Yeah, I’m a legend. You know, they call me the cautionary whale.

This afternoon, I took a break from working on my highway pages (which is proving to be a bear this month) to take my daughter and a friend to go see a movie. The movie she wanted to see was “Juno”, principly starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janey, J.K. Simmons, and Olivia Thirlby. Juno tells the story of a 16-year old teen, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) who had sex with her boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Predictably for a movie, she gets pregnant (otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story). She initially decides to get an abortion, but then changes her mind. Instead, using the PennySaver, she finds a yuppie couple to adopt the child, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman) Loring. Her father Mac (J. K Simmons) and step-mother (Allison Janey) support her decision throughout this. Over the course of the movie, we see how the pregnancy affects her, how it affects her relationships, and how she interacts with the adoptive couple (who have their own difficulties). It actually is a very touching story.

I found the movie very well done. It wasn’t the sort of movie where I noticed the cinematography or direction: it was a good story, simply and effectively told. It particularly related well to a teen audience, in that it used (what I believe to be) more modern language and references. My daughter found it particularly well done, and wants to get it on DVD to watch it again and again.

What got to me was the music. I noticed it first off: this movie had a really good soundtrack. The artists included folks such as Barry Louis Polisar, Kimya Dawson, The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Mateo Messina, Belle & Sebastian, Sonic Youth, Mott The Hoople, Cat Power, Antsy Pants, Velvet Underground, The Moldy Peaches, and Michael Cera and Ellen Page. It was one of the few shows where I walked out saying, “I want this soundtrack.”

I’ll note that the film was an official selection at this year’s Telluride, Toronto, and London film festivals and received the Best Film award at the Rome International Film Festival. I highly recommend it. With all the news about teen pregnancy (thanks to the younger Ms. Spears), this movie is a much more refreshing way to discuss the subject.

By the way, I haven’t mentioned previews much. That’s because there’s not much that has screamed “see me”. At Sweeney Todd, the only memorable preview was for Momma Mia, although my wife seemed intrigued at the preview for “27 Dresses”. At Persepolis, the only interesting preview was “The Business of Being Born”. Today, the only preview of interest was “Made of Honor”, which is memorable only because I must avoid it. I take that back: there was a preview today for a new Pixar movie, “Wall*E”, that looked relatively interesting. I did have to sit through that silly National Guard video again (“Citizen Soldier”) — I think we have a new type of torture!

And with that, another year of reviewing comes to a close. We closed the theatre reviewing two weeks ago, and now the movie reviews have reached the end of 2007. I hope folks have enjoyed reading both types of reviews; I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them. Here’s to a great year of entertainment — both live and film — in 2008.


A Life Behind A Veil, In Black and White

A traditional “joke” about Jews is that we go out to see a movie and have Chinese food on Christmas Day.

So guess what we did today.

Right. We saw a movie and had chinese food. This post (of course) is about the movie. The Chinese food was pretty good as well.

Today, we went out to see Persepolis, which opened today in limited distribution, just in Los Angeles and New York. We actually hit the first show, so we were at the “premiere” screening. It is at very few theatres, being an “art flick”, in French, with English subtitles. It is also animated, primarily in black and white.

That said: Go See It! Make the effort and find a showing. It is worth it.

Persepolis tells the life story of the author, Marjane Satrapi, who was born into a middle-class family in Tehran, Iran. We see her life in Iran as an approximately 9 year old as the regime of the Shah falls, and the people are happy that they might be getting democracy. However, they get something far different than they expect, and we learn how their world has changed. By the time she is 13, Marjane is sent to a French School in Vienna, where she learns that being Iranian isn’t popular, and that she doesn’t quite fit in. We learn of her life and loves as she becomes a young woman, and we see how she misses the Iran of her youth. When she returns, however, Iran is not what it was. Eventually, she moves back to France, leaving her family behind.

My synopsis does not do the story justice. You can find a better synopsis here.

This is not a kids animated movie. This is a heavy story, with death, torture, drug use, and religious fanaticism. The use of animation allows imagery instead of the graphic (unlike, for example, Sweeney Todd, which was heavy on the graphic), and actually serves to enhance the movie and the story telling. However, the PG-13 rating is well deserved.

