Nothing Moves Above Their Waist | “Dublin Irish Dance” @ Soraya/VPAC

Dublin Irish Dance (Soraya)Over the weekend, we closed out our February live performances with some dance: we saw Dublin Irish Dance‘s production “Stepping Out” at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). This is the “Riverdance” style of Irish Dance, although I must admit I’ve never seen Riverdance.

The production consisted of 8 musicians and 8 dancers doing what I presume is traditional Irish dance — at least that’s what they call it, although I have no idea whether the Irish dancers I know would agree. The music and the dance was technically brilliant and precise. It was beautiful to watch as they attempted to tell a story of Irish immigrants coming to America, back in the time when the Irish weren’t accepted as immigrants,

Although the production was technically brilliant, it left me… cold. I’m not sure why. The music was beautiful, and I listen to Celtic music all the time. In fact, the music sounded a lot like the recent instrumental Irish and Celtic Music podcast. The dance was precise. But unlike stage shows that I go to, there wasn’t a warmth being projected from the dancers. They were coldly precise — were they enjoying the dance? I couldn’t tell.

I think I’ll need to give this particular genre of dance another try, perhaps one day when I’m not as tired (my muscle relaxant was hitting me). It wasn’t that it was bad — it wasn’t at all. It just didn’t wow me as much as I had hoped it might.

To give credit where credit was due: The musical team consisted of Megan Burns [Vocals and Guitar], Kenneth Browne [Accordion, Banjo, Mandolin], Brian Murphy [Fiddle and Guitar], Conal Duffy [Pipes, Flute, and Whistles]; Ryan O Shaughnessy (FB) [Vocals and Guitar]; Oscar Little [Drums and Bodhran]; Marco Andrew Pes [Keys], and David Harte [Bass Guitar]. I do find it interesting that most of the musicians don’t have an identity on the Internet, not even as part of an indie Irish band. I did enjoy their sound quite a bit.

The dancers were (* indicates lead): Sinead Neylon (FB)*, Erin Kuncaitis, Ciara Faber, Jessie Driscoll, Dylan Millar*, Sean Dolan, Lucas Lawton, and Ash Millar. The production was choreographed by Alan Scariff and Ciaran Connolly.

I find it telling that the program only gives bio on the choreographers. Musicians and dancers aren’t interchangable. Tell me something about these people. Celebrate them. Perhaps celebrating your performers over your staff will be reflected out.

***

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, a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and as of Friday, Ahmanson Theatre (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:

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week. This enables us to see a remounting of Leslie Jones starring in Prez – The Lester Young Story that weekend. This is followed on the second weekend with the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB) and the MRJ Man of the Year Dinner. The next weekend brings 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 brings only the joint TBH Brotherhood/MoTAS Mens Seder. The last weekend of March is currently open.

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).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; the weekend itself is currently open. June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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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Indescribable | Martha Graham Dance Company @ VPAC

Martha Graham Dance Company (VPAC)Last night saw us at the final performance of the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) 2016-0127 season: Martha Graham Dance and American Music (you can see my thoughts on their 2017-2018 season here).  What did I think of the show? I just don’t have the vocabulary. To put it another way, it was indescribable.

Let me explain. I’ve attended a lot of live theatre. As in as lot of live theatre. As in A LOT OF live theatre. So much so that I understand the vocabulary of live theatre: how a plot is supposed to work, how the ensemble works, what swings do, what stage managers do, and all the things that go into a production.

But dance?

I’ve never attended a true ballet. My exposure to modern dance was Mr. N’s Dance productions at Van Nuys High School. My sole knowledge of Martha Graham was the show we saw earlier this year.  So when I have to describe a dance production, I not only emotionally don’t have the words, but I literally don’t have the words. I do not have the vocabulary to describe what I saw, to put into words the movement and motion. I don’t know the dance tropes that Graham used to tell the story; indeed, I have difficultly following and seeing the story in the movement.

So I fall back on enjoyment. I revel in the beauty of the movement without understanding the story. I watch the feet, the faces, the muscles, the bodies. I look at the power in the legs, the beats of sweat from the effort, the impact of the colors. I see the emotions that come from the dance without seeing how that is driven by the story.

I let the dance wash over me without trying to think, because I don’t have the words to think.

