Hotel Reservation Websites — Grrrrrr

I’m in the process of making the hotel reservations for our upcoming trip to take our daughter to Grad School in Madison WI. We’re going to go out through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa, and after getting her settled, visit friends in St. Louis, and then back along Former US 66. After booking a number of hotels, I just realized I’ve been confused by the websites, and some may have been prepaid, but I’m not sure — and I’m pissed at the confusion they engender.

I’ve been using four primary sites: Trivago, Expedia, Booking.Com, and AAA, with Trivago just sending me to either Expedia or Booking. I’m trying to make reservations and not pre-pay, but it isn’t always clear. For example, the cheapest rates you see on Trivago are typically pre-pay rates, so take them with a grain of salt.

  • For Expedia, there are three key phrases: Free Cancellation, Reserve Now Pay Later, and Non-Refundable. They don’t appear to have an explicit phrase for Pre-Pay, so if you don’t see Reserve Now Pay Later, it appears you are paying now (but may be able to cancel)
  • For Booking.Com, there are also three key phrases: Low rate – no money back, NO PREPAYMENT NEEDED – pay at the property, and FREE cancellation before …. If you dont’ see NO PREPAYMENT NEEDED – pay at the property, it appears you are paying now (but may be able to cancel).
  • What appears to have suckered me was AAA. Some of their rates have an explicit bullet: Pre Paid – Book Now, Pay Now. Clearly Pre-Paid. Others explicitly have Non-Refundable. Those are likely Pre-Paid. Then others have Book now, pay when you stay. Those are no prepayment needed. But what about AAA Rate? All they have is Exclusive AAA Member Savings. No “Pre Paid”. No “Pay When you Stay”. Are these pre-paid or not? I was assuming not, because they didn’t say “pre-paid”, but when I booked one, the receipt has some words about pre-paying the stay. Now I’m totally confused. [ETA: It is now a week after I posted this, and so far, none of the AAA reservations have shown up on my credit card statement. I’ve reached the conclusion that their confirmation messages and emails are in error when they talk about the reservation being prepaid, and that the AAA rate is really “Book now, pay when you stay.”.]

Ah, I’m begining to miss the old days with the books where you could call the hotel, and had just one rate.


Pressing Out Meaning | “Gutenberg, The Musical” @ Backyard Renaissance

Gutenberg, The Musical! (Backyard Renaissance)userpic=theatre_ticketsThe ideas for musicals come from the many places. Books. Movies. More movies. Far too many movies.  Grey Gardens came from a documentary about a crazy heiress.  [title of show] came from a festival application. Then there is the show we saw last night from Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego: Gutenberg, The Musical! It came from, well, a slush pile of bad musical submissions.

Perhaps I should explain this a bit more. Scott Brown and Anthony King (FB), who wrote the show, were Junior High School friends who were working as interns at theatre companies. They were tasked with attending new musicals, and reading through the slush pile of submitted musicals and unsolicited demo recordings of musicals. They were seeing bad musicals. Really bad musicals. They began to wonder how the authors of those musicals didn’t realize they were so bad. So, they decided to write their own intentionally bad musical. They would figure out the absolute worse subject for a musical and go for it. As Hitler was already taken, they went with Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press.  It died. They reworked it for Upright Citizens Brigade. It lived. They expanded it to 45 minutes, then to a full-length off-Broadway show. They recorded a cast album.

I should say upfront that this show is bad. But bad in a good sense. Think about Batman in the 1960s. The show was bad but in an intentional way, in a way that played up the knowledge that you were in on the joke that it was bad, and so you went along for the ride, and it ended up being good, and in fact making a positive and deep commentary on a number of things. Well, perhaps not that far. But it was bad in an intentionally funny way, and that made it good.

Here’s an example that perhaps illustrates this. Early in this show, one character is secretly in love with another character, and offers to make him some lamb stew. He replies, “I love ewe.”. She hears “I love you.”  Yup. Do we go out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song, that help. But not much.

In any case, Gutenberg, The Musical! is presented as a musical about Gutenberg. But it is not presented as a traditional musical. Rather, it is presented as a backer’s audition, with the two ostensible authors playing all the roles (in the spirit of Murder for Two). How do you tell the myriad of characters apart? Each character has their own hat. A baseball cap. With their character stenciled on it.

As the story of Gutenberg himself doesn’t cry out for musicalization, the authors go the historical fiction route. They set the story in the fictional berg of Schlimmer, Germany. That should be a clue right there. They invent a fictional love interest, a buxom blond wench named Helvetica. They invent an antagonist, an evil (or should that be eeeeevil bwah ha ha) monk named, well, Monk. They invent a deep and meaningful commentary they want to make — since this is Germany, they must mention the holocaust. And they come up with a story: Gutenberg wants to make people read, and so invents the Printing Press. Monk wants to keep people stupid so he can tell them what is right and wrong without them knowing (and remember, boys and girls, that Monk almost rhymes with Trump). Helvetica loves Gutenberg, but is afraid of losing her wine-pressing job and him after he invents the printing press, and so falls under Monk’s spell (after listening to Trump’s, I mean, Monk’s, lies) and destroys the press. You can take it from there.