I found the movie to be very moving (yes, I’ll admit it made me teary-eyed). It shows how one’s home can be so much a part of one’s makeup, and then when circumstances come about that force one to leave in order to be free and be alive… it’s heavy. You also get the view of Iran from the inside, realizing that the bulk of the populace are not religous fanatics: they are people just trying to live their lives, be with their families, just like you and me. We often forget that with what the media tells us. It also makes one realize that “the west” isn’t all sunshine and butterflies either: for foreigners trying to find home, the west often isn’t welcoming… and we certainly don’t help the downtrodden. I think the movie makes you realize that behind all the geopolitical aspects are real people.

This is not a movie for everyone. You need to be ready to sit through 90 minutes of deep material, even though it is animated. But it is well worth it. Persepolis has been nominated for 4 Annie awards (Best Feature, Best Directing, Best Music and Best Writing) and a Broadcast Fim Critics Assn award (Best Animated Feature)… as well as being France’s entry for foreign film at the 2008 Oscars. It has won the Sutherland Trophy at the British Film Institute, and loads and loads of other awards.

In terms of interesting previews: the most interesting one was a film executive produced by Rikki Lake called “The Business of Being Born”. This is a documentary about the birth business in the United States, and she does mean business. It addresses how doctors and nurses often deal with birth as something to be scheduled and treated with drugs, vs. the use of midwives and natural births. It looked fascinating. It opens on January 9, 2008, and I think it will be well worth seeing.

Our next movie, however, also likely deals with babies. nsshere wants to see the Fox Searchlight production Juno, a quasi-art movie about a teen with an unplanned pregnancy, who decides not to have an abortion nor to keep the baby, but to find the right adoptive parents for the baby.


Blood, Gore, Guts and Veins in the Pie

Normally, we see a movie on Christmas Day (don’t all good Jews?). This year, we decided to be different and see one the day before as well. As the color of the holiday is red, we opted for Sweeney Todd. Actually, we opted to see the movie because of our love of movie musicals.

Now, I had seen the original Sweeney Todd when it played the Ahmanson Theatre during its original touring company with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, so I’ve always loved this musical. I’ve also been reading up on the production, including an excellent article in the New York Times that provided a discussion with Stephen Sondheim, the composer, on the changes made. So I was expecting a lot of changes from the original stage production.

So what did I think of the show? Very well done, and an excellent transformation from stage to film. This is not a film of the stage production: that’s been done. This is a transformation. It is 95% sung through, but significant songs have been removed or trimmed from the original. I can’t think of one song that is 100% intact. The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is gone — it remains only as underscoring. The purpose of the chorus has been replaced with visuals. But with all the cutting, the story remains.

The motif of the musical is blood. From the opening credits to the end, there is blood. It gushes, it spurts, it drips, it drizzles. But it is clearly stagecraft. This isn’t the horror movie where you see the guts spewing out and the muscles and viscera. The blood is lubrication for the mood of the piece. And that mood is evil and madness.

ETA: I forgot to mention when I originally posted this about the cinematography. Tim Burton, as usual, does his wonderful job of color and framing. The motif is dark and grey in most scenes, except when there is the blood, stark in its redness. There are a few light scenes, such as the “By The Sea” number, where the surroundings are bright, but Todd and Lovett stand out in their darkness. There is also camera movement and angles, especially in the opening transition from the dock to Fleet Street, which make one dizzy. This is something the original musical could not pull off; the original musical (not the recent revival) had a very Victorian Ironworks motif surrounding the stage. With these changes, Burton moved the focus from the hierarchy of society to the descent of the individual.

Sweeney Todd reminds me of a classic horror movie. Forget the drek they pass off as horror today. Go back to the 1930s and 1940s. The story in its madness and descent is pure horror, and I do predict that one day this will be a classic horror movie.

So, what about the singing. The leads do OK, although I found Helena Bonham Carter’s voice a bit thin. The others do sufficient: the movie focuses much more on the deft wordmanship of Sondheim, and not the vocal quality. As noted above, they made the proper decision to retain the primary sung through aspects of the show. Contrast this with something like Rent, where they abandoned the sung through aspect, and it actually hurt the movie.

