Be True to (Your Daughter’s) School

Non-profit investigative newsroom ProPublica has released an interactive tool that allows one to compare public schools (alas, charters seem not to be in the tool). You can find the tool at So I decided to do a little comparison about the schools in the area, as everyone thinks my daughter’s school is so weak, given that (a) it is LAUSD, and (b) it is heavily minority in a poorer area of the valley. Guess what? They’re wrong.

Here are some numbers:

School  % Free Lunch  % Taking
 At Least 1 AP 
% Taking
 Advanced Math 
Cleveland HS 67% 26% 19% 13% 6% 64% 17%
Van Nuys HS 68% 25% 17% 13% 5% 61% 22%
North Hollywood HS 71% 25% 16% 16% 5% 70% 8%
El Camino Real HS 22% 23% 17% 53% 7% 25% 15%
Chatsworth HS 47% 18% 18% 21% 9% 50% 20%
Reseda HS 63% 17% 17% 12% 5% 74% 9%
Taft HS 43% 16% 16% 41% 17% 32% 9%
Monroe HS 69% 15% 9% 5% 3% 83% 8%
Kennedy HS 54% 13% 13% 10% 5% 76% 9%
Canoga Park HS 70% 12% 11% 7% 5% 82% 6%
Panorama HS 69% 12% 7% 1% 3% 89% 7%
Arleta HS 97% 9% 7% 1% 1% 95% 2%

Alas, I can’t include Birmingham or Granada in the comparison, as they didn’t include charters.


Students of the Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


A Commanding Performance

Last night, we went to see “Evita” at Van Nuys High School. Now, if that sounds ambitious for a high-school musical, it was. Even more surprising than the choice of musical was that they pulled it off. Yes, there were a few rough spots, but one expects that with a high school production. This one was 90% there, and that’s remarkable given the experience of these kids.

For those not familiar with Evita, it is the second rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. It is a sung-through opera, with no non-musical spoken dialogue. You can find a detailed synopsis of the story on the wikipedia page or on the Rice/Webber page for the show.

As I indicated above, Van Nuys nailed this production. A majority of the credit for that goes to the leads, Laurel Anderson as Evita, Sean Scott as Che, and Michael Hill as Juan Peron. Laurel in particular deserves strong notes for both her singing ability and her acting ability—this was a young lady who had the skills to pull this off on a professional stage, if this had been her desire (and I’m not just saying this because she’s a friend of my daughter—Laurel was just excellent in the role). The two young men (Sean Scott and Michael Hill) were almost as strong. Both were good singers, although Scott could have been stronger in the rock numbers with a bit more of an edge. Both had greater problems with the acting side; in particular, with the overuse of their hands during their songs. If they were to restrain that more and focus on a more naturalistic side, they would have been better.

In the smaller named roles, Ashlyn Killham was perfection in her sole number as Peron’s mistress (one of my favorite numbers in the show). Matthew James Goldsen Augustin Magaldi was much weaker. Augustin needed more suave and smoothness in his voice, as well as a deeper understanding the movement and style of a tango singer… plus he had to lose the gold lame jumpsuit that made him look like Elvis.

The remainder of the ensemble was strong, with only the occasional flat note (most noticible to me in “Rainbow Tour”). They sang well as a group, acted well in a variety of roles, and moved strongly. The ensemble consisted of Taylor Morris, Erin Geronimi, Angela Tokadjian, Priscilla Legaspi, Karina Gonzalez, Summer Mannshahia, Melodie Munoz-Lestrade, Darwin Gallegos, Vivian Cermeño, Kim Reyes, Marelen Villalta Priscilla Zambrano, Gabriel Dominguez, and Omar Contreras.

The production was directed by Randy Olea, the drama teacher. In the past, I haven’t always been kind to Mr. Olea’s direction. Although some aspects here were problematic (in particular, the aforementioned overuse of hands by the male leads), he did something right in this production… for this was the first production that held the high-school audience spellbound, without the usual cheers and jeers that one constantly gets from kids. These kids were mesmerized by the story and the acting, and the credit for that goes to Mr. Olea for selecting such an ambitious show, and pulling it off in a way that worked. Credit also goes to the choreography and voice coaching of Anita Morales and Robbyn Kermsse.

