Songbird and Jazzmen | Kelli O’Hara / Wynton Marsalis @ VPAC

An Evening with Kelli O'Hara (VPAC)userpic=ucla-csunLast night, we continued our CSUN Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (fb) concert going with An Evening with Kelli O’Hara. If you aren’t familiar with Ms. O’Hara (fb), she’s a Broadway star who has starred in such revivals as the recent of The King and I, the recent South Pacific, the Harry Connick Jr. version of The Pajama Game, as well as originating lead roles in shows such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Light in the Piazza. She’s also got an upcoming role in Masters of Sex, and was in the live Peter Pan.

This being a concert, I really don’t have a detailed synopsis to share, nor did I keep a detailed set list. She opened with two Rogers & Hammerstein numbers — “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I and “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific, and then moved into “To Build a Home” from Bridges of Madison County.  Over the evening she did numbers from a number of other shows she was in: “The Light in the Piazza” from The Light in the Piazza, one song from Sweet Smell of Success (I’m guessing “I Cannot Hear the City”), and “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George. She also did a song about New York from some Sondheim show that I didn’t recognize, two songs that she wrote, one song that her husband, Greg Naughton, wrote, and one song that her music director, Dan Lipton (fb), wrote. She also sang some Frank Sinatra standards, and the Comden/Green tune “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi. Her encore was “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

If you’re familiar with the songs, she had a distinct preference for the slower romantic ballads; there were only a handful of upbeat numbers (including a great number (the one from Lipton) that was about a Country Western singer doing Opera). In between the songs, she shared her experience and career on Broadway, told a little about her family, and discussed her upcoming show at Carnegie Hall.

The songs in her perhaps 100 minute, one-act show were performed beautifully (although I wished she had interspersed more upbeat numbers). In fact, interspersion of such numbers might allow her to expand the show to the two acts the audience was expecting, and would have improved the variety quite a bit. Her dialogue was very fast, and gave the impression that she was likely a bit more nervous than she was. Although she was clearly comfortable on stage, she didn’t have that easy concert comfort we’ve seen from performers like Lea Salonga or Brian Stokes Mitchell, who we’ve also seen on the VPAC stage. If I had to give her one piece of advice to improve her show, it would be: relax. The audience is there to see you, and have fun with you. Although you love singing the ballads and love songs, have some fun. Throw in some upbeat numbers (perhaps even something Jazzy from Cy Coleman, or something humorous from Marcy and Zina). As you were in Nice Work, throw in a little Gershwin for good measure. The mix could work quite well.

Kelli O’Hara was accompanied by her music director, Dan Lipton (fb), on piano; Peter Donovan (fb) on Bass, and Gene Lewin (fb) on Drums.


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (VPAC)Last week I was so caught up in my political posts I neglected to write up our other recent VPAC show. Last Saturday night we were at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. This was an evening that I originally booked because my wife likes jazz; I was expecting Bradford Marsalis style music — you know, the long riff, improvisational, non-melodic wandering jazz. I was very pleased with this evening — it was a great show. Alas, I didn’t write down a playlist (but luckily I found a review that did)

The evening opened with the CSUN Jazz “A” ensemble. Most people are unaware that CSUN has one of the top jazz programs in the nation. If you’ve heard Gordan Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (fb), you’re hearing a product of CSUN Jazz. Goodwin was part of CSUN Jazz back in the mid-1970s. If you’ve heard Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (fb), you’re looking at yet again a product of CSUN Jazz, as most of the members of CSUN Jazz graduates. The current Jazz “A” Group (who, as it happens, will be the entertainment at the ACSAC Conference Dinner),  consist of 20 students led by Matt Harris (fb), the band director. Their program (which was the first act) consisted of “Just in Time”, “Hello and Goodbye” by Bob Brookmeyer, and “Neil” by Rich DeRosa.  They were excellent, and just blew us away.

Per the program, the CSUN “A” Band consisted of Ben McPeek (fb) and Zakaria Solotoff (fb) on Alto Sax; Jordan Leicht (fb) and Lucas Reeder (fb) on Tenor Sax; Jeff Brown (fb) on Bari Sax; Michael Gutierrez (fb) on Lead Trumpet; Garek Najita (fb), Jesse Seibold (fb), Cesar Hernandez (fb), and Marco Lopez (fb) on Trumpet; A. J. Asano (fb) on Lead Trombone; Chris Middleton (fb), Carl Engstrom (fb), and Ryan Ruder (fb) on Trombone; Adam Hersh (fb) on Piano; Miles McIntosh (fb) and Keelan Walters (fb) on Guitar; Daniel Massey (fb) on Bass; and Kirk Portuguez (fb) on Drums.

The second act was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (fb) with Wynton Marsalis (fb), who sat in the back row and was very unpreposing. Their program consisted of a lot of Jazz standards — in particular, a lot of Duke Ellington, and was much more of the style of jazz that I quite like (i.e., with a melodic or rhythmic undertone). The review I found noted such songs as Ellington’s “Portrait of Louis Armstrong” as well as Ellington’s “Chinoserie”. There was a wonderful piece from alto saxophonist Ted Nash’s recent album Presidential Suite titled “The Time For Healing of Wounds Has Come.” from Nelson Mandela. Nash’s 92 year old father, Dick Nash, then joined the group for Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” and a few other numbers, demonstrating the multigenerational nature of modern jazz. There was also Thelionius Monk‘s “Rhythm A Ning”.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (fb) consisted of Wynton Marsalis (fb) [Music Director, Trumpet]; Ryan Kisor [Trumpet], Kenny Rampton (fb) [Trumpet]; Marcus Printup (fb) [Trumpet]; Vincent Gardner (fb) [Trombone]; Chris Crenshaw (fb) [Trombone]; Elliot Mason (fb) [Trombone]; Sherman Irby (fb) [Alto and Soprano Sox, Flute, Clarinet], Ted Nash (fb) [Alto and Soprano Sax, Flute, Clarinet]; Victor Goines (fb) [Tenor and Soprano Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet]; Walter Blanding (fb) [Tenor and Soprano Sax, Clarinet]; Paul Nedzela (fb) [Baritone and Soprano Sax; Bass Clarinet]; Dan Nimmer (fb) [Piano]; Carlos Henriquez (fb) [Bass]; and Ali Jackson (fb) [Drums].

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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 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).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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 evening sees us in Thousand Oaks for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-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: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. 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.