Rockin’ and Swingin’ at the Bowl | Brian Setzer @ Hollywood Bowl

Bian Setzer (Hollywood Bowl)This has been a busy busy week, what with meetings and loads of stuff to do in the evenings. One of those evening activities was an evening at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) where we were seeing Brian Setzer and his Orchestra. Originally, this was going to be a simple evening: I’d work from home during the day, we’d take the bus to the bowl, have a nice picnic, and rock away. The universe, however, had other plans. I was specifically requested to attend some off-campus meetings, meaning I was driving into work (and driving back to the valley) instead of working from home. I spilled something all over myself after lunch, meaning not only was I off-site, but I had to deal with wet pants and a meeting to attend. My cousin, who was now living with us, stepped wrong and sprained her ankle, meaning (a) my wife lost part of the day at the ER, and (b) we had to switch to handicapped seating at the last minute instead of walking up the hill. Just one of those cascade failure days.

The cascade continued when I got home. We caught the 6:00pm bus instead of the 5:45pm, and it didn’t leave Chatsworth until 6:30p, meaning we got to the bowl around 7pm, and then it took another 45 minutes to get reseated (because someone decided to work out all of their season tickets in front of us in the handicapped line). Then increased security at the Bowl (they’ve added metal detection scanners, meaning emptying all your pockets) let to my setting off security, and my time frustration getting in as things kept getting closer and closer to the show with dinner shifting further and further away. We didn’t have a chance to pick up merch or a program, as the handicapped route to the seats bypasses all of that.

We finally got to our seats (which were much better than our original seats) about 5 minutes before the opening act started, and things began to get better from there. The opening act was a fellow by the name of J.D. McPherson (FB), with a band that played rock and rockabilly. I was too out of it to make my own setlist, but I did find it online:

  1. Bossy
  2. I Can’t Complain
  3. North Side Gal
  4. Wolf Teeth
  5. It Shook Me Up
  6. Desperate Love
  7. Lucky Penny
  8. Precious
  9. Mother of Lies
  10. Let The Good Times Roll

The band was OK, but it didn’t make me want to go out and get their music. I was more into the big-band side of Setzer, not the pure rock. I will observe this was the first bowl concert I’ve been to that didn’t start with The Star Spangled Banner.

After a 30 minute intermission, the main act came on. This was Setzer’s 25th Anniversary Show. Setzer was great, mostly playing the music and doing less audience dialog than I’ve seen some do. Again, here’s the setlist I found online:

  1. Pennsylvania 6-5000
  2. Stray Cat Strut
  3. This Cat’s on a Hot Tin Roof
  4. Gene & Eddie
  5. The Dirty Boogie
  6. Runaway Boys
  7. Sleep Walk
  8. Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)
  9. Let’s Shake
  10. Jump, Jive an’ Wail
  11. Let There Be Rock
  12. I Won’t Stand in Your Way
  13. Put Your Cat Clothes On
  14. Slow Down/Folsom Prison Blues
  15. Fishnet Stockings
  16. Rumble in Brighton
  17. Encore: Rock This Town

The show started with the big band numbers and rock run through the big band, and ended with rockabilly. Overall, the music was great and the crowd was dancing in the aisles. For the most part, the Setzer part of the show made up for any shortfalls during the day. I’ll note that Setzer only introduced some of his backup band; in particular, he didn’t introduce all of the big band members, nor did he introduce the backup singers. Not having a program, I couldn’t grab their information from there either (in fact, there might not have been programs at all).

Of course, coming back meant the handicapped route again — meaning we had to wait for the last bus back to the Park and Ride, which got us back around 11:30pm, and home around midnight, and to bed at 1am… and getting up at 430am for work. It also meant dealing with an iGen teen who seemingly had a face in the phone all the time. More on that in another post.


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) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (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:

August theatre starts with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) [although a little birdie … OK, Nance from Chromolume whom I saw at The Last Five Years, indicated the dates on that are shifting out to November]. There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson 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.


Thoughts on a Theatre/Concert Season: Hollywood Bowl, Segerstrom Center, Theatreworks

Today was a day for a number of season announcements. I thought I would share my thoughts on them with you.

The Hollywood Bowl

I’m not going to go through the entire list of the Bowl season. But I am going to mention the shows of possible interest to me:

Segerstrom Center, Costa Mesa

This theatre is a bit far for us to travel to and subscribe, but for those in Orange County, it looks like a great season:

Broadway Series

  • Something Rotten!” Nov. 7-19, 2017. Set in the late 1500s, two brother playwrights are trying to write a hit play but their rival, the rock star writer Shakespeare, keeps getting all the attention. Thus, the concept of a musical was born.
    🎩 This hasn’t been in LA yet; given the Pantages has announced their season, I expect this at the Ahmanson.
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein’sThe King and I,” Feb. 27-March 11, 2018: The Tony Award-winning musical presents some of Broadway’s greatest numbers, including “Getting to Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” and “Something Wonderful.”
    🎩 This played the Pantages in December 2016
  • Love Never Dies,” April 24 – May 5, 2018: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to the iconic “The Phantom of the Opera” tells the story of the Phantom and his new life in New York City.
    🎩 This is in the Pantages’ 2017-2018 Season, playing April 3-22, 2018
  • Hamilton,” May 8 – 27, 2018: Based on Ron Chernow’s biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the musical provides insight into the life of the West Indies immigrant who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War. The hip-hop, jazz, and R&B score gives the musical a modern twist.
    🎩  This plays the Pantages from August 11 – December 30, 2017
  • School of Rock,” July 24 – Aug. 5, 2018: Featuring 14 songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the rock-and-roll musical tells the story of a wannabe rock star who poses as a substitute teacher and creates a band of his own with the music prodigies in his class.
    🎩 This is in the Pantages 2017-2018 Season, playing May 3 – 27, 2018
  • On Your Feet,” Aug. 21 – Sept. 2, 2018: From Cuba to America, Gloria and Emilio Estefan broke through barriers in the pop music world with hits songs like “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” “Conga” and “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now.” The musical tells the story of the groundbreaking couple’s musical sensation journey.
    🎩 This is in the Pantages 2017-2018 Season, playing July 6 – 29, 2018