So the story is campy. Intentionally campy. Aside from the hats, there is continual breaking of the fourth wall, continually skewering of musical conventions and existing musicals, inspired sillyness (such as the water schprizting bottle), and, well, everything you would expect at a bad backers audition. In doing so, Gutenberg does something similar to [title of show] — it exposes the side of theatre that is rarely seen: the developmental side. What Gutenberg is demonstrating is what many musicals go through, and what many potential producers have to suffer through: the backers audition that can be both great and horrifying at the same time. The badness of the musical proposal combines with the earnestness of the authors to create something bigger than itself. You might say that it becomes a monster in its own right, but I wouldn’t go that far … and here’s why.

When you scrape off the veneer of bad backers audition, and think about what it being said, there is a deeper valid commentary being made (just as the wine press presses out the good juice from the grapes). The commentary has nothing to do with the holocaust, but with the importance of reading, knowledge, and independent thinking over just listening to the platitudes of misguided leaders. In the story, Monk intentionally wants to keep the village and the villagers stupid, so that he can exert his power over them by telling them what he wants them to think their books of authority say. Does that sound familiar? I’ve alluded to Trump before, because I think it is a clear analogy. We get political leaders who want to tell us what the Constitution says, what they believe our laws say, what they think we should do. Another example: I’ve recently been in some discussions with anti-Vaxxers (which will be my next blog post). They’ve been brainwashed by leaders who tell them what the science says, what the statistics means. Never mind whether it is true or not — these people tell them what they want them to hear to serve their own ends. Gutenberg, on the other hand, wants transparency and critical thinking. He doesn’t want to tell the people how to think — he wants them to be able to read and think about it on their own, to come up with their own opinions and understanding. He knows that what will make the true technological revolution is not a piece of machinery, but what that machinery enables. Beneath all of the camp of this musical is a deep message about the power of independent critical reading and analysis over the tyranny of ignorance. And that, friends, is a wonderful and true message.

Now, a story is nothing if it isn’t performed well. Our two erstwhile authors, Scott and Anthony, well, Doug and Bud (as the characters are named) are played by Anthony Methvin (FB) [Doug] and Tom Zohar (FB) [Bud]. These two young men bring the right amount of earnestness, sillyness, and talent to the role, believably coming the authors of the musical. They handle all the different hats they have to wear well, rapidly becoming all the different characters. Including rats and dead babies. Also notable is the cat, Biscuit, whose bio is hilarious. I figure he has a big future on Broadway.

The scenic design is understandably…. nothing. A piano. A folding table covered in hats, with a few props underneath it. This design, together with the simplistic props, comes from the Executive and Artistic directors of BRT — Jessica John Gerke (FB) and Francis Gerke (FB). The real “set” comes from the wide variety of hats, which serve as the “costumes” — which were also designed by Jessica John Gerke (FB). I’d say they were an inventive idea, but considering the cover of the cast album, my guess is that they were at least inspired by the original UCB design. Nevertheless, they were executed well and worked great for the story — and were incorporated well into the staging of director Kim Strassburger (FB) and the dance/movement of choreographer Katie Whalley Banville (FB). A little elaboration on that: although these were just two guys wearing hats, they were doing so in extremely inventive ways: such as a line of hats on a string for a chorus line, or literally wearing many hats at one time. There were commentaries on large dance numbers in musicals, on pointless charm songs, and much more — all executed in a humorous and entertaining fashion that wasn’t necessarily part of the script. That, I believe, is what the director and choreographer brought to this show.

On to the piano. There is no explicit credit for the on-stage pianist, so presumably it was the music director Lyndon Pugeda (FB). It looks like him at least (although he needs to update his official website — it dates to 2012 and references (heaven forfend) Myspace). Although not a formal character, he played with the actors and provided quite a few humorous moments of his own. Plus he played the keys well.

Back to the production credits. There was no credit for sound design; as there were no sound effects, there might not have been any sound design. Lighting design was by Curtis Mueller (FB), and worked within the restrictions of the space — a few lekos, a few scrollers, and what looked like a moving mirror spot. Then again, this was a backers audition — you don’t need a lot of lighting effects. Anthony Methvin (FB) was the producing director, and Taylor Todd (FB) was the stage manager. Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) is under the artistic direction of Jessica John Gerke (FB) and the executive direction of  Francis Gerke (FB).

Gutenberg! The Musical! continues at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego’s University Park community through September 4th. Tickets are available through the BRT website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. It is worth seeing.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  September returns to conventional theatre. The second weekend sees us back at Muse/ique (FB) for Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend brings I Love You Because at the Grove Theatre in Burbank. The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.


It Won’t Be 30 More…

userpic=pineappleBack sometime in the late 1970s, my parents purchased a timeshare in Maui. This was one of the early timeshare developments, where one had a fixed interval; it was at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach. Throughout my teen years, I regularly accompanied them to it (we had the last two weeks of August into early September) — I have distinct memories of coding for the UCLA Computer Club, listening to the Jerry Lewis Telethon, while sitting at the game table in the unit. All together now: Yes, I was a nerdy teen with no life.