Some other observations:

  • They drastically reduced Toby’s role from the play. I haven’t yet decided if this is a good thing.
  • Alan Rickman is such a wonderfully evil villian. However, they had the same actor that played Wormtail as the Beadle, and that just was distracting for me. I can see a whole vein of Snape/Wormtail slash. Ohh, Ick.
  • This certainly won’t win an Oscar for original score or original song… because there was nothing new from the stage production. I applaud the producers for not feeling they had to add something to a perfect piece.
  • However, they should have retained the Ballad of Sweeney Todd, but used it only over the closing credits. It would have been great there.
  • Watching the closing credits, I noticed the titles were done by “The Thing”. I always wondered where he had gone after the Addams Family ended.

Did Sweeney Todd deserve an “R” rating? Perhaps. There’s blood and gore, but is it any worse than the action flicks we see today? I think not, and a PG-13 would have sufficed.

We do still plan on seeing a movie tomorrow. The leading candidate is Persepolis, a black-and-white animated coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. ETA: However, Persepolis is only at one theatre in the area, so we might have to go with a second choice. nsshere is pushing for Juno a movie about a teen faced with an unplanned pregnancy who an unusual decision regarding her unborn child. That’s at more theatres. Another possibility is Enchanted, but that’s been out a while, and we might wait for DVD. So hopefully we can make the noon showing of Persepolis.

P.S.: With this review, I must note the death of Michael Kidd, award-winning choreographer of shows such as “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Guys and Dolls”‘ and “Can-Can” and Hollywood musicals like “The Band Wagon” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Mr. Kidd won five Tony Awards: for “Finian’s Rainbow” in 1947, “Guys and Dolls” in 1951, “Can-Can” in 1954, “Li’l Abner” in 1957 and “Destry Rides Again” in 1960. In 1996 he received a special Academy Award “in recognition of his services to the art of dance in the art of the screen.”


Cow Patty! Not!

Last night, we saw the opening night production of “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School. To begin with, I must disclose that my daughter was in the production, so there is a *little* bias :-).

For those not familiar with production, “Stinky Cheese Man” is based on the book by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, and was adapted for the stage by John Glore, who graciously granted Nobel Middle School exclusive non-profit rights in Southern California (it was recently presented commercially in the area). It is a collection of well known fairy tales, with various twists on them. The best known of the stories in the bunch is probably the version of “The Three Little Pigs”, from the wolf’s point of view. Other stories included in the collection are Chicken Licken, The Princess and the Bowling Ball, Ugly Duckling, Frog Prince, Little Red, Jack’s Story, Cinderella, Tortoise and the Hair, and The Stinky Cheese Man. South Coast Rep described the play as follows:

The extremely cockeyed—and enormously popular—children’s book is even more fun when the fairy tales take on lives of their own and go berserk right on stage! Characters burst into song. Rumpelstitskin turns up in Cinderella’s story. Jack sends the Giant back up the beanstalk (which he hasn’t even planted yet). Chickens can’t wait for their cues. The audience can’t wait to applaud—and you’ll never want it to end!

Especially for a middle school production, the quality was excellent. Lines were said clearly and distinctly, and with appropriate emotion, and the kids seemed to be really into their characters. Costuming was simple but quite good: all but one of the actors wore colorful T-shirts with their character’s name printed on them (even the extras wore shirts that said “Extra”). The sets were constructed by the art classes and were quite good. Lighting had some trouble in the beginning but that got resolved later in the program. Not one kid appeared to forget their lines, although a few rushed them out without waiting for the audience to quiet down. The use of the outside script was good, and led to a very entertaining production (extremely funny at times).

I’m not going to list all the kids in the program, because there are *lots* of them and all are under 15. Suffice it to say they were all excellent. Particular standouts were Jack/Narrator (Jon B.), Cow Patty Kid (Jessica L.), Chicken Licken (Camille M.), Big Bad Wolf (Quest Z.), the Giant (Daniel B.), and I must not forget the Evil Step Mother (nsshere). But in reality, all were quite good.

The production continues tonight at 7:00pm and tomorrow (Saturday) at 5:00pm. I hope that some of the staff of the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys HS show up for one of these productions — this would be a wonderful feeder program for their magnet.

