🛣 Headlines About California Highways – February 2022

February. Short month. Lots of headlines. Before we get to it, folks, just a reminder to keep doing what you’re doing. Numbers are going down, and that’s a good thing. Of course, that’s not our only worry these days. Please send strength–however you send strength–to Ukraine. May the people be strong and safe; may the country stand against this unwarranted aggression.

With that, let’s get to the roads.

P.S. Expect the Highway Page updates in the next day or two.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • Coronado Bridge Suicide Deterrent Project (District 11/FB). We’re releasing the Coronado Bridge Suicide Deterrent Project study for community review. A suicide barrier would be installed from the Bayshore Bikeway in the City of Coronado to Newton Avenue in the City of San Diego. The official comment period runs from January 31 to March 1st.
  • Calaveras County Bridge Replacement Project (District 10/FB). Do you want a public meeting on changes proposed for the Calaveras County Bridge Replacement Project on State Route 12 in Calaveras County? Public comment will be accepted from February 3 to March 4, 2022. For more information, click on the flyer or visit the Caltrans, District 10 website at dot.ca.gov/d10/projects.html.
  • Caltrans seeks feedback in highway projects between Butte, Sacramento (actionnewsnow.com). Caltrans is looking for feedback from the community on a proposed project that could improve Highway 70 and Highway 99 between Butte and Sacramento counties. During a survey feedback in September, Caltrans developed a list of 80 proposed highway improvement projects for the corridor. Included in that list are new freeway interchanges, expanding park and ride capacity, designated bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways, and more highway or turn lanes.
  • Rehab project completed ahead of schedule (Antelope Valley Press). With traffic cruising by on the already completed southbound lanes of State Route 14, Caltrans and local officials celebrated the completion of the Rosamond-Mojave Rehabilitation Project, months ahead of schedule. Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was held on the still-closed northbound lanes of the highway. They are expected to be fully opened Feb. 10, which will return the highway to a four-lane, divided route between Rosamond and Mojave.
  •  San Jose ditches Charcot Extension Overpass near school (Mercury News). In a major victory for parents and teachers who fiercely fought the idea, a longtime plan to build a new overpass next to a primary school in North San Jose has been abandoned. The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to drop a proposal that’s been on the books for nearly three decades, marking a sharp reversal from the council’s stance in 2020 when they approved the project’s environmental impact report. The overpass would have extended North San Jose’s Charcot Avenue about .6 miles from Paragon Drive over I-880 to Oakland Road.
  • Express lanes to open in San Mateo County (San Mateo Daily Journal). The new tolled express lanes on Highway 101 are set to open Friday, Feb. 11, from the Santa Clara County line to Whipple Avenue in Redwood City but drivers will have to get a new FasTrak device to use them, according to officials. The Express Lanes will operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and all drivers must have a FasTrak Flex device to qualify for free or reduced tolls. Users of flex devices move a switch to show how many passengers they have on each trip. Those without the special device can be fined or penalized. Tolls will be adjusted depending on demand and traffic patterns.
  • Residents call for increased safety on major Petaluma roadway (Petaluma Argus Courier). Petaluma residents are calling for an increase in traffic safety as part of long-awaited plans to improve conditions along the busy North McDowell thoroughfare. In a virtual meeting last Wednesday, city officials and the Parisi Transportation Consulting group presented plans to reconstruct a section of North McDowell Boulevard in a multiple-phase project set to break ground later this year. David Parisi, founder of the consulting firm, said the project’s first phase would focus on pavement repairs, while the next phase could entail a “Complete Streets” approach.
  • Ryer Island ferry will be removed from service during scheduled maintenance (Local News Matters). A vital connection to one of the Delta’s inhabited islands will be out of service for several weeks beginning this month, Caltrans announced. The Real McCoy II ferry boat that serves as a link between Rio Vista and Ryer Island along State Route 84 in Solano County, will be out of operation beginning Feb. 7 so that required engine upgrades can be completed. The work is expected to be finished sometime by “late” March, according to Caltrans.

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🎭 Prognostications for the 2023 Pantages/Ahmanson Seasons

It’s that time of year again. I’ve received email from Broadway in Hollywood (FB) (Pantages) that it is time to advance renew our subscriptions and that their season announcement was coming soon; I expect to hear something similar from the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). So I though I would go through the list of shows I know to be setting up tours, and predict what the seasons will look like. Let’s see how close I am once the announcements come out. My basis for show information is the Tours to You site, and the Playbill article on current and upcoming tours.

Ahmanson Theatre

The Ahmanson Theatre, in Downtown LA,  is a large venue that in the past has programmed both National tours, shows it has locally produced or produced pre-tours, or select touring productions from elsewhere, such as the West End. It has smaller capacity than the Pantages/Dolby, can accommodate mid-size runs but not long sit downs. There has been a recent strong push for diversity and local productions at CTG, and there is new artistic leadership, so I expect to see more diverse playwrights and local productions as opposed to only the tours we’ve seen of late.

My prediction:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Tour). This was postponed from 2021.
  • 1776 (Musical). This was postponed from 2021.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This could be a local mounting as a tour hasn’t been announced, but there has been a sister production at the Curran in SF. This isn’t a formal tour, so it would require a local mounting of the show — which means it would require the Ahmanson, as Broadway in Hollywood doesn’t locally mount stuff.
  • Jagged Little Pill. This just seems a bit more like an Ahmanson show.
  • Diversity author slot.
  • Pre-Broadway or West-End Musical

Broadway In Hollywood

Broadway in Hollywood, booking at the Pantages and the Dolby, has to fill large venues. They book only tours and such; no locally produced or unknown quantitites here. They also bring in a small number of retreads — shows that have done well before that might be worth another sit-down.

My prediction:

  • Mean Girls. This was postponed from 2020.
  • Six.
  • Beetlejuice.
  • Tina – The Musical.
  • Ain’t Too Proud. This started out at the Ahmanson and went to Broadway. It is likely not to repeat at the Ahmanson — they want to reach a different subscriber base.
  • Wicked. On tour, currently at the Segerstrom. A likely retread that performs well and can do an extended sit-down at the Pantages.
  • Girl from the North Country (although this could end up at the Ahmanson)
  • Aladdin The Musical. This is a “newly imagined” version, and could be a draw.
  • Maybes:
    • The new equity tours of either Annie or Hairspray. Both are older, both done regionally, but both might be crowd draws.
    • The Cher Show. The tour was postponed, but it might come back.
    • The Spongebob Musical. One can always hope.
    • MJ The Musical. This was just announced (3/21) as going on tour in 2023. It is the type of show that would be at the Pantages, but I think the announcement is too late for the 2023 season. But one never knows; it might make it in.

Emojiland: The Musical is also going on tour. However, it doesn’t seem like either Pantages or Ahmanson fare, being an off-Broadway production to start with. My guess, if it comes to the LA Area, is that it might end up at Broadway in Thousand Oaks or the Pasadena Playhouse.

