Wishing for More | “Aladdin” @ Hollywood Pantages

Aladdin - A New Musical (Pantages)Ah, the new  Hollywood Pantages (FB) season. We are finally past the juggernaut that is and was Hamilton, and we’re back into a more conventional subscription season. First up: Aladdin v4.0, otherwise known as Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical. This is to distinguish it from Aladdin: The Animated Movie Musical, and from the Aladdin stage show that was once down the street at Disneyland, and from the licensed version of Aladdin that you’ll find on the small stages of regional intimate theatres and school stages.* In fact, it was just a year ago that we saw one of these other Aladdins: a great bi-lingual production at Casa 0101 in East LA. All these pre-4.0 (Broadway) versions hewed relatively close to the original animated version (1.0); the great bi-lingual production added the conceit that the folks in the village spoke English while the people in the palace spoke only Spanish, and only the animals (Raja, Iago) could translate between the two. You can read my writeup of that show here; it truly added something, but can’t fit well in what we saw last night.
(*: Although this does note that it is based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed and produced by John Musker and Ron Clements.)

Last night, we saw the “Broadway” version of Aladdin. This version expands Aladdin from the original 90 minute animated story to a 2½ hour version. It does this by bringing back original ideas of the development team that were dropped as the animated feature was developed: Aladdin’s backstory, Aladdin’s friend. It eliminates the cartoonish aspects of the story: gone are any talking animals (or any animals at all). In fact, the only thing cartoonish that remains is the characterization of the Evil Vazir, and his comic-relief assistant, Iago. The Genie? He’s no longer a cartoon, and he’s no longer Robin Williams. Instead, he’s a manic Cab Calloway, a manic Queer Eye host — he’s still down to earth, but with more sequels and less shape-shifting.

There’s also a change in attitude. First, there’s tons of self-referential stuff and commentary that gives a wink and an eye to the fact that these people on stage are in on the joke that this is a Broadway musical. But more significantly, the Disney Princess problem is addressed. As Disney moved from its original suite of animated classic into the era of The Little Mermaid, the heroines became longing for more independence. They were less the passive princess. In the Broadway version (I forget how much this was in the animated version), Jasmine is feisty. The audience cheers with a wink and a nod when the Sultan proclaims that perhaps now is the time that we had a women leader; there’s a point being made at the end when it is made clear that Aladdin and Jasmine will be ruling as partners, not the traditional woman subservient approach.

These are all great changes, and they make the expanded show flow well and the timing not seem to drag. But still, you wish for more. In particular, you wish that Howard Ashman had not passed during the development of this show. The strongest songs in this show — the songs with the most clever lyrics — are Ashman’s. “Friend Like Me” is clearly designed to be an earworm, and is the song that comes into my head when I think of this show. Together with his writing partner Alan Menken, the songs they developed are the heart and soul of this show. The lungs of the show — what lifts it up — are the additional songs that Menken went on to write with Tim Rice. This particularly includes the ballad “A Whole New World”, which is executed in an amazing fashion in the stage version. The remaining songs, which are less memorable, are from book writer Chad Beguelin. It is not that they are bad — Beguelin is a strong writer and I love his work on Wedding Singer and Elf; however, compared to Menkin and Rice there is a level of difference and experience.

And thus, the wish: that Howard Ashman hadn’t past, and that we continued to have his genius enriching stage and screen. But alas, the Genie can’t bring back the dead (it’s in the rulebook), and in any case, he’s far too busy helping Ken Davenport with his podcast.

By this point, you’re probably saying: But he hasn’t told us the story of what Aladdin is about. That’s true, but you’ve probably seen the animated movie and thus know the basics. Your principles are Aladdin, a street rat in a mythical Arabian city, together with his three friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Meanwhile, in the palace is the Sultan, Princess Jasmine, the Grand Vazir Jafar, and Jafar’s assistant/toady, Iago. Jafar wants to be Sultan, but Princess Jasmine is standing in his way. If she finds a Prince she likes and marries, that prince becomes Sultan. Luckily, she’s not the prince type; she prefers honest street rats. So Jafar cooks up a plan to win, by getting a magic lamp from a cave. However, a spooky voice tells us that this lamp can only be gotten by a “Diamond in the Rough”, who is, you guessed it, Aladdin (who incidentally, is the street rat that Jasmine prefers). From that setup, much of the rest is predictable, and one is ingenious is the execution, not the story. By the end of the story — what else? — Aladdin and Jasmine are together, Jafar is banished to a prison, and Aladdin’s friends are elevated to positions they deserve. The Genie? He’s packing his bags, presumably to find a job on the stage somewhere.