The production consisted of five movements, so to speak:

  • Panorama. Premiered in 1935 in Bennington VT, with music by Norman Lloyd. Performed by CSUN and dancers from local high schools.
  • Dark Meadow Suite. Premiered in 1946 in New York City, NY. Music by Carlos Chavez.
  • Diversion of Angels. Premiered in 1948 in New London CT. Music by Norman Dello Joio.
  • Cave of the Heart. Premiered in 1946 in New York City, NY. Music by Samuel Barber.
  • Maple Leaf Rag. Premiered in 1990 in New York City, NY. Music by Scott Joplin.

All had choreography by Martha Graham. I’ve put images from each dance in the composite image with this post, although they are not from the specific show I saw. I’m not listing all the dancers — there were some substitutions I didn’t get, and the specific names would likely be a meaningless list.  There’s some more information in the press release for the show. VPAC did post a YouTube clip here.

Some more somewhat general observations:

  • I contrasted the dancers here with a typical dance ensemble from a musical. The difference: expressed joy. Modern dancers control the emotion they show: their hearts may be soaring inside, but it doesn’t show on their face. Ensemble dancers radiate the joy they feel performing, and it reverberates from the audience. The only joy I saw from the Martha Graham dancers was in the Joplin number; I just saw the beauty. Ensemble dancers you see the joy, but the beauty of the dance much less so (except, perhaps, An American in Paris).
  • There was very little of what one might think of as traditional ballet movement. There was almost non-ballet movement; an attempt to move in a way that didn’t evoke the traditional forms. That, perhaps, is what distinguishes modern dance?
  • Dance, especially barefoot dance, makes one watch the feet. Not only did these dancers move, but they used their feet as rhythmic devices, accompanying the accompaniment.
  • With the costumes, one might expect more — shall we say — unintended visibility. These costumes were well engineered as well as being beautiful, allowing one to look at the broader human form without unintended distractions. It makes one realize the magical movement bodies are capable of.

As I said, I’m not a dance person. Yet I believe the breadth of live performance needs to encompass not only those with which one is comfortable and familiar, but occasionally those outside the comfort zone. This is especially true for those forms your wife enjoys :-), and she thoroughly enjoyed this show.

I hope to see more dance in the upcoming season at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on the campus of California State University, Northridge. You can read my thoughts on that season here.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with a production from Write Act Rep (FB) at their new home in North Hollywood, Freeway Dreams, followed by Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) [plus my wife is off to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB) on Sunday, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, while I work on the highway pages].  and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps.

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. Not all is ticketed — we are ticketing in two groups: this weekend (¹), and right after June 1st (²), to split the charges. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

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

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

 

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An Institution Cast in Bronze, Butt….

Crazy Girls (Riviera)userpic=las-vegasIf you haven’t figured it out by now, one of my interests is the history of Las Vegas — in particular, the history of the strip and major casinos in the pre-Mirage era. My folks had their honeymoon at the Desert Inn in 1956, and I remember staying at both the Sahara and the Aladdin in the 1970s. There aren’t many of the old hotels left — practically nothing on the strip from the founding era with the exception of some two-story rooms at the Tropicana, and the hotel at the heart of the Riviera. That list gets even smaller on Star Wars Day, May the 4th, when the Riviera Hotel and Casino closes at noon (followed by a liquidation sale two weeks after), to be replaced by more convention center space. As we’re in vacation two weeks before the Riv closes, that meant that a “must see” was a show at the Riviera. The show we chose is at the heart of the Riv’s identity– a show that just celebrated its 28th anniversary. It is a show that is honored with a special bronze casting (FB) at the front of the hotel. That show is Crazy Girls (FB), a 75-minute topless dance/burlesque show.

Writing up this show is somewhat difficult. The show has a rotating cast (no pun intended), and there is no cast list or credit list provided to the audience or posted on the Crazy Girls website. There is also no scene list. External reviews (such as on Yelp) are across the board, and seem overly subjective: complaints about lip-synching (which is common in such shows), complaints about lack of breasts, complaints about what isn’t shown, complaints about the lighting. I’ll do my best to eliminate such subjectivity and to ferret out what information I can.