So those are my predictions. Your thoughts? I could also see, if the new Music Man announces a tour this early, that it could end up at the Pantages.

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🎭 Oh, and Tickets for the Ren Faire are Now On Sale | “Something Rotten” @ 5-Star

Something Rotten (5-Star/ Cabrillo)Recently, I received an announcement that tickets for the 2022 Renaissance Faire (Southern) are on sale. I’m looking forward to it (although I’m a bit nervous about how we’ll maneuver through the “dam site” in a wheelchair); both 2020 and 2021 were cancelled due to the plague. Hmm, the plaque. Sounds like a great topic for a musical, but perhaps more on that later.

Anyway, back to the Ren Faire. One doesn’t need to wait until April, nor drive to Irwindale, to go back to the time of the Renaissance. One need only hitch up your cart and get thee out to Thousand Oaks, where 5 Star Theatricals (FB) is mounting one of the first big regional production of Something Rotten, a musical from First time theatre writers Wayne Kirkpatrick Music, Lyrics; Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) Music, Lyrics, Book and John O’Farrell Book.  We last saw Something Rotten back in November 2017 when the National Tour hit the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and the show remains just as charming and fun as when we saw it then. Here’s how I summarized the show back then (modified a bit):

The plot of Something Rotten revolves around Shakespeare. Specifically, it is the story of the Bottom Brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are competing playwrights to Shakespeare. He used to be part of their acting troupe, but was fired because he was a bad actor (and he was told to become a writer). Shakespeare’s star keeps rising, and the Bottom Brothers keep failing. In an attempt to find the next big thing, Nick Bottom consults a soothsayer who says it will be … Musicals. Nick is eventually convinced and starts writing, using his brother’s poetry as lyrics. But the subjects just don’t work out (a musical about the Black Death — I’ll never work), and so he visits the soothsayer again to learn what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be? The answer? Omlette, and perhaps something to do with Ham and Danish. Nick starts running and won’t be deterred, even when his brother falls in love with a Puritan’s daughter, and writes perhaps the best play he’s ever written. You can guess a bit as to what happens then: Shakespeare steals the good play and Omlette fails … and we deal with the aftermath. What? You didn’t want that spoiler? Well, Romeo and Julia both die as well.

Along the way, we meet some various other characters: Bea, Nick Bottom’s long suffering wife that just wants to help him succeed in any way she can; Portia, the aforementioned Puritan’s daughter who falls in love with Nigel’s words; Shylock, the Jewish financier who just wants to be a producer (answering the question of why you see so few Jewish folks at RenFaire); and the Puritans headed by Brother Jeremiah, who believe that theatre is a sin — especially those men dressed as women kissing men — and that music in theatre is just heresy and an abomination. Puritans really know how to screw up anything that’s fun. Give them an inch, and next thing you know, they’ll screw up the ideals of that new world we just discovered.

If you haven’t seen the show (and even if you have), this is a very funny show. It is packed with references and homages to other shows in the musical theatre canon (even if just a few bars or beats); this is seen in the number that sold me on the show from the Tony Awards: “Musical”. They even updated it since Broadway — I clearly saw references to Dear Evan Hansen in the show. I enjoy the music; I enjoy the references. It is really laugh out loud funny, even on subsequent viewings. It is the type of show that we need these days.

So why did I mention the Renaissance Faire at the start of this? Well, the time in which this musical is set is the same time as the Ren Faire, when Shakespeare was at the top of his popularity.

Unsurprisingly, going in I knew this was a show for which I liked both the book and the music. The question was: How would this fair at the regional production level? Would 5-Star do a good job of pulling it off? Luckily, that isn’t even a question. 5-Star (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre) has been producing excellent musicals since they started, and certainly since we started subscribing back around 2001. Under the direction of well-known local musical director (and 5-Star regular) Richard Israel the cast came together into a wonderful performance ensemble, augmented with the choreography of Michelle Elkin. In fact, reading through the program demonstrated both why Southern California is such a special place when it comes to theatre, and why 5-Star is such a special company. Most of the non-debut artists we have seen on stages all around Southern California (in fact, we saw the fellow who played Nick Bottom on this date back in 2016 when he was in Empire at La Mirada), and 5-Star has a long track record of introducing musical theatre talent (Katharine McPhee had one of her first roles doing the lead in Annie Get Your Gun for Cabrillo back in 2005). We can reliably expect 5-Star to do an excellent job; we’re looking forward to their productions of Newsies and The Addams Family later in 2022.

In the lead positions were Justin Michael Wilcox (FB) Nick Bottom and Frankie Zabilka (FBNigel Bottom. Both appeared to be having loads of fun with the roles, and this came across in their performances. Strong singing, strong comic timing — they were just fun to watch. Playing off of them was Aleks Pevec Shakespeare, who channeled his inner rock star to capture the ego that is Shakespeare in this show.

In the supporting positions were the guys behind the Bottoms, and the women behind the Bottoms. Let’s start with the guys: Randy Brenner (FB) Nostradamus; L. Michael Wells (FB) Shylock; and Jalon Matthews Brother Jeremiah. The standout here is Brenner: he put a lot of comedy and playfullness in the role, and he gets to put in the bulk of the musical theatre references. Wells also has fun with the role, and doesn’t make it too cringy (which, alas, any Shylock portrayal can be). Matthews basically gets to be the bad guy Puritan, but he handles the double entendres of the part quite well.