As one might imagine, there is a lot of frenetic activity on the stage, which is all coordinated through the direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw. Nicholaw had the same role on the last Ahmanson musical we saw, Something Rotten, and he has a talent for bringing out humor through movement, and having organization on stage that seems chaotic. He did a good job here with loads of enjoyable dancing and dance numbers, quick changes, and fun. He worked with his acting ensemble to bring out characters well, although I do think that Jafar and Iago were a bit overplayed, but that may be more of the fault of the writing and their basis in the animated movie (although Iago was changed into a stooge-like sidekick ala Lafou in Beauty and the Beast, he kept much of the bird-like writing and characterization). Nicholaw was assisted by Associate Director Scotty Taylor (FB), Associate Resident Director Casey Hushion, and Dance Supervisor Michael Mindlin (FB).

Turning to the actors who are implementing Nicholaw’s direction: In the lead position — at least in the eyes of the audience — is Michael James Scott (★FB, FB) as the Genie. For those who remember the performance of the originator of the role at the Tony Awards — this guy is as good. He is having loads and loads of fun with this role, and that playfulness comes out in the performance — which is vital to this track. He’s a hoot to watch in his main number, “Friend Like Me” (which is one of my favorite numbers in the show), but he’s equally strong in the opening number as well as in “Prince Ali”. He fits in well with the glitz, glitter, and sequins. Oh, so many sequins.

The titular leads of the show are the happy couple, ostensibly Adam Jacobs (★FB), FB) as Aladdin and Courtney Reed (★FB, FB) as Jasmine. I say ostensibly because at our performance, Jacobs was out and replaced by his understudy, Clinton Greenspan (FB). Greenspan did admirably in the role with no obvious gaffes (although his voice could be a little stronger in “A Whole New World”. He executed the dances well, sang the songs reasonably well, handled the humor well, and had great chemistry with both the actress playing Jasmine, the Genie, and his trio of friends. Likely, this is because he has been the understudy since the start of the tour, and has presumably played the role before. Speaking of Jasmine, I enjoyed her performance. I saw a few writeups that commented on her voice, but I had no such problem with it (other than the two folks behind us who insisted in talking loudly in Russian during her main duet, “A Whole New World”). Reed danced well, sang well, and had a lovely charm and feisty-ness about her. Reed was new to the tour, having moved from the Broadway production to the tour for Los Angeles (I don’t know about beyond LA; Isabelle McCalla (FB) was Jasmine before Los Angeles) [ETA: Reed is Jasmine for 6 weeks — Per Broadway World: ” Courtney Reed will play the role of Jasmine from Saturday, January 13, through Sunday, February 18, 2018. Isabelle McCalla, original Jasmine in the ALADDIN North American tour company, will play performances in Los Angeles from Wednesday, January 10, through Friday, January 12, and then will return Tuesday, February 20, to Saturday, March 31, 2018.”]

In comic opposition to Aladdin and Jasmine were Jonathan Weir (FB) as Jafar and Reggie de Leon (FB) as Iago. Both were very comically drawn in their performances — and by that I mean that they took on the behavior of animated film villains as opposed to just realistic evil. Luckily, they were a bit self-aware of that (shall we do the evil laugh now?), which helped to offset the overdrawn. Still, they were clearly  having loads of fun with their roles, and they executed them well. I wasn’t that enamored of their makeup, however; Jafar’s tended to look like it was a mask, although the binoculars made clear that it was not.

Aladdin’s friends were Babkak (Zach Bencal (FB)), Omar (Philippe Arroyo (FB)), and Kassim (Mike Longo (FB)). Less than 24 hours later, it is hard to remember which character was which characterization — so guys, you get lumped together. All were strong and comic in their characterizations, and I particularly enjoyed their choreography in the “High Adventure” number with the well-timed sword-clashes and clinks and the comic moments. They were also strong in their titular number “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim”, as well as in “Prince Ali”. They all exhibited great comic timing and movement, and were fun to watch.

The last major named role was JC Montgomery (FB)’s Sultan. His role gets the least character development (not a surprise for Disney and their attitude towards fathers — it is about the same level of characterization as Ariel’s father or Belle’s father): a father who comically cares about his daughter, blind to what is around him, growing a form of a spine at the end to proclaim true love. Still, Montgomery carries the role well.