Crazy Girls should be looked upon as a dance/burlesque show. The girls are hired for their looks, for their dance ability, and for their performance skills (and probably in that order). Most of the dancing is to recorded tracks, and the girls lip-synch to those tracks. A few numbers (the ones where the girls have a microphone) feature actual singing.  Although 7-8 girls appear to be on-stage (I think the number is 7, but most of the ads show 8), the actual dancing cast is larger and provides the ability for girls to rotate in and out on any given day. As each girl has a tailored solo, that means some dance numbers rotate in and out as well. There is also a magician who shows up at a few points, both to entertain the audience and to provide the girls time to do more involved costume transformations.

I’m an avid theatre nut, and have been to a few pure dance shows. This was my first topless show (or second, depending on how you view Zumanity). To me — an older, jaded, 30-year married, Los Angeles guy — I didn’t find it all that sexy or outrageous. But I believe my judgement was skewed, and the show doesn’t seem tuned to my sensibilities. I was watching it focusing on the dancing and the performance, and enjoying watching the movement of the musculature, the artistry of the bodies, the glory of the dance. Many of the rest of the audience seemed to be more of the “mid-west” sensibility where this was something out of the ordinary and titillating — they were screaming and hooting at appropriate points, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The version we saw is supposedly a “new” version. Evidently, the show declined for a period in the early 2000s along with the Riv, and was revitalized and reinvigorated for the 25th anniversary. It worked, in my opinion. I found the show quite enjoyable. There were some aspects I was less-than-crazy about, but I also understand they are burlesque conventions (so I went along with it). Those aspects: the clearly non-realistic wigs and the lip-synching. I think that’s more because I truly want to see the real performer — the girl, the dancer, the singer, the actor, the talent. Any girl can strip, put on a wig, and lip-synch.  I want the performance to make clear what these girls have that is special, and that is something other than physical endowments and beauty.

Luckily, this shows does provide those glimpses. It highlights the very strong dance and movement skills of the girls — and those are a delight to watch. There are some routines where the girls seem to be working without any wigs (i.e., when they show up with normal brunette hair), and those seem to provide extra enhancements to the beauty. If you watch the mirror to see the girls from the back as they perform, you can see the muscles they have developed, and can gain a greater appreciation of the work that goes into performance these dance numbers. Many numbers are quite acrobatic. Thinking about it, the athleticism makes this a much less expensive version of Zumanity — strong lightly-erotic dance and performance.

Piecing together the various articles on the show provides some good descriptions of the scenes and numbers, although not in order. The show opens with a number actually sung by Michelle (last names are not used, I’ve been told, for security reasons).  Other scenes include Lisa miming Eartha Kitt’s “How Could You Believe Me?”, and a kinky S&M number to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” There are also stripper-pole dances to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” and a girl-meets-girl scene. Another number cited that I remember is “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”. There is also Danielle dancing to Led Zeppelin’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and a group of four who started on a revolving wheel to Oscar Benton’s “Bensonhurst Blues.” All the girls perform a cowgirl number to Sheba Potts Wright’s “I Need A Cowboy to Ride My Pony”. Another number in the show is Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?”. Rachel also pays homage to burlesque with her rendition of “Nasty Naughty Boy.” I checked with the show, and the girls at our performance were Danielle (dance captain) Sarah, Janell, Missy, Lisa, Melissa, Rachel, and Michelle (singer).  According to one article I found, for many of the girls, this is a second job: The hours (come in to work at 8:30 PM, leave at 11) provides the ability for day work or school. [Edited to indicate the girls at our show, based on information from the Crazy Girls staff]

[One other observation that struck me about the girls: they were all tall and white (perhaps one Asian). This could be an homage to Crazy Horse, where all the girls look the same. However, the advertising shows one black dancer. It could be that (as the show is winding down at the Riv) the cast has shrunk. Still, it bothered me. I believe that if we are going to have a show that celebrates the beauty of women (as these shows do), they should celebrate all colors and ethnicities. This might also broaden the potential audience of the show. I’d love to also see the show broaden beyond all colors and ethnicities to all shapes and sizes as well, as I feel that all women are beautiful and can show that beauty through dance… but I also know that’s not likely to happen given the Vegas crowds.]

Intermingled with the girls dances are some simple magic acts and jokes by Tony Douglas (FB) cabaret-magic standards in 15 minutes. The most novel is a straitjacket escape to stop a borrowed ring from falling into a whirring blender. These tricks were simple and cute, including interactions with a groom-to-be in a humorous magic routine, and another interaction with a bride-to-be in a different routine. What I liked best was probably the simplest routine: the drawing that came to life. There were some adult jokes that fell a little flat, but again, that’s burlesque tradition.