Curtain Call Series

  • Motown,” Dec. 19 – 24, 2017: The true American story about Motown founder Berry Gordy and his journey in the music world as he launched the careers of music sensations Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and more. The pop musical features hits like “My Girl,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Dancing in the Street.”
    🎩 This played the Pantages January 31 – February 12, 2017
  • Kinky Boots,” Feb. 6 – 11, 2018: The multi-Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of Charlie Price, the owner of a small shoe factory, who meets Lola, an extraordinary performer who introduces him to new, creative ideas in the world of fashion and shoes.
    🎩 This played the Pantages April 13 – 24, 2016
  • The Color Purple,” June 19 – 24, 2018: The Tony Award-winning musical presents a soul, jazz, ragtime and blues score to the story of a young woman’s journey in love and triumph in the American South.
    🎩 This is in the Pantages 2017-2018 Season, playing May 29 – June 17, 2018

Bonus events

  • Jersey Boys,” Jan. 19-21, 2018: The Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winning musical about rock and roll hall of famers The Four Seasons and their rise in pop music history. The show presents hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Oh What a Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
    🎩 This plays the Ahmanson May 16 – June 24, 2017
  • The Book of Mormon,” March 20-25, 2018: South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Tony Award-winning musical comedy tells the story about two mismatched missionaries sent across the seas to share their scriptures with a Ugandan village.
    🎩 This plays the Pantages May 30 – July 9, 2017

All in all, a very good season. More information is on the Segerstrom website.

Palo Alto/Mountain View TheatreWorks

For those up in the Bay Area, I just received the TheatreWorks Season Announcement:

  • The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga. Jul 12–Aug 6, 2017, Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto. Book, Music, & Lyrics by Min Kahng. Based on Manga Yonin Shosei by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama. Translated as The Four Immigrants by Frederik L. Schodt. Directed by Leslie Martinson. WORLD PREMIERE. From a tumultuous earthquake to an exhilarating world’s fair, this broadly comic new musical chronicles the adventures of four endearing Japanese immigrants in a world of possibility and prejudice: turn-of-the-twentieth-century San Francisco. Driven by an infectious vaudeville and ragtime score, the quartet pursues their American Dream despite limited options in the land of opportunity. Don’t miss this runaway hit of our 2016 New Works Festival.
    🎩 This sounds potentially interesting — if I was up there, I’d go see it.
  • Constellations. Aug 23–Sept 17, 2017, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. By Nick Payne. Directed by Robert Kelley. London Evening Standard Award Best Play 2012. REGIONAL PREMIERE. A time-bending romantic drama spun out of string theory, this unconventional Broadway and West End sensation explores the infinite possibilities of “boy meets girl” with intelligence, heart, and humor. A charming beekeeper and a Cambridge cosmologist are nerds in love, for better and for worse, their relationship an ever-changing mystery of “what ifs.” Who knew that honey and higher physics could be so touching—or so sexy?
    🎩 C’mon, string theory in a play. Sounds good.
  • The Prince of Egypt. Oct 6–Nov 5, 2017, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Philip LaZebnik. Directed by Scott Schwartz. WORLD PREMIERE in collaboration with Fredericia Teater, Denmark. A soaring celebration of the human spirit, The Prince of Egypt features a dazzling, multi-ethnic cast in one of the greatest stories ever told: the saga of Moses and Ramses, his Pharaoh brother, and the indomitable people who changed them both forever. Inspired by the beloved DreamWorks Animation film and featuring a score that includes the Academy Award-winning “When You Believe” by the composer and lyricist of Wicked, this breathtaking journey of faith and family is the must-see event of the season.
    🎩 A new Stephen Schwartz musical — could be good, although I’d be curious how he expanded the score.
  • Around the World in 80 Days. Nov 29–Dec 23, 2017, Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto. Adapted by Mark Brown. From the novel by Jules Verne. Directed by Robert Kelley. Stampeding elephants! Raging typhoons! Runaway trains! Join fearless adventurer Phileas Fogg and his faithful valet in the original “Great Race,” circling the globe in an 1870s alive with danger, romance, and comic surprises at every turn. In the hilariously theatrical style of The 39 Steps, five actors portray dozens of characters in a thrilling race against time and treachery. Grab your family, and your passport, for an ingenious, imaginative expedition around the world!
    🎩 This is an oldie, but should be good.
  • Our Great Tchaikovsky. Jan 10–Feb 4, 2018, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Music by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Written and Performed by Hershey Felder. Directed by Trevor Hay. REGIONAL PREMIERE. Brilliant composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky springs to life through the hands and insight of piano virtuoso Hershey Felder, whose time-bending tale of culture and repression explores the mystery surrounding some of the greatest music ever written. From the unforgettable ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, to the outrageous 1812 Overture and the brilliant symphonic works, this powerful musical tribute travels to Czarist times to ponder the inevitable enigma of genius. From the creator and performer of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin and Beethoven.
    🎩 Others might like this; I haven’t gotten into all the Hershey Felder shows.
  • Skeleton Crew. Mar 7–Apr 1, 2018, Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto. By Dominique Morisseau. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. A Coproduction with Marin Theatre Company. CALIFORNIA PREMIERE. A makeshift family of autoworkers navigates the recession in this funny, tough, and tender American drama. Will their Detroit plant survive? Ambitious dreams and corporate deception interweave, pushing friendships to the limit. When the line between blue collar and white begins to blur, how far over the lines is each of them willing to step?
    🎩 Sounds somewhat interesting.
  • The Bridges of Madison County. Apr 4–29, 2018, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Book by Marsha Norman. Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Based on the novel by Robert James Waller. Directed by Robert Kelley. 2014 Tony Award Best Score. REGIONAL PREMIERE. This sweeping musical romance about the roads we travel and the bridges we dare to cross recalls the unexpected affair of a devoted Italian-born housewife and a roving National Geographic photographer—four sensual, heart-stirring days that would never be forgotten. Set amidst the cornfields of Iowa in 1965, it is an intimate remembrance of love both lost and found, brilliantly adapted by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winning composer from one of America’s favorite novels.
    🎩 I saw the tour of this when it was at the Ahmanson, and I was very surprised at how much I liked it. TheatreWorks should do a good job with it.
  • FINKS. Jun 6–Jul 1, 2018, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. By Joe Gilford. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. Drama Desk Award Best Play Nominee. CALIFORNIA PREMIERE. With the 1950s Red Scare in full swing, the House Un-American Activities Committee attacks “subversion” in the arts. When a romance blossoms between a rising comic and a firebrand actress, they face being blacklisted along with their friends and fellow artists. Will they lose their careers or betray each other and be branded forever as “finks”? Based on the true story of comedian/actor Jack Gilford, this stunning comic drama is written by his son.
    🎩 The story of Jack Gilford — should be interesting.