Rounding out the production was the ensemble and the swings. We had two swings onstage during our show (indicated with §), but I do not know which ensemble members they subbed for, other than the aforementioned Clinton Greenspan (FB). The ensemble and supporting players consisted of (u/s and featured positions noted): Mary Antonini (FB) [Attendant]; Michael Bullard§ (FB) [Swing, Omaru/s, Iagou/s]; Michael Callahan (FB) [Swing, Dance Captain, Iagou/s]; Cornelius Davis (FB); Bobby Daye (FB) [Razoul, Jafaru/s, Sultanu/s]; Lissa DeGuzman (FB) [Swing, Jasmineu/s]; Mathew DeGuzman§ (FB) [Swing]; Olivia Donalson (FB) [Attendant, Fortune Teller]; Michael Everett (FB); Karlee Ferreira (FB) [Swing]; Michael Graceffa (FB) [Shop Owner]; Adrienne Howard (FB); Albert Jennings (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Omaru/s]; Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua (FB); Jason Scott MacDonald (FB); Angelina Mullins (FB); Celina Nightengale (FB); Jaz Sealey (FB) [Prince Abdullah, Fight Captain, Kassimu/s]; Charles South (FB) [Henchman, Kassimu/s, Babkaku/s]; Manny Stark (FB) [Aladdinu/s]; Annie Wallace (FB) [Attendant, Jasmineu/s]; and Michelle West (FB). Standbys were Korie Lee Blossey (FB) [Genie/Sultan]; Ellis C. Dawson III (FB) [Genie/Babkak]; and Adam Stevenson (FB) [Jafar/Sultan]. In general, the ensemble showed strong dance skills, the ability to change costumes quickly, and seemed to be having a great deal of fun with their roles. I particularly remember Michelle West and Olivia Donalson as having looks that I could match up later. I’ll note that the ensemble has an extremely athletic dance job, so they well deserved the applause.

Brandon O’Neill (FB) was the generic spooky voice. Interestingly, he was the original Kassim on Broadway. Yes, it gets a credit.

Moving from voices to music. Music Supervision was by  Michael Kosarin (FB), who also did the incidental music and vocal arrangements.  Danny Troob (FB) did the Orchestrations. Glen Kelly did the Dance Music Arrangements. Music was provided by the Aladdin Touring Orchestra combined with local contractors. This orchestra consisted of (T indicates touring): Brent-Alan HuffmanT (FB) [Music Director / Conductor]; Faith SeetooT  (FB[Keyboard2, Asst. Conductor]; Danny TaylorT (FB) [Drums / 2nd Asst. Conductor]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Larry Greenfield [Concertmaster]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]Trey Henry (FB[Bass, Electric Bass]; Dick Mitchell[Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax];  John Yoakum (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]Greg Huckins (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Bari Sax]; Wayne Bergeron (FB), Paul Baron (FB), and Rob Schaer (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; Andy Martin (FB[Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Bruce Carver  [Percussion]David Witham (FB[Keyboard1]; and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard2 Sub]. Music support was provided by: Howard Joines (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Anixter Rice Music Services (FB) [Music Preparation]Jeff Marder (FB) [Electronic Music Programming]. Brian Miller was the Orchestra Contractor. The music had a great brassy sound to it and was quite enjoyable. People should read the music credits — these are some top notch studio musicians; we saw many of them playing with Doc Severensen at VPAC.

Finally, we come to the production credits. The scenic design was by Bob Crowley, and was over the top — especially the scenic design during “Friends Like Me”, but the other designs were no slouch either. This was assisted by Jim Steinmeyer (FB)’s Illusion Design and Jeremy Chernick‘s Special Effects Design. This was the first time I’ve seen magnesium based fireworks used IN a theatre — spectacular (and dangerous). Gregg Barnes (FB) did the Costume Design, which was also sequined and spectacular, and at quite a few points, daring in a family way. Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (FB) did the Makeup Design, which was also very strong, although both Jafar and the Sultan looked like they were wearing masks. The sound design by Ken Travis was as clear as it could be for the Pantages; Natasha Katz (FB)’s lighting design established the mood well. Rounding out the production credits were: J. Allen Suddeth (FB) [Original Fight Direction]; Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Neuro Tour Physical Therapy Inc [PT]; Geoffrey Quart (FB) / Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision / Production Management]; Clifford Schwartz (FB) [Senior Production Supervisor]; Jason Trubitt (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Kate McDoniel [Stage Manager]; Trisha Henson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; and Vanessa Coakley (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager].

Disney’s Aladdin: The Broadway Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 31. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. This is a fun diversion of time with great singing and dancing; the story is Aladdin, so no big surprises there, but it is well fleshed out for a full-length musical.