As I got older, my parents continued to use the unit until sometime after my dad remarried (i.e., late 90s). The last time I was at the unit was in 1985, when we had a week at the unit as part of our honeymoon. After my dad stopped using the unit, he rented it out to friends and relatives. After my dad passed away and I inherited the unit, we did the same — my father-in-law regularly used the unit.

After he died, we started doing interval exchanges through Interval International. Partially, this was due to the fact that we had no knowledge of how to rent the unit easily. Partially, it was due to the fact that airfare to the Islands is expensive. Mostly, it was due to the fact that LA Unified shifted their schedule to start in mid-August, making going to our interval impossible.Through II, We regularly went to Las Vegas and Escondido, as well as Palm Springs. My wife did solo vacations to Sedona and Tucson.

This year was our 30th wedding anniversary. Our daughter had a car, and was back up in Berkeley. We had nothing holding us back — we bit the bullet on the airfare. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is where we’ve been for the last two weeks. You can learn about it here (although we’re not going through Aston), and (here and here) (these are folks that sell and rent units).

Hawaii 2015After two weeks here, a few observations:

  • Coming back here as an adult (I wasn’t an adult at 25 when I first came; most people don’t see themselves as adults until 29), I can now see why my parents loved this place. It is extremely relaxing and laid back, and has a vibe totally unlike any other timeshare we’ve been at.
  • Elaborating on that last point: At the timeshares in Vegas and Escondido, they were pushing pushing pushing to sell units. Hell, you walk along the beach here and the Westins and other companies are pushing timeshares in your face. This timeshare is different. You have a closet, where you can leave stuff in a box for when you come back. Owners leave stuff for other owners. It is truly like you’re sharing a home, not renting a room for two weeks. In talking with the managing agent for the TIOA (Time Interval Owners Assn), this is because most interval owners come back each year and use their units — they become a family. This makes it feel like home.
  • Other vacations, I’m out and running from place to place to place. This vacation? I’ve done just a little work (checking email, a few hours of meetings on a project I’m running). Mostly, I’ve futzed on the computer reading news (perhaps you’ve noticed). I’ve read books (I’ve finished 3 so far, and am working on the 4th). I’ve gone in the ocean. I’ve sunned by the pool. The latter two are much more entertaining in Hawai’i. I’ve worked out, either by walking or in the exercise room (did an hour on the bike today). I’ve eaten healthy, having fish almost every day. I only saw one show :-). We’ve done a little shopping (I like Hawaiian shirts).
  • I’ve sunned, but this time I learned my lesson and used sunblock.
  • We found some wonderful hidden restaurants, particularly Joey’s Kitchen in Whaler’s Village; and Fish Market in Honokawai. My wife fell in love with Sugar Shop in Lahaina, a wonderful gluten-free shop. Our one dislike: Sangrita, in the Fairway Shops, whose “Grilled Ono in Anchiote” was really in a spicy mole, which created problems (as well as their continually having trouble with the order).
  • I’ve come to the conclusion that it won’t be 30 years before we are back. My plan, at this point, is every other year. This will still give us some weeks we can use towards going to Las Vegas in the spring (which we enjoy), while still coming back here.

Pictures, you ask? Didn’t take any. However, other’s did, and if you look at this week’s AOAO Weekly Picture Mail (PDF), you’ll see both my smiling face, and my wife’s even prettier smiling face (AOAO is the apartment owners association — the folks that either own their apartments, or the TIOA  — independent of the units in the Aston rental program).


Putting It Out There For All To See

Pageant (Cygnet Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsAll summer, I’ve been reading about the off-Broadway musical “Pageant, which has been getting strong reviews. When I started planning our vacation (which, of course, includes investigating the theatre in the area), I discovered that “Pageant” wasn’t only running off-Broadway, it was running off-Los Angeles. Translation: the Cygnet Theatre (FB) in Old Town San Diego was presenting “Pageant, and it was running during our vacation window. Furthermore, discount tickets were available through San Diego Arts Tix. I booked it, and last night saw us in Old Town watching a bunch of beauty queens on stage… and when I say “queens”… you’ll see…

Pageant” is a musical about a beauty pageant. Now there aren’t too many musicals focused on that narrow subject; the only other one that comes to mind is Ashman and Hamlisch’s 1986 flop “Smile, a musicalization of the 1975 Michael Ritchie comedy movie starring Bruce Dern and Barbara Feldon. “Pageant” is much less story driven — there is no overall arc to the characters, there is no character growth, there is no conflict, there is no backstage drama. “Pageant” is simply what it appears to be — a beauty pageant on stage sponsored by a cheezy beauty product company, with the requisite pageant components (opening walk, evening gown competition, swimsuit competition, talent competition, spokes-model competition) all presided over by a swarmy host. So what makes “Pageant” special? First, the winner is not pre-selected but is chosen by audience members.  More importantly, all of the female beauty contestants… are played by men. It is this latter aspect that drives much of the humor of the show. It creates the double entendres, it adds to the cheesy talent portions, it makes the spokes-model portions hilarious. But it is, at its heart, a gimmick. It’s funny, but in a “if you find that sort of thing funny” kind-of way.

