Judge).

Soon the other guests have arrived — Gloria (Michael) and Theodore (Terry) — and it is time for the announcement. Their informal sorority was going legit. Charlotte had incorporated it as a non-profit in California, and he just needed their legal (birth names) on a form to sign as officers. Discussion of the risks of this uncover that they are signing a second statement: that they are not homosexuals. It turns out that Charlotte is a strong advocate for transvestites and wants them to be accepted in society. To do this, he believes, they must disassociate themselves from the homosexual cross-dressers. He says something to the effect of: in 50 years, society will broadly accept the cross-dresser, while homosexuals will still be on the outside. Quite a telling line.  This requirement — to disavow homosexuals — essentially splits the group. I won’t go into the dynamics from there as it would spoil the story.

This notion — of hetrosexual transvestites — provides some of the most interesting discussions and characters of the story. Much of this centers around Rita, the wife of Valentina and the only GG (genuine girl) on stage for much of the show. What is her relationship to George? What is the relationships of the other characters with their wives? Through exploration of those questions, we begin to see the nature of transvestite relationship: the distinction between the relationship between the man and “the girl within” and their spouses.

All of this is told — as would be expected from Firestein — through loads of extremely humorous lines. This is a very funny play, as humor often comes from great pain. I should note the humor is not from the cross-dressing (as those who recall Milton Bearle or Flip Wilson might recall), but from commentary on life itself.

As I left the play, I had quite a few observations and “compare and contrasts” going through my head. The first was with the musical Dogfight, which we had seen earlier this year.  In the first half of Dogfight, the notion of Marines competing to find the ugliest woman, and possibly bed her against her will, just grated against today’s mores against non-consensual sex and how we treat women. Similarly, the notions expressed in Casa Valentina against cross-dressing and homosexuality grate against where society is today: where gays are accepted, and transgender has come out of the closet into something closer to a cultural norm.

The second comparison, which was related to the first, was seeing Casa Valentina in a triangle with two other shows: Feirstein’s Kinky Boots and the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Unlike what was hypothesized in the play, homosexuality has not remained on the outside. In much of the country, homosexuals are completely accepted. It is out in the open and dramatized on commercial TV. As for transvestites: although some still hold the view that many are gay, the efforts of the transgender movement has brought out into the open that some see themselves as female: women trapped in a male body. But this play doesn’t concern either of those: it deals with men with a clear male gender identity and clear heterosexuality just wanting to dress as women. In society today, there’s only one way such men are accepted: as drag queens. Does society accept men who just cross-dress and pass? Have we reached the To Wan Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar level? I’m not sure were there yet. Places like Casa Valentina no longer need to exist… or do they?

A final observation has to do with the ending, which is somewhat sudden and on an odd note. The play ends with a discussion between Rita and George about the nature of their relationship, and how it might differ from the relationship between George and Valentina. Rita knows she is George’s wife, but what is she to Valentina. The answer disturbs her, and we end the show with Rita slumped at the table, head in her hands.  It raises the question about how all this looks from the wives of such men: there is acceptance, but what is the relationship. Could be an interesting character study.

Overall, what is the impact of the story of Casa Valentina? On the surface, this is a very funny show. It is possible that the surface level is all that was meant. But I think the show has a deeper takeaway: it makes a statement about how society has grown and changes, and how what we predict might be the direction of grown might be very different from what actually happens. It demonstrates the power that fear of discovery can have, and makes us realize that we still have a ways to go for full acceptance. Lastly, it raises wonderful questions about the nature of our relationships: our relationship to the facets of our personality, as well as our relationships to our spouses and our friends.

Director David Lee leads the actors to a very natural performance.  He lets the actors draw the humor from the words, and doesn’t draw humor from the costumes. This leads to a very easygoing and humorous show. He has also worked to design the show around a gigantic house as opposed to a flat stage. I believe this amplifies the closeness of the quarters and the closeness of the men. It is a different way of staging the show from the pictures I have seen of other productions.

The actors themselves are excellent. I think the most interesting was Valerie Mahaffey (FB)’s Rita. There was some hidden depth to her character that came off through her performance that was fascinating. Just seeing her in relationship with the men and their girl alter-egos was fascinating. She was part wife, part sister, part confidant, part girl friend. A multilevel complex character, well portrayed.

I also enjoyed the performance of Raymond McAnally (FB; FB Actor Page) as Albert/Bessie.  When compared to the other actors, I think he inhabited his girl most completely. There was no sense that there was a man under the frock: this was a loving, open girl who was having fun and just being herself. This was a very open portrayal that made the character very accessible to the audience.

Christian Clemenson‘s Charlotte/Isadore perhaps did the best “crossing”: her portrayal of Charlotte was seamlessly female, and was a fascinating character to watch in her portrayal and her passion.

As for the other “girls” in the cast — James Snyder (FB)’s Jonathan/Miranda, Robert Mammana (FB)’s George/Valentina, Mark Jude Sullivan (FB)’s Michael/Gloria, Lawrence Pressman (FB)’s Theodore/Terry, and John Vickery (FB)’s The Judge/Amy — I’m trying to think if there are any portrayals that stick out in my mind… and there aren’t. They generally came across as men dressing as women and playing their characters. They were good, but none had that special something that transcended the line between the man and the girl.

Rounding out the cast was Nike Doukas as Eleanor, the Judge’s daughter, who only appeared in one scene. The understudies are Matthew Magnusson (FB) (Michael/Gloria, Jonathan/Miranda), Mark Capri (FB) (The Judge/Amy, Theodore/Terry, Albert/Bessie), and Sean Smith (FB) (George/Valentina, Charlotte/Isadore).

Turning to the production and creative team: The small amount of choreography in the show was provided by Mark Esposito; what was there worked well. The scenic design by Tom Buderwitz was mentioned previously: a gigantic house on a turntable that rotated to bring to the fore various rooms and locations. It worked well, but it was interesting following the actors through the rooms. The costumes (by Kate Bergh (FB)) and wigs (by Rick Geyer) were a key to this show: they worked well on their characters and did an excellent job of creating the illusion of femininity (or at least men dressing as women). The lighting was by Jared A. Sayeg (FB) and was up to his usual excellent standards. The sound design was by Philip G. Allen and consisted primarily of sound effects and recorded music, which worked well. Remaining technical and production credits: Mike Mahaffey (FB) — Fight Choreographer; Jeff Greenberg Casting — Casting; Jill Gold — Production Stage Manager; Julie Ann Renfro — Assistant Stage Manager; Joe Witt — General Manager; Christopher Cook — Production Manager; Brad Enlow — Technical Director. Sheldon Epps is the Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse.

Casa Valentina continues at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) through April 10. Tickets are available through the Pasadena Playhouse website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. I think this show is worth seeing.

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced their 2016-2017 season, and I’ve gone over it here. It may be worth subscribing, but I need to see their pricing. In the past, Playhouse season pricing has been expensive, and Goldstar has been the better option.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. 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 March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday, followed by A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) on Sunday.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We’re also considering the Voices/Rising concert from Muse/ique on April 3 in Alhambra. We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz (if we miss it at the Celebration), but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.