Pantages 2018-2019 Season. The Pantages will be announcing their 2018-2019 season on January 30th, so what might it be. We already know that Dear Even HansenCome From AwayFalsettos, and The Play That Goes Wrong will be going to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). What does that leave for the Pantages, as they don’t produce their own. Here are my guesses: BandstandAnastasia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are highly likely; so is the Miss Saigon revival. So would Groundhog Day, except they just cancelled their tour. If A Bronx Tale had announced a tour, it would also be likely. Ditto for Hello Dolly or . Lesser possibilities are Amazing Grace, or A Night with Janis Joplin. In terms of potential retreads, I could see them bringing in the current Les Miz tour, and possibly the Fiddler on the Roof,  Lion King or Wicked tours, if they are still on the road. Also known to be going on tour/on tour, and thus possibilities for retreads, are Cats and Phantom, as they will draw in crowds and haven’t been in LA recently. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has announced a tour, but I think the Pantages is too large for them. I could see them doing the Ahmanson. As for the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), which has two slots to announce, I predict that one will be a show in development, and the other will either be Natasha, Pierre, … , or some form of dance or ballet, like the Matthew Bourne stuff that they’ve done recently.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as 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:

This afternoon brought an interesting production of Heathers The Musical at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, produced by YA4Ever  (FB). It closed today; expect that writeup tomorrow. Next weekend currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to). The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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Take Me For a Ride in Your Car, Car

Here’s a brief collection of new chum articles, all having to do (in some way) with automobiles:

  • The Emblem. Here’s an encyclopedia of automotive emblems and their meanings. If you find logo history interesting, this is for you. I still remember the old Mazda emblem and the emblem on my 1977 Toyota Corona. For example, did you know that, with respect to the Toyota logo: “The ovals overlap one another, symbolizing trust between the automaker and its loyal customers. The white space that occupies the emblem signifies Toyota’s future potential. And the three ovals together represent the collective hearts of the customer, the cars and the technological opportunities ahead.”
  • The Computer. Car security is a big risk. Here’s a good article looking at all the risks in your car from the internal computer systems. Hmmm, that old-school Corona is looking better and better. The key point is near the bottom of the article: “For end users, the first thing they can do to protect themselves is demand that manufacturers put in place the security requirements that’s been mentioned. If their customers stand up and demand something, you can be certain that manufacturers will listen or they could face losing revenue as people walk away from them.”
  • Parking. If you drive, nothing infuriates you more than how others park. Why can’t they park within the lines? Why do they insist on parking their SUV in a compact space? It turns out that Americans are very ugly parkers. The article notes: “Parking lots inspire a unique rage in Americans. They’re one of the few public spaces citizens feel emboldened to police themselves, and reprimand those who don’t follow an assumed set of etiquette. Americans spend an average of 17 hours a year parking, but rather than get used to it, drivers allow themselves to become entitled and aggressive — emotions that don’t bode well in communal spaces, but which Americans are very good at showing. A 2014 study found that 20 percent of men and 12 percent of women have had a verbal confrontation with another driver in a parking lot, and 8 percent of men and 2 percent of women have actually gotten physical over a parking incident.”
  • The Smell. Here’s one of those list articles on smells that are slowly disappearing. #3 and #8 are car related: the smell of diesel exhaust (those who grew up in the 1960s will remember the smell as the bus pulled out), and #8 is that new car smell. Of the latter, they write: “That aroma we smell today upon delivery of a brand new set of wheels is very different from the new car smell of 30 or so years ago. A lot of that smell comes from off-gassing synthetic materials, plastics and chemical additives that are used in modern vehicles. In 1960, the average American-made car contained 22 pounds of plastics; in 2012, that quantity had increased to 250 pounds. And there’s also matter of the flame retardants and antimicrobials that are now added to the carpeting and upholstery for additional “safety” (even though some of the fumes have been proven toxic).” Me, I still really miss #1: Spirit Duplicators.
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Legal Immigration and Racism

userpic=trumpIn the aftermath of Trump’s “shithole” comment, aboth Neo-Nazi’s groups and those who want to reduce legal immigration are celebrating. Why? Because the dog-whistle of “merit-based” legal immigration that Trump is championing is implicitly racist, and allows them achieve racist goals while deluding the public.

Don’t think Trump’s comments were racist? Do you believe they were just talking about bad countries? You’re wrong. Trump’s comments are clearly racist, talking in a blanket sense about all people coming from a particularly country. Further, it just so happens that the people coming from countries that Trump likes are white and economically advantaged, and those coming from countries that Trump places in the “shithole” category are brown and black, and economically disadvantaged. It may not be explicit to you, but it still is racism and it still is classism and it still is elitism.

Why do I care about this? Why do I — a well educated, white man (three things going for me in this administration) care? Because I’m Jewish, and the exact same view of “shithole” companies were used to justify not admitting Jews to the US — and essentially sentencing them to death. Because Jewish immigration to the US used the exact same approach of bringing over family members to save other Jews. It was these family members that enabled the immigrants to start new businesses and use their family as workers to grow the business, giving us many of the largest businesses today.