And with that, our 2007 theatre year comes to an end, unless I schedule something last minute over Winter Break. I hope you enjoy reading these reviews as much as I enjoy writing them. I do encourage everyone to go to live theatre — it is an incomperable experience. Our theatre starts up again on 1/5/08 at 2:00pm, when we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


The Honor of His Company

Last night, we went to see the early Tom Paxton concert at McCabes Guitar in Santa Monica. For many, many, many, many years McCabes has been holding concerts in their back room; Tom is a long-time regular.

For those unfamiliar with Tom Paxton, he is one of the greats in American Folk Music. Tom started in the 1960s folks scene with greats such as Pete Seeger, Ian & Sylvia, Peter Paul and Mary, and other “New Folk” performers, and is still going strong in his 70th year. I never pass up a chance to see him when he is in town. He is one of my favorite folk performers (he’s even starting to eclipse PP&M), and McCabes is one of my favorite venues (ever since I first saw Shep Cooke play there in the early 1980s).

Attending the concert with me were nsshere, ellipticcurve, and ixixlix (in gf_guruilla’s stead, as she was sick [she gave me the cold I have today]). After a wonderful dinner at Rae’s (see “Dining Notes” below), all but EC got on line at McCabes. EC joined us about 10 minutes before the show started.

On to the show, which consisted of a single act (as I recall, Tom’s last show was also single-act, although the show before that had an intermission). Note that I didn’t keep a formal playlist — song titles are from memory. Tom mostly did songs from his new album “Comedians & Angels” [indicated with *](which will be formally released in the US early next year — it isn’t even on Amazon yet). These are mostly slower love songs. Songs that I remember Tom doing during the show are:

How Beautiful Upon The Mountain* The First Song Is For You*
And If It’s Not True* I Like The Way You Look*
A Long Way From Your Mountain* Jennifer and Kate*
You Are Love* Comedians and Angels*
George W. Told The Nation Katy
Jennifer’s Rabbit Bottle of Wine
The Last Thing on My Mind Ramblin’ Boy
The Bravest  

As a result of the song selection, the show was much slower in tone; something I also remember from Tom’s last show at McCabes. I miss the heavily political Tom and the faster songs, but I also understand that song tastes and selection changes as one ages. Tom, as always, was in fine form, and was ably assisted by the ever wonderful Fred Sokolow.

Currently, there’s nothing up coming on the concert agenda. I am thinking about getting tickets to Peter Paul & Mary at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in March 2008. As our “New Folk” musicians age (and especially given Mary’s health problems), this may be the last time they are in the Los Angeles area. McCabes also has a few interesting concerts coming up, including Odetta and Holly Near, but I’m not sure if I’ll get tickets. This is McCabes’ 50th Anniversary year, so they should have a spectacular concert schedule (including a big concert in the fall at UCLA). Of course, if the Austin Lounge Lizards ever bothered to come to Southern California (they visit NoCal regularly, but haven’t been down here in almost 5 years), I’d snap up tickets in a minute!

Dining Notes: Dinner for the evening was at Rae’s in Santa Monica. Rae’s is an old-time diner, in business since 1958. Not a chain, but a small local hangout with a few booths and a counter, super-friendly waitresses, clean facilities, and super-cheap prices (cash only). I had the Chicken Fried Steak, and it was excellent… and everything, from the soup to the potatoes, was home made. ixixlix had the turkey with stuffing, and nsshere had a ham and cheese omlette… both of which were supposedly excellent. Rae’s is one of those top-notch dives, an homage to 1950s diners that is real, not manufactured (read “Mel’s Drive In”, which we ate at on Friday night).


The Record of A Life

Last night, we went to see the last musical in the Pasadena Playhouse 2006 season: “Ray Charles Live”. “Ray Charles Live” tells the life story of Ray Charles Robinson Jr., better known as Ray Charles. It does this around a central conceit similar to that used in the musical “Forever Plaid”: Ray Charles has returned to record, live, the album of his life telling his life story, with the actual people in his life involved. As a result, the show takes place in a recording studio milieu, with the recording engineer off to the side, and no real scenery save for projections and costumes. As such, the central focus of the show was the man and his piano, Mr. Ray Charles.