If one was to look at “Pageant” without the gender-bending aspect, what would remain? There would still be a fair amount of skewering of the beauty pageant conventions, from the production numbers that make no sense to the warped notions of beauty that beauty product companies promote. There would be the talent competitions that, often, contain little to no talent. There would be the inside jokes that only those familiar with the pageant word (or those that have watched a lot of pageants) would understand. There would also be the music. What there wouldn’t be was… story. As noted earlier, the book by Bill Russell (of “Side Show” fame) and Frank Kelly (of “The Texas Chainsaw Musical“, umm, fame) (conceived by Robert Longbottom) creates very one dimensional characters — really caricatures — of some broad types and leaves it at that. The evangelical bible belt girl. The kooky California girl. The Southern belle. The musicalization (lyrics by the book writers; music by Albert Evans (of “The Texas Chainsaw Musical” and “Nite Club Confidential” fame)) provides cute production numbers, but nothing that sticks with you as you walk out, or that even provides a modicum of character development. In short, I think the skewering of beauty pageant conventions was handled much better in “Smile” — this is really a gimmicky farce, and it is best to go into the show understanding and expecting that farce is what you are going to get.

As for the gimmick itself, I question its use in this day and age. Contrast the two shows we saw this week in San Diego. In “Two Gentlemen of Verona“, we have a women dressing up as a man to pass as a man, not for humor. In Pageant, we have men dressing as women because it is ostensibly funny. After all, it was funny when Alban did it in La Cage, and it was funny when the two leads did it in Sugar, so we’ll just go with the trend. But Sugar (the musicalization of Some Like It Hot) was done in the 1970s; La Cage in the 1980s. This is 2014; it is the era of RuPaul, drag-queen chic, and acceptance of transgendered and gender-changing people. So is this show a relic of when it was written (1991)? Do our contestants need to be as close as possible to real women, or is the joke that they think they look beautiful? Then again, the point could just be that we’re judging too much — as pageants often do — on the superficial features.

When viewed as a flat farce, the show does much better. Perhaps the best judge of the farcical nature of the show was the audience at our show, where the entire front row consisted of contestants/winners from the Royal World Beauty Pageant (FB). These gals were cracking up and laughing throughout the show. Their handlers, however, appeared less amused. Sitting across from us were two women in purple — one who was really enjoying the show, and the other (who may have been the president of the RWI organization) who seemed to go back and forth from enjoyment to a “grumpy cat” look. As for us, there were portions that were laugh out loud funny, and there were portions that made you feel like the audience at “Springtime for Hitler” (i.e., did they really do “that”). In short, I believe this is humor aimed at a particular audience.

After all of this, I guess I should describe the show. As the show opens, we meet our master of ceremonies, Frankie Cavalier, and the Glamouresse Pageant Girls: Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Bible Belt, Miss West Coast, Miss Deep South, Miss Texas, and Miss Great Plains. Frankie selects 5 audience members as judges. The competition then starts in earnest, with evening gowns (pictured below in the image I grabbed from the Cygnet Press Site). We then go through the talent competition for each of the girls, interspersed (every 2 girls) with a spokes-model pitch of some ridiculous Glamouresse product. After all the talent segments are done, there is another production number done by Frankie Cavalier about the pageant in the future (which has him in a very odd costume with a very large codpiece). This number ends with the girls in their white, one-piece swimsuits for the swimsuit competition, which also provides the opportunity to hear their inner thoughts. Once this is done, the “Miss Congeniality” prize is given and the six girls are down selected to five. There is then a tribute to the outgoing queen (the downselected girl, redressed), and a final competition. This last competition consists of the girls answering questions from the “Glamour Help Line”. At this point, the audience judges are polled to determine 2nd runner up, 1st runner up, and the winner. There is the winner presentation and the closing song, and the show is done.

Pageant - Cast (Cygnet Theatre) - Photo by Daren ScottThe picture to the right shows the cast of the show: Miss Deep South (David McBean (FB)), Miss Bible Belt (Ryan Fahey (FB)), Miss Texas (Charles Osborne (TW, FB)), Frankie Cavalier (Phil Johnson (FB)), Miss Industrial Northeast (Max Cadillac (FB)), Miss West Coast (Luke Jacobs Harvey/FB), and Miss Great Plains (Conor Tibbs (FB)) [photo by Daren Scott from the the Cygnet Press Site]. Let’s look at each of the girls closely, and what I remember the morning after the show.

  • Miss Deep South (David McBean (FB)) had, for me, one of the funniest talent portions with a great ventriloquism routine. At our performance, she didn’t win, and she had a wonderful display of bad sportsmanship (which was fun to watch). IIRC, she was our second runner up.
  • Miss Bible Belt (Ryan Fahey (FB)) came off as a little too preachy (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I particularly liked her Glamouresse spokes-model segment with the beauty spackle (and the cross drawn into it), and her response on the help line. She also had a good gospel number for her talent routine. She was our first runner-up
  • Miss Texas (Charles Osborne (TW, FB)) was the winner at our show, although when she first came out, I thought she had a mustache (it turned out to be lighting and bad upper lip makeup). Her tap dancing talent segment was wonderful.
  • Miss Industrial Northeast (Max Cadillac (FB)) was my least favorite girl of the piece, with a strong overdone Spanish accent. Her spokes-model segment was quite funny, as was her phone response. Warning: In her talent segment, she plays the accordion.
  • Miss West Coast (Luke Jacobs Harvey/FB) had a hilarious talent segment (I need some brain bleach for that birth scene), followed by a great spokes-model segment.
  • Miss Great Plains (Conor Tibbs (FB)) had a really strange poem about the land for her talent segment.