The season sounds interesting enough that if I was in the area, I might subscribe. Subscription information is on the TheatreWorks website.


Things That We’ll Be Seeing Soon

userpic=theatre2This collection of news chum all has to do with things that we may (or may not) be seeing soon:

  • A Googie Sharkey’s. Twain’s Coffee Shop in Studio City has been shuttered for a year, with reports being that Sharkey’s, a wonderful Fresh-Mex chain, was moving in. The Twain’s building was clearly a Denny’s in some former life. Anyway, pictures have surfaced of the Sharkey’s remodel, and they are preserving the old style. This is nice to see.
  • A Full November Ballot. California is known for its ballot propositions, and recent efforts have moved all of them to the General Election ballot (instead of the June primaries). Here’s a preview of what we’re likely to see. There will be things like a plastic bag referendum, a proposition on prescription drug prices, a referendum of revenue bonds over $2 million, a modification of the “english-only” initiative, bonds for school construction, a proposal on hospital fees, with 66 more gathering signatures.
  • No More Metro Free Parking. A report is surfacing of a trial attempt at imposing paid parking at Metro stations.  Although on the surface I don’t like paying for parking, this one is making sense. It provides really low rates for those actually using Metro, with significantly higher rates for those taking advantage of the free parking to just do things in the neighborhood.
  • Tits and Ass at the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl has announced their 2016 season.  Their musical this year will be A Chorus Line; I’m not that interested in seeing it. There’s also a Star Trek concert and A Prairie Home Companion.  For me, the show that I’d like to see is Weird Al on July 22-23.  My wife would like the Copeland and Marsalis concert the following week (July 28).
  • Mooning in Coachella. At one time, a moon-themed resort was planned for Las Vegas. Anything goes, right? Well, the moon isn’t landing in Vegas, but in the Coachella Valley. The $4 billion, 4,000 all-suite, five-star lunar-themed Moon World Resorts has a opening date targeted for 2022 after two years of permit and entitlement processes and a 48-month build-out. Three thousand workers will be required during the single-phase construction, and, when completed, 8,000 Coachella Valley careers will be created. The 10 million-square-foot project will include cutting-edge space technology over a 10-acre lunar surface with a realistic lunar colony set in the world’s largest and tallest sphere reaching 750 feet. There also will be a 10,000-seat flexible event center and a 2 million-square-foot convention center, several star-chef celebrity restaurants and wellness spa with holistic health treatments.
  • Real Time Earthquake Alerts. Have you installed MyShake on your Android phone?  This is a new application from the UC Berkeley Seismology Lab that uses the phone accelerometer to detect earthquakes in a crowd-sourced fashion. The app’s algorithm is designed to ignore ordinary shaking, like a phone jiggling in a purse, and detect unique vibrations felt during earthquakes. If the phone detects what it thinks is an earthquake — usually something at a magnitude 5 or greater — it sends a message to a central server. If there are at least 300 phones sending warnings in the same 60-mile-by-60-mile zone, simulation tests show that’s good enough to tell the system that the shaking was an earthquake. Notices can then go out to advise those further away that an earthquake is coming.
  • A Supreme Court Nominee. As you all know by now, Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. This opens up a space for President Obama to nominate a replacement. He says he will do it promptly; Republican leaders are vowing to not allow it until after the election (meaning at least two court terms — talk about delaying justice). The rumor mill is indicating that Obama will nominate Sri Srinivasan as the replacement. This is an interesting choice. Srinivasan was just confirmed to his current position by the senate in 2013 (just 3 years ago) with a vote of 97-0. Yes, some of the confirming senators are gone, but that makes it likely that he has strong support, and has already been through the vetting process (plus getting any confirmation through the 2012 senate wasn’t easy). It makes a wonderful statement on immigrant rights and diversity. Could be very interesting.



A Diamond Is, Um, Uh, Forever

Neil Diamond - Hollywood Bowl 2015userpic=folk-guitarNeil Diamond (FB) is one of those key performers in music history — one of the major songwriters who moved from writing his own music that was covered by others to being a major singer-songwriter in his own right (Carole King is another writer in that vein). Neil Diamond in concert is well known to be something special. From the original Hot August Night in 1972 to return visits to the Greek Theatre or the Bowl — his concerts are great. When I started getting announcements about his tour to the Bowl this year I was… disinterested. I thought they would sell out too fast; I was unsure about the quality of the concert given his age (74). More importantly, it was also the evening of Confirmation at Temple and I was encouraged to be there a Board member. But then I got a call from my daughter asking me to try to get tickets so she could surprise her mom after she got home from school. My daughter takes precedence. Luckily, there were tickets on Goldstar; so last night saw us at the Hollywood Bowl. I’m guessing Diamond doesn’t sell out as he used to, although the 18,000 seat Bowl appeared full. I’ll note that the show was also live-streamed on Periscope.

Before I go into the show itself, one comment about getting to the bowl. Normally, we take the Park and Ride to the Bowl from Chatsworth. The Park and Ride prices had gone up, so this time we experimented with Metro to the Hollywood and Highland Red Line station, and then taking the shuttle to the bowl. Metro worked wonderfully to get us to Hollywood. What we encountered in Hollywood was unexpected. There was a Paramore concert at the Dolby Theatre, and both the Hollywood and Highland facility, as well as traffic in the area, was FUBAR thank to Para-natics. This meant that the shuttle that was supposed to show at 7:00 PM couldn’t make it to the pickup point, and then couldn’t guarantee making it to the Bowl on time (although the Bowl is less than 10 minutes away). This forced us to hoof it to the Bowl — which luckily wasn’t that bad. Still, it is something to think about next time.