Music was provided by Mr. Eisenhart and his student orchestra. This could have been improved, as a few instruments (in particular, one violin) sounded distinctly flat. This style of music may not have been their forte, for they were pitch perfect and wonderful with their intermission jazz music.

Turning to the technical…. the set was constructed by Mr. Kirkpatrick and his student set construction team. It was a relatively simple set, with some relatively simple props… but it worked and allowed the student acting and singing abilities to come through. The sound and lights by Mr. Coy’s tech crew were relatively problem free. The sound was the clearest I’ve ever heard in a Van Nuys production, and the lighting had no obvious miscues and no misuse of the technology, working to establish the mood quite well. In other words, the team worked together on this show, and it showed well.

Last night was the last performance of Evita at Van Nuys High School.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: This afternoon sees us in Hollywood at the Stella Adler Theatre for the Blank Theatre‘s production of “The Cradle Will Rock”. March 19 brings “Having It All” at the NoHo Arts Center. Lastly, March 26 brings “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Repertory East. April 2 will hopefully bring Glory Days” at the Lillian Theatre (pending ticketing). April 9 will bring the Renaissance Faire. April 16 brings “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, with Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre on April 17. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. The last weekend of April is being held open (i.e., pending ticketing) for Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May 7 will bring God of Carnage at the Ahmanson Theatre (pending Hottix). The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28, and (pending ticketing) Dear World” at the Lyric Theatre. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might hit a show in Nashville or St. Louis). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix).


Two Nights of Dance

The last two nights we’ve gone out to see dancing—specifically, productions of the Van Nuys High School Dance Department under the direction of Mike Nakauchi. We learned about the program because our daughter, Erin, is in the Advanced Dance class.

Thursday night’s program was Dance Showcase 2011. This was a production highlighting the work of the beginning and advanced dance classes, as well as the VNHS Jazz and Hip Hop Dance Teams (you can learn about all these program at the VNHS Dance page). As one would expect from such a program, there was a wide mix of skill levels and talent, but loads and loads of enthusiasm and heart. The production consisted of segments in various styles (ballet, jazz, modern, and hip-hop) punctuated by performances by the teams. There was also a mix of student and instructor choreography. In total, there were 10 class performances (2 beginning ballet, 1 advanced ballet, 3 beginning jazz, 1 advanced jazz, 1 beginning modern, 1 advanced modern, and a combined hip-hop), and 5 team performances (3 jazz team, 2 hip-hop team). If I had to name some favorite performances two days later, I’d have to say the various team performances (not a surprise, as they are at the competitive level) and the Advanced Modern performance, “We Are All Finnish Farmers”. In general, it was an enjoyable evening (although the music was a bit loud for me).

Last night’s program stepped it up a level, for it was the Alumni Show 2011. This is the show where graduates of the Van Nuys Dance program voluntarily come back and do a show (evidently, it is pretty unique to have such a show in LA Unified). This show featured 13 segments, and included performances by the Fasmode Dance Crew, kangaGroove, and the Elusive Dance Crew. All of the performances were high-quality and excellent (including the hip-hop, and I’m not a big fan of hip-hop). I had three favorites. The first was “The Lazy Dance” (choreography by Joseph Cayanan, danced by Stephanie Hoston and Joseph Cayanan). My daughter said there were some technical errors in this, but I found it fun and enjoyable. Even stronger was “Solo” (choreographed and performed by Miko), which was a technically strong performance that was joy to watch. The last of my favorites was “Kids” (choreographed and performed by Joseph Gurrola and Amanda Riley). This was enjoyable not only for the dance but for the acting skills of the dancers. However, these were likely favorites because the music was more accessible to me; all of the dancing (even with the music I didn’t like) was great. I do have to say, however, that wearing foam earplugs definately helped with my enjoyment 🙂