As the swarmy host, Frankie Cavalier, Phil Johnson (FB) did an excellent job, and was hilarious in the Venus 3000 number.

The production was directed and choreographed by James Vasquez (FB), who turned these men into somewhat believable beauty contestants (although my wife felt that RuPaul was needed to get the female mannerisms down right for all but Miss Deep South).  Don Lemaster (FB) was the musical director.

Turning to the technical side: The set design by Sean Fanning (FB) was a suitably glamorous pageant stage with the appropriate amount of shimmer and steps. The lighting design by Michelle Caron (FB) demonstrated very clever use of moving mirror lights — they were used in a manner equivalent to normal movers, which I’ve never seen before. The other lighting worked well to focus attention. General properties were designed by Angelica Ynfante (FB), with the special Glamouress properties designed by Michael McKeon (FB). These were extremely clever — both the talent show props such as the “target” for Miss Texas, to all the wonderful Glamouress products that were demonstrated — the lip gloss food, the double ended aerosol can, the facial powder vacuum, the snap odor eliminators. Costumes were by Shirley Pierson (FB) assisted by Kate Stallons (FB) and Kristine Kerr (FB); makeup and hair was by Peter Herman (FB). The costumes, in general, were cute and clever and served to conceal that which must be concealed if one is a man playing a woman (especially in a swimsuit). Some, such as Cavalier’s Venus 3000 getup, were just inspired (especially the codpiece). Makeup was a little less inspired, simply because these faces were not done up in a manner that preserved the female illusion. Perhaps that was intentional, but sometimes it was over or under done to distraction. The wigs, in general, worked well (at least I couldn’t tell they were obviously wigs). Taylor Wycoff (FB) was the Dramaturg, although I have absolutely no idea what a dramaturg does on an established show like this. Heather M. Brose (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Marguerite Sugden/FB. Sean Murray (FB) is the Artistic Director of Cygnet.

Pageant” only has a few more shows left; it closes on August 31. Tickets are available through the Cygnet Theatre Box Office; they may also be available through San Diego ArtsTix or through Goldstar.

Dining Notes: You’re in Old Town. There’s tons of reasonable Mexican places at which to eat.

[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 will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Love is in the Summer Air

Two Gentlemen of Verona (Old Globe)userpic=twogentlemenMy favorite musical of all time is “Two Gentlemen of Verona“, which I saw at the Ahmanson Theatre back in 1973. It never fails to cheer me up. So when I learned that the author of the piece, a guy named Bill Shakespeare, had also written a non-musical version, I was curious. I then learned that The Old Globe Theatre (FB) in San Diego would be presenting a production of the show… while we were in the area on vacation. As we don’t stop going to theatre while on vacation… well, guess where we were last night :-). That’s right … we were seeing one of Bill’s earliest comedies, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona“.

Shakespeare has two types of plays: tragedies, where everyone dies at the end, and comedies, where everyone falls in love at the end. TGOV is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, with no deep meetings, just light fun. TGOV tells the story of two best friends: Proteus and Valentine. As they graduate from their academy, the choose different directions for their lives: Valentine goes off to find fame and fortune working for the Duke of Milan in Milan, while Proteus remains in Verona to woo the women he has fallen in love with: Julia. Although Julia initially sees nothing in him, her woman-servant Lucetta convinces her to give him a chance. They pledge their undying love for each other, and give each other rings as tokens. But Proteus’ father wants him to have more experience, so he chooses to send him to Milan to join his friend, Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine has arrived in Milan and fallen in love with the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia… who the Duke has promised to Turio, a foppish, foolish, and rich suitor. Sylvia, however, has fallen for Valentine and secretly bethrothed herself to him. When Proteus arrives in Milan, Valentine tells Proteus of his love and his plans to elope. All changes when Proteus sees Sylvia, for he then falls in love with her as well. Proteus plots to win her affections, discredit Valentine, and discredit Turio. He informs the Duke of the plans to elope, and gets Valentine banished. He then proposes to win Sylvia for Turio, all the while trash-talking Turio and up-talking himself. Sylvia will have none of it, for Valentine has told her of Proteus’ love for Julia, and she wants Proteus to love Julia, not Sylvia. Meanwhile, Julia has decided she cannot live without Proteus, and so she dresses as a man to go to Milan. Proteus hires Julia, who he knows as Sebastian, to carry his messages to Sylvia. In doing so, Julia sees that Sylvia will have nothing to do with Proteus. Meanwhile, after Valentine is banished, he takes up with a band of ruffians in the forest, becoming their general. Meanwhile (there are lots of meanwhiles), Sylvia has made plans with a former suitor, Sir Eglamore, to rescue her and take her to Valentine. When they are in the forest, the ruffians attack them. Eglamore runs off and the ruffians take Sylvia to their general (Valentine), but on the way, Proteus rescues her. She still refuses him, and Proteaus starts to physically take her. Valentine then breaks them up, and Proteus repents. Valentine then gives Sylvia to Proteus, which forces Sebastian (Julia) to reveal herself, which brings Proteus to Julia and Valentine to Sylvia. Turio then shows up and proves himself to be a coward, so the Duke goes along with the pairings. Add to this the two man servants — Speed, assistant to Valentine, and Launce (who is more in love with his dog, Crab). These three (two men and the dog) provide comic relief throughout the piece.