As for the concert itself: Musically, it was wonderful. The music was everything you would expect from Neil. The set list is below. Where something was slightly lacking was in Neil’s dialogue with the audience; at least in the beginning. He started out low energy, he seemed confused and perhaps befuddled. During “Red Red Wine” he walked out the walkway to the audience, and then wondered how he got out there and how to get back. Although it was funny, it was also a reminder that the artists of our youth are aging; they are senior citizens and may not be around for much longer.† Tom Paxton, himself up there in age now, was prophetic when he mused whether Mick Jagger (who recently did a concert down the street) read of self-rising chairs over his breakfast of yogurt and bran. He warmed up as the show went on, and luckily he primarily stuck to the music.

[†ETA: On Twitter, someone responded to this comment that it might have been Diamond joking. Perhaps, although it didn’t strike me that way given how it was said and the energy behind it. There were also numerous other times where he seemed to forget things: the name of special group that was there that night (Jennifer Diamond), or the name of his new album (Melody Road). A fact of life is that our music icons age — although the music is timeless, the people are human like us. I recall a Peter Yarrow solo concert at UJ where Peter was just rambing and didn’t realize it. I’ll note it also could be due to some medication taken before the show having an unexpected reaction. It could also have just been a bad night. In any case, for those Diamond fans out there, it was merely an observation, and it didn’t take anything away from the timeless music.]

One last note related to Diamond’s aging: The song “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” acquires a creepy overtone when sung by a 74 year old. As he sang it, I was thinking it might be Josh Duggar’s anthem. [Too soon?]

Another factor that struck me was that most of these songs were written before 1985; only two were newer. That says something about how Diamond’s output has changed; that said something about what his fans expected. Of course, they loved the classic hits — they were on their feet, phones out recording the show even though they shouldn’t.  The show ran about two hours, with no intermission.

The songs in the show were:

  1. I’m A Believer (1966)
  2. Love on the Rocks (1980)
  3. Hello Again (1980)
  4. Pretty Amazing Grace (2008)
  5. Kentucky Woman (1967)
  6. You Got To Me (1967)
  7. Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (1967)
  8. Play Me (1972)
  9. Red Red Wine (1967)
  10. Beautiful Noise (1976)
  11. If You Know What I Mean (1976)
  12. Brooklyn Roads (1967)
  13. Shilo (1967)
  14. The Art of Love (2014)
  15. Forever in Blue Jeans (1979)
  16. Cherry Cherry (1967)
  17. Crunchy Granola Suite (1971)
  18. Morningside (1972)
  19. Holly Holy (1969)
  20. I Am, I Said (1971)
  21. Cracklin’ Rose (1970)
  22. Sweet Caroline (1969)
  23. Coming to America (1980)
  24. Heartlight (1982)

Diamond’s set include a large diamond-shaped video screen, which was used to good effect to project a home movie montage of Neil’s youth during “Brooklyn Roads”, and for wonderful visuals during “Coming to America”. He had a very strong backing band and backing singers. He was courteous enough not only to introduce them, but to give each their own solos during “Cherry Cherry”.

One additional observation about the audience that night. As we walked out, we joked that when Diamond originally played the Greek, the audience was probably on drugs. The current audience is probably still on drugs, only different ones (blood thinners, anti-depressants, blood pressure meds, etc.)

This was a lease event at the Bowl, and crowd control was not up to usual bowl standards. In particular, the security and ticket taking was a confused mess that created a bottleneck  at the bowl entrance and added to the crowding and gridlock. There was a similar mess at the end; we just opted to walk down the hill back to Hollywood and Highland than to mess with the shuttle bus in that crowd.

As we walked down the hill, we mused about the following question, which I leave you with: What musical artist of the Millenial or later generation — that is, an artist who rose to prominence since 2000 — with be the equivalent of Diamond when they turn 74? That is, who of today’s modern pop artists will still be performing in their 70s, still filling double-digit-thousand seat arenas with fans in their 40s, 50s, and 60s? Lady Gaga? Madonna? Missy Elliot? Any Hip-Hop or Rap artists? Not listening to pop music, I don’t have the answer, but it is an interesting question.

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: This afternoon brings “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 (ticketing is now open). 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 “Green Grow The Lilacs” 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 “As You Like It” 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.


An Outdoor Love Fest

Hair (Hollywood Bowl)userpic=theatre_ticketsFull frontal nudity, on stage, at the Hollywood Bowl. Who would’ve thunk it? But it was there, and even more amazingly, tweets of the momentous occasion aren’t easy to find. Perhaps I should backup and explain.

Last night, we went to see the musical “Hair” at the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl does one musical every summer — sometimes we go (“Guys and Dolls” in 2009); usually we don’t. The 18,000 seat Bowl isn’t the best venue for musicals done with primarily Hollywood actors — the stage is too far away from the affordable seats, and you often end up watching the big screens instead of the stage. But “Hair” is one of my favorite musicals — we saw the Reprise production at the Wadsworth back in 2001; and the excellent CSUN production back in 2006. Further, with “Hair”, every production is a little different — in the original days, the show was constantly shifting, with songs moving between characters, and songs coming in and out. Whether that is still happening I don’t know; I do know there were songs in the show last night that I don’t recall hearing before, and plot nuances I hadn’t noticed. In any case, I had been thinking about getting tickets to “Hair” at the Bowl but hadn’t made it to the box office. Then they showed up on Goldstar. Sold.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room — my opening line. There was, for the first time ever, nudity at the Hollywood Bowl. Unlike the earlier productions I’ve seen (especially the one at the Reprise), none of the leading performers joined in the nude scene. The reason why is interesting, and it demonstrates how much times have changed since the 1960s. The leads — Kristen Bell, Hunter Parrish, and the folks from Glee — didn’t join in thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones and the fact that had they joined in, the pictures would be all over the Internet the next morning (and hence my comment about Twitter above — I was curious if the predicted phenomenon had indeed materialized… but I could find no evidence). One wonders if stage nudity by name actors will be killed by the cell phone and people quick to post the photos. In any case, most of the ensemble did participate in the nude scene (which occurs at the end of Act I — when the parachute comes out, be ready), and I applaud them for their courage to keep it in and stay true to the story.