Those arguing for a move away from “chain” immigration and immigration lotteries to a “merit-based” approach ARE being implicitly racist, in the same way that many companies hiring policies are implicitly unequal and work against diversity. The “merit” based approach is one that selects for economic advantage, and economic advantage is often clustered in first world “white” countries, and for male leaders. Economically disadvantaged people — primarily minorities and women — don’t have the means or opportunities to acquire the “merit” based skills. Those escaping as refugees from the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and East Asia are dealing with war and poverty, and don’t have the same opportunities for higher education. It is the exact same implicit education that kept blacks and minorities down, when they were in school districts that didn’t have the funds to educate and prepare them for college, and so they were considered less skilled — when they just economically had fewer opportunities.

This is why the neo-Nazis celebrate these views: because they advance white people, and work against people of color.

But having fewer skills does not mean the people are any less intelligent, or have any lower of a work ethic. It just means they had less advantage. Given the opportunity to work and to learn, people from any country succeed spectacularly. Often, in fact, it is the least disadvantaged that do more, because they have the most to gain.

Diversity is vital to the US. This episode of Reply All does a great job of explaining why. Diversity gives us different ways  of thinking. Different ways of problem solving. It gives us new ideas. It gives us new energy. Diversity is what makes America strong.

Lastly, think about the other implicit problem: Why does the “Party of Trump” want to reduce people coming in from what they call “shithole” countries — which is essentially reducing legal hispanic and black immigration? Because those immigrants, if admitted legally, will work towards citizenship. As more and more blacks and minorities get the power of the voting box, what does that do to the power of the base that is electing people like Trump? What does that do to the country? Answer: It is the same thing that Israel is fighting against as the number of Arabs and non-Jews in the country grows. Loss of Power. The “Party of Trump” (and I use that term because I don’t believe all Republicans agree with Trump) saw the election of Barack Obama as a sign that the minorities they hate are winning, and if mobilized, have the power. They expertly, and with outside help, manipulated the environment in 2016 to get the minority coalition to see the Democratic candidate as “not one of them” and against their interests, and got them to stay home. The combination of minorities staying home in 2016, combined with a whistles to constituencies that had stayed away from the ballot box, gave Trump the election. Now that they are in power, they don’t want to dilute that power, and will do anything to preserve it. False news, propaganda, distractions, and fighting immigration — legal or not — are just tools in that battle.

This country was started by people fleeing economic and religious persecution. It was founded on principles of freedom and equality (never mind the slave trade behind the curtain). It grew on the backs and the hard work of immigrants — Jews, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Chinese laborers, slaves, and others — who were not asked about their merit (only that they were healthy). It grew even stronger as they brought in their families, cementing their ties to this country, keeping money in this country, and building businesses in this country. Immigration and diversity is American’s strength and America’s bedrock, not something to be feared.

</end rant>

 

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Transitive Hate

userpic=trumpDo you remember how, in high school, you learned that if a=b and b=c then a=c? Do you remember learning that what you say is important, because your words often reflect your innermost beliefs? Today, you need to put that learning into action.

I do not care where you are on the political spectrum. I do not care what your personal position might be on financial, immigration, or any of the myriad policy discussions floating around right now. If you do not believe that your Senator or your Congresscritter must push for a resolution to censure, condemn, or otherwise reprimand the President for his language today, then you are guilty of holding the same racist, sexist, and hateful beliefs that are espoused by this man.

We’re all aware of the President, on tape (before he was President) talking about how he behaves towards women.

We’re all aware of the President, on tape (during the campaign) mocking the disabled.

We’re all aware of the President saying America is “going to hell” because the NFL defended openly gay player.

We’re all aware of what happened in Charlottesville, where he implied support for the antisemitism of the marchers.

But today … today …  Growing frustrated while discussing immigration with lawmakers in the Oval Office, President Trump suddenly asked why people from “shithole countries come here” — referring to people from Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. He also asked why more people from Norway don’t come here. (ref: Buzzfeed, Vox, Los Angeles Times)

Just unpack that. We need more white Nordic people. We need fewer people that look like shit (i.e., coming out of a shithole, i.e., brown and black). That is so incredibly racist, especially in this day and age. It harkens back to the worst of America — the treatment of the Irish, Italians, Jews, and other minorities. It harkens back to the attitudes used to incite Germany against foreigners and those who are not Christian. It is language that in multi-cultural American must be universally and soundly condemned. This is not how our President talks. This must not be how our President thinks. The President is not the President of White Christian American, but of all America, and he is bound by law and oath to follow the principles of equality enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

The President’s speech is not an impeachable offense. However, offensive speech demands a response, rebuttal, and accountability. Every American must demand that their representative introduce / publicly support a resolution stating that such speech does not represent America, and is not appropriate to be said by a President of this nation. It must say that such speech — from the President — is unacceptable, and does not reflect the views of Congress or America.