With a show such as this, where there is no new music and the plot (being a life story) is pre-ordained, the strength is in the casting. Make a mistake there, and the show falls flat on its face. In this case, the Pasadena Playhouse team did an excellent job. Ray Charles (as the adult) was played by Brandon Victor Dixon, a strong singer and piano player who became Charles. Excellently playing the adolescent Charles was Wilkie Ferguson, while the young boy Charles was played by Jeremiah Whitfield-Pearson. Della B, the wife of Ray Charles, was played by Nikki Renee Daniels, a remarkable singer. Mary Ann Fisher, one of the original Raelettes and a notable “road wife” was played by Angela Teek. The remaining Raelettes were played by Nraca, Meloney Collins, Sylvia Maccalla, and Sabrina Sloan. Ray Charles’ mother, Retha Robinson, was played by Yvette Cason, who we last saw at the playhouse in the musical “Sisterella”. The recording engineer for the session, Tom Dowd, was playeed by Matthew Benjamin. Ray’s long-time manager, Jeff Brown, was played by Harrison White, with his later manager, Joe Adams, played by Maceo Oliver. Ray’s long-time friend and Atlantic record executive Ahmet Ertegun was played by Daniel Tatar, who was in the Playhouse production of “Last 5 Years”. Rounding out the excellent cast in the ensemble, the Ray Charles band, or other small roles were Phillip Attmore, Aaron or Christopher Brown, Tara Cook, Dionne Figgins, Matthew Koehler, Leslie Stevens, Rocklin Thompson, and Ricke Vermont.

As I said: I thought the acting was great, although at a few moments it looked like dancers were just going through the motions. At other moments, you could see the actors were really getting into their roles and enjoying what they were doing. I also enjoyed the variety of shapes and sizes: the casting director was not afraid to cast some rounder women, and to put them into dancer’s outfits. I think that was a tribute to Charles: as he noted in the show, he loved all women, and being blind, focused on other attributes.

Where the show had problems was the central conceit, and the fault for that belongs with the book writer, Suzan-Lori Parks. I can understand why she chose the approach: she had to distinguish the musical from the movie biographic, “Ray”. But in doing so, the approach distanced you from the story and made it less real. It also led to the recording engineer character having to lead Charles on to tell the story, and that was like pulling teeth. I also think the second act dragged a little: one or two numbers could have been cut or shortened, and the audience’s attention would have held a bit better. I don’t know if these problems can be corrected before the show moves to Broadway, as promised.

Ray Charles Live was directed by Sheldon Epps, who is also the artistic director of the Playhouse. This is Sheldon’s 10th year as artistic director, and he has done a great job there. My only problem is that they seem to forget the Lars Hansen era as A.D. and the excellent programs produced then. The production was choreographed by Kenneth L. Roberson, with musical supervision by Rahn Coleman, scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Carl Casella, hair by Charles G. LaPointe, video by Austin Switzer, and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler. The on-stage band was conducted by Eric “Cayenne” Butler, with Louahn Lowe (Keyboard I), Joel Scott (Keyboard II), Jack Allen (Guitar), Hilliard Wilson (Bass), Raymond Pounds (Drums), Fernando Pullam and Nolan Shaheed (Trumpets), Fred Jackson and Chalres Owen (Saxophones), and Garnett Brown on Trombone.

The production has been extended, and continues through December 23rd.

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced its 2008 season, and many of my predictions were borne out. The season consists of “Orson’s Shadow” by Austin Pendleton; “Mask”, a musical written by Anna Hamilton Phelan with music and lyrics by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck; “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw; “Vanities” by Jack Heifner with music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum and directed by Judith Ivey; and a surprise production to be announced.

For us, what’s next is a concert by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm (that’s tonight!). Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


High Schools and Fleas

Last night, we went to Van Nuys High School to see the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet perform the play “A Flea In Her Ear.” We went primarily because nsshere is about to graduate middle school, and thus we have to make our choice regarding application to a magnet school. At the top of our list for magnets is the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet, which (a) has the highest AP exam pass rate in LAUSD for the second consecutive year, (b) allows its students to take classes in the co-located Mathematics and Medical magnets, and (c) has an excellent performing arts program. The family had visited the Granada Hills HS M/S/T magnet earlier in the day, and had come away unimpressed (which was disappointing as Granada Hills is our residential school fallback). We already know that although Granada Hills has reasonable test scores, their theatre and performing arts program just isn’t in the same league as VNHS.