So what is the story of “Hair”? If you try to figure it out from the cast albums, you’ll have trouble — the songs express emotion much more than telling the story. From the movie? Excuse me while I laugh, for my recollection is that the movie butchered the plot and the order of things. Here was how I wrote things back in 2006:

Hair is a rough musical. The basic plot is the story of Claude, who just had his induction physical for the Vietnam draft, and is about to go into the Army. The first half, however, is more getting to know the tribe and their relationships; the second half (which was extremely powerful) is a hallucination about the war. Along the way there is love, some nudity (although quite tastefully done), more love, war protests, drugs, more love, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, more love, some starshine, and a wild trip. For those unfamiliar with the 1960s (alas, I was the next generation), this recreates it.

Last night there seemed to be more to the story. Looking at the Wikipedia synopsis, however, it appears the details of the story have always been there and I just didn’t remember. As that synopsis is long and detailed, I think I’ll just let you read it yourself. I’ll wait while you do. Of course, it doesn’t matter much. “Hair”, at this point, is such an established musical that the story is what the story is. I’ll just note that book and lyrics are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and the music is by Galt MacDermot, and that Galt MacDermot did the music for my favorite show of all time — the New York Shakespeare Festival version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona“. I’ll also note that some of the numbers described in the synopsis (such as “The Bed”, which I happen to like, and “Hippie Life”, an addition from the movie for the revival) appear to have been cut, and there were other numbers present that don’t appear in any listing of songs of which I’m aware.

With restagings such as this production, the real question is how well did the director (in this case, Adam Shankman, who also served as choreographer) interpret the work, and how well did the cast do. Let’s start with the director, for the Hollywood Bowl is an odd beast when it comes to staging Broadway musicals. There’s no fly space; the orchestra is on the stage; the stage is gigantic; most people cannot see the stage; and there are all these ramps that can be used. I’m pleased to say that Shankman used the space well. His Hollywood background permitted him to use the big screens to his advantage to showcase the cast to the people in the back; the ramps allowed the tribe to go out into the audience area and make it a love in. There were scaffolds and such on the side of the set with various places that the ensemble seemed to go to at points, but that didn’t seem too connected with the show. Most importantly, he took advantage of his large ensemble to cover the space well; and when he wanted to narrow the focus, he used lighting very effectively to close the apeture to just what he wanted the audience to see. I was pleased.

As for the cast, I was very very very surprised and pleased. The Bowl often does stunt casting for these shows, and initially the casting of Kristen Bell as Sheila seemed to be just that. I mean, we knew she could sing from her work on Frozen, but she’s not known for her Broadway work. I’m pleased to say that Bell nailed it. Watching her during “Easy to be Hard” — her voice, her face, her emotion — was just amazing. She was also equally strong in “Good Morning, Starshine”. I did notice, however, that she seemed to disappear from the stage quite often.

Also strong were the other female leads — Sarah Hyland as Crissy and Jenna Ushkowitz as Jeanie. Both were wonderful in one of my favorite numbers, “Air”. Hyland did a great job with her solo in “Frank Mills”. As with Bell, Shankman used the big screens at the Bowl to his advantage with these two — even though you were far away, you were able to watch the great facial expressions and acting. I was impressed.

Lastly, attention must be paid to Amber Riley as Dionne. Although her character isn’t really established in the story, she gets some of the choicest solos — such as the opening number (“Aquarius”) and the solos in a few others. This gal has some great pipes, and did just wonderfully on her songs.

Turning to the male leads. The man around whom the story of Hair is centered is Claude, played by Hunter Parrish. Most folks know Parrish from Weeds, but he did a great stage turn in the recent revival of “Godspell” in New York and he continued with that power here. He had good chemistry with all the actors and a great singing voice. A lot of fun to watch, although I do wish they had tossed in a throwaway line about Agrestic. As Berger, Benjamin Walker exhibited the same power and charisma that he had ages ago when we saw him in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” back in 2008. Again, strong singing, strong acting, and loads of charisma and fun. Rounding out the lead male characters were Jonah Platt as Woof and Mario as Hud. Both gave great performances; Mario especially so in numbers such as “I’m Black”.

The two adults in the show, Kevin Chamberlin as Claude’s Dad (and Margaret Mead) and Beverly D’Angelo as Claude’s Mom, handled their roles well. Chamberlin was particularly good in “My Conviction”.

As for the rest of the tribe — we never learn their names, so it hard to cite who did what. There were a few that had solos in Act II (during “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”) or in the hallucination sequence that were just spectacular. Others had looks and moved so well you couldn’t keep your eyes off of them (there was one slightly larger actress in overalls who was just great). As noted earlier, I applaud those who chose to do the nude scene — that takes courage (and I especially applaud the women who did the scene who didn’t follow the current trends). Most importantly about the tribe — they were just having fun, and that fun was radiating out from them. They had an inner joy at doing this show and doing this music and carrying this message, and it spread out to the back of the bowl. The remainder of the tribe consisted of Amanda Balen (FB), Carly Bracco (FB), Jennifer Foster (FB), Taylor Frey, Courtney Galiano (FB), Nkrumah Gatling (FB), Rhett George (FB), Kyle Hill, Jeremy Hudson (FB), Joanna Alexis Jones/FB, Adrianna Rose Lyons (FB, FB), Yani Marin (FB), Kimberly Moore, Maurice Murphy (FB), Jane Papageorge (FB), Louis Pardo (FB), Matthew Peacock, Corbin Reid (FB), Johnny Rice/FB, Haylee Roderick (FB), Cailan Rose (FB), Constantine Rousouli (FB), Rustin Cole Sailors (FB), Hanna-Lee Sakakibara, and Isaac Tualaulelei (FB).

As for the musical side of things: The on-stage orchestra, which was in appropriate period dress, was conducted by Lon Hoyt, who served as musical director. It consisted of Dick Mitchell (baritone sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo), Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), John Fumo (trumpet), Larry Hall (trumpet), Alan Kaplan (trombone), Paul Viapiano (guitar), Justin Lees-Smith (guitar), Tery Henry (bass), Pete Maloney (drums), and Brian Kilgore (percussion). They had a great sound.