Any representative or senator that does not condemn what has been said, by the law of transitivity, in my eyes is considered to hold the same view. I hope that you view them similarly, and that on election day (if not before) you remember this behavior.

[ETA, with a hat tip to Jay L.: This echoes what I say above, as well as giving the background of why censure is the appropriate response.]

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The Importance of Visualizations

Visualizations and charts make our lives easier, and sometimes can give us insights we hadn’t considered before. Here are three examples:

 

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Difficult Decisions

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “Navigating the Minefield” where I discussed three interesting societal divides: (1) how do we deal with old, potentially problematic, music; (2) the divide about coats on the UW Madison campus; and (3) how autonomous automobiles may have a significant impact on privacy. WIth respect to the following news chum items, item (1) is particularly applicable. Titled “The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield“, it explored the problem of music, and playing songs that had problematic history, origins, or words — such as the Star Spangled Banner, where the full version as written includes a verse in which slave owner Francis Scott Key, an outspoken white supremacist, rails against “the hireling and the slave.”  I recommend everyone read that piece, which includes the following paragraph by an artist I enjoy, Dom Flemons (the American Songster):

“People are trying to find modern sensibilities in stuff that was not built on modern sensibilities,” Flemons told me. In 2015, he performed an instrumental version of Stephen Foster’s “Ring, Ring de Banjo” at a Foster-themed event with the Cincinnati orchestra. Foster’s racist lyrics are “absolutely unacceptable” nowadays, and “I would never think to perform that song outside the context of that specific show,” Flemons says. But these once-popular songs “are a document of what happened,” and failing to acknowledge that history would “completely devalue the strength of how far we’ve come.”

The following three news chum pieces evoked in me similar feelings to the “Racial Minefield” article, and are worthy of your consideration:

  • Sexual Predators. How do we separate the art from the artist? That’s a big question in these days of #MeToo and TimesUpNow. In particular, how do we treat the art created by these individuals we now know were predators and harassers? Can I still enjoy Fat Albert and Bill Cosby’s routines, knowing his history? What about watching “Annie Hall”? Vox has a great opinion piece on the subject titled “How to think about consuming art made by sexual predators“. It’s conclusion is that the answer is not easy. The basic conclusion, according to a historian consulted in the article, is to put everything in context: “As a historian, I strongly believe that it’s important that we keep these men’s work accessible. Woody Allen films are a genuinely important part of American film history. The Cosby Show is key to understanding representation in media and tangled issues of race, class, and acceptance. But I also can’t imagine watching old episodes simply for entertainment.” But where do you fall on the subject? Can you listen to Bill Cosby, or watch the artwork of Gaugain, the same anymore?
  • Smoking. In a somewhat similar vein is an article by Peter Filchia in Masterworks Broadway about the context of musical plots or dialogue that centers on smoking. Many shows were written at the time that smoking was ingrained in American society. Certainly the classic musicals of the 1950s make jokes about smoking. Look at the lines in musicals that refer to smoking, and look at the musical writers that also penned cigarette jingles. Filchia doesn’t draw a particular conclusion, but does really demonstrate how musicals are a product of their times. (Which, I’ll note, is why shows like Showboat remain problematic, as does the behavior of Rosemary in How to Succeed — how would we view today a woman that predatory towards her male boss?)
  • Confederate Iconography. The last article of interest is from Religion News, and has to do with changing names of things named after Confederate Icons. It is one thing to take down a stature, or to rename an elementary school that has no connection to the person. What do you do if you need to rename a church where he actually worshipped or was memorialized? This article, titled “Our church was named for Robert E. Lee — here is how we changed it” explores just that issue. It talks about three churches : (1) St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond, which is the church Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended during the Civil War; (2) Christ Church, in Alexandria, a 1773 Episcopal parish that claims George Washington and the Lee family as former worshippers; and (3) R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington VA, where Robert E. Lee was senior warden after he joined the church in 1865.

All four of these articles, which are fascinating reads, demonstrate why reconciling the facts of history with the emotion of people and with common sensibilities is never easy.