This was my first time seeing the original. As I watched the story, I kept comparing it with the NYSF 1973 production storyline. Many things were different: Proteus did not get Julia pregnant; Julia didn’t travel with Lucetta; there appeared to be no strong pre-relationship between Sylvia and Eglamore; and the Duke had a much smaller role. The timeline was also changed. I’m guessing these changes were in the original, although it is possible that The Old Globe made slight changes in the story to condense it down to a 90 minute, one-act production (although, reading the Wikipedia summary, it looks more like the NYSF added to and reworked the story slightly). I also found that my familiarity with the story made the initial language hurdle smaller — I was able to follow the story because I knew the basic outlines. I find this is useful for Shakespeare — seeing Kiss Me Kate or Atomic Shakespeare helps with Taming of the Shrew, and I’m sure familiarity with The Lion King helps with Hamlet. Many things in the show were the same, and I discovered that many of the songs were literal from Shakespeare. The show itself was fun and well performed, and very accessible. This was the kind of show that made me want to see more Shakespeare. For all that, however, this show is rarely produced and many consider it to be one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays (they feel it may have been his first and shows his immaturity as a playwright). The best answer is to decide for yourself. This well-performed production would be a good place to start.

Two Gentlemen of Verona - Old Globe - Publicity Photos by Jim CoxThe leads were very strong (note: the photos to the right are from the Old Globe publicity site, and were taken by Jim Cox). As Proteus, Adam Kantor (TW, FB) projected an engaging personality that gave himself whole-heartedly to love; as his compatriot Valentine, Hubert Pont-Du Jour was even more engaging and warm with just a wonderful air of likeability. Of course, I was more taken with their loves. Both Kristin Villanueva (FB) as Julia and Britney Coleman (TW, FB) as Sylvia had smiles that could just melt your heart, and both did a great job of projecting the personalities of these women as more than just characters on a page. These four were just a joy to watch — they had the chemistry to make them believable as couples, and they seemed to just enjoy inhabiting these characters. I also found it interesting that Old Globe continued in the NYSF colorblind casting tradition — in particular with a black Valentine and Sylvia, just as in the musical I love.

Supporting Proteus and Valentine as their aides/servants were Rusty Ross (FB) as Speed, Richard Ruiz (FB) as Launce, and Khloe Jezbera as Crab. Both of the men gave appropriately comic performances — Ross was suitably manic; Ruiz was more old-school comic; and both were delightful in the scene reading about Launce’s milkmaid love. Khloe was a scene-stealer as Crab, behaving perfectly and playfully on stage. The female servants had smaller roles: As Lucetta, Erin Elizabeth Adams (About the Artists, FB) had a much smaller role than in the musical, but played quite well off of Villanueva’s Julia. Lindsay Brill (TWFB) was Sylvia’s page (as well as an outlaw and a student).

The main supporting characters were Mark Pinter (TWFB) as the Duke of Milan, and Lowell Byers (FB) as Turio (which should have been Thurio), Sylvia’s foolish intended. Pinter captured the authority of the Duke well, but I expected a bit more pomposity as well. Perhaps that’s a difference in the character between the musical and the original. Byers’s Turio came off a little too serious — again, I was expecting a bit more silliness or foppishness. Still, the portrayal worked.

Rounding out the remainder of the cast were: Meaghan Boeing (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Music Assistant); Charlotte Bydwell (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Dance Captain); Jamal Douglas (FB) (Servant to Antonio, Musician, Outlaw 3, Student); Adam Gerber (FB) (Sir Eglamour, Student); Arthur Hanket (FB) (Antonio, Dancing Master, Outlaw 2); Kushtrim Hoxha (Panthino, Outlaw, Student); Stephen Hu (FB) (Outlaw, Student); Tyler Kent (FB) (Host, Outlaw, Student); Robbie Simpson (TWFB)( (Dancing Instructor to Sylvia, Musician, Outlaw, Student); Megan M. Storti (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting); and Patrick Zeller (FB) (Outlaw 1, Student).

The production was directed by Mark Lamos, who did a great job of bringing the story to life in the simple, old-style stage that is the festival theatre. There was little scenery to set the stage, so to have the different locales come out so well is a testament to good staging.

Turning to the technical side… as I just noted, the scenic design of John Arnone was simple — a number of well-done flats and trees meant to evoke Verona or Milan, but otherwise not interacting with the actors (although the multilevel thrust stage was useful). Linda Cho‘s costumes were beautiful, rich, and well-done, and evoked the appropriate echos of the period (or at least what we think the period to be) while still having touches that grounded them in today. I particularly liked the ruffled collar on the dog. Stephen Strawbridge (FB)’s lighting design illuminated the stage well and set the scene appropriately. Acme Sound Partner‘s sound design did the best that it could to make the actors be heard clearly and to provide appropriate sound effects; alas, it was hampered by the Old Globe’s location near the flight path for San Diego International Airport. Would that the theatre had the clout to stop all flights in and out of the airport during performances. Don’t they know that theatre matters? The original music was by Fitz Patton (FB) and worked well; it would have been nice to interpolate “Who Is Sylvia?” from the NYSF version.  Movement was by Jeff Michael Rubudal (FB) and worked well on the stage, particularly in the dance scenes. Michael Rossmy (FB) was the fight director. David Huber was the voice and text coach. Bret Torbeck (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Amanda Salmons (FB).