So, we went to the show last night, courtesy of comped tickets from the magnet advisor. Their facility is beautiful. The school was originally built in the 1910 timeframe, and after various earthquakes, the auditorium has been rebuilt as a professional theatre, with a full thrust stage, numerous lighting bridges, full sound system and sound mixer boards, and comfortable seating. Combine this with elaborate sets, including staircases and rotating turntables, all constructed by the students… and right away there was “tech envy”.

The show, “A Flea In Her Ear” is a true old-fashioned sex farce, written by Georges Feydeau. Samuel French summarizes the plot as “Raymonde suspects her husband, Victor Emmanuel, of infidelity and she turns to her best friend, Lucienne, to help her gain proof. They concoct a play-based on a perfumed letter-to trap him at the Hotel Coq d’Or in Montretout. In true Feydeau fashion the plan misfires; the plot is complicated by confused identities, revolving beds, a great many doors and the fact that the stupid hotel porter, Poche, is the exact double of Victor Emmanuel. Period: the early 1900s.” In other words, there are all the classic elements of a farce: mistaken identities, exaggerated actions, lots of craziness, and loads of slamming doors. Farces are the hardest comedies to do, as they do not depend on jokes but on exact and precise timing. You can find a good description of the plot and the characters, as well as an explanation of farces, here.

Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet did an excellent job with the piece, especially considering that the cast included a fair number of 9th graders. They had the timing and the blocking down pat, and most of the actors did an excellent job of projection. Some were clearly nervous and spoke their lines a little fast; I believe that they will slow down with more experience. More annoying were some sound and static programs that occurred in the second and third acts. But these were technical; the actors did a great job of compensating.

The cast consisted of Timothy Glick (Camille Chandebise), Mikel Bossett (Antoinette Plucheux), Cody Banks (Etienne Plucheux), Aria Pakatchi (Dr. Finache), Kaitlin Walters (Lucienne De Histangua), Julia Rachilewski (Raymonde Chandebise), Dominic Gessel (VIctor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche), Melvin Galloway III (Romaine Tournel), John Geronilla (Carlos Homenides De Histangua), Rayna Hallett (Eugenie), Paulo Tadle (Augustin Feraillon), Patricia Ponce (Olympe), Celina Pacheco (Baptistin), and Patrick Pavia (Popoy). I was particularly impressed by Ms. Walters, Ms. Rachilewski, Mr. Gessel, and Mr. Geronilla — all of who were excellent, played their parts quite well, and spoke very clearly.

The technical credits are all students as well. Sound was by Brian Bengler and Jayson Hill, lighting by Shaunna Lucas, Michael Bizarro, and John Dizon, and stage management by Brian Monterrosa, Jonathan Rivas, and Mayra Mendoza.

We came away very very impressed with the Van Nuys Magnet. It also helped that we ran into someone we knew in the audience–the mom of a girl that nsshere went to preschool with. The older daughter of the family is in the medical magnet, and gave nothing but glowing reports of the school. Personal recommendations from someone you trust are very important in something like this.

While we’re on the subject of school musicals, I must plug “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales”, which is being performed at Nobel Middle School, at the corner of Lassen and Tampa in Northridge California, on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm. No set ticket prices; donations at the door.

Our theatre plans? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm (that’s tonight!); followed by a concert by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm (that’s tomorrow!). Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


Expect The Unexpected

Last night we went to one of our favorite venues, the Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita (Saugus) to see The Unexpected Guest. The Unexpected Guest was written by Agatha Christie in 1958, and was adapted into a novel in 1999. This is critically acclaimed as one of Christie’s best plays.