As for the women, as is natural in the time, they are relegated to wives and girlfriends: Brittany Anderson (FB) Bea Bottom and Bella Gil Portia. Anderson captures the earnestness and humor quite well, and does a great job on “Right Hand Man”. Gil is really playful and fun to watch as Portia, the love interest for Nigel. I especially enjoyed her in “We See the Light” and the Shakespeare party numbers.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller named parts as indicated were: Madison Aisanate; John Paul Batista (FB); Amanda Carr (FB) Dance Captain; Joah Ditto; Augusto Guardado (FB); Joe Hebel Lord Clapham; Mitchell Johnson Minstrel; Laura Leo Kelly (FB); Drew Lake (FB); Colden Lamb (FB); Tyler Marshall (FB); A J Morales; Bella Silecchio (FB); Scott Spraags (FB); Julia Springer; Rachael Yeomans (FB). Swings and covers (so vital to a show these days) are: Lucas Blankenhorn Ensemble Swing; Travis Leland Nick Bottom/Shakespeare Cover; Elizabeth Sheck ((FB)) Ensemble Swing/Portia Understudy.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, led by Anthony Lucca Music Director & Conductor. The orchestra consisted of Matt Germaine Alto & Tenor Saxophones, Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet; Bill Barrett (FB) Piccolo Trumpets in A♭ & B♭, Flugelhorn, Trumpet; Nathan Stearns (FB) Trombone; Kathleen Robertson Violin; Gary Solt Acoustic & Electric Guitars I; Charlie Ferguson Acoustic & Electric Guitars II; Chris Kimbler (FB) Keyboard 1; Tom Griffin Keyboard 2; Christina Galisatus Keyboard 3; Shane Harry (FB) Acoustic & Electric Bass; and Steve Pemberton Set Drums. Other music department credits:  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Orchestra Contractor. The following credits from the original Tour are likely applicable for the music department as well:  Larry Hochman (FB) Orchestrations, Glen Kelly (FB) Music Arrangement; John Miller (FB) Music Coordinator; Phil Reno Vocal Arrangements.  The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the remaining production credits: Sets, Props, and Costumes provided by Musical Theatre West, and were originally designed by Paul Black Sets, Props, Costumes; Dylan Powell Props; and Robin McGee Costumes. Local designers were Will Brattain Costumes, Luis Ramirez Hair and Wig Design; and Alex Choate (FB) Props.  In general, these worked well (although I still miss the days when Cabrillo made their own sets and costumes, but I guess the economics of theatre these days, especially for a 2 week run, precludes that). There were one or two minor costume mishaps and set piece mishaps, but no big deal. The bigger technical support was provided by  Jonathan Burke (FBSound Design and Jared A. Sayeg Lighting Design. Both were good, although the sound was a bit more muddied in the handicapped seats at the back of the orchestra then our usual seats in the Mezzanine. Rounding out the production credits were: Jean Carlo Yunén Aróstegui Assistant Director; Talia Krispel Production Stage Manager; Jack Allaway (FB) Technical Director; Julia Pinhey Sound Engineer; Julian Olive Stage Manager; David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing; E. K. Degenfield Production Manager;  Cindy Murray Executive Director; Tal Fox Assoc. Producer and Casting Director; and most importantly, Erik Monak COVID Compliance Officer.

There is one more weekend for the run of Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). Tickets are available through the 5-Star 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 (modulo the COVID break). 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking at the first half of 2022: February concludes with Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group). April brings Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB), the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). 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 (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – January 2022

As we flip the calendar into 2022, we breath a deep sigh of relief (and hope there wasn’t anything infectious in that deep breath we took).

Hopefully, this will be a year where we will finally start to move out of this. You can do your part. Take all the measures you can to prevent further spread of this disease, and to protect you, your family, and those around you. This is what we need to do to get back out on the road having roadtrips.

One thing you can do from your desk is collect headlines, and that’s what I’ve been busily doing. Here are your headlines for January. My goal is to get the updates to the highway pages back to an every other month cadence, so look for updates in early March. And with that, here are your headlines. Ready, set, discuss.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • Crews working to remove rocks, dirt at site of Hwy 1 rockslide in SLO County (KSBY). A roughly 10-mile stretch of Highway 1 remains closed due to a rockslide a couple of miles south of Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County. The popular road is traveled by millions of people each year from all over the world. “We are heading to San Francisco and now we are stuck in here,” said Fabio Queiroz of Brazil. If you’re planning on taking the coastal highway into Big Sur, you’ll be met with a road closure sign at the elephant seal viewing area in San Simeon. There are also a couple of signs warning of the closure miles before that.
  • SR-135 RESURFACING PROJECT IN SANTA MARIA BEGINS NEXT WEEK (Edhat). A project to resurface six-miles of State Route 135 (Broadway) from the US 101/State Route 135 Interchange to Lakeview Road will begin on Wednesday, Jan. 5. Travelers will encounter weekly lane closures in each direction of State Route 135 Sunday night through Friday morning during the overnight hours between 8 pm and 6 am. Adjacent streets may be closed during the overnight hours and during the day with traffic control from 9 am until 3 pm. Delays should not exceed 10 minutes. Travelers are encouraged to proceed safely in this work zone. The contractor for this $12 million dollar project is CalPortland Construction of Santa Maria, CA.
  • Golden Gate Bridge announces fix for noise nuisance (Marin I-J). Engineers have developed a $450,000 plan to muffle the loud humming noise that has been emanating from the Golden Gate Bridge on windy days. The sound was an unintended result of wind upgrades on the bridge railing last year. Residents living in nearby communities such as Sausalito and San Francisco’s Presidio area were most affected, but the strange humming could be heard from several miles away. The noise is generated by fast northwesterly winds passing through the new railings and wind fairings that were installed on the western side between the two towers.
  • Local leaders representatives respond to Caltrans’ plans for Union Avenue (KBAK). Back on December 15th, Ward 2 Bakersfield City Councilman, Andrae Gonzalez, and other city group leaders and representatives from local bike groups announced they were sending a letter to Caltrans, urging them to make needed improvements to Union Avenue, to stop deaths of pedestrians and cyclists that are happening. “I think we need to remember and put all of this in context, that 28 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities have occurred, within a three-mile stretch on Union Avenue, since 2009. That’s far too many casualties,” Andrae Gonzales, Bakersfield City Councilman for Ward 2, said.
  • City removes historic lampposts off Glendale-Hyperion bridge following thefts (The Eastsider LA). This weekend reports circulated that more classic bronze lampposts had gone missing or were stolen off the Glendale-Hyperion bridge, which links Atwater Village and Silver Lake. While reports of the thefts have not been confirmed, it turns out city crews have been removing some of the nearly 12-foot-high lights for safe keeping before they could be stolen. The Bureau of Street Lighting has removed and stored 18 lights from the bridge, said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Elena Stern. Following reports of thefts in September, the city determined that a total of 7 lampposts had been stolen. But that number has now risen to 17, Stern said.
  • An Ode To Highway 1 (The Nob Hill Gazette). As we contemplate travel in 2022, road trips continue to hold a lot of appeal. And with access to such a storied thoroughfare as Highway 1, Californians aren’t complaining. We celebrate our coastal passageway with a three-part look at its engineering, its personal charms and worthy reasons to explore anew.
  • I-80 Yuba Pass Separation Overhead (SOH) Replacement (FB/District 3). Caltrans is currently seeking public feedback on two proposed Interstate 80 (I-80) improvement projects in Placer and Nevada counties. A $101.8 million project proposes to replace and widen the Yuba Pass Separation Overhead (SOH) bridges near the State Route 20 separation in Nevada County. The project would improve freight efficiency along I-80 by increasing the load carrying capacity and address structural deficiencies that necessitate bridge replacement: concrete cracking and spalling, high corrosive chloride content, superstructure repainting, bridge deck concrete degradation, and weight-bearing pad failures.
  • State Route 18 Emergency Repair Project Update (KBHR 93.3). The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) continues repairs on an emergency project at a washout section of State Route 18 (SR-18) near Panorama point between 40th St and SR-138 near Crestline. Crews continue to make repairs and bring in necessary equipment and materials. Currently, crews work to keep the area as dry as possible take priority as more winter weather is predicted. To expediate the repairs, the route will remain closed to the public until further notice so crews can utilize the full roadway. Caltrans is evaluating all traffic handling situations and will have more updates on this in the future. Emergency responders will have access for emergency situations.