Two Gentlemen of Verona” continues at  The Old Globe Theatre (FB) through Sunday, September 14. Tickets are available through the Old Globe production page. Note that the page does not render correctly under Firefox — you need to scroll down to the bottom to find the information. I was unable to find any discounts for this show on Goldstar or the San Diego Arts Tix.

Dining Notes: For dinner before the show, we crossed the bridge over to Cucina Urbana. We got there early enough that we didn’t need a reservation — this is a good thing as reservations are supposedly hard to get. A foodie place, but not outrageously priced. Karen had a polenta with a ragu that she just loved; I had a wonderful lamb sausage pizza with fontina cheese. Well worth considering before the show.

[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:  Our next show is on Wednesday: Pageant” at the Cygnet Theatre (FB) in Old Town. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Champagne Dreams and Sparking Wine Realities

userpic=travelHere’s an important reality every business today should take to heart: Every one of your customers may be writing up a review of your business and posting it on the Internet. As Internet reviews are often critical to future business, you need to treat every customer the best, and provide them the best possible experience.

I mention this because — as you’ve probably figured out by now — we’re just finishing a vacation in Escondido, CA. We’ve been staying at the Lawrence Welk Resort San Diego, having exchanged a week three years ago with Interval International (and thus we needed to use it before it expired). This is my write-up of my experiences here. In short: I’d come back, but I challenge them to do even better, because I know that they can. In Yelp ratings, call it ★★★★.

The resort, which looks to have been started in the late 1980s, consists of a number of small communities each connected to a recreation center: Melody Hill, Harmony Hill, Broadway Hill, Villa on the Greens, and their newest community, Mountain Villas. All of the communities are on golf courses that appear to be well maintained. There is a central plaza that provides a full theatre (with live theatre productions), resort shop, Pizza Hut Express, convenience store, spa, and restaurant. The recreation centers are mostly family-oriented with playgrounds, pools, spas, water-play areas, some water-slides, and recreation rooms. One (Melody Hills) is over-18 with a kid-less pool, dry sauna, fitness center, and weight room. Some of the recreation centers have board games, but nothing I would consider a good board game :-). The pool areas look very nice, although we really didn’t use them. The resort has a large variety of activities that are well publicized and that would serve families quite well.

The rooms themselves have a wide variety — as one expects in a timeshare — with full kitchens, beds, sleeper sofas, washer/driers, etc. Ours had a jacuzzi tub large enough for two! Our was reasonably clean and we’ve enjoyed our stay here quite a bit, although we haven’t partaken in any of the activities (other than their Farmer’s Market). There are barbeques everywhere for people to use. I’ll note that they do try to promote a resort tour in exchange for discounts for local attractions, their evening shows, or in the restaurant.  Translation: they are trying to get people to buy into the new Mountain Villas development. We’re not interested as we already have a timeshare, but I could see it being appealing to families.

I also want to know that the Customer Service people we dealt with were, for the most part, attentive. Maintenance was a little slower, but then again, we didn’t make our maintenance problem a priority issue. So I’ll give them a very good on customer service.

With all of this, why the ★★★★ rating? Attention to detail. Although they have a fitness room, the machines are older and look it (but they work). Handrails could use paint. I noticed the occasional cigarette butt on the ground (that remained over 24 hours). The drain on our Jacuzzi tubs didn’t pop up; we needed to resort to a kitchen knife to pry it up. We had a light on the porch hanging by its conduit (which they fixed when we brought it to their attention). The grounds-crew is not attentive to the noise of their equipment (I understand the need to maintain the course, but there’s a difference between a lawn mower and using those obnoxious string trimmers or leaf blowers).

[Karen adds: I found a few annoyances – burned out light bulbs (2 in our unit), not really enough light for puzzling, comfortable reading or needlework, and this is the first timeshare I’ve done that didn’t have a mid-week light cleaning, sundries replacement,  linen change-out and trash emptying…Other maintenance items showed that they aren’t paying close attention – a nasty burning smell emanating from the dishwasher when we used it, the flange on the shower arm was floating loose, and the very nice magnifying make-up mirror in the bath has an intermittent short in its power supply or cord  – sometimes the on-board light worked, sometimes it didn’t … Also, unlike some of the other places I’ve been, very few activities were targeted to adults…enough that if I hadn’t brought my own projects, i would have been bored stiff…]

Additionally, the plugs near the desk are full, so there’s no place to plug in a laptop… and they have limited Internet speeds.Further, during this visit, the Internet went down — c’mon, how can you have a vacation with no Internet, furgodsakes — and it took them over 12 hours to realize that they needed to raise a ticket with their ISP (e.g., the problem was off-premises). I ended up going off-premises to a Starbucks 10 miles away to take care of conference email Thursday morning. That’s a grrrrr in my book. Once they raised the issue, it was fixed in a few hours (i.e., it was about around 930am, so it was down from 1p-930a). Now that my arm is complete again, there is calm in the world. Funny how that works.