The Unexpected Guest takes place at a foggy estate in Wales. As the play opens, we are in the main sitting room of Richard Warwick (Edward Harminer). There are lots of game trophies on the wall, including a mounted elephant gun, and we see the back of a man in a wheelchair. We then hear the sound of a car breaking down, and a man (later identified as Michael Starkwedder (Eric J. Stein*) enters the scene. He discovered that the man in wheelchair has been shot in the head. As he is reacting to this, in comes the man’s wife, Laura Warwick (Caroline Bielskis), who confessess to the murder. Unconvinced by her explanation, Starkwedder tries to come up with another murderer that would acceptable to the police. He finally concocts the story that Warwick was murdered by MacGregor, the father of a boy Warwick ran over two years previous. At this point, the investigation begins (headed by Inspector Thomas (Blair Bess) and his assistant, Sergeant Cadwallader (William O Ross)) and we meet the family. We learn that Warwick was loved by no one in particular. We learn that Warwick was originally a strong and well liked big game hunter who was injured in an accident, and became mean and vindictive after his confinement in a wheelchair. His hobbies were shooting at cats, squirrels, and raccoons from his wheelchair, and drinking. His wife, unsatisfied, had found a boyfriend in Julian Farrar (Daniel Lench*). His step-brother, Jan Warwick (Charlie Fecske), who was mentally-disabled in an unidentified fashion, was angry at his brother for threatening to send him to an institution. Warwick was cared for by Henry Angell (Bill Quinn), who was not treated well, but was well-compensated for the abuse. Also in the household was Warwick’s mother, the senior Mrs. Warwick (Christina Rideout), who was well aware of her son’s faults, and Mrs. Warwick’s caretaker, Miss Bennett (Lynne McAllen). By the time we’re in the second act, we learn that MacGregor is reported to have died in an accident in Alaska two years before this shooting. This, of course, eliminates him as a suspect. As we learn more and more about the families, plausible murders keep being identified… or eliminated. The play ends with a completely unexpected ending, which I shan’t give away.

As always, Rep East did an excellent job. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Eric J. Stein (who looks remarkably like my next-door neighbor), Bill Quinn (who was excellent as always), and Charlie Fecske. Two performance were a little less than: I found Lynne McAllen’s performance to be a little bit stiff and lifeless, although that may have been what her character was like. I also had trouble with the accent of William O Ross — we weren’t quite sure of what he was trying to pull off, but it was difficult to understand. Also notable in this production were the excellent sets designed by Katie Mitchell (who also served as stage manager), and the ominous sound design by the always excellent Nanook (Steven Burkholder).

The remainder of the staff for this production includes Julie Schnieder as Director, assisted by Falon Felix. Lighting Design was by Kelley C. Kippen, with costumes by Dusty Dawn Reasons. The program (as well as all REP publicity material) is designed by the ever capable Mikee Schwinn. The Artistic Director of REP East is Ovington Michael Owston.

“The Unexpected Guest” continues at REP East until December 8th. For more information, visit the REP East Home Page. Tickets are available through Goldstar Events or directly through REP East.

REP East has announced their 2008 season, which looks quite good. No dates as of yet, but the shows planned are: “Steel Magnolias,” “W;t,” “The Full Monty: The Musical,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “Ten Little Indians”. The 81 Series (short run shows for mature audience) are “Hurleyburly”, “Necessary Targets”, and “Suburbia”.

While at the REP East, I spoke to both “O” and Mikee about my latest concern: Why we can’t publicize the wonderful theatre in the greater Los Angeles area? I know that in some sense the LA Theatre Community does itself in: the focus is on the “big” or “name” theaters (CTG, Pasadena Playhouse, Pantages, Rubicon, South Coast, etc.), WeHo, NoHo, and the near-in Valleys and environs. It is difficult to get attention to the excellent theatre in the outlying areas such as Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks. The mainstream print media often makes publicity difficult, and as noted before, there is no Los Angeles Theatre podcast. I’ll say it again: there needs to be a “Broadway Bullet” style podcast for the Los Angeles Theatre scene that turns the spotlight on productions large and small, from shows like “The History Boys”, “Color Purple”, or “Wicked” to the Equity Waiver houses. That spotlights shows being revived or shows in their initial productions. That spotlights both imported actors as well as film/TV actors treading the board and our wonderful regional talent. We need this (but, alas, I don’t have the talent or connections to do it).

So what’s next on the Theatre calendar? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm; followed by a concern by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm. Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.