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🎭 I Am What I Am, I Am My Own Special Creation | Everybody’s Talking About Jamie @ Ahmanson

Everybody's Talking About Jamie @ Ahmanson TheatreMen dressing as women on the theatrical stage. Originally, it wasn’t funny at all. Only men could be actors, so women’s parts were were simply played, seriously, by men. But eventually that theatrical contrivance went by the wayside, and men dressing as women became a focal point for humor. The prime example of that which comes to mind is the musical Sugarbased on the movie Some Like It Hot. But there are numerous other cases, from plays like Charley’s Aunt, to the drag sequences in shows currently on the state such as My Fair Lady or even the newer musicals Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire. These are all men dressing as women in order to get laughs. But where it might have been funny in the past when mores were a bit different, today it isn’t funny. I’ll repeat for the producers in the back: men dressing as women just to bring on the funny is not funny.

But in 1983, a new musical hit the stage: La Cage Aux Folles (based on the 1973 play). It showcased two men as leads, and featured a man dressing as a women as an alter-ego. Za Za: what we now know as drag performance thanks to the queen extraordinaire, Ru Paul. Although this musical (penned by a gay man) did play on the men-dressing-as-woman schtick, it also introduced an anthem that resonates to this day:

I am what I am
I am my own special creation.
So come take a look,
Give me the hook or the ovation.
It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.
Life’s not worth a damn,
‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”

I am what I am,
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?
Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
“Hey world, I am what I am!”

The anthem of “Be who you are, be true to yourself” is a theme that echoes throughout modern musicals, from stories like Billy Elliot to Kinky Boots to The Prom. This is also an anthem that also is echoed in the show we saw yesterday afternoon at  the Ahmanson Theatre (FB): Everyone’s Talking About Jamie.

As a digression: There is also one more branch to the man dressing as woman theme: True trans- and queer characters. These are much harder to treat realistically on the stage, but it has been done. Arguably, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with a genderqueer lead) is in that canon, as are the secondary characters in Head Over Heels, which we saw recently at the Pasadena Playhouse. Also notable are some of the characters in Bring It On — The Musical, although the gay/queer friend stereotype is a bit problematic. There should be a Bechdel Test equivalent for gay sidekick characters. But I digress from the digression…

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is based on a documentary film about Jamie Campbell on the BBC called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Jamie, who came out at a young age, lived in a lower-to-middle class town in England wanted to attend his prom … dressed as a girl. As with Billy Elliot, he battled the entrenched bigotry in the town but eventually won. Unsurprisingly, the one review of the LA production I read characterized the production as Kinky Boots and Billy Elliot put through a blender. The British producers of the show saw the documentary, and saw a musical in it. The result was Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, which became a production on London’s West End, and then subsequently did a UK tour and it making its American debut at the Ahmanson.  The show features music, book, and lyrics by Dan Gillespie Sells Music and Orchestrations and Tom Macrae Book and Lyrics, based on an idea by Jonathan Butterell Director and Co-Writer, inspired by aformentioned Firecracker documentary. The musical was also filmed and is available on Amazon Prime, for those that can’t make it to LA.

So what is the story in Jamie. A lot of it is establishing the situation. Jamie is in Year 11 (US equivalent: 12th grade), and in a career assignment class. He wants to be a drag queen, but his teacher dismisses the idea and shows that his testing predicts he’ll be a forklift driver. Others in the class get similarly dismal prospects. It is in this setting that we meet the rest of the class, including his best friend, Pritti Pasha. Pritti, who excels at maths and wants to be a doctor, is told she’ll only be a secretary. Her path, in many ways, is “B” story that echoes the main journey of Jamie.

Another digression: Notable in this show is a reasonable portrayal of Muslim character in the form of his classmates, Pritti Pasha and Fatimah. The production shows them as realistic people who are just like other teens within their religious confines (as opposed to stereotypes). It also shows the hatred they face and have to battle in the real world.

The establishment of the story continues as we meet Jamie’s mom, Margaret and her best friend Ray. They are encouraging Jamie to live his dreams, and even get him red high heel shoes to wear. We also learn that his father wants nothing to do with him, but his mum is hiding that from him. We see Jamie decide that he wants to bring the drag side of his persona out, encouraged by Pritti. He goes to a drag shop to buy a dress, and meets a former drag queen, Hugo (who was previously the famous Loco Chanelle). Hugo gets Jamie his first dress, and arranges a drag show for Jamie. Encourage, Jamie invites his school. You can guess what happens.

Most of his friend are supportive, but there are those who aren’t The second act of the show deals with this, and the importance of finding and being true to yourself. It has some of the strongest ballads in the show, including “It Means Beautiful” and “He’s My Boy”. The ending, of course, is predetermined: Jamie eventually goes to the prom, in a dress, and finds his drag self.

Prior to the show, I had gotten the album of the West End production, and liked the music. I didn’t, however, know the story. Having now seen the production, a few observations. I’ll note that we weren’t sitting in our usual vantage point: we were off on the side in the handicapped seating (due to my wife’s recent injury). More on that in a minute.

First, the negatives. This is very much a West End production, with heavy accents, fast speech, and UK-specific terminology. This gets lost on the American audience, even with a QR code pointer that doesn’t work to explain the slang. It was made worse by being in the handicapped seats: the crispness of the lyrics and words at that location wasn’t to usual Ahmanson standards. There was a similar problem with the audio of the orchestra — for a while, I thought the orchestra might be pre-recorded, but a list of musicians in the program indicated that wasn’t the case. They were revealed to be on-stage at the end of the show, so it was just poor amplification or our location.

Now, the positives. There were some very strong performances, which I’ll get to as I talk about the actors. I did like the overall message of the show, and I also really enjoyed the secondary characters — perhaps even more so than the main character. The character of Margaret New, Jamie’s mom, was a realistic presentation of a mom that wanted everything for her son, despite the flaws and the difficulties. Her anthem in the second act, “He’s My Boy”, stole the show. Also remarkable was the character of Pritti. It was nice to see a stage portrayal that normalized the Muslim faith and showed the similarities instead of emphasizing the differences. Far too often in America we are presented with the image that the only acceptable faith to have strong religious practices is Christianity; faithful adherents of non-Christian faiths are often played stereotypically. I see this far too often with Jews on stage — ask yourself the last time you saw an Orthodox Jew portrayed as a real person. Pritti was a real teen: she had aspirations, she had desires, but she also was fine living within her faith boundaries. This was made clear both when she indicated she was wearing the hijab not because religion told her to, but because she wanted to. It was her. She also didn’t treat being called a virgin as an insult: she was proud of who she was. It was her character that gave Jamie’s character the strength to be true to himself. As such, both Margaret and Pritti really stole the show.