There are no technical credits provided; the show indicated that the Choreographer and Producer were responsible for the technical aspects. The sound, thankfully, did not overpower. The lighting was effective in providing both distraction and camouflage, which probably annoyed the hornier audience members. They need to get over it — a show like this is about the tease, not full disclosure. If you want that, there are plenty of places on Industrial or west of the freeway. There were some flares out to the audience that were a little annoying, particularly in the “Fuck You” number.  But in general, the lighting worked well to augment the dance. Scenery was simple: dancing in front of a mirror with appropriate props to support the dance. Costumes were by Jean Corporon and Holly McKinnis  (a credit I found from a story profiling them), and were appropriate revealing… while being not revealing. In other words, they were sexy, allowed for quick display of what the girls wanted to be displayed, but had sufficient design to hide what needed to remain hidden. Crazy Girls was choreographed (and managed) by Jennifer Stowe (FB), who is married to the show’s producer, Norbert Aleman (FB).

At the production we saw, the show was about 30% sold — and that’s with aggressive marketing. Whether that is due to impending demise of the Riviera,the lack of advertising from the Riv, the weakness of the North end of the Strip (there’s not much left there with the hulk of the Fountainblu, the closure and demolishment of the Frontier and Stardust — really only SLS, Circus Circus, and Westgate are left). Crazy Girls performs its last Riv show on May 1st. There are statements that the show will move to another venue, but nothing specific has been announced. Yet. [ETA 4/29: They have announced a new venue: The Sin City Theatre at Planet Hollywood…. and they get to keep the bronze butts]

If you move fast, you can get tickets (and discount tickets) for Crazy Girls before they close. Check with the Riv, check with Tix4Tonight, or check with most discounters.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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: We have one more show booked in Vegas: Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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2014 – A Year of Reviews in Review

userpic=theatre_musicalsI just posted my last write-up for 2014, so it is probably worth looking back at my entertainment (theatre, ♦ concerts, ◊ movies, and ⊗ other reviewed stuff) year. Here’s what I saw in 2014:

All told, 2014 saw us at 53 live theatre shows, 6 concerts, 1 comedy show, 2 tribute nights, and 3 movies or TV equivalents.

So out of all of this, what were the most memorable items of the year?

I think the most impactful show was Sex and Education at the Colony. I quote that show regularly: it taught me an important lesson: to convince an audience, don’t write what you think will convince them. Instead, get into their head and write what they think will convince them. It’s an important message — convincing someone by presenting the argument that works for them.

I think the most impactful situation was the bru-ha-ha over REP’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The production itself was excellent. Two shows after we saw it, an audience member either got drunk or acted drunk and made homosexual slurs. An actor went into the audience before calling theatre staff and physically threatened the patron. After the incident, the theatre fired the actor for that behavior and was forced to close the show. The fired actor and his friends put the story on the Internet, and the theatre’s name was dragged through the mud (I was one of the few voices able, for legal reasons, to speak up for them). About a week after the incident a version of the production showed up at another theatre (without proper licensing), with many of the original cast but sans the original director, as a “benefit” (and the actor and that production were cited). The Santa Clarita community and REP regulars rallied around REP with a number of fundraisers, and the theatre came out of it OK. It goes to prove the adage: do something great, or do something awful — in either case, they’ll remember your name.

I think the production that made me think the most was Discord, which reappeared later in the year at the Geffen. An intense theological discussion similar to Meeting of Minds, it made one see the bible and the New Testament — indeed, the impact of Jesus — in a new light. I still remember Jefferson’s comment that if you remove all the miracles from the New Testament, the story is even more miraculous: a simple man who through the power of conviction was able to change the world.

We had a number of science fiction or similarly themed musicals: Zombies from the Beyond, Evil Dead: The Musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Roswell. All were great fun and demonstrate that the genre can be a hoot if done right. Bat Boy – The Musical deserves some special mention, as the songs and the story go beyond the normal parody type story to make an even larger statement about society.

There were a number of shows that were extremely moving: The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre was astounding in its characterizations; Big Fish at MTW was just a delight in the scope of its story, and Harmony at the Ahmanson was amazing in its significance and impact.