If you live in Southern California and enjoy dance, I suggest you set aside May 12-14 for the “Collabor8 Dance Production” at Van Nuys High. Tickets should be avalable at the door. If you’re free today, you can go to the Student Dance Festival starting at 1pm at Van Nuys HS. The Student Dance Festival features dance teams from all across LAUSD.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Tonight brings “Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein” at ICT Long Beach. February starts with “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” at Repertory East on February 4, and “Dangerous Beauty” at The Pasadena Playhouse on February 5. The next weekend also brings two shows: “The Marvelous Wonderettes at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 12, and “Adding Machine: The Musical at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble on February 13. The third weekend of February is another with two shows: “Rock of Ages at The Pantages Theatre on February 19, and “33 Variations at the Ahmanson Theatre for February 20. February closes with “Moonlight and Magnolias” at The Colony Theatre on February 26. March is also busy. It begins with a Noel Paul Stookey concert at McCabes on March 4. March 5 is the MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at TBH. The first two weekends of March are also the Spring Musical, “Evita”, at Van Nuys High School; we’re likely going on Saturday, March 12. Sunday, March 13 is “The Cradle Will Rock” at the Blank Theatre. The weekend of March 19 is currently open, but that probably won’t last for long. Lastly, March 26 brings “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Repertory East. April will bring the Renaissance Faire, “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre, and (pending ticketing) Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center.


Top Ten High School Plays and Musicals

An article in today’s Playbill News listed the Top 10 Plays and Musicals Done By High-Schools. As you might expect, I have some observations on the lists… the first of which is: Can someone get Mr. Olea at Van Nuys to do some of these!

The Plays

  1. Almost, Maine
  2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  3. You Can’t Take It With You
  4. Noises Off
  5. Twelve Angry Men
  6. Alice in Wonderland (various adaptations)
  7. The Crucible
  8. Our Town
  9. Neil Simon’s Fools
  10. A Christmas Carol (various adaptations)

Of these, Van Nuys has done… none. Mr. Olea likes to go for unknown shows where he can play with accents. I’ll note that my high school, Pali HS, did The Crucible back when I was in HS.

The Musicals

  1. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
  2. Seussical
  3. Grease
  4. Into the Woods
  5. Footloose
  6. The Wizard of Oz (multiple adaptations)
  7. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
  8. The Music Man
  9. Once upon a Mattress
  10. Thoroughly Modern Millie

Van Nuys has done Grease, and Nobel has done both Grease and Wizard of Oz. There are some musicals I’m surprised aren’t on this list, such as Bye Bye Birdie, Hairspray, Little Shop, or 13. Then there are the musicals that Van Nuys has done that are surprises, such as last year’s Damn Yankees or the upcoming (wait for it) Evita.


What? Me Stressed?

There is an interesting online debate in today’s NY Times, which explores the question: “Do high school students have too much stress?” It features six debaters from a variety of viewpoints, and makes an interesting read.

Of course, I’m seeing this stress close up. My daughter is in 11th grade, and this is finals week. Are we dealing with stress? What a silly question. She’s taking four APs (US History, English, Art History, and Chemistry), plus Honors Math Analysis and Advanced Dance (plus Independent Study French II through BYU and Confirmation Class at synagogue). Of course she’s stressed, studying her tush off, getting 4-5 hours of sleep, and subsisting on (from what she tells me Jolt and Red Bull).

I certainly don’t remember that stress when I was in high school.

But then again, how much of this is preparation for the real world. We all have lulls and peaks in our jobs, and at time life is stressful. I’m of the belief that public schools teach all sorts of coping mechanism that aren’t formal curriculum, and dealing with stress and time management is one of them. Another is learning not to take on too much. So how much of the fault is the public schools, and how much is the college system for stressing the need for perfect grades and tons of extracurricular activities.

Still, I’d love to hear your opinions on the debate.