Another remarkable character was Hugo (Loco Chanelle). He provided the essential difference between drag and trans (which clearly a large number of people do not understand). He made clear that drag is putting on a persona — an alter-ego as a way to truly express a character. It isn’t trans (where your brain sees you as a different gender than your body), nor is it cross dressing (where you aren’t becoming a different persona — you’re yourself, but just enjoying to wear opposite gender clothing). Hugo, in his own way, encouraged Jamie to find his true voice.

The other characters — his school mates, the other drag queens — were drawn much more superficially. They had just the characteristics needed to move the story (Dean – bigotry and bullying; Miss Hedge — administrative rigidity; his dad — rejection) but not much more.

The main secondary characters, however, emphasize that the real story in Jamie wasn’t Jamie’s journey. Yes, he was the main character … but for all the effort, you never see his drag persona on stage. Only glimpses. But where you see the real acceptance of themselves is in Hugo, Margaret, and Pritti. It is their journey that fleshes out this story and makes it something that everyone can see themselves it. It isn’t just drag queens, gays, and trans-folk that need to be true to yourself despite what the world is telling you to be. That’s the message here.

So would I recommend this. If you’re in Los Angeles and are up to being in a large indoor theatre for 3 hours, yes. The theatre was perhaps half full, and companies cannot come back without full audiences. We need to demonstrate that theatre is safe. So wear your N95 mask, get your vaccine and booster shot (which will be required), and go to the theatre. But if you can’t: watch this on Amazon Prime.

One last night, before I go to the individuals: 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Kudos to the Ahmanson Theatre for their handicapped services. My wife is temporarily in a wheelchair due to a fall, and is non-weight bearing on her leg until at least March. The Ahmanson made it easy. She called ahead of time, and I had already arranged for wheelchair accessible box seats (in the balcony, vs. the mezzanine, but one does what one can with the seats available). CTG had someone meet us at valet parking (which was only $9). They helped her get to our seats and run the vaccine proof gauntlet. They were there with her walker to help her to the restroom. They helped us back to the car. They made this easy.

So let’s turn to the individual performances:

In the lead position was Layton Williams Jamie New. Williams captured Jamie well and moved well. Whether he was believable as his drag persona Mimi is unknown, as we never really see him as Mimi. But he sang beautifully and seemed to be having quite a bit of fun with the role.

My favorite two performers, if you haven’t figured it out by now, were Melissa Jacques Margaret New and Hiba Elchikhe Pritti Pasha. Jacques just brought down the house with her number “He’s My Boy” as well as “If I Met Myself Again”. Elchikhe’s “It Means Beautiful” was haunting. I thought both performances were strong.

The other strong back character was a dual role by a single actor: Roy Haylock Hugo  and his alter ego, Bianca Del Rio Loco Chanelle.  We really get to know more about Hugo than we do Del Rio — we just see her briefly as near the drag show. But Haylock brings a reality to Hugo that allows you to see what drag is: an escape from a harsh world, a world where the glitter and the glamour allows one to become something better, something more. That’s an amazing transformation to see. Haylock does a wonderful job in “The Legend of Loco Chanelle”

Among the tertiary characters, there are few standouts. Shabna Gulati Ray provides some good comic moments as Margaret’s best friend; similarly, the three drag queens Leon Craig Sandra Bollock, James Gillan Tray Sophisticay, and David O’Reilly Laika Virgin provide comic relief as they give advice to Jamie. George Sampson Dean Paxton and Cameron Johnson Jamie’s Dad are the catalysts for the conflict: the former as the bully who hates gays, drag queens, and foreigners; the latter as a father who is disappointed in what his son turned out to be. The last standout was Gillian Ford Miss Hedge, who portrayed the inflexible schoolteacher and administrator who didn’t believe in Jamie or his right to be himself in this town.  Rounding out the cast were Richard Appiah-Sarpong Cy; Zion Battles Levi; Kazmin Borrer Vicki; Ryan Hughes Mickey; Jodie Knight Fatimah; Harriet Payne Bex; Talia Palamathanan Becca; and Adam Taylor Sayid. Swings (who are vitally important in these days of COVID) are: Rachel Seirian, Simeon Beckett, and Emma Robotham-Hunt. Adam Taylor was the understudy for Jamie.

Wow. That’s the first time I’ve done an actor list without a single reference to AboutTheArtists. This is a 100% imported cast.

Less imported was the on-stage but hidden band (🌴 indicates local; 👑 indicates UK): 👑 Theo Jamieson Musical Supervisor /Director; 👑 Gareth Lieske (FB) Guitars and Cover MD; Dan Hall Bass Guitar and Bass Synth; 🌴 Keith Fiddmont Tenor Sax; 🌴 James Ford III Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Piccolo; 👑 Ali Van Ryne Drums; 👑 Matthew West PercussionRounding out the music department was: Dan Gillespie Sells Music and Orchestrations; 🌴 Robert Payne Contractor.

Turning to the production and design team. The production was directed by Jonathan Butterell and choreographed by Katie Prince. Supporting them were Cameron Johnson Resident Director; Simeon Beckett Dance Captain; and Emma Robotham-Hunt Asst. Dance Captain. The direction was good in that the characters were believable as who they were. The dances were strong but not particularly memorable.

The design was interesting. There were three major set pieces: a collection of desks that could be moved around and lighted, almost reminding me of the set of A Christmas Carol; a piece that opened up to provide the New’s apartment (which seemed remarkably easy to move), and a back piece that used projects to provide place –which worked so-so, as the coloring (or should I say colouring) often swallowed the projections. This was all designed by the team of: Anna Fleischle Designer; Lucy Carter Lighting Designer; Luke Halls Video Designer; and executed by Patrick Molony Production Manager. The sound design by Paul Groothuis was generally good, but could use a bit more oomph in the crispness department. Rounding out the production team was: Will Burton CDG Casting Director; Maggie Swing US Production Stage Manager. I’m not listing producers or the tour info. I do, however, give credit to the COVID teamwhich is not enumerated for the tour. On the CTG side, this is Niki Armato Facilities Assistant / COVID Compliance Officer; and a large team of supporting COVID compliance officers: Chase Anderson-Shaw, Monica Greene, Dean Grosbard, Henry Kelly, and Denise Reynoso.

Everyone’s Talking About Jamie continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), COVID permitting, until February 20. Tickets are available through the CTG website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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 Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking at the first half of 2022: February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) and Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group); and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). April brings the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). 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 (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

 

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🛣 Changes to the California Highway Website covering November-December 2021

The following is the change log for the November-December 2021 updates to the California Highways pages:

2021 is done. You had such promise, 2021. Why did you have to piss it away by falling in with the low-life loser crowd? Luckily, there were a growing number that put the public good over blatant self-interest. Not far enough, though.

For me and my family, the end of 2021 has been hard. My wife fell the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and broke her knee and the surrounding bones. She was in acute care for a week, then in-patient rehab for two more weeks (meaning three weeks of travel back and forth between Northridge and Burbank), and now is getting in-home rehab — with no weight bearing until the end of February. This has added caregiving to the load—I don’t mind doing it, but it does add to the work and stress.