Turning to the technical and support side. The sound design by Philip G. Allen was, for the most part, excellent; there were, however, a few microphone glitches that were quite noticeable in Act II. The lighting design of Tom Ruzika, which presumably includes the projections as well, was spectacular in creating the mood, focusing attention, and setting the stage with the projections around the perimeter of the bowl. The scenic design of Joe Celli, combined with the props of Kirk Graves, did a reasonable job of establishing place and times, given the constraints of the Hollywood Bowl. The hair, wigs, and makeup of Byron J. Batista (FB), combined with the costume design of Rita Ryack, did an even better job of establishing the time (plus he did a great job of camouflaging Kristen Bell’s baby bump). Michael Donovan was in charge of casting. Zach Woodlee was the associate director and choreographer. Meredith J. Greenburg was the production stage manager, and Michael Scarola and Michael Vitale were assistant stage managers.

Hair” has two more performances at the Hollywood Bowl: tonight at 8pm, and tomorrow at 7:30pm. Visit the Hollywood Bowl for more information.

[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:  August continues with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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.


She Has Two Big Advantages, You See

We’re all aware that Dolly Parton has two big assets, as Roger Whittaker sang in “Barroom Country Singer”. But they aren’t the ones you might think of: they are talent and brains. Last night we saw both on display when we went to the Hollywood Bowl, where we saw one of the most talented entertainers to come out of Nashville, Dolly Parton. I don’t use the word “entertainer” lightly, for Dolly is one of those rare artists that does more than just perform a concert: she provides an entertaining show. Dolly relates to her audiences as if she was just sitting down with you—she tells stories, she jokes, she flirts, she plays. It all comes together for a wonderful evening.

This performance was Dolly’s fifth show in her “Better Day” tour, and was her second night at the Hollywood Bowl. Although I didn’t keep a song list, the show included a number of songs from her new album (“Better Day”), including “Together You and I”, “The Sacrifice”, “Better Day”, “Let Love Grow”. She also did a number of her past hits, as well as covers of songs such as “Help”, “River Deep Mountain High”, and “Stairway to Heaven”. It was a very enjoyable music mix, designed to alternately energize the audience as well as giving them moments to breathe.

I was truly impressed with Dolly. Not only is she a great singer, but during the show she played a wide variety of instruments: guitar, banjo, autoharp, dulcimer, harmonica, piano, flute, saxophone. In today’s world of entertainers who tend to live through the tabloids, she’s a person who got where she was through a combination of talent, hard work, and business acumen. Not a bad role model, especially in today’s Country marketplace.

Sound quality was good at the back of the bowl, although physics was its usual bitch: you would see Dolly’s mouth move, and fraction of second later you would hear the sound. It was due to the difference between the speeds of light and sound, and was initially disconcerting. The lighting was strong and intensive, including loads and loads of moving lights, LED lights, LED combo lights, and a full display screen used to enhance and energize.

If there was any problem with the show, it was the audience. Specifically, the few idiots who ignored the “No Smoking” signs to light up during the show… and I’m not talking tobacco. Something stronger…. which kept triggering a headache for me and actually hurt my enjoyment of the show. It made me think of one of the first shows I saw at the Hollywood Bowl—Peter, Paul, and Mary back in the late 1970s, when Paul Stookey came out during intermission and did “4D” (“Don’t Do ‘Dat Dope Anymore”). I have no problem with folks who want to toke in the privacy of their home. But at the Bowl? C’mon folks, think of your neighbors.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Today brings “Shrek” (July 24, Pantages Theatre, ticketed). July closes with “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August brings “The Boys Next Door” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22, and (hopefully) Bernadette Peters at VPAC on October 16 (rescheduled to March 2012). October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.


It’s ‘Z’, not ‘S’: How Could You Forget?

Last night was the second of our two outings to the Hollywood Bowl this summer. The first, as you might recall, was Guys and Dolls in Concert. Last night’s outing was less theatrical, in a sense. At least it was less plot driven, for we saw that most theatrical of performers, Liza Minnelli. Now, given who we saw and her following, this review looks at two things: Liza herself, and the audience.

Liza is back. Those familiar with her might recall that after her initial debut in Flora The Red Menace, she did some wonderful work in the 1960s and early 1970s. This time brought her award-winner performances in Caberet, her participation in Chicago (she didn’t originate the role, but came in later), and one of my favorite films of hers that we rarely see anymore, The Sterile Cuckoo. It saw her on Broadway in shows like The Act and The Rink, and it saw her on the small screen on the spectacular Liza with a ‘Z’. However, by the late 1980s and especially during the 1990s, her life became a parody (and was parodied in shows such as The Boy from Oz). But she came back with a roar last year in her performances at the Palace, which won her a special Tony award. Liza is back.

I think the reason for Liza’s success is that she embodies the meaning of “performer”. She loves her audience, and her audience loves her back. She’s a very theatrical performer, especially for songs where she can act out a character. She also relates to the audience as a human: she doesn’t hide behind the microphone, but interacts, acknowledges her age and foibles, and just as the love to be onstage. She also chose songs that played to her strengths, for the most part.

Act I consisted of 9 songs, which was almost the same as the first act from the Liza at the Palace performance: “Teach Me Tonight”, “I Would Never Leave You”, “If”, “What Makes a Man a Man”, “My Own Best Friend”, “Maybe This Time”, “He’s Funny That Way”, “Until You’ve Played the Palace (Medley)” and “Caberet”. “If” was perhaps her weakest song vocally: she acted it strong, but her voice is too breathy for the words to be distinct, and I prefer Kristen Chenowith’s enunciation. Other than that, this was a strong first act, and it played to a large component of her audience: the gay men (especially “What Makes a Man a Man” and “Caberet” — I never caught the double-entendre of “When I saw her laid out like a queen” before). But these songs emphasized Liza’s theatricality: she brought them to life with her vocal energy and acting, and you knew you were watching a star.