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Behind the Story

Have you ever watched a show or listened to a podcast, and wanted to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story? Here are a few of those for you:

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Willkommen… No, A Real Cabaret | January Cabaret @ Chromolume

Chromolume Cabaret - 2017: A Year in Revue

January tends to be a quiet month for live theatre. New shows in small theatres are rare, as they don’t like to rehearse and produce during the holiday season. Of course, there are the tours and concerts at the major venues, but it is hard to find the kind of small shows we like in the first two weeks of the year. We were planning on going to the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura, but the tickets were expensive and they weren’t showing up on Goldstar. But then I started to see announcements of the monthly cabaret at one of the theatres at which we subscribe: Chromolume Theatre (FB). This cabaret, which is “pay what you can” (meaning the show is free, and you make a donation), is a way of showcasing artists they like in an informal setting. As Chromolume started to list their artists — quite a few of whom were were familiar with from past shows of theirs — the show grew more and more interesting (and trudging out to Ventura seemed less and less interesting). So last night we went down to Chromolume, which is basically at the edge of Culver City and the West Adams district of LA, to see our first Chromolume Cabaret. The BLUF (bottom line up front) is that this is something we’ll do again, although likely not every month given our schedule. It helped build the connection to this theatre as family, something that has been missing since Rep East Playhouse (REP) in Newhall went dark. In fact, I’d encourage those folks who were active at REP to consider exploring this cabaret and venue: it has the same family feel of “just good” people.

As an aside: This is why I tell people to subscribe at the small theatres: to build and support these families. We’ve rapidly made the family connection with the people at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and we’re slowly making it with the folks at  Actors Co-op (FB) (they are a larger organization). That’s something you don’t get with the Hollywood Pantages (FB) or  Ahmanson Theatre (FB), where you subscribe just to get good seats at shows. At the small and medium size venues, your subscription can help them survive, and you get to meet really great people. But I digress…

For this show, which was hosted by Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB), each artist got two songs that they used to reflect back on their 2017. There was good, and there was bad, but it was basically just an informal (i.e., the artists sat in the audience, instead of hiding backstage) fun evening with great music. Here are the performers and the songs:

🎶 Claire Buchignani (FB). Claire was first up; she’ll be performing in Chromolume’s first production of 2018, Dessa Rose. It was a delight seeing her excitement about her engagement. Her two songs were:

  • “A Quiet Thing” (from Flora the Red Menace, Fred Kander/John Ebb)
  • “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from Funny Girl, Jule Styne/Bob Merrill)

“A Quiet Thing” is a harder number given its range, and Claire did a reasonable job with it. She was stronger with her second number, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”. Both songs brought back memories of seeing the shows: Flora was done back in 1990 by the Pasadena Playhouse, and Funny Girl was done in 2016 by a guest company at the Colony in Burbank.

🎶  Jason Bornstein (FB). Jason we’ve seen before at Chomolume when he was the lead in Zanna Don’t. His two songs were:

  • “Michael in the Bathroom” (from Be More Chill, Joe Iconis)
  • “Soliloquy” (from Carousel, Rodgers/Hammerstein)

I really enjoyed both Jason’s singing and performance in “Michael”, and that’s on top of the already enjoyable Joe Iconis song. Be More Chill is a show that really needs to be done in LA; the music is great. “Soliloquy” was an interesting choice — Jason was right that it is not a role he’s likely to be cast in … which is too bad, because he nailed the song and its emotion.

🎶 Tal Fox (FB). We saw Tal earlier in the year in Hello Again, and I recall enjoying her performance then. She didn’t disappoint. Her two songs were:

  • “Women”  (from The Pirate Queen, Boublil/Schönberg)
  • “The Other Side of the Tracks” (from Little Me, Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh)

I had not heard “Women” before, and I truly liked the song for its words and emotion. I need to get that cast album (alas, the cheapest I can find it is around $40 on Amazon, as it is out of print). So Tal wins the first “Stump the Daniel” award by having a show song I don’t recognize. She did a great job with it, as well as with “Other Side of the Tracks” (which also made me realize that Little Me is another show that needs a Los Angeles revival).

🎶 Everjohn Feliciano (FB). Everjohn was also in Zanna Don’t. His songs were a lot less energetic than most:

  • “Beautiful City” (from Godspell, Stephen Schwartz)
  • “Dreamer in Disguise” (from Carrie, Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore)

On “Beautiful City”, the lyrics seemed somehow different, so I wonder if a different version is being licensed from what was in the show (well, at least it didn’t fit my memory of what was in the show soundtrack or cast albums). He did a nice job with it, nevertheless. Although I did see Carrie in the recent immersive La Mirada production, I didn’t recall the “Dreamer” song.