There were some truly classic shows, in addition (of course) to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Shows like Inherit the Wind at GTC, Harvey at Palo Alto Players, and The Great Gatsby at REP East. There were also some classic musicals, expertly done: Li’l Abner at LA City College, She Loves Me at Chance, and Bye Bye Birdie at Cabrillo.

There were some once-in-a-lifetime shows, notably the tributes to Stan Freberg and Theo Bikel, where we were were sharing the theatre with major industry people. Only in Los Angeles. Our other concerts weren’t slouches either, in particular Noel Paul Stookey‘s concert at McCabes and the long-awaited return of the Austin Lounge Lizards.

I’m not the type that gives meaningless awards. I can’t say who was a best actor, or what was the best show that I saw. Certainly, I can’t judge what was the best show in Los Angeles. I can tell you which performances I enjoyed and stayed with me the most. Weekly, I can share with you the impressions of what I see; I hope that they help you in discovering all the entertainment possible in Southern California.

May you have the happiest of new years, and may 2015 bring you a year of wonderful entertainment, theatre, and concerts. Want to know how to afford going to so much theatre? Look at my post on discount theatre options.

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Music, Rhythm, and Feet

Earth/quaked with Savion Glover | Muse/iqueNormally, I pick the shows that we see. So when my wife points to an ad for some shows and says “Get tickets for this”, I do it with nary an additional question. Recently, this happened with an ad for Muse/ique (FB), a counter-cultural orchestra event. She was reading the LA Times when she saw an ad for a concert event with Savion Glover (with a half-off discount code). She brought it to me and asked me to get tickets. I did, and Sunday evening saw us on the lawn at Beckman Mall at CalTech for a concert titled “Earth/quaked: Dance Changes the World“. I’m very pleased that I went. I do, however, need to apologize in advance for two things: First, I apologize for for the delay in this writeup — I’ve been busy with MoTAS business the last two nights. Secondly, I apologize for the briefness of the summary of the show and lack of complete credits — the closest thing to a program that was provided was a fan with some information, and I’m going from memory for the rest.

Let me start with some observations about the setup, which was remarkably civilized. One hears “concert on the lawn”, and one things this means bringing blankets and folding chairs. Not for Muse/ique (FB). There were tables set up on the lawn in distinct seating areas: upfront for the special patrons, in the middle for the premium assigned seats, and even tables of 6 for the festival seating (where we were) in the back. You could buy food at the catering tent in the back, or you could bring your own food in. Unlike the Hollywood Bowl or other such venues, there was no bag check — no limitations on bottles or what you could bring in. Further (and this really surprised me), no one ever asked to see my ticket! Each of our festival seating tables had a small bag of hard candy and a few fans that served as the concert program. Very, very, civilized.

The show itself had a wide variety of music, presented by the Muse/ique Counter-Conventional Orchestra. I’m going from memory, but the compositions (in order were): A medley by Lennon/McCartney, A medley from “West Side Story” (Bernstein), a clip of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson dancing with Shirley Temple, a recording of Mr. Bojangles sung by Sammy Davis Jr., a composition or two by Alan Steinberger, a longer medley of music by Duke Ellington (one of his suites), concluding with a long medley of Vivaldi. Starting with Mr. Bojangles, Savion Glover joined the orchestra. Glover, if you recall, was the man behind “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk“, and his dancing during this show exemplified his philosophy of tap: that tap dancing is a form of music and that one can create music with the feet. Bojangles was straightforward emotional tap, but by the later numbers (especially in the Vivaldi piece), Glover’s feet were a part of the orchestra. Of course, being the back we could only see the dancing through the few big screen monitors that had been set up; but with Glover, this is dancing meant to be heard. I’ll also note that there was one segment that featured a display of artwork by davidkremers, a visitor in Aerospace at Caltech…. which was accompanied only by the sounds of Glover’s feet dancing.