But the hospital was there when we needed it, because the people in the area headed the pleadings of the scientists and got vaccinated. This meant that there was acute care and rehab space. Many throughout this country are no so lucky. Hospitals are overloaded, and the new Ο (Omicron) variant doesn’t help with its faster spread. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: The nation came together for the sake of the common good and to fight a common enemy in the first half of the 20th century. We saw our “freedoms” temporarily limited during WWI and WWII through rationing and other controls, and cheerfully did it to bring the nation out of a crisis. But that attitude of America coming together to fight a common foe has been lost today. Whether it is poor leadership or leaders taking advantage of a crisis for their political power, what should be a common fight against a public health enemy has become partisan. Move beyond that partisanship. Just like the nation stepped up for their Polio and Smallpox vaccines to defeat those public health scourges, step up and get your COVID vaccines and boosters unless there are legitimate medical reasons not to do so. Together we can fight this, so we can get back out on the roads. If there are any questions I can answer to ally your vaccine hesitancy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Those reading this on ꜲRoads will miss my usual pleadings related to Mr. Spike Protein and his antics over the last two years, because some feel that public health is a partisan issue. Those who want to see my pleadings can go over to the full Changelog on the site; those who want to stick their heads in the sand can go to (a city in Michigan). All I’ll say is that you know what you can do to help make 2022 better, and help bring the nation (and the world) out of this crisis, so we can get back on the roads and stumble headfirst into the next one.

But let’s turn our attention to something more pleasant: the roads of the great state of California. From the rural areas in the far northern environs of the state to border commerce in the south, from the deserts of Nevada and Arizona to the Pacific; from the great Sierra mountains to the depths of Death Valley; from the urban areas to rural farmland—California has a vast road network to maintain and grow. It is a network that is vital to the success of the state: its commerce, its people, its growth. It is the mission of the California Highways website to document that network: its history, its peculiarities, and the significant changes that are coming down the road. It is a journey we go on together… once you show proof of vaccination and your boosters, and you wear your mask. After all, I have a sick wife at home, and what you do with respect to communicable diseases impacts not just you, but the broader community.

So here are your updates covering the months of November and December:

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the (virtual) papers in November and December 2021 (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum (Ꜳ). This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(ℱ), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail or ꜲRoads) from Concrete Bob(2) , Tom Fearer(3)mrsman(4): Route 1(ℱ), Route 3(ℱ), I-5(ℱ), US 6(3), I-8(ℱ), Pre-1961 Route 10(3), Route 11(ℱ,3), I-15(ℱ), Route 25(ℱ), Route 37(ℱ), Route 42(3), Route 43(ℱ), Route 46(ℱ), Route 70(ℱ), Route 84(ℱ), Route 96(ℱ), Route 99(ℱ,3), US 101(ℱ,3), Route 125(ℱ), Route 129(ℱ), Capitol Southeast Connector/Route 148(2), Route 152(ℱ),  Route 156(ℱ), Route 174(ℱ), Route 182(3), US 199(3), Route 247(ℱ), Route 260(4), Route 263(ℱ), Route 266(3), Route 299(3), US 395(ℱ), US 399(3), I-580(ℱ), I-880(4), Route 905(ℱ,3).
(Source: private email, Highway headline posts through December 2021 as indicated, AARoads through 12/31/2021)

Reviewed the Pending Legislation page, based on the California Legislature site. As usual, I recommend to every Californian that they visit the legislative website regularly and see what their legis-critters are doing. As many people are unfamiliar with how the legislature operates (and why there are so many “non-substantive changes” and “gut and amend” bills), I’ve added the legislative calendar to the end of the Pending Legislation page. A new fiscal year starts October 1, but the legislature does not reconvene until January 2022. As such, there were no new bills or resolutions from either chamber of the state legislature.

I checked California Transportation Commission page for the results of the December 2021 meeting of the  California Transportation Commission. As always, note that I tend not to track items that do not impact these pages — i.e., pavement rehabilitation or replacement, landscaping, drainage, culverts, roadside facilities, charging stations, or other things that do not impact the routing or history, unless they are really significant. As such, the following items were of interest:

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – December 2021

And we that, 2021 is in the history books. Good riddance. May 2022 be the year that sees us back on the front roads and back roads of this great state, secure in our health. I give us perhaps a 60% chance.

Why so low? Do I need to say it?

[Insert pause so that the various link previewers put the rest below the fold]

I guess I do need to say it. There are those today who put politics and partisanship over science and reason. Refusing to do something simply because someone says you need to do it is the behavior of a child.  “I won’t eat my spinach, even though you say it is good for me.”

We started 2021 with such promise. A number of new vaccines were approved, temporary public health restrictions were lessening. But getting to a global vaccine level is hard … and we didn’t get there. The end of 2021 with the rise of the Omicron variant is showing that. Omicron just may be what turns this from epidemic to endemic, at least for those who are vaccinated (and who, as is looking more likely, get regularly boosted as with the flu vaccine). For those who are not vaccinated, the news may not be as good. Sometimes, you lose the dice roll.

But this is a highway headlines post, you say. Why do you drone on each month about this?  The answer is simple. If we want to get back on the roads we have to get a handle on this. We want our road workers to be safe. We want those travelling the roads to be safe. We want, if there is an accident on the roads, for there to be available caregivers and available hospital space so the injured do not turn into casualties.  That’s why I talk about this.

Please do what you can to stop the further spread of this disease. Do all that is in your power to stay healthy. If you are hesitant about anything, please feel free to reach out to me and we can talk.

Let’s make 2022 the year we get back to our new normal, out of the roads happy and healthy. Of course, to do that, it is important to know what is happening on the roads. So, with that, I present to you the last headline post of 2021. May you have a happy, and most importantly, healthy, new year.

P.S.: I’ve been working on the updates to the California Highways site. Once these December headlines are reviewed and incorporated, I can regenerate the files and upload.