🎶 Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB). We’d seen Bonnie before in Chromolume’s 2017 Fringe Festival Show. (as well as the CSUN production of Hair) Her songs were both from the musical Ordinary Days (Adam Gwon), which we saw a few years ago at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank:

  • “Calm”
  • “I’ll Be There”

The two numbers are very different: one is frenetic and full of energy, which Bonnie captured quite well. The other is more reflective, dealing with moving on after a tragedy. She did great with both of them.

🎶 Marissa Mayer (FB). Marissa was new to us, and so was her first song (which isn’t a surprise, as it is from the current pop world):

  • “I’m Going Down” (Mary K. Blige)
  • “Times are Hard for Dreamers” (from Amalie, Daniel Messé/Nathan Tysen)

As noted, I hadn’t heard the first song before, but that’s not really a surprise as I rarely listen to modern pop music. Interesting song. I enjoyed the second — it is nice to see songs from the recent Amalie getting a new life after the show closed in New York. Amalie was a show that I really enjoyed at the Ahmanson, and I hoped would succeed on Broadway.

🎶 Jaq Galliano (FB) and Gina D’Acciaro (FB). This was a duo that had been doing a bunch of cabarets and performances around town (although we did see Gina in Lucky Stiff at Actor’s Co-Op). They were mostly telling the story of how they met and got engaged in 2017, which was so cute. Both of their songs were from the pop world, and I hadn’t heard either:

  • “Not in That Way” (Sam Smith)
  • “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (Meghan Trainor)

Both songs were well performed, and the couple was cute together.

 

Daniel Yokomizo (FB) accompanied the performers on the piano (Jaq and Gina added their friend Isaac on Guitar and Ukulele). Lauren J. Peters (FB) was in the booth.

As noted at the top, Chromolume Theatre (FB) does these Cabarets monthly, so watch their Facebook page and their website for the announcement of the next show. I’m not sure we’ll make February, but do plan on attending some more. I also encourage you to subscribe to Chromolume: for $60 you get their three mainstage shows (Dessa RoseJane Eyre – The Musical, and Stephen Sondheim’s Passion), plus whatever they end up doing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June.

We discovered Chromolume Theatre (FB) when we went to go see Prez, a solo show written by playwright Willard Manus about the Jazz musician Lester Young, who was played in this one-many show by Leslie Jones (FB). The production of Prez is being remounted with Leslie at Write Act Repertory (FB) in celebration of Black History Month as part of a Festival Series at Write Act Rep’s Brickhouse Theatre called THREE BY WILL IN REP.  The Series includes two World Premiere’s along with the return of Prez.  The intimate drama is produced by John Lant II, and will be directed by Daniel E. Keough.  The show is set to open February 4th, 2018.  All performances for Prez will be on Sunday at 2PM, through March 11th, 2018. Additional information is available at http://www.writeactrep.org/index.html.

***

The Greatest Showman (Movie)Christmas Movie: The Greatest Showman. I was remiss in not writing up the movie we saw on Christmas Day:  The Greatest Showman. In short: we truly enjoyed it — both the music and the performances. I had seen some criticism that the story wasn’t true to real life of P. T. Barnum, but then again, neither was Cy Coleman’s Barnum. Barnum himself would have enjoyed the humbug being sold and how it was presented. Unlike the musical, however, The Greatest Showman focused primarily on the American Museum period in Barnum’s life; the musical went beyond this into his ventures into politics, into building utopias, and the eventual creation of the circus and the merger with Bailey. There were also some aspects of the American Museum that were left out — I can understand (perhaps) leaving out Joyce Heth, given the increased sensitivity of the subject and the tone the movie was going for, but to leave out “This Way To The Egress” was a bit more questionable.  The two taken together, however, create an interesting picture; the movie demonstrates that perhaps it is time for a Broadway revival of Barnum. However, there are some odd timeline clashes between the two (particularly in the timing of the creation of the circus as distinct from the museum). Perhaps some of those issues could have been handled through a more detailed epilogue or disclaimer at the end — I’m not sure.

I was particularly taken by the musical numbers and their accompanying cinematography and choreography: they had a movement and a rhythm that one cannot do on the stage, and it was engrossing. The song that was submitted to the Golden Globes — “This Is Me” — I could see being a wonderful empowerment anthem (and it goes very well with Coleman’s “My Body” in The Life). I enjoyed the singing of the leads — I’m more and more impressed with Hugh Jackman the more and more I see of his performances. Just a delightful show, and the Golden Globe won by Pasek and Paul for the music was well deserved.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as 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:

Next weekend brings our first touring show, Aladdin, at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend currently has no theatre; instead, there is a So Cal Games Day and a Walking Tour of Jewish Boyle Heights. The last weekend of January brings The Pirates of Penzance at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to). The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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