The orchestra at Muse/ique was under the direction of Rachael Worby (FB), the artistic director of Muse/ique. It was a very large orchestra featuring the following artists: VIOLIN I / Roger Wilkie, Agnes Gottschewski, Grace Oh, Mei Chung, Shelly Shi, Hana Kim / VIOLIN II / Tammy Hatwan, Neel Hammond, Alwyn Wright, Simeon Simeonov / VIOLA / Shawn Mann, Rodney Wirtz, Brett Banducci / CELLO / Kim Scholes, Joo Lee, Ginger Murphy / BASS / Mike Valerio, Geoff Osika / FLUTE / Sara Weisz, Sal Lozano / OBOE / Jennifer Johnson / CLARINET / Amanda McIntosh, Damon Zick / BASSOON / Anthony Parnther, Samantha Duckworth / HORN / Kristy Morrell, Amy Sanchez / TRUMPET / Marissa Benedict, TJ Tesh / TROMBONE / Mike Hoffman / TUBA / Blake Cooper / TIMPANI / Theresa Dimond / KEYBOARD / Alan Steinberger / PERCUSSION / Jason Goodman / DRUM / Jamie Tate / ELECTRIC BASS / Mike Valerio… and of course, as Worby noted, / FEET / Savion Glover :-).

There were no technical credits, which is too bad because the sound designer ensured that the sound was clear throughout the mall, and the lighting designer used LED lighting very effectively to convey mood.

This was the end of the Muse/ique performances for the summer, but they do plan on activities over the year. Next summer’s program will focus on Leonard Bernstein, and we plan to be back. For future reference, they do appear to list tickets on Goldstar.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  This coming weekend bring “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank. The remainder of September brings  Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19),  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. I’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

 

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A Final VNHS Dance Performance

Last night, we went to Van Nuys HS for what will be our last performing arts performance there (most likely). It was the final show for the 2012 Dance Class at Van Nuys, and the final show that our daughter would be in. As such, it was a bittersweet moment. It brought back memories of the first time we came to Van Nuys HS in 2009 to first see their performing arts program. It’s been a journey, and we thank all the teachers that brought our daughter and her friends this far–especially Marque Coy in the technical theatre program, Mike Nakauchi in the dance program, and Randy Olea in the drama program.

On to the show… the show had three acts: a senior spotlight, followed by two normal Dance Production acts. I’m not going to comment on all the performances, just a select few that I particularly remember.

Senior Spotlight. Of course, the highlight of the senior spotlight to me was the program “Georgia”, which Erin choreographed and danced. It is hard to describe — it was a modern interpretive dance — almost primitive. I’ll edit this to add a link to the you-tube of it once it is uploaded. The other performance that I liked was “I Can Be Anything You Like!” by Mayra Martinez and Myelle Bossett (probably because I really liked the music).

Act I. A number of really good performances here. Ones I liked (and remembered) included “Time”, choreographed by Mike Nakauchi and performed by the Jazz Dance Team, “Classical Ballet”, choreogrpahy by Natalya Shoaf and performed by Layla Chatthoranongsak, Tatyana Saldana, and Natalya Shoaf, “Pure Imagination”, choreographed and performed by Layla Chatthoranongsak, “Glad to Go” choreographed and performed by Quest Sky Zeidler, “Transatlanticism” choreographed and performed by Erin Geronimi, “Love Sprung” choreographed and performed by Ronamae Septimo and Kevin Garcia, and a nice version of “Cell Block Tango”, choreographed by Tatyana Saldana and performed by Arielle Bell, Tatyana Saldana, Natalya Shoaf, Stephanie Cabrillo, Asha Morris, May Povoorian, Alex Genorilla, and Layla Chatthoranongsak.

Act II. Numbers I liked in Act II included the Senior Dance, cheoreographed by the Jazz and Hip Hop Team Officers and danced by a large number of seniors, “Pink Panther”, choreographed by Jayy Rodriquez, JDT and performed by Alex Geronilla, Layla Chatthoranongsak, Tatyana Saldana, and Natalya Shoaf, “Candy” choreographed by Joseph Cayanan, Aliam Jiles, Diane, Ronamae Septimo and performed by the Hip Hop Dance Team, and the finale “Pure Rock You”, choreographed by Mike Nakauchi and performed by everyone. This act also had another song from Chicago which was performed reasonably well, but I would have preferred if they had done “Hot Honey Rag” and had stronger tap. But that’s just me being a Chicago geek.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: The remainder of May brings the Spring Railfest at Orange Empire, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” at REP East, and it may also bring “Follies” at the Ahmanson. Oh, and May also has my daughter’s HS graduation. June is more open, but does feature both “Addams Family” and “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Pantages. July I”ve been keepling light until we know the orientation schedule at UC Berkeley and our vacation schedule. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.