Key

[Ħ Historical information |  Paywalls, $$ really obnoxious paywalls, and  other annoying restrictions. I’m no longer going to list the paper names, as I’m including them in the headlines now. Note: For $ paywalls, sometimes the only way is incognito mode, grabbing the text before the paywall shows, and pasting into an editor. ]

Highway Headlines

  • BTTF#12: Edward Everett Horton’s Encino Ranch Estate and the 101 Freeway; How A Celebrity Lost His Ranch to Suburbanization (San Fernando Valley Blog). Welcome aboard the Delorean! Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to the affluent and trendy community of Encino. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to sometime in 1926 (actual date unknown) and the flux capacitor is………fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time to the Edward Evertt Horton Ranch Estate known as “Belly Acres” or “Belleigh Acres” at 5521 Amestoy Avenue in Encino.
  • Metro breaks ground on I-5 North County Enhancements Project (The Source). Metro on Wednesday celebrated the groundbreaking for the I-5 North County Enhancements Project, which will improve the operations and safety of the I-5 freeway for motorists in the Santa Clarita Valley. Metro is planning, designing and managing the construction of the project in partnership with Caltrans. Watch the event here. This $679-million project is specifically designed to make the I-5 freeway safer, improve the movement of freight and people and accommodate expected population growth in the Santa Clarita Valley. Improvements include the addition of one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction along with other improvements in the 14-mile corridor between State Route 14 in Santa Clarita and Parker Road in Castaic.
  • Napa County seems unlikely choice for Highway 37 reroute (Napa Valley Register). Relocating Highway 37 through Napa County’s Carneros wine country to avoid sea-level rise never looked like an appealing option and recent data makes it appear even less so. Regional transportation leaders say Highway 37 faces two big problems. One is sea level rise from San Pablo Bay they say could someday put parts of the road underwater. The other is congestion. One proposed solution is to elevate and widen the highway along its present route from Vallejo to Novato through Solano, Sonoma, and Marin counties. Another is to move the highway away from marshland to higher ground.
  • Highway 101 carpool lane opening in Petaluma (Press Democrat). A temporary carpool lane is expected to open early Thursday on a stretch of Highway 101 that’s undergoing a widening project in Petaluma. The new northbound lane is on the Washington Creek Bridge between Lakeville Highway to the south and the Lynch Creek Trail bridge to the north, according to Caltrans. It was expected to be open by 5 a.m. Thursday, Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss said. “There will be three lanes the whole way, which is the first time it’s happened there,“ he said.
  • Caltrans preps for 10-hour I-80 closure for bridge removal (Daily Republic). Crews on Thursday were making some of the final preparations for this weekend’s removal of the connector bridge from Highway 12 to eastbound Interstate 80. The work will cause a full I-80 closure from 11 p.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday, the state Department of Transportation reported. Kiewit, of Fairfield, is the contractor on the $61 million project – the second package in the seven-phase $740 million Interstate 80/Interstate 680/Highway 12 Interchange Project.
  • RAISE Grants Will Support Four California Transportation Projects (Streetsblog California). The federal transportation grants from what was the TIGER program created under President Obama have been released, and journalists and advocates note that this new version of the program is generally good news for sustainable and active transportation. The RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grants, as they are now called, do support some road and highway expansion, but most of the money is going towards projects like greenways, transit planning, and pedestrian and bike improvements.
  • Work crews complete I-80 bridge removal, reopen freeway on time in Fairfield (Daily Republic). A 10-hour closure of both eastbound and westbound Interstate 80 in Fairfield ended on time Sunday as crews reopened the freeway to traffic. I-80 was shut down in both directions for about 10 hours starting at 11 p.m. Saturday. The freeway was open again at 9 a.m. Sunday. Crews overseen by the state Department of Transportation removed the old Highway 12 to eastbound I-80 connector bridge. The work is part of the Interstate 80/Interstate 680/Highway 12 Interchange Project.

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🎭 No Humbugs For This New Interpretation of an Old Story | “A Christmas Carol” @ Ahmanson

A Christmas Carol (Ahmanson Theatre)Charles McNulty said he might be cast as the Scrooge of Drama Critics, and I’ll gladly cast him as such. How he let a technical problem at his performance mar his enjoyment of this delightful version of A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) is beyond me. “Bah Humbug” to you sir; this is a very Happy Christmas Carol indeed.

Now, I’m a Jewish boy. I’m not a big fan of the heavy emphasis that Christmas gets (I tend to agree with Stan Freberg’s Green Chri$tma$). I used to be tired of A Christmas Carol; indeed, some versions are very tiresome. My favorite production of the story is still A Mulholland Christmas Carol (which needs to be brought back), and I’m partial to the audio version of the Christmas Carol concert by Alisa Houser and Bob Christianson. It was that version from which I learned the fuller version of the story; previously, it was just remembered snippets from the various TV movie versions.

So what about the version of A Christmas Carol that is currently playing at the Ahmanson. The Old Vic production that was on Broadway just before the pandemic shut everything down. The one where Jack Thorne adapted Charles Dickens‘ version of the story (although Mr. Dickens doesn’t get a credit in the program — the man needs a new agent). The one that was originally conceived and directed by Matthew Warchus. The one that won 5 Tony Award in the Tony Award Season with an Asterisk. You know, that Christmas Carol.

Well, despite what McNulty said, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The stage craft was astounding, the performances delightful. At was at times dark, at times joyous, and at times laugh out loud funny. This wasn’t one of those dour versions of the story, where the actors are tired and the story comes across the same. The actors behind this production were clearly having fun with the story, and that fun came through in the performances. They, in the words of the play, had Christmas in their hearts.

Thorne took some liberties with the story. He played up the roles of Fan and Belle, bringing them much more into the latter parts of the story than is traditional. He dropped some elements that still remain in my head: the dances at Fezziwigs, the children that accompany the Ghost of Christmas Present. He gave a face to the Ghost of Christmas Future when it was just a spectre before (which made for better theatre). He made Scrooge’s father a more pivotal figure, perhaps to provide more of a backstory. He brought the party to the Cratchett’s in a way I haven’t seen before. But you know what? It worked. I remarked to my daughter afterwards that A Christmas Carol is a lot like a Passover Seder. There are elements that absolutely must be in the story, and there is a trajectory to the main characters that must achieve the same resolution. But the surrounding elements can be adjusted slightly, and symbols can be adapted, to emphasize points relevant to the audience. That’s what this Carol did: the emphasize was a clear message that although the past can shape our behavior, it is we who have the free will to change our destiny. We can choose joy and caring about others; or we can only care about ourselves and what is in it for (as Paul Stookey might say), “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

Although this adaptation was done before the pandemic, that message—the importance of caring about others and doing things to make their lives better, and not being self-centered—clearly resonates even more in the first production at the Ahmanson after COVID. As Bradley Whitford notes at the ending bows, this production is possible thanks to those who listened, cared about others, and took the steps necessary to make theatre safe again. That means they go their shots. What better way to have Christmas in your heart, and carry Jesus’ message about caring for the least, than making sure you protect them by getting vaccinated.  It’s a great gift, and it’s free as well. Scrooge would approve.

This production also has some wonderful localized humor. After Scrooge’s transformation, when he’s gathering food for the eventual feast, the writers throw in a number of local references and lots of ad-libbing. It’s delightful, and brings the audience in on the action. There are a number of other wonderfully immersive elements, from the actors tossing fruit to the audience before the show, to the lighting of the piece, to the snow in the theatre, to the actors showing up not just around the orchestra level, but up in the Mezzanine and the Balcony. It’s hard not to walk out of this production with a smile on your face (well, unless your Charles McNulty).

Would I recommend this production? Wholeheartedly yes.  It was a load of fun.