Her second act was more specific to Los Angeles. She started and ended the act the same as the Palace performance, opening with “The World Goes Round” and closing with “Mammy” and the song that she originated (and not her “Uncle Frank”): “New York, New York”. The three songs in between were different (replacing the Kay Thompson tribute in the Palace performance). She did the comic number written especially for her by her long-time partners and friends, Fred Kander and John Ebb, “Liza with a ‘Z’”. She then sang a song with her conductor, Billy Stritch, that she dedicated to Michael Jackson (as last night would have been his birthday): “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. She then did the jazzy “Alexanders Ragtime Band”.

As her post-show encore numbers (every band seem to have them), she did “Everytime We Say Goodbye” as a duet with Billy Stritch, and then came out and did an acapela rendiation of a song whose name I cannot remember, but seemed specifically designed to be the “go away” song (PP&M’s song is “Goodnight Irene”, and they emphasize the line “Go home to your wife and family…”).

Liza’s show was spectacular: she no longer has the ability to dance as she did in the 1970s, but she still has the moves and the dance in her (as can been seen from her upperbody). She is classy and elegant, an actress on stage whose presence transcends her problems. It was a delight to watch.

Completing the show credits: Liza was backed by a 12-piece band consisting of Billy Stritch (piano), Ross Konikoff (trumpet), Dave Trigg (trumpet), Dale Kirkland (trombone), Chuck Wilson (reeds), Frank Perowsky (reeds), Ed Xiques (reeds), Mike Berkowitz (conductor/drums), Chip Jackson (bass), Bill Washer (guitar), David Nyberg (percussion), and Rick Cutler (keyboards). She was classy enough to bring the entire band on stage with her to take bows at the end of the show. She also brought onto her stage her director and choreographer, Ron Lewis. No credits were given for lighting and sound: the lighting was very good: timed well to the performance and emphasizing her mood and the song’s tempo, and utilizing moving lights more a quick color changers. Sound was typicaly bowl, especially at the back where the echos can make it muddy, although the amplification worked well unless Liza stepped away from the microphone.

What wasn’t pretty about the show was the audience. Perhaps I’m more used to live theatre where the audiences are well-behaved as opposed to concerts, but this audience was apalling. Let me count the ways: We had a mother who had brought her adult obviously disabled son who kept loudly slapping the bench (she was able to control him about 75% of the show, but that remaining 25% was distracting). We had someone smoking pot. We had a Russian group behind us that kept talking, loudly. We had a large contingent behind us that continually screamed “I Love You Liza” and gave loud whistles during the performances. We had folks singing along with the songs, loudly. A number of these problems (esp. the last two) were worse in the second act, perhaps because of the effects of the wine and beer consumed with the picnic lunches (although the pot odor was in the first act). Although the audience was colorful and fun to watch, during the actual performance I had hoped for a bit more decorum. Alas, I’m not sure that outdoor concerts, combined with various culture clashes, are conducive to that. Perhaps they were better behaved in the pricier seats (we were up in the nosebleed section, W2). On the entertaining side of the audience, we did have someone in full out dress as the Emcee from Caberet, a large contingent of red hatters, and the usual audience accoutrements as only the Liza audience can come up with.

Upcoming Theatre: Tonight takes us to the Steve Allen Theatre at the Center for Free Inquiry in Hollywood for a staged reading of the first episode of “Meeting of Minds” (with a stellar cast: Gary Cole (Steve Allen), Danica McKellar (Queen Cleopatra), Joe Spano (Father Thomas Aquinas), Steven Culp (Thomas Paine), and Bill Smitrovich (Theodore Roosevelt)). September brings the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana is the evening of 9/18 and the morning of 9/19; Yom Kippur is the evening of 9/27 and the day of 9/28). The only theatre ticketed so far in September is “The Night Is A Child” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 9/25 @ 8pm. Concertwise, September brings Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. October brings “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 10/3 @ 8pm and “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/24 @ 8pm, and should also bring “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.


It’s a sucker bet when the deck is stacked…

Last night we went to the Hollywood Bowl for our first bowl outing of the summer: “Guys and Dolls in Concert”. “Guys and Dolls” isn’t new to us: Karen worked on the show in her high school years; and we’ve seen it many times — most recently, in 2004 at the St. Louis Muny Opera. “Guys and Dolls” is one of members of the set of perfect shows (the set also includes “Gypsy” and “The Music Man”): wonderful book, wonderful music, and wonderful lyrics. So, you take a perfect show, and then stack the deck with a dream cast, and your odds of success are damn good.

For those unfamiliar with “Guys and Dolls”, you can find a full synopsis on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, it tells the story of Nathan Detroit, an inveterate gambling arranger, and his fiancee of 14 years, Miss Adelaide. Nathan is trying to arrange a location for a floating crap game, but needs $1,000 to secure the place. To get the money, he bets another gambler, Sky Masterson, that he will not succeed in taking the lead missionary from the Save Your Soul Mission, Sister Sarah Brown, to Havana Cuba for dinner. In the process of wooing Miss Brown, Sky gives her his marker for at least 1 dozen certified sinners for a midnight prayer meeting. To cover the craps game planning. a date is finally set for Nathan and Miss Adelaide. Sky gets Sarah to Havana, and while he is there the craps game is held… at the mission, without Sky’s knowledge. When they return, Sarah believes Havana was just a subterfuge for the game, and dumps Sky. But Sky must redeem his marker for his dignaty, so he bets the other gamblers for their souls… he wins, and as a result, they must attend the prayer meeting. Doing so forces Nathan to miss his elopement, and Adelaide dumps him… but after a great duet with Sarah, they realize they have to marry their men in order to change them. All of this is told in the mileau of Daymon Runyon’s colorful world and style. “Guys and Dolls” features a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.

The music for this show is likely familiar to you, and includes such standards as “Guys and Dolls” and “Luck Be A Lady”. I mention this to note that there was one song I actually hadn’t heard before, which I’m guessing is called “Adelaide, Adelaide”. This takes place in Act I, Scene 7, and is sung by Nathan. There is the possibility that it just isn’t a formal song.