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Students of the Dance

Last night, we went to the Spring show of the Van Nuys High School dance department, “Collabor8”. This is the student produced dance show, featuring primarily student-choreographed worked and primarily student performers (the class instructor, Mike Nakauchi, performed in one number). It is always an interesting show, although I do advise those unfamilar with today’s music scene to bring your foam earplugs, for it gets LOUD in the auditorium, especially when the subwoofers and bass gets turned up.

The show last night featured three acts. Act 0 was the senior spotlight, with Acts I and II being the main production featuring students of all years. I’d like to comment on a number of the productions that particularly caught my eye.

Act 0: Senior Spotlight. In this act, there were two performances I particularly liked. The first was “My Immortal”, choreographed and performed by Dixie Zelaya, perhaps because it was more traditional and ballet-like. The second performance (which was stronger) was “My Chick Bad”, performed and choreographed by Amanda Molano. This was a very athletic performance to a strong beat, which even though I didn’t like the music drew me in from the movement.

Act I. There were a number of good performances here. Here are the ones I particularly liked, in presentation order… “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, chroeographed by Tatyana Saldana and performed by Arielle Bell, Layla Chatthoranongsak, Paloma De Ruiz, Alex Geronilla, Amanda Molano, Tatyana Saldana, and Andrea Vargas was a relatively traditional number, which I liked primarily because the music (“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack) was accessible, and they did a good job of executing it. “Beautiful Liars” was a belly dance-like number choreographed and performed by Layla Chatthoranongsak and Dixie Zelaya. “ABC” was a tap number choreographed and performed by Natalya Shoaf and Tatyana Saldana to the Jackson 5 song… and I’m a sucker for tap. Always have been, always will be. “Heavy”, choreographed by Thomas Murphy O’Hara and performed by Thomas and Andrea Vargas was an extremely strong number, very moving. “Fembot”, choreographyed by Myelle Bossette, Erin Geronimi, Quest Sky Zeidler and performed by the choreographers plus Zoya Hasan, was a very cute and appealing number. “Stay with Me”, choreographed and performed by the faculty advisor, Mike Nakauchi, showcased his ability very well. Lastly, “SAW”, choreographed by Mike Nakauchi and performed by the Jazz Dance Team, was a wonderful story peace, well performed and danced.

Act II. Again, here are the numbers I liked in this act, in performance order. “Wonderland”, choreographed by Dixie Zelaya, Rebecca Monterroso, and Mary Jannie Taylor, and performed by a hell-of-a-lot-of-people was an interesting take on Alice In Wonderland; I found myself wondering what they might do with the new Frank Wildhorn score. “Mafia”, choreographed by Joseph Cayanan, Stephen Park, Joe Gravina, and Lionel Vivar and performed by the Hip Hop Dance team was also an excellent story piece about mobs and mob violence. Also enjoyable was “Bad Romance”, choreographed by Thomas Murphy O’Hara and performed by another-large-bunch-of-people (including my daughter)—it was a joy to watch. “Otea”, choreographed by Lyndel and performed by May Poovaviranon, was a traditional hulu dance and made an interesting change of pace. I may be biased on this, but I enjoyed “Atonement”, which was choreographed by my daughter, Erin, and was performed by Erin, Taylor Morris, and Quest Sky Zeidler. Lastly, I enjoyed the finale piece, “Salome”, choreographed by Mike Nakauchi and featuring the entire company.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend brings us to “Gypsy… Stripped” at West Coast Ensemble (specifically at the Theatre of Arts Arena Stage in Hollywood) The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, but most of June is lost to the college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl); “Shrek” (July 23 or 24, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August will bring “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20. The remainder of August is currently open.

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Who Says There’s No Performing Arts HS in the SF Valley?

For there is: Van Nuys HS Performing Arts Magnet. Further, they are having their spring dance show, Collabor8, on Friday 5/13 at 7:30pm and Saturday 5/14 at 7pm. Tickets are $10 adult, $8 student at the door. For more information, see the Facebook event page or the page for the Van Nuys HS Dance Department.

We’ve been to some of the past Van Nuys Dance showcases (review, review, review), and they have been excellent (although a bit loud—bring your earplugs). I strongly recommend this production.

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