In any case, these are the little things that distinguish a top rating (which I see in the reports from our home resort, The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach, which is ★★★★½ on Trip Advisor… and they work hard to maintain it). None of these are make it or break it items; none go to the level of sanitary problems or major safety issues. They all fall into the category of temporary light annoyances. Still, to my eye, to reach the excellent level there should be no annoyances.

Will we be back? Quite likely. When we do an exchange, we like locations in driving distance from home. My wife did Sedona once. We did Palm Springs last August, Las Vegas in May, and this August is Escondido. The location is great. San Diego is an easy drive. The facility encourages walking and exercise (I’ve walked or exercised for an hour each day – go me!). The pools and greens are beautiful. The customer service has been very good.

Lastly, when I mentioned we were at a Welk resort, people were going — but that’s for old folks. I’ll note that we’re seeing a large number of families here, and the facilities seem very family-oriented. Although Welk himself was known to an older demographic, his show was always family oriented and his resorts appear to be oriented that way. If you are looking for a place without a lot of kids, this probably isn’t the place. There are some of those in Palm Springs or Vegas. (Oh, and if you want Lawrence Welk music, visit the SVDP Thrift Shop in Escondido. They had loads of Welk LPs)


A Tale of Two Museums

This vacation we’ve really been trying to vacate. Sitting out by the pool. A little shopping. An occasional meal out. Reading. Relaxing. Futzing on the computers. Doing jigsaw puzzles. Playing the occasional game. In other words: doing what one normally does in Palm Springs when it is 108° out!

However, we did take some time to see two museums.

Palm Springs Art MuseumThe first was the Palm Springs Art Museum. The museum was free Thursday evening before the street fair, so we wandered over to see what it was like. In short: very very nice. I normally don’t like art museums — I’m not into static pictures. PSAM had a lot of nice modern art. One piece that still sticks in my mind is a sculpture of an old couple on a bench that was so realistic you were expecting them to breath. I also enjoyed a lot of their contemporary works, and we really enjoyed their exhibit of contemporary modern glass. Some other scultures that stick in my mind (they aren’t on the website) was a large fiberglass structure of a manga-style dog; a very realistic nude reclining woman sculture, a glass box that created a virtual hole, a bronze sculture of four garbage bags that were extremely realistic. Another interesting bronze was on the website: a horse that appeared to be made out of driftwood, but was really made from bronze casts of driftwood.

Palm Springs Air Museum of FlyingToday, we went to see a very different museum: the Palm Springs Air Museum of Flying. This was really a misnamed museum: it wasn’t a museum of flying — it was a museum of World War II and World War II aircraft (in fact, if you look at the images of the planes, you’ll see it was once called the WWII Air Museum, but they probably had a conflict with the one in Camarillo). There was loads of history at this museum, but the real focus was the war. There were two wings: one that focused on the Navy (i.e., the Pacific war), and one that focused on the Army (i.e., the European war). They had a large roster of planes — most of them capable of operation — including a B-47, a C-17, B-25, P-47, and many more. They also had lots of war material and related cultural ephemera. What was missing here was information on flying. How did the use of aircraft in war develop? A few of the carriers were shown carrying biplanes — what were they used for? How did the material used for aircraft change? How did development of military aircraft influence later commercial aircraft? What about use of aircraft in other wars, ranging from early WWI usage through the Korean, Vietnam, and subsequent conflicts. This is what was missing. In some ways, it was like the experience at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, where the focus was much more D-Day as opposed to the broader war.

Music: Rockin’ the Uke (Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer): A Flea and a Fly In a Flue


More Vacation Observations

Some more observations from vacation:

  • This morning, we went out to the Street Fair at College of the Desert (Ehhh, due to the summer lull), and then drove out to Shields Date Garden. Back in the day, Shields was an oasis along Route 111 — since the 1920s it has been a place to stop, have a date shake, and pick up some desert goodies. It’s still there (and the date shakes are still wonderful), but civilization has grown up to it. Whereas it was once isolated in the desert, it is now surrounded by continuous shopping and country clubs all the way along Route 111 (or former Route 111) from Palm Springs. There’s even a major shopping center across the street. Sad to see, in some ways.
  • Being in Palm Springs has made me realize I love 1950s and 1960s motels and their history. It’s one reason I love the history of Las Vegas from the 1950s and 1960s, and one thing I enjoy about Palm Springs. I can drive around and remember this history of this place and that, or look at an building and can tell by the architecture what it used to be. Palm Springs still has a lot more of the 60s than Vegas has.
  • I know I’m a mathematician at heart. When I was sitting out by the pool this afternoon watching the people and the little dramas, my mind got to wandering how much space a gallon of water takes, and whether the shape of the pool could be described mathematically and calculus then used to figure out the capacity in gallons of the pool. Yeah, a math nerd at heart… but one that loves history (and watching the scenery at the pool).