One thing that made this production special is that it is clear that the actors are enjoying themselves, and are having fun with their role. No where is that seen better than with the lead, Bradley Whitford Ebenezer Scrooge . Typically, Scrooge comes across as dour. Whitford starts out that way, but there’s a glimmer of something mischievous in him. Not in the way he is with money, but in the quick-witted responses he makes. It is clear he finds himself funny, even if no one else does. The other thing I noted about Whitford is how he disappeared into his character. I watched the recent Annie Live! on NBC, and everyone was praising Ann Dowd‘s performance as Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Garret. But when I saw it, I kept seeing mannerisms that made me think of Aunt Lydia.  Bradley Whitford is also in Handmaid’s Tale, but there was no trace of Commander Lawrence in his portray of Scrooge. Whitford was a believable Scrooge.

Another notable performance—and one I was looking forward to—was that of Alex Newell Ghost of Christmas Present / Mrs. Fezziwig.* Newell has a wonderful voice, and they got the opportunity to use it at various points in the program. But what made Newell’s performance wasn’t the singing—it was their smile. From the opening playfulness with the audience to the end, whenever Newell would smile the world would light up in joy. That joy fed back into the performance, with Newell being a wonderful Ghost of Christmas Present, as well as numerous other characters. They were having loads of fun, and it showed.
*: Newell used he/him in the program, but has indicated they don’t really have a preference. They are gender non-conforming, and has indicated that people should use whatever is comforatable. My mind says she/her, so I’m going with they/them as a middle ground.

Also notable was Kate Burton Ghost of Christmas Past. She had a bit more of a reserved role with an odd face mask, although she seemed to loosen up in the post-transformation sequences.

Completing the ghosts, the adaptation placed Glory Yepassis-Zembrou Little Fan as the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Future. This changed worked in the revised story, and she made a believable sister to Scrooge.

The other characters, although having named roles, served more as a supporting ensemble to the leads: Chante Carmel Mrs. Cratchit; Dashiell Eaves Bob Cratchit; Brandon Gill Fred; Evan Harrington Fezziwig; Chris Hoch Father / Marley; Sarah Hunt Belle; Alex Nee Ferdy / Nicholas; Cade Robertson Tiny Tim; Brett Ryback George; Harry Thornton Young Ebenezer; Grace Yoo Jess. Sebastian Ortiz Alternating as Tiny Tim. Standbys were Andrew Mayer and Celia Mei Rubin. Some notes on the supporting ensemble: Gill was actually up near us in the Mezzanine during the food gathering sequence, and he was fun to watch as he reacted to Whitford’s seeming ad-libs. I liked Hunt’s Belle, who had a nice inner spirit, and Hoch had a spectacular voice. Cade Robertson was incredibly cute as Tiny Tim; more notable is that the casting notice specifically cast disabled performer in the Tiny Tim role. Representation is everything, especially when you’re blessing everyone.

Although this wasn’t a musical, there was a fair amount of music. This was  mix of background and mood setting instrumentals, traditional Christmas music with some modified arrangements, and some new pieces composed and orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale. Music was provided by a mix of on-stage and off-stage performer, a number of whom were part of the acting ensemble (🎻). The musician team consisted of Remy Kurs Music Director / Keyboard; Alonso Pirio Assoc. Music Director; 🎻 Evan Harrington  Drum; 🎻 Brett Ryback  Whistles / Accordion; Hillary Smith Cello; 🎻 Harry Thornton  Cello / Bass; Mona Tian Violin; Micah Wright Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Whistles; 🎻 Grace Yoo Ukulele. The rest of the music staff consisted of Howard Jones Music Coordinator; Emily Grishman Music Preparation Music Copying; Paul Staroba Music Supervision; Randy Cohen / Randy Cohen Keyboards Synthesizer Technician.

Turning to the production side: The performance was originally directed by Matthew Warchus; with Thomas Caruso being responsible for tour direction.  Lizzi Gee coordinated the movement. A few thoughts on the production design. This cast consisted of about 40% veterans of the Broadway production, and the rest who were new to the show for Los Angeles and a few other cities. The director did a great job of making this a unified team, and bringing out remarkable performances in the Los Angeles local team (who do a lot of work for cameras, not large rooms of people). Additionally, although A Christmas Carol may be technically a straight play, there is lots of movement and choreography, and Gee made it poetic and seamless and delightful to watch.

The most remarkable aspect of the production, however, was on the stagecraft side. Let’s start with what hits you when you walk to your seats: Hugh Vanstone‘s lighting design. Thousands of lanterns throughout the theatre; lanterns that you learn are programmed and not just mere lights (and so credit should go to Craig Steizenmuller US Assoc Lighting Designer; Sam Waddington UK Assoc Lighting Designer; Joe Beumer Asst Lighting Designer, and the Moving Light programmers Alyssa Eilbott and Mo Epps). Combine this with the other remarkable lighting that sets the mood, and you’ll be blown away (and this includes lighting the audience at times). The second remarkable aspect of the program is the sound design.  Rob Howell‘s set is simple: a basic wooden cross, some boxes that can be moved around, and four doorframes that rise up and down. It is Simon Baker‘s sound design that brings this to life. The actors pretend to open the door; and the sound makes it real. They slam the door; sound makes it real. The sound becomes the props, and you see the difference between the imagination that stagecraft can create vs the realism that film demands. The remainder of the scene was set by Rob Howell‘s costumes and the work of the team from Campbell Young Associates Wigs, Hair, & Makeup Design.  The principle designers were augmented by Michael Carnahan US Assoc Scenic Designer; Nancy A. Palmatier US Assoc Costume Designer; Andrew Wade Voice and Dialect Director; and Kathy Fabian / Propstar LLC Props Supervisor.

Rounding out the production team were: Jim Carnahan CSA Casting; Jason Thinger Casting; David S. Franklin Production Stage Manager; Michelle Blair Stage Manager; Amy Ramsdell Stage Manager; Showtown Theatricals General Manager; Aurora Productions Production Management.  I always give credit to the COVID Safety Teams, for without their work we would not be in the theatre. On the A Christmas Carol side, this was Swif Testing / Jeff Whiting COVID-19 Management; Sheree Devereaux COVID-19 Officer; and Krystal Nelson COVID-19 Medical Technician. On the CTG side, this is Niki Armato Facilities Assistant / COVID Compliance Officer; and a large team of supporting COVID compliance officers: Chase Anderson-Shaw, Monica Greene, Dean Grosbard, Henry Kelly, and Denise Reynoso.

A Christmas Carol continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 1, 2022. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). 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), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. 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. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking at the first half of 2022: January brings Everyone’s Talking About Jamie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). February brings Something Rotten at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) and Marvin’s Room at Actors Co-op (FB). March brings The Lehman Trilogy at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Trayf at the Geffen Playhouse (with the TAS Live Theatre group); and Ann at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). April brings the Southern California Renaissance FaireHadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (although that may get pushed to May); and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May is otherwise empty, but June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 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 (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). 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 (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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