As I said before, the deck was stacked for this production. Not only did the production pick a spectacular work to produce, the casting team of Margery Simkin and Michael Donovan C.S.A. assembled a stellar cast for the show. This cast helped the show reach the heights, and was almost perfect. Let’s look at the principals:

Nathan Detroit was played by Scott Bakulaæ, a remarkable actor familiar to many from Chuck, Enterprise, and Quantum Leap. Many do not know that Bakula is quite the song-and-dance man, a talent demonstrated ages ago in the animated film Cats Don’t Dance. As Nathan, Bakula did a wonderful job — he wasn’t as outrageous as Nathan Lane (1992 revival), and came off as someone who really cared about Adelaide. He sang strong and clear, and was a strong dancer.

Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s long-time fiancee, was played by the wonderful actress Ellen Greeneæ, who many know from Pushing Daises, Heroes, and Little Shop of Horrors. Greene’s Adelaide was a bit more vulnerable and a bit more comic, and was played well by Greene. About the only weakness is this role was age: Greene is nearing 60, and the character is likely in her 30s. She was able to pull off the look and the singing, but at times the movements left her a little breathless. Still, this was minor, and this is a part she plays with perfection. As a side observation, I note that whenever Greene said (as Aidelaide) that she just wanted a nice home in the suburbs, I kept wishing she would add, “you know, somewhere that’s green”.

Sky Masterson, the suave gambler-of-gamblers, was played by Brian Stokes Mitchellæ. Mitchell is primarily a Broadway-man, and is well known for his roles in Ragtime and South Pacific. He is a wonderful actor, and has one of those voices that makes you melt. He did a remarkable job with Sky, even better (in my opinion) than Frank Sinatra (movie) or Peter Gallagher (1992 revival).

Miss Sarah Brown, Sky’s object of affection, was played by Jessica Bielæ. Most of the world knows Biel from Seventh Heaven, which suprisingly was omitted from her bio. She does have a series of successful movie roles, but no major theatrical roles. She was very strong in the acting portion of the role, and her comic timing (which was well demonstrated during the Havana scene) was spot-on. She was also very good in her dancing. As a singer, she couldn’t compete with the other major singers — being a bit weaker in vocal power and having difficulty at the top of her range — but she did give a reasonably acceptable performance. It will be interesting to watch how this affects her career, and if she keeps working on her voice to continue on the stage.

Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Nathan’s second-in-command and a major comic lead, was played by Ken Pageæ. Page is a wonderful singer and actor (and the 2nd native St. Louisian — together with Scott Bakula), having made his name in the original casts of Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Wiz, Cats, and many more. He was a joy to watch, especially in his big numbers “Guys and Dolls” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”.

Other notable names in the cast, all of whom gave excellent performances, were Beau Bridgesæ as Arvide Abernathy, grandfather of Sarah Brown; Jason Graaeæ as Benny Southstreet; Danny Stilesæ as Rusty Charlie; and Ruth Williamsonæ as Gen. Mathilde Cartwright. Others in the strong cast were: Jody Ashworthæ (Lt. Brannigan), Cindy Bensonæ (Agatha), Sandahl Bergmanæ (Hot Box Girl), Catherine Chiarelliæ (Ensemble), Josh Christoff (Ensemble), Paul Deanæ (Ensemble), Chelsea Fieldæ (Ensemble), Daniel Guzmanæ (Ensemble), Chris Hollyæ (Ensemble), Jane Lanieræ (Hot Box Girl), Bill Lewisæ (Harry the Horse), Christopher L. Morganæ (Ensemble), Valarie Pettifordæ (Hot Box Girl), Tracy Powellæ (Hot Box Girl), David Raimo (Ensemble), Stefan Raulstonæ (Ensemble), Kyrra Richards (Ensemble), Angelo Riveraæ (Ensemble), Oskar Rodriguez (Ensemble), Herschel Sparberæ (Big Julie), Amir Talaiæ (Angie the Ox/Joey Biltmore), John Toddæ (Ensemble), Nikki Tomlinsonæ (Ensemble), Grace Wallæ (Martha), and Kathryn Wrightæ (Hot Box Girl).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The production was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, with choreography by Donna McKechnie, assisted by James Kinney. The direction and choreography did an adequate job of covering the large Hollywood Bowl stage (especially for a concert production), but at times there were multiple things going on at once, making it difficult to follow the action.

The sets (designed by Evan A. Bartoletti) were very simple and meant to hint at locales; they also had to fit within the limitations of the Bowl — meaning no fly space, and set pieces had to be carried on or off stage by actors or stagehands. Within that, they worked. Also successful were the costumes by Thomas G. Marquez and the hair and makeup (designed by Michael Moore, executed by Valarie Jackson). Other technical aspects were more problematic. The sound was clear at the back (no design credited; presumably the captive Bowl designer), although there were clear audio hums from an orchestra microphone, one failing microphone, and significant outside noise (a problem at the Bowl) from some party down on Highland. I also found the odd dripping noise distracting in the sewer gambling scene. The lighting design by Tom Ruzika was weak: often the colors at the top of the bowl were odd or didn’t quite fit the action, and the other lighting was more non-descript. The video aspects (presumably the standard Bowl staff) made faces look abnormally white on the big screen views; luckily, I had good binoculars.

Musically, the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, led by Kevin Stites was excellent. The production stage manager was Meredith J. Greenburg. Barbara Donner was the associate stage manager, and Stacey Sensenbach was the assistant stage manager.

Lastly, the crowd control at exit was horrendous: there was a major pileup at the bottom of the lower escalator, nearly resulting in injuries.

Upcoming Theatre: Next weekend (Saturday night August 8) brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. We go on vacation shortly after that, but while on vacation we’re seeing “Tinyard Hill” at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto on Sun 8/16 @ 7:30 (Goldstar). Sat 8/22 sees us back at the REP for “Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. August closes with the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday 8/29, where we are seeing Liza Minnelli. September brings the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana is the evening of 9/18 and the morning of 9/19; Yom Kippur is the evening of 9/27 and the day of 9/28). The only theatre ticketed so far in September is “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 9/25 @ 8pm. Concertwise, September brings Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. October brings “The Night is a Child” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 10/3 @ 8pm and “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/24 @ 8pm, and should also bring “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.

Lastly, remember that a recent study showed that it isn’t possessions that are important — it is shared experiences. So go have one of the best shared experiences there is: go support your local live theatre, and help keep all the people who work at the theatre (from the cast to the technical staff) employed.